Sunday, February 23, 2020

What Happened in Vegas

These reviews are for an Airbnb I booked for myself in Vegas for $24.84. Why, Caroline, why? I know, I know. In my defense:

Knowing that I'd be landing very late at night, I didn't to spend more than I needed to for half a night's sleep. And the host had an average of 4.5 stars on Airbnb! And that top review was posted after I'd booked the unit. And (regretfully; this is the only clue where I really should have listened) I disregarded the longer review (above), thinking the guest must have been exaggerating.

In the end, that Airbnb was the most stressful night I can remember ever having. WORST AIRBNB EVER, indeed.

So many things. First, my flight was delayed and the airline lost my bag, so I arrived at the Airbnb at 3am rather than 1am. The apartment complex where it was located looked run-down and vaguely menacing. The drizzling rain and late hour didn't help my impressions.

The host, Janice, had told me twice to make sure to park in a visitor spot in the lot, but when I arrived, all the visitor spots were occupied. So I parked in the spot marked with the number of the unit I'd booked.

Rather than hide a key outside the unit for me, Janice insisted on waiting up to let me in, which somehow sketched me out even more. Clenching my pepper spray inside my jacket pocket, I used my other hand to knock on the metal bars outside the door. A short, heavy-set woman, perhaps in her late fifties, unbolted it and then stepped aside for me to pass. Behind her, a TV blared cable news.

At least Janice really is a woman, was my first thought.

"Hi, I couldn't find a visitor spot in the lot so I took your parking space," I told her.

Janice stared at me a moment before responding. "You're leaving first thing in the morning, right? You should be ok for a few hours."

My anxiety level spiked. I did not want my trip to begin with my rental car being towed from an Airbnb parking lot. Feeling there was nothing else I could do about the car, I stepped into the apartment, resolving to leave at first light.

I looked around at a cluttered living room and a cluttered kitchen. The place smelled musty, as if the person living there never went outside.

Janice gestured towards a door at the back of the unit and said matter-of-factly, "This is your bathroom. Your shower is broken, but you can use mine in the morning if you want."

I looked at her disbelievingly. The main reason I'd booked an Airbnb rather than a campsite was so that I could shower after my cross-country flight from NC.

"That's my room," Janice continued, gesturing at the next door. "My son is staying with me right now, so I'm sleeping on the couch."

My incredulity and strong sense of discomfort continued to grow. There was a man in the apartment? This was not what I thought I'd be signing up for.

"Thanks," I mumbled to the woman, too tired to think and overwhelmed by my feeling of dread. I went into my room, shut the door, and locked it behind me. At least there's a lock, I told myself. And the room itself seemed clean.

I reached into my bag to grab my toothbrush and toothpaste, and then dashed across the short hallway to the bathroom. It was grubby but not gross. I put my toothbrush in my mouth, and then immediately took it back out. Instead of toothpaste, I'd put anti-itch cream on my toothbrush. So tired. 

I stumbled back into the bedroom, dug around in my backpack again, and finally found my toothpaste. I brushed my teeth in a rush, desperate to be locked alone with my stuff in my room. Meanwhile, the TV continued to blast noise into the living room on the other side of the bathroom wall.

"Goodnight," I said to Janice, who was now sprawled on the couch. I shut the bedroom door and locked it.

Before crawling into bed, I cracked the window. The fresh air helped cut through the odd smell of the place, and made me feel more calm. I was glad to be on the second floor of the building, at least.

I grabbed my passport and wallet to stash under my pillow. I carefully placed my pepper spray on the bedside table. After inspecting the sheets (which looked clean enough), I finally lay down.

Staring at the ceiling, I debated what to do about the high-volume TV that was continuing to pierce the thin apartment walls. I was terrified to say anything, as I had just read the long Airbnb review posted above that specifically mentions how a guest triggered an angry outburst from Janice simply for asking her to turn down the television. Knowing that I wouldn't sleep much either way, I decided to wait it out. Thankfully, Janice turned off the TV after just a few minutes.

I slept fitfully for maybe three hours. Shortly before sunrise, a car alarm went off. I wondered if it was mine but was too scared to leave the room to find out.

By 7am, the TV was back on, and I could hear Janice and her son talking loudly over it. I climbed out of bed, put on the clothes I'd traveled in the day before, and grabbed my backpack. Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the living room.

Janice's son was rocking back and forth in an armchair on the other side of the room. He didn't acknowledge me. Janice was standing in the kitchen. "Bye," I mumbled to both of them, and rushed out.

Not the ideal start to my solo vacation, but at least I survived.
The building looks much less menacing in daylight, but you can at least see how the metal bars might put a visitor on edge.

I speed-walked to my car and was immensely relieved to find it intact. I then headed to the bougiest cafe I could find on Yelp for some culinary therapy (my version of retail therapy).

On the drive to the cafe, I spotted snow-capped mountains and felt much better.

At the cafe, which was called Makers & Founders, I ordered a South-American-style eggs benedict with a $7 lavender latte. This is how I recover.

I then ordered a $7 turmeric coconut latte, feeling better with every sip.

I spent the morning journaling and FaceTiming friends. After more fully recovering from the emotional challenges of the night before, I got back into my rental car and headed west.

Mountains <3

The campsite I found for that night! infinitely better than a stressful/scary Airbnb.

Next up: My day hiking in Red Rock Canyon, a national conservation area just west of Vegas.

Spoiler alert: The trip gets much, much happier from here. Sometimes the only way you can go is up, right?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Baby's First Marathon

I did it! 

So, the race was fun. It was good! Nothing bad happened! which sounds like a low bar— but think about all the bad things that could happen in 3 hours and 49 minutes!

Yes, that was a not-so-subtle flex on my finish time. My time goal was very broad: I would've been happy with anything under 3:55. All my long runs were around 9:00/mile, but I read that long runs could be up to a minute and a half per mile slower than your race pace! So I had no idea what to expect, except that it would be somewhere between an 8:30 and a 9:00 pace (which is very broad).

My coach, Jim, told me to start at 8:55. I knew that wasn't going to happen. But I did listen to his instructions about pacing based on heart rate, and that's what I'm most proud of. This is the graph of my heart rate throughout the race:
See that long, slow, gradual increase? That's the discipline I worked toward throughout my training. That's why I love endurance sports. I'm not a fast sprinter, but when other people are starting out too fast and burning out too soon... I'm the slow and steady tortoise. I'm proud of that.

Oh, and the pain in my foot? I took a risk by running in brand new shoes (I put five miles on them before the race) and I had absolutely zero pain during and after the race. See? Nothing bad happened! And for that, I am grateful.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


I'm running a marathon tomorrow. Predictably, I'm nervous and excited.

Things that make me nervous: Every long run ended with pain in my right foot and sometimes in my left knee. At the end of my longest run (22.5 miles), my foot, both knees, and my hips all hurt pretty bad. But every time, I'd feel better by the second or third day afterwards, and it never got worse with consecutive runs.

Also, I realized a few days ago that the sole of my right shoe had worn down significantly on one side of the heel. Is that what caused the pain in my right foot? I broke a major rule of marathoning ("Nothing new on race day!") and decided to run in new shoes rather than risk potential injury from my old, worn-down shoes.

Things that make me excited: I did all my long training runs, building up slowly over the course of 16 weeks. I ran a "longest run yet" six times. By the time I started tapering, 15 miles felt relatively short—and definitely easy.

Tomorrow's weather is expected to be close to ideal: a little cold at the start (30 degrees!) but warming up close to 50 by the last hour of my run. According to Google, the ideal marathon racing temperature for women is 51.8 degrees. I'll gladly take too cold over too hot—though I might have been at an advantage in a hot race due to my not two, not three, but four months of HOT-weather training this summer and fall.

I'm not sure what to expect in terms of my own speed/pacing. Until I hit about 15 miles, my long runs were always around an 8:30 pace. Starting with the 15-miler, and for every long run following, my pace was closer to 9:00/mile, varying from 9:20 to 8:40 on average. But that was with breaks for water and stretching. What it's like running for more than a couple of hours without stopping, I couldn't tell you. But hopefully after tomorrow, I can :D

My mantras for the race:
This is what you came for.
I am strong, I am capable, I am enough.

A leader of my run club (shoutout to Fleet Feet Carrboro) sent out this essay today that resonated with me (even though the "you can't prepare enough to guarantee success" part terrifies and frustrates me). Some of my favorite lines are about how marathon training is antithetical to the modern "age of convenience." Below are some of my favorite lines from the essay (rearranged):

Why do we do this?

To feel something. To move ourselves, to ensure that we don’t get stuck.

The point is the inconvenience. The delay without the guarantee of gratification. It’s structuring your weeks, months and years around something beyond daily life.

Racing is testing — It’s submitting yourself to a task, unsure of the outcome, for the thrill of discovering the answer to the question,

“Can I handle this much for that long?"

It’s a commitment to push on your limitations again and again and again, until you’ve gone further, faster, than you ever thought possible.

Completion of a training block, regardless of errors or hiccups, is its own feat worth marveling for a moment. Many won’t make it to the start — having broken before the gun. 

If you’re here to race, you’re fortunate.

. . .

I feel fortunate! 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Friends Reunion 2019

The weekend before Hanifah's wedding, my FAVORITE PERSON ALBAN came to visit me!!!!!!

yayyyyyyyyy :D 
(here's a closeup of that peach dish in case you were curious)
She arrived on a Thursday, so while I was at work on Friday she hung out in my house and kept Rafi company.

When I got home from work, they were both napping adorably in my bed together. 
Rafi keeps guard 

On Friday after I finished work, we drove to Lake Gaston!
Isn't she lovely :D 

I did an extremely humid 11-mile run and had to stop three times and when I got back I had to lie on the floor for awhile.

very much enjoyed this pizza we made for dinner

It was cloudy and rainy on Saturday afternoon/evening, but we were still able to go out on a nighttime boat ride.

Yay lake party! including some new friends! 

And now for some bonus pics of my beautiful daily work breakfast:
pre nuts and honey 
so delicious :) one of the best parts of summer! 

Nashville 2k19

Last weekend, my former Nashville roommate Hanifah got married!! I spent the weekend in Nashville visiting with my other former Nashville roommates, Jim and Lisa (who was also my date to the wedding). 

Hanifah being escorted down the grassy aisle by her older brother

my best friend / former housemate / recent wedding date Lisa

aren't we adorable :) 
After I landed on Friday evening, Jim, Lisa, and I went to a newish popup restaurant in Nashville called Tailor. Back when I lived in Nashville, this chef and I were both on the board of Slow Food Middle Tennessee, so I was especially excited to check out his new foodie project.

The restaurant space was gorgeous,

The multicourse meal was served family-style: Servers brought out each course at the same time to all tables, and then the chef (Vivek Surti) would stand in the middle of the room and tell a story about how he developed the dish based on his rural Tennessee upbringing merged with the traditions of his Gujarati Indian family. 

Every course was excellent, and it was fun learning about how so many of the ingredients I might consider traditionally Southern could also be considered traditionally Indian. Here are few of the most picturesque dishes:

vegetarian Jingha with heirloom tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, serrano chile, and lots of cilantro

Bhinda Ni Kadhi (okra, yogurt soup, basmati rice)

Keri (mango, pistachio, honey, saffron)
On Saturday morning, I did a 12-mile run: from the Crowes' house in Hillsboro Village, to Shelby Bottoms Park, and back. Jim ran the (first) 2.7 miles to the river with me! After I got back and showered, the three of us went to my favorite Nashville bakery: Dozen. 

preferred place with preferred people

prime pastry with prime partners

best brunch with best buds
Then the three of us went to a cafe in Berry Hill that Lisa likes (called District Coffee) and did some coworking for a few hours. Then it was time for Lisa and me to get ready for Hanifah and Daniel's wedding! We ended up being stuck in traffic for a solid half-hour on the way out to Montgomery Bell State Park, where the wedding was held, so we missed most of the cocktail hour prior to the ceremony. But I had just enough time to snap this pic of the beautiful reception lodge:

each table held glass jars full of assorted wildflowers

The ceremony was held under a giant oak tree in the middle of a clearing:

Afterwards, there was a buffet dinner followed by some DJ-ed dancing. Hanifah seemed really happy, and I was happy for her. 

Hanifah with her ancient dachshund, Sadie.
On Sunday morning, Lisa and Jim skipped church to hang with me!! The three of us went on a short run down Belmont Road and ran past my childhood home on Ashwood on our way back to their house on 21st Ave S.

Then we ate this AMAZING tomato tart that Lisa made:


And then the three of us walked down to 12S so I could do a little souvenir shopping. After we returned back to the house, Lisa left for a board meeting and I did some journaling while Jim worked on his iPad (strange choice of device, amirite??).

Then my friend Caroline picked me up! Caroline is a farmer who was also on the Slow Food Middle Tennessee Board with Vivek and me. We tried to go to the Frist to see a Frida Kahlo exhibit, but the line was literally out the door so we decided to walk to the 21C hotel instead, where there is always a free rotating art exhibit in the hallways. A lot of the art in the hotel was super creepy (the theme being "supernatural,") but here is one of the more enjoyable pieces:

After our loop through the hotel, Caroline drove me to the airport and I was off, back to Chapel Hill.