About Me

Peace Corps Poem #1

Click the link the find the “Despacito” parody I made about my PC training experience!

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Hey there, lovely readers!

I know it’s been quite a while since my last post, but I assure you that I’ll have a great update for you next month, full of cultural impressions and travel suggestions based on my first three months in Nicaragua.  Sit tight; I promise you’ll love it when I have enough material to write it.  For now, I’ll give you the first and only poem I’ve written so far during service, and though you surely won’t understand all the references, I hope you enjoy the creativity nonetheless (or love it all if you’re from PC Nicaragua!).  The poem is based on the same rhythm as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito.”  I don’t think any more needs to be said.

Nica’sGringos

 As always, thanks for reading, and safe travels!  Write you again in November! 🙂

p.s. This is a fair disclaimer that the term “gringos” in my poem only refers to foreigners in general, since I know we have mixed races in our group.

Flying Through Florida

A short review of the three-day span I spent in Miami, Florida, for my Peace Corps staging event.

Hey there, lovely readers!

I hope you’re doing well as we move into the second week of September!  I know it’s been a while since I made a post, but this is my first one as a Peace Corps trainee in Nicaragua.  I plan to post about my experiences here before too long, but I figured I’d start with a slightly delayed blog about Florida, the state of our pre-departure staging in August.

Florida became my 43rd U.S. state on August 7th, though I really didn’t see much of it in my three days there.  The flight in allowed me a lovely view of the sea city of the South, Miami.  I was amazed at how the city was split in parts by the bays and shores of the Atlantic Ocean, like a cerulean iris split by the metropolitan pupil of Miami’s suburbs.  The flight went without any problems or complaints, and I was able to catch Logan on the way there, thanks to Delta’s complimentary services (note that I’m not sponsoring/sponsored by Delta at all; I simply appreciate their flight services).  When I landed in Miami, I found the public transit very easy to navigate, and I took the metrorail to my hotel very efficiently.  We spent most of the next 24 hours in the hotel for training and sleeping, but at the end of the second night, we had time to explore Miami and Miami Beach (shoutout to Peace Corps for the funded excursion!).  We ate at a couple restaurants while we were there, and I enjoyed both the Mexican and marine cuisines I found.  On the second night, I opted to check out Miami Beach with a group of my fellow trainees, and after some meandering and Uber rides, we swam in the ocean for a bit before heading out to dinner.  I don’t like beaches or oceans usually, but I enjoyed myself and even went for a short jog on the beach.  Miami Beach is certainly clean to tour though, and the hotels/resorts there are incredibly nice and fancy.  We grabbed supper in a pizza place, and we basically ended the night by heading back to the hotel and heading out the next morning.  It probably wasn’t a very great perspective of Florida as a whole, but it wasn’t my least favorite state by any means.

Stay tuned for reflections on my training sometime in the next couple months!  I’m about one month in now, so my first post will include some first impressions of culture, geography, and infection here in Nicaragua.  Until then, happy reading and safe travels! 🙂

Carry Me

Click the link for a short poem about the power of travel and wanderlust.

I’m back with another new poem!  I wrote it in the same adapted Forlorn Suicide style as My Short Guide to Prevent Suicide, but with far fewer stanzas.  This is probably my last one before I depart for the Peace Corps, and it’s just a short piece about wanderlust as an escape from life.  I just finished it tonight, so I hope you enjoy it! Happy reading, and take care! See you soon from Central America! 🙂

CarryMe

Minnesota

Bits and pieces about the northernmost reaches of the American Midwest.

Hey there, lovely readers!

Today I have the final update from my older travels—this piece will bring us up to date on where all I’ve been, so everything from this point on will be “live,” so to speak, and (hopefully) include more pretty pictures!  Surprisingly, with as much as I’ve been to Minnesota my whole life, I’ve never really retained any photographic evidence of how beautiful the state is, so please do Google the places and landmarks as you read about them.  Without further ado, here’s my state #2!

Like Iowa, I will describe Minnesota by traveling across the state to the different places I’ve been.  Minnesota is a larger state than most though, so I actually haven’t seen a decent portion of it.  Most of the really picturesque locations are close to the Canadian border, so please do conduct further research if you want to see the raw parts of Minnesota.

The culture of Minnesota is very similar to that of Iowa, My Home.  Most people have some sort of Scandinavian or German heritage, though Minnesota does have a fair share of Native American areas as well.  Both the Chippewa and Sioux tribes have history in Minnesota, and both cultures can be seen in certain areas.  Minnesotans are also quite reserved, like Iowans, but they are outgoing and fast-paced as well.  Anyone from around here will tell you that the difference between an Iowan and a Minnesotan is about as drastic as that of someone from a different country—you don’t want to confuse the two or group them together.  However, cultural pastimes and holidays are almost identical in the two states, and the only difference in weather is that Minnesota tends to get more snow in the winter, sometimes measurable in feet, rather than inches!  Minnesota also has much greater cultural diversity than does Iowa (with many immigrants from countries in eastern Africa and Central America), and it has an especially mixed metro area near the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).  It is becoming so popular and diverse, in fact, that it is often referred to as the next Seattle or similar city.

Minnesota is called the land of ten-thousand lakes, and it becomes pretty apparent why as you drive across the state.  Like Iowa and most of the Midwest, Minnesota used to be completely underwater.  While millennia have passed since this was the case, the evidence of such geography still lingers in the rich biomes of marshland and forest throughout the state.  Let’s look at where all I’ve been, starting in the west and moving east.

I-90 is the main interstate that runs east-west in southern Minnesota.  From the South Dakota border to the intersection with I-35, there really isn’t anything worth stopping for, so I’ll save you the time of discussing it.  Near the North Dakota border, though, I-94 leads from Fargo, ND, to the Twin Cities, in east-central Minnesota.  Moorhead, MN, and Fargo, ND, are connecting cities, and they have a very similar feel.  I-94 leading up to the two can be a bit of a boring drive, to be honest, but it does offer a good look at all the lakes and relative barrenness as you start to enter northern Minnesota.  The scenery is pretty similar until you reach the cities, so I’ll again save you tedious details.  Slightly west of the cities and still to the north lies Onamia and the area near Mille Lacs Lake.  Like my trips to South Dakota, Oregon, and Michigan, this was the spot for my college cross country team’s season opener one year.  Onamia was where we traveled in 2016, my senior year, and it was a neat location to stay.  The bugs were absolutely horrid in late August, since there’s so much water nearby, but the lakes are almost unending and, therefore, rather entertaining for fishers and boaters/kayakers alike.  Onamia is about the north-south point where Minnesota’s red-chip forests start, so anyone who enjoys hiking and camping near rivers in the woods should head north of there.

Moving back to the south, Mankato is the only other noteworthy town I’ve been to west of I-35.  It is a college town, and it has plenty to see, do, and eat, as a result.  It definitely doesn’t feel crowded or pompous, as cities sometimes can, however, because Minnesota simply isn’t populated enough to sustain a city with that feel.  Mankato leads southeast to the gravel backroads and small farm towns associated with southern Minnesota and northeast to Waterville and the Sakatah trail/lake system.  Albert Lea is the first real “hub” for anyone coming up from Iowa, but it’s certainly nothing to travel to see.  Basic restaurants, lakefront views, and movie theaters are all you’ll find until you reach Owatonna and Medford, and, even then, strip malls and discount stores are the only real attractions.  I-35 will take you north to sprawling Minneapolis, and beyond that, to Saint Paul and northeastern Minnesota.

Minneapolis is the nightlife of Minnesota.  It’s where all the major malls (such as the Mall of America), bars, clubs, restaurants, sports fields, and high-rise condos are in the state.  It attracts all ages of people, but it is becoming increasingly attractive to people in their twenties and thirties, if they can afford it.  As far as cities go, though, Minneapolis is cheaper than Seattle, Chicago, or New York, so it fits the budget of those desiring a metro area.  I personally enjoy Minneapolis, and I wouldn’t mind living there at some point in the future.  It offers a good location for driving to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, or even Canada, yet it’s still far enough away from any other major cities to be dirty and crime-ridden.  Saint Paul serves as the business side of the Twin Cities, for the most part, and it houses more of the office buildings, residential stretches, and skyscrapers, with less of the entertainment venues.

Returning once more to southern Minnesota, I-90 travels east to Austin, Rochester, and into Wisconsin, near La Crosse.  Austin is where my mother is from, so we often visited when I was a child.  The town is pretty typical of bigger Minnesota towns, with restaurants and parks to visit all over.  I would consider it a cleaner and larger version of Albert Lea, and I wouldn’t recommend driving specifically to Austin for a vacation, but perhaps stopping by along the way if you’re in the area.  Rochester is even larger and boasts some pretty quality medical school training/preparation, but I would again only stop there for the mall or for friends/family you might have nearby.  Winona is slightly smaller but borders Wisconsin to the east, and it was the very place I crossed into Wisconsin when I was younger.  Bluffs and the Mississippi River are a couple of the attractions to Winona, and the University in the city is recognized for its teaching degrees.

Switching back to northeastern Minnesota, I saved the best I’ve seen for last.  I traveled up to Lutsen with a student organization in high school, and I really enjoyed the route we took.  Once I-35 moves north of the Twin Cities, it heads east toward Duluth.  Duluth is a pretty neat college town, and it separates the more populated part of Minnesota from the more raw and natural part.  I recommend it as a place to stop for lunch or a quick look at Lake Superior if you’re heading farther north.

Lutsen is part of Superior National Forest, and I would consider Superior to be one of the more enjoyable National Forests (along with those in the Appalachians and the Pacific Northwest).  The campground at which we stayed had redwood-chip trails everywhere that led to incredible rocky lookouts over the lakes and rivers nearby.  The forests in northern Minnesota are generally pine forests, but there’s usually a good mix of oak, maple, and other assorted trees in there as well.  I strongly recommend northern Minnesota over almost anywhere else in the U.S. if you’re looking to camp for more than a single night.

We slid down the alpine slide in Lutsen (like the Olympic bobsled, but with only one person and no snow), and then we headed a ways west on our return journey, to look at the iron ranges that used to be heavily mined.  We toured an old mine shaft in either Hibbing or Mountain Iron (I honestly don’t remember which), and then we came back home.  I definitely found Superior National Forest to be my favorite part of Minnesota, both during that trip and in all my ventures to the state during my lifetime.  The two must-see spots are definitely that forest and Minneapolis.

I hope that this blog post inspires you to check out Minnesota, and I hope that you enjoyed reading about what all I’ve seen in the state.  Let me know if there’s somewhere else in MN I need to go; I’ll probably be making it farther north when I venture into Canada in the future.  Until next time, happy reading and safe travels! 🙂

Oregon

A recounting of my week in the lower PNW.

Hey there, lovely readers!

Today, let’s take a trip back in time, to August 2015.  Like my journey to Michigan & Wisconsin, my time in Oregon was part of my college cross country experience.  To start my junior year, we spent a week in western Oregon and trained along the beach, and I’d like to recount it as best I can for you.  Sorry for the absence of pictures; I’m always trying to get better at taking more while traveling!

First off, let me start by saying that I think Oregon is overrated.  I might be a bit cynical and unappreciative of its natural beauty, I suppose, but I would strongly recommend Washington as an alternate destination for someone looking to experience the American Pacific Northwest.  With that said, I hope you still enjoy what I have to say about Oregon and perhaps even make the trek yourself, if for no better reason than for the thrill of travel and adventure.  Without further ado, here’s what I remember:

Our journey began with a sickeningly early morning (like 3:30 a.m., if my memory serves correctly).  We drove from our college campus in eastern Iowa to the Des Moines airport, and we left for our layover in Denver, Colorado.  At this point, I had never been to CO before, so it became state #19 for me.  I have been back to the airport twice since that flight, once on the return journey from Oregon and once when I flew to Seattle a couple years later.  Most people would argue that an airport doesn’t count as having been to or seen a state, but I would argue that I’ve spent more time in the Denver airport than I’ve spent in some states I’ve driven through.  Regardless, we made it to the Portland airport after a few hours of layover and subsequent flying, and Oregon became my 20th state.

Portland had a strangely suburban feel for me, rather than the super-populated feel I normally get from large cities.  It almost felt less populated and less-developed than other cities I had been to, but it still had the sort of charm that only a metro area can have.  We quickly left it behind after we grabbed sandwiches at Subway, however, and we headed southwest, toward our campground in Florence, OR.

As we flirted with the Siuslaw River and accompanying forests between Portland and Florence, we were given a pretty good taste of typical Oregon.  We passed countless pine trees, both those left to nature and those used for logging, and we saw our first glimpses of the renowned river scenes of the Pacific Northwest.  Mists cleared and gathered as we came deeper into the forest, and before we knew it, we left the riverside entirely to dive fully into the mossy forest.  Our campground was decently deep in a dense part of the Siuslaw Forest, so when we arrived at around 9:30 p.m., it was pretty dark already.  We weren’t about to let that stop us, as adventurous as we were, and the whole team went for a short run before an abbreviated supper and slumber.

Like several of my other earlier travels, I don’t think I can very well keep the days of the trip straight after the first night.  I know that we spent time at the Dunes National Recreation Area the next day, but my dislike of beach scenes (I know, I’m like the only person ever…) and my recent injury to my hamstring beforehand prevented me from enjoying it very much.  Not to mention that the tide came in and pretty much ruined anything nice we had on the beach…  Anyway, the team returned once or twice later in the week, but the cripples who weren’t at 100% stayed at the campgrounds at that time.  We had a lake and trails to explore, but the water was a bit too cold to really enjoy.  And I like them slightly more than I used to, but I wasn’t very keen on the mossy trails of the Pacific Northwest at the time.

Another one of the days included a trip to nearby Eugene, home of The University of Oregon.  Eugene is pretty much the headquarters for runners in the U.S.A., so it was a treat to see the campus and run around the town for a bit.  I think Eugene was probably my favorite part of the trip, and it’s the one spot I would call a must-see for anyone going to Oregon.  The campus at the University was massive and covered in beautiful flowers (like rosebushes, right in the middle of sidewalks on campus!), and the whole run around the town was really rather enchanting.

We visited the Heceta Head Lighthouse for our annual “date night,” and I enjoyed seeing the nearby cliffs and beaches as our bus climbed toward it.  We mainly just took some pictures there, but we also had the pleasure(?) of hearing a bagpiper play for a while.  I thought the lookout was cool overall, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a sight to see near Florence for an evening.

The rest of the trip is a blur in my memory, save for the final day(s).  We drove up to McMinnville, near Portland, and ran our customary camp race for the week.  We raced Linfield College, and though the course was a bit mushy and the competition slim (no pun intended), most of us really enjoyed the experience.  The top ten finishers even received some pretty cool purple shirts, and I’m still mad that someone later sole mine out of my car in a parking garage…  Anyway, we took our happy, soggy selves to Portland and lodged in a hotel overnight before flying back to Iowa the next morning.  The trip ended rather uneventfully, and though Oregon isn’t one of my favorite states by any means, I enjoyed the experience we shared as a team and had a fond time with my stay in Oregon.

I hope this post enlightened and/or inspired you to investigate your own travels in the Pacific Northwest.  If there’s anywhere else up there I need to see, let me know!  Until next time, happy reading and safe travels! 🙂

New Mexpectations

An account of my trip to New Mexico and how it surpassed my expectations.

Hey there, lovely readers!

Since I’ve finished and uploaded my new poems I wanted to spend some time on, I can again bring you some tales of my adventures in the U.S.A.! This post will hopefully allow you to better understand New Mexico and its surprises, as well as some other states along the way.  I hope you enjoy!

My trip began from home, like most others, but this was the first time I drove somewhere to meet someone who didn’t live there.  My friend Adam (yep, the same one from my travels out west) drove down from Salt Lake City to meet me in southeastern New Mexico.  The drive was about 13 hours for him and 21 hours for me (including stops for food and fuel), so we both spread the drive out over two days to reach our rendezvous point.  My drive followed I-35 south from Iowa to Kansas City, MO.  This was my first time driving through Kansas City, and I didn’t find it as fun as large cities farther east.  I ate at a Five Guys, which you might remember I fancy from The Road to Washington, D.C., and then I crossed into Kansas and began my journey west.

Kansas was my 39th state, and I love that new states can still surprise me and go against my expectations.  I thought Kansas would be a flat, boring prairie, and while it mostly is, the stretch from Kansas City to Emporia was full of lush, green vegetation and beautiful scenery.  I hadn’t expected to like or recommend Kansas to anyone at all, but I think it’s worth the visit, just to see the change from the greenery of the Midwest to the harsh dryness of the Southwest.  It was a pretty boring second half of the day as I drove across the browner part of Kansas, but I did enjoy seeing oil derricks along the way.  I didn’t know they were used in Kansas, and it was my first time seeing them in real life.  I’ve also heard that Kansas’s sunflower fields are mesmerizing at certain times of the year, but I didn’t see any of them on my visit, unfortunately.  I stopped for the night at the Moon Mist Hotel in Meade, KS, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for lodging in the area.  It was around $50 for the night (about half of what a single room normally costs at a hotel in the U.S.), and it was kept clean and well-stocked.  Although the owners could have been a tad more welcoming, I would definitely stop here again if I didn’t have friends or family nearby.

After a longer first day (about 12 hours on the road), I took the second day to enjoy the drive a little more and prepare myself for an awesome time in New Mexico.  I crossed quickly through the rest of Kansas and the panhandle of Oklahoma (state #40) as I made my way southwest.  Oklahoma was pretty much what I expected:  a flat grassland without much to see.  Perhaps it would have been more exciting if I hadn’t been to solely the panhandle, but I still think it’s a state worth skipping.  Texas upped the ante (and the speed limit) from Oklahoma, with a relatively short drive there as well.  Texas has the scariest roads I’ve ever driven (aside from Jocassee Gorges in South Carolina), with 75-mph limits on two-lane roads with loose gravel…  I appreciated their efficiency, but it was a wild ride for the few hours I was there.  I stopped for lunch in Dalhart, TX, and I enjoyed the Mexican food I ordered (especially the guacamole!).  I jumped back on the highway after lunch, as I was about two hours behind Adam, and promptly saw more cows in five minutes than I ever had in my whole life (perhaps combined?)!  Dalhart is in cattle country, U.S.A., and, well, everything’s bigger in Texas, or so they say…

The end of day two brought me into and through New Mexico (state # 41), though the drive actually kind of passed quickly in my mind.  Northern New Mexico is mostly dry and desolate, the typical picture of the American desert, which I dislike.  Spanish radio stations are available once you get to Texas and further southwest/east, though, so I enjoyed being able to feel culturally separated from what I’m used to.  As I mentioned earlier, I love when new states can still surpass (or completely unhinge) my expectations, and that’s exactly what New Mexico did.  I didn’t expect to like it, to be honest, but I thought it would be fun to visit Adam and knock out the states I had left in the Southwest at the same time.  I found that there was more than just desert in New Mexico, however, and I was enchanted (sorry, I couldn’t resist using the term from their license plates…) by the plateaus, monsoon rains, rolling hills, and evergreens scattered about.  Our rendezvous point was Aguirre Spring campground, between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, so I even got a peak at White Sands (our destination for the next day) on my way to meet Adam.  I tried to stop at Three Rivers Petroglyphs, but the monsoon rains hit just as I was about to explore, and I opted to keep driving, rather than be drenched and stuck somewhere in the desert.

I made one of my foolish decisions of the trip (maybe the most foolish?) in foregoing the gas station in Alamogordo, as I thought my car would reach 350-400 miles before needing fuel.  I usually refill right around 300 miles, but the fuel gauge is broken anyway, and I’ve only had the fuel light come on once, the first day I drove my car and ran out of fuel, so I wasn’t sure how far I could push it without running out.  I drove past Alamogordo at around 280 miles on the current tank of fuel, and I figured that if I did run low on fuel, there would be a station between Alamogordo and Las Cruces (about a 50-mile gap).  I didn’t know that our campsite was ten miles off the highway, unfortunately, so my low-fuel light turned on just as I pulled up to our campsite.  We had planned that I would pick up Adam and we would go to Las Cruces for firewood and fuel, but the circumstances made us take his car instead, to avoid running out of fuel on the highway.  All was fine, and I bought a gas can in Las Cruces (with which we were able to get my car full enough to make it elsewhere for fuel the next day), but the whole snafu cost me an extra $15 and some wasted time (not to mention we almost weren’t let back in to our campsite, since we didn’t make it back until just after 8:00!).  We made a small campfire and narrowly avoiding a lovely sounding rattlesnake while collecting wood, and then we finally relaxed for a short while before calling it a night.

We arose a bit earlier the third morning (around 7:30 a.m.) and headed out for our adventures of the day.  We started at White Sands National Monument, Adam’s favorite place in New Mexico.  The area reminded me of what I imagine the deserts in the Middle East look like, and I conceded that it was a pretty cool place to visit, even if it is just in the desert.  The featured photo for this post is from White Sands, to give you an idea of what it looks like.

From White Sands, we headed east, with a goal of visiting Carlsbad Caverns in the same day.  I accidentally took us farther north than we planned, but it actually allowed us to drive through some unexpected pine forests and Native American villages (check out Mescalero!), which I thought was the coolest part of my entire trip.  We eventually made it back on track, but we had to forego a formal lunch for the chance to make it in time.  We toured Carlsbad Caverns and narrowly avoided being hammered by more monsoon rains, and it was a pretty cool visit.  I don’t think I would hype the place up quite as much as do most people (don’t go out of your way to see it), but I do think it’s worth it to see some caves if you never have before.  The experience is almost surreal, especially if you consider that people lived in similar places at certain times in human history.  It was fun for me to visit because of my fascination with fantasy fiction (such as Dungeons & Dragons), so the caverns were almost mythical, in a way.  Anyway, before I nerd you all out, here’s a couple shots from deep inside the caverns.  Hard to imagine people discovering this without the lights we have today!

Carlsbad2

Carlsbad

After we visited the caverns, we headed back into Carlsbad, NM, for supper.  We wanted some quality Mexican food, so we ironically ended up at a food-truck restaurant, where we both ordered stuffed taquitos.  The vender is called La Patrona and is pretty good for the price, so check it out if you’re ever in Carlsbad.  Our decision for food also tied in with our decision for camping location, because we had discussed climbing the highest point in Texas the next morning.  Once we researched the peak a bit more, however, we decided it would be best to camp northeast of Carlsbad, so that I could start my eastbound leg of my journey the next morning.  We went for a short run in the desert and camped just off some ATV trails, and in the morning, we bid our fond farewells and headed our separate ways.  Adam went south to conquer Guadalupe Peak (as he has a goal of climbing the highest point in each state), while I hopped on the highway and headed into Texas.

Day four took me all the way across Texas, and while much of the state was pretty flat and bland, the day was not uneventful for me.  It was in the late morning, while driving toward Abilene, that I heard the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide.  I couldn’t really even fathom it at first, and the haunting thoughts of it ate slowly at my attention span the rest of the day.  I won’t convolute this post with my thoughts on the subject, but please do read My Short Guide to Prevent Suicide if you want to see how I responded.

I found eastern Texas to be pleasantly surprising, much like eastern Kansas.  The Dallas-Fort Worth area was a fun metro to drive through, and the closer I came to Louisiana, the greener the scenery became.  I didn’t know (but should have guessed) that Texas became more like the South as it stretches east, so I recommend the area between D-FW and Shreveport, LA, if you’re going to make the trip.  I-20 took me east into Louisiana, my 42nd and most current new U.S. state.

I admittedly didn’t see much of Louisiana, as I stopped for the night in Shreveport and stayed in a pretty small radius, but I liked what I saw and would consider the visit worthwhile.  Louisiana has a swampy feel that is pretty much instantaneous once you enter the state, and I don’t know of anywhere else in the U.S. that has the same feel (except maybe Florida?  I’ve never been there yet.).  I tried to find some authentic Cajun food, as Louisiana is the only place with French and Creole influence in the U.S., but I was disappointed to find that the place I chose was basically just fried fish.  I wasn’t adventurous enough on this journey to try the frog legs, but I think I would go for it if I returned to this part of the south.  I stayed in the Carleton Inn & Suites by Carlson, located right night to Shreveport’s airport.  The staff was extremely accommodating (shoutout to Mehul for the random discount!), and I was able to stay in a king-size single (not because I requested it; I just asked for the cheapest room) for only $80.  The room and the hotel were both very well furnished and clean, and I found the place to be a steal, even though $80 isn’t usually in my road-tripping budget for lodging.  Sometimes you have to settle for what you can find in the U.S., unless you want to drive four hours farther along your journey.  I strongly recommend this hotel to anyone staying in Shreveport, even though the elevator smells a bit swampy…

Day five was the final day of my journey, and it took me all the way from Shreveport, LA, to my home in northern Iowa.  The worst stretch was definitely the first hour in Arkansas, as there isn’t a road faster than 55 mph until after Texarkana.  Arkansas was surprisingly very green and hilly though, and I would consider it a pretty cool place to visit if it weren’t for the speed-limit hindrances.  If Texas is unreasonably fast for its infrastructure (I think it is), then Arkansas is equally unreasonably slow.  The highway took me north, through Fort Smith and Fayetteville, all the way to Kansas City.  From there, the return journey was just like the departure, and other than the watery mess of my air conditioning going out on my car, the trip home was pretty smooth sailing.

I hope you enjoyed my latest adventures, and I can’t wait to fill you in once I make it to Nicaragua! I’m only a week away from my journey with the Peace Corps, and I know it’ll be a tale worth sharing with you all.  Until then, happy reading! 🙂

‘Cause and Affect

Click the link to read a poem about helping those with depression.

This was the first of my two poems in response to Chester Bennington’s suicide (the other being My Short Guide to Prevent Suicide).  I finished this one on July 26th, while I finished the other tonight.  Written in quartets, its aim is to metaphorically instruct how to help someone struggling with depression.  I hope you find it helpful and intriguing.

Happy reading, and see you again soon! 🙂

‘Cause&Affect

My Short Guide to Prevent Suicide

Click the link to read my newest poem, an ode to Chester Bennington and combating suicide.

 

 

Hey, everyone!

I hope July has been a fulfilling month for you!  I’ve had some great ups with my travels, but I also had a rather down moment in light of Chester Bennington’s suicide.  In case you don’t know, Chester was the lead singer of Linkin Park, a popular rock band in the U.S. since the late 1990s.  I listened to their music all through my adolescence, and they were one of the first bands I liked.  I never listened closely to their lyrics or paid close enough attention, unfortunately, so I never understood until this month that the reason they resonated with me was their dark content.  I regrettably was one of the many fans who stopped listening to Linkin Park after their first couple albums, because they became too “soft.”  What I failed to recognize as a younger, less sensitive person is that the songs also became much more meaningful and honest as they decreased in audial intensity (less screams and guitar riffs, etc.).  The songs that can bring me to tears most quickly now are those from the final couple albums, and it is really tragic to me that Chester felt so trapped and pained.

Anyway, you can certainly research Chester’s biography on the internet to find out more about his difficulties in life, but I’ll digress to why you’re really here.  With tragedy comes beauty in the form of art, and after being inspired by Chester’s suicide, I wrote my first poetry since April.  I hope this piece helps you help one another, as we all need every ounce of peer support we can get.  This is every possible bit of advice I would give to someone trying to help me, so I also hope that it’s universal.  The piece is written in an adapted form of Forlorn Suicide (a style I found online and then made my own), wherein rhyme scheme and syllables are both controlled.  I’d be happy to share it if anyone wants the format.

If you find that you have other suggestions for how to help people that I didn’t include, PLEASE comment them below, so that we can spread healing to everyone who sees this.  Be kind to one another, and see you again soon! 🙂

EndTheCycle

p.s. Here’s my short-list of Linkin Park songs (purely alphabetical order) to which you should listen, to better understand.  I drew the most inspiration from these songs, and bracketed lines in the poem represent direct quotes from lyrics.

Easier to Run

Final Masquerade

Heavy

I’ll Be Gone

In the End

Leave Out All the Rest

New Divide

Nobody Can Save Me

Numb

One More Light

Runaway

Shadow of the Day

Somewhere I Belong

Sorry For Now

Valentine’s Day

Waiting for the End

What I’ve Done

The Road to Washington, D.C.

A recollection of my trip from Iowa to the nation’s capital.

Hey there, lovely readers!

Today I have another of my long-past journeys to impart with you.  In the spring of 2009, my class at school took a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., in order to see the American landmarks we had been studying all year.  This post will give you an idea of what I experienced about the U.S. capital, and perhaps it will interest you to make the visit.  As it has been a while since my trip, however, I will provide this disclaimer:  I have no photos to enhance the interest of my post, and I also might not recall every detail perfectly.  I hope these factors do not detract from your reading pleasure, though, and I hope you find some value in the next few minutes of adventure.

Our journey was my first major trip away from home.  Upon departure, I had only visited IA, MN, WI, and SD; the way east was just a precursor for many subsequent trips I would take in the coming years.  We rode a charter bus all the night through, and we made it through Iowa, Illinois (state #5), Indiana (#6), Ohio (#7), and West Virginia (#8), and into Pennsylvania (#9), on the first day/night.  These states unsurprisingly remained a blur to me until I visited them again later on, and I still have no recollection of West Virginia.  I wouldn’t even know I had been there, were it not for my memory of which interstates we traversed.  Anyway, we ended the drive with our first major stop, in Gettysburg, PA.

Gettysburg is important in American history because it was the site of a major battle in the Civil War, a war that kept the country united in the face of disagreements over slavery and other, much more minor, issues.  We visited the town in order to see the battlefield and museum related to the battle.  The Battle of Gettysburg, and the Civil War in general, were full of rich events and fascinating stories regarding the people, places, and motives for tension in America’s 1860s; more information than anyone would ever care to know can be found on the internet and in American libraries everywhere.  I’ll spare you the painstaking and trivial details about the history of the place, but I will just say that the battlefield is massive and rather neat to visit, and a trip to Gettysburg could be very informative of America’s history for international visitors who are not familiar with it.  We also toured and ate at The Dobbin House, which was once used as a hideout station on The Underground Railroad (google this if you’re unfamiliar with the history of slavery in the United States).  It wasn’t particularly outstanding or special to experience, but there was some novelty and fun in eating dinner at a colonial house.

From Gettysburg, our trip took us southeast, into Maryland (state #10 for me) and the Washington, D.C. metro area.  I don’t remember exactly which day was which adventure, but our adventure farthest north was the city of Baltimore.  I really enjoyed the city and found its piers and streets charming, and I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to travel to the eastern U.S.  We toured an old U.S. naval ship, visited The National Aquarium, and walked about the boardwalks by the Atlantic Ocean, and then we were given time to find lunch amid the city’s many restaurants.  Some people in the class went to The Cheesecake Factory, while others spread out to various locales.  My group went to The Hard Rock Café, and I had an all-around grand experience there.  Our evening at a Baltimore Orioles professional baseball game ended the day, and even though I care not for most professional sports, I had an enjoyable time at the game as well.  On a side note, I was spontaneously approached by someone handing out samples for Old Bay seafood seasoning, and it has been my favorite seasoning for pasta, poultry, fish, and rice ever since.

After our lovely day in Baltimore, we traveled to Washington, D.C., where we would stay until our departure a few days later.  One day in D.C. included a visit to Union Station, a depot for trains that has been grossly (yet charmingly) “touristicated.”  I remember seeing many gimmicky electronics shops, one of which successfully lured our foolish 14-year-old selves into buying low-quality junk for a “great deal.”  Regardless, I also remember eating at Flamers, where the hamburgers and chicken sandwiches were rather tasty.  Only the first night in D.C., however, Union Station was followed by several other neat adventures in the nation’s capital.

I’m pretty confident that we visited the U.S. Capitol Building at some point, but I really don’t remember it very clearly, to be honest.  I remember eating at Five Guys Burgers and Fries one day (perhaps my favorite place ever for a burger, despite the mixed reviews online), and I think it was the same day we went to a bunch of national monuments around the city.  We visited the Washington Monument, The Jefferson Memorial, The World War II Memorial, The Korean War Memorial (which commemorates those who fought in The Korean War, like my grandfather Roger), The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial (probably my favorite memorial, as it had plenty of cherry blossoms and water-and-stone sculptures to admire).  We also visited the National Cathedral, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the White House on a separate day, and at one point when the class was given the chance to explore the National Mall (a grass stretch in front of the Washington Monument, rather than the shopping malls most people think of when they see the word mall), my small group visited The Library of Congress, which I really wanted to see.  The Library wasn’t as cool as I had hoped, since the vast majority of materials in The Library were in digital and referential form, rather than in physical book form.  This makes perfect sense, given the sheer amount of literature in the U.S. and the world, but it escaped my common sense as an eighth-grader.  If I were to recommend the highlights to hit in D.C., I would say that the Roosevelt Memorial, National Cathedral, and Holocaust Museum are the three must-sees in the big city.  If I ever make it back, I will surely have to visit the Peace Corps Headquarters as well, because how could I not?

After our exploits in Washington, D.C., we also spent a short time in Arlington, Virginia (state #11 for me).  We toured The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, which is truly incredible and haunting.  It is home to the graves of U.S. militants from several wars in the nation’s brutal history, and the sheer number of tombstones is enough to take your breath away.  While at the cemetery, we watched The Changing of the Guards, a ceremony wherein the militants protecting The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (a final burial for an unidentified casualty in World War I, more recently accompanied by casualties from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam) change places at the end of their shift.  The procession is very orderly and entertaining to watch, and you can watch the ceremony once per hour in the winter, or once every 30 minutes in the summer.  My favorite part of Virginia was probably our visit to Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington’s slave plantation.  The plantation is massive and has tours through all the buildings and grounds of the farm, though the best part is definitely the stunning Potomac River, which runs right alongside the property.  I found the plantation fascinating, and I think it well worth the time and effort to visit if you’re going to Virginia and/or D.C.

After our time in the D.C. area, we took a very similar route home and finished off the last month of our middle-school lives.  The road home was completely uneventful, and my travels went on hiatus for several years afterward.  I wouldn’t mind making the trip back to the nation’s capital someday, though, and I hope you feel like D.C. would be worth your while as well after reading this post.

Stay tuned for my next post, regarding my trip to Oregon in 2015!  Until then, happy reading and safe travels! 🙂

Michigan & Wisconsin

A journey through my two favorite states in the Midwest United States.

Hey there, lovely readers!

I hope you’ve been enjoying my adventures all across the U.S., and today I have another location you should visit.  Located right along the Great Lakes in the north-central part of the country, Michigan is our destination of the day.  Along the way, we’ll also take a look at some of the most memorable points in Wisconsin, the bridge between my homeland of Iowa and the beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan.  Hopefully, this virtual journey sparks your interest enough to make a visit to these two beautiful states in the eastern Midwest, but even if not, I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.

Wisconsin is the third state I ever visited, and I’ve been to the state a handful or two of times since.  It reminds me of a middle ground between Iowa and Minnesota, not in terms of location, but rather in terms of atmosphere.  Like Iowa, it has an instantly homey feel and is welcoming for the most part.  And, like Minnesota, Wisconsin has a great wealth of natural treasures and landmarks offset by larger cities, a combination that elicits constant entertainment for the traveling visitor.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen a whole lot of Wisconsin, but I’ll walk you through the lovely parts I have seen:

On the western border of the state, near the MN/IA border, is the city of La Crosse.  Wisconsin, like New York and California (among other states), has a system of colleges and Universities wherein the University of Wisconsin has schools in a bunch of major cities throughout the state.  UW-La Crosse is one example of this educational structure, and the campus and surrounding area of La Crosse are quite charming.  The city has plenty of shops, restaurants, and people, so it feels like an actual city, but it also feels very connected to the University and relatively safe and nurturing.  A great idea while in the area is to run or drive up Granddad Bluff, which offers a stunning overlook of the city and stretches all the way to the Mississippi River on the horizon.

Farther to the southeast are Platteville and Madison, home to two more of the UW schools.  I haven’t seen much of either town, to be honest, but they struck me as pretty typical Midwest towns without much for which to stop.  Of the two, Madison is definitely the more entertaining, as it is also the capital of Wisconsin.  Northeast of these two cities are Oshkosh and Appleton, again home to a UW school.  I competed in several large cross country meets in Appleton during college, including the DIII national championships in 2015.  The area, much like La Crosse, is absolutely gorgeous in the fall.  It has some larger rolling hills and plenty of trees, which makes for a colorful and exhilarating autumn visit.  The featured photo for this post actually comes from Waverly, Iowa, but it represents what you might find while walking on any trails in the Midwest in autumn.

Wisconsin, like the Sioux in Iowa and South Dakota, is home to much influence of the Chippewa tribe of Native Americans.  Many town names demonstrate this heritage, and Wisconsin communities attempt to preserve the rich culture of their history.  Oddly enough and not related at all, Wisconsin also has no gravel roads.  Every road in the state is paved, a phenomena that is pretty much unheard of in the U.S., due to costs of infrastructure (even though the costs of gravel versus paved roads can equal out over time when maintenance is included).  But enough about the fine details; let’s journey farther from Iowa and into the beauty of the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Michigan is separated into two main parts:  the mainland, north of Illinois and Indiana, and the upper peninsula, north of Wisconsin.  I made Michigan my 18th state when I traveled to the U.P. with my cross country team in 2014.  We spent a week in Crystal Falls, at a campground right next to a lake.  We ran and exercised throughout the day, but we had a solid amount of free time to explore the area as we pleased.  I used this time to kayak across the lake and back for most of the week, and, as such, the raw nature of the pine trees and pristine lake enraptured me.  Although I haven’t been back since I started exploring most of the U.S., Michigan still is one of the most positive memories I have of states I’ve seen.  The forests and lakes stretch on and on in the U.P., and they are an excellent place to camp for a week if you need a vacation.

We finished our week in MI with a race at Michigan Technological University, located in Houghton, near the tip of the peninsula.  The cross country cross is a forest frenzy for nature lovers, and the trails would likely entertain anyone who does or doesn’t like running.  A fair warning, however, is that the course may or may not have a half-mile-long hill.  My old teammates will surely remember the Michigan Tech course; it was an experience, to say the least.

Perhaps my lack of photos has made it harder for me to sell the beauty of Wisconsin and Michigan, but I hope that this post sparks interest in visiting them if you are in the U.S.  I certainly hope that I’m able to see mainland Michigan someday, and I may very well have to make a trip back to Crystal Falls with my family in the future.  Did I miss any important or awesome places in these states?  Let me know!

Until next time, happy reading! 🙂