Anchorage: Retrospection and final evaluation


We always planned on visiting Alaska, but were a little uncertain about moving there. We thought it might be a place best seen in a couple weeks or from the security of a cruise ship, not a place to commit to for three months. Thankfully we chose to commit!

The difference between visiting Alaska and living there is similar to the difference between camp-site camping and backpacking. Sure, metaphorically we didn't hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. We didn't live there through a winter or visit any remote native villages. We're not residents or experts, but I feel like we got a really good idea of the area. 

A JC Bucket List: 25 things to do in Johnson City, TN

Last year, during our travels to California and Colorado I typed out a quick post about Johnson City. It was a tribute, of sorts. When I wrote it, we had been away from Tennessee for a while and I was starting to miss some of my favorite places. Surprisingly, the post was quite popular. A lot of people are looking for information about JC and there doesn't seem to be much.

Coming back to the city for a few weeks at the end of last year, we noticed more changes than usual. You couldn't tell from the line of cars wrapping around JC's only Starbucks, but there is a great new coffee shop downtown. The Tweetsie Trail is finished and heavily used. Downtown streets are being torn up and rebuilt with landscaped medians. There is a new sculpture park downtown built over-top of what was once acres of warehouse and eyesore.

So much of the new that I've see in our travels across the country is sterile outdoor shopping malls and luxury condos. It's great to see new nature projects, small businesses, and warehouse reclamation. Praises to the people in Johnson City who are pushing for these types of projects. But on to the reason for this post... 

25 things to do in Johnson City!

1. Shoot pool at Numan's

Classy way to start the list, but as smoky and seedy as it is, Numan's Cafe and Sports Bar is a downtown institution. It's been the perfect place to people watch for over 20 years and has held strong through times when not much else was downtown. Where else can you see people smoking right next to their oxygen tanks or get cutthroat deals on zippo lighters from a trench-coat wearing entrepreneur?  Escape to Main Street Pizza or Mid City Grill if the smoke gets too heavy.

2. Explore Buffalo Mountain

White Rock,with its great views towards North Carolina and Elizabethton, is a mandatory hike for anyone living in Johnson City. Park at the gate and take the service road, or the more interesting White Rock Trail, to the top. Been there, done that? Buffalo Mountain offers a number of other interesting trails [trail map].

3. Browse the Johnson City Farmer's Market

The Johnson City Farmer's Market has been growing for years and is quickly becoming a focal point of downtown weekend activity. The 20,000 sq ft new Farmer's Market and Pavilion should be ready before too long. It's not just produce!

4. Catch a show at the Acoustic Coffeehouse (or The Down Home or The Hideaway)

A lot of Johnson City venues (Rafters, Casbah, Galaxy) have come and gone, but three venues have held strong. The Acoustic Coffeehouse, The Down Home and The Hideaway each offer a relaxed environment to listen to regular live music. Check out their music schedules in The Loafer or on their individual websites: Loafer - Acoustic - Hideaway - Down Home.

5. Hike to the Bay's Mountain Fire Tower

A medium-difficulty hike with a huge payoff. This fire tower was built in 1937 by the CCC as part of Roosevelt's New Deal Program. Bring a picnic then stay for one of Bay's Mountain's great nature exhibits.

San Francisco: Home sweet home #9 and first impressions of the neighborhood

We definitely like to mix things up with our housing; whether it's living on an island, above a grocery store, on the Delaware River, or in a high-rise on the 19th floor.  Even the apartment that felt like it was in the middle of a highway is remembered fondly. Now, we get to stay in a historic row-house!

This kind of apartment is common for the area and reminds me of others in Chicago and Philadelphia, but add in the neighborhood, and this place is like no other. 

Just a couple miles from the Pacific Ocean, near two enormous city parks, and in a mixed-purpose neighborhood with all types of shops and restaurants-- a cafe just a few yards from our door! There are also dozens of Asian markets a few blocks over where we can buy our canned jack fruit

Average rent in San Francisco is $3000 for a one-bedroom  and $4000 for a two-bedroom apartment. There are a lot of interesting and successful people in the area along with businesses and services to match. Instead of finding restaurant coupons in our
mailbox welcome package, we found deals offering gourmet meals delivered in 15 minutes, on-demand laundry, in-home doctor's visits, home cleaning, personal shoppers, and other services for people that actually make more money staying a couple extra hours at their IT jobs and letting other
people run their errands.

We've already been to San Francisco a couple times, so we've gotten most of the touristy stuff out of the way. Our plan is to enjoy the local neighborhood and stay out of our car. The city  is only seven miles across, but with stop-signs and lights every block, it takes a long time to drive just a couple miles. It's often much quicker to bike or ride, so we'll be looking to buy some bikes (we left ours in Denver!) and get some transit passes. Plus, do you see the garages in the picture!? If you think

Good-bye Roseburg / Hello San Francisco!

Our apartment in San Fran
Next city, San Fran!

Last year, we chose to live in Fresno just to be near San Francisco and it was the closest we could get at the time. Now, we're actually going to live there!

I'm pretty excited. I think it will be really interesting. We've already been told that two of the three other tenants in our building are IT professionals and none of them have a car. We're looking forward to finding a couple decent bikes and living in the Richmond neighborhood, just a couple miles from the beach, the Presidio, and Golden Gate Park.

It's an interesting time to live in San Francisco. As housing continues to rise, there are a lot of protests against the very IT professionals the Bay Area is known for. It's a microcosm of the future war that's been predicted to eventually happen between AI advocates and future luddites, and, more importantly, a debate that will continue to occur as the wealth gap increases. In San Francisco, discontent has surfaced as public protests against the private Google and Facebook commuter buses that workers take from San Fran to their jobs in Palo Alto. Airbnb was recently in the press being blamed for increased housing costs by filling apartments with short-term tourists instead of long-term tenants. 

I'll be researching why diverse housing is such a big issue while we're there. Obviously, diversity is beneficial, but what is the argument for tampering with capitalism? Why aren't people who can't afford housing just expected to move to an area they can afford? Will the economy collapse if there aren't any minimum wage workers? I'm entirely ignorant on the issue...

Ever since we found out we were going to San Fran next, anything related to the city has been catching my eye. We watched the Disney move Inside Out last night and noticed all the San Frannery in the background. We experienced an unsettling earthquake in Anchorage and aren't too keen on the idea of a repeat, so we'll skip watching San Andreas. I did some research into earthquake prediction and the 1908 and 1989 earthquakes -- "Duck and cover!"

We leave tomorrow and are going to stop along the way to check out Sacramento. I'll write more when we actually get there. Here are a couple articles of interest:

The $600-a-month shipping container village for young professionals getting creative to avoid staggering rents in San Francisco

Tenderloin Photos

Finally, a clip from Inside Out of the family moving to San Fran. I was able to guess where they were moving to, and where they were moving from just by seeing the three transition clips. We experienced something similar along our travels through South Dakota, Colorado, and Utah.

Oregon: Wrap-up and rating. On to the next city!

Roseburg, OR
Another three months has flown by and we're getting ready to leave Roseburg for the next city. My final feelings on Roseburg and Oregon are mixed. Oregon as a whole is nothing like the reputation it often gets from Portland, but overall it's a great state.

Shortly after the UCC shooting, I was reading harsh comments on-line coming from Texas and other areas in the south about "the hippies in Oregon" and their lack of guns and carry-permits. If only they new the truth! Oregon is just like any other state with the progressives in the cities and the conservatives in the country. Roseburgians loves their guns, pick-ups, and churches. The majority are downright hostile towards "liberals", Obama, and the "tree-huggers up in Portland" that criticize the logging industry and give them a "bad" reputation. I've mentioned a couple of times already being surprised by rampant obesity and confederate flags in town.

But we're glad we came for three months. The coast was amazing! I could see owning a beach house in Oregon and living here a few months a year. So, as far as our experience overall, it was definitely positive and we've had a great three months.


1. All the interesting names like Thor's Well, Cape Perpetua, Devil's Punchbowl, Devil's Churn, Wizard's Island.
2. The Minimum wage applies to everyone (servers included)

Portland: Meh

I mentioned a couple posts back that Portland has been on our wish-list since the very beginning of our adventures. After putting down roots in Denver, we were always a little concerned that we'd eventually get a chance to live in Portland and wish we had held out. Our concern was unnecessary.

Portland wasn't the magical utopia other visitors, my exaggerated expectations, and Portlandia promised me it would be.

To be sure, it was a neat place. It seems like a great city to live in; a high-quality place to try new things and meet other healthy people; a great home for harder to please millennials who aspire to higher things than making babies and $$$. I assume if I lived there any period of time instead of just nearby, I'd find nuanced aspects to appreciate and write about. I'd fall in love like I've done with every place we've been. BUT, from the couple visits we made, I wasn't blown away; far from it. Our first visit sucked.

International Rose Garden
Aside from being spoiled and having visited and lived in some of the best cities in the country, I think the reason Portland didn't meet my expectation is that the city is no longer the outlier its reputation is built on. There is a revolution of sorts going on across the country, down through the rustbelt and even in our home base of Johnson City, TN. It's a very tame revolution that involves mainly microbreweries, anarchist bookstores, shared spaces, and tea shoppes; but to some extent it also involves things that matter more like veganism, tolerance, and opposition to progress traps. Portland has accomplished a lot on those fronts, but other cities are catching up.

It's a dumb example, but I'm going to use it: Portland has around 58 breweries while Denver has around 52. Six breweries don't make a noticeable difference, particularly when you think Denver beer is better. Make something besides IPAs, Portland!

This example applies nicely to other progress indicators like the number of people biking to work, art funding, public transportation, parks, environmental awareness, dog-friendliness, and libertarian law. When the numbers are this close, Portland becomes less attractive. It wasn't as clean as Dallas. It

Oregon: Crater Lake, Columbia River Gorge, and other Northwest highlights

If we ever live on the beach for more than a few months, Oregon might be the place. While Portland didn't meet our exaggerated expectations and Roseburg may as well be in Alabama for all its shallow religiosity and confederate flags, other nearby parts of the Northwest have been amazing. The whole region has quickly grown on us; particularly the coast with its cliff views, sea stacks, and untamed beaches.

The mountain forests of Oregon are as lush as those in Alaska and full of amazing waterfalls. The valleys are dotted with wineries and the cities, edifying culture. Seattle and Vancouver are now among my top favorite cities. With winter moving in, we're about ready to head out, but Oregon has been a rewarding choice.

A few highlights:

Crater Lake: This crater is huge! Originally created from an imploded volcano, the crater is now filled by the deepest lake in the country. Crater Lake is nearly 2000' deep. Only park service boats are allowed on the lake, but you can take one to Wizard Island for hiking. There is a log known as "The Old Man of the Lake" that has been floating vertically in Crater Lake since at least 1896. It moves about the lake as much as 62 miles a year, potentially influencing wave patterns.

Defrag your brain

Oregon: Roadtripping, sea stacks, dinos, and Bailey's first gondola ride

Crescent City, CA

With roads to Crater Lake closed because of forest fires, we scrapped plans to travel east and headed down to the southern coast of Oregon and into California.

While living in California last year, we saw a lot of redwoods and sequoias in Yosemite and The Sequoia National Forest, so we spent most of our time on this trip at the picturesque beaches and tacky attractions along the way; a road trip without a serious destination. Here were the highlights....

Bandon: I'm no expert on sea stacks, but I'd never seen anything quite like this in person. The huge rocks at Bandon Beach tower above the sand in different shapes. One stack, Face Rock, looks like a giant head emerging face first from the ocean as if through cellophane. 

Bandon's small downtown and waterfront was a comfortable place to grab a coffee and walk along the pier before heading on down the road.

Bandon Beach

Oregon: Welcome to Roseburg!

For three years we've been living like nomads: Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Fresno, Denver, Charleston, Anchorage. From the very beginning, the cities of Portland and Seattle have been at the top of our wish-list of places to live and now, we're here! Nearby anyway...

The closest we could get to Portland was Roseburg, OR; a small town of about 22,000 people along Interstate 5. From here it's about one hour to Eugene, two to Salem, three  to Portland, five to Seattle, and seven to Vancouver. We're planning to visit each of these cities for the first time. We'll also be able to spend time on the Oregon Coast, at Crater Lake National Park, and in the Columbia River Gorge.

Roseburg is one of the smallest and oldest populations I've ever live in. To give an idea, Clearwater has the oldest average age of any city in the state of Florida at 43.8 years. Roseburg's Average Median Age is 45.2! Sometimes it seems like there are more mobility scooters (many with sun shades!) in the crosswalks than people walking. Our apartment complex is bracketed by two retirement communities and a dozen medical complexes across the street.  Whenever I run errands in town, I've started carrying my kindle to have something to do in line during the inevitable dispute over coupons and senior citizen discounts. Not making fun. Just sharing the reality of the area. A lot of the older crowd I've come across in the cafes and local watering holes here seem like really fun and interesting people.

Anchorage: Glaciers, reindeer, and hiking at midnight. The best and worst of our three month stay in Alaska.

Time to move on! Our stay, once stretching out before us as three whole long months of opportunity has flown into and through us, settling somewhere in our minds as disjointed memories of camping trips, grueling hikes, road-trips, and syrupy beverages from countless colorful coffee shacks between Homer and Denali.

I often get time shock at the end of our stays looking at how quickly the time has gone. It's not because we've run out of time and missed out on doing what we planned. It's because we do so much and the time flies. I'm ready to go. The days are already getting shorter. It's raining a lot. We kayaked and dog sledded and took a ride on the Alaskan railroad. We saw waterfalls, glaciers, and moose. We saw a whale in Seward, drove as far south as Homer on the Kenai Peninsula and as far north as Denali National Park. We biked the Tony Knowles Trail and scrambled over loose scree to O'Malley Peak. We hiked to a remote lake and canoed in the rain. There is a lifetime of exploration here, but I'm

Anchorage: First week of living in Alaska and the new apartment

We've only been in Alaska a few days and nothing too eventful has happened, but I want to write before the initial culture shock wears off. Despite being a part of the U.S., Alaska is different enough that it's a little like visiting another country for the first time. Here are some things we've noticed:

1) If you ever fly to Alaska, reserve a window seat. The plane took off from Chicago around sunset and chased the sun through and over pink clouds the entire six-hour flight to Anchorage where it finally got dark shortly after arrival. Much of the trip I looked down on clouds and the snowy peaks poking through them. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was a cloud and what was a mountain. Huge gorges full of ice and snow between mountains looked like rivers but ran to nowhere. I found out later some of these gorges run deeper than the grand canyon and many of these mountains are taller than any we'd seen in Colorado or California.

2) Anchorage is in the middle of nowhere. That nowhere is beautiful mountains and wilderness but it's so sparsely populated here that it's unnerving. Alaska makes up almost 18% of the U.S. land mass and hardly anyone lives on most of it. Anchorage contains 41% of the state's population (second in single city concentration to only NY) and even in Anchorage, it feels sparse!
     Alaska's 2nd and 3rd biggest cities, Fairbanks and Juneau, are over 6 and 21 hours away, respectively. The fourth biggest city in Alaska has only around 9,000 people. To put this in continental U.S. terms, imagine that you live in New York City and have to drive to Pittsburg PA or Savannah, GA through mountain and wilderness to get to the nearest decent sized cities and these cities are

Charleston: Sunrises and sunsets, hiking with alligators, and kayaking with dolphins

Charleston has been a beautiful place to live for three months! Our goal in coming here was to enjoy the beach in the off season and spend some time in Charleston's historic downtown. Goal accomplished! We were able to live a block from the ocean, spend quite a bit of time downtown, and find some other added bonuses in the between time. Here are some of the highlights:

Water sports and wildlife

Unlike much of the west coast and northeast where a well defined shore separates the ocean and land. The ocean around Charleston seeps and flows into and around the area creating all types of rivers, tidal creeks, marshes, inlets, black-water swamps, and harbors. Most of the driving in the area is done on bridges and elevated roads. This allows for many ways to enjoy and explore on the water, and beautiful views of the surrounding area.

We bought a second kayak and explored the harbor during low tide. We dragged our yaks down the trail at Palmetto County Park to explore the tidal creeks along the inter-coastal waterway. The amount of diverse birds we saw from storks and egrets to snipes, willets, sanderlings, and oystercatchers was stunning. The dolphins and alligators are

Charleston: My favorite thing about this city

Venice has an international reputation for being THE city of water. But there are others. As Charleston expands into the marsh and swamps of the surrounding areas, building more parks, connectors, piers, and walkable bridges; the more it also becomes a city built on, and over, water.

I realized while working on another post about Charleston that my favorite thing about the city is not its historical character or even its wildlife. These exist elsewhere, nearby. What makes Charleston such a beautiful place is the necessary elevated roads that allow for a frequent inward gaze at the wildlife, downtown, and islands. While other cities are flat, wooded, or obstructed by construction, there are so many viewpoints in the Charleston area from which to observe Charleston's historic and natural beauty from a contemplative distance.

Unlike bigger cities, Charleston never fully consumes you in its belly. There is always a view across the harbor of a lighthouse or island fortress. 

More sunsets are seen than missed.

While elsewhere it takes a special trip to see natural beauty or a conscious reminder to mentally revisit places you've enjoyed, Charleston gets in your face for attention. The longer we live here, the more meaningful daily views become as they're filled with associations and memories of lighthouse visits, palm-lined isthmus strolls, bike rides, and harbor walks. 

Despite the horrible South Carolinian drivers and the frustrations of overhearing boatloads of ignorance about politics and social issues, it's really hard to be unhappy here.