From Fallout Shelter to Columbus Circle, Mountain Man Travels to Ritzy Manhattan

“Two weeks removed from the Green Mountain State and the national park chapter of my life already feels buried in the memory books, a wispy distant past that stopped being real the moment I left Quechee for the Breadbasket states.” 

Admittedly, I let myself get caught up in the act of leaving, attempts at closure, and mentally bracing for the next transition period of my life.  It’s been almost a month since my last post, and I hope I can capture all the excitement and intrigue I experienced.  Even I fall prey to the fallibility of memory and the passage of time, but it’s only been a month and I’m young, so I’ll give it my best shot ;).

My Discovered View – Off the North Slope Trail

Three weeks of work remained after the weekend of food and fun with my parents.  At times it was a challenge to stay motivated and energized; something about knowing the end is near encourages the mind to wander.  Much of our strictly outdoor pulling had been completed, but we had a few tasks remaining like removing burdock plants from all the park trails and stand transects to complete.  To remove the burdock (the plant that grows those sticky burs that are fun to throw at unsuspecting friends’ clothing), we split up walking every single trail within the park. 

That separation was exactly what I needed; the chance to visit areas of the park I’d never seen, walk mindlessly around looking for nemesis plants to dig up, yet embracing the calm to assess my life and plans for the future.  The above picture was taken during the burdock quest (during more than 10 miles of walking) and shows an area just outside the park boundary that I never would have experienced if not for my curiosity to keep going and see what was hiding around the next trail bend. 

My last meta-vacation (inspired by the idea that my entire summer in Vermont was already a vacation of sorts) was a trip to Boston.  Outside of Chicago, Boston happens to be the U.S. city in which I’ve spent the most time, as a result of having miscellaneous friends and family out east.  A frequent presence in my travel stories since Denmark has been the indomitable Wenbo, who yet again braved hosting me for the weekend.  Living in Watertown, she is now just a quick bus ride away from Cambridge (Harvard Square).  Upon arrival and after touring her office, we set out for a dinner feast of Indian food, something that Vermont sadly lacks and I’d been craving for months. 

I’m constantly impressed by the array of things my friends do to occupy their time, many of which they don’t speak of and go unnoticed by me.  Wenbo has been volunteering for a while as a host for the Friday night pub crawl offered by the International Hostel in Boston; responsible for over 20 people, she led us through the streets of Boston.  She tried her best to herd the unruly group to each of the three pub stops while fighting the clock as our liver meticulously worked to metabolize alcoholic drinks that made the night fly by.  I spent the evening conversing with three hostel-goers, 20-somethings from Germany, Korea, and Australia and marveling at Wenbo’s ability to rally the troops.

After an interesting Uber-ride back to the Watertown abode (atypical due to the fact that the Uber driver was pulled over and ticketed, and I’m pretty sure the cop was racially profiling), we cashed in to reset for the next days.  Despite a slow start, we made it back to Cambridge for a replenishing brunch at the near-MIT Friendly Toast.  The sun shone brilliantly that day, prompting a post-brunch walk around the Boston Common.  People-watching at a premium, I enjoyed a relaxing outdoor afternoon watching parents take adorable photo-shoots with their babies, tourist families purchasing overpriced ice cream cones and lemonade drinks, and only a handful of near-embarrassing pedestrian collisions due to their total engrossment in Pokémon Go. 

That night, I visited my mom’s cousin Jimmy who I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years, driving out to his place in East Boston.  I met his husband Thomas for the first time, and we enjoyed a dinner out by their place, reminiscing about old family reunions and the craziness surrounding the infamous Hays girls (my mom and her three sisters).  Another day spent.  My final day in Boston was one of the hottest days of the year.  What better way to beat the heat than get wet?  Wenbo and I decided to rent kayaks for a couple of hours, embarking near MIT and lazily floating down the Charles River until the heat and our hanxiety (hunger-driven anxiety) began to set in.  I departed from Boston knowing that the Vermont journey was truly coming to an end, bidding Wenbo farewell until our October reunion in Copenhagen.                 

I hinted at this earlier, but the final weeks at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller pushed Jacodie and I to the limits (in a melodramatic sense).  Knowing that in a few weeks we would have to devote much more time to the job search (on top of career soul-searching), we became contemplative and critical of the work we had accomplished and the little we had left to do. We put finishing touches on our invasive management reports, computer protocols, and other documents we had prepared for the position.  We finished traversing the woods looking for species that “shouldn’t” be there, pulling many invasive culprits and carefully cataloging our progress in the database.  But we weren’t quite ready to completely grow up.  Some days all we wanted to do was maim burdock plants and see who could get more burs on the other without them noticing (check out the pic below, but the evidence clearly points to Jacodie as the winner).   We weren’t ready to leave behind the $2 ice cream at Wade’s Place, our friends we’d made throughout the summer, and the national park that had accepted us as their own for three months. 

As with any other time I travel, I made a bucket list of things to do/see while calling Vermont my home.  Some of my final accomplishments from that list include: thrifty antique shopping, a final intern dinner at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm (a $25 prix-fixe), sending out final postcards, and having a closing chat with our awesome supervisors Kyle and Christine.  My final adventure at MBR consisted of exploring the fallout shelter underneath the Rockefeller Mansion with my friend Amie, who couldn’t stop laughing at how my 6’5″ frame didn’t fit within the tunnel system.        

Similar to my itinerary driving to Vermont, I decided to make the most of the trek home and my lack of job lined up by taking an elaborate and adventurous road trip.  After a bittersweet goodbye with Jacodie and the Quechee condo, I headed to the great white north, the land of ‘ehs’ and Tim Hortons, French and hockey enthusiasts.  Montreal is less than a 3-hour drive from where I lived in Vermont and despite being a clear deviation from the straight shot home, it presented itself as the perfect first destination. 

Though I do seem to know people all over the globe, Montreal is not one of those places.  And for that express reason, I decided to try my hand at Couch-Surfing, a website that allows you to find local hosts during travel. It promotes shared experiences and meeting interesting people and provides an economical means to travel (you don’t have to pay the hosts).  I stayed with a CPA student and his younger brother for the weekend, benefiting greatly from their apartment’s great location and their knowledge of the city and ability to speak French.  Despite my love of language, French has never been on my list of tongues to conquer.  Arriving mid-day on Saturday after the always awkward conversation with border patrol, I briefly met my host and made a plan for the afternoon.  Normally when I travel I have no explicit agenda, but instead try to walk around a city and explore its character and natural spaces.

Montreal is beautifully situated right by the water, and overlooked by Mount Royal.  A short metro ride away from my host Chris’ place near de l’iglese, Mount Royal seemed like the perfect afternoon retreat.  Equipped with some local market items (bread, ham, cheese, etc.), a book, my journal, and my music, I hiked up to the top of Mount Royal and spent the afternoon taking in the views, the piano music performed by passersby, and the sun setting over my Canadian adventure. 

“Chris, his brother Matt, and I had planned to go out that night, so I hurried back to their apartment, relying on muscle memory to get back down the dark mountain and to the metro stop without my dead phone to guide me.” 

The night began smoothly as we met up with some of Chris’ international friends from France at a bar not too far from the apartment.  Things got a little more complicated as we all slowly became separated from each other; the only person I could reach was their friend Amir, so I ended up meeting him and going out to a club about 20 minutes from the first bar.  Already the change of pace I needed from Vermont, I ended up getting back to Chris’ place around 4:45am, thankful that he had given me a key just in case something like this happened.            

People-watching at Mount Royal

Sunday morning came quickly (unsurprising due to my 5 hours of sleep) as the morning sun streamed through the uncovered windows into my unappreciative eyes.  Chris had left the apartment earlier to attend a church service, so I decided to head out and continue my solo exploration of Montreal.  Staying true to my one true love of all things edible, my first destination was a well-regarded bakery called Rustique, known for their innovative bite-sized pies. 

Scurrying over there, motivated by the primitive instinct to overcome a hangover by indulging in carbs, I hastily purchased key lime and banana split pie bites.  The bakery was well worth the hype, but I realized that I needed something more substantial to tide me over.  I wandered around the neighborhood for a bit, finally drawn into a quaint cafe by the sound of smooth, live jazz music.  One chicken pesto melt and bottle of kombucha later and I was ready to tackle the world, or at least some of Montreal’s museums. 

​        My next stop, the Montreal Biodome, a massive indoor space harboring microcosms of the Earth’s many climate habitats and unique animals found in each.  Basically, a big indoor zoo where you can see interesting plants and animals not endemic to Montreal; for price, waiting time and experience I’d say a 7/10.  The Biodome sits right among the Olympic park, so it was nice to see where all the world’s best athletes congregated back in 1976. 

I then walked about 10 minutes to the Montreal Botanical Gardens and Insectarium, an homage to all things insect and buggy.  I tend to judge a city’s appreciation of nature by the state of their botanical garden and I put Montreal’s right up at the top of my list, next to St. Louis.  I was impressed by the masterful landscape architecture and thought put into their gardens, content to take in the beautiful views before heading back to the States.  That night, I further indulged in an all-you-can-eat Korean bbq joint before a quiet night back at Chris’ place.   

Montreal Botanical Gardens – Lily Pond
Montreal Botanical Gardens – Vegetable Garden

From Canada, I drove back south through Vermont with Boston as the destination yet again.  I made sure to stop by a liquor outlet in the green mountain state to stock up on all my favorite local beers and ciders, gifts for friends and family along the way and back home.  Upon arrival in Cambridge for the umpteenth time this summer, I met up with another DIS (Denmark) friend, Elior, who is working in Boston now. 

“It’s always interesting to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in over a year, trying to discuss the most noteworthy events of your recent past but quickly falling back into that established comfort level of friendship.” 

We decided to try a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant about 15 minutes from Harvard Square while reminiscing about cherished memories abroad.  The reunion was short-lived because I had to make my way over to the Charlestown Navy Yard, my sleeping place for the night. 

​        Here I want to take a pause and highlight the strange array of sleeping accommodations I had during my road trip home.  I was fortunate to have hosts for each night of the journey, eliminating the need for any hotel stays.  One coworker from Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP had been reassigned to the Boston National Park System (Elle, who I mentioned in a previous post) and was being housed in a historical mansion (that of generations of navy commandants) at the navy yard park. 

Being the only employee living in a large mansion (home to dark, scary niches and inexplicable noises) she was more than happy to have someone keep her company as a guest.  The house was incredible and I enjoyed exploring the three floors, including a crow’s nest at the top offering a beautiful view of the city.  Only passing through for a night, it was fortuitous that I was able to stay with Elle before she headed back to Woodstock, VT in early September.        

From Boston, I headed out to Provincetown (P-Town), my first time being on Cape Cod.  I was invited to spend a couple days with one friend I met in Woodstock and some of his friends who were renting out a house for a week.  Growing up in the Midwest, I feel that my ventures to the ocean always mean a bit more.  Though Vermont was the natural haven I had craved for a summer away from home, I was ecstatic to have my first beach day of the summer in P-Town, a serene sunny day that left me with just the right balance of tan and sun burn.  I stayed in the house with five guys and though I was the youngest, I was always trying to keep up with their endless energy and drive to go out and be doing something at all hours. 

I can’t speak much to the rest of Tuesday after leaving the beach because tequila shots and the numerous drinks they bought me did me in pretty quickly.  For those of you like me who haven’t heard of Provincetown, it’s a tourist spot on the tip of Cape Cod and one of the biggest gay travel destinations in the U.S.  It was relatively crowded as people began filtering in for Labor Day weekend and I really enjoyed our time spent gorging ourselves on lobster rolls, going to the infamous tea dance happy hour, and treating ourselves to good drinks and company after a summer of hard labor.

Happy Hour in Provincetown, MA

Two days of complimentary meals and alcohol was enough time to make me crave days of pure, uninterrupted sleep.  But alas, the road trip continued and my next stop was none other than the city that never sleeps.  As most of you know, I love tennis (both playing and watching professionals who play much better than I do).  Already being out east, I couldn’t resist a day at the U.S. Open watching my favorite players and enjoying scintillating tennis at the largest tournament in North America. 

I drove from Provincetown to Southport, CT, where I left my car for a couple days while staying in the city.  I thought it’d be easier to avoid parking in NYC and after my car mishap in D.C. back in May, I was more than happy to trust my car in the hands of quaint Connecticut suburbia.  I took the train into Grand Central Station, a 90 minute ride that allowed me to make headway reading the memoir of film critic Roger Ebert.  I arrived in NYC about 30 minutes before my scheduled dinner with even more DIS alumni, Eric and Amanda. 

Eric has since moved to New York from Maryland for a medical school program and Amanda likewise for work.  We met up in K-town (the Korean neighborhood) for a Korean bbq feast, joining Amanda’s coworkers for a rowdy meal of soju, various meats, and unidentifiable seaweed that tasted like heaven.  And the party just couldn’t stop with dinner, so we moved across the street for a round of karaoke, aided by the soju of course. My personal favorites were the group rendition of ‘Get Low’ and my duet with Amanda’s friend Ksenia on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’.  After a solid hour of belting, I had to head out to meet up with my host for the night.  I did end up staying at Amanda’s place on Friday night, but for Thursday I was to stay with my friend Stefan. 

Before arriving at his place, I knew that he lived in a nice part of the city but not until I reached the 67th floor of his Columbus Circle building did it impress upon me that I had truly made it…  Not made it to his apartment, but made it in life, for the night; New York has it fair share of social climbers and rags to riches dreams and I truly felt pampered for the one night I stayed there.  I arrived at his place, took in the view, and we immediately went back out on the town (coming back at 3am).  The boy who always sleeps met the city that never sleeps and I surprisingly lost out.

Was I staying in a museum or an apartment?

I awoke in my ivory tower, ready to relocate my things to Amanda’s place in Harlem and travel to Flushing Meadows for a full day of tennis.  I bought a day session pass for Arthur Ashe stadium (the largest arena there) and Stefan and I both bought night session passes too; he came to join me after work.  I was treated to many of the top players including Wozniacki, Kerber (the eventual champion), Baghdatis, Pouille, and Nadal, who hit one of the greatest ‘tweener shots I’ve ever seen, a brilliant lob against Andrey Kuznetsov in the third round.  The day roasting in the sun was well worth the thrill of seeing such a high quality of tennis and being so close to the action, especially on the outer courts. 

For the night matches, Stefan and I briefly snuck into the press section for a couple sets of Nadal’s match, a much closer view than our cheap seats way up in the boofoo section miles away from the court (Arthur Ashe Stadium really is THAT big).  Thankfully Stefan drove to the tournament from work and was able to drop me off in Harlem at the end of the night, weaving in and out of crazy taxis, wandering souls, and the unique nighttime glow only NYC has to offer.  The next morning, Amanda, two of her friends and I went to a nice brunch place nearby in Harlem and enjoyed a 3-course selection with mimosas and bellinis.  The food got me up and going, ready to tackle the first long drive of my journey (a 5 hour stint to Pennsylvania).   

First trip to the U.S. Open

That night I stayed in Carlisle, PA with yet another DIS friend, Lizzie.  Carlisle is home to Dickinson College, where Lizzie went to school and is working for the next year at the campus farm as an event coordinator.  She lives in a house with the kindest couple you’ll ever meet (who happened to also be tennis fans and have two plump cats).  We went to eat at Café Bruges, a Belgian-style place touted for their fries, sauces, burgers, and good beer. After a quick tour of her old stomping ground (the Dickinson campus), we headed back for a lazy night of catching up further and late night tennis.  My journey was nearing its end. 

I decided that night that I’d wake up early Sunday and power through the remaining ten hours to Chicago, a decision that actually made getting home Sunday evening all the more satisfying.  Walking into the house and getting a warm welcome from Griffin (my old fart of a dog) was exactly what I needed.  And here I am now, good old Forest Avenue yet again, getting ready for Copenhagen next month, applying for jobs, finally unpacking my life, and then subsequently figuring out next steps.  I’m looking into opportunities to teach English abroad in Asia (through Fulbright and other agencies) as well as part-time work around the Chicago area.  The possibilities are endless, so don’t be surprised if I end up somewhere completely unexpected. 

“As always, shoot me a message if you want me to send you feel-good mail and you know where to find me, at least until I find somewhere interesting to get me out of Illinois again.”


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