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Nepalapalooza

A fun title for what might be a not-so-fun post, or at least not the most uplifting one, but it’s the second book in the recent past I’ve read about Nepal and incidentally also the second one I’ve read by Jon Krakauer, so I thought it appropriate. Here’s my take on his book Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.

Laconic recap: This book is not for the faint of heart. Granted, Krakauer’s books aren’t on the feel-good side in general, but this one was particularly striking. It was gripping, though, at the same time, and as I read more, I really felt like time slowed down to a stop, just like it must have been on that freezing, windy night up on Mount Everest in May 1996.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: And Behind Door Number One…

And the travelogue is finally here!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 11: And Behind Door Number One… (Door County, WI)

Door County.

The Holy Grail of Exploration.

Everyone’s favorite part of the state.

The Martha’s Vineyard/Berkshires/South Bass Island of Wisconsin.

And it lived up to its reputation.

Geographically, Door County is the thumb of Wisconsin, if Wisconsin were a hand. It detaches from the mainland at Sturgeon Bay, its county seat, and continues on as a small, thin island between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with Gills Rock at its tip, and Washington Island just a short hop away by boat. We didn’t make it quite that far, but it’s definitely incentive to come back.

Day 1: Road trip up from Madison to Green Bay, WI, where we spent the night at an awesome Airbnb right on the bay. We only stopped once for a Chinese dinner in Appleton. Mostly an uneventful day, but we did enjoy watching The Age of Adaline before bed.

Day 2: Got up at 9, but took our time and didn’t leave the Airbnb until about 10:30. A half hour later, we crossed the old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay and were in Door County. After a quick gas stop, we drove just over the border into Carlsville, where we had breakfast at Door County Coffee and Tea Co. We were just in time for the end of the breakfast menu. The place got amazing reviews on Yelp and it didn’t disappoint. The coffee was divine, and my meal of a croissant and Spanish-style eggs was warm, thick and flaky in all the wrong places. Dessert was bread pudding made with Door County cherry jam (the local delicacy) and it was sugary and delicious. Definitely worth driving a little out of the way.

Next up, we drove over to Jacksonport to check out Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was a small park, but you barely had to walk 200 feet down the trail to encounter a gorgeous, practically deserted beach with the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan lapping at its sandy shore. We basked in the warm sunshine and got just a little burnt, and I got a hundred pages or so read in an hour.

Driving up the coast, we then entered Baileys Harbor, and even though it was hard to find, we made it through the windy roads to the parking lot for the Cana Island Lighthouse. What we didn’t know was that to access the island, you needed to cross a causeway of dirt and rocks, with water gently lapping at your toes. Managed to make it across to the island pretty much unscathed. It cost us $7 per person to explore the tiny island, and $5 to climb the 97 steps inside the lighthouse.

But it was totally worth it. The lighthouse is remarkably well preserved, with a beautiful view from the top, impeccable masonry, and stone paths down to the lake outside it. Plus, there were two geocaches hidden on the island. It was just so much fun to explore. Inside the lighthouse, we learned about how the Fresnel worked, as well as the history and lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers. They saved several ships from being wrecked, but not others. They also kept a logbook. Curiously enough, it was recorded that a female with a power canoe stopped off at Cana Island on her way from New York to Chicago.

Walking back across the causeway was not as easy of a feat. I sort of gave up halfway through when I began to sink into the muck. I waddled back to the car in wet shoes. Gross.

The day was winding down, so we decided to go as far up as Sister Bay, where we saw Al Johnson’s, the famous Swedish restaurant with goats grazing on the roof. It’s true! After a quick browse in the gift shop and a walk along the waterfront, it was time to turn the car around and head home. On the way out of Door County, we went down the bay side, stopping off at a few farm stands, sampling butters, jams, fudges, and salsas. I added to a jar of cherry salsa to my souvenir bag of food (coffee from the place we ate breakfast) and we were off home. We made one more stop for gas in Allouez, and had pho in De Pere, at a place which took way too long, and got back to Madison close to midnight.

Overall, I would highly recommend Door County. Hopefully I can go back soon.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: A Park and a Half

Summertime is prime time for exploring Wisconsin, and with tomorrow being July 4th and therefore prime time for all the Wisconsin spots worthy of exploring to be full of people, we decided to spend today exploring one of our great State Parks.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 10: A Park and a Half (Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI)

I wanted to spend the day, or at least part of it, doing something fun out of Madison. Unfortunately, I woke up with a splitting headache that had me on the couch until mid-afternoon, Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to rally by around 4 PM, and we were on the road to Roche-A-Cri State Park, a place I’d seen on the map and randomly picked to visit.

Roche-A-Cri (French for “crevice in the rock”) State Park is in the tiny town of Friendship (population: 725) in Adams County, about an hour and a half north of Madison. Fortunately, the park is open until 11 PM due to the campgrounds being so popular, so we had plenty of daylight and sunshine to explore.

Getting there was a little difficult at first. We took a back road through the Dells, and didn’t see any signs for the park until about one mile away. Once we got in and parked, though, it was a pleasant surprise at how peaceful this little park was. We paid the $5 admission fee and left it in an envelope at the park’s entrance (all WI state parks cost money to enter – if you park on the grounds) and set off on the shady trail.

Being a rather small park, we weren’t expecting too much. The longest trail, the Acorn Trail, is only about 3.5 miles long. But it was perfect for an hour and a half walk-around. We walked about half of the trail, only seeing a handful of other people, and then made our way to the observation point at the Indian mounds. The signs warned us of a strenuous climb – 303 steps, on an elevated staircase. The sign wasn’t kidding! Once at the top, though, we were treated to incredible views, and actually had the viewing platform all to ourselves – just as we left, a big family was coming up the stairs, so we crossed paths but otherwise it was quiet and serene.

We headed back along the trail to the car, stopping off at the petroglyphs for which this park is known. There is a huge rock, several stories high, with petroglyphs carved both by Native Americans and travelers from the 19th century (and probably some modern vandals, I’d suspect) and some fading red pictographs. We read the plaques about them, and were able to make out some of them, including a signature left by a traveler in October of 1845. It really was impressive and I’ll get the pictures up soon.

Upon leaving the park, I wanted to go a different way, so we could include more highway driving especially as it got later, but I ended up missing a turn. We were about 4 miles down the wrong road when we decided to turn around. To do that, we turned into a parking lot…and what do you know, it was Rabbit Rock – not exactly a state park, but one of the rock formations visible from the top of Roche-A-Cri, one that looked really interesting. Since we happened to be there, we poked around for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Apparently, visitors are allowed to climb this rock, and while it would have been fun, it was getting close to 8 and we needed to hit the road in order to be in Madison before dark. We backtracked, turned onto Route 21, and headed for the highway. About halfway there, Ship Rock appeared on our left; we didn’t stop, but it was really impressive and colorful, both with rock strata and graffiti. It took us about the same amount of time to get back to Madison, with a quick stop at the Starbucks on E. Washington for an iced coffee because I was fading (even though it was 9 PM and we only had like 15 minutes to go; wonder how I’ll sleep tonight). All in all, it was worth the 3 hours round trip to get out of town and walk around for an hour and a half, in a quiet park with beautiful views and ancient petroglyphs.

Oh, and in other exciting news…my third 2016 pen pal response showed up, all the way from Baby Ruth in the Philippines! Thanks for the fun letter; I got it out of the mailbox last night along with my other mail as I was flying out the door for Salsa Saturday, stuffed it in my bag, and ended up opening and reading it at the club during the break between the two sets. I thoroughly enjoyed the fan mail (which is what I’ve decided to call the response letters, heh) and I will write back soon! 13 other pen pals, take note.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Say “Strawberry” One More Time

A beautiful Sunday merited some exploration, so today I drove to Oregon…Wisconsin, that is, to go strawberry-picking!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 9: Say “Strawberry” One More Time (Carrandale Fruit Farm, Oregon, WI)

Strawberry season is over almost as soon as it starts here in Wisconsin; it’s only about six weeks, and we’re on the back end of it. After seeing some delicious Facebook pictures from friends who went last week, I decided to see it for myself.

It’s a pretty straight shot to get to the farm itself; just keep going down Fish Hatchery Road until Madison turns into Fitchburg, and Fitchburg turns into Oregon, and then follow the signs to this tucked-away little farm. We parked and checked in, and they gave us a basket, and told us that we pay by the pound as we exit, $1.80 per pound. So, we walked out to the fields and were assigned Row 8, and given a flag to put at the end of the row when we were done. We only had about 40 minutes until they closed (they’re open from 7 AM to noon), but we had the basket half-full with strawberries after 20 minutes bending over in the sun. The strawberries were tiny and bright red, and tasted like candies. After getting weighed, I handed over ten dollars and we went home.

And that’s how I spent the rest of the afternoon searching for recipes with fresh strawberries online, and ended up making sangria.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Because The Devil’s in the Details

I’m a little sunburned, a little tired, and a little itchy, but I had a lot of fun today with around 25 members of my ballroom team. Join me in:

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 8: Because The Devil’s in the Details (Devil’s Lake State Park)

After twenty long, hot minutes of walking in the sun, I made it to the ramp at Steenbock where the rest of the group was waiting to set off for a day of fun at Devil’s Lake State Park in Sauk County, near Baraboo. I squished into a car, and less than an hour later, we were in the wilderness. Well, us and a ton of other people, but none of us had phone service, so we all had to interact. It was a beautiful afternoon, and people were swimming, playing, and enjoying the sunshine.

A huge group of us set off together, hiking on one of the trails around the lake. Hiking is fun when there’s a ton of people and everyone’s talking.

Until someone got the bright idea to climb up the rock fall.

So, as a group we clambered up an almost vertical rock wall on hands and knees. Of course, I ended up at the back, asking myself why we did this rather than just walking up on a trail. But after several close calls, I made it to the top, and wasn’t even the last one, and the view was beautiful: a blue-green lake just shining through the trees. After a short break, the only way to go was down, and fortunately for all of us we took a conventional trail. We stopped for several group photo ops, tripped a few times, and saw a snake, but we made it down in one piece, to the North Shore parking lot. We had been hiking for two hours, but were still less than halfway there. Regardless, we took a break at the concession stand there (yummiest strawberry shake ever) and then continued along the trail towards the South Shore parking lot, where we started. Half the group took the high trail, and I joined the other half, who walked along the lake on a lower trail. There were way more people, but the breezes were nice and cool and the rocks were all differently colored pastels. There were even a few balancing rocks. Just as the group of us (five at this point) were in sight of the end, somebody had the idea to wade through the lake…so we did. As the only person in the group wearing pants, I was worried, but surprisingly, I was able to roll up just enough so that I didn’t get them wet. We beat the high-trail group back, but by this point it was 5:30 PM, an hour past our reservation time at Farm Kitchen for dinner…whoops. But, we went there anyway, and although it took almost 2 hours, the 20 of us got dinner (or most of it) and headed back.

Now, I’m just sitting on the couch, pounding some popcorn. Despite the fact that I only got through maybe half of my reading goals for the day – just 1 book for prelims and 1 play over breakfast, no pleasure reading – I feel pretty accomplished. And a little exhausted. But not too exhausted to walk down to Capital Centre for some ice cream.

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The Luck of the Irish DanceSport Gala Weekend

So now I’ll tell you what that hotel room thing was all about.

I didn’t want to jinx it, but my dance partner and I decided to compete at the Irish DanceSport Gala at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana! And no, it’s actually not an Irish dance competition, it’s called that because the school is the Fighting Irish.

We (me, my partner, and two other team members) drove down to South Bend from Madison on Friday afternoon. It was probably between five and six hours of driving, but we managed to make it to the welcome dance before heading off to our hotel which was surprisingly a ways away. I bunked with a random assortment of team members in a rather comfortable hotel room.

The day of the competition was beautiful and sunny, and we were up bright and early around 7:30 or so, and relaxed before heading over to the venue for our first event. I tried not to be too intimidated by the other dancers and just have fun. There were some really, really good dancers there. There were a lot of bedazzled costumes on the ladies, and a few men even had their hair bedazzled. I mean, I wear a little makeup, but bedazzled hair is a little too much, even for me. We competed in 8 Bronze dances and 8 Newcomer dances, opting to forgo Viennese at the last minute because we were tired. Our first callback was, surprisingly, in Bronze Tango, followed by one in Newcomer Tango and Newcomer Foxtrot. Breaking Bronze is pretty decent, especially for a rather inexperienced pair like us. We didn’t fare well in Bronze Latin, but got called back for quarter-finals in Newcomer Rumba (despite getting extremely off-time in the final 10 seconds or so), and then semi-finals! According to the judging page, we didn’t get any points in that last rumba, but we managed to score at least one point for all the rest of our first-round dances except for Bronze Waltz (our first dance of the day) and Bronze Foxtrot. Even though we did not place, my secret goal was at least one callback, so after that Bronze Tango callback, I was a little calmer, but still feeling competitive. Overall, we gave it our best shot, and I don’t regret anything I did on the dance floor. Okay, maybe a few botched quickstep moves and a couple moments where I almost lost it in jive, but other than that, I’m happy with my performance.

The long and short of it, we didn’t do too bad, especially this being my third-ever competition and my partner’s first.

And the reason I didn’t post this all yesterday was because even though it was only four and a half hours to drive back, I drove the first two hours or so and then slept as my partner drove us the rest of the way. I’m surprised that I didn’t wake up this morning slumped over in the parking lot of her building, but I managed to get up and lead a talkback this afternoon. I have plenty of work and stuff ahead of me this week, but at least this weekend happened and now I’ve just gotta worry about this week.

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Jam-Packed Crazy Spring Break Weekend!

Hey fabulous reader-friends, and greetings once again from Gainesville. Check back later tonight for details on my trip to Jacksonville and St. Augustine with Echo!

(…and the rest of this entry was written from Baltimore, but whatever)

Day 1 (Friday): Already covered in the Now I’m in Florida post.

Day 2 (Saturday): We both ended up sleeping in and not hitting the road until close to 1 PM after a bagel stop at Panera and a gas stop in the tiny town of Waldo. There was absolutely nothing between Gainesville and Jacksonville for two hours, but at least we got to catch up on family, jobs, life and stuff. Our first stop was on Fort George Island, just north of Jacksonville. We hit up the Kingsley Plantation Visitor Center, part of Timucuan Ecological and Heritage Preserve, where Echo bought a National Parks Passport and got her first stamps. Kingsley Plantation is really tough to find, but is actually a beautiful little hideaway with great views. We saw the mock-up of slave quarters and the like, and read about what life was like there on the plantation. We also saw a giant tortoise burrow out from the ground! Probably the coolest thing though was the walls, which were made from crushed seashells.and lime. We wanted to get the stamps at the other Jacksonville Visitors Center at Fort Caroline National Memorial, so we sped there and made it in about 15 minutes before they closed. The good thing about Fort Caroline was that even though the VC closed at 5, the grounds themselves were open, so we just moved the car, then walked back and explored the old fort. Fort Caroline is such an enigma; it was built 500 years ago, and no one really knows what it looked like other than a few drawings. It was nice to have a national park all to ourselves for a while, though.

Next, we drove down to Ponte Vedra Beach to check into our hotel. It was a Hampton Inn, and even though the room was lovely, the hotel wasn’t exactly as amazing as described; it felt old, the pool was tiny, there was no hot tub, it was a drive from the beach, and it seemed like either everyone smoked right outside the lobby or the wind just blew it all in. In the end, all we really needed was a comfy and inexpensive crash pad, which served its purpose. We headed up to Jacksonville for dinner, where I got some delicious fish tacos and we shared some tea and cake. Even though it was approaching 9 PM, I cajoled Echo into going out dancing, and so we found a little place called Cuba Libre in the middle of nowhere, and were there until about 11 PM. Cover charge was $10 for me and nothing for her (ladies free until 10 PM) and a decently-sized drink was only 5 dollars. The dance floor was mostly empty, and until 10 or 10:30, we were the youngest people there. Strange for a Saturday night; the tunes were great, nothing pop, rap, or R & B, just Latin music (Marc Anthony, Elvis Crespo), and it wasn’t even that loud. Echo enjoyed her first time doing bachata and salsa even though I am far from a professional. Either way, we got back at midnight and fell straight asleep.

Day 3 (Sunday): Woke up at 9, had breakfast, then went back to the room to nap until noon/check-out time (the life!) We drove through the ritzy part of Jacksonville Beach/Ponte Vedra Beach and through some island preserve, and stopped for gas and an hour’s worth of beach time and fun in the sun. Echo ran around and took pictures while I got some reading done. Then, it was south along the coast to St. Augustine.

St. Augustine, though it’s the oldest town in the United States (European-settled, that is, there are Native American towns out west in Arizona and New Mexico that are older), is a giant tourist trap with one tiny road through it, very much like the French Quarter of New Orleans in the architecture and tackiness. We managed to find decent parking, but to get into Castillo de San Marcos it was $10. Kind of unheard of for a relatively small park. Anyway, we got a free 15 minute bookstore pass, and subsequently found out that we would probably not be able to make it to the other national park in town, Fort Matanzas National Monument, because it closes earlier in the day. Still, we got stamps and postcards, and walked around the fort, which was crammed with tourists. Thanks to my Yelp app, we managed to find a crepe place for a late lunch just outside the tourist zone, which was quiet and clean and reasonably priced. If you’re ever in St. Augustine, hit up Dolce Cafe, it’s on Flagler College’s campus. We then drove out of town and through about 1.5 hours of nothingness back to Gainesville. Echo took me on a quick drive through campus, pointing out several different buildings, the lake, the bat house, and the museums. It had been a late night the previous night, and she had to get up early for work so we just packed it in by midnight or so after stopping at Publix for groceries.

Day 4 (Monday): Slept until noon again, in the comfortable apartment. Spent the majority of the rest of the day walking around Gainesville, picking up 6 geocaches and enjoying the sunshine. I got about 20 papers grading while sitting at the Starbucks at the university library, before we went out for our last dinner together, sushi at Bento Cafe. I’d had a big lunch, but it was surprisingly tasty. I had wanted to go to a karaoke bar, but I guess the walking caught up to me and I was tired, so we just checked out the UF’s new student union and downtown Gainesville before heading back to the apartment at 10. We stayed up talking for like an hour, with wake up time at 7 AM the next day so Echo could get me to the airport before her 9 AM work meeting.

Day 5 (Tuesday): Hot. Mess. Day. I woke up at 7 AM to hear about the Brussels bombings, saying to myself, “gee, what a dandy day to fly.” Fortunately, I got myself up and packed, and Echo dropped me off at the airport at exactly 8:30 so she could be at work on time. Unfortunately for me, this meant 4 hours of sitting at Gainesville Airport alone, tired, and hungry, since their hot water was broken they didn’t have any fresh food, only prepackaged. I slept on and off in several different positions, and even though I spent four hours sitting there, I still had to have my bag taken apart by the one security guard there, even though it was just crossing from one side of a room to the other. The flight before ours came in on time, so they handed out free drink tickets, and on the jetway, had a bucket of cold drinks for free (and even still, served drinks on the plane!) I was worried about this flight, since the flight in from Atlanta had been so rattly, but it was just fine. The 51 minute connection in Atlanta was enough to get me to the gate by the time preboarding was starting, and had I gone to get a snack, I might have missed the plane, so now I was even more miserable. At least this plane was much bigger and wider, and nicer in general. I spent most of the flight to Baltimore asleep, and then it took forever to get home because of rush hour traffic, but once I got home, I was never happier to just lie in my bed and nap. Even though I slept 6 hours at night, in the airport, on 2 planes, and in the car, when I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep, but Mom managed to wake me up at about 8 or 9 PM so that I could have some chance of sleeping through the night. She clearly underestimated my powers of sleeping on the spot.

So that was the trip. Feeling a bit loopy from the last day of travel, but overall, had an amazing time just being with Echo. I miss her already.