A Travellerspoint blog

One Small Step


3 weeks at home can do a lot to a person. For me, it involved much more Netflix than I would care to admit, an average step count of 2000 steps a day (yikes), and your typical diet of vegan dinners and desserts. There were fun times of course: playing board games up at camp and chillin’ like a villain in our hot tub with stacks of books by my side. Regardless of whether it was exciting or not, at least it was a break from the drudgery of school. After 2 years of consistently taking classes, I was finally going to get a break from it all – and what better place than in San Francisco?
It’s sad to admit, but I actually did not know where NASA Ames was located prior to receiving that glorious email from my current supervisor! However, I couldn’t be happier for where I’ve ended up: in the heart of Silicon Valley and surrounded by some of the largest tech startups with names that people all across the world can recognize. Everything from the weather, to the to the scenery, to the downright nerdy people that I’m living with are making for an awesome experience. Since I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do, I’ll walk you through the highlights of the last 2 weeks.


Week 1: The weekend I arrived in San Jose was another sunny and cloudless day. Hopping on an uber from the airport to Moffett Field, we were stopped at the gate by the security guard and I had to hoof it on foot from the gate to where I would be staying, the NASA Exchange Lodge. As I dragged my 40 pound bag along the cracked sidewalk, the sun beat down on the grass that was just beginning to spring up in tufts here and there. Once I got my room situation worked out, I took stock of the place I would be living in for the next 70 days. Moffett Field used to be an old Naval Air Base (and it still has an active runway!), so everything has an appropriately military feel. Given my expected future, I had no issues with my surroundings. What I did have an issue with, however, was our shared kitchen, which was missing almost all of the basic cooking utensils a person might need. The cupboards were barren save for a couple pots and pans.

Following that first move in day, I went with a group of people down to the touristy town of Santa Cruz on Sunday. What originally started off as a group of 5 people quickly escalated into a herd of 25 eager interns who all wanted to go to the beach. We ate tacos and played volleyball and saw seals (not the David Goggins kind, though) basking down under the boardwalk! It was a fun weekend for what turned out to be a not-so-fun first week of work.


We had our orientation that Monday, and it felt like any other orientation at the start of summer camp. We went over some of the basics, like where to go for medical help and what to do if a test facility explodes and opens up an intergalactic wormhole. Once the formalities were over, we were brought by our mentors to our respective buildings to get situated in our offices. Because I’m working for a contractor, I had to go through another two-hour presentation that seemed to drag on and on. I will admit they got their point across, however, because now I’m well versed on what happens if you sell company information to outside sources (only bad things, I promise).


Tuesday came with an interesting surprise – ballroom dance lessons. I showed up promptly at 5:15pm not knowing what to expect, but hey, they were free! What greeted my eyes when I walked in was a room full of seniors who had been coming to these lessons for weeks. They all knew each other and were just as surprised as I was to see someone 40 years younger than them walking in. Some of them were substantially shorter than me, which made the dance moves quite difficult. All in all, I’m still not sure if I will be permanently scarred from that experience.

The highlight of the first week was setting up my computer, which took much longer than you might expect. With all of the security measures they have in place here, and for someone lacking a hard credentials badge, it was surprisingly difficult to get something as simple as email. Other people started working on their projects within a day or two, but my case involved working with the supercomputers on site, so the days dragged by with the nature of my project in question. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I began to have the faintest clue of what I’d be doing! Even then, I was still a bit confused about what it was exactly I would be working on. By the end of the first week, I was banging my head at my desk trying to find any way that I could be useful around the office. Suffice to say, things were off to a slow start.

Week 2: The second week started off with a kick when we received some incredibly helpful tutorials about the software we would be using. Moreso, I had one of the adults sit down with me and help set up a lot of the materials I would be working with. I was lucky we got that squared away on Monday, because by Tuesday I had to attend a meeting where I talked about what I had accomplished up to that point! I scraped together a test case I had done, which still paled in comparison to what the people around me were doing at this point.

As time passed, I got to know the people around me a bit better. The group of us all worked for the same contractor, so we worked in the same rooms, ate lunch together, and even had rooms at the exchange lodge that were adjacent to each other! I lucked out with the group that I am here with, because they are grade A people: nice, friendly, eager to go hiking, fun to play boardgames with, and everything that you would hope for in complete strangers. We stayed at the office until 6pm each day and would mosey on back to the lodge for board games until bedtime.

Our second weekend we set up a trip to go hiking in Big Basin Redwood Forest. Nestled in a cluster of mountains 30 minutes southwest of San Jose, we chose a hike that would last us several hours. The day began for us at 6:30am, when we piled into the caravan of cars and set forth for the redwoods. As we pulled up the one-lane mountain roads, we passed through layers of fog that wrapped around the car and shrouded the hillsides in its gloomy tendrils. Passing above the fog layer was spectacular, because it felt like you were part of a different world.

By 8am, we were grouped up at the head of the trail and ready to embark on our 10 mile adventure. The path recommended for us would meander by a series of cascading waterfalls and up and down some of the big hills of Big Basin. We hadn’t walked more than 100 feet from the start when people were already beginning to take pictures with some of the giant trees around us. These babies were several feet in diameter and went up so high you could topple over backwards just trying to look up at them. Their distinct red hue made them feel like you were right in the middle of Endor or in Rivendell. It was quite a treat being able to see them firsthand. The best pictures taken were ones with people next to trees, because only then could you begin to understand the true scale of these godly mammoths.

We continued on and on until we finally reached our first waterfall. It was quite a sight to see, but I was a bit disappointed that we had walked two hours for something that was kinda dinky. I didn’t realize that this was the first of several much larger ones to come. As we continued down the steep path, we uncovered another waterfall that sprayed its mist out over us. Then, we found another and another in quick succession. When we reached the last waterfall at the bottom, there was a large wooden viewing deck that was crowded with other hikers munching on sandwiches. Unfortunately, none of us had brought substantial lunches like the other smart cookies around us, so instead we talked about all the kinds of food we wished we had in front of us on the way back to base camp. We filled those 4 miles with talk of pickles and hamburgers and milkshakes and fries.

Lo and behold, when we got back to our cars, we made a beeline for the first diner we could load on google maps and quickly filled the place up with our large group. Within an hour and a half, we had all consumed at least one hearty burger and a refreshing milkshake. It truly was an awesome way to round off our hike.

To be continued because I’m going to bed….

Posted by oklempay 22:03 Archived in USA Tagged hiking waterfall nasa san_jose redwoods big_basin endor exchange_lodge

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