Category Archives: cities

Pittsburgh- a City That Feels Everywhere at Once

For people who love putting things into categories, Pittsburgh has to represent an absolute nightmare! Known as the “Steel City”, no regional map would not place it firmly in the rust belt. Like other rust belt cities, it fell on some hard times when many key industries collapsed in the final 30 years of the 20th century.

However, Pittsburgh is also known for having made a comeback. It’s considered a blueprint for other cities looking for a revival after suffering from the decline of their primary industries.

Pittsburgh’s revival is commonly attributed to versatility in embracing new industries like health care and technology. The education infrastructure and leadership with a more long-term focus is credited with creating the conditions needed for the city to once again thrive.

The story is reminiscent of countless personal stories of people who suffer major setbacks in life and later make a comeback. These stories often involve people who become complacent and stagnant. Typically their livelihoods get disrupted by external events they are unprepared for. Their personal revival stories typically revolve around a combination of adapting a new way of looking at things and tapping into core strengths they possessed all along.

For a long time, Pittsburgh was a place that valued science and education. It is home to several major universities.

Benefiting from it’s hilly terrain, it is also home to the Allegheny Observatory, an observatory over 150 years old where countless star distance calculations have been made.

The hilly terrain makes Pittsburgh unique in other ways.

One of the city’s top attractions in the Duqeuesne Incline, a reasonably priced and dog friendly tram one can ride to overlook the city.

It’s also a historic commuter train as walking up the side of a bluff is often treacherous.

In fact, the entire layout of the city is forced by these geographical features. The city’s downtown is situated where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge into the Ohio River.

Both the football and baseball stadiums are right downtown.

Along with your typical big office buildings and a square which surprisingly seems to attract a lot of loud cars and motorcycles.

To the east of downtown, sandwiched between the Allegheny River and a densely forested bluff is the strip district, which seems like a standard tourist destination.

Pittsburgh’s most unique quality has to be legitimate hiking within the city limits. Riverview Park, on the north end, is one of several places with a system of trails that have significant terrain and fairly dense forests.

It is also a place with plenty of other parks.

When many think of Pittsburgh, they may still think of it as a rust belt city with a rough exterior.

That, of course is only part of the truth, one aspect of the city’s culture. Many of the things Pittsburgh was about before the decline and subsequent revival are still there. There is still all the ketchup.

Pittsburgh’s history also involves a lot of food and traditions based on Eastern European culture.

However, the city has managed to incorporate the amenities demanded by talented urban professionals in the 2020s.

We all are, in a way, every chapter of our lives. A tour through Pittsburgh shows the city before the steel industry declined, during its dark days and in the current era. It’s a reminder of all of our personal stories and how even during the more prosperous times in our lives, the bumps we experienced along the road, as well as who we were before experiencing these setbacks are still a significant part of who we are. Battle scars don’t go away, they are just put into context.

Despite my sincere desire to avoid categorization or labelling, I could not help but want some kind of quick description of what Pittsburgh is. Do people think of it as on the up-and-up or in decline? Do people know how Pittsburgh is viewed by others? What region do they consider themselves to be in?

Pennsylvania has recently emerged as quite possibly the most important state in presidential politics. Walking around town, I could not help but wonder if people here were already starting to dread the inevitable onslaught of political ads that will be absolutely impossible to avoid in the run up to an election that is still over three years away.

When people try to make sense of this state, they will often say the state has a genuine east coast city in Philadelphia, aspects of rust belt and Appalachia and a midwestern city in Pittsburgh. But, some aspects of Pittsburgh felt downright eastern to me. There are the tunnels.

The bridges.

Some neighborhood have really tight roads, reminiscent of the Northeast.

As it is on the East Coast, the roads are often not in straight lines and the intersections are often not 90 degree angles.

In just over 24 hours, my long dormant east coast instincts regarding driving, walking pace, how to act and how to time things kicked back in.

What does the future hold for Pittsburgh? Based on what I have read and seen, it seems like the ability to adjust, long-term focus and unique spirit has not gone anywhere. So, most likely it will be a good one.

As long as people don’t get sick of cloudy days.

A Very Special Day for a Friend in Akron, Ohio

What we seek out, what we invest in, and what we are willing to spend our time and money on has undergone an uneven and somewhat nebulous transformation thus far this century. Perhaps this is because I grew up in the suburbs, but at the turn of the century, life seemed to revolve around shopping malls and the pursuit of material possessions. Since then, my focus has undergone two major shifts, one at the start of the century and one quite recently.

I now have nearly a decade’s worth of entries in this blog, primarily about travel and experiences. The transition from focusing on the material to focusing on the experiences, society-wide, can be seen on Instagram. The Instagram era, and what many people see in their feeds, is the embodiment of people switching from seeking out bigger homes and more stuff to put into them to seeking out experiences in general, many of which have been shared on Instagram over the past decade.

As I pointed out in two earlier blogs [1][2], this year, after all that recently happened, I suddenly found myself most interested in connecting with people. There are a lot of people who have and/or continue to play an important role in my life. At this point in time, this feels like the most important use of my time and energy.

We’re also seeing this shift society-wide. More people are talking about the importance of connecting with locals and local culture while traveling. People are now sharing tips and even building apps to facilitate this pursuit.

To end the Summer of 2021, I went to Akron, Ohio.

To go to a Minor League Baseball Game.

Traveling 1300 miles (2100 km) to go to Minor League Baseball game is not something that is going to appear on anyone’s bucket list. As was the case with my earlier trips this summer, the purpose of this trip was connection.

That being said due to its location in the “rust belt”, Akron often gets a bad rap. However, there is more to the place than industrial decline. It’s probably not the most desirable place to live but it is certainly underrated.

It has a fairly lively downtown.

There are other interesting neighborhoods with some interesting places to go.

And, there a lot of outdoor places to explore.

The Summit Metro Parks are right next to the city.

In this park there a series of trails with dense deciduous forests and a little bit of terrain!

The Buckeye Trail runs right through the park.

There are also some other hidden gems.

This particular railroad crossing reminded me of another time and place where people would commonly run or dismount a horse and jump into the open car of a moving freight train.

The other gem close to Akron is Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is fairly similar the Metro Parks hikes. There are the trees and rolling hills.

Cuyahoga Valley is one of the free National Parks. It also does not appear to be as crowded as some other National Parks can be.

Akron is also right in the middle of an 87 mile trail that connects it with Cleveland, as well as Canton and New Philadelphia. Following the Cuyahoga River, runners and cyclists encounter some scenic spots.

As society shifts it focus from the material to experiences and connection, as we shift our priorities, expectations, habits, and how we perceive work, value and power, our patterns of travel will shift. The conciseness on the post pandemic world where we use virtual meetings more, is that there will be less travel for work and more travel for pleasure. It also feels like more combination trips are in our future. This is because, it is possible to meet people and coordinate work virtually, without having to spend time, money and energy traveling. However, to CONNECT, whether it be with other people, with places, cultures or ourselves, will still require significant amounts of travel. What will likely shift is where we go, when we go there and how we get there.

My Thoughts on Turnpikes

The Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike are not the most exciting of journeys. Much of the area looks exactly the same. The terrain is quite flat. There is corn and soy everywhere. The road connects a series of medium sized cities, coming close enough to efficiently connect them without actually passing through them. It is a form of transportation that maximizes one thing and one thing only: temporal efficiency.

In the Midwest, all roads start and end in Chicago. It took me a while to realize that, while Chicago is right in the middle of the region known as the Midwest, and is its unofficial capital, Chicago is really nothing like the rest of the Midwest. It is a big international city. It moves at a pace that is closer to that of other large cities than the rest of the Midwest.

Once someone leaves the greater Chicago area, they are likely to encounter a completely different mentality and a completely different way of life.

Chicago also kind of divides the Midwest. There are some subtle differences between what lies to the West of Chicago and what lies to the East. These subtle difference are probably only commonly thought of by those of us who have lived in the Midwest and those of us who have driven across the entire region and had time to observe it.

While there are farms everywhere in the region, the Western part of the region, West of Chicago seems to be built more around farmland. They have leveled enough trees to increase surface wind speeds (dense forests tend to reduce surface wind speeds) enough to make it a good place to build wind farms. The economies of many of the medium sized cities in this region are centered around farming equipment,

East of Chicago, trees are more plentiful. Medium sized cities here are a bit more frequent and they have more of a “rust belt” feel.

Cities here tend to have nicknames around what product are manufactured here…

  • Gary the Steel City
  • South Bend the Wagon City
  • Elkhart the RV Capitol of the World
  • Toledo the Glass City
  • Akron the Rubber City

As is the case with the subtle but noticeable difference between the region to the West and the region to the East of Chicago, there is also a subtle but noticeable difference between driving on turnpikes and driving on other highways.

Turnpikes tend to have elaborate exit ramps to facilitate toll collection. As a result, exits are often quite far apart.

Two things happen. First, rather than pulling off at an exit to stop for gas, restrooms and food, it ends up being more common to stop at rest areas.

As homogenized as standard highway driving is compared with traveling on roads that go through the center of town, turnpike driving is even more homogenous. All of the rest areas on the Ohio Turnpike look exactly the same and many of them have the exact same food options.

Also, with the exits fewer and father between, it becomes far less likely that drivers will follow the most direct path from their origin to their destination. Getting to a location is more about finding the nearest exit than the series of roads that provide the most direct path.

Turnpike driving maximizes temporal efficiency, but it is not my favorite method of transportation.

When traveling from place to place, sometimes there are things more important than getting to a destination as quick as possible. There are places to experience along the way. The experience of traveling along the Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike is a reminder of what we lose out on when we focus on one metric and one metric only, in this case temporal efficiency. While South Bend, Elkhart, Toledo and Sandusky will not top anyone’s list of top vacation destinations, whizzing by them from 10-20 miles away on a homogenous turnpike still feels like missing out on something that has the potential to be a worthwhile experience.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Slow Return to Normal

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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.

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

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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