Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Travelogue, Part 2 - What happens in Vegas, comes on my blog!

Thanksgiving in Vegas? Something a bunch of morons or an ultra cool band of merry men would do. Well none of us are married, that means we can’t be the latter which leaves us as the former.
This was supposed to be Santhosh’s bachelor’s party and the Bevel Devils (Nikhil, Nishant, Santhosh and me) took the party to Vegas. I was a little bummed as no one had thrown me a bachelor’s party before I graduated with a masters degree.

We made a list of things to do. Gambling and other sinful things were so passe. This had to be different. How about jogging on the strip, or reading in a cafe, or visiting museums, or sleeping at 10pm, or black friday shopping, or Occuppying Las Vegas? Nah, because everything that is passe or fake, is the in thing in Vegas.

Ok disclaimer, please read further only if you are in Vegas because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or maybe Google has saved this blog on a server in Vegas, then you are fine, go ahead read it. The one thing that literally hits you in Vegas are stripper calling cards. Four guys walking in Vegas attract stripper agents like moths to a flame. One even stopped us to explain how it was a family business for him as his father owns the business and his grandfather drives the limo. At least he stopped short and didn’t elaborate on how the strippers were related to him. No, we didn’t check out any girls, we only checked out of the hotel when we left.

We decided to go clubbing! Lots of weirdos around. I wished I had my earplugs to keep the noise out and an oxygen mask to protect my lungs from I-have-no-idea-what. At least it was quite dark inside, I had no idea what was going on around me. Ignorance was bliss. And then there was gambling. I made a few dollars and lost more than I made. I have no idea how slot machines work, and I think no one ever makes money from them. I also played roulette, where at least I knew what was going on. I don’t know why people spend so much money on that game in which the chances of losing are higher than winning in a very obvious sense. I lost my money and stopped playing. Someone suggested I needed to give it more time. I knew better, the more you play a game with a negative mathematical expectation, the higher the odds of ending in the red. Simple math. But then math and logic go out of the window in Vegas.

I liked the posh hotels along the strip. The Venetian took the cake. Canals and boulevards, complete with a fake blue sky, inside the hotel. Amazing! The Cirque Du Soleil was awesome. Some incredible acrobatics and sound and light effects. The stage was mechanical engineering masterpiece with respect to hydraulics and precision.

Vegas is checked off my list. I think I had the best possible group of friends to help me experience and navigate through the awesomeness and weirdness that is Vegas. Vegas is not my cup of tea or shot of tequila. I learned the grass is not greener on the other side (in Vegas it is fake anyways). Sometimes you have to go to the other side to make sure, which is what I did. I am happy with my boring life!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Thanksgiving Travelogue, Part 1 - To SoCal, by train!

Two weeks back I took the train south to SoCal. I arrived at the station just half an hour before departure. Unlike at an airport, there were no TSA agents waiting to pounce on me and everyone at the station was in a relaxed mood. A perfect start to my trip. The train chugged around the bend and so began my first train journey in the US. I found my seat and kept my luggage there. This Amtrak train had sightseeing car, where I hung out for most of the time and a restaurant car, where I had my lunch. The train meandered through the farmlands of the central valley, along the sweeping curves in the Lucia mountains and along the coast where the setting sun over the Pacific was picture perfect. At some places, the train was barely a hundred feet from the ocean.

I sat in the sightseeing car and read the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. A nice slow paced book for a slow paced journey. One of the many beautiful quotes in the book, “they're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.” The good thing about the train journey was that you could move around and talk to people. I chatted with a couple of fellow passengers who had some interesting stories. One of them had travelled by train in many other parts of the US too and felt the Pacific coastal route was the most scenic. The other had some fun stories and practical advice about bike touring!

The words from Dido’s song Life For Rent came to mind, “I've always thought that I would love to live by the sea, To travel the world alone and live more simply”. I remembered my train journeys in India. This journey was definitely more comfortable. But I missed sitting at the door with the wind in my face, where I could admire the scenery without having to squint through a hazy glass window. I missed being connected to the passing scenery through sound and smell in addition to the sights. It was tragic not to get a whiff of the ocean along with the sight of the setting sun.

I visited Santa Barbara where my old pal Neeraj hosted me. I had crappy weather most of the time I was there. I guess when you travel enough, the law of numbers eventually hands you a bad weather day, even in California!
But Neeraj was game to take me around to explore Santa Barbara - The American Riveira. A beautiful town with a Mediterranean feel. I then traveled to San Diego, where big guy Alekh put me up for a night. I remember lying alone on the beach at La Jolla, long after the sun had gone down, staring at the inky black sky dotted by twinkling stars, listening to the waves crash against the sandstone cliffs, taking in the crisp smell of the ocean. I was chilling. Everything was far far away.

I was an urban backpacker for a few days. I went the good old fashioned way with a guide book and compass for direction and some very kind strangers to help when I couldn’t figure things out. People are very helpful and chatty when you look like a backpacker I guess. The chat about life with a guy who smoked pot/weed (whatever) and ate nutella at 8am will always remain etched in my memory or at least in this blog.

I began to plan my next trip as the plane rose above the clouds on my fight back. Life is journey, what’s next? Spoiler alert, Las Vegas!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bike Tour – Big Sur

Last weekend I finally visited Big Sur, claimed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, in the US or in California. At least it is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Steep brown sandstone cliffs, rolling green meadows and the deep blue Pacific Ocean make for a sight to behold. I am glad I visited Big Sur on a bike as I got to soak in the stunning scenery and appreciate the wonders of nature in solitude at a calm serene pace of a bike. God must have been in a good mood when He created Big Sur.

We started on a crisp Fall morning heading south on Hwy 1 from Carmel Valley. The road winds up cliffs hugging the coastline, through redwood forests and along beaches. The soft rays of the morning sun gave a delightful touch to the gorgeous scenery. We went as far south as Lucia before we headed inland where the monstrous climb of Nacimento Road awaited us. 2800 feet over 7 miles, which is a 7.5% gradient. I huffed and puffed my way up. The wild flowers cheered me on. I was left breathless, both from exhaustion and from the view from above. I felt I was gonna die. But then I realized that I had to write this blog post. Finally after almost two hours I made it to the top. I was elated. I learned that you can go on long after you think you can’t go any further. Don’t stop, just keep moving, no matter how slowly.

I cruised down the other side through the Los Padres forests and grasslands. Finally after riding 80 miles I made it to the Military base at Mission San Antonio de Padua. I was beat but felt a sense of accomplishment. But at the same time, my ego took a hit when I saw that people three times my age looked fresh as daisies at the end of the day. The next time I don’t feel like exercising, I will remember this.

Day 2 took us through the some rolling hills and farmland of Monterey County. Everytime I started a climb, I wondered when things would go downhill, of course only literally not figuratively. We rode past vineyards in their bright green and hills in their golden brown. Some of the steep descents were exhilarating. I hit 45 mph on one of the straight steep downhill sections. At one point I had to take a ride in the backup van for 10 miles when my legs refused to listen to me. They grudgingly agreed to push on after some rest in the van. I got back on the bike and cruised back to Carmel Valley as I covered another 80 miles on day 2.

The trip was a smashing success. Thanks to Brian and ACTC for organizing the trip. The riders were a great bunch, the food was awesome, the stops well placed and the route well planned. And thanks to my tireless companion, my Novara Safari bike!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bike touring – Backpacking on a bike

Labor Day weekend marked my first bike tour. An amazing experience. Load your stuff on your bike and pedal away. The open road stretches in front you as you pass by farmland, forests, towns, sand dunes and the ocean. About 90 miles on the Pacific Coast Bike Route over two days in central coastal California .

We camped at a hiker/biker camp site in Monterey. I love those campsites because you get to meet people with amazing travel stories. There was this English guy who has travelled to 70 countries and takes only buses and trains. And there was a girl who biked 3 months in Mongolia before rounding it up with a trip from LA to SF.

Some of the basic gear needed includes a decent bike, panniers, tent, sleeping bag and tools. As a first timer I didnt have the best of gear. But you gotta make do with what you have. A good bike with a wide range of gears is essential to tackle the rolling hills along the route. A good set of panniers will keep your load stable on the bike. We didnt carry much food as we had our meals at restaurants and cafes along the way. The cool cloudy days made for a relaxing ride but were a downer for pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride along the coast on sandy cliffs overlooking the blue ocean. The bike tour combined two of my favorite outdoor activities, biking and camping.

A biking trip is very different from a road trip in its sense of adventure. You travel much slower and thus get more intimate with the place. You connect to the place through the sights, sounds and smell. You can stop as and when you feel like it. And people are a lot more friendly and open to conversation when you are on a bike.

All in all, a fun trip. Thanks to Eric and Laura for making it happen. Looking forward to the next pedaling adventure.

Trip details.
Saturday: Bus from San Jose to Santa Cruz. Bike from Santa Cruz to Monterey.
Sunday: Bike to Carmel along the 17 mile drive and back.
Monday: Bus from Monterey to San Jose

Addendum: This post is published in Bikeovernights.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Car free in Silicon Valley?

I have lived in California without a car for about two months. Partly because I couldn't afford one right away and partly as an experiment. I wanted to experience life in the slow lane for a couple of months. I wanted to figure out if a car is a necessity or a luxury. I was sure that once I had a car, it would be really difficult to go back to not having one. And so I have a story to tell.

Biking is my main mode of transportation. Bike to work, for groceries, and to get around in general. Good weather and a decent bike with saddle bags helped the cause. But life in the bike lanes around Santa Clara isn't much fun. First of all, there aren't many bike lanes and connectivity is generally poor. Google maps shows a 24 step route for a 5 mile commute. Most of the times, bike lanes are basically wider parking lanes. You fervently hope that a door doesn't swing open as you speed past parked cars. There are a few bike lanes on expressways too. Definitely not for the fainthearted, including me. And then there is the issue of parking. You will have a million square feet of parking space in parking lots, but not a single bike rack to lock your bike to. And when they do have bike racks, they don't seem to know what to do with them. See the picture below. Its a pity that the bike infrastructure is abysmal in a place that is conducive to year round biking. But you have to make do with what you have got.

There is only so far you can go on a bike. And that depends on the time of the day, weather, fitness level, bike route connectivity etc. Besides biking there is the option of public transport. The Caltrain is useful, but only if your origin and destination is close to a station. I live pretty close to a Caltrain station, but alas, the destination often isn't. The good thing is that you can put your bike on the train to help you get around when you get off. The bus service is quite miserable. I can definitely get to a place much quicker on my bike than by bus. Take for instance my daily commute. I have to leave home at 7am to reach office at 8am if I take the bus. And I live only 4 miles from work, which is 20 minutes biking!

So biking is the main mode of transportation. Anything within 5 miles is fair game. Above that, it depends on the errand at hand. So no weekend getaways, meeting up with friends or exploring new places. I used the Zipcar a few times as they have a few stationed about a mile from where I live. But in the long run, with frequent use, the costs can add up quickly. My room mate lent his car to me a couple of times when he wasn't using it. I used car pooling the few times when I have gone hiking. I requested/begged people to drop stuff home when I bought things of craigslist. Some people are really nice!

I have finally caved in and decided to get a car. A car in the Silicon Valley is a necessity or a luxury, depending on the way you see it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hello California!

California called. I came, I saw and I wrote down what California showed me.

The one thing that strikes you right way is the diversity of the people. Whites, Latinos, Indians, Chinese, Blacks, Arabs, etc. And so my exotic accent is not so exotic anymore. Having said that, I do stand out sometimes because everyone seems to be overdressed. I once went in gym clothes to a mall and I looked like a homeless guy. Swanky cars and flashy electronic gadgets are a norm. I definitely need to upgrade on both fronts. And everyone seems to be in hurry all the time. The people are not as friendly as in MN, but they don’t talk about the weather as much. Instead they talk about work and ‘networking’. I miss the weather talk in MN.

The area is too urban. I miss the parks, the lakes and the Mississippi in Minneapolis. But the trees here are cool. See the picture. Most homes have nice front yard gardens instead of the boring lawns. Maybe that’s because of the year round growing season. The farmers market is great. You are spoilt for choices by the staggering variety. After all, half of the nations fruits and vegetables is grown in CA.

The streets are bad for biking. I will talk about that in detail in my next post about not having a car in California. Streets don’t have numbers here and it can get very confusing without a GPS. But having street names is fun too. And some of the Spanish names remind me of Goa. And there are a countless suffixes for street names, viz. street, avenue, way, boulevard, court, circle, parkway etc. Public transit buses don’t give transfer tickets if you have to take a connecting bus. But the city train system is more extensive here. Oh and this is cool, when the walk sign comes on at some traffic lights, there is this weird chirping sound to remind you to cross the street.

I have heard this place is great for outdoors. I got my first taste of it through a strenuous but thoroughly worthwhile, 5 hour hike in the Pinnacles. Its good to see mountains around you and farmland cultivated with a whole bunch of things other than corn.

California is calling, where are you?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Bad Ass Guys explore the Wild Wild West!

A road trip is quintessentially American and I finally went on my first one last week with my buddies, Ben and Charlie. Minneapolis MN to Santa Clara CA. A total of 2527 miles through the farmland of MN, the corn fields, badlands and black hills of SD, the grasslands and Tetons of WY, the mountains and salt flats of UT, the hills and valleys of NV and the rolling hills of CA over 7 days.

We tried to take US and state highways and county roads when possible as it makes you feel closer to the places you travel through. You pass through small towns, farms and wilderness. Freeways are nice to whiz by at 80mph. But I believe you miss that something, that makes road trips special, in the process. We came across myriad scenery along the way – plains and mountains, farmland and ranches, grasslands, forests and deserts, small towns and big cities. And the weather gods not to be left behind, gave us rain, hail, thunderstorms, snow, wind and sun.

The long hours of driving can be a stretch sometime. That's when you have to resort to sad jokes, trash talk, flipping through radio stations, playing atlas games, munching on snacks, taking pictures and sleeping. I can't imagine how people traveled west for thousands of miles on foot and horse drawn carriages. Roadside America has a lot of weird things to offer. It is good to plan your stops at some local attraction rather than gas stations. Look up for fun stuff along your route on That's how we came across the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, the Jackalope, etc. We camped three nights, lived at Ben's friends' place one night and at his cousin's place on another night and at a motel one night. (Note: Motel 6 is a good cheap option available all over the US)

The drive through south west MN and eastern SD didn't have anything special to offer. Then came the Badlands. The rugged landscape in various shades of brown was a stunning sight. The best badlands are at the eastern entrance of the park. The campsite can get rather windy. We had a howling night in a creaky little tent. Then came the Black Hills which has Mt. Rushmore and the cathedral spires. The drive along Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road offer some spectacular views of awesome rock formations interspersed with glassy lakes. Last stop in SD was Wind Cave National Park. The rock and crystal designs were beautiful. The cave lighting is perfect, just enough to find your way around and see the rock formations but not too bright to rob the caves of their eerie ambiance.

Next up was WY. Thank God for cruise control in cars. Thunder Basin National Grassland is an endless expanse of nothingness. Thousands of square miles of grasslands, no towns, no trees,no people, nothing. You can actually see the curvature of the earth in the distance. A good time to listen to some country music and soak in the wild wild west. The Tetons were still a winter wonderland. I was disappointed with the cloudy snowy day as none of the Tetons could be seen clearly. Ben told me it is important to learn tolerance for adversity when in the outdoors. I realized you have to learn to put up with mother nature's fickleness if you wanna dance with her. The snow covered mountains still made up for a spectacular sight. The sense of grandeur as you stand before the mighty mountains leaves you awestruck. As we drove out of the mountains, WY had one last trick up its sleeve. One of the roads we were driving on turned to dirt after a while and we had to turn back. Make sure you read the map carefully before choosing your route.

The drive through Utah was delightful with the freeway winding between snow covered mountains. We visited the state capitol and the Mormon temple. The temple is quite impressive and is a must see. I also took dip in the Great Salt Lake. It was a little bit yucky, but I wanted to experience floating in its very salty waters. We then journeyed west through the salt flats into Nevada. NV was a major disappointment in the sense, I had expected to see a vast desert with endless sand dunes and a mirage or two. But it turned out to be a ragged grassland interspersed with mountains. We stopped at Carson City to see the capitol building and indulge is some gambling. I spent a buck at a slot machine and called it quits.

Finally after days of driving, we reached the promised land, California! It was love at first sight with Lake Tahoe. The sunset on the lake was gorgeous. We went on short hikes in the beautiful Emerald Bay area before it was time to head to the SF Bay Area where we were greeted with 10 lanes of traffic as we approached our destination. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Well said by John Lennon. This thought struck me when I read the following,
“First I was dying to finish my high school and start college; And then I was dying to finish college and start working; Then I was dying to marry and have children; And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough so I could go back to work. But then I was dying to retire. And now I am dying. And suddenly I realized I forgot to live.” and it continues, “To make money we lose our health and then to restore our health we lose money. We live as if we are never going to die and we die as if we never lived.”

How true. Life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the people you meet, the beautiful scenery, the funny billboards, the flat tires and mechanical breakdowns along the way of a journey. We all gave our goals, whatever they may be. But most of our goals will be achieved many years from now. In the meantime, don’t wear blinders (like the ones horses use) and race through life.

- Don’t wait till you suffer a heart attack or stroke. Get yourself in shape today. Your body is the best thing you will ever own.
- Make friends and have fun wherever you go. You don’t really need a lot of money to have a good time. Relationships are as important as your career.
- Volunteer or make a charitable donation. You don’t have to be 60 to do either.
- Find out about God. You will not be able to search for Him lying on your death bed.

Who knows you might never reach your destination and the journey is all you might have.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There is always something to do in Minneapolis.

Only in the twin cities you have the ...

City Lakes – Bike around or canoe on them in the summer, walk or ski on them in the winter.

Grand Rounds Byway - 50 miles of trail that wind through golf courses, industrial districts, parks, lakes, forests, creeks, rivers, and down town Minneapolis.

Minnehaha falls – Frozen in the winter, full flow in spring, green in summer and a riot of colors in the fall.

Stone Arch bridge – Stroll on, hang out below or enjoy the quiet of the trails nearby.

Como Conservatory – Experience a tropical forest in a Minnesotan winter.

Fort Snelling State Park – A little bit of wilderness inside the city.

The Mississippi - Bike along the Mississippi from Fridley to St. Paul and view dramatic vistas from bluff tops and river flats.

Pedal Pub – Don't drink and drive, but drink and ride and make merry on the streets of Minneapolis.

NBA – Watch the Wolves taken to the cleaners only for $5 on Wednesday nights.

MLB – Catch the Twins hit em ouf of the park at the amazing Target Field in downtown.

Foshay Tower - Watch the sun go down on Minneapolis from the top of what was once the tallest building in the Midwest.

St. Paul Cathedral and Capitol – Tour the house of God and government in the capital city.

Summit Brewery - Get a quick lesson in beer brewing and sip free samples of Minnesota's most famous local beer.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts – Admire prehistoric, ancient, medieval and modern art under one roof for free.

Sculpture garden - Pose with one of Minneapolis' most famous landmarks, the Spoonbridge and the Cherry.

The Guthrie – Watch Shakespeare come to life and then hang out in the balcony overlooking the Mississippi.

Coffman Union – Catch a free movie on weekend nights.

Columbia Golf Course – Zoom down the icy slopes on your sled in the winter.

Winter Carnival – See the parades and gawk at the amazing ice sculptures. Minnesotan winters can be fun.

Renaissance Festival – Go back in time to see some neat costumes and hear some 'Ye olde English'.

State Fair – Eat deep fried …... . Fill the blank with anything.

I am sure there are many other adventures besides these, to be had in the Twin Cities. I will miss Minneapolis.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The job hunt saga

There comes a time in every student’s life when he has to become a hunter even if he is vegetarian. I become a job hunter as I approached the end of my MS degree. As a hunter you can go after the prey or wait for it to come to you. The latter (campus placements) doesn’t really happen often in the US. The other option, go after jobs out there.

Everyone talks about how important networking is in the job hunt. I think I do quite well on Facebook with an average of five likes and two comments for every post. But alas, Facebook doesn’t give you a pay check unless of course you work for Facebook. There are many ways of networking. Ask all you friends and acquaintances if they know anyone working in your field. Talk to profs about their industry connections. Go to job fairs. Attend seminars, workshops, etc. I have shaken so many hands that I think my right wrist needs reconstructive surgery. And I have collected so many business cards that I think I can play poker with them.

As far as applying for jobs goes, a good error free resume is a must have. For interviews it is useful to have a FAQ sheet. Those standard questions like tell me about yourself, where do you see yourself five years from now etc. I had trouble thinking of answer for the weakness question? The only weakness I have is that I have no weaknesses. And don’t forget thank you notes after the interview.

Over the months I had many leads but nothing concrete. Maybe I needed some cement. I think the two main issues for me were visa sponsorship and security clearance. And the best things about job applications? The interviews! You get to boast about yourself (the selling yourself part) and someone is actually listening! And the on site interviews are cool for meeting some really wonderful people besides the all expenses paid aspect of them. As a grad student, spending nights in posh hotel suites is never an option.

But the wait can be long, the wait can be tedious, the wait can be frustrating. All you need is faith in God and yourself. Trust in God that He has a plan for you. Confidence in yourself that you are great and some company will discover your greatness. Pray, talk to your friends, write a diary, sing out aloud, play sport, anything that helps stay sane. And try to have fun as you wait. It is going to be alright.

So I retire from my job hunting career and settle into the retired life of working at an awesome company!

Pic courtesy:,