Tag Archives: travel

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wausau, WI

As I stared off into the distance, the bus made no efforts to disengage from its predetermined path. It continued to incrementally separate itself from me, simultaneously sabotaging both my sense of security and any plans I had of seeing my friend this weekend. The situation was slipping outside of my control and Wausau was slipping outside of my grasp.

These were desperate times, but I could not afford to look desperate. No one would help a hysterical hitchhiker. The situation demanded a calm, cool, and collected state of mind. The rules of supply and demand dictated that I should have an ample reserve. I could not lose in this market. Too much was at stake.

Fortunately the transfer point was located at the local restaurant in town. Instead of sinking my teeth into sub-par sustenance, I should have been devoting my time to figuring out a way to ensure I wouldn’t spend my entire weekend at Olympia Family Restaurant. I tried to vocalize my predicament to the restaurant staff, but without a purchase I would be outside of their concern and then promptly escorted outside of their establishment. Left with no other viable options, I sat down in moderate defeat to decide on my main course for dinner alongside a more pressing new course of action.

While I sat in solitude at my own little corner of Olympia, a concerned family overheard my pleas for help and offered a simple solution to what had become a complex problem. They would drive me to Wausau. I had found Southern Hospitality in the Upper Midwest. From that point forward good food and conversation were abundant, as our shared stories and exchanged laughter wafted though the air of the small town restaurant. The evening continued to drastically transform from dismal to blissful as my unfamiliar associates substantiated their magnanimous demeanor with monetary value. I was told before that there was no such thing as a free lunch. But a free dinner was never out of the question. In fact, it was right in front of me. And with my wallet still full and my stomach even fuller, we left the diner behind as we set our sights on the final destination.

The hitchhiking had commenced, complete with continued conversation from my benefactors. During the ride, they explained why they felt so compelled to help me. One night during a winter snowstorm their daughter had broke down on the side of the road. The conditions were too harsh for her to stay inside her car, but the tow truck driver took it upon himself to take care of this random stranger. They had to pay this kindness forward. They told me it was the only way humans could make it through life. I had a “no-good-deed-goes-unreciprocated” policy and the good fortune I had been blessed with was no exception to the rule. One day I would pay it forward. But for now, I would enjoy all the perks of being on the receiving end of random acts of kindness.

If this was the standard package for a person engaging in the art of hitchhiking, then I could endure a day of being pampered and protected from the hardships of the traveler’s life in exchange for the student price and the routine recreations of the local charter bus. Although it was an untimely and inefficient mode of transport, it was the far more spontaneous and exhilarating option. It was something to remember. And if I wanted this memory to last, then I had to savor it while I still could.

In short, hitchhiking had accomplished my mission. Their kindness extended not only to the inside of their vehicle but to the inner lining of their wallets. They left me in Wausau, WI – directly in front of my friend’s house. I left with words of wisdom and a Karmic pledge to pay it forward in the future.

With the help of these strangers, I had successfully hitchhiked to the promised land. And nothing else mattered.

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Reckless Abandonment

Before the completion of my junior year of college, I had promised my friend that I would spend a weekend with him in his hometown. Given the condition of my mind during the ritualistic mental torture of finals week, no one should expect the fulfillment of this promise. But a promise was a promise. Besides, I could not turn down new opportunities. Even if I was clueless as to what we would do for an entire weekend in Wausau, WI, one thing was certain. I trusted my friend. I knew he would be a good host and try to make this weekend a memorable one. No matter the circumstance, I knew that I would enjoy my time there.

It was decided. I printed my ticket, packed my bag, and used mapping software to survey the new territory I would visit. Although I digitally explored the local surroundings and gathered all necessary items, nothing could truly prepare me for the journey I was about to embark on. I would learn that the hard way.

The ride to Wausau should have been simple, tame, and uneventful. While past bus trip experiences instilled a sense of adventure and romanticized the potential for life-long friendships among total strangers, this bus trip destroyed any previous notions of idealized traveling tales. They were replaced with stories of woe and strife and many other exaggerated vocabularies to overdramatize the reality of a bus trip.

Bus transfers were supposed to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but this transaction of precious cargo proved to be more than just a bump in the road. I hadn’t known that we were supposed to wait for the transfer point. I decided to preemptively remove myself at the stop before the transfer location. I asked the bus driver for the location of the transfer point and I began to walk in that direction.

Little did I know that I discarded my only form of transportation and sent my dreams for a weekend retreat to the graveyard. It was reckless abandonment with the roles reversed. I had recklessly abandoned my guide. And it was time to suffer the consequences of my foolish actions. The run-off-the-mill transfer point capitalized on my less-than-average capacity for common sense and resulted in the pursuit of a bus. My happiness would have to wait.

To make matters worse, my friend’s phone would be inaccessible during the time that I was scheduled to arrive. He would not see my frantic distress signals. I might have had more luck sending smoke signals than text messages. My misfortunes had accelerated from bad to worse in a manner of seconds. Honestly, at this point I was willing to try anything.

And suddenly, the events of the day led me to a stark realization. The ticket that I had printed was obsolete. The amount of items I packed was insufficient for my extended residence in Stevens Point. The aerial photography I viewed would be the only glimpse I would ever see of Wausau.

It was plain and simple. I was stranded.

Eyes In the Sky and On the Prize

Kai was selected to participate as one of 19 student leaders on the National Center for Atmospheric Research Undergraduate Leadership Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. He entered Boulder unaware that he would leave transformed forever.

When I first heard about the Undergraduate Leadership Workshop (ULW), I was clueless as to just how much it could accomplish for me.

I had originally applied for the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) summer program because I was looking for a longer summer research experience to occupy my summer. When I was informed that I did not receive admittance to SOARS I asked the director, Dr. Rebecca Haacker, if there were any other opportunities I might be able to apply for this summer. Initially I saw the ULW as a silver medal, a smaller version of the premier research program that would have allowed me to reach new heights in the atmospheric sciences research field. But I would soon discover that I was terribly, horribly, and irrefutably wrong.

Beginning with its inaugural launch in 2002, the ULW has continually played a crucial role in ensuring excellence and developing leadership within the scientific community at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). The ULW approach is twofold: (1) expose students to career opportunities and pathways in the atmospheric and Earth system sciences and (2) educate students on the definition of leadership while identifying innate characteristic traits of leadership and developing leadership potential.

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Sneak peak of ULW coordinators (from left to right) Valerie Sloan, Tim Barnes, and Rebecca Haacker working to enhance the student experience at the ULW.

The ULW selected students nationally from over 100 different UCAR university affiliates, of which I would represent the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Despite our geographical differences, we had all entered this program with common interests: a freakish obsession with meteorological phenomenon, ambitions to meet prominent scientists and use modern technology in our field, and intent to learn about the possibilities beyond our undergraduate education.

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ULW Group Photo exposing the creative and fun side of scientists-in-training. #scientistsgotswag

When I finally arrived to Colorado, what I first noticed was the landscape. Even from 5000ft above ground, I bore witness to the picturesque scenery that is definitive of the Great Plains region. The strong sense of environmental integrity set the scene for the contrasting conversations surrounding environmental pollution and global climate change science. Housed in Boulder, Colorado is the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the research center that would host our week long introduction into the lives of professional weather weenies. NCAR masterfully reflects the Boulder mission, as it promotes a research design centering on the complex processes that contribute to the climate as an Earth system while focusing on the interactions of the air, planet, and people.

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The Towers of the MESA Laboratory at NCAR in all its glory.

The success of this program can be attributed to many factors, one of which the abundance of mentors in the scientific community at NCAR. In the short time span of one week, I was immersed in the company of leaders in science, industry, and business working at the forefront of climate sciences. These leaders were eager to converse, advise, and even laugh with us in the many one-on-one social interactions that the ULW forced upon us. I am honored that graduate panels, career panels, and even National Medal of Science winner Dr. Warren Washington could all be assembled together with the sincerest intentions to impart their years of sagely wisdom to our eager minds. I would stand in admiration of the brilliant minds before us, half listening while furiously writing down notes and half bewildered at the probability of these very moments. Some were even kind enough to permit us, armed with video recording devices, into their offices so that we might catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat solving the scientific complexities they love.

A Clifford Hoang Production – the result from hours of following NCAR scientists like obsessive paparazzi

The other half of the ULW success equation was the synergy between the students. Everyone was open-minded and entertaining, with just the right amount of weird. There existed a direct relationship between the number of eccentricities within this group and the amount of time we spent together. The walls of our personal boundaries crumbled as we forged friendships that would last into and throughout our professional careers. We parted with plans for the 96th Annual American Meteorological Society Conference in 2016 in mind as our central hub for reunion. And as our GroupMe chat history continues to fill the air with talk of cloud walls in Pecan, TSA frisking, Barney Stinson, terrorizing crows and lost-and-found volleyballs, I have realized that our fates are now intertwined (and bound by candy law). This is not goodbye…

Group Hug

In the words of Heather Marie Zons from the book Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

After all the professional development workshops and group bonding exercises, I found it necessary to detach myself from the context of the workshop in order to properly digest the information I had acquired. The ULW had innumerable lessons to teach our group, but a lesson in self-discovery was what my soul was longing for. Before I arrived at the ULW, I had been engaged in an internal conflict between my natural affinity towards literature and the human condition and my passion for scientific discovery. Dr. Jen Henderson was the savior that I needed. She was living proof that the synthesis of social sciences and the physical sciences was not as absurd of a reality as I had previously thought. She had authority on several academic fields but the most importantly she professed that we should follow our passions wherever they may take us. Of all the lessons I have learned in my time at the ULW, I found this to be the most precious of them all.

I am proud to have attended the ULW because without it, I would not have achieved a better understanding of myself and my aspirational goals. I emerged with a newfound vigor to find a career combining the two fields I care most about in a context that will address both the societal issues and the environmental impacts of climate change. I cannot wait to start the school year in the Fall and bring back all that I have learned to my home institution and the UW American Meteorological Society chapter. With my proclamation to apply to SOARS next year and the lasting ties of friendship sheltered in my memories, I leave Boulder awaiting my next return to this promised land.

Thank you ULW for changing my life!

Kai Wave

I wave not as a farewell to the past, but as greeting to the future and all that is to come.

Digital media sources credited to Clifford Hoang and Andrew Huang.