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Mixing It Up for Thanksgiving - Monday, November 29, 2021
For the Thanksgiving holiday, Priscilla and I went down to LA a week earlier this year. The hope was to avoid the crowds - both on the road as well as at Disneyland!

The last time I'd been to Disneyland was 17 years ago (I blogged about it in 2004, but I scarcely recall the experience). After Priscilla went to Disney World with friends a couple years ago, and because she's really into Marvel movies, she's been wanting me to go to Disneyland with her. So she decided that we should squeeze in a trip in between visiting family for Thanksgiving.

So we drove down to LA on Sunday and stayed two nights with my parents, then went to Anaheim and explored the Downtown Disney District on Tuesday, woke up bright and early and got lined up at California Adventure before rope drop on Wednesday, and woke up early and did the same thing at Disneyland on Thursday. The last two nights we stayed with Priscilla's parents. The time with parents was pretty low-key.

We thought that by visiting a week before Thanksgiving, when kids should still be in school, the lines at the theme parks should be tolerable. How naive! Unfortunately for us, both parks were still pretty busy (though apparently Thanksgiving week was worse). And there were still plenty of kids (why aren't you guys in school??). And to our detriment, Disney has apparently stopped doing FastPass. We waited on average maybe 20 minutes per ride, with the longest waits being around 40 minutes. We even got into Rise of the Resistance, which was only accessible via virtual queue at the time of our visit, but even having a place in the virtual queue still subjected us to a 40 minute wait once it was our turn to get into the physical line.

But we stayed 10 hours and 12 hours at Disneyland and California Adventure, respectively, and we were able to ride just about everything we wanted to, with the exception of Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure. At California Adventure, I liked the Soarin' ride the most, and the "Turtle Talk with Crush" show was pretty entertaining for kids and adults alike. We did the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! ride early, and the harsh ups and downs of that ride gave me motion sickness that lingered the rest of the day. So apparently it's not just spinning rides that mess me up. The rest of the day, I had to take it slow and I sat out a couple times while Priscilla went on a ride for a second time. I guess I'll have to listen to Priscilla and take Dramamine the next time we go to a theme park. The joys of getting old.

At Disneyland, I most enjoyed Jungle Cruise (I for one enjoy dad jokes), Rise of the Resistance, and Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain was fun but we got moderately wet, which kinda sucked because we did it late in the day when it was starting to get cold. No wonder there was no line for it! And Rise of the Resistance was amazing - the most advanced and immersive ride I've been on. The first part involves walking through expansive detainment areas after your transport ship gets captured by the First Order, and then Resistance members break you out and you're whisked around in a self-driving car moving through the building, at a fast pace with things happening all around you, moving in all directions, not along a fixed track. I've never seen anything like it (not that I have a whole lot of experience in this area).

I'm glad we went to California Adventure and Disneyland, but it was tiring. Not to mention, expensive ($470 for the tickets). The crowdedness of the parks really detracted from the experience, and the axing of FastPass was a real bummer. Priscilla felt that Disneyland has lost some of its magic compared to when she visited as a youth. Watching some videos on YouTube, it looks like the rides at Disney World put Disneyland to shame. I'm slightly intrigued and I think I'd be willing to go, but not for a good while (don't get any ideas too soon, Priscilla).

As for the drive down, we left just shy of noon because we wanted to stream our church service first. By the time we left, there was an accident on the 152, but Google wasn't showing too much of a slowdown. What we didn't realize until we got there was that that part of the 152 was closed and drivers were forced to take a congested detour. We ended up detouring back to the 101 and, including some parts of the drive where we hit heavy traffic, the drive down took around 40 minutes longer than under ideal conditions. Lesson learned there - next time if there's an accident on the two-lane part of the 152, we'll skip the 152 and stay on the 101 for longer. For the return trip the following Sunday, we left earlier and didn't hit significant slowdowns.

Thanksgiving week was somewhat quiet and it was nice to finally have some downtime, especially since I picked up a cold while traveling (which tends to happen when we do a lot). My uncle and aunt forwent their usual Thanksgiving family get-together because of COVID, so Priscilla and I just stayed at home and had hot pot on Thanksgiving Day. It was nice to have the holiday to ourselves, but next year maybe we should go be with family on Thanksgiving again. My dad is very traditional and has to have his customary Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day, regardless of who else is there that day. My parents love to cook and see it as an act of love, so we should probably join them on that day and bring Priscilla's parents as well. It's a little harder since Priscilla's parents are further away now, but family matters.
Madness? This is Sparta! - Saturday, October 2, 2021
Call it madness or something else, but it seems that I've been bitten by the Spartan bug. After my Spartan Race in August, I was hooked. And two weeks ago, I did my Spartan Trail Half Marathon at Sanborn County Park.

The trail race was actually run by a company called Pacific Coast Trail Runs and they had a 50k, half marathon, and two 10k courses. I woke up really early (had trouble sleeping due to excitement) and got to the park before 7am, in time to help cheer on the 30 or so people starting the 50k. The half marathon started at 8am and check-in took just 10 minutes or so. I probably would've had enough time to park at the shuttle pickup location in Saratoga and take the shuttle in order to avoid paying the $6 parking fee at Sanborn, but I didn't want to chance it.

The different courses shared much of the same route and I crossed paths with a good number of people, though it didn't feel too crowded most of the time. Most of the trails were single-track, and of course the trails couldn't be closed to non-racers since these are public trails.

The half marathon course was manageable but tough. It was over 3,200 feet of elevation gain, including a steady incline for the first 3 miles. We had to run to a point at the Lake Ranch Reservoir and grab a wristband there before running back. The climbing didn't feel too bad, though I did alternate between running and power hiking and tried to pace myself. I did push myself harder than on a typical trail run, and my official time was 2:48:27, placing 38/104, 32/80 for males and 12/26 for my age group. So basically, slower than the people who run competitively but faster than those who probably don't trail run regularly.

The one thing that messed me up was that I was running in new shoes. I'd bought a pair of Saucony Peregrine 11 trail shoes to replace my Saucony Mad River TR's which were starting to wear out. I felt like all my previous shoes hadn't needed much breaking in, the new shoes felt comfortable enough when I walked around the neighborhood in them, and it was the same brand as my other shoes. So I took the chance of doing the race without having run in them before.

Well, that ended up being a bad decision. A few miles in, the shoes were starting to rub against both ankle bones. The fact that I was wearing thinner, low-cut socks might've also exacerbated things. So my ankles were chafing and hurting, then the sides of my calves started hurting (that's never happened before), then both legs started cramping around 9, and then I had to just power through with occasional stretching. I literally hobbled across the finish line with both calves cramping. Needless to say, my mistake cost me a bit of time and turned what would've otherwise been an enjoyable trail run into somewhat of a slog. But overall, I still enjoyed the event, and finally finishing after all of that felt awesome. As did eating the free Mexican food that we got from a food truck that was set up in the parking lot.

Having now done both a Spartan Race and a Spartan Trail, I would rate the Spartan Race as more enjoyable due to the obstacles. I've since committed to doing a Trifecta next year - my church buddy Daniel and I both purchased the Trifecta Pass and we'll be doing the SLO Beast and Monterey Super together (we're still figuring out what we want to do for the Sprint). Also, Ruth from church shared with me that an organization that she's been promoting, Foster the City, is putting together a team to do the San Francisco Spartan Stadion this December. Registration through the organization is only $50 since they want participants to fundraise. So Daniel and I and a few people from church ended up signing up.

The Stadion seems like it'll be the easiest of the four events that I'll be doing, but it will be a good checkup to see if my training is paying off and if my muscles are holding up. I guess I've had some issues with my right shoulder and my event in August exacerbated it, so I've been having some shoulder pain when working out. I probably have at least a partial tear in the rotator cuff. I've been trying to strengthen the shoulder and go to the gym to do exercises that I don't have the equipment for at home (though I need to be more consistent in going, despite the gym not being that close). And I found that pullups exacerbated the pain, so I'm laying off of those for now. Hopefully with the right exercises, sufficient nutrition and rest, Lord willing, I'll be able to rebuild and take on the obstacles this year, next year and beyond.

Spartan events are pretty pricey, so I'm not really itching to do these all the time. But the events will give me extra motivation to train since I want to do well. The fellowship aspect is nice, too. But I must do all this with the right motivation. Fitness and health are often idols for me, so I have to remember that they are impermanent and that they must glorify, not take the place of, Christ. When (not if) they are taken away, I must be able to say like Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Spartan Race - Sunday, August 22, 2021
Yesterday I finally got my wish and did a Spartan Race for the first time.

At the end of 2019, I signed up for a Spartan Trail Race half marathon which was supposed to happen in June of 2020. Then because of COVID, this was pushed back a few months to November. Then last July, it was announced that the entire rest of the 2020 season was cancelled. Those affected received a deferral code to use for a new 2021 event, as well as a bonus code for another event of their choice.

So I used the deferral code for a new Trail Race for September, and the bonus code for the Monterey Spartan Super 10k in August. I wanted to use the bonus code for another Trail Race, but I was unable to make that happen, as registrations for Trail Races vs regular Spartan events are handled by two different platforms, and the bonus code only worked for a regular event. So I chose the Super, as I thought the Sprint would be too easy and the Beast might be a little too challenging to start with. Anyway, based on how things were going with the company and on the global stage, I had little hope that the events would actually happen or that the company would even still remain solvent.

But gradually the situation in the US improved, events reopened, and finally the Monterey Spartan Super and Sprint events kicked off at Toro Park in Salinas yesterday. I didn't really give much thought to the difficulty of Spartan obstacles until a week before the event day; I've done three Tough Mudders and they seemed pretty manageable, so I thought I would be ok. But once reality dawned on me and I started researching Spartan obstacles, I realized that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

So for the last few days leading up to the event, I was working on my grip strength at UFC Gym (my Fitness 19 membership got transferred there after they went out of business) and binge-watching YouTube videos on Spartan obstacles. Two days before the event, Spartan released the course map showing all 20 and 27 obstacles on the Sprint and Super courses, respectively. This helped me hone in on exactly what to prepare for. I knew that I wouldn't be able to muscle my way through the obstacles, so I had to conquer them through better technique. I researched every obstacle on the route and picked up some good hacks, otherwise known as techniques for getting through obstacles using less effort (and sometimes more quickly as well). I guess it paid off, because I failed only one obstacle (the Spear Throw) and that involved just a penalty loop, so I ended up doing no burpees! Me being not that heavy undoubtedly helped on a lot of obstacles as well.

Compared to what I've researched, it seemed that the Monterey Super Course was dialed down in difficulty. For instance, mud and water were only present in two obstacles and they were near the end, so most of the obstacles were easier to complete than in venues where people are all muddy when doing them, either due to weather or course design. Going easy on us weak Bay Area people, maybe. ;)

So here are all the obstacles on the course and my personal notes.

Over Walls (4' Walls): Pretty much just a warmup.

6' and 7' Walls: The heel hook technique made these effortless. No 8ft walls like on some other courses. The 8ft walls would probably require a running jump, making them a good deal harder.

Olympus: A lot of people had trouble with staying on the wall. I mostly used the holes and made sure to sit my hips low, which kept me on the wall without too much sliding. Nonetheless, this obstacle was still difficult and was hard on my hands. The chains had the balls attached to the ends, making that part easier for those choosing to use them.

Bender: After grabbing the first bar, I swung my legs up onto the bar as well. This made it easy to reach up and climb the rest of the way.

The Box: A lot of people were having trouble getting up the rope. Despite there being knots on the rope, I couldn't get a good grip with my feet. But somehow I was able to pull myself up the rope, get my hands on the flat part at the top, and hoist my way up without too much effort.

Stairway to Sparta: It wasn't too difficult to hoist my way up and start climbing the rungs. Pretty much all there is to it.

Pipe Lair: This was on the map but didn't appear on the actual course. Grr.

Twister: Doing this facing backwards (as one video suggested doing) made this almost effortless. The obstacle consists of handles arranged in a spiral along two rotating bars, with the bars separated by a truss in the middle of the obstacle. I made sure to pick a lane where the second bar had its first handle oriented downwards in order to make the transition to that section easy.

Beater: Monkey bars with a twist, literally. The bars were spaced somewhat far apart and I didn't know if I'd be able to do them in the traditional way with palms facing forwards. So instead, I did them sideways with my palms facing each other, and this made the obstacle pretty doable.

Inverted Wall: Not too bad. One thing that made this easier was that there was a gap between the rungs and the wall that provided extra room to grab onto the rungs. I've seen videos both where there is and is not a gap, so I guess it's just a matter of how hard the course designers want to make this particular obstacle. On the way down the backside, I got sloppy and banged my ankle. Fortunately, it didn't seem serious and the pain wore off after a few minutes.

Z-Wall: Pretty manageable. Just maintain 3 points of contact and don't rush.

Barbed Wire Crawl: I found myself rolling more often than not, since I was impatient and too lazy to want to crawl. But this did make me dizzy and I still had to wait for the people ahead of me, since there were a lot of people and they were all crawling. I got a lot of burrs stuck in the back of my clothes, so I guess that's one disadvantage to rolling.

Bucket Carry: 80lb bucket for the men. The first section was straight up a hill. This obstacle was more cardio than strength, and I was definitely breathing hard and had to stop to rest a few times. I rested the bucket on a bent knee, as I learned from a video, which made it effortless to support the bucket. I alternated between bear-hugging the bucket and supporting it from underneath.

Hurdles: Pretty easy to get over.

Sandbag Carry: Carrying a sandbag for around 1000ft with a little bit of elevation. The men's sandbags are supposedly "only" 45lbs, but the bag felt fairly heavy to me and I lacked the strength and/or technique to get it over both shoulders, so I clumsily alternated it between shoulders. Not as difficult as the bucket carry, but I was still straining.

Rope Climb: I originally planned to use the J-hook to support my legs, but I had a lot of trouble positioning the rope with my feet when I was in the air, and I failed to make progress after a few starts. A volunteer suggested using the S-hook, and that did the trick. But getting to the top was hard on my hands, and I found the side of one of my fingernails bleeding. The volunteer was nice to give me a wipe and bandaid.

Spear Throw: Despite trying to follow tips from several videos, I failed when the spear tilted backwards after the throw. I tried again since it wasn't that busy, and on the second try, the spear tilted backwards again, though not by as much. This was one of two obstacles that involved a penalty loop instead of burpees, and the loop was very easy and took just a minute.

Hercules Hoist: 90lb weight for the men. I found it difficult to pull the rope down while standing, so I followed others' example of lying on the ground and bracing my feet at the bottom of the gate, and then using the weight of my body to pull the rope. Found another finger bleeding after this. Grip strength needs work!

Multi-Rig: Rings, then a horizontal bar, then rings again. Using the rings was simple enough, and the transition to and from the bar wasn't too bad, though I somehow managed to hit my head during the first transition and dismounted the final ring with pretty bad form. Wish I had a place I could practice rings.

Atlas Carry: 100lb stone for the men. While kneeling with one leg, I rolled the stone onto the other leg. This allowed me to get it in my grasp without too much straining. Carrying the stone the short distance wasn't too bad.

Vertical Cargo: I've seen some heavier guys struggle with this, but I had no trouble jumping and hoisting myself up onto the platform. From there it was just the simple act of climbing up and down the vertical cargo net, maintaining 3 points of contact.

Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall: Pretty straightforward. This was the only mud on the course. I got entirely drenched when dunking my head and body under the Dunk Wall, but this also washed off most of the mud that was on me. It also washed off the blood on my fingers as well as the bandaid. Oops. Sorry, people.

Slip Wall: This was right after Dunk Wall and I was worried that it'd be difficult to get up with wet hands and shoes, so I waited a few minutes. It was pretty manageable after that. Maybe I should've just gone for it right away, since some others seemed to be doing that.

A-Frame Cargo: Just 3 points of contact and don't be hasty - you know the drill by now.

Monkey Bars: Similar/same spacing between bars as with Beater, so I did these sideways as well and that worked just fine.

Helix: The final obstacle. Not too bad; just be methodical and watch your step, especially where it's a little wet and muddy due to other racers' footwear.

And no fire jump before the finish line. Understandable, with California being in an extreme drought and with fires like the Dixie Fire (the largest single wildfire in the state's history) currently raging.

So I finished a Super having to do only a penalty loop and no burpees. Sounds awesome, right? Well, I did take my time (sometimes up to 10 minutes) at most of the major obstacles in order to recover arm/grip strength. I could've gone faster, but I didn't have a concept of how hard the obstacles would be in practice and I didn't want to get fatigued. My official time was 3:12:01, placing 1534/2154 overall, 1224/1577 for males, and 216/273 for my age group. A pretty slow performance, but now I know what to expect. The median time was 2:48:10 for all racers.

Overall, I had a great experience and am glad that I did this. The event was run pretty well. Water and bathroom placement on the course was good, check-in was extremely quick, shuttles were ample, and there were plenty of showers with strong water pressure. The shower water wasn't warm, but it wasn't very cold either. Signage could've been better; the location we were told to park at was actually a few miles up the road from the actual parking lot. I had Priscilla drop me off at the venue but I took a shuttle back, and she almost couldn't find the parking lot because there wasn't too much signage on the road.

So for this trip, we took Friday off and headed down to Monterey. We got there a bit later than planned because of traffic; we should've realized that leaving at 2pm is not sufficient to avoid traffic on the 101, especially on a Friday. Once there, we headed over to the Beach House Restaurant in Pacific Grove for a happy hour dinner. We found that the happy hour menu is only for locals (not sure if it was always like this), but our waiter was nice to give it to us anyway. Dinner with tip was still $60, a bit much for happy hour, but you're paying for the view here.

We walked around Lovers Point and along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and walked around Cannery Row before heading back. On the trail was a sea lion lookout where we watched a group of 4 sea lions for 10 minutes. They were on the beach but apparently were waiting for the right time to get back into the ocean. When a wave came in that was high enough for each sea lion to start floating, it floated down the shore towards the ocean until it was able to swim away. Sometimes it took a few rounds of riding a wave ever so slightly down the shore until the sea lion was completely in the water, and until then, being stuck on the beach essentially unable to move. It was quite comical and interesting to witness this behavior.

Afterwards, we just headed over to the Lone Oak Lodge for our Friday night stay. The lodge had useful amenities, looked well-kept, and provided good value overall. We were pleasantly surprised. The rest of our low-key trip just involved getting ready for my race. While I was running, Priscilla went back to the lodge to do her devos until check-out time, then went to the local Safeway to get us food and to the Starbucks in the Safeway where she did some studying until I texted her to pick me up. We just headed back home afterwards.

I really enjoy obstacle course races because they combine things that I enjoy: running, strength, challenging oneself, and finding ways to do things better. I'm a sucker for race medals and headbands as well. I don't particularly care for getting dirty, but I enjoy the elaborate obstacles and the camaraderie at Tough Mudder, and I enjoy the physicality and technical aspects of Spartan Race. I'm trying to drum up some interest among people at church to do a Tough Mudder or Spartan next year. I'm already thinking of doing the Spartan Trifecta next year, and I intend to train more rigorously for it.

So... things to work on for Spartan:
* Grip strength
* Rope climbing technique
* Spear throwing technique
* Cardio

And of course I still have the Spartan Trail Race next month in Saratoga. I'm super excited.
South Lake Tahoe - Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Because no amount of travel is too much for Priscilla, she made us go to South Lake Tahoe for the weekend of my birthday. I prefer to spend my birthday at home catching up on housework, whereas she likes to go out, so she entices me with hiking as a compromise. I'd been to Tahoe in the winter 3 times for a company ski trip but never in the summer, so I didn't mind (too much) going there for summer hiking.

So that Friday, we made the 4.5 hour drive to Econo Lodge in South Lake Tahoe, where we would be staying for the next two nights. Our plan originally was to go to Kiva Beach to do some kayaking first, but I'm bad at leaving the house early. So instead of visiting the beach, we consigned ourselves to walking around Heavenly Village, walking through Harrah's, Harveys and Hard Rock (and at the latter, we hung out for a bit under a gazebo at the pool area when there was nobody else there), and walking by Lakeside Beach outside the fence since we didn't want to pay to go in. Obviously, we like to do things that don't cost money (and the hotel was booked using travel points).

The next day, we drove up State Route 89 to visit Emerald Bay. What a sight! The most majestic vantage point was one short segment of Route 89 where the shoulder of the road slopes down towards the water below and it looks like you're surrounded on most sides by water - Emerald Bay on the north, Cascade Lake on the south, and Lake Tahoe on the East. There were a lot of cars already parked along Route 89, so we had little hope that we'd be able to find parking in the main Emerald Bay lot. So instead, we parked on the shoulder halfway between Eagle Falls and the Bayview Campground. We took pictures at the "mid" Eagle Falls - a spot just below the road but above the Lower Eagle Falls. Then we did the short hike to see Upper Eagle Falls and then the longer hike to Eagle Lake, entering into what's known as Desolation Wilderness. It was less than a mile from the upper falls to the lake, but it was a little tiring because of all the rock steps. Definitely not like the packed dirt trails that we're so accustomed to when hiking in the Bay Area.

Eagle Lake was so picturesque! You have the trees and mountains in the background and crystal-clear water in the foreground. We stayed here a bit and ate some of the salad we brought before continuing on. At this point, Priscilla would've been fine with heading back the way we came, but I as always wanted to do a longer loop. Well, this loop ended up being a little over 8 miles and took us nearly 7 hours to complete because of the elevation gain, the rock steps, and the altitude. At one point, Priscilla felt lightheaded because of the thinner air. But she pushed through (with many breaks) because she knows I enjoy hiking and that's what compromise looks like.

This is one of the most scenic hikes that we've done. Everywhere you look, there are trees, canyons, lakes, and blue skies all around. Plus some mountains still capped with some snow. We ran into a fair number of people during most of the hike, but that didn't detract too much from the experience.

On my own, I also stopped by Granite Lake and Cascade Lake and Falls. Granite Lake, about a third of the size of Eagle Lake, was just off the beaten path but nobody else was there. It was nice to be able to gaze at the lake in total solitude. Cascade Lake was viewable from the Cascade Falls Trail but was not directly reachable; there are some houses on the north side of the lake (lucky them), reachable only by private road. The trail terminates by Cascade Falls, and while the view of the falls from there is likely not as grand as when viewed from the front, I was still in awe of the beauty and power of the waterfall. I sat near the edge of the falls for a few minutes, watching the water flow down the cliff below and marveling at the beauty of the landscape. For a while, there was nobody else around. Just me, sitting there in appreciation of nature, cares momentarily forgotten.

The last stop was Inspiration Point, a vista point with its own parking lot, looking down towards Emerald Bay. I rejoined Priscilla there, but we didn't stay for too long, as we'd already been treated to better views along the hike. So we headed back to town and picked up pizzas at Base Camp Pizza to replenish the calories we'd burned during hiking and then some.

Monday morning after checking out of our motel, we stopped by the Tahoe Trout Farm, the part of the trip that Priscilla had been looking forward to the most. She's more into fishing than I am, so I let her do all the work while I took care of the online research when it became evident that our method of baiting the hook was consistently allowing fish to get the worms without getting hooked. After a lot of lost worms and after one more adjustment, we finally caught a 13-inch trout! We'd been given a metal pipe to hit the fish with to humanely kill it, but after several hits, the fish was still not dead. It was sad to know that we probably caused the fish more pain than necessary, so if we do something like this again, hopefully we can learn how to kill the fish properly.

The final stop before heading home was the Kiva Picnic Area where we had lunch, followed by a short walk around the adjacent Tallac Historic Site (the buildings were not open on the day of our visit). The drive home was somewhat difficult as we were both tired, but we made it back home at last.

We had a good time in Tahoe. If it were practical, I would probably have wanted to stay longer and do more hiking/trail running in Desolation Wilderness and other spots. The scenery is so beautiful and there's so much to explore. I'd also want to kayak at Emerald Bay to Fannette Island. And there's so much to see all around the lake - the southern area is just a tiny portion of it. Priscilla would say that these are the best years of our (remaining) life, that we should be traveling more, and that we already have enough to have financial independence given our relatively modest lifestyle. I, on the other hand, feel that we go on a good number of trips already. I don't enjoy the actual travel and being away from home, but once I'm there, I enjoy the places that we get to see. And I feel that we don't have enough yet to be financially secure and that it would be difficult to take a lot more time off work. So I guess we're still trying to find that balance and compromise.
Coyote Lake Camping - Friday, June 11, 2021
Because we haven't been doing too much traveling and Priscilla has the travel itch, she booked a camping reservation for us at Coyote Lake for Memorial Day weekend last month. So that Saturday, we hauled it over 45 minutes down near Gilroy. Traffic was heavier than usual due to holiday travel but not terrible.

It was our second time camping at Coyote Lake, the first time being in 2017. We arrived around 4:30pm and found that most other people had already arrived and set up. Check-in starts at 3pm, so I guess people wanted to make use of as much of the day as they could.

We set up our tarp and tent, split some wood (I just bought an axe that morning), and then hiked until 7:15 (and saw a coyote in the distance while hiking - very fitting given the name of the place). Back at the campsite, we got the fire going and cooked the hash brown, cheese, chicken and tomato foil wraps that Priscilla had prepared, while eating chicken salads.

We were pretty tired after eating, and our fire had died down because we hadn't bothered to cut all the wood into smaller pieces, so we turned in early for the night. Doing so also allowed us to brush our teeth at the restroom and not really have to wait for others, since many people were still at their campfires enjoying the night. But people generally weren't too loud, and by around 10pm, the campground was pretty quiet.

It was a cold night, but the three sets of blankets that we brought helped. And I guess the design of the tent sort of kept some heat in. So by the middle of the night, we had shed a couple blankets.

We used our camping pads and were able to set the tent at a more level angle compared to last time, but sleeping on the ground still was not very comfortable. So as a result of going to bed early and not being able to sleep too well, we woke up around 5am. At least this allowed us to get a jump start on things while most others were still asleep. No line at the restroom again.

After staying in the car for a bit while Priscilla did her devos (we were also waiting out the weather since it was really cold outside), and having a quick breakfast, we went out for another hike. This time I hiked/ran 15 miles while Priscilla hiked 5.8 miles. I did a lot of the western side of the park where there's a good amount of elevation and a nice view of the valley with its farmland and scattered homes, and I looped back along the eastern side close to the lake. It was nice to get some vantage points looking out towards the lake, especially since the lake was dried up on the south side where the campground is. The drought is real.

Priscilla had everything packed up by the time I got back, and after another salad, it was time to head home. We're glad we went, but we realized during this trip that we're not really camping people. We enjoy having a comfortable bed and amenities and being able to shower after getting smokey. And camping (at least for us) involves a lot of food prep that's disproportionately high compared to the return we get. Maybe we'll do this again, but not for several years. And it would be more fun to do it with people who are actually camping minded and can show us how to have a more rewarding time.
I've Been Shot - Friday, May 14, 2021
Yesterday I got my second dose of the Pfizer COVID shot. Slightly worrying is the fact that other than very minor soreness at the site of the injection (and less soreness than last time), I've been feeling no side effects. But according to articles, the severity of side effects is not predictive of vaccine effectiveness, so I'm not stressing out about it. Pretty sure they didn't just run out of vaccines and give me a placebo...

Getting vaccinated felt, well, like a mundane affair. Definitely not life-changing. I recognize how privileged I am to be able to say that. I'm thankful for the wide-scale availability of the vaccine in the US, with basically anybody who wants the vaccine able to get it (and at no cost to them), and with almost half of the population now having gotten at least one dose, and over a third of the population having been fully vaccinated. I am privileged to be able to work from home, to be paid well for it, and to be in a position where the worst part of my day is Zoom fatigue. How many countless people in the world are still suffering greatly because of the pandemic (India comes to mind as of late), how many livelihoods have been affected, lives turned upside down, and how many people are out on the front lines risking their health for the benefit of society and getting paid little for it? Yeah, I'm blessed to live in the US and privileged to be in the position that I am.

One is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the final dose, according to the CDC. And their guidance is now that fully-vaccinated people don't need to wear masks, either outdoors or indoors (though this guidance doesn't apply to healthcare and public transportation settings). I'm grateful that I'll be effectively protected when hanging out with/being around people, but I'm still a bit skittish and would prefer to continue keeping social distance and wearing a mask when around others. After all, we're still in a pandemic and the US is still seeing around 35k new cases a day. Priscilla thinks I'm too extreme and reminds me that the number of new cases in California is quite low. Maybe she's right. Perhaps a compromise?

As for Priscilla, she's down in LA for 10 days now and her last day of work was yesterday. She's been consistently waking up around 5:30 now (an improvement from 3:30) and has continued being fruitful with her time. She'll be helping her parents organize their finances and hanging out with friends in LA. So I'll have to wing it as a bachelor for the next several days, though she did make me a ton of food (porridge, pulled chicken, scrambled eggs, kale, shrimp, and a huge pot of soup) before she left, so I think I'll survive.
First Quarter of 2021 - Monday, May 3, 2021
Well, it's been a pretty eventful four months into 2021. We're still in the midst of a global pandemic, but places are starting to reopen and life is starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

So far, 44% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with 31% fully vaccinated. In California and most other states, vaccination appointments are now available to anybody who wants them; I got my first dose last week. Daily infection rates in the US have been hovering around 50k, down from a high of 300k in January. Around the world, the situation is still more dire. Right now, India has it the worst with daily infections having ballooned to around 400k, and with only 9% of the population having had at least one dose of a vaccine and 2% fully vaccinated. Of course the western countries would get faster access to vaccines than the rest of the world. It's especially ironic that India is the world's largest producer of vaccines. The inequality is real, sometimes seemingly unreal, and visible. We have so many blessings living here that we must not take for granted.

One thing we're grateful for is the ability to attend church in-person with others again. Our church resumed in-person gatherings in February, and we've been meeting outdoors so as to not be limited by the capacity and singing restrictions for indoor services. Each family sits in their own socially-distant space in the parking lot and brings their own chairs, so there's a bit of setup involved each Sunday morning. We have to be there at the unbearably early hour of 9am for the morning service, and 8am on days when we help with worship, but I don't have a good excuse to not be waking up early anyway. The livestream (which we still have) is so much more convenient, but there's no substitute for meeting in person. Sometimes it feels like a drag to get myself there, but I know it's a good thing.

As for the two of us, Priscilla and I took a short trip at the end of March to hike at Pinnacles National Park, California's newest national park and the closest one to the Bay Area. We visited on a Monday, and we ran into a fair number of people but not a lot of people. Because I underestimate trail distance and difficulty, we ended up hiking for 8 hours and did nearly 14 miles over 4,000 feet of elevation, which included going a good ways up the side of a hill where there was no marked trail (I saw a sign saying there was a vista point and I thought it was at the top of the hill, but it was actually refering to an observation spot nearby which didn't register in my mind as an actual spot with a view). Priscilla was extremely tired through the latter third of the hike, but she very graciously put up with me.

I really enjoyed the relative solitude of Pinnacles, seeing a few condors on the Condor Gulch Trail, and visiting the scenic reservoir towards the end of the day (I ran there while Priscilla hiked back to the car). Because of COVID, the two caves at Pinnacles were closed - quite a bummer since they're supposedly awesome to visit. Hopefully we'll be able to visit again when the caves are open, and I'm sure that the hike will be better planned the next time around...

So during that trip, we stayed overnight in Hollister, which is a 30-mile drive to Pinnacles. This allowed us to save some money (hotels near Pinnacles are pricey) but still be able to get to the park early-ish without having to drive too far. On the way to Hollister, we visited the Gilroy Ostrich Farm, which Priscilla particularly enjoyed, and Casa de Fruta, where we didn't buy anything and spent more time walking around outside than looking at goods inside the shop. After Pinnacles, we ate at Carpo's Restaurant and stayed overnight in Capitola (Soquel, technically) and walked around Capitola and the beach the next day. The coolest part there was walking along the old railroad trestle (the rail line is no longer active, so no chance of getting flattened by a train) high above across Soquel Creek. This trip was our first since the start of the pandemic where we stayed in a hotel (wow!).

Then at the end of April, we drove down to LA to see family. We hadn't seen them since Thanksgiving; we didn't visit during Christmas because of the increased travel restrictions at that time. Our visit was pretty low-key, but it was good to see everyone, and Aaron's kids are a little older and the older one seems slightly more comfortable with me now and couldn't stop pointing out what color everything is. It's pretty cool (and a big relief!) to see her opening up, because before she would always just stare blankly at me, not wanting to engage.

Finally, Priscilla will be going through a career transition soon. She and her coworkers have been having a rough time due to the new CFO who's been difficult to work with. Priscilla was experiencing a lot of stress that was taking a toll on her mental health. Finally, she asked to work from home until the company found a replacement, after which she would leave. For reasons, her last day was supposed to be last Friday, but the new person hasn't started yet, so the company asked Priscilla to continue working another two weeks, which she agreed to because she knows how overloaded her team is. After she leaves, she wants to learn about self-employment and will be going down to LA for 10 days to help her parents sort out their finances, which they will pay her for - they gift her money every year anyway, but she wants to use this as a way to make self-employed contributions into a 401k. Later, she's planning to find a job with another company, ideally part-time and remote. It'll be good to see her more and for her to have more time to help me with things around the house that I don't have time for. Her sleep cycle got really messed up due to the stress she was experiencing, and she still can't help but wake up at 3:30am many days, but she's had more free time as a result and has been using her time more fruitfully.

I too need to better learn to carve out time for the things that matter. I think the pandemic has made me better in this area, but I'm still very much a work in progress. You never know how life is going to go or what day is going to be your last. If there's one thing that this time has taught me, it's that life is a gift and should not be squandered. As our modern-day millennial philosophers so eloquently put it, YOLO.
Goodbye 2020 - Thursday, December 31, 2020
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I think the opening line from "A Tale of Two Cities" perfectly sums up the year 2020. In multiple ways, this year has been one for the books. And while the pandemic rages on across the world, and now a more infectious variant of the virus is spreading rapidly, there is also hope in multiple viable vaccines which to date have been administered over 10 million times across 29 countries.

This year has separated us from loved ones, prevented people from doing things that bring them joy, and even caused tens of millions to lose their jobs and over 100,000 businesses to shut down. But during these past several months, we've also learned to slow down, refocus on the things that matter, and find new ways to connect with others. Despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, we've seen how creative and resilient people can be.

Due to increased restrictions in LA and Santa Clara County, Priscilla and I decided to not go down to LA for Christmas this year - a first. While we of course missed family, it was nice to do a virtual dinner for the first time with my parents and her parents, respectively. My dad initially thought the idea was weird, but I guess he warmed up to it. It's too bad we waited this long to do something like this - we should do this with our parents more often.

While this year has undoubtedly had its unique challenges, life has overall been fairly good for the two of us. I'm grateful for our stable jobs, our savings, our house, for our new home gym and spa room, our continuously improving backyard, and for family and friends who love us. There are many who are missing some or most of these things.

Time is a construct. There is perhaps no New Year's celebration more joyous than this one, but we celebrate now not because things will improve overnight, but because in spite of the difficult months ahead, there is hope of a better future. As Christians, our hope is in Christ who has conquered all things, but as human beings living through a pandemic, sometimes we need to be reminded to hope and that there is hope.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the new year. Nobody knows for certain whether the worst is behind us or is yet to come (though my bets are on the latter). But rather than worrying about what we can't control, let us spend our energies on what we can control.

This week, Priscilla and I visited the Willow Glen Holiday Lights for the first time. It was a spectacular sight. One reason why I enjoy lights is because they represent something in the midst of nothing, warmth and light in the midst of cold and darkness. So it is too in the metaphorical sense. It is during times of darkness when light is needed most - it's up to each of us to find that light in the world and to be light for ourselves and for each other.

So thank you 2020 for one heck of a year. For the pain, for the joy, for the love that you've taught us to not take for granted. I would not want to go through all this again, but I am grateful that I did.
Not a Normal Thanksgiving - Monday, November 30, 2020
Like this year as a whole, this Thanksgiving deviated far from the norm.

Coronavirus cases across many parts of the world are on an exponential rise, with the US topping the list at around 150-180k new cases on a daily basis now. 51 out of California's 58 counties are now back in the purple tier, and the state has a curfew from 10pm-5am, effective until December 21 but likely to be extended, during which non-essential work and gatherings are prohibited. And authorities have been asking the public to not get together with people outside their immediate household during Thanksgiving. The fear is that widespread travel will cause a surge in the infection rate.

Priscilla and I still wanted to see our families and deemed the risk acceptable since most of us have just been staying at home. We decided to see Priscilla's parents first since they're older and more at risk than mine. Since we always go down on Thanksgiving Day, this meant that we had Thanksgiving dinner with Priscilla's parents instead of the traditional dinner that my parents make. So instead of turkey, we had Peking duck! We got it and a couple other dishes from a nearby place called Tasty Duck (the food was ok).

On Friday, we found out that LA County was prohibiting gathering between people from separate households, effective the following Monday. No worries, we thought, since Monday was the day we were planning to return home. We stayed at Priscilla's parents' place for two nights and then the plan was to stay at my parents' place the next two nights. But on Saturday, we found out that effective 12:01am Monday, Santa Clara County is requiring that people traveling from 150+ miles away must quarantine for 14 days. This cutoff seems completely arbitrary and the 14-day quarantine seems too heavy-handed for Priscilla's and my situation, but we wanted to be above board for the sake of Priscilla's workplace since she needs to work from the office four days a week. So we decided that it would be best to leave Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately we had no time to see Aaron and his family, but it probably wouldn't have been a good idea anyway because one of his kids is sick with the cold.

We had enough time to eat three meals with my parents, and I was also able to fix my dad's old computer (turns out his motherboard and two sticks of RAM were bad). My mom of course made a ton of food for us to bring back with us.

In terms of driving, the drive down was surprisingly fast. We started heading down at 7:40am on Thursday, and except for a couple very minor slowdowns, traffic was relatively light the whole way - way better than in previous years. The drive back up on Sunday took 6 hours due to several slowdowns. Sunday is the busiest day after Thanksgiving to travel, so 6 hours is definitely better than it would've been in previous years. The drive up was very tiring, so we were just glad to get home.

This morning, my mom informed us that a patient with whom she interacted at her workplace has tested positive for the virus, making it the 4th infection identified there during the pandemic. My mom had gloves and a mask on when interacting with the patient, so she's probably fine, but she'll be testing in a few days. As it doesn't sound like Priscilla and I were directly exposed, Priscilla's workplace is fine with her going back to the office after getting a negative test (a general policy that was put in place for the holiday for any employees traveling out of the county), as long as my mom does not test positive. Fun times. This is the kind of thing that health experts were cautioning about, though the orders are probably aimed more at people who aren't exercising caution.

I don't think that life should stop because of the pandemic. Just about everything we individuals do carries some level of risk, yet we have learned to live our lives while unconsciously accepting calculated risk. With the pandemic, we should be able to see our family as long as people are acting responsibly and keeping others safe - and from everything I've seen, we definitely need a lot more of that. Lockdowns can only get us so far without personal responsibility.
The Rest of Summer - Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Now that it's fall, I figured I'd better get to writing an update for the rest of summer. A lot has happened since I wrote my last blog entry!

Workwise, the situation has remained unchanged. I'm still working from home, as Pure has directed all non-essential staff to continue to do so for the rest of the year. Priscilla is still working from home only 2-3 days a week.

In late June/early August, I decided that I may never be able to set foot in my gym again and that we should start purchasing gym equipment. We originally wanted to keep our two spare rooms free in case we decided to rent them out again in the future. So we were thinking of having an outdoor gym, which would involve removing two trees in the backyard and installing a canopy and hard flooring with rubber flooring over it. But eventually we decided to convert our larger spare room into a permanent gym room, meaning we'll never rent out that room again, which we decided was acceptable.

So I bought rubber floor tiles and had a glass company install a 8x6' mirror. I also purchased a weight bench and dumbbell rack on Amazon. I wanted dumbbells because they're the most versatile. The problem was that they were sold out everywhere, and the price gouging for used dumbbells on Craigslist was insane. I'd heard of Rogue Fitness and knew that they were well-regarded in the fitness community but also that their stuff had been considered pricey. But unlike most companies, Rogue had seemingly not increased prices during the pandemic, making their gear competitively priced by today's standards. It took a couple weeks, but I was finally able to order 10-50lb dumbbells, and later 60lb dumbbells and a 35lb kettlebell. Orders were naturally quite backed up, so it took 5 weeks for everything to arrive, but it was awesome once it did.

Unfortunately, now I have a problem with weight distribution. The dumbbells plus the rack weigh about 850 pounds, which is a lot to put in one small area given that we have a crawlspace and a foundation that doesn't seem too strong. We don't have major foundation issues, but we have creaking floorboards everywhere, a sagging floor in many spots, and evidence of minor settling all around. I went into the crawlspace and found that we have 4x6 beams with subfloor planks on top. No joists and no plywood, unlike with modern homes. I did a lot of research about foundations and also had a structural engineer come take a look, and he determined through very generic calculations that I can have no more than about 360-400lbs of weight in that area. I loaded up the rack with 375lbs (including the rack's weight of 75lbs), and a couple weeks later, I noticed some thin cracks on that side of the room where the floorboard was starting to pull away from the wall. I'm not sure if the floorboard was like that before, but I didn't want to take chances and exacerbate the problem, so I took the 40lb dumbbells off the rack. Now the lighter dumbbells are on the rack while the heavier ones are distributed around the edges of the room.

I have the rack centered over two beams, though it's slightly wider than the beam span by a few inches on each side. The structural engineer didn't go into the crawlspace as I had hoped he would, but he gave me a suggestion to install one additional pier per beam to support the weight of the rack. I'm having an actual foundation repair company come next week, and they will actually go into the crawlspace and give me a free estimate. Of course, I'm afraid that any work they do will cost a lot.

But the gym room has been an investment that's already been paying off. I had been feeling down due to not being able to go to the gym for 4 months, let alone losing a lot of my previous strength gains. I had the cheap adjustable dumbbells in the shed, but it wasn't the same. It's been awesome physically and mentally to be able to get a real workout again. We also added an exercise ball as well as a custom metal sign hung on the wall to complete our gym setup. Overall, we spent around $4k on the home gym, and Priscilla's parents graciously paid for most of it (they insisted). But perhaps we may have to shell out another $4k for foundation work - who knows.

Not to be left out, Priscilla decided that we should convert the other spare room into her spa room. Our last renter left a twin bed and some small furniture when she moved out. At the start of July, I purchased a Casper Wave Hybrid mattress, hoping that it would help with Priscilla's back pain. Casper was among the many companies having supply issues, and the mattress shipment kept getting delayed and ultimately took 5 weeks to arrive (and probably would've been longer had I not emailed customer support). The new mattress was pretty pricey at $2,360 (though we got a $109 refund due to the delays), but it's been an invaluable investment since it's helped a lot with Priscilla's back pain when all other mattresses we've tried have failed. Since our previous mattress was only 2.5 years old and still in good condition, we didn't want to just toss it. So Priscilla decided to use it as a backrest between the wall and the twin bed, creating a day bed. Thus, her day bed and spa room was born. It seems like we will never have renters again while we are living here. I guess we're at that stage of life now where we are ok with that.

Our other home improvement projects have been focused on the backyard. I had a handyman come and fix some things around the house including repairing some rotted wood behind the shed door hinges. We finished planting green onions in the planter box and also planted 6 tomato plants that Priscilla's coworker gave her. I installed a 3ft fence around the perimeter of the planter box to keep cats from pooping there (and it has worked!). I pressure washed the patio and also surprised Priscilla one night with string lights hung from the patio cover over our patio table. Afterwards, she bought tiki torches and a gas firepit so that we can enjoy our backyard at night in even more style.

However, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time outdoors since August. The second week of August, we saw a record-breaking heat wave. And then on August 16, a rare thunderstorm event caused a long period of dry lightning that sparked hundreds of fires. We were kept awake most of that night by the frequent sound of thunder; I have never heard so much continuous thunder in my life. Over the next few days, over 12,000 lightning strikes were recorded over Northern California, sparking up to 585 wildfires. In an unprecedented fire season, massive wildfires burned across Southern and Northern California, as well as Oregon and Washington, spreading quickly and wide due to hot weather, dry conditions and high winds. The August Complex, which originated as 38 separate fires, soon became the largest fire in recorded California history. Pretty much the entire West Coast was on fire, and firefighters were stretched thin, and it took a few weeks before any real progress was made. I found myself incessantly checking the AQI on PurpleAir and AIRNow, as most of the time the air outside was very smokey and not ideal for going out, let alone for cardio exercise. At times, the air quality in the Bay Area was the worst in the world. A couple days this month, the sky was red and orange all over the Bay Area, making everything look apocalyptic. With all that's been going on, it certainly felt like it.

Across the three states, more than 5.8 million acres have now burned - a combined area larger than New Jersey. Containment on many of the fires is still ongoing, but firefighters have been working relentlessly and under straining conditions. Finally, a couple weeks ago, the Bay Area started seeing healthy AQI levels again. Since Priscilla and I hadn't been able to travel since the start of the pandemic, we had planned a trip to Yosemite from September 26-29. We booked this a week before the start of the fires. Unfortunately, Yosemite air quality has been greatly impacted by the nearby Creek Fire, and there are a couple smaller fires burning inside of Yosemite itself, so the park was closed for about a week prior to our scheduled trip. We decided that we should go down to LA instead, so we drove down last Saturday and stayed until yesterday. Since Priscilla's parents are older and thus more at risk to COVID, we saw them first for two days, followed by my parents for the latter two days. We also got to have dinner with my brother and his family. It was nice to be able to see family again; we hadn't seen them in person since the start of the pandemic.

While the Bay Area has been seeing healthier air than LA as of late, that's now changed thanks to the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma which started on Sunday. Air quality all around the bay is now back in the "unhealthy" range. People are getting fire fatigue, and those having to evacuate and go to shelters have the added danger of exposure to the virus in the middle of this pandemic. Things could be worse, but they have not been great. And weather conditions and wildfires are probably just going to get more extreme with time thanks to global warming. In all of this, while the future can look bleak and hopeless, we as Christians must remember that while we are stewards of this world and its resources, that ultimately man is sinful and creation is fallen, and our hope must be in our Creator who will redeem all things.
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