Happy New Year! 🎆
What a year it has been! I am so grateful for all the blessings and opportunities that have come my way in the past 12 months. From personal achievements to meaningful moments with loved ones, this year has been truly special and I am so grateful for all the support and love you have given me. I hope this letter finds you well and that you have also had a wonderful year filled with growth and joy.1
January through March
Winter always leads me to an adventure. The cold temperatures inspire long stretches of time spent indoors, and shorter days mean I accomplish less outside on any given day. Eventually this ignites such a fierce desire to do something — anything — to change the routine that spontaneity takes the reins, and adventure results.
The adventure which kicked off the New Year was a train ride to Durham. The smaller neighbor of Raleigh, North Carolina's capital city, Durham was once a factory town for Big Tobacco. Its legacy is preserved, though their presence has long since vanished. Now, what used to be research laboratories and factory floors are coffee shops and loft-style condos.
I've wanted to go to Durham since moving to Charlotte as it's home to the Can Opener Bridge, a once-11'8" rail bridge Internet-famous for cleanly shaving the top off of 13'6" trucks. The bridge has since been raised to 12'4" (endearingly, 11'8"+8") and has been outfitted with countless warnings to the operators of oversized vehicles, yet the bridge is still no stranger to unfortunate encounters.
The bridge was what drew me to Durham, but the city itself will be why I return. I fell in love with the architecture and the scale of the city. The old brick warehouses and factory buildings are a photographer's dream, and since the train station is located in the middle of the city's downtown, getting to-and-from the heart of Durham was a breeze. In 2023, Tiffany and I plan to bring our bikes on the train to explore Durham (and the neighboring Duke University campus) even further.
Speaking of bikes, we were not bike owners at the time of our journey to Durham, but we were shortly afterward. Most view bicycles as fitness accessories, but in a city like Charlotte they're a faster, easier, cheaper, healthier, and friendlier method of getting around town. Since moving to Charlotte a little over a year prior, we had recognized that the majority of our car trips were made to destinations within 5 miles of our home, and largely on streets with speed limits 35 mph or less. These trips were prime for cycling. Last year, we planned on getting e-bikes, but after considering the mostly-flat, mostly-short-range riding we would do, we figured there was nothing better than the mechanical simplicity of a traditional 3-speed bicycle.
April through June
As winter dragged on, Tiffany and I found ourselves falling victim to what soundscape ecologists politely call "anthropogenic noise," more commonly known as noise pollution. For all of their benefits, U.S. cities don't prioritize silence... at all. We thankfully have a few silent retreats near our home, most notably our beloved Latta Park. But we agreed that getting away from the city for a few days would be a valuable use of our time and energy. In surveying our options, we settled on Charleston, South Carolina. Specifically, a farm stay in the Lowcountry we found on Airbnb.
I had just finished binging Yellowstone and had a burning desire to ride a horse, Tiffany has always loved horses and needed no excuse to be around them, so this stay was the perfect destination for the two of us. The bucolic scenery, sounds of nature23, and interaction with all of the animals made for a perfect weekend getaway.
Back in Charlotte, I got connected with an organization called Charlotte Urbanists earlier in the year. It's a small group of passionate Charlotteans that share a common goal of making Charlotte a more friendly, accessible, and safe city to those who either can't or choose not to drive a car. My involvement with this organization is deserving of its own separate blog post, as it has become a significant part of my life outside of flying. But I bring it up because in May — after only a few months of planning — we successfully revived Critical Mass, a 300-some person group bike ride through Uptown Charlotte.
Critical Mass had been dormant in Charlotte since the '90s, and we were completely blown away by the exuberant turnout. It was both inspiring and surreal to see Charlotte's streets silently overwhelmed by such a large and diverse group of cyclists. Since this event, we've held Critical Mass on the last Friday of each month, save for one (due to a Tropical Storm battering Charlotte that day).
As temperatures slowly rose and summer was on the horizon, Tiffany was longing to return to the beach. Honestly, I was too. Seeing as we hadn't yet explored North Carolina's famous Outer Banks, and that Tiffany has an old college roommate that lives in Kitty Hawk, and the Wright Brothers took their first flight in Kitty Hawk, and Duck Donuts' original location is a few miles up the road in Duck, and we found yet an Airbnb walking distance from the heart of the historic seaside town of Manteo, we had no reason not to pack our bags and road trip across the state.
Tiffany's former roommate works at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island as a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Technician. She was kind enough to give us a thorough behind-the-scenes tour detailing all of the incredible work that NC Aquariums is doing at this location. It was especially impressive to hear about the things they're able to accomplish in service of marine life while working with a limited, donation-based budget, strengthened by numerous volunteers.
Of course, we made time for the beach too, though incredibly strong rip currents kept us from getting in the water. The sunshine, sand, and sounds of the crashing waves were enough to satiate our yearning for oceanic fulfillment.
For Father's Day this year, I accompanied my father on a fishing trip up to Bishop, CA, to which we've been retreating for this same holiday since I was young. This tradition has been put on the back burner since I became an airline pilot as planning ahead and scheduling the time off are much more complicated now. This year, I planned vacation days over the week of Father's Day, guaranteeing that I could make it up north. We kept this trip loosely scheduled, scheduling each day the night before. The only thing we knew for sure we'd be doing was renting a boat to go out and fish on my favorite lake, Convict Lake.
This was originally planned to be an all-day event, but the wind picked up on the lake around lunchtime, so we called it quits early. I'm happy to announce I won the fish-catching contest for the morning (all released, hook-free!).
Our next destination was Mammoth Mountain to ride the gondola up to the peak of the mountain, 11,053' above sea level. To my knowledge, this was the highest elevation I've ever stood at, and its impressive elevation was emphasized by the fact that the peak was covered with snow — in June!
Spontaneously, and without nearly enough forethought, I tried running uphill just to see how hard it would be to do so. It wasn't very hard. Catching my breath afterward, however, was nearly impossible. Lesson learned! I didn't pass out, so... mission accomplished, I suppose.
July through September
I had another week of vacation planned in mid-July, this time in sync with Tiffany. All year we had been planning to visit Europe during this week. But 3 days before our expected departure date, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, where we were planning to arrive, announced Customs staffing shortage. Shortly afterward, airline employee travel to the city was prohibited. Seeing the writing on the wall for the rest of Europe, and as flights elsewhere began filling up, we scrapped our plans and looked westward: Hawaii!
In 3 short days, we booked a hotel and put together a rough itinerary and list of places we wanted to check out. No solid plans except lounging on the beach.
We took The Bus (Honolulu's public transit) to Waikiki and settled into our hotel. For the first half of the week, we were mere pedestrians in Hawaii's largest city. We woke up early one morning to hike to the top of Diamond Head, including a 10-mile round-trip walk to and from the crater. At one point during the week, we met up with one of Tiffany's good friends from high school, Christian, that just happened to be on the island on vacation.
For the second half of the week, we rented a car to explore the further reaches of the island. The North Shore lived up to its reputation for having impressive surf and sea turtles, but also more rural beaches which allowed us to find a quiet stretch to call our own for a few hours.
The rental car also allowed us to reach a few other hikes around the island. One that Christian recommended was the Koko Crater Railway Trail, a mile-long stretch of former military railroad that runs straight up the side of a volcanic crater. The ties now act as stairs up the mountain, around 1,000 of which will take you to the top. As you near the top, the trail starts to resemble a ladder more than a staircase. This was easily the most physically excruciating hike this infrequent hiker has ever attempted. The most rewarding aspect of the journey was the strong sea breeze at the top that the crater had blocked for the entire duration of the hike.
The following day, our last day on the island, we headed off — glutes still sore — to the west coast of the island to watch our final Hawaiian sunset of the trip over the oceanic horizon.
Once home, I reflected my time in Hawaii and couldn't help but recall the times I got winded while battling the surf or hiking, all things I would love to do with ease. I came to the realization that I could probably be taking better care of myself. While these thoughts were in my head, I happened upon a blog post called The best investment by Herman, the gentleman that created the blogging platform that hosts the post you're reading right now.
The entire post resonated with me, and I highly recommend pausing here to read the entire thing (it's short), but it was this line in particular that led me to action:
My thinking is that I spend about half as much on a trainer as I do on rent, but I spend significantly more time in my body than I do in my house.
I was able to find a London-based trainer that coaches me through both diet and exercise remotely (perfect for a pilot), and thankfully comes at a premium that well below half of my rent. Like Herman, I can comfortably say this was the best investment I made this year. I've seen a prominent improvement in my health in the 5-ish months we've been working together.
A few weeks later, my mom and grandma came to visit us in Charlotte for the first time. They were the first of my family that we've hosted in the Queen City. It was great to show them around, see our city through new eyes, and of course to spend time with both of them again.
After this visit, the year began its downhill stretch. Since then it has felt like non-stop "go," beginning with the wedding of my cousin Jenny in Connecticut. This was a Konecnik wedding, and the first time I've seen much of my dad's side of the family in well over a decade.
The trip, as planned, was ambitious. We found a bed and breakfast in the quiet seaside town of New London. New London has a train station in the center of town, but no rental car facility. To get to the wedding, we'd need a car. There was a car rental facility in Providence, RI, which would be a good airport choice for us to depart back to Charlotte. Unfortunately, flights to Providence were full.
So we set off for Boston instead, with the intent to take Acela (Amtrak's high-speed rail line, and the only high-speed rail in the U.S.) to Providence. Unfortunately, our flight to Boston was delayed due to weather in the Northeast. Once we departed, we realized it was going to take a miracle to make it to our train on time. We hustled, got lucky with a bus to the train station arriving right away, but it was all for naught. We stepped out on to the South Station platform two minutes late, our train nowhere to be seen.
Thankfully, there was a commuter train departing a few minutes later (and for a fraction of the price). We hopped aboard. Amtrak was able to give us credit for the value of our missed ride, so the suggestion box is open on where we should ride next.
The remainder of our travels in the Northeast were uneventful. The bed and breakfast was delightful. Our host, Nancy, loved hosting travelers and made sure we never left hungry in the morning. We fell in love with the town of New London, whose residents were seemingly impossibly friendly4.
We visited a few of the other seaside villages in the area during our off hours. One of the cooler ones was Mystic, which my dad remembered visiting when he was a kid. We also made time to see the Mystic Aquarium, bringing our aquarium total for the year to two.
None of this mentions the wedding itself, which was both beautiful and jovial. The ceremony was held on a cliff overlooking the infinite horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.
Once home, we weren't home for long (literally 2 days). I picked up a recruiting trip to Utah State University in the small college town of Logan. This one was special since, around 7 years ago, Tiffany earned her Private Pilot Certificate at Utah State, the summer before she began at Purdue. I had the good fortune of accompanying her as she gave me a local tour, all while calling it work.
I've never been to Utah, and visiting at the beginning of Autumn was the perfect time to see its natural beauty in full effect. I now have only 5 states to go before I can officially say I've spent time in all 50! 5
October through December
After swearing last year that I'd never run a 5K on a runway ever again, I won a free ticket to the Charlotte Airport Runway 5K for the second year in a row. I was somewhat excited for this year's race though, mainly because it would be my first act of physical endurance since beginning my fitness routine.
The result: Not my best time, not my worst. But it was the first time I've ever run a 5K without walking at any point. And for this reason, I consider it a victory.
In its inaugural year, Charlotte Urbanists was awarded an "Urbie" by the Charlotte Urban Design Center and Charlotte School of Architecture. The category: Great Student Project (the organization was founded by two Charlotte students). Seeing as the event was in my neighborhood, I attended to show my support for the organization and wound up accepting the award along with a few friends from the group.
Public transit and urban design are two things I've become very interested in and passionate about over the past few years. As such, it was such a privilege to be in the presence of the people and organizations making Charlotte a better place to live, and to be welcomed into their circle.
As winter approached, one of my best friends from Purdue, Dominique, invited me to her wedding in her hometown of Chicago. I've been to Chicago numerous times throughout the years, and I absolutely love the city. I didn't need any excuse to return.
Upon our arrival, we used the "L" to get into the city, then spent our stay exploring downtown on foot. Our first day there felt like a July day in the middle of November. The city was alive. We walked the Riverwalk, took pictures with "the bean," and had lunch outside. In November! In Chicago! Tiffany and I ended the day by returning to Carmine's, an Italian restaurant at which we had dinner over 5 years ago when we were first dating. The entire day was magical.
As was the ceremony the following day. It was held in a renovated warehouse-turned-art center that spoke directly to my love of old, reused buildings (ed: as I type this in an old, reused building).
As the year comes to a close, I'm in the process of turning yet another page of my career, this time to begin the next chapter. I'll be stepping into my latest role as a Line Check Airman. Put as simply as I can, the Federal Aviation Administration designates a handful of Captains at each airline to serve as instructor pilots tasked with training new pilots and observing current pilots to uphold the standards set forth by both the company and the FAA. I'm very proud to announce that I've been selected to be one of those designated few.
I'm immeasurably excited to start this new role, as instructing and evaluating are things I've greatly missed since becoming an airline pilot a little under 5 years ago.
Happy New Year
That concludes my whirlwind of a year. There are still things I didn't mention, we went to DC to see the cherry blossoms, I had some awesome recruiting trips to San Diego and Phoenix, we even visited Purdue several times. This is also a just a collection of the highlights, but there were plenty of long days at work and days spent with nothing accomplished that could probably fill a post just as long as this one.
One thing is certain: A year ago, there was no way I could have predicted much of anything I just wrote about. Even in compiling the list of things I wanted to write about, I couldn't believe everything on the list had happened in the last 365 days. As such, I can't even begin to predict what 2023 will bring.
I certainly want to write more this year. I set up this site with the sole intent of sharing little snippets of my life throughout the year for my friends and family to follow along. Hopefully, next year's Year-in-Review can link back to individual posts about each endeavor, and — hopefully — that will allow it to be shorter.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read about all that I experienced in 2022. Here's wishing you a happy, safe, and healthy 2023.
This opening paragraph was composed entirely by AI. OpenAI's ChatGPT was easily the most groundbreaking technology to emerge this year, so I thought it was only appropriate to include it in this year's letter. You can read the brief conversation that led to the creation of this paragraph here.↩
Natural sounds are typically categorized in one of three ways. Biophony, sounds emitted by creatures such as birds and crickets; Geophony, sounds emitted by non-biological natural elements like water and wind; and Anthropophony, natural sounds emitted by humans, including musical instruments. Increasingly, the noise emitted by human creations ("anthropogenic noise") is producing widespread negative health effects for humans and animals alike.↩
On one of our walks down to town, a flower shop employee chased after us shouting "Miss, Miss!" just to give Tiffany a flower.↩
There are rules to this claim. Most notably: Airports don't count. I've been to SLC airport several times in the past, but this was my first time stepping foot outside the airport.↩