Category Archives: Travel

Random road thoughts

I spent quite a bit of time in my car this past weekend. On Interstate 85.

It’s a six hour drive from Raleigh to Atlanta. An awkward distance. Is it worth it to fly? Or just suck it up and drive?

Fortunately, it wasn’t much of a debate this time around. I am a giant slacker and procrastinated booking a plane ticket, so road trip it was. Plus, it was a good opportunity to load up the rest of my husband’s clothing and deliver it to him. I now have an entire closet all to myself….

Anyway. I motored it down to Atlanta Friday afternoon, was joyfully reunited with my betrothed on Friday evening, ate some good food, drank some good wine, ran some miles, and looked at some housing options. It was a pretty fantastic weekend.

And the drive wasn’t even that bad. I like road trips and I don’t usually get bored. Long drives are kind of like long runs for me. Sometimes, I make up little stories about the people/things I observe around me. Sometimes, I ponder Big Life Questions and such. But most of the time, I just host a running dialogue. With myself.

I blame this on the fact that I’m an only child.

There are a lot of tire pieces on the shoulder of the freeway. Is it really that common for tires to just spontaneously explode?  Is that why big trucks have like a thousand tires?

Is my right tire going flat? It looked low this morning. Next gas stop…

OMG, I don’t want to spend my night stranded on the side of the road in South Carolina waiting for a tow truck. Better put some air in it. I need new tires.

Why is gas so cheap in South Carolina? 

Costco probably has pretty good prices on tires. And I think they install them for you, too. Good thing, ’cause I’d have no idea…

Bug guts or bird shit on my windshield? I can’t tell. Whatever it is, they should make glue out of it. Ugh.

Who are these people who bring carrots and apples on road trips? You can pry my curly fries from my cold dead hands.

I’m so glad the South doesn’t have those nasty travel plazas that they have on all the tollways up North, where there are only like two food places to choose from. Those travel plazas must be solely responsible for keeping Sbarro in business.

Costco pizza is better than Sbarro pizza. Any pizza is better than Sbarro pizza.

The Superbowl is on right now and I’m beer-free. Wow. 

I miss living on the West Coast on Superbowl Sunday. I like football better when it’s an afternoon thing. 

How many miles did I run this week? Not enough. Why did I bail on my long run on Friday? I suck.

How many miles until I’m home? Too many. Do I have time to get in a quick run tonight? Probably not.

Maybe I should fly next time.

Almost perfect Pad Thai

Ask me about the best thing I’ve eaten abroad, and I’ll tell you: it’s Pad Thai from a street cart at a night market in Bangkok. And I’m not even trying to be trendy with the whole food truck thing. This was ten-plus years ago.

The noodles were fresh. The flavors were simple yet amazing: briny shrimp and tart tamarind, lightly sweetened and caramelized together to make a brown sauce so delectable you wanted to lick every last egg bit from your plate. (But you restrained, because you were eating at a table full of locals and you didn’t want to give scrubby American backpackers a bad name.) The whole thing was served piping hot, cooled down with a squeeze of lime wedge so that it wouldn’t scorch your tongue.

Good Pad Thai isn’t easy to re-create at home. It’s the fresh-noodle factor. And the heat factor. (Well, maybe your kitchen has a big-ass open-flame burner large enough to accommodate an enormous wok, but I have a crappy electric range.)

But it’s one of my favorite foods, so I try.

I’ve been tweaking this recipe, derived from a booklet I received as a souvenir for taking a tourist cooking class in Chiang Mai, on and off for a few years now, and I think I’m finally getting there.

To make good Pad Thai, you have to use a very hot pan: this prevents the noodles from getting overcooked and sticky. And when using a very hot pan, things happen quickly. When making a dish like this, I always measure and lay out each and every ingredient before I put anything in the pan. Even little things like spices and water.

More dishes, less stress.

So you get your pan piping hot and then add all of the above things in succession, while stirring constantly. My favorite part is the egg; I like to make a little cradle in the middle of the pan and scramble it there, in it’s own little space, before mixing it in with the noodles.

So, anyway. Try it and let me know how it goes for you?

Until then, I’ll keep tweaking….

Almost Perfect Pad Thai [Adapted from the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School cookbook]

Serves 4.

1/2 lb dry flat rice noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp jarred crushed garlic (or 2-3 fresh cloves, minced)
1/2 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cut in to 1/2″ cubes
1 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 C warm tap water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 scallions, sliced
1/4 C dry roasted peanuts, chopped
2 limes, cut in to wedges
1 C mung bean sprouts

1/4 C fish sauce
1/4 C brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (1-2 limes)

  • Soak noodles in warm water for 20-25 min, or prepare according to package directions for stir-fry.
  • Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large high-sided pan or wok.
  • Whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.
  • When pan is just smoking hot, add tofu and garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
  • Add shrimp and stir until just barely opaque, about 45 seconds.
  • Add noodles and water and cook, stirring frequently, until water has absorbed, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Add sauce and cook until absorbed, about 1 minute.
  • Push noodles and shrimp to the edges of the pan, creating a “cradle” in the center. Add egg and scramble. When egg is nearly cooked through, add half of scallions and combine with noodles. Toss thoroughly to distribute.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and top with bean sprouts and peanuts. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately.

I had some Chardonnay with dinner:

This 14 Hands 2010 Chardonnay was a nice wine. Definitely on the fruitier side, but well-balanced by a hefty dose of vanilla and a very smooth apple-pie-like flavor.

Bottom line: A good value white, in my book! (Purchased at Harris Teeter, $12)

And that brings me to last week’s running recap:

I’m reasonably satisfied with my long-slow-distance (LSD) run and pretty happy that I got a track workout in, but I wish the overall mileage number were higher. I should be in the 50s. Perhaps I could have pushed today’s post-work run a bit to get there, but it just didn’t seem like it was worth it. My legs were tired from a long day at work, and really, I need to be logging that mileage in earlier in the week, not cramming it on on Sunday night on the heels of a long run.

I know I need to start doing doubles again, a couple of times a week, if I want to get my weekly number back up in to the fifties and sixties and beyond.

Let’s call that a goal for this coming week, eh?

Overheard on the strip

Exhausted-looking mom: “Is that what you think parents are for? To carry your stuff?” Toddler-sized daughter: “Yes.” (At least she’s honest!)

Twenty-something girl, talking on phone: “No, that’s not what herpes looks like.” (Congratulations?)

Creepy old dude, to me: “You’re in Vegas! Why are you jogging?”

Good question.

I’m going to be honest here: I spent most of Saturday in the hurt box. Worth it for a fun Friday night? Absolutely, but it’s always a little embarrassing to be that one person in the group who is mysteriously missing the next day.

Around 3 PM, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and go for a little run. I’m not a huge fan of running on the strip, but I’m also not a huge fan of paying the ridiculous fees that most Vegas hotels charge for gym use.

Up and down the staircases, through the throngs of people…five miles later, I felt like a new person. Just in time to do it all again.

Sunday, I decided to splurge on a massage, and thus was granted access to the hotel’s gym. Another detoxifying afternoon run! I’m pretty happy that I managed to stay on track with my training through a weekend of partying.

Oh, and those heels? I lasted all of twenty minutes in them. Seriously. I may or may not have walked around barefoot for a good portion of the evening.

About to board a flight home…happy MLK day!

Things that happened while I was not blogging

This Christmas, I was a slacker from the start. It was a solid 48 hours after I landed in Washington State that I even tried to connect my computer to the internet.

Eventually, I thought: I should probably do a blog. But when it became clear that the WiFi at my mom’s house wasn’t going to play nice with my laptop…well, it seemed like a great reason to take a little time off.

But I was thinking about you guys. I really was! If I had blogged during my little Christmas vacation, here’s what I would have blogged about. In title-plus-three sentences-format.

Friday, December 23: Fit ALL OF THE THINGS Into The Suitcase

I successfully finished my shopping. My suitcase was 54 pounds. Thanks, Continental, for letting that one slide.

Saturday, December 24: A Christmas (Eve) Miracle

The miracle is that blue sky. In Tacoma…in December! Too bad it disappeared with the sunset that afternoon (at, like, 3:30….Jesus H, PNW latitude!) and never reappeared, replaced by the gloomy perpetual drizzle that I remember so fondly from my childhood winters.

Sunday, December 25: Jubelale!

Family, food, and of course beer! Winter Warmers are irresistible, and boasting a 97 BeerAdvocate rating, Deschutes Brewery’s Jubilale is a fine representation of the style. Enjoyed one, then two, then…uh…. (Pilfered from the family fridge, 6.7% ABV)

Monday, December 26: Jubel…ail

Alternately titled: How to spend the day after Christmas loafing on the couch with a itty bitty kitty (literally…my mom’s cat is like four pounds) on your lap, watching way too many episodes of Property Virgins, which is a show you don’t even really like because it’s always in freaking Toronto, but you’re feeling too fetid to fetch the remote. And then rally and head to another Christmas celebration with even more boozing. Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 27: Mem-reeeeeeez

The day, chronologically:  (1) a run on my favorite high school trails; (2) a trip to the mall where I used to hang out as a dorky middle schooler; (3) happy hour with my dad at a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the sound; (4) a bottle of wine in my mom’s rec room while digging through a box of old childhood crap. That last one yielded some hilarious treasures which I’m excited to share with you very soon. And the wine – Darby’s Viognier Blend, from Washington’s Columbia Valley – was excellent.

Wednesday, December 28: Mad Gluttony

Lunch: sushi at Kikasu in Seattle, which included the the best Albacore and Red Snapper I’ve ever laid lips on. Dinner: a little bit of the South in the PNW, as I made a big batch of Rosemary Gorgonzola Grits (pictured) to go with our grilled ribeye steaks. Boarded an eastbound red-eye flight with distended bellies.

…and that brings us to today, which can pretty much be summed up thusly:

It was a good Christmas and a nice trip home to Washington, but I missed my CHUBBY KITTEH SNUGGLES.

I hope y’all had good holidays too! Til tomorrow…

The 1200-meter Airport Gate-to-Gate Sprint

Here’s a spoiler: I didn’t win.

When our overnight flight from Maui – delayed by an hour – touched down at SFO just fifteen minutes before the departure of our connecting flight to Houston, I knew it was going to be a close one.

“No way are we going to make it,” we all said, as we hefted rollerboard bags from overhead bins.

As it turned out, everyone was connecting to Houston. It was one of those oddly charming moments of commiseration among the randomly miserable. We had shared the same row of this Boeing 767 for the last six hours and hadn’t said a word to one another; but now that we shared the same unhappy fate with respect to our prospects for getting to IAH on time, we were best friends.

“We might be able to do it,” I said, to no one in particular. No one particular responded, but I think a couple of people nodded slightly in encouragement.

Adding to the hopelessness of the situation, the pilot came on the intercom and  announced that we would be deplaning in the international terminal. Our connections, should they be of the domestic nature, would take place in the domestic terminal. Of course.

Although I wasn’t intimately familiar with the layout of the SFO airport, I was pretty sure that the distance between our arrival gate and connecting departure gate would be no less than a long f*cking way.

(Because that’s always how it works. When your connection is three hours, you’re at the gate next door. When it’s twenty minutes, you’re all the way across the damn airport, in a separate terminal, at the very last gate at the end of an interminable hallway.)

“I’m going for it,” I muttered as we shuffled forward through the aisle. I hefted my purse over my shoulder and resolutely extended the pulley arm of my carry-on suitcase, and I sprinted off of the aircraft and up the jetbridge like I was coming out of blocks on a track.

What happened next should have been one of the most heroic running performances of my lifetime. Seriously; in terms of sheer athleticism, it was nothing short of incredible. In spite of the uncomfortable chafing of my pajama pants and sloppy slippers, I sprinted. Against the protests of my rollerboard bag – which wobbled perilously as I pushed the limits of its little plastic wheels, derailing on to its side approximately every seven seconds – I persevered. I flew past confused morning commuters and started sleepy employees as I streaked through the terminal like an awkward adrenaline-fueled comet.

And for a few glorious moments, I was sure I was going to make it. Everything seemed to work itself out: my fuzzy slippers stopped slipping off of my sweating feet, my suitcase stopped flopping around, and I was just running.

I pre-played the coming scenario in my head. I would stride up to the gate like an Olympic champion just as the boarding door was closing. I’d then graciously but firmly demand a pause in the boarding process, and, a few minutes later, stand by to accept the praise and thanks of my fellow Maui-to-Houston connectors as they filtered by me, peering back shyly to marvel at my athletic prowess as they descended the jetbridge onto the plane that was supposed to have departed without us.

This fantasy fueled my legs further, and I picked up the pace even more as I rounded the corner of a long corridor and headed toward our gate, positioned (of course!) at its terminal end.

I broke in to a full-on sprint, as best as I could with my burdens, and it was every bit as difficult as those last few minutes of a hard-run 5K.

At last, the gate was in sight. The boarding door was still open, attended by a gate agent who was giving the boarding area a frighteningly final look. Like a farmer surveying his field of crops before heading in for his supper and thinking: Good enough for today.

“HOUSTON CONNECTION HOUSTON HERE HOUSTON!” I yelled maniacally. I put on a final surge toward the finish line. My suitcase topped over yet again; I dragged it on its side as I staggered toward the port.

And that gate agent? She looked me directly in the eye – there was eye contact! I swear! – and shut the door to the jetway.

“BUT!” I exclaimed, holding my side and panting. “BUT I’M HERE!”

She gave me a blank look.

“Our flight! It was delayed! And I ran here! And I’m here! And the plane’s there! And there are like twenty people coming…they’re right behind me…we’re all here!”

She blinked and replied: “I’m sorry ma’am, it’s not possible to open the door at this time.”

At that precise moment, the jetway door clicked open and two airline employees emerged from behind it. I raised a sweaty eyebrow in my best attempt to appear cleverer than the system.

I tried again: “But…the plane’s there! It’s right there!”

But it was all for naught. My delusions of heroism were shattered. I’d been too slow. I’d hustled my ass off for a total of perhaps five minutes, and missed my window by just a few seconds.

“I can rebook you,” she said, holding out her palm for my boarding pass, her face still remarkably blank. I stood there, perspiration dripping down my face and my pajama pants sticking to my sweaty legs, expecting an “I’m so sorry” or a “My hands are tied” or maybe even a “Wow, this must really suck for you.”

But all she did was tap on her computer in the endless way that airline employees tend to tap on their computers. (Seriously…it takes me four clicks to see what flights are available on Kayak? What is with all of the typing that they always have to do?)

And then I sighed, resigned. The inevitable crush of displaced passengers – my former compatriots from that flight from Maui – had begun to arrive. They queued up behind me and all of a sudden I understood the gate agent’s indifference. She probably was not thrilled about having to report to work before dawn and deal with the likes of us. For her, this was just another of the endless workplace transactions that make up her day. All of the drama and potential heroism that I’d assigned to the situation was routine to her, and to the scores of people who run the airport and who deal with this sort of crap every single day.

Three hours later, we were on a flight to Houston. And just a couple of hours later than planned, we were turning the key to our apartment door in Raleigh. Slightly inconvenient, but not exactly the catastrophic disaster that I’d concocted in my mind while I was gunning down the airport passages, hoping to save the day.

But still. Five seconds? Ten seconds?

No matter how unimportant, it always sucks to lose a race by a hair.

A smile by any other name

The way I replayed it in my head, I came across the CIM finish line with a big grin on my face.

In reality, apparently, I looked as constipated and miserable as usual.

Running is hard. The photos don’t lie!

I was a veritable ray of sunshine afterward, though.

And I think I’ve done enough smiling this week to make up for those grimacing moments in the last part of that race. Ah, vacation.

Ziplining: n., an activity in which tourists pay exorbitant sums of money to wear unflattering harnesses.

Just kidding. It was a lot of fun.

So I owe you guys some Shakoozie winners! Congrats to #62, Summer, who’s keeping it classy with Bud Light, and #45, Kimra, who definitely needs to share her Anchor Christmas with me because I’ve never tried it.

Check your emails, you two.

We’re headed home tonight and I’ll be back to regular posting on Monday, with another boozy giveaway. Until then…

Prairie dawn

I’m home again after a quickie trip to the Chicago ‘burbs and back.  My husband’s family is from there, so I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the area over the years.

Which is why I am astounded that I had never discovered this before:

I almost ran on the hotel treadmill on Saturday morning. Almost. It was 28 degrees outside, and although the sun was shining, I’d neglected to pack tights. And the thought of running around the area’s subdivisions with numb purple thighs was almost as unappealing as pounding the mechanical belt.

I’m so glad I decided to sack up and run outside, though. Quite by accident, I stumbled upon this gorgeous trail.

Apparently the Illinois Prarie Path has several branches that run all over the western suburbs. How have I been missing this all of these years?

My legs were a little chilly,  but my feet were toasty inside these Gore-Tex Nike Pegasus sneaks that I got a couple of weeks ago. I’ll admit: I totally brought them because they seemed to look relatively un-dorky with the jeans and hoodie I wore to the airport on Friday (I travel in style!) but they were great for crunching through frosty leaves, too.

Anyway. I ran eight lovely miles and was back in time for breakfast. It was a gorgeous day and I’m so glad I got out to enjoy it before spending the rest of the day trapped in a conference room.

(At least there were chocolate rocks in the conference room!)

And, lastly, no out-of-state trip is complete without local beer.

Three Floyds is actually an Indiana operation, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample one of their beers, having seen them featured regularly on Marie’s blog before she went and got herself knocked up. The Pride & Joy is an American Pale Ale that’s billed as a “Mild Ale” – mild referring to the relatively low alcohol content, not the flavor. Because there was lots going on, flavor-wise: perky hops, puckery pine, summery grass, and even a little sweet citrus fruit. Lots of bubbles. It was the sort of beer that made you kind of want to hold it in your mouth for a while (shut up) so you could process everything that was going on with it. Very interesting, very enjoyable. 5% ABV.

Bottom line: Definitely worth trying if you can find it! (Purchased at a bar in Naperville, $6/12 oz)

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend. And the dry cough that was bugging me all week last week has disappeared, so guess who gets to make up that 20 miler tomorrow?

Low roller, high mileage

Vegas. Where irresponsible behavior is not only accepted, but expected.

Vegas. Where all types of people come together.  Social barriers are temporarily dissolved by a shared desire to relinquish cash and drink watered down cocktails.

Vegas. Where the absurd seems normal.

Vegas. What happens there stays there…along with your paycheck!

Vegas. Where another drink at the bar at 3 AM is always a reasonable idea.

I love Vegas.

I’m happy to report that I was pretty good this time around, though!  I came home with an intact bank balance and all of my shoes.

The wedding on Saturday night was a blast. After a short but sweet ceremony in the Planet Hollywood chapel, we headed upstairs to the couple’s spacious suite for a casual cocktails-and-cake reception. The view was pretty unbeatable:

After pretending we were a rock stars for a couple of hours, I poured some Champagne in a to-go cup (did I mention that I love Vegas?) and we hit the strip.  See beginning of post for details.

Congrats Stef + Jeff!  Thanks for giving the fam an excuse to get together in one of my favorite cities.

I did manage to get a run in on Saturday, on the treadmill.  Sunday, ahem, was definitely a rest + travel day.

I’m pretty happy with 50+ miles on only five days of running.  I’m going to cut back a tad this week as I have a 5K on Saturday morning.  Plus, I’m a proponent  of alternating a slightly lower volume week in every 2-3 weeks when I’m trying to build up my mileage.

September goes down as my highest month so far this year…

Definitely on track for 2011 in 2011!  Bring on the cooler weather and the miles.

Vegas, two ways

In my head, my long run this week was going to be so amazing. Dry desert air. Gorgeous rust-colored mountains. The crisp smell of chapparal at dawn, the rustling of cottonwood leaves….

I love the desert.

“And, you know, it’ll be relatively flat,” I confided to a co-worker on Thursday afternoon, as I boasted of my impending escape from the punishing humidity and rolling Raleigh hills.

Yeah.  Flat like a Kardashian’s ass.

Just 20 miles west of the Las Vegas strip, Red Rock Canyon is a patch of desert ringed by stunning peaks in all shades of pink, red and orange.  A 13-mile one-way road circles the canyon; every couple of miles, pullouts packed with Jeeps and Subarus slathered with Five Ten stickers nod to the hundreds of rock climbers tucked away in the slot canyons, shimmying up some of the nicest sandstone in the country.

I’ve been to Red Rocks zillions of times. Back when I lived in LA and climbed regularly, it was a favorite weekend destination.  I did my first multi-pitch climb there.  I got engaged there.

So why I thought it would be flat…I have no idea.  I guess when you’re circling the canyon in a car with your nose buried in your climbing guidebook, you don’t really notice the hills.

Because the entire thing is hills.

I left the Strip in my little rental car at 6 AM on Friday morning.  I was cruising down the 215 freeway as the sun peeked over the mountaintops when I realized I’d forgotten my Garmin. I cursed loudly. But as I ascended the first hill (which, according to the mileposts on the side of the road, was over two miles long), I realized it was a blessing in disguise.

Because I was running slowly. Really slowly. Cars and cyclists cruised by me, disappearing from view around this curve or that one, then reappearing in miniature form a few moments later in the distance.  They were still climbing.

Finally, thirty minutes later, I started a long descent. Down into the valley. It was glorious.

But I could see the shimmering cars in the distance, up on a plateau. Long climb up; long drop down. Rinse and repeat for three hours and ten minutes. (Roughly.)

Twenty miles. (Roughly.)

On foot, the loop is fifteen (including the two miles on the highway, from where the scenic loop dumps out back to where it started).  I played around on some of the hiking trails to add some distance and take a break from the pavement.

I’m always amazed at how alive the desert is. As I picked my way along the rocky trail, startled lizards dove into the sand. Miniature birds flitted around on the scrubby ground. Tiny jackrabbits leaped from brush to brush.

I didn’t see any wild burro, which was a disappointment.  I didn’t see any rattlesnakes, which was a relief.  Hoardes of tourists from Vegas were also noticeably absent.  I wonder, as I have before, how many of them even know that this is here – just twenty minutes from where they sit, entranced by slot machines, bathed in florescent casino light, completely unaware of the natural beauty of this place.

When people ask me why I love Vegas so much, that is why.  The contrast between those shadowy canyons, so wild and remote and stunning, and the neon playground full of wonders of a different sort altogether.  Hike, climb, run, commune with nature by day; party like a rock star by night.

By 11 AM, I was back at the hotel, showered, and ready to take on Vegas.  The other Vegas.

Pre-game was a Belgian White from Wasatch Brewing (which is in Utah). It was good. I love traveling and being able to pick up random beers that I can’t get at home.

And I’m up sixty bucks, thanks to a generous slot machine at the Paris.

What was that about mountains and rattlesnakes? Let’s go hit the blackjack table.

One by two, two by one, afternoon sun

Rhyming is fun.  But running in the sun hurts a shit-ton.  (Okay, I’m done!)

I couldn’t make it to this week’s track workout because I had to work tonight.  So I set out at lunchtime for a little solo speed session on the greenway.

The assignment: 1 X 2 mile at half marathon pace and 2 X 1 mile at 10K pace. Quarter mile of recovery between each one.

The results: Pretty close on the HM pace.  Too fast on the 10K.

What else is new?  Ooof, that’s closer to 5K pace!  It was still a great hard workout, though.  Although with the total lack of shade and persistent humidity, I was totally tomato-faced and salt-encrusted at the end.

It’s supposed to cool down this weekend here in North Carolina.  But I’ll miss it because I’ll be in Hot Vegas! My cousin is getting married there on Saturday, so this is a family trip of sorts. The spouse is staying behind, so I’m planning to camp out on the sofa in my mom’s hotel room.  Like any classy 31-year-old.

Also, I leave tomorrow and I haven’t started packing yet.  I thought about trying to be super helpful for y’all and doing this whole elaborate post about my packing process…but then I realized that my packing process for a trip like this basically involves shoving some running clothes, a swim suit, and a wad of $5 bills for the craps table at O’Shea’s into a duffel bag.  Oh, and maybe a dress for the wedding. I suppose the bride would appreciate that.

Stay tuned for exciting dispatches from the Mojave!  Or maybe some drunk tweets.  Or both.