Monday, July 3, 2017

CA-OR Road Trip

Straight from our wedding in Lake Tahoe, we headed north for a 1-week road trip to see a spectacular part of the country.

  1. Westwood, CA & Lassen Volcanic National Park
  2. Klamath Falls, OR & Crater Lake National Park
  3. Ashland, OR & Cascade Siskiyou National Monument

Westwood, CA & Lassen Volcanic National Park

We stayed in a cabin in Westwood, by Lake Almanor a few hours north of Tahoe with my dad for the first leg of our trip. 

Westwood itself didn't have much going on; its claim to fame is a
 giant Paul Bunyan statue.
After a "recovery" bike ride that turned too long due to a bridge repair and
included some pretty narrow shoulders with logging trucks, we planned an off-road
ride for the next day.

We rode up the Bizz Johnson Trail, a ~22-mile rails-to-trails gravel road to Susanville,
with Zack giving a motor-assist to my dad with his Christmas present to me (a bike leash).
My dad and I rode mountain bikes, while Zack had his gravel bike, which provided an
unnecessary boost of speed to him on any non-gnarly roads. 

From Susanville, we rode up forest service roads deep into the hills, forming a loop where we saw only a few other people all day but rode in great areas.

From Westwood, we drove up toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. We stopped on the way to do an out-and-back gravel/road ride to a remote Park entrance. After a nice lunch and a chat with a local book club in Chester (discussing Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime", which we're listening to on audiobook while driving now), we continued on our way to the main visitor's center.

It turned out that the main road through the park was closed to through traffic because of deep snow, however 7 miles were open to bikes (only), and temperatures were in the 70s-80s. Best-case scenario for visiting a National Park, in my opinion! We rode to the end, awed by the sulfur springs and abundant snow.

Open to bikes!

The end of the road

Klamath Falls, OR & Crater Lake National Park

We continued on north to Klamath Falls, a nice town in southern Oregon. From Klamath, we took a day trip up to Crater Lake National Park, about 1 hour drive north. Like Lassen, much of the road was closed to cars but open to bikes and hikers. We did a short ride as far as the road was open, locked up the bikes, and hiked down Cleetwood Cove, the only location along the whole lake where people can go in the water! My dad and I jumped off the rock into the snow-melt water, while Zack laughed and stayed warm. Despite the snow, the temperatures were in the 80s, with bright sun, so we didn't stay cold long.


The final day in Klamath Falls, we relaxed by a park, drank coffee in a café, and did a bit of work in another café. The coffee was excellent; not normally much one to discern different coffee types, I found it good enough to buy a bag of beans. From Klamath, we parted ways with my dad, who would drive back to Wyoming while we turned west to Ashland.

Ashland, OR

Ashland is very cute and hip. It has something like 50 organic coffee roasters, and enough expensive bakeries to be dangerous for Zack and me. The town is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, and full of outdoorsy people biking, hiking, and rafting/kayaking the rivers. It reminds me a lot of Jackson, and a bit of the wine country towns in Sonoma Valley. 

Our first stop in Ashland, before continuing on to the small organic farm airbnb where we would room, was Mix Bakeshop to get earl grey-chocolate chip ice cream. We went back here a few times, since their coffee and pastries were also excellent. 

Saturday, we did a long beautiful road ride that started with a long climb up into the mountains where the air was (thankfully) cooler. The roads were small and low-traffic, and all were paved. My legs felt great after a couple of easy/rest days, and I made Zack suffer a bit. We spent the afternoon eating fancy organic food and lounging by a reservoir – really lovely area.

Our last big ride was Sunday, up Mount Ashland. We rode up fire roads, 5500 feet over ~15 miles to the summit. From there, Zack rolled down the paved road on his gravel bike, while I tried out the world-class mountain biking trails down the mountain; the trails I did were reasonably within my expertise level, though I am becoming a bit curious about how nice a full-suspension bike might feel descending. The trails toward the bottom of the mountain have this incredible banking/berms, making the switchback turns really fun even while I still hold my brakes and get passed by more fearless descenders!

Top of Mt Ashland

After one more recovery ride and 3 more bakery/ice cream/smoothie stops, we drove back to Millbrae to get back to work for a few more weeks.

Our next adventure is moving to Pittsburgh at the beginning of August! Also, let us know if you have any recommendations/ideas for a honeymoon this winter in Patagonia area.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wedding Weekend in Tahoe!

This long hiatus in blog posts skipped over a number of great trips, including:

  • Pre-Christmas in Payson, Arizona with my mom and Nina
  • Christmas in Maryland with Zack's family
  • Tahoe XC-ski trip with coworkers
  • February winter-sports trip to Jackson with my dad
  • Pittsburgh house-hunting trip
  • Sea Otter classic bike weekend
  • Nina's college graduation (Duke)
  • Pittsburgh AWMA conference
  • Yosemite weekend (with so many waterfalls)

...but the most interesting highlight has to be our wedding!!

45 of our closest family and friends gathered for a weekend wedding getaway in Incline Village, NV, overlooking Lake Tahoe. The goal was an intimate, outdoorsy weekend that melded a cycling training camp with a classy wedding, and it turned out perfect. Full photo album here.

Thursday night, Zack cooked one of his Italian specialties -- pasta with fennel-mushroom-sausage sauce. Those in town already not busy with other wedding prep all ate together at one of the houses; rather than staying in hotels, we rented 5 big ski/vacation homes in town and rotated between hanging out at the various houses.

We advised friends to bring or rent mountain bikes, since the riding in Incline Village is spectacular. Due to record snowfall, Friday was the first day of the year the trail was open at all (lucky!!). A few friends and my dad went mountain biking on the Flume Trail, a gorgeous non-technical mountain ride with some serious exposure.
Soon after this, we turned back around...

View of Sand Harbor beach from the Flume Trail!

After a BBQ dinner at the house with the best view, we went to sleep knowing tomorrow was the big day! I didn't feel nervous about the marriage itself (we've already planned a move cross-country and bought a house together, after all!), but the anticipation of the fun weekend events (and associated logistics) kept me awake like Christmas morning used to.

Beautiful view from the deck

Saturday morning dawned early and clear (as usual), and we headed out on a wedding-morning bike ride up Mt Rose. I feel so lucky to have such a good group of friends to join on adventures like this -- it was really the perfect way to start a wedding.

Scenic overlook on Mt Rose

After that, I went to get my hair and nails done (JK!) and we drove down to Preston Park, the informal venue for our reception-with-a-small-ceremony. My mom and her family did an amazing job making the park look lovely and non-picnic-like, with my favorite flowers (hydrangeas) and settings. Zack's uncle Alan performed our ceremony, we said our vows, and we ate great food & drinks, amazing cake, and socialized.
NIna and Isaac

Zack's family eyeing the cakes

My dad and Emmy
Our first kiss
Zack, you are the most amazing man I’ve met. You are brilliant and sweet, and I know I can always depend on you. I love you, and I am so happy to be standing here with you today. I promise to be loving, supportive, and faithful. I’ll be your partner on all of life’s adventures. I will love you through sunshine and through storms for as long as we both shall live.

Shaena, you are my very best friend.  
You are a positive force for myself and everyone around you, and you give meaning to every day.  
I promise to nurture your goals and ambitions; to support you through misfortune and celebrate your triumphs. I’ll be your partner on all of life’s adventures. I will love you through sunshine and through storms for as long as we both shall live.

For our wedding night wild party, we went on a little hike down to the lake and jumped into the water, then played board games -- really the perfect evening for Zack and me :)

Sunday was beach day at Sand Harbor, which turned out even more gorgeous than it looked in the photos! We reserved the 'Group Ramada' pavilion (on January 2nd, the first day reservations were accepted), which worked out well because the beach was otherwise very crowded. My dad rented kayaks, stand-up-paddleboards (SUPs), and a pedal-catamaran (awesome, so fast!). We ate leftover BBQ, catering, and more breakfast, and hung out at the beach all day. By the end, we were a bit exhausted but thoroughly happy.
Nina and Isaac SUP-ing

Pedal-maran sailboat; not much wind, so most of the propulsion came from pedaling
Now, we are on a 1-week road trip through some national parks to Oregon with my dad -- planning an official 'honeymoon' for next winter, but happy to escape and see a beautiful part of the country before we move in a month.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hawai'i - Another Conference-Vacation

Shortly after our August Denmark trip, Zack found out that a coworker had a talk accepted at an academic conference in Honolulu, Hawai'i but wouldn't be able to attend. He graciously offered to give the talk in her place ;)

Zack flew in on Saturday, gave his talk on Sunday, then spent Monday through Thursday learning science, networking, and doing some super-early-morning bike rides along the coast of Oahu. I had initially felt guilty about the amount of traveling I've done this summer and booked flights for Fri-Mon only, but then had a pretty crazy work-month in September so less-guiltily extended the flights for Thurs-Tues. It's not that cheap, but amazingly easy to get to Hawai'i from SF on ~5hr nonstop direct flights. 

We are staying in an airbnb 'apartment' overlooking Waikiki with a pretty nice view!
Thursday, I arrived around 11am (time difference in my favor!), and we walked around and tested out some snorkeling gear. The weather is pretty warm and humid; it would be uncomfortable if there wasn't always the option to jump in the ocean or eat shave ice. 

Shave ice has gotten much fancier than what I remember as a kid!

Honolulu is pretty city-like; lots of traffic, huge high-rises, and some crowded beaches. However, very close by it becomes more secluded and relaxing. The ocean itself is wonderful - warm enough that snorkeling without a wetsuit feels just perfect! 

Friday, we rented a car and drove up to the North Shore with another Stanford grad student. The snorkeling at 'Sharks Cove' was phenomenal and the highlight of the day; so many different fish and coral to swim near. 

Happy after snorkeling at Shark's Cove

Next, we looked for sea turtles at Laniakea Beach. We saw a bunch in the water right next to the shore, but it was hard to get a photo; you can sort of see one here.

After a lunch of garlic-shrimp and fresh pineapple, we visited Byodo-in Temple, a beautiful, serene Buddhist temple with the backdrop of incredibly steep jungle-mountains.
We drove down the east coast to the Byodo-in Temple, then did a paved walk out to a lighthouse, then wrapped up the day with a hike up Kuli'Ou'Ou Ridge


Hiking through the rainforest

Top of the ridge!

The hike was moderately technical, with some branches/rocks/mud and steep stairs at the top up into the clouds. We loved the view from the top, though it was almost a sunset view which meant we had to hurry up/down...

Today, we are worn out from that big day, likely to do some more snorkeling at nearby Hanuama Bay in the afternoon and make plans for kayaking/watersports and more hiking Sunday/Monday! I didn't bring a bike, since the riding in the Bay Area is arguably better but the ocean is much much better here ;) Very nice vacation, then back to work for a while, until we go see family at Christmas.

August - Denmark trip

I got busy with work and waited too long to write a blog post about Denmark, so here is a belated summary. In August, Zack had the opportunity to attend 2 weeks of "summer school" affiliated with his Stanford research group and DTU Physics in Copenhagen. Coincidentally, my company's global headquarters is in Copenhagen, so I could work from that office and learn more about my Danish colleagues/projects. Since the opportunity for subsidized travel without requiring many vacation days doesn't come up too often*, we decided to go to Denmark!

*It does seem to come up often, actually, one of the great perks of academia...which we hope to continue to take advantage of!

We traveled nonstop from SFO to Copenhagen, with bikes checked for free on SAS! Upon arriving, we took the train 5min to the Ramboll HQ, put together the bikes, and left the bike bags at the office for the remainder of the trip.

Departing the Ramboll HQ (by train; but I packed light and set up the
rack/panniers so could actually ride carrying everything!)

The first week was up north in Gilleleje, a tiny seaside town about 45 miles from Copenhagen. We rented an airbnb on the beach, quite lovely. The week was pretty uneventful, nice but not super exciting; did some nice bike rides in the rural countryside, ate some smorrebrod (open face sandwiches on hearty thin rye sourdough popular in Denmark) and pastries (almost too sweet for me, which is saying something!), and while Zack attended the conference from ~8am-8pm each day, I worked remotely after a bit of exploring.

Assorted smorrebrod
Dramatic seascapes out the back door of the airbnb in Gilleleje 
The second week, we spent near DTU in Lyngby, 10 miles north of Copenhagen. Over the weekend, we explored the city and saw museums, landmarks, and various festivals. Copenhagen is a really nice city, and it had a great "walking-city" feel downtown, with so many people out and about walking or biking around and not many cars. We ran into the Gay Pride parade, Copenhagen Fashion Week, IronMan Copenhagen, the Risotto World Championships (self-named), and other generally festive activities.

Bike-traffic jams
I bike-commuted each day to the Copenhagen office, which was an interesting way to learn about the city. The bike infrastructure is really incredible; raised, separated bike lanes/paths with their own signals nearly everywhere. Old women in high heels and pushing carts full of children felt totally comfortable/safe riding bikes around; an indeed, it was probably easier than driving! Not actually a great place if you want to bike places fast, but fascinating to see how it was just a
classic mode of transport rather than a spandex-clad-young-male-death-wish-race. Ramboll does work helping design bike infrastructure and solve bike traffic-flow issues, e.g. in Copenhagen, and I tried to pick the engineers'/planners' brains to learn whether there are ways we can improve in the US.

Walking around Copenhagen
Altogether, a worthwhile trip! We saw lots of sights, and Zack learned some science. The food was expensive and just OK compared to Italy, though the pastries were great. August is a great time of year to visit, with long days and fairly nice weather (similar to SF; usually 50s-70s, a bit of rain).

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Last Legs: Lake Garda, Padua, and Florence

I didn’t manage to write a post for just the Lake Garda section, so this one may be too long with too many details – but skimming the photos should at least be entertaining.

Sunday morning looked like a storm coming, so we did a quick ride up Monte Grappa again, and I abandoned Zack (who didn’t feel great) to summit alone. Sad memories from that, so will say no more ;)


We spent Sunday afternoon through Wednesday morning in Lake Garda (Lago di Garda). This is a huge lake in the PreAlps coming against the northern border of Italy. With beautiful mountains (known for hiking and mountain biking), wine and olive country, and water sports, it is a popular vacation destination for Germans and Swiss – and the price is much lower than similar areas in Switzerland!

Rain starting to come in over Garda

The first evening, we met up with my high school friend Lauren in a town Desenzano del Garda on the southeastern side of the lake; she is teaching elementary school in Brescia, and by chance saw on Facebook that we were in Italy – small world! Desenzano is full of cute restaurants and gelaterias, and gave us a nice first (and really only) experience walking along the lake’s edge.

On our way to Desenzano, we stopped by an Esselunga supermarket and stumbled upon delicious chocolate – coarse-made like Taza, for those familiar with the Somerville MA factory. We bought 3 random interesting-looking chocolate bars, and one of them was style “di Modica”. After, we scoured the internet and searched along the rest of our route in hopes of another supermarket selling these bars at a reasonable price to bring back to the U.S.

The plain package with the cinnamon sticks is the winner.
We are semi-seriously considering setting up a double-boiler
and trying to make this ourselves when we move to Pittsburgh –
surely CMU lab equipment might suffice?

Monday was raining hard from the start, so we decided it would be a good relax-and-explore-by-car day. Our Airbnb was in a remote place mostly chosen for its nice swimming pool, so weather was unfortunate and we ended up driving a lot on this leg of the trip. There were 2 cute farm dogs, though! We visited 2 ‘museums’ and learned about historical and current techniques to make wine and olive oil, and enjoyed free samples of both:
  • Zeni Wine Museum                                                               
  • Olive Oil Museum (how did they get the website

We also managed to cook ourselves pretty good authentic
Italian pasta – Bigoli with truffles and bigoli with duck sauce

Tuesday was likely our last big bike ride. Weather looked OK for the morning, with high chances of rain in the area starting sometime between 11am and 3pm – an unfortunately broad range. I decided to be versatile and made up 3 routes of varying degrees of mountains using the Strava heatmaps, where we could change directions mid-ride if the weather turned. First we climbed another huge mountain, Monte Baldo, complete with a ski area and a bit of snow at the top. It was really beautiful, and the scale is hard to show with photos. After descending in a bit of mist, we decided not to risk the next peak (90% chance of rain, apparently, by then) and wove our way back on some beautiful bike paths that went through olive groves. While the riding is great in most of our Italy experiences, the bike paths were generally pretty terrible (often nice paved surfaces that abruptly ended after about…200 meters). The paths by Lake Garda were great, though. We could see the rain off behind us, but Lake Garda itself was still nice, so we added in a little loop and an extra gelato stop at the end and returned home about 15 minutes before it began to pour rain! Success.[Route]


Wednesday we had to return the car in Padua by 4pm, so I planned a brutal up-and-down shorter ride on the way to Padua in Parco Regionale del Colli Euganei. By mid-way up the first climb, my legs told me they’d had enough and didn’t feel like riding, so we stopped for a long pasta lunch instead of doing the last 2 hours. Still a success. [Wed little route]. In Padua we did a little evening walk in the rain through the university and along the river. We got dinner at somewhere that would have fit right in in San Francisco but seemed very unusual for Italy – they served farro, chickpeas, all sorts of healthy non-oily vegetables and whole grains, all organic (‘bio’). It hit the spot. Good sign the vacation might be long enough!

Thursday was a big walk-and-transport day; Padua all morning, then train to Florence. It was also an Italian national holiday - Festa della Repubblica – so we stumbled on a ceremony on our morning walk, which was neat.

I also got my first (and only?) morning gelato.
I call it ‘brunch’ since it was around 10:30am
 and not my first food of the day, but Zack insists it is breakfast.


We had to pack up our bikes into the bike bags to take them on almost all trains, which was annoying/cumbersome but accomplished (and free; the unofficial rule is you can bring as much well-packed luggage as you can personally carry up the train stairs). We had this vague idea we would reassemble them in Florence and do a little bike-exploration of the city Friday or Saturday, but after packing them up and seeing more rain in the forecast, decided it made much more sense to do some big walking tours of Florence instead.

Zack had the great idea that rather than try to pre-purchase museum and entrance tickets, we should just pay the 72 euros and get the 72-hour “Firenze-Card”, which allowed entry to all sites and to take the ‘priority’ lines. This worked out incredibly well; we definitely would not have waited in the long lines for many places otherwise, and having already paid made it mentally very easy to pass through ‘lower-priority’ museums and places we might have otherwise hesitated over entry fees. Like in Rome, we were very successful and had an action-packed 45 hours in Florence (4pm Thurs – 1pm Sat). Zack’s dad drove nearby and stayed with us for this time too (and we made a successful hand-off of the Saris bike rack back to him). List of main sights in the order we visited below, with some highlights:

Uffizi GalleryThursday evening we spent ~2 hours here, huge collection of artwork and sculptures, including some Da Vinci and Michelangelo. We both really liked the marble sculptures that have been restored over time, and sometimes show several different types of rocks:
One of many impressive sculptures

Ponte Vecchio – our Airbnb was right next to this wooden bridge full of expensive jewelry shops and tourists. Location was easy for sightseeing.

Friday in Florence we filled with sightseeing. [Walking route]

We started with the Duomo; this was totally unexpectedly fantastic to me, and basically impossible without the FirenzeCard (and likely a long wait on weekends/more popular times of day). They should have signs and warnings like to avoid for people with heart conditions, claustrophobia, fear of heights, tendencies to twist ankles, etc! They allowed only around 20 people per ‘wave’ into the building, and I thought we were just going to see inside a (nice, impressive) cathedral, but we actually blindly followed the people in front of us up about 500 very steep narrow dank steps in a dark stairwell that felt like a cave, with 2 vista points: first halfway up the wall of the Duomo, to look at the the paintings and stained glass windows inside; and second all the way at the top on a platform that looked outside.

View from mid-way up the Duomo
View from top of Duomo

After Duomo, we considered going into the Academic Gallery where the famous David statue is, but there was a long line even with the FirenzePass for that, and while it’s a “checklist” kind of item, I was more interested in some nerdier museums.

 San Marco Museum (~45min) – serene place with some amazing old manuscripts. It’s crazy to me how many different portrayals there are of Jesus on a cross.

Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure: (~30min) This is a lesser-known museum, less-funded since it is secular, but totally cool. It showed the tools and methodologies used to make mosaics and some brilliant examples of mosaics from the 15th century-ish.

So many rocks and minerals with different colors and textures used in just
the right way to make art.

They reproduced some paintings as mosaics – pretty neat.

(Not a sight) – We deviated from sightseeing and walked
out of the center to an Esselunga, where we succeeded
in our mission of acquiring more Modican chocolate!!
If they’d had more on the shelves, we would have bought more.

Mercato Centrale for lunch – lots of vendors selling food and other leather and trinkets.

Museo Galileo (~1hr) – This used to be the history of science museum, which I think was a more appropriate title than Galileo, since it doesn’t talk much about Galileo. However, scientists/engineers that we are, we both really appreciated seeing old astrolabes and sundials and rudimentary electric machines and old maps and globes. They also had some really nice videos explaining scientific phenomena that would be understandable to non-scientists.

Palazzo Vecchio (~1hr) – We looked at frescoes and more nice artwork and learned about the old powerful families of Italy. There are also some Roman gods and mythological scenes mixed in with the Jesuses, which intrigue me rather more. Fun fact: The Medici family included a few Popes. One was designated for the church at age 1, became a cardinal at age 13, and as Pope led the papal armies to conquer some towns then gave those towns to his cousins/family…

Saturday we did a nice walk for a few hours in the morning, passing through the Rose Garden, Piazzale Michelangelo, near a Fort and through the Boboli Gardens then ending with some excellent panini [Walk Route]. Now back near the Rome airport, and flying out early Sunday then back to work!

Some overall takeaways:

Overall, this was a great vacation! Very little went ‘wrong’, and a lot went right. I have gotten really spoiled compared to how I felt going into our first trip 2 years ago, given that we’ve done a few big trips now and especially since our every-weekend riding in California can be as good as these exotic routes – but still can’t wait to come back (in another 2 years, maybe?)

Just a few cultural takeaways related to food:
  • Lunch and (late) dinner are a big deal, take a lot of time, and dishes are either cooked correctly or are wrong.
  • Espresso and wine can both be drunk at nearly any time of day, but coffee does not come alongside a meal or snack, rather afterward.
  • Breakfast for most people is coffee and a brioche, if anything (which is ridiculous. I can’t wait to eat some eggs and some oatmeal/yogurt). Well, I will say it and defend it to death:
    If Italians don’t approve of big nutrient-balanced breakfasts, then I will eat gelato in the morning. Breakfast is an area where the Swiss, Germans, Brits, and Scots surpass the Italians,  in my experience and opinion.

Next up, we head to Denmark in August for a ‘working trip’ – Zack has an academic conference, and I will work at our company’s head office there, but we should get some good sightseeing and will post again then!