2013 Holiday Greetings from Mr. & Mrs. Link +1!


Link Family Christmas Greeting – 2013 from Jed Link on Vimeo.

And don’t forget to come back in early January to see the 2013 Yearbook!

December 5th, 2013  in Family, Friends, Fun, Travel, Video 1 Comment »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #1

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 1 – Friends

I can remember making friends in elementary school. It was so easy. In one case, I remember meeting someone new, asking them if they wanted to be friends. They said yes, and that was that. We were friends! By the time you get to high school and college, friendship is a little harder to come by, but still remarkably easy. The school/college condition is ripe for meeting new people who are open to new friends. Routines are still flexible so it’s easy to fit in new friends. But I’ve found many of those friendships are transient; young adulthood is a time of tremendous personal development and people change as they grow up. Those friendships that survive – and even thrive in – that change are rare, but they are also incredibly rewarding.

By the time college was done, forging new friendships got harder. I think it’s a combination of things. Adulthood doesn’t lend itself to meeting new people quite like college does. Work takes up more time and, unlike college, many of those relationships are restricted by the requirements of being professional. People also tend to have established routines with preexisting circles of friends; it can be hard to break into those circles. It certainly takes more time.

And with that in mind, the amazing groups of people that Mrs. Link and I had the honor to call friends was truly mind-blowing. I’ve mentioned before how lucky we were to be surrounded by gifted, generous, amazing people. Many of the people we shared the last decade of our lives with will remain lifelong friends. What I’ll miss is the convenience of their company. We’ll see them from time to time when our travels coincide. We’ll exchange Christmas Cards. But we won’t, at least in the foreseeable future, be able to share the day-to-day experiences that have made our friendships so rewarding.

Our friends in the DMV came from several different sources. In my head, I sort of divided them between D.C. friends and Baltimore friends (this made sense, as we had to drive one way or the other to hang out). Each side had its own quirks and flavors. One of my favorite things to do was to bring the different circles together with things like fondue dinners, ski trips and hiking/camping adventures.

Capitol Hill & the Campaign Trail

Friendship on The Hill are tricky. They remind me of that famous “how do porcupines mate?” scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. Hill staffers tend to be ambitious and inherently distrustful of one another. To make matters worse, we also tend to be type-A personalities, which means we’re all leaders and none followers. That doesn’t always mix well. I found that the best way to forge friendships on the Hill was through shared adversity, and fortunately, this adversity occurs in regular intervals as established by the United States Constitution. They’re called elections.

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I went through four elections during my time in D.C.: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012. As a general rule, the closest friends were the people who were working with me on election day. My “tour” on The Hill lasted longer than most, and as a result, I was one of the last people still working there from the original Senator Burns 108th Congressional staff. When he lost, and we all lost our jobs, we scattered to the wind. Many stayed in D.C., but without an anchor in the capital, that wasn’t going to last.

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New staff came and went; some I barely remember, while others I stay in close contact with. I didn’t serve in the military, but I think of my Hill friends as being as close to being comrades in arms as you can get without actually having bullets shot at you. Reagan’s aptly quoted poem about bullfighting can be summarized nicely as “you don’t know, you weren’t there!

Johns Hopkins

While my D.C. friendships tended to run short and hot, Mrs. Link’s MD/PhD friends at Johns Hopkins were long and adaptable. Her classmates were with us for our entire time we were on the east coast. When we first met them, Tiff and I were the only ones who were married (come to think of it, I think we may have been the only ones who weren’t single, as the transition to med school is notorious for ending relationships). Life was all parties and drinking and debauchery. By the time we left, just about everyone was married, a few had kids and nice dinner parties and game nights replaced kegs and beer bongs.

I’ll never forget the first major impression I had of the caliber of people Tiffany was studying with. It was at the “First Year Talent Show.” It’s a stage production put on by first-year med students as a way to help recruit the next year’s class. By virtue of the fact that they were all medical students at Johns Hopkins we knew these were top-notch scientific minds. But they could also sing and dance. I remember someone playing the piano, behind her back. I remember a video featuring sock puppets. And, most of all, I remember an amazingly choreographed show tunes number based on a song from the Broadway production of Chicago – “The First Year Tango.”

Through the shared experience of medical school, the PhD process and everything that we did together between, these friendships changed in time, but remain incredibly rewarding for us. We certainly miss everyone!

Snowflake Court

Too often in cities, the Robert Frost quote about fences and neighbors is true. Except, you don’t even need a fence these days; you just come and go without more than a casual greeting when you happen to pass one another.

Mrs. Link and I were lucky to have forged some very rewarding friendships with our neighbors at the Sierra Villas condo complex off Snowflake Court. One neighbor we dragged in for drinks after work one random night. Others we met during Snowmageddon.

Regardless of how we met, having someone nearby to come over at the drop of a hat to drink a beer, throw some meat on the grill or just hang out was absolutely amazing.

Volleyball & Kickball

Mrs. Link got involved in a volleyball league through Hopkins. She’s a very talented setter, or so I’m told by people who know more about it than I do. Anyway, this activity expanded our friendship opportunities beyond the walls of her specific MD-PhD class in Baltimore. Eventually the athletics circle shifted to adult kickball, which was also competitive, but with more beer. Many of the closest friendships we forged resulted directly from these sports.

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The Capitol Hill Tubing Society

I’ve already written extensively about the Tubing Society so I’ll be quick. Just like sports expanded the circle in Baltimore, the CHTS introduced us to new friends in the D.C. area. Given the propensity for outdoor activities, many of these friends became hiking and camping buddies as well.

 The Montana State Society

The Montana State Society is a group of Montana enthusiasts in the DMV. The Society is famous for the annual D.C. Testy Fest and hosting an annual Cat-Griz football watch party. While I was involved with the Testy Fest in a shirt-design capacity for years, in 2011 I became the President of the organization. Working with a gifted group of officers, we hosted a number of really fun events and revitalized an ailing organization. Although working for members of the Montana Congressional Delegation kept me in touch with Montanans on a regular basis, many great friendships grew out of my position with the Montana State Society.

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December 3rd, 2013  in Friends, MD10 1 Comment »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #2

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 2 – The Capitol Hill Tubing Society

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The Capitol Hill Tubing Society website boasts: “One of DC’s oldest and most prestigious social organizations, the Capitol Hill Tubing Society is dedicated to the ancient art of tubing.” In our experience, this claim is only slightly weighted with hyperbole. There’s no doubt that tubing was as formative part of our east coast experience as any hiking or camping we did. The reason it ranks so high on this list, though, is that unlike hiking and camping, we really can’t do this in San Diego. We’ve got no rivers!

We tubed 27 times between 2007 and 2012. Most of the time we ventured to Harpers Ferry at the tri-border of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac River. But we also tubed in Montana, Idaho and Florida. Not to mention, an epic blizzard tube.

2007 – 6/30

We rented tubes and rode a bus down to Front Royal. Mr. Link got really sunburned.

2008 – 7/12

Again, we rented tubes and headed to Front Royal. The organizers rented a keg bus to get us there, and after a number of people bailed, a simple tubing trip ended up costing more than $150/person. This would be the last time we rented tubes.

2009 – 8/15; 9/6

A co-worker introduced us to the fledgling Capitol Hill Tubing Society. The concept was simple. Buy your own tubes, drive yourself, save money. We traded Front Royal for Harper’s Ferry and landed, for the first time, on the infamous Andy Bopp Memorial Rock. More importantly, on the year’s two floats, we made some great – lifelong – friends.

2010 – 2/6; 6/13; 6/20; 6/25; 7/10; 7/18; 7/25; 8/7; 8/29; 8/12

Ten floats in 2010 (well, unless tubing on snow isn’t ‘floating’) made it the busiest tubing summer of our time in Maryland. We went just about every single weekend. Among the more memorable floats were a camping/floating combo trip and the record holding group for size (18 people) which was also the infamous “Storm on the Water.” This was also the first we packed a grill and cooked on the rock in the middle of the river. In 2012, the size of the group got large and with only a few people handling most of the logistics (maintaining and inflating the tubes, organizing transportation) the growth was unsustainable. In coming years, we’d pare it down to more manageable sizes so everyone could relax and have more fun.

2011 – 6/12; 7/13; 7/9; 7/16; 7/31; 8/7; 9/4

Again, a summer packed full of adventures. This year featured a hike/tube combo trip, a float down the Boise River in Idaho and another

2012 – 4/14; 6/9; 6/23; 7/15; 7/20; 8/5

Although we’d tubed with a pregnant lady in 2010, in 2012 Mrs. Link was pregnant for every float. We kicked things off early by heading down to Orlando and tubing in a small and absolutely beautiful spring-fed stream in Kelly Park (alligators be damned!). And then it was more of the same awesomeness. We grilled on the rock again and endured another epic “Storm on the Water.” We also found a legendary camping/floating combo in the beautiful Shenandoah River State Park area in Virginia. With the kid coming and the move to San Diego confirmed, a lot of these floats were bitter sweet. They were the last.

For the first time since 2007, we did not manage a float in 2013. I missed it. In fact, even though there’s not a tube-worthy river within several hours of where we live, I’ve still got a tube and car-powered air compressor in the trusty RAV4… just in case!

November 25th, 2013  in Friends, Fun, MD10, Pictures, Sports, Trekking No Comments »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #3

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 3 – Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park, comprised of about 100 miles of the Shenandaoh Mountains in western Virginia [a component of the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a component of the Appalachian Mountain Range] isn’t noteworthy for the height or rugged nature of its geography. These peaks aren’t in the same league as the 14,000-footers in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and they’re not even the highest mountains in Appalachia. The mountains themselves are worn smooth by eons of erosion. Nor is the park known for its size – comprised of a single ridge-line road and as much land to either side of that road as the federal government has been able to reclaim from original settlers and their descendants.

What made Shenandoah National Park special was that it was a dependable refuge from the stress and pace of the daily grind. After a few hours in the car, and Mrs. Link and I could shuffle off the professional coil, breath in the fresh air and enjoy some relative solitude. While we found many other places to hike and camp in the DMV region (Harpers Ferry and Catoctin Mountain stand out), it was our regular pilgrimages to western Virginia that tapped into my Montana roots and rekindled my love of the great outdoors.

The discovery of Shenandoah National Park came about in most unlikely way. During our Christmas visit to California in 2006, Mrs. Link’s step-dad introduced us to World of Warcraft. For the next seven months, Mrs. Link and I indulged what can only be called an addiction. I leveled up a prot-specced human warrior named Fyton while she played a restoration-specced night elf druid named Allodynia. As a tank-healer team, we were always welcome in raids.

When I say WoW was an addiction, I mean that in a literal sense. In 2007, when we were playing, more than 8 million people around the world were coughing up a not-insignificant monthly subscription fee. To keep that money coming in, Blizzard (the company that makes WoW) utilizes every psychological trick in the book to keep people engaged. There’s something for everyone – cooking, fighting, fishing, exploring, love stories, points, leveling up, fashion, and the list goes on. Every part of the game is designed to hook you. It’s not directly chemical, but it’s as close to it as I think you can come.

Then, one day, after a software update that changed the rules of the game and significantly hamstrung an in-game skill I had been practicing, I had an epiphany. I was pouring all this time and energy into a game. I was developing skills that had no real-world value, and that would be useless once I stopped paying a monthly subscription fee. More importantly, the things about the game I liked were all based on element of the real world. The Western Plaguelands, for example, looked a lot like parts of the Big Hole Valley where I spent a lot of time growing up. This epiphany wasn’t gradual – it was like a switch being flipped. DING! We abandoned our WoW quests and started questing in real life.

I once again recognized the appeal of the outdoors, something that I had forgotten in the preceding decade. And so, I asked around for hike recommendations. Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park came up again and again. And so on Cinco de Mayo 2007, we climbed Old Rag for the first time. Less than two months later, we did the first Old Rag camping/hiking adventure.

It was this second trip – and first overnight stay – that we “weren’t invited back to Shenandoah” by a National Park Ranger.

At the First Annual Old Rag Adventure (then known only as “Old Rag Ho!”), we stayed at the Big Meadows Campground. Quiet hours, we were told, were strictly enforced after 10 p.m. We were a big group, so we took up three sites, but we assembled at the most remote of our sites, built a campfire and cooked dinner. A Park Ranger stopped by at 9:30 to remind us about quiet hours. 10 p.m. rolled around, and we were wrapping things up. By 10:15, everyone was disbursed. 10:30 we were all in our tents.

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At 10:35, Mrs. Link and my tent was illuminated by headlights. A man identifying himself as a police officer instructs us to come out of the tent. I asked if he’s joking. He’s not. We emerged from the tent to see four police cars out of Front Royal The other cops were dragging the rest of the crew out of their tents to join us. Now, Front Royal is a good 45-60 minute drive to the Big Meadows Campsite (which if you do the math, means these guys had been called before quite hours even began), so these cops were looking to write some tickets to justify their drive. Trouble is, they’d have been hard pressed to find a group of more  upstanding young people – medical students, responsible professionals and their significant others. We drank some beers – everyone was of age – but no one drank too much. They couldn’t even bust us for littering (they tried) as we’d cleaned up well and put everything in the bear-proof storage. So they ran our IDs for warrants. All of them. They searched our stuff, finding a lighter which, it turns out, can be either drug paraphernalia or camping equipment. They made Mrs. Link crawl around on her hands and knees to pick up a scrap of roasted marshmallow. In loud voices, they told us how violating quiet hours disturbs our neighbors, shining their high-powered flashlights into adjacent campsites for emphasis. And, ultimately, they left without writing a single ticket.

The next morning, a grumpy looking park ranger stopped by the site. I like to imagine she was grumpy because she’d just been chewed out by the Front Royal Police Department for their overzealous call the night before. She hiked up her belt to look tough, and in a clearly rehearsed statement – which belongs in the passive-aggressive hall of fame – said something like this: “We here at the National Park Service would never tell someone not to come back to a National Park. But ordinarily, we would invite people to come back to Shenandoah whenever they want. Notice, I’m not doing that with you.”

Message delivered. The next year, we camped outside the park in Syria, VA. Cheaper camping, more firewood and no quiet hours. Plus the locals offered to take us cow tipping. And despite not being explicitly invited back, we made ourselves at home in Shenandoah National Park.

I bought a book – Hiking Shenandoah National Park – and over the next six years, Mrs. Link and I knocked out just about every long hike marked “strenuous” or “moderate” – leaving the short, easy hikes to the tourists. We’d return to our favorites again and again – doing Old Rag a total of 11 times and the Cedar Run & Whiteoak Canyon Loop 3 times.

Here’s a (hopefully) complete list of the hikes we did between May 5, 2007 and June 15, 2013:

Old Rag – 5/5/07; 6/23/07; 6/28/08; 7/27/08; 6/6/09;5/29/10; 6/19/11; 7/23/11; 10/15/11; 6/1/12; 6/15/13
Keyser Run Fire Road & Little Devils Stairs – 5/24/09
Rocky Mount – Gap Run Loriat – 6/28/09
Thornton River Trail – 7/19/09
Cedar Run & Whiteoak Canyon Loop – 8/8/09; 10/31/09; 5/29/11
Dark Hollow Falls & Hawksbill Peak – 4/1/10
Tuscarora – Overall Run Falls – 3/13/11
Buck Hollow Buck Ridge loop – 3/20/11
Rapidan Camp, Laurel Prong, Cat Knob, Hazeltop Loop – 4/3/11

In the miles and hours, we learned a lot about the Shenandoah Mountains. Most hikes are loops that start from Skyline Drive, so the first half is always hiking down one side or the other of the mountain range and the second half is hiking up. At the ridge line, which is about 2,000-2,500 higher than the valley floor, fall comes about a month earlier and spring arrives about a month later. “Run” is an east coat name for a small stream. The famous Appalachian Trail, which is incredibly maintained and looks something like a freeway of trails, runs along the ridge line where you can meet through-hikers with fun nicknames like Ant and Mountain Dew. There are a lot of waterfalls, especially in the northern part of the range, but you’d still be smart to bring plenty of water.

I think there will always be a Shenandoah National Park wherever we live – a place we can go to destress and enjoy nature. But even though I grew up hiking and camping in the Rockies, those were the adventures of my parents that I was allowed to attend. In that sense, Shenandoah National Park was my first. And even with the excitement of new adventures, I’m always going to miss Old Rag.

July 1st, 2013  in Friends, Fun, MD10, Pictures, Trekking 1 Comment »

10 Things I WON’T Miss About Maryland

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Ten Things I

WON’T

Miss About Maryland

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Sure, there are a lot of things I’ll miss about Maryland. But there are also some thing I won’t miss at all. So before we get to the top three things I’ll miss about the east coast, here are ten things I am absolutely psyched to be leaving behind. In compiling this list, I realize a significant share of these items deal with driving (something that the east coast seems determined to make as hard as possible). Without further ado:

Traffic – When I was in college at USC, Los Angeles regularly made the worst of the “worst traffic” lists. Then I moved to the D.C.-Baltimore area and, apparently, brought the traffic with me. I was lucky that I didn’t have to brave the traffic in my daily commute, but the few days I had to do it were hell. It’s not just a lot of people. It’s selfish (or idiot) drivers occupying roads designed decades ago in cities zoned centuries ago all managed by incompetent government officials who are more interested in using limited resources to prop up public transportation than making roads work sanely.

Speed Cameras – I stopped driving into D.C. because every trip resulted in a speed camera ticket (sometimes more than one). It’s not that I was reckless or dangerous. Speed camera tickets are corruption at their worst. In fact, in D.C. the law is actually written such that the very existence of a photo establishes guilt (D.C. Code § 50-2209.01 (b) Recorded images taken by an automated traffic enforcement system are prima facie evidence of an infraction and may be submitted without authentication.) The system is rife with brazen speed traps – for example, a brief reduction to 25mph for the camera, or 35mph on an 8-lane freeway etc. These tickets have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with raising revenue, a fact that most people readily acknowledge without considering the implications of abusing the criminal justice system in this way.

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EST Primetime – Live television – like sports or late night shows – are timed so that people on the west coast can tune in after work. That means there’s a 3-hour delay on the east coast which means the best programming is late programming. This was particularly brutal for a Pac-12 fan, when the marquis conference games were scheduled for 10 PM. I’ve regularly been to sports bars that were open until 2 AM just so people could watch the end of their games. I’m looking forward to football starting earlier and ending before midnight.

Humidity – It makes hot feel hotter and cold feel colder. They said I’d get used to it. I did. But I still hated it.

Tolls – Highway robbery.

The ACC – As much as I tried, I could never Fear the Turtle. Or Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech or Wake Forest. I know a lot of these schools have a wonderful history, but I think football may be a little to violent for their sophisticated east coast gentry. And as much as I’d like to say live and let live, all that went out the window when a good game like Texas-Oklahoma or USC-UCLA game was pre-empted by freaking Clemson at Boston College.

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No Turn on Red – It’s one thing to forbid right-hand turns at a red light if the intersection is high speed, high traffic. But in most of Maryland and D.C. “No Turn on Red” is the norm not the exception. What makes this bothersome policy all the more irksome is the terribly planned traffic lights. It’s not uncommon to sit at a red light while the intersection is completely empty because the cross traffic is stuck at a poorly-timed red light one block up the street.

Alien BugsCamel crickets, house centipedes, slugs, box elder bugs, cicada… the list goes on and on. The humidity and rain feeds more than plants – it supports some pretty funky insect/arachnid/arthropod life. Mrs. Link and I got used to at least one “plague” each year – some sort of insect infestation that would hit our house sometime during the summer. But the worst was the annual swarm of camel crickets from June to about October. Although harmless, these little buggers (also sometimes called Spider Crickets because they look and move like spiders when they aren’t jumping) are big, hard to kill and inexplicably jump toward what they are afraid of. Over the years, I got a lot more comfortable with (mostly harmless) bug friends, and getting a cat definitely helped with the camel cricket problems in the house.

People, people everywhere – I have developed an omicron of sympathy for the oft-hated “East Coast Environmentalist.” Out west, there are massive tracts of virgin wilderness between major population centers. It’s not hard to find a place unspoiled by human habitation. The east coast, however, is a lot more like Europe in that the history and population density have impacted just about every acre of land. No matter where you go – even in the middle of a National Park like Shenandoah – there are signs of people: graveyards, old buildings, ditches, roads, trails, etc. While a day’s hike can get you more or less outside of society out west, there are few places where that is even possible in the east. I’m a guy who likes space, so for me it the omnipresence of people was a bit stifling.

Feeling lost – In general, women orient themselves by local geography (buildings, streets, trees etc) while men orient themselves by distant geography (mountains, the sun, skylines, the horizon). In Montana and California, there were always mountains to help me get my bearing. Maryland not only has few mountain ranges on the horizon, but the dense vegetation makes it all but impossible to even see the horizon. As a result, I spent a lot of time feeling a bit disoriented in Maryland. Sure, I got used to it. I think my brain even adapted to orientation clues that I wasn’t consciously aware of (shadows, sun location, wind direction). But after enough twists and turns, I became blindly dependent on the old GPS, with little sense of which way I was heading. And don’t even get me started about them mystery of road numbering in Maryland…

June 29th, 2013  in Fun, MD10, Pictures No Comments »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #4

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 4 – Two Domes

Of all these countdown posts, this one has been the hardest to write because I don’t want it to come across as boastful, when in fact it’s actually quite humbling. For the past nine years, Mrs. Link and I have been incredibly fortunate to work in the respective hot spots of our chosen professions; medicine and politics. We have been surrounded by competence, challenged by genius and educated by life experiences that cannot exist anywhere except the epicenters of activity where we spent most of our waking hours.

I’m talking, of course, of Mrs. Link earning an MD and PhD from Johns Hopkins Medical School while I worked in the United States Congress. The letterhead for each institution features their respective famous domes, a feature that I have always found aesthetically symmetrical.

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I doubt either Mrs. Link’s or my own experiences in these places could be condensed into a single post, so I’ll try to explain in three categories.

Activity

Johns Hokpins is the hospital you fly to if you have a rare or exotic disease, or are in search of a rare or exotic new treatment. As a result, Mrs. Link didn’t just learn about the most interesting and challenging medical cases from textbooks, the saw them first-hand after attending lectures by the very doctors that were on the cutting edge of new cures.

In the mean time, how many people can say their daily activities are often the subject of heated debates on broadcast and cable news, newspapers, blogs and social media? When the country was debating health care, it was my job to help shape that debate in a small part of world. I realize this probably sounds boastful. And I’m not going to lie, the exposure of the job was gratifying. But instead of making me feel like a big shot, the scope of what I was involved with was truly humbling. It made me appreciative of the opportunity to participate, and drove me to leave it all on the field every day.

People

One of the great things about a place like the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus or Capitol Hill is that it tends to attract ambitious, intelligent, hard-working people. Any one (or even two) of those traits is fairly common in a person, but I’ve found that the presence of all three is truly rare. As a result, Mrs. Link and I have been honored to associate with some of the most incredible people in the world – and I’m not just referring to the big name doctors and politicians. At every level – fellow medical students or researchers or co-workers and even a few interns – the quality of people in our lives over the past nine years were self-selected to be the best of the best.

Why does this matter? Perhaps it is appropriate to quote a French maxim from late 16th century, as quoted by George Washington in his Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, Rule # 56 (ca. 1744): “Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.”

Prestige

Okay, fine. There’s an element of ego too.

Look, if Hollywood wants a shortcut to indicate a doctor is smart and effective, they drop in a line about them having attended Johns Hopkins (if they’re a lawyer, it’s always Harvard). Similarly – but with a less positive connotation – when Hollywood wants a shortcut to indicate the current suiter for the lovable loser’s love interest is a smart, well-connected socially acceptable catch, they give them a job in politics (often on Capitol Hill). Of course, the audience usually ends up rooting against the political guy, but that’s an artifact of the current feelings about politics in general, not individual participants.

These shortcuts work because they invoke preexisting social biases about these respective institutions. Those biases shaded interactions we would have with strangers when we told them where we worked. I’m not going to lie: that was cool.

For most of the last decade, Mrs. Link and I reveled in the activity, people and prestige of our lives between Two Domes. It was amazing, and I don’t think either of use would change a thing. That being said, being a part of a team driving that action requires a massive dedication of time and energy. 12-hour days were regular. 80+ hours weeks not uncommon. We both got used to being on call all the time – weekends, holidays, after hours. It’s the price you pay to work so close to the fire.

And, ultimately, it’s not a schedule that supports the life we both want for our family. The Two Domes are a huge part of our time in Maryland; a part we’ll both miss. But we’ll miss it with the nostalgia of a country song. Neither of us will be looking to recreate the Two Domes in our new lives.

June 18th, 2013  in Friends, MD10, Med School, Pictures 1 Comment »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #5

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 5 – Ecodiversity

No, I’m not talking about biodiversity or the scores of different types of environmentalists on the East Coast. I more or less coined this term to describe the phenomenon of being in close physical proximity to a wide variety of extremely different human ecosystems.

To illustrate, it will help to once again draw on my experience growing up in Montana and going to college in Cali. Both Montana and Cali have essentially two primary human ecosystems. In Montana, it’s western Montana (mountains, hiking, skiing, larger towns etc) and eastern Montana (farms, ranches, space, tiny towns, etc). In California, it’s northern California (forests, hippies, weed, etc.) and southern California (beaches, surfing, palm trees, etc). There are, of course, variation within these themes, but when whether you’re in Burbank, Oceanside or San Diego you know you’re in Southern California.

Out here, it’s different. Areas were settled and map lines were drawn at a time when a horse was the fastest mode of conveyance between places. As a result distances were much smaller between disparate cultures. In the same way that Europe squeezed 47 countries and 23 primary languages  into a space roughly the size of the United States, the East Coast squeezes 21 diverse states into the same area that the West Costs divides into just 3 (and let’s be honest, Oregon and Washington might as well be the same state).

In the short drive across Maryland, there are any number of fully developed subcultures, each somewhat isolated from the others: sailors, gang bangers, longshoremen, Amish, stockbrokers, artists, hipsters, students, preps and even rednecks (complete with trucker caps and hyphonated names). Contrast that with California and Montana which were settled after the train was invented. The spaces are larger, and the cultural diversity is much more evenly spread across the region.

This is just a fancy way of saying that everything is really close together out here. In practice, this means Mrs. Link and I can wake up, decide what sort of mood we’re in – beach, mountain, city, water, river, etc – and make it happen by simply pointing the car in the right direction and drive. Take, for example, the following locations broken down by radius. The significance of this list isn’t that there are lots of different place, but that each place is totally unique. 30 minutes in one direction and you’re in a beach-town atmosphere, 30 minutes in a slightly different direction and you’re slinging dope for Stringer Bell on the mean streets of Baltimore.

Radius: About 1 Hour’s Drive

Baltimore – Kind of like Disneyland – Inner Harbor Land, Federal Hill and of course You’re Going to Get Stabbed Honkey Land.

Washington, D.C. – A one industry town like Hollywood except the currency is power not fame.

Annapolis – Like a beach town meets a mid-western lake town. Artsy and laid back – the antithesis of the D.C. rat race.

Harpers Ferry – Bustling with history, bound by the Shenandoah River on one side and the Potomac River on the other there are plenty of adventures to be had in the water.

Ski Whitetail, Liberty, Roundtop – Three mosquito bite ski hill with a lot of man-made snow.

Catoctin Mountain State Park, Rock Creek Park, B&O Canal, Gunpowder Falls State Park – Any one of a number hiking options a short drive away. Each has a slightly different flavor, but I group them because they’re all trail-based hiking.

Radius: Within Half a Day’s Drive

Shenandoah National Park -Mrs. Link and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to day-hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It’s a long way to go for the mountains, and the mountains aren’t quite up to par with the Rockies, but it’s a totally different vibe than D.C., Baltimore or even Maryland hiking.

New York – Mrs. Link and I only went to The Big Apple once while we were out here – it’s not really our bag. But it was there, if we ever had the inkling to return.

Philadelphia – Such a cool city, again with such a different flavor than B’more or D.C.

 

family_IndepHall

Assateague Island State & National Parks – I see your Annapolis and raise you camping on the beach with wild horses.

Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s house.

Williamsport – One of many small towns we visited while we where here, this one stands out because it’s also the location of the Little League World Series.

Radius: Within One Day’s Drive

New England – Lighthouses and cool accents. We managed an epic 3-day adventure that took us from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Georgia – It’s there. Savannah is gorgeous.

Ohio – Fight on!

White Mountains – While I freely talk smack about the Shenandoah Mountains as mountains, the White Mountains in New Hampshire include the Presidential Range. They are no small things – able to stand up to a significant amount of what even Montana has to offer.

May 26th, 2013  in MD10, Pictures, Travel, Trekking No Comments »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #6

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 6 – Seasons

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”
-  George Santayana

My love for seasons is philosophical. Unlike weather, seasons are tied intrinsically to the passage of time. Without seasons, the most observable unit of time is a day. But 23 hour 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds is sliver of time. It provides no space for reflection, so time passes essentially unnoticed they way distance would be lost if you only stared straight down at your feet. Days run into weeks and years that become drumbeats in a routine march toward oblivion.

Seasons mark a longer beat. They offer perspective of the passage of time. They actually remind you that time is passing, like the mountains on the horizon getting closer and falling behind. I think one of the worst banalities of adulthood is the risk of monotony. As long as you are in school, seasons don’t matter as much because time is marked by the passage of a school year. But once you enter the real world, there is no more summer vacation to mark the passage of time. You forget. Time speeds up.

But Seasons do more than mark the passage of time. They also provide spice (there’s a reason it’s called seasoning). As they advance through their annual choreographed improvisational dance like a celestial Who’s Line Is It Anyway, each season has it’s bitter and it’s sweet. And each flavor plays off the others to make the whole year better. The long days of summer are all the sweeter because they contrast with the short days of winter. The crisp autumn wind is refreshing after the sticky summer heat.

I grew up with Montana’s four famous seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Construction. My blood was thick. We do crazy things like wearing shorts to school in in freezing weather and frosting. Then, I moved to Southern California where there are two sort-of-seasons – wet and dry. My blood thinned and before I was done, I was shivering in weather below 70. I know… I’m not proud of it. While I always had school years to mark time in SoCal, the years slipped by quickly. I can’t help but think that one of the reasons Southern California living is so much more laid back than it is on the East Coast is that the absence of seasons reduces the sense of urgency.

Maryland has four distinct seasons. That’s not to say you ever knew what to expect – this year, for example, we had virtually no snow at all. Compare that with 2010 when we had multiple blizzards and ice storms. But as a rule, each season had it’s pluses and minuses. Each minus was complemented by another seasons plus.

Winter

The Good – Fondue dinners; snow sports like sledding and skiing (although Mrs. Link is still learning, she got very good at skiing); Christmas somewhere warm (usually); fires in the fireplace; big snow storms; grilling on the deck.

The Bad – Short days (going to work in the dark and not getting home until after dark); outdoor activities are harder to pull off; feels long,  you can get a little stir-crazy.

Spring

The Good – Trees bloom beautifully; fresh, bright colors; still too early for insects; perfect temperatures; perfect weather for running outside; grilling on the deck.

The Bad – Pollen (resulting in some of the worst hay fever in the world); rain because something has to help everything turn green; short (I swear there were years where the time between bitter cold and sticky hot was 1 or 2 weeks).

Summer

The Good – Hiking; camping; tubing; travel; fireworks; August recess (means big hikes, summits, camping trips) weekends are easy to fill; grilling on the deck.

The Bad – Hot; humid; tons of big, ugly bugs (Mrs. Link and I referred to some of the hatches as plagues); too hot to run outside.

Fall

The Good – Leaves turn; Thanksgiving; Renaissance Fair; perfect temperature for running; elections; grilling on the deck.

The Bad – Not warm enough to keep doing all those summer things without special gear; elections; long – (when’s it going to snow already?)

I’ll miss seasons.

May 21st, 2013  in Fun, MD10, Pictures 1 Comment »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #7

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 7 – Storms

Well, let’s see. There were Hurricanes Ivan, Ernesto, Hanna, Irene and of course “Superstorm” Sandy. There were tornadoes, flash floods, Nor’easters and a derecho or two. There was Snowmageddon, Snowquester and Trafficgeddon. And that’s just off  the top of my head.

Growing up in Missoula, surrounded by tall mountains, clouds jettison their water long before they get overhead. As a result, a bad rainstorm means drizzle for a week – the kind where you can walk from your car to the front door without an umbrella. In California, rain is rare with precipitation taking the form of mist or fog as often as not.

Neither Montana or California reliably produces storms as violent and powerful as the ones we have experienced in Maryland. And here, storms happen among high population densities bolstering body counts and property damage. Add in with a higher concentration of sensationalistic media in the D.C. area and its not an exaggeration to say that the whole country ends up talking about our weather.

Sure, the rest of the country makes fun of D.C. for closing schools and the federal government at every hint of inclement weather. Usually that mockery is deserved – I went though 12 years of school in Montana and never once had a snow day. Locally, we joke about how bad the weatherman is, knowing full well that the micro climates make predicting weather nearly impossible. You can have tornado clouds in D.C., sun in Columbia and torrential rain in Baltimore… all at the same time. In fact, it became tradition to leave rain in D.C. to find sun on the Potomac River for tubing or over the Shenandoah Mountains for hiking.

Storms in Maryland are fun. They’re a social event. They’re scary. And we’ve forged some great storm memories in our decade here.

Rain

Over the course of an average year, Columbia (42.24″) gets about three times as much precipitation as Missoula (16.63″) or Los Angeles (17.66″). The very nature of the rain is different – instead of long, dreary days, Maryland storms build, break and pass quickly. If you’re caught outside without an umbrella, chances are really good you’re going to get soaked.

In 2011, Montana’s Billings Little League made it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. As President of the Montana State Society, I chartered a bus to take a group of Montanans up to watch a game. As the bus drove back, Hurricane Irene struck with a mighty vengeance. That far inland, the wind wasn’t terrible, but there was a ton of rain. After dropping us in D.C., we drove back up to Maryland in some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen. It was awesome.

There was also a Brad Paisley concert back when they allowed tailgating at Jiffy Lube Live. Turns out, that mud doesn’t get slippery when wet…

Snow

I grew up with snow, but Mrs. Link did not. I only remember one “blizzard” in Montana. As an arid state, usually the extreme weather is cold, not snow. Maryland winters are not as cold, but they are a ‘wet cold’ which makes all the difference. And when it snows, it can really pack a punch. All that heavy rain I talk about above comes down in massive, thick snowflakes and snow can accumulate very quickly.

My favorite snow story was the cleanup after Snowmageddon. It was my first time missing school or work because of snow, but there wasn’t a choice. While main roads were cleared pretty quickly, smaller roads and drive ways were impassible for days. Here’s the thing about a big storm on the east coast: while they have the snow-removal equipment they need, the urban density means there’s nowhere to put the snow when they plow it. We were stuck, and I was a little stir-crazy, so my neighbor and I used his snow shovel Excalibur (he was the only person that had thought to buy one before they all sold out) and started digging our way out. Other neighbors we didn’t know joined the fun, and before long we’d cleared our cars out of the parking lot! We got to know our neighbors, who are still friends today, and since we were all stuck at home for the Super Bowl everyone came over and watched at our place.

Funny post-script. Remember I mentioned that the problem with a lot of snow is that there’s nowhere for the snow removal trucks to put the snow? Well, the nice big patch we cleared manually over the course of an afternoon became the receptacle of all the snow in the entire parking lot. Our good deed resulted in our parking being out of commission longer than anyone else in the neighborhood. Sweet!

Wind

Wind typically goes along with rain or snow, but I put it separate because it’s usually the wind that does the damage. When someone dies, or when 100,000 people lose power for a month, it’s usually because the wind knocked over a tree that grew really big on account of all that rain.

Two times, I have been stuck in the middle of the Potomac River in a bathing suit during extreme winds. Both were Capitol Hill Tubing Society excursions. We always stop on a rock called the Andy Bopp Memorial Rock which is about a quarter mile downstream from where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both rivers have carved very deep valleys, and the rock where we usually stop for lunch is at the vertex of those valleys. We’ve tubed through a lot of rainstorms on the river, but twice the combined funnel of those two valleys hurled a mighty wind laced with stinging rain and dirt against our rock. Both times, we were humbled by the awesome power of nature – and sadly, while both storms were newsworthy, the first storm proved fatal when it reached D.C.

The second “Storm on the Water”
072510_HarpersFerryTubing_055

And, of course, there was Hurricane Sandy, which I missed because I was working on a Senate campaign in Montana. My wife, who had just given birth to our son, was benefiting from the constant support of family. Support that, it turns out, was newsworthy in and of itself. The following appeared in the Great Falls Tribune on 10/30/12:

Flights also were grounded, but [Sister Link] of Missoula was able to jump on one of the last planes to depart Montana.  [Sister Link] was hoping to arrive in Columbia, Md., before the storm so that she could help her sister-in-law and 2-month-old nephew weather the storm.

“I have’t really experienced something like this before,” she said. “I don’t really know what to expect.”

Link landed on Sunday afternoon, right before the rain started. It continued raining through the night and into Monday, with gusts of wind creeping up around midday.

“We’re hunkering down right now and staying indoors,” she said. “It’s been gallons and gallons of rain all day long and you hear the constant howling (of the wind).”

[Sister Link] also was prepared.

“We stocked the house and made sure to have enough food and water and formula,” she said.

[Sister Link]’s brother works for Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

Of course, at the time, no one knew Mrs. Link was internally bleeding to death and we were going to lose the election and my job, but that’s a different story that has nothing to do with storms in Maryland…

May 20th, 2013  in Fun, MD10, Pictures, Trekking 1 Comment »

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Maryland – #8

Author’s Note: After nearly a decade on the east coast, it’s time for Mr. & Mrs. Link to head West. In the last ten years, our lives have changed significantly. We moved in together, got married, bought a house, got promotions at work and earned higher education degrees, hiked, drank, ran, ate and welcomed our son to the world. For a gal from Southern California and a guy from Montana, Maryland took some getting used to – the pollen, bugs, humidity, and distance from home made the change all the more difficult. But as time passed, we began to grudgingly put down roots. We even began to feel at home in our adopted land. What follows is Mr. Link’s favorite (and least favorite) parts about living in Maryland. Other posts here.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Maryland

Number 8 – Maryland

I think this one surprises me the most.

Our relationship with Maryland started off on rocky footing. Mrs. Link lived in a tiny Charles village studio that slanted ever-so-slightly toward the outer wall so it felt very much like a sky cell at the Eyrie. I lived in a basement apartment in the People’s Republic of Takoma Park which was infested by house centipedes and camel crickets. Hell, even the geography was out to get me. See, dense vegetation generally limits your visibility to well under a mile while there are no mountains or anything else on the horizon to provide orientation. So I spent the first few years completely disoriented without any of the visual queues I grew up with. Suffice to say, when we first got here, we were counting the days until we could leave again… we were unwilling hostages.

But then something strange happened. Stockholm Syndrome. At some point, I started to actually like Maryland.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the change happened, but I remember vividly the moment I became aware of it. It was something like that scene in romantic comedies where the girl has a sexy dream about a guy she thinks she hates. For me, it was when Maryland revealed their fancy new Under Armour uniforms inspired by the Maryland Flag. The uniforms were widely panned, but I loved them. For the record, I also like the Oregon uniforms before they got popular. Anyway, I realized I liked the Maryland state flag, and that got me thinking… I had actually grown fond of my adopted state.

When did that happen?

Columbia – Moving to Columbia and out of the insect and crime infested urban centers was probably the single most important ingredient in the fundamental change of heart. Columbia represented the space my Montana soul craved. And I don’t just mean the miles of wooded trails. I mean space. Back yards. Lakes. In Baltimore and D.C. a car owner is a pariah to be punished, attacked, taxed, and ticketed. Columbia has welcoming wide streets… and the let you turn right on red!

Annapolis – Baltimore and D.C. are about 30 miles apart. Completing the triangle, roughly 30 miles from each of these urban hell-holes is Annapolis. Judging Maryland by Baltimore alone is like judging Cindy Crawford solely on her mole. Maryland has a lot of really cool parts. It has farm land, ski areas and honest-to-God rednecks (complete with pickup trucks and hyphenated names!). Annapolis became a regular destination for Link family staycations – weekends away from home that felt like you might as well be a thousand miles away.

Renaissance Festival – One of the reasons I like the Maryland flag is its medieval influence. In fact, the medieval theme has worked its way into my design work. RenFen is great – how can you not love a place that sells meat on a stick?

The Wire – I guess those B’more thugs aren’t that bad. Especially Omar.

Inner Harbor – As much as I hate on Baltimore, there are some charming places. Inner Harbor stands out, especially after the awesome Star-Spangled Sailabration when they brought in a bunch of tall ships to celebrate the bi-centennial of the War of 1812. I also enjoyed football at Patterson Park, the watching fireworks on the Henderson’s Fleet Street rooftop and going to Orioles games at Camden Yard with the Bezaks. Still, one of my favorite parts about the inner harbor is the tribute to a tall ship – the Pride of Baltimore – which sank in 1986. It’s commemorated by a hilarious plaque that says “Pride of Baltimore – Lost at Sea”. Yep.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Maryland and I’ll miss it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t breath a sigh of freedom relief every time I drove across the American Legion Memorial Bridge into Virginia. Maryland taxes are too high. It’s politicians are too comfortable and too corrupt. There are too many random beatings of tourists in “The Greatest City in America.” Even so there is a certain Chesapeake charm that I’ve grown fond of.