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.