Lucas’s 12th Birthday

Lucas turned 12 today. All-in-all, he’s taken COVID-19 in stride and his birthday is no different. We celebrated with our pod-mates, the Lees, at All Spice in San Mateo. I had no idea they served brunch, but it was one of the tastiest meals we’ve had in the area, pandemic or otherwise.

He only had a couple things on his wish list, and I got both of them 2nd-hand (vintage?). He received thoughtful cards and gifts from his grandparents, family, and au pair. It was all low key.

He still seems more little boy than pre-teen, which is perfectly fine with me. Even though it was his birthday, I got a hug, which was a great gift. I’m thankful for all the time we spend together.

Happy 12th Birthday, Lucas! We all love you very much.

Halloween 2020 with the Lees and Wangs

Halloween is a big deal in our neighborhood. I wasn’t sure what people were going to do, but our block preempted the uncertainty and had an early parade with the kids and people put out candy on the driveways for socially distant trick or treating.

The Lees and Wangs came over for dinner. We hang out with the Lees and the Lees hang out with the Wangs. Plus, Olivia sees Ella seemingly every day outside of school. We’re basically in the same pod. It was great to get everyone together after a long 9 months.

We celebrated Nina’s, Ellie’s, and Lucas’s birthdays together with cupcakes. Honestly, everyone (the adults) thought this was a lot more manageable way to spend Halloween. Hope everyone had a good and safe one.

2020 Airstream Trip – Part 4: Malibu

The last and final leg of our Airstream journey was to spend a few days in Malibu, where we ended our last RV trip. It was too long of a haul from Moab to Malibu, so we stopped for the night in Zion and stayed at the same Zion River Resort as last time. I went into town myself to get some supplies. The last time we were there the market was packed with people, but this year it was eerily quiet. This wasn’t like other places we had visited.

I was hoping to maybe catch the sunset, but my camera got unloaded and there wasn’t much light in the valley anyway. When I got back we had dinner and ended up playing late night Settlers of Catan. I came so close to winning (perhaps for the first time?). I ended up rolling a 7 on my turn while holding 16 cards. Then came a crushing defeat by Olivia.

We had about 8 or 9 hours of driving planned to get to Malibu. We considered stopping in Las Vegas like last time, but decided to just skip it. We stopped in St. George, Utah, for breakfast and shortly after getting back on the road heard a noise coming from either the car or the trailer. I thought it might be a flat on the Airstream.

We pulled over the side of the highway (scary) and I couldn’t see any flat or other problem. We kept going a little further and I stopped again (in a scarier spot) and again I couldn’t see anything. We descended down the mountain and I got off again at the first exit and got under the car and finally found the problem. One of the rear tires had separated and the rubber must have been rubbing on the inner fender liner because it was torn. I could see the steel belts. Honestly, this could have been catastrophic, so we were lucky to avoid a blow out at speed.

We were about 15 miles past St. George so rather than continue on to hundreds of miles of nothing, we turned around and made it safely to a tire shop where I had the full-size spare changed. It’s kind of an odd tire size and new tires were at least a day out. Grace suggested the dealership, so I called ahead to one in Las Vegas and they had them so we headed straight there. I couldn’t convince anyone to Uber with me to the strip to play a few hands have lunch, so we grabbed In and Out and waited at the dealership. We were on our way after a couple hours.

The worst part about this was that we had to cancel our dinner reservation at Mastro’s in Malibu. We finally made it to Malibu Beach RV park after about 13 hours of travel. If there was a sport for towing an Airstream to get from the I-5 to the I-10 via the I-605 through DTLA at night, I would be champion. If it were required that your spouse must be your co-pilot during the race, I quit the sport.

Everyone was pretty wiped so we didn’t stay up late. It all seemed worth it when we woke up to the view of the ocean, literally out our back door. The rear hatch now seems like a must have option on the Airstream. Right, Grace?

We considered skipping LA due to it being a COVID-19 hot spot, but Grace really wanted to see her parents. This move itself was controversial, but we hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving and they ensured a socially distant lunch outside. They’re doing their best to stay safe and it was really nice to see them and have them see the kids.

There wasn’t much downtime at all on this trip, particularly for the driver, but I had a 30 minute power nap with the ocean breeze flowing over me and it was blissful. We managed to squeeze in an early dinner at Mastro’s after all and it was a well-deserved meal while off the road.

After a trip to the hardware store to fix a leaky water hose, Olivia wanted to hit the beach, so we pulled over at Will Rogers Beach just as the sun was setting. She was so happy. The evening ended with Scrabble, where Grace crushed us with Bingo on her first turn.

The next day was our true beach day, so we braved the traffic and the other beachgoers at Zuma Beach. We spent a couple hours there and dug a hole of which we were all proud. We grabbed lunch to go at The Sunset restaurant right there and headed back to the RV to eat.

We had a quick turn to get ready to go to Ann and Jeremy’s for dinner in Santa Monica. This was a do over for Jeremy’s big birthday, which we weren’t able to make in Deer Valley last month. It was great for the kids to play and the adults to catch up. We’re glad to see them doing so well and also to meet their new dog, Layla (RIP Murphy).

On Sunday, we got our earliest start in order to get back to San Jose and were pulling out of Malibu by 8:15am. Malibu Country Mart is our unofficial home base so we planned to go there to grab breakfast, thinking it would be empty at that hour. I pulled in and the parking lot was full of classic and exotic cars and people (Wheels and Waves, apparently). Suddenly, we were the main attraction, pulling an Airstream through the parking lot. I’m sure it was equal parts WTF and don’t run over my McLaren. It was funny once we navigated our way back out of the parking lot.

The whole trip went by so fast, especially our short stay at the beach. We made it home without incident, if you don’t count the scorching heatwave and wild fires waiting for us in Burlingame. This was our longest and certainly most ambitious family trip ever, but it was really necessary after months of being at home. We visited so many amazing national parks and sights that I’ve waited a lifetime to see. Through 3,800 miles, I really don’t recall anyone complaining about the drive, so hopefully that part was painless.

That said, this was a real family road trip. There was fighting in the car … even between brother and sister. There was virtually no signal in Yellowstone, so it was like traveling in 2005. I had to coerce a few photos so I could get in some of them (is anyone really doing holiday cards this year?). But, it was all totally worth it.

This was supposed to be a test run on an Airstream lifestyle. Sure, everyone was happy to be home (i.e., see Luna). As long as we’re WFH and the kids are in virtual school, I’m ready to go nomadic. The Airstream has solar and dual-zone A/C, neither of which we have at home.

2020 Airstream Trip – Part 3: Arches and Dead Horse Point

On the third leg of our trip, we were headed down to Moab in southeast Utah. We didn’t make it that far during our last Airstream trip to Utah. We were passing through SLC and stopped to see the Binzers, who recently relocated to Park City after COVID-19 disrupted their plans to drive around the world in their recently acquired overland vehicle.

I’ve been to Park City more than a few times and had no idea beautiful lakeside communities existed within view of the mountain. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Binzer boys, who were at camp. We did get to catch up with the adults over lunch. Ironically, I saw them during ski week up in Tahoe right before things locked down, so they are one of the few (only) families I’ve seen multiple times in 2020. Thank you for having us! We’ll hopefully be back during ski season.

Our lunch stop helped break up a long haul down to Moab. We got there around 8pm and had leftovers for dinner in the RV. The Idema boys were also in town, but we failed to connect with them. The closest I’ve gotten to seeing Matt since COVID-19 started was throwing a bag of Ikon coffee over his fence at the beginning of April, when me and the other Burlingame guys would discuss pulling espresso shots daily on WhatsApp. This is what we’ve been reduced to.

During our first day in Moab, we were going to explore Arches National Park. It would have been good to get an early start and beat the heat but we waited until around 11am (normal Rhee family time), when it was already 100 degrees. The red Utah rock was familiar, but the towering monuments, shapes, and of course, arches, were incredible. We explored a lot in a couple hours and took a break for lunch in Moab.

Our plan was to go back into the park before sunset for better light. We didn’t have that much left to see except Delicate Arch. The group was not up for the hike to the base, so we did the half mile trek to a view point instead. We also didn’t hike Fiery Furnace, as suggested by my friend, Ted. On the map, it looked like Devils Garden was the last area of the park to check out, so we drove out there and started hiking the canyon. The only problem was that one of my main objectives was to photograph the sunset, but we happened to be deep in probably the only area of the park where golden hour was not visible. By the time we emerged, it was over.

This wasn’t the first time of the trip where I was fretting wrong light, wrong filter, wrong lens, wrong camera. It was probably mostly wrong photographer. It’s fine. It was still spectacular and everyone will remember the amazing things we saw and did on the trip. Hopefully the photos we did get will be a good reminder.

The second day we planned to visit Dead Horse Point State Park. I knew it would be a short visit. It was beautiful and we hiked around a little and took some photos. Again, the direct overhead sunlight was harsh and oppressive, but we were right on schedule.

On this trip, I didn’t include Canyonlands. I also know we didn’t see “everything” or do every hike at all the other parks, and I’m okay with that. It gives us or the kids a reason to go back and see it a different way. I’m just thankful that after 50 years, I was able to see it for the first time.

2020 Airstream Trip – Part 2: Grand Teton and Jackson

The second stop on our RV trip was Grand Teton. It was originally the first stop, but due to limited availability at RV parks, we went to Yellowstone first, which I think worked out great. I don’t know anything about this area, so even though “Teton Valley Resort” sounds like it’s near the Grand Teton National Park, it’s not. It was about 45 minutes over the hill in Victor, Idaho

We dropped off the Airstream at the park and headed straight out in search for a late lunch. Grace found a great little Thai place in Teton Village at the base of Jackson Hole. I know many people love to ski here, but I just haven’t made the trip (until now). After having our picnic lunch, we went to the top of the mountain on the gondola and took in the sights over a drink.

Afterwards, we went into the park to knock out some must sees. Our first stop was Mormon Row, which is technically just outside the park. After some photos, thankfully we continued down the road beyond the most famous house where several cars were stopped to gawk at … a herd of bison! After the onesies and twosies in Yellowstone, we felt like we hit the bison jackpot. There were baby bison and huge bison. Long before this trip I taught the kids that the scientific name for bison is Bison Bison (thanks, Mr. Engelhard – 9th grade biology).

We had dinner back in Teton Village at Il Villaggio Osteria in Hotel Terra. This was only our second meal indoors during COVID-19. The food was great and the service even better.

For our only full day in Grand Teton, we got an early start. No, we didn’t. We made it to downtown Jackson for brunch at Persephone Bakery. We didn’t get into the park until almost noon.

Skip down to the bears if you don’t care to geek out on cameras.

In anticipation of this trip and possibly these specific photos, I bought a new (used) camera. For the past seven years, almost every photo on this blog has been shot exclusively with the Sony RX1 and then Sony RX1R II. It was the world’s first full frame mirrorless point and shoot. Coupled with its fixed 35mm F2.0 Zeiss lens, the RX1 produces amazing results in a small camera I would take anywhere. I love it. Shortly after getting it, I sold my Canon 5D Mk II rig and never looked back.

During COVID-19, I’ve been selling every unused thing in sight: 5 iPads, 3 iPhones, bike, SUV, golf clubs, memorabilia, etc. A while back, Grace indulged me in an old hobby and I assembled a stereo system that was beautiful to look at, but rarely made any sound. Initially while sheltering in place I was listening to it a lot, much to the dismay of the other inhabitants in our household. I’m not hard of hearing, but I like it loud, like concert level. No one else likes that. So, piece by piece (some 130 lbs), it has been liquidated.

I decided to swap my hobby of not listening to music with a new hobby of not taking pictures. Just kidding, I take a shit ton of pictures. I knew for this trip I would need something wider than 35mm. There aren’t any bad cameras these days, but also no perfect camera has been created. Mostly out of brand affinity, I bought a pre-owned Leica SL. The camera was basically new, but the model is five years old and the SL2 recently came out. Most digital cameras do not hold their value, Leicas included, which I used to my advantage. The body was already 75% depreciated. The glass, on the other hand, is still nuts and the SUV mentioned above barely covered one lens. I know it’s not the best or most capable camera, but it was the one I was most interested in shooting.

Now that I had the body in hand, I still didn’t have a lens to shoot. I knew I wanted to try something different than 35mm, which I already had covered. I started with a 50mm because I haven’t shot with that in forever. Specifically for this trip, I also got a 16-35mm wide zoom, too. This, too, is not the fastest, nor does it have a constant aperture, which Canon, Nikon and Sony all offer. For landscape, I knew I’d be shooting stopped down, so a fast wide-angle lens was not a priority. It turned out to be perfect for Yellowstone, as so many sights are visible only from the boardwalk, where you can’t back up. I ended up shooting it almost exclusively at the beginning of the trip. It’s only F4.5 at 35mm, but even so, I rarely took out the Sony except to do some A/B testing. I also got a tripod, which came in handy for some longer exposures and family shots.

The irony of all of this is that I somehow forgot the Leica in the RV for our one full day in Grand Teton. It was too far to go back and get it. Grace told me it was done and get over it. By the end of the boat ride across Jenny Lake, I was fine. No, I wasn’t. I was crying on the inside all the way up to Inspiration Point.

It turned out that the Sony was more than adequate for Grand Teton. It’s faster than my wide zoom and after developing the Yellowstone photos, I decided wide zooms are terrible for people photos. 35mm isn’t great for portraits, but it’s perfect for family shots, is wide enough for a lot of landscape, and works for friendly chipmunks, too. Each camera can do its own thing, but the Leica cannot really replace the Sony. The SL with a 35mm F2.0 Summicron-SL lens would weigh 3.5 lbs. (more than 3x the Sony) and is twice as large. I could shoot fast M-glass, but it would be manual focus only and that chipmunk would have never cooperated.

End of camera talk.

Getting back to animals, we saw two bears on the way back to the west boat dock at Jenny Lake (possibly the same bear). The first one was only about 20 feet off the trail and Grace didn’t approve of me chasing it for a photo. We had an afternoon snack on the shore of Jackson Lake. Just as we were leaving the park, we finally spotted our first moose! We checked basically every animal off the list.

We had time to kill before a late dinner back in Jackson. We spent about an hour just hanging out in Jackson Town Square. Grace and the kids got re-obsessed with Word Bubbles, which helped pass the time. We had our best meal of the trip so far at The Kitchen.

It’s possible that I didn’t schedule enough time in Grand Teton. Everyone agreed we should return at least to ski. I might have to come back alone to get some images I know I missed.

2020 Airstream Trip – Part 1: Yellowstone

Despite the global pandemic, we were determined to do something with the kids this summer and get them out of the house. We had a great long weekend with the Lees over 4th of July to test the waters at a resort. Carneros was ideal because each unit is a separate cottage and most everything is outdoors.

Early on during COVID-19, I could foresee our future of travel and I immediately started lobbying to purchase an Airstream. I figured we could live and work in it, travel, see my parents, etc. I picked the one I wanted (27′ Globetrotter), found some pre-owned models for sale (I almost never buy anything new), and even researched storage options (fearing this could be the money in money pit). In the end, I got a hard no from Grace.

During this time, I was also looking to rent during August from the same place where I’ve rented the last three Airstream trips. The business is now on its third owner and I was having a hard time pinning down dates and the model I wanted. Once I made the reservation (for the same exact unit we took to Utah last time), there was a switcheroo, but it was going to be in my favor. Another client couldn’t tow anything longer than 25′ and the owner told me he was buying a brand new 27′ Globetrotter. This was going to be the perfect test drive. Grace’s hard no was actually a “can we really survive two weeks in this thing?”

About a week before the trip, it turned out the Globetrotter had an issue with the power awning, so we got switched again to a barely used 2020 27′ Flying Cloud. Honestly, I was a little disappointed, but the bonus was that this particular model had the rear hatch option, which is rare and novel. I was just glad we were still going to be on our way.

Which way, in Grace’s mind, was still up for debate. I had made the itinerary and all the reservations a month in advance. “Maybe we should just stay in California? Maybe we should stay close to home?” This was my hard no. I had a plan (basically) and we were sticking to it.

Our first stop was going to be Yellowstone National Park. Pickup is late in the afternoon and I wanted to make as much progress as possible, so I booked a stop in Elko, Nevada, just to sleep. We got a late start and didn’t pull into the RV park until about 1am. I didn’t even hook anything up except for electricity as we had a full tank of water, which in retrospect probably wasn’t great for handling or MPG. The latter was at times 3-5 MPG. For a long stretch of Nevada the speed limit was 80 MPH, so I went 80 (I know, that limit might not have applied to us). The problem with 80 MPH is that gas mileage was abysmal and could barely hit 10 MPG as we ascended into Idaho and Montana. This was my first time to both of those states as well as Wyoming, which was just inside the park.

We stayed at Grizzly RV in West Yellowstone. The first night we got some groceries and some take out. I ran out to get breakfast the next morning from Running Bear Pancake House. Due to our late planning, I couldn’t reserve a spot for the entire stay, so I had to check out after one night and check in again to move spots. Grace made ramen for lunch and we didn’t enter Yellowstone until 2pm.

Thanks to the suggestion (among many) of my friend, Annika, we downloaded the Gaper Guide to North and South Yellowstone, which was the perfect in-car audio guide and told us what to see along the way. As we were entering the area, it finally clicked with Lucas that we were in Yellowstone and he recalled that it was a super volcano, which could erupt at any time. I thought he might be on edge the entire time, but the prospect of being blown off the planet at any instant wasn’t in the forefront of anyone’s mind.

That first afternoon, we saw most of North Yellowstone, including Beryl Spring, Gibbon Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs, where we had a late afternoon snack. We also saw our first wildlife there, as Elk were wandering around, up-close and personal. We walked around the lower terrace and drove the upper terrace before calling it a day.

Day 2 started with Cup Noodle (a Lucas favorite). Just as we’re not first chair skiers, we’re also not first into the park. We didn’t enter until around noon. This day was for South Yellowstone and we started in Canyon Village, where we had lunch and gathered supplies (snacks). Our first stop was to see The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which was spectacular from every vantage. We stopped at multiple points along the Lower and Upper Falls and then crossed to the other side to see it from Artist Point, which is an amazing vista of the falls. We ended this area with a short hike to the Upper Falls and along the river.

The kids were particularly interested in seeing wildlife, especially Olivia. We finally stumbled upon a few Bison, so pulled over to get a look. There were only a few and they were far away. It was exciting for all. We ended the day at Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which was beautiful. Pretty much every geothermal feature we saw during the first two days was unique and otherworldly.

On Day 3, we didn’t have much left to see except Old Faithful, which is ironically the park’s biggest attraction. We got there just after it had gone off, so we had about 40 minutes to wait. By the time it finally erupted, there were hundreds of people waiting. Honestly, it wasn’t the most impressive display to see in the park, but I’m glad we saw it. After that, we went to the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin, which was one of my favorite attractions.

Lucas and Grace had ramen for dinner and Olivia and I went to the taco truck that was suggested by my friend, Narayan. After dinner, I went back into the park myself to photograph the sunset. I had to just pick a spot, so I went back to the Grand Prismatic Spring. I shot what I could and called it a night.

Yellowstone exceeded my expectation and was one of the most impressive places I’ve visited. Three days was perfect for us to see most of the park at our pace. We probably drove around 300 miles just around the park. I don’t know if we’ll be back again as a family, but I hope the kids will visit again to explore it on their own.

Ben’s 50th Birthday

Dora planned a drop-in, socially distant birthday party for Ben’s 50th. Out of an abundance of caution, it was postponed indefinitely. Euni led the charge to crash their backyard anyway.

Happy Birthday, Ben!