Category Archives: cities

The Cycling Trails of Metro Phoenix

People tend to think of Phoenix as a sun-belt car centric city, and for the most part they are correct. While Arizona ranks fairly low in terms of miles driven per capita, biking and public transit are not widely used in the Phoenix area. As is the case in other sun belt places like Southern California and Texas, driving is the default way to get from point A to point B. However, this does not mean that the region has no bike trails, nor does it mean that the area cannot be explored by bicycle.

Maricopa County Bike Map

The bike trails are quite nice and not crowded at all. My visit to Phoenix came at probably the best time of year to bike around the city, in the middle of April, and I was commonly the only one on the trail.

There are also a good number of trails, all connecting most parts of Phoenix and the nearby suburbs.

The crown jewel of the trail system is the Arizona Canal Path, a trail nearly 70 miles in length connecting places as far apart as Glendale and Scottsdale.

The trail has a very unique feel. The canal is obviously not natural. Nothing about it feels free flowing like the rivers and creeks I am accustomed to seeing elsewhere. It was constructed in the late 19th century kind of as the towns around Phoenix were being settled and incorporated. They needed the water and the means to transport goods, which was then far more dependent on water then. Later, they built Arizona Falls to harness some power from the canal.

Still, none of this is what I typically envision when I think of riding a bicycle along a river and seeing a waterfall.

However, the ride is not without natural beauty. Mountains, cactus and palm tress emerge around every curve.

It’s such an interesting feeling. Little mini-mountains in the middle of a city with over 1.5 Million People. Natural beauty around every curve, but every curve was planned carefully by engineers. Some of us are so accustomed to thinking of natural experiences as being separate from human development. This is especially the case in places like New York and Chicago where our homes are surrounded by development but we travel a few hours to be away from that development in nature. However, here on all of the Phoenix area bike trails, there is both, right there in front of my eyes.

Along these trails, it is possible to visit a lot of the area attractions. From the kinds of places you’ll see in almost every major city.

To spring training facilities for baseball and softball alike.

To the college and professional sports stadiums.

While exploring, you also never know what kind of random attractions you’ll encounter. Right in the middle of town there is a castle, and just east of town there is this hole in a rock people like to hike into.

I even got to see Central Station under construction and the one light rail line downtown.

I also learned one other important lesson, the difference between cycling long distances in a semi-arid area like Denver and a full-blown desert like Phoenix.

Usa Map Of Köppen Climate Classification - 2018 Iecc Climate Zone Map -  Free Transparent PNG Download - PNGkey

In this part of Arizona, it was hard to drink enough water without even doing anything that involves physical exertion. Spending the whole day riding my bicycle felt like a constant search for water. I guess I now understand why the bike trails are empty and why they follow a series of waterways built to bring water into the area. It even facilitates some agriculture surprisingly close to the city center.

Still, there is nothing like the feeling of visiting so many tourist attractions traveling by bicycle on a day with sunshine and temperatures in the 80s (26-32° C).

Suburbia Continues to Expand

This recently built “active adult” community is an hour’s drive from downtown Phoenix and surrounded in all directions by sagebrush and cactus. This spot is one of many places all over North America where previously untouched land is being developed into homes and other facilities.

It is a trend that really began in earnest following World War 2. Despite the much talked about “urban renaissance” of the 1990s and 2000s, suburbia continued to grow. Houses continued to be built on previously untouched land.

Just ten miles to the East of this randomly placed community is the City of Surprise, an outer suburb that has recently grown from a population around 30,000 at the turn of the century to over 140,000 today! This rapid growth occurred right through the height of the “urban renaissance” and the housing market collapse of 2007-2009.

Demand for suburban homes is expected to expand once again as people continue to embrace remote work after the pandemic. The emerging consensus appears to be some kind of “hybrid” scenario where people have an office to come into for meetings and group work, but also have the flexibility to work at least half of their time from home. This is the perfect scenario for continued expansion of outer suburbs like Surprise, as an hour commute is far less painful one or two days a week than five. With this scenario, people will now desire homes large enough to be comfortable in their home offices.

As is the case with any trend, some will appreciate it while others will not. At any given point in time, nearly everyone will be able to point to at least one trend they are enjoying or encouraged by and at least one other trend they view far more negatively. When observing things like these, it is important to remember a few things.

First, no trends are permanent. A look back into history can show examples of countless trends that found a way of reversing themselves. The “hippies” of the 1960s and 1970s became the “yuppies” of the 1980s and 1990s. In an even a more recent example, most of the 2010s saw pop music get slower and more depressing. Over the past several years, this trend has reversed itself. It would be foolish to assume any trend will continue on its current course forever.

Second, it is quite difficult to try to reverse or impact any of these larger scale trends. They are often the result of something far more major. Right now, suburbia is becoming more attractive because of the need for space for home offices with increased remote work. Developments like the expansion of ride sharing companies like Uber and the promise of self-driving cars are also making larger suburban homes more attractive to some. Similar explanations can be made for other trends and observations. Much of what is going on right now, socially and politically, are the result of a combination of human nature/ psychology and recent technological advancements. The only people who are able to have any real impact on trends like these are the ones that are both influential and relentless.

Finally, for those that are not in a position to impact societal trends, the best thing to do is to anticipate and react accordingly. This is most effectively done by understanding the mechanisms behind a trend and observing when it feels like the underlying conditions are going to change. This is the part that has the potential to be really enjoyable for curious people who love to speculate about the future. On the flip side, it is possible for some to spend too much time lamenting the trends they do not view as positive developments. In many cases, it leads to people focusing too much on what they can’t control and can have unfortunate negative impacts on their ability to live their best lives. Those that can control this urge and anticipate shifts in trends, however, will be well positioned for the future.

Going Great; Going Poorly

I was riding my bike on a 76 degree (26°C) day in November , a day which tied a previous record high (November 17, 2020).

By early afternoon I was riding home but still 20 miles away. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a light piece of metal hit the road. Before I could react, my pedal was no longer attached to my bicycle.

I had to slowly brake without putting myself in danger. I walked 1.8 miles (2.9 km) to what appeared to be the nearest bike shop. The place was empty. Research would show that this was a new business that had yet to fully occupy that address.

What to feel?

When you’re lucky enough to be able to spend a day like this outside, it is hard to feel too sad. Sure, I was sitting in a suburban parking lot waiting to get a ride to another bike shop. The air temperature and the sky were perfect, though. It’s hard to imagine getting better sun in mid-November.

The first 20 days of November has been unprecedentedly warm, almost 8°F (4.5°C) above average. At a time of year when people are typically forced indoors, as it becomes increasingly cold, dark and cloudy, nature has provided the opportunity for abundant adventure!

Yet, this very same weather pattern, which has been around for several months, has lead to a drought across much of the western United States.

Each warm dry day in the mountains was a great day for many. Yet, each one of those warm dry days took us one step closer to wildfires so powerful and destructive they could be seen 60 miles (96 km) away!

This particular fire lead to people having to flee their homes in panic!

The very nature of existence seems to always mix the good with the bad. Life has so many components to it, it is hard to look at a specific person or find a specific period of time and not see both positives and negatives. Some of the years when my career was truly going nowhere were also the years I had some of my best travel adventures. This year has featured a lot less travel than I would prefer, but with work I can do remotely, and a recent change in outlook on money, my financial position has improved. Between our homes, careers, social circles, relationships, adventures and hobbies, likely 90% of all people are doing great in some respects and doing poorly in others.

In my home country, November 2020 has become an exaggerated demonstration of this very phenomenon. Every week more progress is reported about the development of vaccines to finally end the COVID crisis.

There is hope it could be distributed in time to make all of our summertime activities possible! Yet, the current situation is dire. The case numbers are spiking, hospitals are running out of beds and staff and people are dying. Many states are reimposing restrictions and lockdowns. We are preparing for a dark kind of winter of despair.

Meanwhile, we are coming off an election whose results gave pretty much everyone, across the spectrum of ideologies, something to love and something to hate.

In truth, almost everything has a component to it that is good and a component that is bad. Tough situations have the potential to lead to personal growth and innovation. Even wars are often credited with scientific and technological progress. Meanwhile, many who had a comfortable and sheltered upbringing are entering the world without the skills to cope with adversity. Maybe one of the lessons 2020 is trying to teach us is that we need to be far less quick to assess things with a broad brushstroke as good or bad. As we realize things like the limitations in using GDP as a measure of success, we accept a more nuanced view of what is in front of us.

Goals and Metrics Put in Context

The debate about how to set goals and determine “success” is quite well aligned with the debate over how to approach life itself. On one side, there are those who say “everything can be measured.” In places like the United States, only a fortunate few have never been asked to set SMART Goals.

The SMART Goal system

This goal setting method has plenty of support, especially in the world of business and personal development [1][2][3]. To be fair, setting goals in this manner does prevent them from becoming vague, disorganized, unrealistic pursuits where one can easily lose focus and have no idea when they have been achieved.

This is the path of the left-brained, the detail-oriented, the driven, often the successful, those who build things and guarantee quality.

After all, it is more effective to describe an athlete as someone who can run 100m in 10.4 seconds than to simply say this person is “really fast”, and it is easier to contextualize a video with 100 million views over one that is “really popular”.

However, those more vague terms represent the actual goal. People tend to think of those on the other side as the more artistic types.

However, there are plenty of people in more traditional and even corporate types of leadership critical of the extremely numeric style of goal setting exemplified by the SMART goal system [1][2][3]. They are criticized, and rightfully so, for possibly putting a cap on one’s activities and being too short-term in focus. Once the specific number is reached, what’s next? Is mile number 2,001 pointless?

What about the day after the year ends?

Perhaps more importantly, these goal setting systems are charged with lacking emotion and having no connection to the underlying reasons for the state of our live. Goals like riding 2,000 miles in a year have no connection to the manner in which habits and mentality truly shape a person’s life. In essence, they miss the center of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Whether or not one believes that everything (or most things) can and should be measured depends on experience and personality. It’s where the focus is. There is no sensical way to create a quantitative measurement of watching a sunset over a lake while a distant wildfire slowly expands.

Many other areas of life, both professional and fun, ARE all about numbers and only numbers.

Whether or not any individual should set a specific measurable goal depends on their personality and situation. However, not in the manner that most would expect. A person can understand that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy, or fulfilled, but have no idea how to go about finding that happiness or fulfillment. Likewise, one can toil over quarterly numbers and annual targets but one day find themselves completely disconnected from any meaning behind what they are doing. Both these states are recipes for depression.

At any given time in life, what a person needs is the piece of the puzzle they are lacking. Therefore, it is the unfocused creative with a vague idea of wanting to “make the world a better place”, that could benefit from a goal like getting 10,000 people to listen to their podcast. Meanwhile, the highly driven analytically-minded professional on the verge of burnout could benefit from laying off these numeric goals for a while and focusing on their mental state and underlying reason for wanting what they want.

After all, many of these experiences would not have been too much different had the year 2020 ended with only 1,900 logged miles, as opposed to the 2,200-ish it will likely end up at when the year ends.

The Monsoon the Never Arrived

The North American Monsoon typically arrives in the Southwestern United States in mid to late July. Unlike some monsoons in other parts of the world, this one does not bring a consistent or steady rain. After all, it is a very dry region. Normally, for four to six weeks, most days will feature scattered thunderstorms across the region.

As has been the case for many expected events this year, the 2020 monsoon never happened.

Many places, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah received little to no rain along with hotter than normal temperatures. While there is variance in how strong these monsoons are from year to year, this year it seriously NEVER ARRIVED. 2020 is tracking to be the driest summer ever in Phoenix, while Las Vegas is on the verge of breaking a record for its longest streak without rain.

This has lead to widespread drought, raging wildfires, particularly across central California and Colorado, road closures, and smoke everywhere!

It feels as if Denver and the other front range cities have been under a constant barrage of smoke, with air quality alerts every day for the entire month. Day in and day out its been the same story. It is usually pleasant at sunrise.

But, this pleasant period is reserved only for early risers. It only takes a couple of hours of sun for it to begin to feel quite hot. Some days a few clouds show up as a teaser.

But the storm never arrives, just a hot wind. The last time there was any measurable rain was the first of the month, and that wasn’t much at all.

Each day, I’ll check the forecast only to see more of the same.

Forecast for August 20-23, 2020

If there is one theme to 2020 thus far, it’s monotony. We all endured some amount of quarantine, where each day, day in and day out, we have been doing pretty much the same thing. What fascinates me about this whole time period has been different people’s responses to two aspects of what is going on.

First, the monotony. Some people thrive on routine. I don’t! My response to a world where there are no concerts, many special events are cancelled and any travel or socializing comes with an additional risk is to try to create as much variety as possible.

Both the pandemic and the extremely hot summer required many to adjust their routines. COVID-19 forced many people to embrace things like preparing their meals at home as opposed to eating out, working remotely, and finding new ways to connect with their friends.

When hot summer days arrive, it becomes advantageous to wake up earlier to take advantage of the most pleasant part of the day.

Okay, I’m just using this blog as an excuse to show off sunrise photos

So, for many, this is not just a routine, but a new routine. The responses I have observed to this seem to be dependent on three factors…

  1. Does someone like routine or variety?
  2. Is the person enjoying the different routine that these events have created?
  3. How flexible and emotionally mature someone is.

It is hard for me not to dwell on the feeling that this entire year has been far more manageable for the introverted homebody types who love routine. I’ve had to almost entirely rely on item #3 to get me through this. Specifically, I’ve embraced this as the year to fully examine my mindset. How do I embrace gratitude rather than blame? Is there anything in my life that is still holding me back? What am I wasting energy on? Am I still getting trapped in too many negative thoughts? How do I really believe in myself? And, the list goes on and on.

It’s a strange journey because it requires two seemingly contradictory forms of internal dialogue. One one hand, for anyone to reach their true potential as a human being, they must be brutally honest with themselves. This means no more excuses, no more denial about shortcomings and taking responsibility for where one is in life. At the same time, it also requires radical self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. After all, it is important to not deny our problems, but one must love themselves for who they are and be confident in their value as a person to live a full life.

The monsoon is also far from the only expectation that the year 2020 has failed to meet.

Nearly everyone has had an event or a trip cancelled, had a career prospect not manifest, or even had to delay a major life event like a wedding or having a child. It has kind of become chaos, a kind of boring manifestation of chaos, but chaos nonetheless. 2020 has managed to cancel even the most basic things, like happy hours, the summer monsoon and travel on I-70! Handling this feels like an exercise in patience, flexibility and resiliency.

The question that 2020 is forcing all of us to answer is…

Can we put up with the flow of life taking us toward something different than what we had imagined it to be? Can we be ready to adjust to an unexpected change in circumstances? Can we stop fighting and blaming each other? Can we embrace something new? Can we let go of unnecessary assumptions: about the world, about life, about ourselves and about each other? Can we even find a way to come out better for it?

A Day Observing Natural Phenomenon

IMG_0350

It was never the most ideal setup for a storm chase. The convective environment was not too strong and the storms were poorly organized. It ended up being a fairly major day for severe thunderstorms with strong winds in the Southern Plains, as well as Upstate New York and parts of New England.

However, traveling about 90 miles to observe what did happen in Northeast Colorado would only cost me half a day. It was also my first chance to hit the open road since COVID-19.

IMG_0342

It turns out, a panoramic view of several different storms is beautiful and inspiring even if it isn’t damaging property!

IMG_0353

Maybe it was the relaxed pace life had taken over the past two months. Or maybe it was the amount of time we have all started spending in front of screens during this strange period. This storm chase felt less like a mission to get to the best storm possible. It took on kind of an artistic feel.

It is easy to imagine the lone barn in front of an approaching storm, or the seemingly abandoned tiny town of Last Chance, CO with storm clouds gathered all around it as a painting or large photo hanging on someone’s wall for decoration.

IMG_0350IMG_0359

I would later catch up with the one storm that did produce large hail, which I would had to quickly escape to avoid car damage.

After returning home, another storm would pass right over my house right around sunset.

Screensho

As a child, weather was the first thing I became deeply fascinated with. The cycles of the seasons and the way the atmosphere moves around transporting warmer, colder, wetter and drier air impacts everyone. On a day to day scale it can often decide what people are doing with their day. On a longer time scale, it impacts business, food supply and health.

My pursuit of meteorology as a career ended up being kind of a disappointment. What began as a desire to investigate and understand the atmosphere scientifically got lost in a sea of equations, coding, and later egos and corporate buzzwords. Observing the weather through a screen caused it to eventually lose its luster. Seeing powerful lightning up close and hearing the raw power of the thunder put me back in touch with why I love the weather so much.

That evening, after the storms passed through, I took a walk through City Park.

IMG_0371

The orange-y lights shining onto a wet sidewalk adjacent the a lakeshore made me feel as if I were in a different place. I imagined the lake, which is not too big in real life, was the shore of one of our Oceans or Great Lakes. I imagined the high rise apartments nearby to be vacation rentals and I imagined crowds of people once again flocking to the beach.

I couldn’t stop staring at how the lights of different colors were sparkling on the water, gradually shifting with the slow movement of the lake.

IMG_0373

I wonder why I had gone years not noticing things like the way the water makes the light twinkle. Are our lives that out of balance? Maybe recent obsessions with things like yoga, meditation, low carb diets and workout “boot camps” are just our attempts to get our lives back into balance, ways to push back against all these forces in our culture that have lead to unhealthy lives. 

I think about all the beautiful experiences we have with the natural world and wonder if we are obsessed with technology. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives better. Technology has made the whole concept of storm chasing possible. However, I am not convinced all technological developments have been beneficial. To me, there is far more beauty in the air and in the clouds. There’s beauty in the smiles we give one another, the relationships we form and the feelings we get from experiences. There is beauty in love and passion. There is even beauty in things often held in less regard, like causal sex (when consensual of course), some drug related experiences (when not taken to a destructive extreme) and anger when it is born out of the passion associated with fulfillment (when it doesn’t lead to violence of course). At least those things feel more meaningful than staring at screens all day to me now.

Unlike many other people who are old enough to remember a world before people could pull a device out of their pockets and look up whatever they want, I am not “wowed” by technology for technology’s sake. I’ve seen plenty of people impressed by the latest technology, often doing things like moving data around and producing charts.

IMG_0374

Charts like this one, as is the case with scientific investigation in general, mean nothing unless something is learned and something is done based on them.

Technology has the potential to help us work more efficiently, improve our health and even form communities. But, let’s not forget who is in the driver’s seat. Technology and computers are here to enhance our experiences with the world around us, not the other way around. Thank God we occasionally have these moments, where thunder claps louder than any of our devices or when wildlife interrupts our travels, to remind us.

IMG_0286

The Slow Return to Normal

IMG_0154

There I was, standing in the Cherry Creek reservoir, feet in the water, wearing a bicycle helmet and a mask. It was quite the interesting way to spend what was likely the first 80 degree day in parts of Denver (there are no observations downtown and the airport reached a high of 79), and the first day of Colorado’s slow return to normal.

That morning, Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. For me, little had changed. The City of Denver still has a stay-at-home order which was extended nearly two weeks beyond the state’s. The businesses I frequent are all still closed, the guidelines still strongly suggest minimal travel. There is also evidence suggesting that the danger related to contracting and spreading the virus, in Colorado and in Denver, has yet to dissipate. Essentially, Monday’s slight change in policy, like a non-binding resolution or loose talk among friends about big things, felt mostly just symbolic.

Still, like many Americans, I am quite antsy to get back to doing a lot of the things that bring me joy; specifically travel and social activity. My mind is a bit all over the place as I try to reconcile the hopefulness of hearing news about states planning to reopen their economies with the very real threat that still exists. It feels like a classic heart vs. head issue, with many different dimensions and complications. My response is to start small.

Sunday, the last day of the full stay-at-home order, it was a short hike, at a place not too far away, called Steven’s Gulch, with only three other people.

IMG_0114

It’s not the kind of hike that leads to the most spectacular views.

IMG_0119

In fact, after a 500 foot ascent, there is a 1500 foot descent into the gulch, where the trail was quite muddy, and, in places, there was standing water to contend with.

The hike itself, wasn’t about reaching some summit. The largest climb was the 1000 foot climb back to the trailhead (which was surprisingly crowded for a not too well known trail on a day with clouds and rain chances).

IMG_0138

The hike was about being outside, being in nature, being in the woods.

IMG_0124

After weeks of spending far too much time at home, in front of screens, just being in a place that looks like this, putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours is an amazingly calming experience. Having lived without some modern luxuries for the past six weeks, it almost felt somewhat reminiscent of a backpacking trip.

Meanwhile back in Denver, the anxiety was still there and the tensions were still mounting.

IMG_0143

There are so many different factions of people feeling and saying different things about the virus and our response to it. There is so much fear, depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress. All data on the true extent and potency of COVID-19 is so unreliable. It has become nearly impossible to know who to believe.

One of the few bright spots of this whole pandemic is workplace flexibility in many sectors where working from home is an option. Without the commute, the need to get dressed up and be physically in an office for a certain time period, it becomes far easier to do things like go on an extended lunchtime bike ride.

IMG_0158

The ride to the Cherry Creek reservoir from anywhere near downtown Denver is about 13 miles, mostly on a trail. Throughout this pandemic, bike trails have been quite busy. Perhaps this is because the bars and restaurants are closed and more people are enjoying schedule flexibility related to their employment. The sun was bright that day, and there were many more people enjoying the day, on their sail boats or with their friends and family at the beach.

There is no way to tell how the history books will look back upon the Spring of 2020. Each and every person has their own unique way of coping with this major life event. Personally, I hold on to the hope that, in the long run, something good will come out of all of this. I’ve long held the belief that the expectation that people spend 40 to 50 daylight hours at their office is limiting, and something we are now capable of moving beyond due to new technology. With many people putting all this technology to use out of necessity, maybe our work culture will change for the better, opening up many daylight hours for experiences like this.

YHKH3119

Winter Cycling in Colorado

IMG_9426

Colorado weather can be quite variant, especially in wintertime. This variance opens up opportunities and makes winters here far less unpleasant than winters in the Northeast and Midwest. Compared with Chicago, Denver’s winter temperatures…

  • Are 41% more variable
  • Change, on average, 9.3°F from one day to the next (In Chicago it’s 6.6°F)
  • Reach 50°F (10°C) or greater 34.6% of all days, compared with only 7.1% in Chicago
  • Despite this, Denver gets more snow (53.8 inches per year) than Chicago (37.1)

In particular, the greater frequency at which temperatures warm up provides some opportunities. I need not write off an entire season for outdoor cycling. There were six days in January 2020 in which the temperature reached 55°F (12°C).

Then, on Groundhog Day, as if to taunt everyone that buys into the folklore, temperatures across Colorado were exceptionally warm. Denver and the surrounding area reached well into the 70s while some areas in the East and Southeastern parts of the state reached 80!

That morning, Punxsutawney Phil, the most widely known groundhog, would predict an early spring. Later on, Flatiron Freddy, a groundhog local to Colorado, predicted six more weeks of winter. That evening, the weather in Colorado would turn sharply colder and snowier for the foreseeable future.

Groundhog Day 2020 ended up being a perfect demonstration of the opportunities and challenges associated with cycling in Colorado in wintertime. I learned a long time ago to keep to lower elevations in the wintertime due to both wind and residual ice on the roadways. Luckily, the region has a fantastic set of trails. This is actually an outdated map. The network has become even more robust since 2013!

DenverBikeTrails2013

It is all centered around Confluence Park, right in the heart of downtown. Confluence Park itself is a fantastic example of a place where people can get a little bit of time in nature right in the heart of a major city. There is also an REI flagship store!

On Groundhog Day, I decided to ride the South Platte River trail from Confluence Park to Chattfield Reservoir.

IMG_9419

The trail runs a total of 16 miles. The reservoir itself can be reached with only an additional 3 miles of pedaling. This place is tremendous, with the lake in the foreground and the mountains behind. In summer, there are often a lot of boaters.

IMG_9427

One of the challenges that day was the wind. Wild changes in temperature from day to day are often associated with strong winds and Groundhog Day was no exception. The wind came out of the South at 15-20 miles per hour, making the mostly Southbound ride to the reservoir far more challenging than usual. I recall going at about 15 miles per hour the entire way.

Having not done this specific ride for a few years, I forgot how beautiful the Southern half of the Platte River trail is. The trail snakes through downtown Littleton. After that, there are plenty of places where the the river in the foreground and the mountains in the background make one feel as if they are in the setting of a famous nature painting. Much of this land is being preserved as part of South Platte Park.

IMG_9423

The return trip went quite fast, with the wind at my back and the miles just flying by. While I refrain from hill climbs in the wintertime, this ride ended up having some similarities, with a headwind to get to the reservoir and a much easier and faster return trip. I was back at Confluence Park before I knew it!

In addition to the wind, another major challenge of winter cycling is the limited amount of time available. Winter days are short, and without exception start off cold. Even on Groundhog Day, the day cities across the front range would hit record highs in the 70s to near 80, morning temperatures were still in the 25-35°F (-3 to +1°C) range. If one is to wait until 9 or 10 for temperatures to warm up a little, and be limited by a 5 P.M. sunset, there is a pretty limited amount of time or riding. It was for this reason I picked the particular ride I did.

IMG_9431

It is also for this reason that despite Colorado’s frequent warmer days in the winter, I finally decided to supplement my training with some indoor spinning.

IMG_9347

One Cloudy Day in Sydney

The day started with fog. It wasn’t thick enough to cause major travel hazards. But, it was thick enough to obstruct views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the Central Quay train station platform, as well as the 25th floor of a nearby hotel. The hotel concierge would not recommend activities like ferry rides and bridge tours so long as the visibility was as low as it was.

Luckily, that fog would gradually lift over the course of the day.

This would give way to an afternoon that was just cloudy, with five afternoon hours to explore Sydney, as early June has some of Sydney’s earliest sunsets.

It ended up still being a pretty good day to walk through The Royal Botanical Gardens.

The low-level cloudiness of the day, if anything, provided a unique experience. The thick layer of cloudiness felt like it added an element of mystery to the trek through the gardens, with its variable, but often dense vegetation.

Embedded in the trees are plants from many parts of the world, some unexpected.

At the far Northeast end of the garden is Ms. Macquaries Point. There are several paths to get there, each with different vegetation. It is a large garden visitors could easily spend multiple hours at. The view of downtown, from across the bay, is perhaps the best one in the city.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge Tour is supposed to be an epic experience. However, it is expensive (~ AU$ 300), and probably would not have been cost effective on a day like this. Ferry rides to Sydney’s North Beaches, however, cost only AU$15 round trip.

Image result for sydney ferry system map

These ferries track right next to Sydeny’s defining skyline features as it connects downtown with communities like Manly Wharf.

Manly Wharf feels similar to many coastal communities in America, particularly in California. Despite less than ideal weather conditions, surfers ventured in and out of the waves of the Pacific Ocean all afternoon while coastal birds wandered among the humans looking for food scraps.

Over time, their presence becomes something everyone is just accustomed to, part of the background like the sound of the ocean waves or the humming of one’s kitchen appliances.

The great thing about venturing to places like this is the ability to imagine the day to day lives of people who live here. Central Quay is, of course, the most “touristy” part of Sydney. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. Attractions are attractions for a reason; they are great places to visit. However, most of the other people walking around places like this are also tourists, not living their typical day-to-day lives.

img_6758

Here it is different. At the bars, people were cheering on their local team in Australia’s favorite sport- rugby. The shops along the wharf provide not only the kinds of services tourists need, such as restaurants and ice cream shops, but also grocery stores and gyms. Patrons at the bar would encounter others they are already familiar with. Living near this beech and taking a 30-minute ferry ride to work every day feels like an amazing life!

There were also plenty of families in the area, many enjoying the beech, and preparing to take the ferry downtown for the Vivid Light Festival. This festival runs for something close to a month at Sydney’s darkest period, with various light displays illuminating Sydney’s downtown buildings.

It was also quite well attended. It makes perfect sense for an event like this to occur this time of year in Sydney. Sydney’s winters are not that cold. Saturday was a chilly day with temperatures in the 10-15°C (50-59°F) range. This, although not cold from the standpoint of anyone that has lived in cold cities in the Northern United States, felt cold enough to encourage many locals to wear wintry clothing, including coats and hats. For the entire day, most people appeared dressed the way New Yorkers would dress for an evening in December with temperatures just below freezing.

One day stops are never a guarantee. This is especially true in places with variable weather conditions; mid-latitude destinations in wintertime. Travel is often a delicate balance, between planning and spontaneity, between maximizing time and finding time to relax, and between the desire to take part in everything and the limitations of the human body. It is possible to use perhaps the scarcest human resource, time, to its fullest while traveling by doing things like visiting popular destinations in wintertime for one day. However, it requires the understanding that not everything will always go exactly according to plan. Being aware of what is going on, weather and other considerations, while noticing events like like Vivid Light Festival and being open to trying them out will usually lead to a great experience regardless of circumstance. Sometimes, when circumstances require adjustments to be made, the experience can even end up better than the one originally planned.

Downtown Los Angeles; Where the Recent Past Comes to Life

Los Angeles is something that can be felt as soon as visitors exit the airport. The air has a feeling about it that is distinct from drier inland areas but also distinct from the humid areas of the Eastern United States. It feels like a strange combination of warmth and chill that hints at the relatively cool waters of the Pacific Ocean nearby.

Could this atmosphere be why California’s lifestyle is chill compared to the also densely populated cities along the East Coast? This interesting combination of almost tropical sun and breeze coming off the relatively cooler Pacific Ocean creates a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere that is neither begging its residents to get inside like the cold winters of the Midwest nor suffocating like the combination of heat and humidity characteristic of summers in the Southeast.

Los Angeles is a city that came of age in the 20th Century, more recently than most other large cities in the world. When most people think about the region, images of windy roads and people surfing come to mind. Most don’t think too much about downtown Los Angeles. However, Downtown Los Angeles, as it turns out, is also quite historic, as well as vibrant.

First, there is the Pueblo, just across the Street from Union Station.

On the plaza which surrounds the historic monument, performers periodically perform traditional Native American dances, while Olivera Street is a Mexican themed market. Los Angeles, like everywhere else in North America, was originally inhabited by Native American tribes. It was also part of Mexico before it was conquered in the Mexican-American war in 1848. Markets like Olivera Street can be found in many other cities that were originally part of Mexico, including San Antonio and Albuquerque.

One of the oldest establishments in modern Los Angeles is the Grand Central Market, dating back to 1917. Today, it feels like a testament to the idea of multi-culturalism, which is a key component of the current identity of L.A.

Packed into this area, which covers less than a City block is cuisine from all over the world, from Mexican to Salvadorian, Chinese and Mediterranean. It feels like there aren’t two vendors serving the same nationality of food!

Most people who grew up in the United States have seen at least one movie scene filmed at the Los Angeles River.

Perhaps the most famous one is the car race scene in the movie Grease. This river is typically dry, as had to be the case for the teenagers to race their automobiles on the concrete. However, in springtime, especially in wetter years like this one, it can become filled with running water.

The last quarter of a Century has seen a renewed interest in Urban living which has not completely escaped Los Angeles despite its car-centric past.

Downtown Los Angeles has become a desirable place to live. As is the case in other thriving American cities, development is everywhere. The old stereotype that “nobody walks in L.A.” seems to no longer be true, at least for downtown. The sidewalks here are bustling, although not as much as New York.

The Last Bookstore, built in 2005, has also become a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Built at a time when people believed bookstores were going to gradually cease to exist (thus its name), it was built to be so much more than a bookstore. Seemingly influenced by the hipster movement at the time, it was built to be a community center with a strong artistic component.

In particular, the upstairs, referred to as the “book labyrinth”, attracts many visitors, many of whom are taking pictures in front of the most interesting artistic displays.

Many of these visitors appear to be “doing it for the ‘Gram”, a quick way of saying that someone’s primary motivation for taking part in a certain activity is to post a picture that is likely going to get a good amount of likes on Instagram. This can easily be spotted because these individuals are always taking photos with their phones and posing in an attention seeking manner (which can manifest in many ways)

The present-day condition of Los Angeles is in some ways like many other cities where renewed interest in urban lifestyle has brought a lot of new energy and life into the central part of town. New, hip neighborhoods have emerged, with places like Urth’s Coffee shop in the Arts district.

Urth’s Coffee Shop feels like the epitome of trendy, selling expensive coffee and healthy food, essentially exactly what young wealthy urban professionals want. It is a part of the Arts district, which is your quintessential Early 21st Century trendy neighborhood.

However, these districts are often still adjacent to, and sometimes mixed in with the remnants of the urban decay that took place about half a century ago. Adjacent to the Arts district are some places that appear less than desirable and include large homeless populations.

Los Angeles is not nearly as obviously historical as Rome, Athens, or Alexandria. However, many often forget that recent history is still history. An event does not have to have occurred too long ago for most people to remember for it to be historically significant in the sense that it had a significant influence on the subsequent progression of the human condition.

Attractions in and near downtown L.A. uncover pieces of our history whose overall significance is something that is still being determined. The Last Bookstore appears to be certainly influenced by the recent hipster movement, and downtown’s other destinations are impacted by recent movements including globalization and gentrification. One day in the future, this will likely be considered just as historic as monuments from centuries past.