Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

2022 is gonna be better, right?

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:32 pm, January 31st, 2022

Continuing my questionable tradition of making bad predictions about the coming year, here are the 14th annual yearly predictions. As always, have a look at my horrendous track record before you go out and invest your savings based on anything suggested below.

  1. In the 2022 midterms, Democrats will keep the Senate, gaining between 1-3 seats. It’s a bad election environment for Democrats, but they have a favorable Senate map. There are 14 Democratic Senators up for reelection while Republicans are defending 20 seats. While a state like Georgia may flip Republican, Democrats have decent pickup opportunities in Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  2. Another election prediction, Republicans will regain the House, gaining 20-30 seats. Between redistricting, a history of losses by the President’s party in midterms, and a tough election environment, it looks like a bad year for House Democrats.
  3. SpaceX will have a successful orbital test of their new Starship vehicle, but won’t successfully land the vehicle by the end of the year. I think it’s going to take them a few tries to get a vehicle to orbit and back, and the FAA might slow down the cadence of launches, but if they can launch at least three tests I think one will successfully get to space and make it back to the surface, even if the “surface” means a soft landing out on the ocean.
  4. A viable Facebook competitor is finally going to emerge. This prediction is more of a wish rather than something I feel confident will happen, but Facebook is in the doghouse with users and regulators, so there has never been a better time for someone else to launch a competing social network. We’ve had almost two decades to figure out how people use social networks, so whatever comes next can take those learnings to create something vastly better – imagine if instead of just being able to click the “surprised face” emoji when someone posts a picture of their breakfast, you could also easily use your social network to get a job, find a date, or meet an exercise buddy?
  5. Median home prices will decline 5-10 percent by the end of the year. Median home prices are at $408,100 for Q4 2021, a slight dip from Q3, and as interest rates rise and construction costs are less affected by supply chain bottlenecks it seems like they’ll continue to decline and return to where they were at the start of 2021.
  6. President Biden’s Build Back Better bill will pass in some form this year. If Democrats will capitulate to Joe Manchin’s demands they can pass something, and “we passed a bunch legislation addressing health care and climate change, and if you elect more Democrats we’ll be able to do even more” is the argument I’d want to be making if I was insane enough to be a politician.
  7. Tesla will face lawsuits or otherwise be forced to issue refunds for its delays in delivering on its “full self driving” package. Since 2016 Tesla has been selling a “full self driving” package, and every year since then Elon Musk has been saying that they were a year away from delivering it. Tesla has created some incredible technology and deserves a ton of credit for their vehicles, but charging customers thousands of dollars for a feature that was promised but not delivered will finally catch up with them.
  8. COVID will fade into the background and life will return to normal once the Omicron wave subsides. After a year of waiting for a vaccine, followed by a year of people not getting that vaccine, the Omicron variant will finally be the catalyst that ends this pandemic. Omicron is so contagious that pretty much everyone will at least be exposed to it, and the combination of vaccine immunity and natural immunity will finally get us through this virus. I’m basing this prediction on numbers from South Africa, where case rates have declined precipitously from their early-December peak.
  9. Amazon is going to announce a shipping service to compete with UPS and Fedex. Amazon already delivers millions of packages each day, so leveraging that infrastructure to do customer shipping seems like an easy win. Amazon has plenty of convenient dropoff locations (lockers, stores, etc), which eliminates the cost of sending a driver to someone’s house for pickups, and they clearly know how to do 1-2 day delivery, so this seems like an area where Amazon could charge less than competitors and still make a hefty profit.
  10. It is going to be a wild offseason for NFL quarterbacks. There are vacancies in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, a few big name QBs seem disgruntled, and there aren’t a lot of highly-touted prospects in the draft, so the 2022 season will start with a lot of new faces throwing the ball. I’ll predict that there will be monster trades for at least two of these three: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr. I’ll also predict that despite the hot market, Deshaun Watson is going to stay unemployed as long as he remains in legal trouble, and that the Browns are sticking with Baker.
  11. The Ford F-150 Lightning will run away with Motortrend’s 2022 Truck of the Year award. I’m incredibly impressed with Ford’s electrification efforts, and think that they are going to surprise a lot of people over the next decade.
  12. This year will finally see major progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s new president has expressed a desire to make progress, the Biden administration wants to see progress, so this will finally be the year the talks produce meaningful results.
  13. At least three more major newspapers will follow the Chicago Sun Times and become non-profits. In addition to the Sun Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer became a non-profit in 2016, and the Tampa Bay Times has been a non-profit for decades, but 2022 will be the year that more foundations and donors step in to save the dying local news industry. There is an increasing public awareness of the need for accurate and unbiased local news, and rather than seeing more newsrooms die, this year will see the NPR business model applied to print journalism.
  14. 2022 will see video game streaming become a major selling point of streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Apple TV. Tech companies have been paying huge sums to stream movies and develop TV shows, but have thus far mostly just dabbled in video games. With streaming hardware containing more computing power than older game consoles, and vast libraries of vintage games available, this year will see a massive push to put game libraries in everyone’s TV set, and tech companies will start buying up game studios so that we can all play Mario Kart and Angry Birds using our Prime subscription.
  15. One final prediction: the Browns will win the AFC North and will win at least 11 regular season games. There, I’ve jinxed them, and they’ll definitely go 2-15 now, but they’ve got all of the necessary pieces, and if they can’t win with this team then they’ll probably have to start over in 2023 with a new quarterback, and the universe can’t hate Cleveland enough to put everyone through that again, can it?

And that’s it. It is shockingly difficult to come up with fifteen predictions for the new year, but for some twisted reason I still enjoy doing them. We can all reconvene in twelve months, at which time we can recap how embarrassingly incorrect these guesses about 2022 turned out to be.

2021 Predictions Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:35 am, January 16th, 2022

For reasons that even I don’t understand, each year I like to make predictions about the coming year and then revisit those predictions twelve months later to see how wrong I got things. Here’s the recap of the 2021 predictions:

  1. The COVID vaccine rollout will go smoothly once the new administration settles in, and the economy will rebound quickly once vaccination rates hit critical mass, causing the current unemployment rate of 6.7% to drop below 4.0% by the end of the year.

    CORRECT. The unemployment rate hit 3.9% in December, and even critics seem to agree that the vaccine rollout has been smooth. The thing I failed to predict was that a year later only 62.9% of the population would be fully vaccinated against COVID and opposition to vaccination requirements would become increasingly mainstream; I’m not looking forward to future battles over whether or not to continue requiring vaccination for polio and diphtheria.

  2. At least one of the following Senators will leave the Republican party this year and begin caucusing with Democrats: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, or Pat Toomey.

    WRONG. This prediction was a longshot, but I’m a little surprised that someone like Murkowski or Collins didn’t jump ship. Both are on the fringe of their party and could win re-election as Democrats, and either of them could have replaced Joe Manchin as the swing vote for the Build Back Better bill, securing just about anything they wanted in return for helping to get that bill across the finish line.

  3. SpaceX will not conduct an orbital test of their new Starship rocket, but will be on track to do so in 2022.

    CORRECT. Obligatory comment: SPACE IS SO AWESOME AND THIS IS THE BEST TIME IN HISTORY FOR ADVANCEMENTS IN SPACEFLIGHT TECHNOLOGY AND I AM SO HAPPY. That bit out of the way, SpaceX was launching test flights of its new vehicle seemingly every few weeks earlier in the year, but after a successful sub-orbital flight in May they have been focused on building their launchpad, getting FAA approval, and constructing orbital test vehicles. The latest estimate is that we may see an orbital test in March of 2022, which is incredibly exciting given the potential of this new vehicle to economically transport humans and cargo beyond Earth.

  4. Rivian will begin delivery of their all-electric R1T truck before the end of the summer, and will steal some of Tesla’s thunder by winning the truck of the year award from Motor Trend.

    CORRECT. Rivian’s R1T truck did indeed win Motortrend Truck of the Year, with Motortrend describing it as “the most remarkable pickup truck we’ve ever driven”. For a while it seemed like it was mostly just engineers who understood that electric vehicles weren’t just for tree huggers but were also vastly superior technology, but with Tesla, Rivian, and even Ford pumping out incredible vehicles like the electric Mustang and F-150, the rest of the world is starting to come to the same realization.

  5. The Browns will trade back at least twice during the 2021 NFL draft, and will end the draft with at least one extra 2022 draft pick in the third round or better.

    WRONG. The Browns did pick up an extra 2022 fourth round pick, but that was their only trade back. Their first two draft picks were both named to postseason all-rookie teams, so even without trading back, the math guys still got it right. They might not win much during the season, but the Browns are perennial offseason champs.

  6. Americans will win at least three gold medals in the mid-distance and distance events at the Tokyo Olympics.

    WRONG. Nineteen year old 800m runner Athing Mu was a true phenom, going from being a high school star in 2019 to gold medal winner in 2021, but she was America’s only gold medal winner in the mid-distance and distance events. The United States did also pick up a silver medal in the women’s steeplechase and bronze medals in the men’s 5000m, women’s 800m, and women’s marathon, but my hopes for three gold medals was unfortunately optimistic.

  7. The Avatar sequel will bring people back to movie theaters and will be on its way towards a top-three all-time box office showing by the time these prediction are revisited next year.

    EMBARRASSINGLY WRONG. Apparently they announced in July 2020 that the Avatar 2 release date was going to be pushed back to December 2022 and I missed that news and thus made a truly awful prediction. The movie was originally supposed to come out in 2015, so after seven years of delay hopefully James Cameron finally gets this film on screens by the end of this year.

  8. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will receive permanent protection, either through a national monument designation or via an act of Congress.

    WRONG. The Build Back Better Act at one point included provisions that would have prevented drilling in the refuge, but that bill is currently in limbo and no other protections have been proposed. The world is trying to quit its addiction to oil, so it seems incredibly short-sighted to me to risk an amazing natural wonder for a few more barrels.

  9. Congress will pass bills shoring up Obamacare, addressing voting rights, and dealing with immigration, but nothing will get through the Senate related to gun control, marijuana legalization, or giving statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington DC.

    WRONG. The Build Back Better Act would have shored up Obamacare but seems to be in limbo now, and Democrats continue to fail to understand that they need to pare back ambitions on voting rights and immigration so that ten Republican Senators will join them, so this prediction didn’t pan out. While it’s tempting to believe that there’s nothing that could get ten Republican votes, Republicans did vote for the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that will be hugely transformational. Also, even though it didn’t get any Republican votes the $1.9 trillion Covid Relief bill was also a profoundly important piece of legislation that prevented massive cutbacks at the state and local government levels. While I would have preferred to see Democrats figure out how to pass legislation fixing the holes in Obamacare, pushing to mitigate climate change, etc, I’m amazed that two huge pieces of legislation that will have incredibly beneficial effects over the next ten years passed and most Democrats still seem to view the past year as a failure.

  10. Google will announce some sort of streaming service to compete with Netflix, leveraging its massive library of YouTube content and its expertise in AI for targeting content.

    WRONG. YouTube TV apparently has between 3-4 million subscribers, which is a paltry number compared to something like Disney+ and its 118 million subscribers. I have the business sense of a rock, but it still seems to me like streaming is an area that Google should dominate, but instead year after year they are allowing other companies to become more and more entrenched while Google does almost nothing.

  11. 2021 will see high-speed, wireless home internet begin to displace wired home internet.

    WRONG. Tortoises move slowly, glaciers move even more slowly, and then there are the telecoms. Verizon, AT&T, etc could all easily take over the home internet market from the cable companies, but apparently they plan to rollout 5G home internet at about the same time that the personal robots and flying cars arrive.

  12. Following Brexit, Scotland will vote for independence and will rejoin the EU.

    WRONG. In my defense I admitted that this was unlikely to happen this year, but the process is even more complex than I realized, apparently requiring approval from the UK before Scotland can even put another independence vote on the ballot.

  13. Facebook and Twitter will take significant actions to address misinformation, threats, and bots on their networks.

    WRONG. I continue to be befuddled as to how a company whose sole product is 280 character messages that their brilliant marketing department decided to call “tweets” makes money. Meanwhile Facebook seems to be in a battle with Kim Jong-Un for the top spot on the “world’s least popular” list. Still, I’ve been predicting for years that both Twitter and Facebook would finally pay a price for their shortcomings, and for years I’ve been utterly wrong, so what do I know.

  14. Tesla will begin production of the Tesla Semi, but will delay production of the Cybertruck to 2022.

    HALF CORRECT. The Cybertruck is now supposed to arrive in 2023 (originally scheduled to launch in 2021). In January 2021 Elon Musk said the Tesla Semi would ship by the end of the year, but later in the year said it wouldn’t launch until 2023; it was originally supposed to launch in 2019. Musk has brought some truly transformational technology to market over the past decade so I probably shouldn’t criticize, but still… maybe company resources should go towards getting the current roadmap to market before announcing an initiative to create C3-PO?

  15. With the NBA season ending a month later than normal, most NBA players will opt out of playing in the Olympics, and as a result the USA will not win the gold or silver medal.

    WRONG. While most of the major stars like Steph Curry and James Harden did end up skipping the Olympics, the USA still won a gold medal despite losing to Nigeria and Australia in their first two exhibition games, and then having their 25-game Olympic win streak broken in a loss to France in their first game in Tokyo.

The final tally for 2021: 3.5 out of 15 (23%). A result that should be terribly embarrassing, but it’s far from my worst showing ever, and the whole reason these predictions are fun to make is because I try to stay away from anything too obvious. The 2022 version should be online soon for those who like to follow along at home.

All Good Things…

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:28 pm, October 1st, 2021

After a glorious twenty days we’ve returned home. Despite my best efforts, Audrey left Cleveland thinking it was awesome, and she wasn’t totally wrong – there’s new construction and crews out fixing old buildings everywhere, so it wasn’t quite the Scooby Doo ghost town that I’d sold it as.

Our last day was spent downtown so I could show off Cleveland’s former glory. We parked at the Terminal Tower to see what was once the world’s second-tallest building. We visited the Old Arcade, one of America’s earliest attempts at a mall and an incredible piece of architecture. We hit up the Cleveland Public Library to see its ornate domed ceilings. We ate lunch at one of Michael Symon‘s many Cleveland eateries. And we finished the day with an obligatory stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

During the past few years, vacations haven’t been as frequent as I might prefer, so having some time to disconnect completely from work has been rejuvenating. With luck, COVID will end, work will be a bit less crazy, and travel journal entries like those made over the past few weeks won’t be as rare in the future.

Audrey, Steggie and me, Cleveland Natural History Museum
Audrey, Steggie and me, Cleveland Natural History Museum.
The Human Family Tree, Cleveland Natural History Museum
The Human Family Tree, Cleveland Natural History Museum. I’ll grow up some day.

Cleve-land

Posted from Cleveland, Ohio at 6:42 pm, September 29th, 2021

Audrey turned to me at one point today and said “Cleveland is pretty awesome”; obviously we’re hitting all of the highlights while the weather is great, and I may have to bring her back some time in February to give her a more authentic Cleveland experience.

That said, it was a pretty good day. Case Western Reserve University, my alma mater, has gotten a lot nicer since I was a student here, and I spent a couple of hours roaming the campus in the early morning. Once Audrey was awake and caffeinated I gave her a quick campus tour (“that’s the building whose roof is perfectly shaped to form twenty foot icicles in winter, forcing them to shut down the sidewalks so that no one gets impaled”) before we headed over to University Circle and the Art museum and Natural History museum.

The tour continued through Shaker Heights where I grew up. We stopped at several of my old haunts including my dad’s old church, and while the caretaker was initially suspicious of the bald weirdo claiming to be a former pastor’s kid, he eventually let us in to see the sanctuary, the first time I’ve been in the place in about twenty-five years. Our day finished with a drive through Lake View Cemetery, where a number of Cleveland luminaries including John D. Rockefeller and President James A. Garfield are buried.

I don’t have any photographs to share for the day, but we were thrilled to discover that the “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” series became a trilogy a couple of years ago when the town hosted the MLB All-Star game, enjoy:

Maids and Mists

Posted from Cleveland, Ohio at 10:10 am, September 29th, 2021

Slightly delayed post this morning after we arrived in Cleveland last night at 10pm and I immediately went to bed. Yesterday Audrey agreed to get up early for our return to Niagara Falls, and we shockingly had the place mostly to ourselves at 8am. I’m sure I must have been to the American side of the Falls before, but it’s another place I don’t remember, so it was all new views for me.

The day’s main event was a ride on the Maid of the Mist, the boat that takes you right up to the Falls. I took the ride from Canada once, but either I was too young to be totally blown away, or else they get closer now with the new electric boats, so we were right in the middle of Horseshoe Falls with the air vibrating from so much crashing water. It was a combination of an amusement park ride and nature tour, and I wanted to hide out on deck and go again when the twenty minute adventure came to its end.

When we finally left Niagara we made our way across New York and Pennsylvania back to the old Holliday family stomping grounds in North Springfield, where my uncle gave us a tour of the candy store and my aunt surprised us with an appetizer spread that would have impressed visiting royalty. As we were leaving in the dark I warned Audrey that there would be animals on the road, and literally five seconds later two deer ran by.

We’re finishing the trip with two nights in Cleveland so Audrey can see where I grew up, but I think she’s more excited to see both of the buildings.

American Falls, Niagara Falls
American Falls, Niagara Falls. Audrey and I are now proud owners of the fashionable blue Maid of the Mist ponchos being modeled in this photo.

The Day of Many Waterfalls

Posted from Niagara Falls, New York at 7:09 pm, September 27th, 2021

Audrey says we got 16,000 steps today, which is apparently a lot. I’m writing this while nodding off, so however many steps we got, it was definitely a full day.

Yesterday Audrey’s mom sent a text suggesting that we investigate Letchworth State Park and its famous waterfalls, and since we didn’t really have other plans that seemed like a fine way to start the day. The park’s three waterfalls really are quite impressive, and we spent a bunch of time roaming the canyon rim.

From there it was a meandering trip through rural New York and up to Niagara Falls. While Letchworth was pretty, Niagara is ridiculous. A bunch of sights on this trip were smaller than what I remember from childhood, but Niagara Falls is even bigger. Standing right at the edge as 75,000 gallons per second drop 167 feet is a none-too-shabby way to end the day, and we’re staying less than a mile away from the Falls tonight with plans to continue the visit tomorrow morning.

Vulture, Letchworth State Park
Vulture, Letchworth State Park. This photo is my favorite of the trip thus far.
American Falls, Niagara Falls
American Falls, Niagara Falls. Note the seagull taking a bath at the very edge.

Finger Lakes

Posted from Rochester, New York at 6:04 pm, September 26th, 2021

After the debacle at the border we’re winging it for a few days, but if today is any indication they should end up being good days. The route today took us from Syracuse to Rochester via the Finger Lakes. We mostly meandered, making stops in Auburn to walk around the Fort Hill Cemetery where both Harriet Tubman and William Seward (the guy who bought Alaska from Russia) are buried. From there we wandered up to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, where we ended up photographing herons and egrets for a few hours. We ate lunch in Seneca Falls, birthplace of the women’s rights movement, hung out on the tip of Seneca Lake, then rambled around in Huckleberry Swamp to finish the day.

One oddity throughout this trip has been some of the town names. In Vermont we passed by Peru and Mexico, and in New York we’ve seen Poland, Belgium, Jordan, Russia, and Mexico (again). Given this impressive list, it’s ironic that our one planned border crossing fell through.

Dragonfly, Huckleberry Swamp
Dragonfly, Huckleberry Swamp. I think he’s cute, but anyone expecting exotic wildlife should immediately go to the Africa and Madagascar journal entries.
Aquatic plants, Huckleberry Swamp
Aquatic plants, Huckleberry Swamp. Little. Yellow. Different.

Damn you, COVID

Posted from Syracuse, New York at 5:40 pm, September 25th, 2021

We’re not going to Canada on this trip. We finally got some clarification on why Audrey got a negative result while mine was still “pending” after two days – at 2pm today, about 16 hours before the 72 hour cutoff for getting across the border, I saw an update on my test result page indicating that a specimen had been mislabeled. Several phone calls later we discovered that apparently my test tube had both my name on it AND Audrey’s name, so the lab wouldn’t release results. More phone calls ensued, assurances were made, but at 5pm we still didn’t have a result, and the customer support lady at the lab didn’t inspire confidence that one would be available anytime soon on a weekend. Rather than continuing to be frustrated at the border we decided to continue the trip in America, and while we’ll have to forfeit four pre-paid hotel nights in Canada, there are plenty of neat destinations in Upstate New York to help salvage an unfortunate mix-up. Still… we had some great plans for those four days.

When we weren’t on the phone with CVS, Minute Clinic, or Quest Labs, we enjoyed a boat tour through the Thousand Islands. My parents say I’ve been here before, but I have no memory of it. It turns out that there are actually 1,864 islands where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River, and an assortment of 19th century millionaires bought many of them and built amazing summer homes. Occupations that might not make you rich today were sufficient a century ago to support building castles on islands, so we saw the mansions owned by the inventors of the Lifesaver candy and the Red Rider B-B gun, as well as the palatial castle built by the man most famous for the slogan “the customer is always right”; I suppose coming up with a good slogan back in the day was kind of like purchasing a great web site domain circa 2000.

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands
The powerhouse, one of the outlying buildings at Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands; the actual castle was probably 20x larger. The builder of this impressive residence made his millions via the slogan “the customer is always right” and by inventing Thousand Islands salad dressing.

Adirondacks

Posted from Watertown, New York at 6:20 pm, September 24th, 2021

Our room in the tower of the Hochelaga Inn will sit vacant tonight; Audrey’s COVID test results arrived just after lunchtime today, but we’re still waiting on mine and can’t cross into Canada until they get here. There are definitely worse fates than being forced to spend a day in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York, but it would have been mighty cool to have two nights in the tower of a 150 year old mansion, so hopefully my results arrive tomorrow and we can salvage at least one night.

Aside from waiting for COVID results, today’s main event was driving through the Adirondack State Park and enjoying the fall color. We stopped for one short hike in the Nature Conservancy’s Lake Julia Preserve, where I was super excited to go for a walk in this little-used area. Audrey, on the other hand, was convinced that either murderers or bears would ensure we didn’t return alive. In her defense, she is fearless around spiders and other things that make me uneasy, but I wasn’t going to miss out on a nice hike due to imagined murderers, so she shuddered her way through the forest until the path opened up at a beautiful pond surrounded by trees in various stages of changing color and she forgot about psychopaths and started photographing everything in sight.

With luck the poor souls at Quest Labs will pull my test out of whatever mountain they are buried under first thing tomorrow and the trip will continue, otherwise we may be writing tomorrow night from another location in New York as we seek out alternative routes west.

Fall color in the Adirondacks
Early Fall color in the Adirondacks. Our path today took us next to at least a half dozen noisy streams, something we definitely don’t see back in arid California.
Fall color in Lake Julia Preserve
Fall color in Lake Julia Preserve. Not a bad place for a hike.
Mushroom and moss
Mushroom and moss, Lake Julia Preserve. Watching for cool fungi has become a favorite activity on hikes; it’s another activity you can’t really do in California.

Rest Day

Posted at 4:13 pm, September 23rd, 2021

We drove into town first thing this morning to get COVID tests, which are required for entry into Canada. It was my first COVID test, and I’m now painfully aware of how far a swab can be pushed up the nose and into the sinuses. Hopefully we get back negative results before tomorrow afternoon when we’re actually supposed to cross the border.

The rest of the day was mostly a relaxation day. We drove around Lake George a bit, which is an odd area. It’s officially in Adirondack State Park, but every inch of the lakeshore seems to be a private fifties-era motor lodge, mixed in with mini-golf courses, waterparks, and various Last of the Mohicans themed attractions. We also arrived at the same time as a huge Harley motorcycle rally, so we received some good natured ribbing at roadside pullouts for having a vehicle with “too many wheels”.

Tomorrow we’re driving northwest through the park towards Canada, where we’ll hopefully get our COVID test results in time to cross the border and enjoy our next destination.

Lounge Days

Posted from Chestertown, New York at 6:01 pm, September 22nd, 2021

I promised Audrey some time to lounge during this trip, and the next two days should make her happy. We’re booked at the Fern Lodge in Adirondack State Park, a place that is far too classy for us, but despite our disheveled appearance and lack of refinement they’ve still given us a great room with a lake view and a huge stone fireplace. The plan while here is to lounge, enjoy the home-cooked breakfasts, and maybe take a canoe out on the lake for a few hours.

The drive here was a scenic trip through the Green Mountains, with a stop along the way in Weston, Vermont, where we enjoyed the view of the Old Mill and then made friends with the proprietors of the town’s 150 year old general store. Surprisingly they were familiar with Shaker Heights, the suburb of Cleveland where I went to high school, and so in a town of a few hundred people in the woods of Vermont we talked at length about a much larger small town that lies 500 miles to the west.

The Old Mill in Weston, Vermont
The Old Mill in Weston, Vermont. I’m still pro-dam removal, but this one made for a nice photo.

Sur-uhp

Posted from Cavendish, Vermont at 6:41 pm, September 21st, 2021

Audrey and I have had a long-running feud over the pronunciation of “syrup”. Being from New England, where syrup was basically invented, it was my assertion that it was a single syllable word pronounced “surp”. Audrey scoffed at this notion, insisting that the only proper pronunciation involved two syllables. Today at Sugarbush Farm we incited a small argument among the ladies running the farm store over how the word is actually pronounced, but all of them agreed without hesitation that “surp” was wrong, and I was forced to do a walk of shame back to our car.

Prior to losing this grammatical battle we had another very full day. Things started off with a quick trip to the Saint Gaudens National Historic Park, home to one of America’s most famous sculptors but also well-known for the beautiful gardens and grounds. Of course, surrounded by incredible statues, flowers, and architecture, we were most impressed by the frogs in one of the fountains, but in our defense, California is kind of lacking in amphibians.

The next stop was one that Audrey was particularly excited about – the Philbrick-Cricenti Bog, located across the road from my family’s old cottage. I remembered the boardwalk trail through the bog as a really fun adventure from childhood, and four decades later it’s still a great walk. Weird bog plants are everywhere, pitcher plants sprout through the moss, the wooden planks suck and gush mud with every step, and you’re constantly reminded of being on a very thick mat of moss over an ancient pond. Audrey was in sheer heaven throughout, which only made the trip better.

The remainder of the day was a series of quick stops. First we had lunch at Peter Christians Tavern, a place I visited dozens of times with my family when we were at the cottage. Next we met a few of Audrey’s relatives for coffee near Dartmouth, and from there ended the day with a visit to the aforementioned maple syrup (two syllables) and dairy farm.

Tomorrow we’re leaving our castle in Vermont for two nights in the Adirondacks, followed (hopefully) by four nights in Canada. Current border restrictions require a negative COVID test within 72 hours of crossing the border, but I underestimated how difficult it would be to get tested in rural Vermont/New York, so after checking dozens of locations we finally found two available appointments two days from now, just over 24 hours from when we need to cross the border. Hopefully the lab turnaround times are fast, otherwise we might be spending a surprise night in upstate New York waiting for our results to arrive.

Frog in Saint Gaudens National Historic Park
Green frog in Saint Gaudens National Historic Park. At the home of one of America’s most renowned sculptors, surrounded by incredible art and beautiful gardens, we were most excited about the frogs.
Philbrick-Cricenti bog trail
Philbrick-Cricenti bog trail. My favorite entry in the trail guide: “Stay on the walk! Those light green patches are only thin skims of moss and sedge. Below them are remains of cows, deer and at least one horse.”

Top Notch

Posted from Cavendish, Vermont at 6:46 pm, September 20th, 2021

The day started at 6am today, because vacations are too awesome to waste on sleeping. At that time the White Mountains were shrouded in fog, with temperatures hovering near freezing, but it made for a cool scene outside, particularly once the sun crept over the horizon.

A few hours later, once Audrey was up and about, we made a return visit to the resort’s barn to again pet goats and sheep, before taking part in the daily axe-throwing competition; sadly, we both made a poor showing with the four pound double-headed axes and had to retreat in shame once the competition ended.

After checkout out we headed southwest through Franconia Notch State Park, home to the world’s best notch, as well as the Flume Gorge, a geologic phenomenon that has been drawing visitors for two centuries. The gorge is something that I think I remember from childhood – it’s a narrow chasm with a boardwalk cantilevered into the side of the cliff wall, creating a trail that sits just above raging water that forms waterfalls, pools, and cascades as it blasts through the narrow space. It was tough to get pictures that fully captured the experience, but it was well worth the visit.

We’re ending the day in a 150 year old “castle” in Vermont that was originally built by a former governor. The building is now an inn, and our room contains a four-poster bed, fireplace, antique furniture, and hand-carved wood trim. I managed to get a deal several months ago when travel still seemed like a risky proposition, so our room rate included a three-course gourmet dinner in the downstairs dining room; Audrey had lamb while I enjoyed lobster, shrimp and steak. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I really, really, REALLY love being on vacation.

Early morning fog in the White Mountains
Early morning fog in the White Mountains.
Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park
Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park.

Mount Washington

Posted from Whitefield, New Hampshire at 6:36 pm, September 19th, 2021

Today was a day of perfect weather and many activities, despite the fact that we decided to postpone axe throwing until tomorrow.

Our first stop of the day was the Mt. Washington Auto Road, where we paid the exorbitant toll for the totally-worth-it drive to the 6,288 foot summit of Mt. Washington. First opened in 1861, the road has an average grade of 12%, with up to 22% grade in some places, and our rental car was none-too-happy with us for choosing this route. Despite some complaints from the automobile, it was incredibly scenic, and we got out for a number of short hikes along the way before braving the chilly temperatures at a summit that is infamous for extreme weather, including a 231 mph wind gust that was recorded in 1934.

After leaving the mountain we had a couple of additional stops – a delicious 2pm breakfast at the Sunrise Shack, and a quick hike to the waterfalls at Diana’s Baths – before we set off across the Kancamagus Highway. This scenic byway is mobbed in October with “leaf peepers” taking in the amazing fall colors; for our trip leaves were just beginning to turn, but it was still a beautiful route. We read later that the road took twenty-five years to build, with construction starting in the 1930s; a supervisor’s progress report during the project noted “Quality of work: Excellent. Morale of workers: High. Progress of construction: Negligible.”

It will be tough to top today’s adventures, but the plan for tomorrow is to start the day with barnyard animals and axe throwing before heading southwest into Vermont, with a stop at the very famous Franconia Notch along the way, so it should be another good one.

Mount Washington summit vista
Mount Washington summit vista. It’s not easy to see in this photo, but next to the two small ponds there’s a hut for crazy hardy folks hiking the Appalachian trail to spend a night in comfort.
Mount Washington summit vista
Mount Washington summit vista. If you look closely you can see the cog railway tracks on the right side of this photo. The railway was built in the mid-1800s, and today runs on bio-diesel, meaning that when it passes the landscape has the unmistakable scent of french fries.

The White Mountains

Posted from Whitefield, New Hampshire at 5:20 pm, September 18th, 2021

We sadly said goodbye to the rest of the Holliday Clan and set off this morning for a five hour drive from Bar Harbor to the White Mountains. Our lodging for the evening is a 150 year old mountain lodge, complete with a barn (yes, we petted many goats), and evening campfires with s’mores. Tomorrow we’ll likely partake in the lodge’s daily axe-throwing competition and enjoy more time with the farm animals because a) it sounds awesome, and b) we’re grownups and get to do whatever we want to. In addition, the plan is to take advantage of the continuing great weather with a visit to Mount Washington and some of the other surrounding sights.