Sunday, December 23, 2012


 A few weeks ago I travelled to Porterville to assist Neilesh with the grand opening of his new (and first) dental clinic - Sweet Smiles. This was my first true foray into California's Central Valley. Until now, the Central Valley was just something I passed through when driving between San Jose and LA. This weekend, I got a better feel for the culture in this part of California.

The Central Valley's main industry is agriculture and the area is rural. Goods are cheaper but the economy is noticeably slower than California's cosmopolitan areas (SF, SJ, LA, SD). The lower incomes in the Central Valley contribute to the area's greater health care needs.

Getting to Porterville is a bit of trek. From Bakersfield, you have to take a 2 lane highway (65) or can take Highway 99. Porterville is a bit chilly this time of year, but it gets extremely hot in the summers (I'm told).

The night before, Neilesh and I swept the clinic office. On the day of the opening, we arrived early. Johnny and Sal (two of Neil's friends) brought their mobile grill to the clinic and grilled all day. We were visited by the mayor of Porterville, Terry Phillips (an ex-journalist who recently ran for Congress), the city's Chamber of Commerce, and Neilesh's family and friends. I helped wherever I could: brining supplies to the clinic, setting up the food table, helping with scheduling in the front office, and even did some light dental assisting. We treated 17 patients pro bono that day. It was tiring - I have a lot of respect for assistants, hygienists, and dentists for working on their feet all day long. That night, we ate from Johnny's grill and explored the nightlife of Porterville (limited but fun nonetheless).

The next day, Neilesh, Dan (Neil's classmate from UCLA and a dentist in the Bay Area), and I drove to Sequoia National Forrest for a day hike. Sequoia is only 1-2 hours from Porterville - talk about heaven in your backyard! I have been to Sequoia National Park a few times, but this is one of the best national parks in the country and is always a treat. We had a great lunch at the Wuksachi Lodge (Peaks Restaurant) and then set off to explore the giant sequoias. Long before we were born and long after we are dead, the General Sherman tree will still be growing.

We left the park at sunset and I had good pizza before making the drive back to LA. It was a great weekend I look forward to seeing Sweet Smiles grow from its auspicious beginnings.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tough Mudder

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that:

I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
I do not whine, kids whine.
I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.

Two weeks ago, I completed the Tough Mudder course as part of the two-person Team "Off-Label". I have wanted to do the Tough Mudder since my 2nd year of business school, when a classmate did the course in Pennsylvania. In fact, my interest in muddy obstacle courses began when I spent 24 hours in Quantico as part of a Leadership Venture in my first year. The Tough Mudder is modeled after the training that British Special Forces soldiers go through.

I chose to do my Tough Mudder at the Palmer Coking Coal Company in the great state of Washington. Why Washington? It's simple - I love the Northwest, as evidenced by my July 4th trip to Oregon. The Northwest is famous for its cool weather and greenery - two things that I felt would make the Tough Mudder more fun.

The Tough Mudder consists of 25+ obstacles over 11 miles:

  • Walls to climb
  • Cargo nets
  • Monkey bars over water
  • Swinging ropes over water
  • 20 ft. jump into water
  • Mud-based obstacles
But, by far the worst obstacles are:

  • Electric shocks
  • Arctic water
The Tough Mudder is infamous for its electric shocks. There are two electric shock obstacles where the shocks are 10,000V and about 10 amps. The first one is called "Electric Eel" at the halfway point. Mudders crawl through water / mud all the while being shocked by little hanging ropes. What's worse, I think the water transmits the shock. The second shock obstacle occurs at the end of the race. Mudders have to run through hanging ropes and mud. The best strategy is to sprint through the ropes becaues the electricity pulses every second so the longer you are int he ropes, the more you will be shocked.

The artic water is another brutal obstacle, this time at the beginning of the course. Mudders have to wade through ice water, duck their heads under a barrier, and exit the obstacle. The whole process takes 1 minute. It is one of the most painful minutes of your life! After coming out of the obstacle, your body is completely frozen and it is impossible to move, talk, or think. After the Tough Mudder, I came down with a pretty bad case of the flu. I think the Artic Water obstacle decimated my immune system and made the flu worse than it would have normally been.

My favorite obstacle though was "Everest". The last of many walls that Mudders have to climb, Everest embodies the spirit of Tough Mudder. This obstacles is almost impossible to complete on one's own. Only the fittest people (1% of Mudders) can run the half pipe, jump, reach the top and pull themselves up. The rest rely on the help of Mudders who are already atop the obstacle. We run, jump, reach, and hope that our hands will be grabbed. From there, we are pulled over the obstacle and are on our way to the last shock obstacle.

The atmosphere at Tough Mudder is just electric as the shock obstacles. Mudders are friendly, fun, and crazy. It seemed like 20-30% of Mudders have a military background (which is good for the rest of us since they can help us get over Everest!). After the race, mudders are greeted with food and beer. Throughout the race, Mudders read signs saying "When was the last time you really earned a beer?" That's true, most of the time we drink beers for no reason at all. But when you've truly earned that beer (Dos Equis in our case), it tastes that much better. It's a raucous celebration. I participated in a pull-up contest and churned out a respectable 3 pullups - not bad considering I had just completed a 11 mile obstacle course. Oh, and you get this super awesome orange headband - not for sale!

The rest of the weekend in Seattle was fantastic. At night, we went to Hotel 1000 for drinks and to watch college football. The next day, we ate donuts at Top Pot and hung out in Pike Place Market.

I put the Tough Mudder next to the Boston Marathon as one of my proudest athletic accomplishments. 

Somehow my number remained intact through the race

Team Off-Label at the Finish

The last obstacle
Everest, my favorite obstacle
The fearsome electric eel

Monkey bars over water

Climbing over logs

Over the cargo net

On the march

Generic mud obstacle

Climbing the wall to the start

Climbing down something muddy
Through the course, we were dreaming of donuts. The next morning, we had some at Top Pot!
Top Pot is charming inside
Books galore at Top Pot

No trip to Seattle is complete without a visit to Pike Place

The original Starbucks is at Pike Place

Live music abounds at Pike Place

More live music

Flowers at Pike Place

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A good LA day

 I wrote this blog a few Sundays ago:

Greetings from Malibu.  I write this blog from a Coffee Bean, tired from surfing at Surfrider Beach, drinking a decaf coffee with soy milk, 2 Splendas and 1 raw sugar (this is now my go-to coffee make-up), and watching the sunset over the Malibu canyons. Drinking a decaf at 7:15pm is a bit of risk given my reaction to caffeine and desired bed time of 9:30-10pm, but I'm hoping that the tiredness from surfing (1 hr 10 minutes of surfing with 15 minutes of lugging my surfboard from my car to / from the beach x 2 = 1 hr 45 minutes of activity) will cancel out the 15-20 mg of caffeine in a small decaf.

Every city has a season when it excels. I would imagine that Lillehammer, Norway, is a winter city (not that I have ever been there but would love to go). Boston / New England could be a city that is most iconic for it's Autumn (leaves changing color, etc.). But, LA is without a doubt a summer city.

In the last few weeks I think have really captured the feel of summer in LA. Two weeks ago, I had a proper beach day. Surfing at Sunset / PCH (my spot, I guess), lunch at Urth cafe followed by beach volleyball, football, and frisbee on the Santa Monica beach. This was followed by a restful nap (I proudly average over 8 hours of sleep per night). At night, I visited some clubs in Studio City and Sherman Oaks. What a day.

What constitutes a good LA day for others? A typical Saturday for one of my friends includes kite surfing, cycling, running, lunch, vegging out to Californication, and going out at night. For another one of my friends, all Saturday morning begin with a 2 hour bike ride. Another co-worker begins Saturdays with yoga. Yet another co-worker gets up before dawn, drives down from Valencia (where she lives), and hikes in Malibu to a point where she can watch the sunrise. Almost everyone I know in LA incorporates physical activity into their weekends. I love to see that, as health is my first priority (this is why I'll prioritize sleep over most things).

Yesterday was another good LA day for me. I surfed Surfrider beach for the first time in the morning and finally understood what all the hype was about. I have also never seen a surf spot so crowded. The vibe was pretty good though - not as competitive as you might expect given the sheer number of people in the water (I estimate 30 - 50 people). I've learned that surfing in a crowd can be fun as long as you don't expect to catch every wave - your first priority should be to make sure that you're not in anyone else's way; if not, then try to ride the wave. Also, a lot of fun can be had by just sitting on your board and watching the really good surfers tear up the waves. Most of these surfers are 12 - 20 year old kids who have a chance to go pro.

Today was another fun day for me at Surfrider beach. It was less crowded, and like yesterday, I was enjoying the session in my new board shorts and long sleeve rash guard. Surfing is so much more fun sans wetsuit. I didn't catch many waves yesterday or today, but a key thing happened today: I learned roughly when I need to stand up to catch a breaking wave. Typically, I let the wave flatten out before standing up. This unfortunately makes it nearly impossible to turn and ride the face of the wave. Trying to catch a wave at it's peak height is necessary to ride the face of the wave but it's intimidating because you're a few feet above the water (more on a larger wave) facing down at a 45 degree angle (steeper angle if a larger wave). Today, I tried to catch a wave at it's peak and fell, but I know what I need to do.

But that wasn't even the best part of my session. A seal swam up to me (it chose me over the 10 surfers in my area, I like to think) while I was chilling on my board. I was so shocked I didn't know what to do. But next time, I'm going to see if I can pet it. It looks friendly enough. 

Coffee Bean has closed and it's time to get a few tacos at Howdy's Taqueria.

So that's what I think a good LA (summer) day looks like. What does a good day in your city look like?

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Portland was the last stop on our Oregon adventure. We arrived on July 4th and saw the fireworks from the Burnside bridge over the Williamette River. Williamette, incidentally, is not pronounced "William - ett". It is actually pronounced "Will-am-it". That's much easier to say. The first set of fireworks consisted of red crackers above green crackers - symbolic of roses, as Portland is of course the City of Roses.

We spent about 3 days in Portland. We visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which is like your typical science museum. We also visited  the artsy Pearl District where we visited a few art galleries and partook in wine and cheese. There happens to be a lot of lavender in Oregon for some reason. In fact, there is a Lavender Farm on the way to Mt. Hood. We were hoping to visit Mt. Hood and the Lavender Farm but unfortunately didn't have time. Next time...

One day was also spent visiting the Nike campus in Beaverton. Oregon is not home to nearly as many Fortune 500 companies as Washington but Nike is one of them. The other one is Precision Cast Parts. The Nike campus is beautiful. There are many running trails and lakes. A high school football challenge (Nike Gridiron challenge) was taking place when we there. Each of Nike's buildings is named after a famous Nike-sponsored athlete - Michael Jordan, Pete Sampras, Jerry Rice, etc. That athlete's apparel is featured in the building's lobby.

Nike was founded by Phil Knight (currently Chairman) and Bill Bowerman, a track coach from the University. Bill is pictured to the left. Nike has an amazing store in downtown where this picture was taken.

We were fortunate to eat at several cool restaurants in Portland. One was Prasad - a raw vegan type restaurant that you find in Santa Monica and San Francisco. Prasad often gives their food away free of charge to homeless people. They promise to never let a hungry person go hungry. Little Big Burger was another cool place. This place serves really tiny burgers that are really tasty. We got a couple of veggie burgers and milkshakes here. Lastly, Portland has some amazing food trucks. We ate at an Ethiopian food truck which was excellent. There were just so many interesting food trucks to choose from - ethnic food that you've probably never even heard of.

Last but not least, what visit to Portland is complete with drinking at a microbrewery? We visited Deschutes. This brewery is named after Deschutes,  a river in Oregon that goes through the city of Bend. I really want to visit Bend because I love the name "Bend". Bend is named after a bend in the Deschutes. In any case, their beer is awesome. To the left you can see one of their 6 cup tasters. I downed them quickly, drinking from light to dark. Not only is the beer tasty but the ambiance is fantastic. The details - the tables, woodwork, and fixtures - are all top class.

Well, this is it for my whirlwind tour of Oregon. There is just something about this state that fascinates me. It's not commercial, there are more trees than you knew existed on earth, and the coast makes you think you're in Ireland. I'll be back at some point. Next time, I'll do some rafting on the Klamath, will visit Mt. Hood, and will get more cheese from Tillamook. I'll also visit a few more food trucks and visit Bend. Fortunately I have another trip to the Pacific Northwest scheduled in late September for my Tough Mudder in Seattle.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tillamook, a city near the Oregon Coast named after a native American tribe, is famous for its dairy farms. Have you ever seen Tillamook cheese in the grocery store? Yup, that's from Tillamook, Oregon. We visited the Tillamook Dairy Farm museum, which offered samples of Tillamook Cheese and Tillamook ice cream, and the Blue Heron farm. It's a good thing I had my lactose pills with me. 

Looking at the daily schedule of a dairy farmer, I'm glad I didn't become one. I could not survive on 6 hours of sleep each night what with daily calf birthings to attend to. After visiting the dairy farms and sampling some cheese / ice cream, we drove back to the coast for a quick hike at Cape Lookout. Cape Lookout jets out into the Pacific Ocean and offers stunning views. From here, we took another spectacular drive east to Portland, 2 hours away.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eugene & Oregon Coast

After visiting Crater Lake, we drove to Eugene for the evening. Eugene is home to the University of Oregon. Olympic trials for Track & Field had just ended. We went out to a few bars and otherwise had an 'uneventful' evening in Eugene.

The next day, we drove up the Oregon Coast to Tillamook. The Oregon Coast (also called "The People's Coast") is every bit as beautiful as people say. We took the 126 W from Eugene to coast and took the 1 north. There is a stunning Visitor's Center that I highly recommend called the Visitor Burerau near Newton. From here. there is a spectacular museum and a great view of the coast. There are several sofa chairs nicely laid out in front of a long, glass window where you could spend hours staring out into the rough but beautiful seas crashing into cliffs. When we were there, the waves were about 3-5 feet - pretty big. However, the waves get much bigger during the winter (as is the case in N. California). In fact, I would love to sit on these sofa chairs and stare out into the sea during a winter rain storm. Man, what a sight that would be. A little piece of Ireland on the West Coast. Maybe I'll surf this cove one day.

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