Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A weekend of random driving around

People think I'm too ambitious and I have no real reason to deny it. But aspiring to do a road trip across the US when I've never driven before in this country (or anywhere else, at least not significantly) is hard core validation of high ambition, if not craziness. But what the hell! Of course, I'm crazy. So is Arun, for he actually trusted me with his car!

I have my road test coming up this week. So all of last weekend and yesterday, I spent most of my free time, or rather procrastinated studying for my midterms, behind the wheel under Arun's able (muttering under my breath: sometimes annoying) guidance. It was like learning how to dance. I had to learn hand-eye-foot-brain coordination. And also racing heart-clammy toes-sweating palms-grated teeth coordination among other things... Just exaggerating! I think I did fine. After all, doing 75mph can be pretty daunting when all you know is a past life where you had to show your deep reverence by driving slower than cud-chewing cows on the road. Jokes apart, Arun is a great teacher. He is unfazed no matter what I do or how dangerously close I am to the gigantic trucks cruising along the highway.

Our aimless wandering took us to Ricketts Glen State Park. The drive was fun and full of winding roads. But we picked the worst time of the year to go to a place where the main attractions are waterfalls. We made things even worse by reaching there in the evening when every trail was closed, some for the day, some for all of winter. Not for us those beautiful shimmering cascades, not for us the tingle of warm water flowing over dangling feet. It's almost as if we revel in the snow covered emptiness with no sight of human beings for miles. But at Ricketts Glen there were a few other brave souls outside wooden cottages lighting barbecue fires, warming up for what promised to be a freezing night.

There's something between us and sunsets. Just like in Valley Forge,we drove up to a clearing just in time to catch the setting sun. Arun got a few good shots. In reality the sun looked rather trembly, as if it was drunk and swaying. The picture looks like the sun underwater. Or like color slowly dispersing in a watercolor painting...

The clearing was actually a frozen lake under half a foot of snow. The undisturbed fresh powdery snow was a wonderful sight. It was fun to throw some of it at a protesting Arun. But once he scraped the snow to show me the ice beneath, I kept imagining scenarios where the ice gave way and I drowned. What a pity it would be to die such a premature death, that too by drowning (Ah! Chilling!), and when I'm so close to having my dream life after school...

It's great that we've stopped lazing weekends away. Maybe it has finally dawned on me that I simply have to move my ass if I have to see places here before I move halfway across the world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Now that the cat is out of the bag... Ahem...

Arun has been dying to write about our impending cross country trip for the past month. I've been stopping him from doing so because there were just too many obstacles that could potentially prevent us from making it happen. And then all you lovely readers would laugh at us.

The biggest problem was that I did not (and still don't) have a US driving license. We had a pretty bizarre top-down approach to this problem. Here's a peek into some of our conversations and obsessions about it.

Kavitha/Arun (we're still not sure who): Let's do a cross country trip.
Kavitha/Arun: Awesome! Let's do it.
Kavitha: Oh but I don't have a license in the US. (Nice discovery there, seriously)
Arun: But you do have an Indian driving license, don't you?
Kavitha: Oh yeah yeah, but no international permit (just a teeny weeny lame ass problem)
Arun: That sucks... Hmm... No problem, we still have more than a month, so let's just get you a US license.
Kavitha: Good plan!

I forage the internet for information and find that I need a year's validity on my immigration papers to be eligible for a license in Pennsylvania and in most other states. But I graduate in 3 months (Don't get me started on how much that sucks...). After a few sleepless nights and hours of obsessing, I discovered that my valid immigration status automatically gets extended if I apply for a permit to work in the US for a year after I graduate.

Arun: That's easy! Do it immediately...

Not so easy, as I discovered. I could not apply for it until I had not more than 3 months until graduation. And it was only January. Bummer. Bummer. Bummer. More sleepless nights. Then my luck turned around, deservedly so. It turned out that the 3 month rule was not really a 3 month rule ( I will spare you the minutiae of it). I could get my new papers from the school much earlier than I can actually start working. So I did that! Talk about paper work and rules and red tape... Anyway I got all the papers and stamps and approvals and letters and other paraphernalia prepared and finally got my learner's permit a couple of days ago.

Now the only thing left is the driving test. I hear I have to parallel park!!! So I could still technically fail the test. But then I do trust Arun to get my driving skills, including parallel parking, all sharpened up by next week.
Don't I love tossing the ball into his court like that?!

So here's to a trip that we really hope we can pull off. Wish me luck... And will you remind me to drive on the right hand side please?

Cross Country : A road trip across America!

A great philosopher once said "one's purpose of performing an activity in life is achieved to the full extent, only when one advertises it." I live by it and hence this blog.

Anyways, here's the reason for this post: After much deliberation and discussion, Kavitha and I have finally decided to do our long-awaited cross country road trip across USA. It wasn't an easy decision for two people with totally incompatible schedules.

Thankfully, Kavitha has her spring break in March and I am utilizing my yearly vacation, much earlier this year. Luckily, things actually seem to be slowly falling in place.

The plan is to start from Philadelphia and drive all the way through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to reach San Francisco. We would be doing this drive in about 9 days, stopping and visiting places as we go.

We have set up the whole itinerary in such a way that our daily driving limit is about 10 hours. We have a one-way SUV rental from Hertz and we will fly to Philadelphia on the way back.

We have also decided to blog our experiences on this blog daily over the 10 days of our trip. Do follow us and be a part of our experience!

The more we plan the road trip, the more we read about other people's cross country experiences and the more we learn about each state, the more our enthusiasm rises on a crescendo.

And here is a map of our planned driving route:

Other trivia: I have downloaded Microsoft Streets and Trips, which I think, is one of the coolest software Microsoft has ever developed or probably ever will. Since we are planning to carry one of our laptops, the desktop version of the software should come in handy, as I trust neither AT&T nor my Jesus with the cellular internet in remote parts. We have my Kaiser with TomTom installed for GPS and directions.

Have you ever been in a situation where you can't wait even a minute longer to do something? I'm that excited right now!

P.S: By the way, that great philosopher at the beginning of this post is me...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Montauk and the Sunrise!

The past weekend, being a long one, saw me do some unrealistic amount of driving, sleeping, eating and more sleeping. I had a blast on Saturday evening, attending Follies at Wharton, thanks to Kavitha. The show was nothing short of awesome and it was almost as good as Broadway. Like most other occasions, I was absolutely amazed by the creativity and the talent students in this country possess.

The show ended at 9pm. After grabbing a sandwich, I drove to New York City amidst mild snow to meet Amar, one of my other friends/travel-buddies/photo enthusiasts. After a short break for coffee, we started driving towards Montauk, the eastern most tip of New York state. It was about a 4 hour drive and one of the food stops we made became kind of interesting. It was about 3am and after exiting the freeway, we hesitantly slowed down at a couple of gas stations, to see if we could get something to munch, but we did not stop. Noticing all of this, a cop started following us out of suspicion and in a while, flashed his lights and pulled us over.

After initial pleasantries, he asked us if everything was ok. We told them we were looking for a 24-hour shop for a snack. Without answering, he asked where are we from. When I said Philadelphia, he lifted his eye brows and asked "What brings you here all the way from Philadelphia sir, that too at this time?". When I explained about our interest in photography and our plans to catch sunrise shots at Montauk, he must have decided we are crazy, not some gas-station thieves. He got my driver's license, ran some record checks and then let us go after giving us direction to a 24-hour 7-eleven in the neighborhood.

We then reached Montauk at about 5am and since the expected sunrise time was about 6.45am, we waited inside the cozy confines of my car. The temperature was about 25 deg F. At about 6am, the sky color at the horizon slowly changed to mild orange and we left the car and walked up to the shore. The next one hour was surreal. There was absolutely nothing that hindered our view of the horizon, as the sky became brighter and as the sun slowly rose. Every second was ethereal and made me realize the power of the sun like never before. But for the cold and the wind, it was undoubtedly a magical morning.
Here are some of the photos:

We then drove back and reached Philadelphia at about 4pm. I hardly knew what happened in the next 16 hours, as I went into an unstoppable sleep-streak from 5pm to 9am the following day. About 16 straight hours of heavenly sleep!

A weekend definitely well spent and I cherish every moment of it. Life is beautiful indeed!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Valley Forge National Park and other miscellany

Yesterday Arun and I spent an unusually long time deliberating what to do. Then again, it wasn't really unusual because we hardly ever do anything before noon on weekends. Maybe we had too many options yesterday- back-to-back movies, Valley Forge National Park, Strawberry Mansion Bridge, Ricketts Glen State Park, shopping, lazing around, watching TV at our respective homes etc. We finally went to Valley Forge National Park, watched He's Just Not That Into You and Taken back-to-back and went shopping for a gorgeous black formal dress! I get to go on stage wearing it to introduce The Wharton Follies, the B-school's annual musical for which I am a Producer! I will let Arun write his customary one line reviews about the movies on his blog. In all, it was a Saturday(or half a Saturday technically) well-utilized.

I would describe Valley Forge as a beautiful silhouette. A silhouette it will be, if you go there at 5pm on a winter day when all the historical buildings in the park are closed and you are left to chase a rapidly setting sun and take pictures of lonesome dry trees.
However, it was a beautiful day, much warmer than the past week. And the snow, yet to melt, covered the place in glittering white sheets.

The sun setting behind the National Memorial Arch. Picture: Arun (obviously...)

Lonesome tree. Picture: Arun of course

Sunset... Picture: Arun again!

The place is great to get uninterrupted views of sunset. There are vast expanses of plain land set against clear blue skies painted in shades of orange, red and pink for an hour or so before the sun goes down. Unfortunately, there are not many elevated points and the sun disappeared a little too fast for Arun to get as many good pictures as he would have liked. There was a resplendent full moon which kept weaving in and out of soft moving clouds. The light was not good enough for us to get a good picture with all the colors visible. But even Arun admitted that no picture could really capture the beauty in its entirety. It was a package deal- the moon, shining snow, twilight blue, Spring approaching!

In other attractions, we did catch sight of many white-tailed deer. Every time we stopped the car to get a close shot, the deer would nimbly prance away at the sound of the window being lowered. So we got many pictures of vacant grass (with a smiling deer that just dashed past) instead. Arun spotted a red fox too when I was busy examining a map.

We might go to Valley Forge once more to check out a couple of the hiking trails and to do some biking. Of course we've promised ourselves that we will get there earlier in the day when there is enough light to get good pictures. A second trip should be completely worth it, for I suspect that the place will be unrecognizable in Spring when the trees are in bloom again!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Arun and Me- A Brief History

Arun and I met in cyberspace, modern pen pals if you will. Then we became friends. And then we became best friends. We sure do intend to remain so for a long long time.

We share a hometown, a mother tongue and a remarkably similar childhood. But we met when we were both 25 and what really struck us instantly was our mutual love for travel. It is no surprise that the first time we met we drove to New York to move me and my carload of stuff to the city for the summer of 2008. We spent our very first day together walking around NYC until 3am.

We both love movies. We typically watch at least two movies every week. Believe me, we've watched some really bad ones. We were even crazy enough to wait in a line that ran around an entire block in Times Square to watch Dark Knight in the dead of the night on opening day.

We both have an alarming disregard for money. We once drove to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, but a tad too late to catch sight of the Amish folk who disappear into their homes at sun-down. We instead spent an unspeakable amount of money impulse-shopping at the local mall.

Other perpetuators of our wanderlust and our friendship are the photographer in Arun and the writer in me. And I daresay we are converting each other. Yesterday, thanks to my new found obsession with figuring out photography, we spent three hours clicking pictures in merely two galleries in the massive Museum of Natural History in NYC. Thanks to Arun's predicament of having to avert my obstinate disapproval, these days he diligently checks his blogs, emails and even his text messages for spelling and grammar.

We have our differences too. I use my phone strictly to make and receive calls and the occasional photograph. He calls his iPhone "Jesus" and suffers from withdrawal in its absence. We have a permanently active argument about the relative merits of comfort and efficiency. He ridicules my "MBA-ness" for my quest for efficiency. I blame his laziness for his craving for comfort. He lectures me on cars and gadgets. I bore him with book-talk and drag him through finance geekdom.

The proximity to each other we enjoy today is short lived. We have about six more months together in the US. But we have what we believe is a lifetime of travel, decades of great photography and an endless list of places and things to write about. Thus this blog! A memoir of our travels (together and not). A record of our crazy plans, many will be jinxed never to happen, we hope that at least some will come true. So join us as we go footloose on the freeways of the world!