Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wildflowers at Piestewa Peak

I'm on a mission to combat the effects of working at a sedentary job. It isn't always easy, but I try to get at least four days of exercise a week. This week, I decided to break up my fitness routine of running and yoga with a hike at Piestewa Peak in Phoenix.

View from the Hopi parking lot.
Many other Arizonans and tourists had the same idea on that weekday morning. I usually find a parking space near the summit trail, but this time I had to park all the way in the Hopi lot, so I got a little more exercise than I planned for. The trek up Piestewa seemed shorter than I remember, or maybe I am a faster hiker now. The 1.2-mile ascent and descent took me about an hour and 15 minutes, with time to stop for photos along the way and pose for (and take) photographs at the summit.

Besides the cool, fresh air, wildflowers and workout, I love the people-watching on the mountain. There were the snowbirds with expensive cameras hanging from their necks. There were the fitness hikers who jog past you at the first opportunity. There are the people who can't seem to get off their cellphones, discussing meetings and numbers. There are the families whose jolly kids don't even seem to be breaking a sweat. There are the couples who seem to be absorbed in a deep, fascinating conversation. I love peeking into these lives.

The scenery is gorgeous right now. I spotted orange globe mallows and other yellow, pink and purple  wildflowers (note to self: learn more wildflower names), and many plants had buds that are yet to bloom. The beauty of hiking Piestewa is now not in capturing the city views at the summit but also the colorful adornments on the way up.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Sunday: Yoga and Baseball

Yesterday was quintessentially spring.

The day kicked off with blissful -- and might I add free -- yoga at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival's local stage. Danielle of Sutra Midtown led the class at Margaret T. Hance park in downtown Phoenix, and a DJ gave us the perfect soundtrack to our Sunday morning practice. There was even a man in a rainbow-colored, muumuu-like robe blessing us with dance and smoking herbs.

Yoga was followed by a perfect afternoon at a spring-training game at Camelback Ranch Glendale. The White Sox lost badly to the Royals, but it was too pleasant out to care.

Not a cloud in the sky for Royals vs. White Sox.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How to pack for camping on Maui

I am always up for camping, especially when I came up with the idea of camping during our trip to Maui. Once I figured out where to stay (Wai'anapanapa State Park) and where to rent our gear, the next challenge was to figure out what clothing to pack. The east side of Maui was rainy and windy, a stark contrast to the dry, sunny west side.

To accommodate both climes, here's what I packed for camping on Maui for two nights, plus the rest of the trip's adventures:

  • Three bathing suits or more. (This gives you enough time to dry your suits. Save yourself the discomfort of wearing a wet bathing suit all day under your clothes.)
  • Shorts and jeans. I hiked in the jeans and wore the shorts on the beach on the west side of the island.
  • A hoodie or jacket. This was enough to keep me comfortable when it was windy or rainy in Hana. This was also a must at Haleakala's summit. I also wished I had gloves at the summit, though I am from Arizona.
  • Yoga clothes and long socks to sleep in. That's just my preference. Plus, I went to an oceanfront yoga class in Kihei one of the days.
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitizer. These come in handy so often, but especially when camping or going to the beach.
  • Water backpack. We went on a hike to Waimoku Falls, staying hydrated with a water backpack, which we also used to store snacks for the journey, along with our cellphones, camera, car keys, etc.
  • A watersafe box. Protect your valuables on waterfall hikes, at the beach, or on rainy days.
  • Beach towels.
  • Underwater disposable camera, GoPro or digital camera. Save some cash by buying a few ahead of time. It will likely be cheaper. Or get a digital underwater camera to capture breathtaking shots while snorkeling.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, chapstick and hat.
  • Extra ziplock bag (or a few) to keep your camping permit dry if you camp at the same park. It must be displayed outside your tent.
  • Headlamp or flashlight. This was included in our rented camping package, but the flashlight didn't work as well as we would have liked. It's best to bring your own.
  • Lighter or matches and charcoal if barbecuing at the park. Stop at a local grocery store to get them, as you'll need food for camping.
  • Flip flops, hiking shoes, and comfortable walking shoes. 
  • Snorkeling gear. While snorkeling-trip operators offer them and you can rent or buy them on the island, if you plan to do a lot of snorkeling or would like to have gear for the future, consider bringing it. 
  • Beach bag.
  • Pillow, if you can somehow fit it in your luggage.
  • Car charger (and regular charger) for your cellphone.
  • Hammock and rope, if you'd like to lounge. It's only handy if it doesn't rain.
  • Water shoes.

Shop camping/travel supplies:

** This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ragnar Del Sol 2013

My first Ragnar relay, Feb. 22-23, was an unforgettable experience that pushed me to my limits and gave me an unrivaled sense of accomplishment. Ragnar is a 12-person, 200 mile relay race, with courses around the country.

My nerves didn't let me get a wink of sleep the night before Ragnar Del Sol. Our team had met to decorate our vans and pack some of our stuff. I came home and finished preparing, checking off items on my packing list. I feared I was bringing too much, and I probably did, in retrospect.

I was in Van 1, which had a 7 a.m. start time. We agreed that I would get picked up around 4:50 a.m. to give us enough time to make the drive from Phoenix to the starting line in Wickenburg. My alarm was set for 3:50, but I got out of bed much earlier.

As we approached the starting point, my excitement intensified. White 12-person vans decorated with window paint, firefighter helmets, doughnuts, Christmas lights, and even bras rolled past us and filled the parking lot at the start site. I then realized how big the race was.

What I wasn't prepared for was 32-degree weather in Wickenburg. I wished I had brought along comfortable boots to wear when I wasn't running. Drinking tea and wearing long socks warmed me up a bit.

Once our first runner jetted off, though, time seemed to fly by.

Sunrise in Wickenburg.
In no time it was my turn. The first lesson I learned: Don't wear too many layers.

I nervously awaited the arrival of my teammate. Within the first mile and a half I took off  my top shirt, sleeves and headband and handed them to my teammates when they stopped to give me water. It was my only van-supported leg of the relay.
The temperature during my first leg was in the 60s, but it felt like 90s. I appreciated that my team and other vans cheered as I ran past them along my 6.7 miles.

I was grateful to be done with my first 6.7 miles.
I relaxed a bit after my first leg, as I then knew what to expect. My team met Van 2 at Exchange 6, where we chatted for bit before driving to Willow Canyon High School in Surprise, the site of Exchange 12. There we devoured our snacks and attempted to get some sleep. I laid out my sleeping bag on a patch of grass next to the school's fields with two of my teammates. The other three rested and talked in the van. Most other teams slept on the football field or took advantage of the Ragnar services. I'd guess I got 30 minutes of rest. I soon gave up trying to sleep and took advantage of the locker rooms to change into my night-run clothes and brush my teeth.

Our snack feast.
Time again seemed to race ahead. Soon sunset arrived and it was time to exchange again. Again we briefly mingled with Van 2 and began our night legs. I wish I had taken more photos, but the darkness and sleepiness got in the way. Before I knew it my turn came up again -- this time at about 1 a.m. My second leg, Leg 17, made me the most nervous because it started by crossing a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 17 and continued along a difficult-to-locate desert trail. For the first few yards I had only a vague idea in which direction to run. I looked out into the darkness trying to spot any markers, and the runner in front of me stopped to ask if I knew where to go. Another runner soon arrived and somehow spotted a runner's LED back light in the distance. We sprinted off in that direction and soon the trail became more clear. It was unsettling that in two spots we hopped over small fence barriers (at one of them a volunteer reassured us that was the correct thing to do as I asked, "What is this?!"). I was relieved to be back on a paved north Phoenix road within a mile or so.

The rest of the 5.6-mile felt exhilarating. The temperature felt just right, and I liked not being crowded by other runners. In some spots I was the only runner when I looked around. That's not to say I didn't come across runners as I ran through the quiet neighborhood. I even passed four others, my first "kills." The leg was unsupported, but a water station was provided and police officers stood watch in a couple of spots. I never felt unsafe. I finished at about 2 a.m. feeling reinvigorated and proud.

When our last runner finished her second leg, it was time to eat and try to sleep. The six of us managed a tiny bit of sleep in the van, I'd say less than an hour for me, as we waited for our next exchange in Cave Creek. Our first runner took off just after sunrise, and I was jealous of the gorgeous views he'd get to soak in.

Cave Creek at sunrise.

Our van was tagged many times by other teams. Tagging, or marking on vans, was a fun part of Ragnar. Some teams had magnets, too.

Runners wait to start their next leg in the Rio Verde area.
View of Four Peaks from one of the exchanges.

Vans and vans and vans and more vans.
My final leg came at about 11 a.m. I was grateful that one of my teammates, a Ragnar veteran, warned me of the hills I would encounter. I tackled them one step at a time, not rushing to finish. I allowed myself to walk for a few seconds on two of them when it felt too intense. I also stopped to take some photos and enjoy the scenery. I noticed that a few other runners were struggling, and we exchanged a "good job" as we passed each other. Finally the 1-mile marker came into view, and I almost leaped for joy, though at this point my muscles were tight despite stretching, foam-rolling and applying Icy Hot. I was incredibly proud to have finished my 17 miles and on a steady pace.

My last mile.
After our last runner's final leg, it was finally time to exchange again and venture to Tempe Town Lake to wait on Van 2. I indulged in free pizza, chips, Clif Bars, crackers, cheese, anything I could get my hands on.

A few short hours later, it felt amazing to run across the finish line with my teammates. I will carry the experience with me and can't wait for my next running adventure.

My reward for 17 miles.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rediscovering Rocky Point, Mexico

I drove to Mexico alone … and nothing bad happened.

This past weekend, I drove across the border to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, also known as Rocky Point, where my family was waiting. I heard a few gasps when I told friends about my solo adventure.

What made me the most nervous was the possibility of my car breaking down in an area with no cell service. That being said, I would never recommend that anyone go on a roadtrip alone. Everybody needs a co-pilot, as George Clooney learned in the movie “Up in the Air.”

It took me four hours to get to Rocky Point. I sang along to the radio, soaked in the desert views, especially driving through Organ Pipe National Monument, and paid attention to speed-limit signs.

The town of Sonoita on the south side of the border hasn’t changed much since the last time I drove through it years ago: lines in the road were difficult to locate, pedestrians crossed the road wherever they pleased, and the streets need paving work. That’s the case in Rocky Point too. New to me though was the army's checkpoint just outside town. I was relieved to finally make it to Rocky Point.

My first meal was flavorful homemade ceviche with tostadas. I couldn’t get enough and inhaled it too quickly to snap a photo of it first.

I then visited my grandma’s shop in the fish-market area and gazed at the sunset over the water, with the Sandy Beach condo towers reflecting the sunlight in the distance.

On the way there we passed the old Posada la Roca Hotel, at which Al Capone would stay when he went to Rocky Point. (You can stay there for about $30 and get free Wi-Fi.)

Later, I went to Yoly’s Cenaduria, a restaurant I would frequent throughout my childhood during my visits. (Find it one block north of Super Ley store on Constitution Avenue.) The cashier is the same woman who has run the restaurant, open each evening, as long as I have known it. We ordered sopes, tacos and horchata to go.

Sunday was beach day at Playa Bonita. Gone are the crowds of yesteryear. Vendors offered up their wares, while two jet-ski-rental operators passed the time on the sand. Not much business for them that day, though I noticed there were a fair number of spring breakers in town.

I also went to Tacos El Grillo, which is run by my godparents. Tacos made for a perfect late breakfast before a day at the beach. Quesadillas were delicious, too. (I didn't get my meal for free.)

Carne asada tacos at Tacos El Grillo, on Juan de Barrera Avenue. You can top them with whatever veggies you like.
One weekend wasn’t enough to explore the changes Rocky Point has seen in recent years, but I hope to return soon to check out what else there is to explore and rediscover.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sutra Midtown's Yoga in the Park with Black Carl

Sutra Midtown is celebrating its fourth anniversary this month. Part of the celebration included the return of yoga in the park, but with a twist. Local band Black Carl performed live during a class led by Danielle at Coronado Historic Park. And it was free!

More than 100 yogis turned out for the one-of-a-kind performance/yoga session. Sutra sold concert tees ($20) to commemorate the occasion. Black Carl's new album, "The Wheel," was for sale too ($10).

The yoga event was the day after the hottest day of the year so far, but you wouldn't know it. It was breezy and overcast. A few vinyasas warmed yogis right up.

Black Carl's mellow music blended well with the yoga sequences and the instructor's words.

As you can probably guess, if there's a free yoga class held in Phoenix, I'm there. Next up is Sutra's classes at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival on March 23-24. See you there.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spring training 2013: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs

Spring training and I got off on the wrong foot this year.

It started when my friends and I went online to buy tickets to see the D-Backs play the Cubs at Hohokam Stadium. At $9 for lawn seats, the game seemed to be the most affordable option in the East Valley that day. Plus, it’s the Cubs’ last season there, so it seemed like I should pay the stadium a goodbye visit. But after a $3.25 processing fee and a $3.75 convenience fee, the ticket cost almost twice as much.

I was already starting to regret picking Hohokam, which is a bit of a drive from central Phoenix and doesn’t have free parking. Stadium parking is $7, but we found a sign for $3 dirt-lot parking on Center Street, across the road from the ballpark.

Lastly, when I bought food, I’m pretty sure I was overcharged. The sign clearly said fries were $4 and extra cheese $1. But somehow I ended up paying $6, even when I pointed that out to the man at the counter. When I asked why $6, he said, “That’s just how it is.” Great service.

Once we sat down and got into the game, basking in the sunshine on the warmest day of the year, the minor troubles and annoyances we encountered to get there melted away.  

The view from the cheap seats.
Postgame shot of the field.
It doesn’t get much better than being surrounded by friends, munching on ballpark food and watching the Diamondbacks beat the Cubs (although I did a lot more people-watching than game-watching). All was forgiven, but next time I will stick to my usual stadiums, Camelback Ranch Glendale (which even has free parking!) and Salt River Fields

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Culinary Dropout at The Yard

My Phoenix neighborhood just got a little more hip.

I've been watching construction of the Yard for months. The site was a vacant motorcycle shop, so I am happy to see the building being revived.

I love the chandeliers at Culinary Dropout.
Culinary Dropout debuted February 11, and cars have been lining Montebello Avenue every day since then. The parking lot has been overflowing, and waits in my experience have been no wait on a Friday night, 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon and 2 hours (for more than 10 people) on the first Saturday it was open. There was absolutely no wait for brunch on a Saturday visit.

UPDATE: The city of Phoenix installed no parking signs along Montebello Avenue in front of the townhouses and some homes. Phoenix police officers have been giving out lots of tickets. The easiest solution is probably to valet, ride your bike or walk. Or carpool with friends and split the valet tip.

Cars have crowded Montebello Avenue every day. Your best bet is to valet or ride your bike; there are plenty of bike racks available.
When you go, you can see why it's already so popular. I haven't seen anything like it in Phoenix. Outside in the Yard, you can play cornhole, shuffleboard, ping pong and foosball, or lounge around fire pits. Grab a drink at the indoor-outdoor bar while you wait for your table -- it will be a while.

A cover band performed on March 1.
The kitchen is visible from the dining area.
The wait was two hours on March 30, a Saturday night, but we lucked out when three people left their seats at the bar. Here's a glass of Riesling to celebrate.
Little Cleo's Fish House and Oyster is now open and a new coffee shop is supposed to open at some point at the Yard.

(UPDATE: Lola Coffee has since come and gone. It's been replaced by Barrio Urbano, a Mexican food restaurant.)

Despite the parking headaches on my once-quiet street, the Yard is a welcome addition to my neighborhood.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Try the sinful Cap 'N Crunch French toast for brunch. Pair that with a mimosa or a brew. Reverse happy hour is after 5 p.m. on Sundays for those 21 and older.

Live music accompanies your meal.