Aesthetics of Everywhere

The urban scene, its people and processes. Based in southern California.

Archive for the ‘past glances’ Category

Six Years, Blogging Here

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I haven’t been writing on this blog as much since starting grad school, which I could have expected since I’m doing plenty of writing otherwise. But I’ve completed a year in my program here and managed to do it without too much lost sleep, so that’s one thing to celebrate! I’m grateful for all the support I have, both here and back home in DC, and have no regrets about the decision to come here. My department is filled with inspiring people who challenge me to consider new perspectives and help me flesh out new ideas. This summer I’ll be conducting research with one of them and also starting data collection for my thesis, making several Los Angeles trips, and hopefully doing plenty of cycling and rock climbing.

Department's 40th Anniversary

Celebrated the 40th anniversary of our department with geo-cake.

And happy six years to my blog. I started this “new blog” in 2008 (and I’m sure the one before was plenty embarrassing, since it was probably started in my high school or undergrad years). Here’s to six more?

Written by Crystal Bae

June 20th, 2014 at 9:26 am

Arrival: An End and a Beginning

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Our bike tour that took us across the country from Washington, DC and down the west coast came to a close yesterday, as we picked up the keys to our new apartment. We’re now living in Goleta, California, which is home to UC Santa Barbara and a short bike ride into downtown Santa Barbara.

We’re going to miss the life of bicycle touring: meeting new people everyday and striking up conversation everywhere, juggling the tasks of keeping ourselves fed and our bikes running smoothly and our devices charged, falling asleep exhausted to the lingering scent of our fellow travelers’ campfires. I almost feel spoiled now by electric light, the ability to turn on a faucet for clean water anytime, and a fixed roof over our heads. But I’m thankful for it, and I don’t think I’ll take these things for granted again.

Living on the road for three months has taught me to think on my feet and be flexible with our plans. It’s shown us that it’s possible to cover huge distances through our own strength and perseverance, that each epic journey is composed of small efforts stacked up over time. It has also reinforced my impression that most people are good. Friends, family, and even family of friends that we’d never met before took us in graciously and became our connection to home. And our friends back home never stopped sending their encouragement. With a lot of time to think while pedaling for hours daily, every kind word was repeated over and over again. I missed you all.

I often told people we met that we were moving by bicycle so that we would have the time to see everything in between. Traveling a distance by bike really shrinks it to human scale. DC to Pittsburgh felt like a long trip, then it wasn’t. It became a gravel trail, a week of camping, and a few inspiring conversations. When we entered Montana, we were amazed at the claim that crossing the state east-west was comparable to riding from New York City to Chicago. But for us it was really two weeks on the bike riding through gorgeous scenery and staying with wonderful folks who took us in before they knew us. That’s what travel does: it makes a place comprehensible, personal, and, for a short time, yours.

Written by Crystal Bae

August 20th, 2013 at 1:34 pm

John Dienst: Getting to Alaska

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We visited New Jersey a couple weekends ago and got the chance to ask Adam’s 94-year-old grandfather, John Dienst, for a few words of wisdom from a unique cross-country trip of his own from his teenage days.

John DienstDo you have any advice for us on our bike trip?

Keep moving.

I think that a trip years ago was better than a trip today, because now you have high-speed cars and all this stuff. When I went up to Alaska, it was with a Model A Ford – thirty-five miles an hour. I crossed the continent, 4,700 miles or so, in that $20 car. Twenty dollars was the advertised price from the Ford dealer.

So you got it for less?

No, I didn’t ask for less than twenty dollars! But people say, “Gee, that’s cheap.” You gotta stop and think. Somebody said to me, “How much were you making at the time?” And I was working at a gas station pumping gas, 12 hours a night, 7 nights a week, $15 a week. Couldn’t even buy that car for fifteen dollars!

What was the most interesting part of your trip when you were going cross-country?

Ha, there were a lot of interesting parts. See, I converted the car to sleep two people. A fellow I went to school with wanted to come along so I said all right, I’d like the company anyhow. I took the seats that you sleep on, and I converted them so they could go straight back. The only thing is if your feet hung there, you put them on a 5-gallon can or something. Feet didn’t matter – it was comfortable.

We stopped at Springfield, Illinois to go to Lincoln’s house, then there was a fair going on so we stayed a couple days. We were working the shills. You know what a shill is? That’s when somebody’s selling something at a carnival or something, and you buy the first ones to get the crowd to buy. And this guy was from New York, he was selling knife sharpeners or some darn thing, and when he gives the speech you go, “oh, I’ll take one! I’ll take one” and it gets the crowd to buy. I probably got three or four dollars of pay for that, but that was money for gasoline. We didn’t need a lot of money but for gasoline. When I left, it was 10 cents a gallon in New Jersey, then it was 7 cents a gallon in Illinois, so gas wasn’t that much of a problem. And we’d sleep in the car.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Crystal Bae

May 20th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Logistics of Planning Our Bike Tour

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In the past few weeks I’ve had several friends tell me that it’s amazing that we’re going to ride our bikes to California, but making a longer-term trip happen is possible if you have the motivation to plan in advance, save up, and take some time off from work or school. Here’s the breakdown of the planning we did to get ourselves to this point of imminent departure.

3 months out

  • Start dreaming and searching our calendars for when we can make this trip happen. The easy part here was that we’d plan to arrive by September when I start my graduate program, so we have a natural time frame.
  • Read lots of bike touring blogs and see how others have done it. My favorites are The Path Less PedaledGoing Slowly, and While Out Riding – though there are as many ways to bike tour as there are bike tourists!
  • Save money by cutting back on extras: ride a bike instead of Metro (kills two birds with one stone), cook more at home, stick to your budget by reminding yourself what you’re working towards.

2 months out

  • Make lots of additions to our bikes – get both front and back racks, enough pairs of panniers (two pairs each), new tires – and buy a great new campstove.
  • Sketch out a route we want to follow and start asking friends for recommendations. We didn’t want to go south because of the summer heat, and going across the north seemed more interesting than through the middle of the country – more mountainous, though.
  • Do a shakedown bike tour, fully loaded, to test out if we’re bringing too much. A few items did get cut after five days of riding with all our gear.

Lunch on the C&O Canal

1 month out

  • Do more research into the route. Order Adventure Cycling maps – a mix of several of the routes in the ACA network – and other maps we’ll need for navigation.
  • Research travel insurance options.
  • Finish ordering last things we think we’ll need: sunblock, spare brake and shifter cables, extra water storage, and so on.

3 weeks out

  • Throw a going-away party and try to see all our friends in the area before we leave.
  • Attempt to write down everyone’s great suggestions for the trip – which roads to take, who to stay with, etc.
  • Finish wrapping everything up at work to get our departures in order.

2 weeks out

  • Get the first week of the route planned out in detail in our spreadsheet: options for lodging, friends nearby, available amenities, and expected daily mileage. We’ll probably take it easy in the beginning since we haven’t been able to do much riding lately.
  • File forms for student loan deferment (for those of us still paying off our education).
  • Visit our families!

This is where we are right now. Fifteen days and counting. And this is what’s coming:

1 week out

  • Pack our U-Haul pod and have it shipped out to California! Odd to think that our furniture will beat us there.
  • Make last-minute bike checks.
  • Hang out with friends and toast the beginning of something new.

Night before

  • Pack our panniers.
  • Preemptively drink lots of water and eat lots of food. Okay, let’s be honest – this step should last the entire week (month?) before departure.

Morning of Friday, May 24th

  • Grab coffee with wonderful friends at Swing’s in DC and pedal on.

Written by Crystal Bae

May 9th, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Year 2012 in Cycling

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When I first moved to DC, I bought a used Trek mountain bike from a seller on Craigslist for $140. I used it to get from home to school and work and back, riding down from Columbia Heights in the morning and back up through Adams Morgan in the evenings. And knowing nothing of bicycle maintenance at the time, I once let a wheel get so badly out of true that I eventually had to alternate between carrying it and half-lifting, half-rolling it the six blocks to the nearest bike shop.

My housemates and many of my friends also rode to get around – it’s just the most practical mode of transportation within the city – but I can’t recall riding for the pure pleasure of it. Cycling was simply a more reliable option than taking the bus: my commute always took the same time and I didn’t have to wait 40 minutes at night for a bus that never came. (That used to happen pretty often when I worked late shifts at work.) On my mountain bike I was slow, but faster than when I was on foot.

2012 was the first year I rode for more than pure transportation purposes. I bought my first new road bike with a recommendation from my friend, who’s an avid road cyclist. I led a team of a six to ride in the Bike MS charity ride in June, which meant I had to train for distances I had never even imagined riding before: a total of 100 miles over two days. Besides getting food poisoning a couple weeks before the ride and losing a lot of fitness there, the ride went well and everyone on my team finished the ride happy and exhausted. We polished off a couple pizzas and about half a chocolate cake afterwards. By then I also knew to keep my chain clean and lubed and how to change a flat tire, and the function of most bike parts.

Anatomy of a Road Bike, via

I’ll pull just a few numbers about my first year of getting more into cycling. Most of these stats come from Strava, where I’ve recorded maybe 80-90% of my rides this year.

Most Elevation Gain in One Month: 9,910 feet in August. I did some riding in Maryland, rode the Reston Bike Club (Metric) Century, and part of John’s Hoppy 100 ride, which I hope he makes into an annual event. I know people that climb more than this in a single ride, but I’m happy with my progress.

Most Mileage in One Month: 391.2 miles in October. This includes a weekend ride to Harpers Ferry and back, the Seagull Century, and several commutes. It’s also the month I got my Surly, which replaced my road bike and became my do-everything, pleasure-to-ride bike.

Longest Single Ride: 127.1 miles. This was my first brevet, the Flatbread 200k.

Mileage on Capital Bikeshare: Over 150 miles. This number may even be closer to 200 miles, considering I usually don’t record my short Bikeshare trips. It’s a great service to get around town, and I’d say a year-long membership is essential for anyone living in DC.

Total Mileage for 2012: 2,397.3 miles since mid-March. I’m shooting for at least 3,000 miles next year.

Below is a screencap displaying my local ride map for the year, created with Jonathan O’Keeffe’s multiple ride mapping tool. The line thicknesses represent frequency of riding specific routes. Suggestions for where to ride more in 2013? Arlington streets don’t appear to be represented, though I take the Custis Trail quite often.

2012 Full Year in Bike Rides

I’m sure all this riding balances out the beer.

Written by Crystal Bae

January 8th, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Year 2012 in Drinks

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This post is a continuation of this project to record every drink we have this year, complete now with a full year’s worth of data.

I recognize that we’re only two points of reference and therefore can only draw conclusions about our own habits, but the concept of quantified life seems to be enjoying its heyday at the moment. People are getting creative about what they track and how they visualize it: Nick Felton’s design-oriented Annual Reports were my original inspiration. Tracking one’s bike rides is popular, as you can see with Strava and posts like this from a fellow rider in DC. People are measuring what they eat, where they travel, and how they spend their days. This piece in the New York Times, “The Data-Driven Life”, describes a guy who even explored how much time he spent doing his roommate’s dishes – along with everything else he spent time on throughout the course of each day.

New Belgium BrewingAlcohol consumed seems like as good a metric as any to track over the course of a year. Never having taken this kind of count before, we were frequently surprised at our totals – after a month, three months, or an entire year. Adam and I lead fairly active social lives in Washington, DC, where there are plenty of options for going out. We rarely go clubbing and prefer the bar scene or relaxed parties at friends’ houses. And this seems to be reflected in the data: we’re on average 21 times as likely to choose a beer over a mixed drink or hard liquor.

Year 2012 Totals

From January 1st, 2012 to December 31st, 2012


Total Number of Drinks: 505
(of which 82% were beers)
Average Number of Drinks per Day: 1.38
Favorite Brewery: New Belgium
Most-Frequented Watering Hole: Boundary Stone


Total Number of Drinks: 833
(of which 93% were beers)
Average Number of Drinks per Day: 2.28
Favorite Brewery: Chocolate City
Most-Frequented Watering Hole: Thunder Burger

Both of Us

Chocolate City BeerI usually have the most drinks on a Saturday, while it’s Fridays for him. On Saturdays I have more than twice as many drinks on average than on Mondays (the day with my lowest drink averages). I’m more likely to go out closer to home, and Adam goes out closer to work. That’s probably due to the fact that there aren’t very many good places to grab a drink near my office, which isn’t in the city.

Number of drinks for both of us also trend down overall throughout the entire year. However, the numbers trend upward going from the beginning of the year into the summer, then drop in late summer and trend upward again towards the end of the year (and the holiday season).

Number of Drinks in 2012

Click to zoom.

More to come. Let me know what you think or would have been interesting to note!

Written by Crystal Bae

January 7th, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Year 2012 Recap: The Good, the Bad, and the Goals

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2012 has been a memorable year.

I traveled to Boulder in the spring to visit a good friend, took an end-of-summer trip around Iceland, and spent a long weekend in Atlanta with two of my oldest friends. I rode my bike over a hundred miles in a single day (twice), followed ongoing transportation projects in the area, and organized a couple of local rides that turned out to be very popular. I went on a 50km/31mi hike that lasted 12 hours and left me with more memories than blisters (though it gave me plenty of blisters). I spent a lot of time in a tent, though I would have liked to spend more. I read some great books and also started writing more. I made lots of new friends and reconnected with others.

There have also been some bad moments in the year, such as the time my friend got into a bad crash. Or the time our apartment got burglarized. But these have also served as important learning moments, teaching me and those around me that although you have to be careful, you can’t prevent everything.

New Belgium Brewery

On another note, Adam and I spent the year tracking our drink consumption and are working now to summarize that information. We’ve got a year’s worth of data. It makes for a good feeling to track an aspect of our lives for an entire year, and in total it comes to something like 16,000 fluid ounces of beverages between the two of us to make sense of – so as you can imagine, this’ll take some time. We’ll find out if the metrics we tracked were the worthwhile ones, and see what else we can cull from the data.

Chocolate City BeerFor now, I can easily see that the brewery I most represented this year was New Belgium, a Colorado-based brewery that is well-loved in DC. Their traveling festival, Tour de Fat, even came to Washington, DC for the first time this year. Adam’s most represented brewery was Chocolate City. The Chocolate City brewery is practically next door to us, so we’re lucky to be able to fill up growlers on Saturdays.

We had beers from about 121 distinct breweries this year – and I say “about” because tonight’s drinks are still to be recorded. It’s hard to say whether there’s an observer effect here, whether we’re drinking more or less or opting for more variety because of our decision to record our drinks.

Looking forward, here are my resolutions for 2013. I’m keeping them to the goals I really want to focus on and think are achievable this year. Besides these, I have other projects in the works that will become better realized the new year.

  • New Year’s Resolution #1: Read all of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’m going to begin by rereading Swann’s Way (the first volume of seven volumes total), since I last read that four years ago. Just some 3,000 pages to go.
  • New Year’s Resolution #2: Learn to enjoy running. I try this every year, but I think having a dedicated running buddy will help this time around. Our goal is to run a 5K in the spring, maybe work up to a 10K later in the year.
  • New Year’s Resolution #3: More civic participation! Volunteer with local organizations and give back to the community. What’s your favorite local cause?
  • New Year’s Resolution #4: Ride more brevets than I did last year. Hopefully that’s easy because I rode only one brevet – my first – in 2012.
  • New Year’s Resolution #5 is another bike-related one: Ride 3,000 miles in 2013. Evenly distributed that’d be 250 miles/month – doable! In 2012, I rode about 2,400 miles from April to December.

Happy New Year!

Written by Crystal Bae

December 31st, 2012 at 3:52 pm

This Thanksgiving

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Be thankful for what you have: health, family (no matter how unconventional), friends (whether near or far), and the courage to work towards the unknown future.

Into the setting sun

Allons! to that which is endless, as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys;
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you—however long, but it stretches and waits for you;
To see no being, not God’s or any, but you also go thither,
To see no possession but you may possess it—enjoying all without labor or purchase—abstracting the feast, yet not abstracting one particle of it;
To take the best of the farmer’s farm and the rich man’s elegant villa, and the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens,
To take to your use out of the compact cities as you pass through,
To carry buildings and streets with you afterward wherever you go,
To gather the minds of men out of their brains as you encounter them—to gather the love out of their hearts,
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road—as many roads—as roads for traveling souls.

‘Song of the Open Road’, Walt Whitman

Written by Crystal Bae

November 23rd, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Posted in past glances,writing

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Poetry’s place in each day

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Advice given to me at graduation by one of my English professors, Judith Plotz: “Carry a good anthology of poetry on your travels.”

As a scholar of Romanticism, Professor Plotz introduced me to some of my (now) favorite poets, including the English peasant poet John Clare. She taught me to memorize poetry, believing in its powers to sustain a person. She measured her love for poetry like the cadence of one’s gait, each word dropped like a step upon the earth. I’m thinking back to her advice now, as I do more walking and prepare to spend over 8 hours straight walking in the Sierra Club’s annual One Day Hike.

Parmigianino - Self-Portrait in a Convex MirrorRecently, another of my former English professors, Margaret Soltan (University Diaries), has begun to record an online poetry lecture series at Udemy, called Modern Poetry. Her focus is on Modernism and Post-Modernism. It’s a free online course, so no risk in poking around and seeing if you enjoy it. Every human being owes themselves this appreciation of language and its power. In particular, Professor Soltan goes through detailed analyses of certain famous poems, such as Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror“. But it’s also just nice to listen to her speak of poetry in general.

Give poetry a chance, especially if you’re only ever been forced to read it. Especially if you find it challenging. Poetry expands your understanding of the breadth and depth of human experience, shaping language to express desire, pain, tedium.

“The present moment is constantly slipping into the past…”

Written by Crystal Bae

April 16th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: December 2011, Week 4

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Here’s to the end of 2011. It’s been quite a busy and eventful year. I’m pleased with how I’ve been able to keep up with posting what I’ve learned every day, even if I didn’t keep track in June (posting instead about my trip to Korea). One blogging tip I have – especially for longer term projects like my “Everyday Lessons Learned” – is to set aside time to post. Otherwise it’s easy to forget and realize that you’ve fallen behind. If you set a personal schedule of posting and set yourself to it, it’s not hard to keep a blog active.

Baltimore for Kinetic Sculpture Race

22: This year was the first year in over 3 decades in which we sentenced fewer than 100 people to death row. From a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, as reported on NPR’s Morning Edition. Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, says one factor in this is crime rates:

This year the murder rate fell to where it was in the 1960s, meaning there are fewer people to charge with capital murder. That’s an enormous drop from the 1990s — when the U.S. executed more inmates than in at least half a century.

23: Did anyone else attempt to read the dictionary as a kid? I’m reminded of my short-lived attempt to read (not necessarily memorize) every word in the dictionary when I see this list of words David Foster Wallace copied out of a dictionary. My bookmark while I read DFW’s Infinite Jest was a sheet of paper on which I wrote all the words he used that I didn’t know the meaning of.

24: Together with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) forms the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking in the United States.  It’s 3,100 mile long, and runs along part of the North American Continental Divide. A thru-hike (a complete hike of the entire trail from end-to-end) of the CDT takes around six months at a pace of 17 miles/day. Add that one to your bucket list.
East Coast Greenway Overview Map

25: The East Coast Greenway (ECG) is a 2,500-mile, car-free path planned to go from Calais, Maine to Key West Florida, spanning huge distances with a continuous path. Currently over 25% is already on paths free of motorized vehicles, and the rest consists of interim on-road routes while the rest of the paths are being constructed. The goal for the ECG is to link all the major cities along the way, creating a safe way to travel by non-motorized means between these places on the eastern seaboard.

26: Some of the benefits to having a green roof:

There are many benefits to a green roof including a decrease in heating and cooling costs, which in turn mitigates the urban heat island effect. Other benefits include a natural filter for rain water, an increase in the life span of the roof, a natural habitat for animals and plants and a reduction in dust and smog levels. (via ArchDaily)

27: Detroit is planning a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will span 110 miles with these dedicated bus lanes. This would make Detroit’s BRT system the largest in the United States. (The largest in the world is currently Jakarta’s TransJakarta BRT system.) Stephanie Lotshaw at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy says that all current BRT systems in the U.S. are under 20 miles.

28: As described in the New Yorker, the Pitch Drop Experiment is the world’s longest running lab experiment, in which University of Queensland physics professor Thomas Parnell poured hot pitch into a glass funnel, tracking how long it would take for a drop to fall. It look eight years for the first drop of pitch to fall, another nine for the second drop, and so far there have been eight drops. The professor currently overseeing the experiment, John Mainstone, predicts the next drop will occur in 2013 – no one has yet witnessed the actual occurrence of a falling drop.

29: Layaway programs are regaining popularity in America with the depressed economy. These allow shoppers to make payments on the full price of a product, only getting the product once it’s paid off. However, there’s usually a $5 service fee, which means that it would typically cost more to buy something on layaway. The option of paying for things on layaway has recently returned to Walmart. Some of the appeal of layaway is that it forces you to put money aside for a specific product, rather than spending it elsewhere, especially because of the sunk cost of the service fee and the extra fee for cancellation if the shopper doesn’t make all the payments.

30: The Teapot Dome Scandal was an incident considered the greatest scandal in American politics, before Watergate. In 1922, during President Harding’s administration, the Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall accepted huge bribes from oil companies to grant them production rights without competitive bidding at Teapot Dome, an oil field in Wyoming. Fall was the first Presidential cabinet member to be imprisoned for his actions while in office.

31: Just to come back around: In 2011, Arlington may have had its first year since the 1950s without a single murder. DC’s also experiencing a decline in murders.
Virginia Train Tracks

For some other notes in the year-end roundup, keep reading.

Traffic to my blog grew by more than 65% over last year.

Most-read posts on Aesthetics of Everywhere from 2011:

  1. Everyday Lessons Learned: May 2011, Week 3
  2. T-money for transport and more in Seoul
  3. Spa Land in Centum City, Busan (and this one I just typed out quickly on my iPod)
  4. Seersucker Social 2011 Photos
  5. “Hamtdaa: Together” at Artisphere

Cheers to the New Year! Make 2012 count.

Written by Crystal Bae

January 2nd, 2012 at 12:55 pm