San Francisco | Hospitality, Traveling Alone and Sightseeing

Hospitality

Hugs are exchanged. Kind wishes of safe travels leave lips. I throw my top-heavy pack over my shoulder and step onto the cracked sidewalk while waving goodbye to a carload of friends. For a matter of seconds, I’m alone in a city of hundreds of thousands. Turning around, this feeling washes away. A young man, my friend with whom I’ll be spending the next five days, smiles as he guides me to his second story apartment. Flurries of catch up echo off concrete walls as we climb stairs. It’s been nearly a year since we’ve seen each other. A year since he housed me last. The front door swings open, shoes come off and I nestle my pack into the corner of his room. Fortunately, I may use this space for the coming week. Hunger roars after a long day in the city and we walk to a nearby market to stock up on food to feed the beast and beer to keep it well hydrated. Coming back to his apartment, I meet three gents. Two apartment mates and one roommate. All of whom greet me with a wide smile and a series of questions about my stay in the city by the bay. As day drifts into night, so do I into sleep. Resting comfortably under the cool breeze of an open window, I take notice of what these four individuals have given me. A couch to crash on and recharge my battery, a fridge to store my food and fuel my adventures, a roof overhead to protect me from the elements and a bathroom to shower in and mask the fact I’ve been reusing t-shirts. Over the next four days, however, I discover that they provide me something much more. From Taco Tuesday feasts to nightly Netflix binges to silly arguments and thoughtful discussions, I feel welcome and at home in a city I simply am visiting.

Thanks Brandon, Derek, Delvin, Spencer, and Aaron for extending the wonderful gift of hospitality. It’s a gift I hope to return in full as ya’ll make it down to LA soon. It’s also a gift that allowed me truly to explore the city at my own pace.

Traveling Alone 

Grey hair whips to and fro as he brings the camera up to his squinting face. Finger on the shutter-release, I smile while thwarting my UCLA cap’s repeated attempts to go for a dip in the San Francisco Bay. A strong gust thrusts long silvery strands over the lens. Quickly, he readjusts while elevating the camera back into position. Then, lowers it and finally asks:

“And this is it? Nobody else?”

“Yep” I mutter, caught off guard by his question.

“OK, son.”

As he returns the camera, I thank him and ask if he’d like his own picture taken in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Passing me his phone, he walks to where I once stood and motions to a huddled group chatting among themselves. The four disband and file in rank around the older man. He stands shorter than the rest yet commands their attention. Framing SF’s icon within the shot, I snap a few photos and give his phone back. He kindly waves as he walks away with his family for the day. Surveying my surroundings, I begin to make sense of his question. Couples, families, friends and tour groups are abuzz in this area. It’s definitely a challenge spotting someone who is traveling alone. Someone who chooses to walk in the city rather than drive. Someone who chooses to get lost in the city rather than stick to a well-defined schedule. Someone who chooses to lay on the beach on the fringes of the city rather than lay on the bed of a hotel room in its heart. Someone who chooses to reflect in the city rather than get distracted by a game on the go. Scrolling through my camera, I stop on one particular photo. I spot a young man who looks happy to be traveling alone. A young man who also chose to see the sights in a different way than most.

Sightseeing 

My legs tire. I breathe harder. With each foot strike to hit asphalt on this chilly Tuesday morning, I continue running towards my final destination. Fascinated, that stride after stride on this steep ascent within the heart of San Francisco envelops me in one of the city’s most distinctive features: blankets of fog. Sharing the road with cars and cyclists alike, I’m careful to maintain a safe distance from the two- and four-wheeled vehicles whizzing uphill. Locals, I assume. Individuals who undoubtedly navigate this winding road with less visibility on a daily basis. Motivated by their efforts to reach the top, I refocus and press forward. Pushing through fog and turning around one last bend reveals a near empty parking lot. A few cyclists snack on energy bars while one couple digs out sweaters from their car. Tower viewers, none of which are in use, typically frame gorgeous vistas granted to those who reach the top of Twin Peaks. Downtown San Francisco, the Oakland Bay Bridge and many other notable sites stand clear from atop this high point within the city. However, on this particular morning I only see fog. And rather than gripe over the weather affecting my view, I decide to take it in stride. There will be plenty more opportunities to visit San Francisco and appreciate its beauty from this vantage point in the future. But for the moment, I enjoy seeing the sights just like a local.

Las Vegas, Nevada | Opportunity, Risk, and Reward

Opportunity 

Approximately forty-two million visitors traveled from around the world for an opportunity to stay in Nevada’s most populous city in 2015, and I numbered into that statistic. Driving back last year on I-15 after my brief thirty-six hour trip’s end, I vehemently vowed to never return to that desert city. Yet, I just contributed to the grand total for 2016 and found myself reflecting on an amazing experience full of fun times with old and new friends. Had the city changed? Or had I? In truth, both.

As in travel as in life, change is truly constant. Like a river transporting water slowly shaping its environment, change creates new opportunities out of the familiar. A wise old Greek philosopher once typed wrote “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.” Although Heraclitus might frown at the lack of running water cutting through Las Vegas today, adopting this attitude underlines the importance of opportunity in revisiting familiar locations. Besides, with opportunity comes something more compelling than water that gushes throughout this arid desert city.

Risk

Coursing through shimmering pools towered by glass hotels that reach for the bright sky to neon lit streets bustling and capturing the night, Las Vegas flows with an undeniable frenetic energy. At the heart of the city one will not discover a casino, day pool, night club or restaurant that pumps such vitality to the body of Sin City—one will encounter risk. Risk embedded in these various institutions is equally exciting and terrifying. Will I win or lose money at the casino? Will he/she notice me at the day pool/night club? Will I be happy or sad with the cost of my buffet (Bacchanal!)?

Such conflicting thoughts surround risk. How, then, does one capitalize on the opportunity of risk and overwhelm its negative side? Take a leap in doing something meaningful outside one’s comfort zone while surrounding oneself with good friends old and new—go ahead and gamble. Take a risk that excites you and offers the potential of a positive experience. Overcoming risk while traveling, particularly with the support of close friends, infuses a sea of electric energy into every aspect of a trip. It also produces an incredible, individual present.

Reward

Letting the unknowns of tomorrow and the complexities of yesterday yield to the realities of today. Simply existing while dancing in the here and the now surrounded by many of my favorite people this past weekend truly was an incredible reward. The present of being present. Gained through overcoming risk inlaid in opportunity. Afforded to me by a desert city from which I was self-exiled. Purposeful in its shared quality and euphoric nature. Thanks Las Vegas.

Yosemite National Park | Snow, Boots and Socks

Snow

Crunch, crunch, crunch. Treading along Valley Loop Trail, the foreign sound of snow beneath boots rang through my ears arriving at its final destination. A SoCal noggin near the brink of disbelief, grinding gears to process the c̶h̶i̶l̶l̶y̶  freezing reality of weather that actually fell below 32° Fahrenheit. Brain freeze! But more so numbing beauty. Topping rocks, trees and everything in between, snow powdered Yosemite Valley like sugar on a cake. Making the feast before my eyes white and sweet. Perhaps this unexpected appreciation for the cold stuff explains my blissful ignorance regarding my boots. Perhaps it was the cold truly getting to my head.

Boots

Boots are amazing. Boots insulate feet. Boots provide traction. Boots fall apart. But not all at once. Returning from Mirror Lake, an odd plop accompanied a now familiar crunching of snow. Behind and rushing to catch up with the rest of my group, I paid the sound no real attention (the reality: it was cold…got to keep moving!). Thankfully, an astute companion noticed I dropped something. Except…my camera and its case still snugly hung from my neck. Confused, I turned around to see my friend examining a dark object. He tossed it my way. A connection was made. A disconnection between boot and sole left me in aid. Without traction on one foot and about two inches shorter to boot!

Socks

The fuzzier the better. A phrase aptly used when discussing puppies, dogs, blankets, kiwis (what just me?) and of course, socks. Little did I know how important the fuzzy factor would be in saving my feet from frostbite one particular morning. Waking up at 2:30 a.m. to use the restroom is never fun. The timeless inner battle of deciding to leave the comfort of one’s bed against the off chance one falls back asleep only to hurry to the restroom upon awakening. Neither is a pleasant option. Now imagine the same situation but in a four person tent packed with five people, boots wedged in a distant corner, pitch black darkness and a temperature of 19° Fahrenheit standing in between you and relief. Clearly, two reasonable options arise: get the boots and wake up tent mates in the process or struggle to join the other slumbering souls in an attempt to fall asleep until morning. Fuzzy socks, however, granted me option three: walk through the freezing darkness and snow of Campsite 4 without the fear of frostbite and more importantly wrath of friends awakened. Fuzzy socks, I thank you for all our good nights’ sleep (and the warmth too).