Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chico & Sierra Nevada

Displaying IMG_20140524_124522_177.jpgOver Memorial Day, I made a pilgrimage to Chico and the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Sierra Nevada has been my favorite beer for as long as I can remember - so it was time to visit the source. The trip was a lot of fun, as most of my road trips north of California have been. It was also very hot - Chico is 4 hours north of the Bay Area and just off the 5 freeway, located in the central part of the state. It’s a college town with an alternative feel, a mix of vibes from LA and crunchy Bay Area.

Due to our late departure from Los Gatos, we missed our sustainability tour at the brewery. Instead we went to Sierra Nevada’s restaurant. They had 19 beers for us to try, and we tried all 19! From our tasting, it was apparent that Sierra Nevada is looking to expand beyond its hoppy roots into lighter beers. Unfortunately, I didn’t like most of their new selection of beers – I prefer the crispness of their original, hoppy varieties. The hops come from the Cascade Mountain Range. We also ordered pretzels and mustard (Sierra Nevada makes and sells their own mustard based on their beer flavors). This, I absolutely loved. I bought souvenirs and samples galore for friends, family, and co-workers: a pint glass featuring the Ruthless Rye label (a brilliant and sinister label, the best in the business), a 4-pack of Ovila, a beer made through a collaboration of Sierra Nevada and the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA (just north of Chico of the 99), and a “Growler” of Belgian white beer. A growler is an oddly shaped container that fits about 4 pints of beer.

Outside of the Sierra Nevada brewery, Chico is a small but fun college town with unique bars and restaurants, including Banshee and Madison “Bear” Garden. No matter where you go in Chico, Sierra Nevada will always be on tap. We met a lot of students, some still studying (with many stops and starts), and some who have graduated and are figuring out what to do next. Chico is a free-spirited city with free-spirited people. It’s surprisingly green, despite being so far inland. It would be more fun to come back to this city in the winter when there is more rain, and perhaps go inner tubing down the American River.Then, I can try more of Sierra Nevada's winter specialties...yum!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


After two long years where my only travel was domestic, mostly through work, I made my first trip out of the US a few months ago when I spent 5 days in Panama. It was great to be able to dust off my passport and travel again.

I traveled to Panama with Neilesh, my old faithful travel companion. He and I hadn’t travelled together since Morocco – which was 4 years ago – so it was good to venture out again. I spent a few days in Bocas del Toro by myself before joining Neilesh in Panama City. Bocas Del Toro is set of islands on the border of Panama and Costa Rica. It’s paradise – just like the name of the scuba diving shop, La Buga. While in Bocas, I surfed a little on a remote beach, did 2 scuba dives, and generally walked around the town. Despite not having scuba dove in several years, I was able to remember the basics pretty easily. Plus, the dive masters are still impressed when they see my Rescue Diver card. I also visited Aqua Lounge which is a bumping nightclub with places to jump in the water in swim. 

Panama City was a next on the itinerary. It’s nice but expensive (and they accept the dollar). My last visit to Central America was 11 years ago when I went to Costa Rica. Compared to that trip, a lot of development seems to have taken place.  We mostly hung out in the casino except for some brief sightseeing in the capital, which included the Panama Canal. Fortunately, we arrived at a time when we could see two ships passing through. 

Panama was a good, quick, fun trip after 2 years of staying stateside. I’ve now been to two countries in Central America – time to turn my focus beyond Latin America for my next trip. Is Europe calling?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Napa Triathlon…and why I compete in endurance races

I recently participated in the Napa Triathlon (Olympic distance) in Napa, CA. This was my first triathlon and I enjoyed it, though it was more challenging than my running races. The Olympic distance triathlon was 1500m swimming in Lake Berryessa, 25 miles biking through the surrounding hills, and 6.2 miles (10K) running through those same hills.

Why did I do this triathlon? That’s an important question that I will address further down, but the short answer is that I did this race because I wanted to try something different from running, and liked the variety of this event. Training for biking and swimming puts you in different shape than just running – biking works your quads and hamstrings while swimming tones your back and arms. You come out looking like more of an all-around athlete.  

In training for the race, I focused on swimming and running to a certain extent. Lake swimming was my most challenging event, and I find swimming in the pool hard enough. In the lake, you can’t see anything in the water and you have people swimming all around you and you are at risk of getting kicked in the head. Not to mention it’s tough to swim in the right direction to each buoy.

Biking was almost as difficult. I hadn’t practiced cycling at all in training, nor had I ever truly ridden a road bike before this race. Despite all of that, I managed to complete the bike portion though I truly hit the wall (worse than any of my recent running races) at the turnaround point for the bike.
The run was my best leg, as I passed many of the people who passed me on the bike. I have a lot more experience with running and it showed in the race. I finished in just over 4 hours, with long transition times as I had no real plan for this important part of the race.

Lately, I’ve been getting the questions (and asking myself the question) – why do you do it? Why do you run long distance, and why do you do triathlons? Will you do more, and what is your goal? What are you trying to prove?
My philosophy - return to a Natural state

These are good questions, and the answer has changed somewhat over time. The first time I raced was the Boston Marathon in 2004 (a story you are probably familiar with). Then, I raced because I wanted to part of the event, to experience the thrill as a participant and not a spectator. In a way, that same sentiment has driven me in all subsequent races, and even in my career. I chose Product Management as a post-MBA career path because I wanted to be in the trenches, “in” the “experience” rather looking at in from the outside (which is the way I perceive professions like consulting, investing, etc.).

Of course after Boston, I took a long break from racing, only to resume my career with the Big Sur Marathon. There, the motivation was to do the marathon properly and to enjoy the stunning scenery that I knew would wait for me. Now, the desire to be one with nature drives me as much as other factors. In a long endurance race, the participant gets to know his scenery intimately. Route 1 in Big Sur will have a special meaning for me that is different for someone who is simply driving it. In Napa, I swam “in” Lake Berryessa, at sunrise no less. It’s humbling to stand next to a 64 degree lake as the sun rises over it to lift the mist on the lake. I had the privilege to swim in it. I now look at endurance racing this way - that it is my “privilege” to participate and to be one with nature. When submerged in the lake, you can’t see anything but an algae green color. But that is nature, unfiltered in all its glory. I want the real thing – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I race, I feel alive. I am focused but I transcend to another state. Maybe it’s the endorphins but I when I connect with nature I also find myself connecting with …… myself. I become more conscious of each of my limbs, my breathing, and my muscles. Each morsel of drink or food during the race becomes that much more valuable. Unlike normal life where we take eating and drinking for granted, when endurance racing, we return to a more natural caveman state when food and drink were hard to come by. When it came, you were eternally grateful. When it was gone, you longed for it again and fought to get it back (i.e. run 3 more miles to the next aid station). The natural challenge of finding food, and earning your food, exists in endurance racing.

Competition and cooperation are also part of the equation. Sometimes you want to beat the person next to you, and sometimes you want to help them. Racing mimics life and career like that. But through it all, you know that everyone is in it together. It feels like my MIT experience where everyone is suffering together and trying to finish and achieve their goals. It’s not about being sadistic or torturing yourself – it’s about challenging yourself in a collective experience. There’s a significant difference here.  

The health benefits of racing and training are obvious and probably need the least explanation. Suffice it to say that I like to eat and workout, so this is how I try to stay fit.

So, in the end, what am I trying to prove? That I can run 26 miles? That I can swim ~1 mile? No, I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone. Anyone can do these things if he is focused on it – in fact people do much more. The human body was built for it. I don’t do this for the approval or praise of the outside world. I do this for myself, for all the reasons above. And I choose a distance and venue (like Malibu in September) that give me the connection to nature and myself that I’m looking for. It’s about being in the moment, actively living life rather than passively existing in it, and returning to a more natural state of being. I hope you can see why this is more than just a hobby for me, and how it relates to my overall philosophy towards life.

Up next – Malibu Triathlon (Olympic distance) on my birthday (9/13) and the Chicago Marathon on 10/12, and probably some smaller events along the way. I’m hoping to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for the Malibu race.
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