Saturday, June 15, 2019

Camping with the Chius

I always feel like a kid again when I'm with my parents - safe, excited, and cared for.  My only hope is to be able to make them feel the same.  Since we had been camping so much, I asked Wes if we could take them on one of our trips, and soon enough, we went ahead and ordered two extra pairs of trekking poles, booked a last-minute group campsite at Baker Creek, prepared an ice chest full of ribs and chili ingredients, and invited my parents along for a cold, November's weekend in the wild.  Margaret and Andrew were there too, with all of their climbing gear, making it a big group hangout.  Never would we have thought that we'd all be out here together, on a random weekend in the Eastern Sierra, with our tents, cars, coolers, and layers, with Mom and Dad.  Dad took us kids on our first camping trip ever in Yellowstone National Park in 2005, and it was now our turn to return the favor.  This would be the first time he would be going camping since that trip long ago, and Mom's first time since she was in college, back in Taiwan.  It was a big deal!

After we graduated high school and went on to college, we never thought much about camping or spending extra time in the great outdoors.  But at some point, Margaret and I both found our way back to nature in some way, probably because of that old seed planted by Dad.  He had always made it a point to visit as many National Parks as possible, even if it meant that he had to pull an all-nighter driving us over state lines.  My mom also taught us to appreciate everything that the eye could see, always.  They really prioritized experiencing sensational moments over obtaining worldly possessions.  They also always took many photos, because memories are gold.

By November of 2017, when we did this trip to the Eastern Sierra, Wes and I had been camping and backpacking actively for months, and Margaret and Andrew for even longer.  It was about time that we planned something for the parents!  We were a little worried that they'd be out of their element since it had been so long, but they did great.  They even hiked with us for a decent amount.  While looking out over the lake and into the mountains, Mom declared that it felt like she was in the Alps.  I was so excited that we were experiencing this breathtaking vision all together, it was such a rare and special occasion!  The air was fresh, the sun was out, our spirits were high, and we felt really connected not only to the majestic nature all around us, but to each other.  I think that's why we all have to unplug every once in a while.

I like to think that they had a good time there, even though it was nearly freezing at night and they did a pretty hard hike partway to Treasure Lake!  I can't wait to do this again, and I hope that being with them will always have that magic un-adulting effect.  I could really use a dose of that now!

Niseko: A Snowboarding Foodie's Dream Come True

We say that we went to Hokkaido to snowboard on our Ikon Pass, but we really just needed an excuse to go to Japan to eat the amazing food there.  Hokkaido may be detached from the main island and over 500 miles away from Tokyo, but the high standards for food here are no different.  The pride that the chefs, bakers, and bartenders take in their work is reflected every step of the way, from conception to execution.  For five full days, we enjoyed so much good food in between rounds of shredding the tree-lined slopes of the Niseko United ski area.  

Niseko is a small resort town on the huge island of Hokkaido.  While the area is indeed relegated to a lot of international tourism because of its popular ski resort, we were able to pick out some great authentic spots to eat, drink, and be merry.  The food of Hokkaido is, like most Japanese food, impeccable and at the same time, very comforting and nutritious--exactly the kind of stuff you'd crave after a day on the slopes.  There's nothing like unclipping your snowboard and sitting down to a big bowl of ramen or chirashi.  Local markets a few shuttle stops away in nearby Kutchan offer delicacies that are Hokkaido-renowned: hairy crab, sashimi, artisan cheese, and even those mysterious white strawberries.  A famous milk farm not far away churns out fresh dairy products, including ice cream and drinking yogurt.  We followed in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps to eat handmade soba noodles at a Michelin-recognized restaurant.  We also found our way to working-class comforts, like chanko hotpot tenderly prepared by a retired Sumo wrestler and his wife, and steaming bowls of oden served late at night over a bar by a lone cook.  Even the little coffeeshop and the bar that we stepped into were both uniquely curated by passionate owners, and supported by a diverse local community.  We enjoyed every one of these eating and drinking experiences because they brought us closer to the people who live there.  Essentially, we went to Niseko for the snow, but we stayed for the culture.