A Travellerspoint blog

Master of Telling Bad Jokes

When you’re at home, everything feels safe and secure. You’re familiar with the streets, the stores, the people. Even if you leave for long periods, you return with the feeling that everything is okay. It’s where you’re meant to be and you belong.

For me, that’s what Atlanta has felt like over the past 5 years as I settled back into living in the city in which I was born. Just like the Circle of Life from the Lion King, it’s a tad ironic that I was born in Atlanta and wound up going back to there for college. At this point in my life, I’ve now lived in Atlanta and Upstate NY for the same amount of time. Being able to do my Master’s for the past year at Georgia Tech has been an incredible gift to remain connected with my close friends and the campus. I’ll try and recount a couple of the awesome moments that I was able to experience over the 2020-2021 year. Despite COVID trying to rain on the parade, I think we still managed to make an unforgettable year that I’m very thankful I was able to experience. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in…

I arrived at Georgia Tech for my final hurrah in mid-August for my first and last year as a graduate student. I was lucky enough to get my grad school paid for by means of research I was doing with a group sponsored by the Air Force. For my Fall semester, I signed up for a relatively light courseload of only 3 graduate-level courses. Compared to undergrad, this meant that I had more open hours in the day than I had in an entire week beforehand. While the courses did have higher expectations and the homework was significantly harder than before, I had grown accustomed to being beat down by GT. The nice part was that the classes were fully online, so I could join them from my office at work and not have to commute all over campus constantly. The other benefit of online classes was that my girlfriend was able to remain in the Atlanta area. We were able to find many things around the Atlanta area to do that we had been unable to do in years’ past due to transportation limitations.

For instance, we took a trip out to the infamous Blood Mountain (kind of sounds like where an evil villain would keep their lair) and hiked to the top for some gorgeous pictures of the North Georgia mountains. On that hike, we befriended some Russians who passed along a package of Russian bacon-chips for us to munch on. On another hike, we went to the “grand canyon of Georgia”, which is called Providence Canyon. Apparently, these canyons formed due to poor farming practices of the area (but now it has made for an awesome view!). We also went hiking with our friends, Noah and Clair, to Ravencliff Falls. After hiking back into the woods for about an hour, we reached a decently large waterfall that spewed crystal-clear water. On the way back from Ravencliff Falls, we stopped at Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze in Dawsonville, GA. Noah and I were able to weave our way through the maze like experts, while my girlfriend and Clair had a somewhat tougher time at navigating through the hedges (let’s just say, I was not a-mazed).





Aside from hiking around Georgia, we also found plenty of new things to do in Atlanta. The Georgia Aquarium opened a new exhibit with sharks, so we had to stop by to see the lawyers in the tanks (haha…please don’t sue me if you (or your dad) is a lawyer). We also went on several flights over Atlanta and up over the North Georgia mountains. There was one flight where we had a miscommunication with another pilot who had also booked our plane and ended up zooming back halfway through our flight so we didn’t make her late for her checkride. Carrying on the fun of doing escape rooms in Waco, TX over the summer, we did another escape room with Noah and Clair that was treasure-themed. We ended up finishing with several minutes to spare! Through the Yellow Jacket Flying Club, I found out about a new VR simulator opening up at the airport that was offering cheap rentals to club members. Being the nerd I am, I signed up for it almost immediately and went with my girlfriend to try it out. We loved it so much that we went back the next weekend and brought another friend along!



Although I didn’t get to fulfill my dream of true skydiving, I came close to doing so by going indoor skydiving at iFly with my roommate. Through the GT skydiving club, we received heavily discounted iFly sessions that had us zooming around the wind tunnel and pretending to be MI6 agents jumping out of an airplane.


In March, I had the opportunity to go to my first ever NASCAR race! It was extra sweet, because we had with us an experienced NASCAR race watcher. If my friend, Ted, hadn’t been there, we would have just thought it was loud cars making left turns for 2 hours and occasionally stopping. However, he was able to tell us what the occasional stops meant and pointed out which drivers to watch out for. Attending the NASCAR race was also an exposure to a side of Georgia that I hadn’t been able to see much of in Atlanta. It was definitely eye-opening and something I want to go back and watch. Just after we left the race, two of the drivers got into a bit of a fist-fight and went at it to “settle their issues”.


One of the most impactful things of the entire year was training for the Publix Half Marathon at the end of February. It all started with a casual suggestion to my roommate that I was interested in running a half marathon. Before I knew it, there were 5 of us training to run the marathon. My roommate and I went on 10 mile runs every week to condition our body for the eventual experience. Having never been on that long of a run before, I was apprehensive at first. But it wasn’t that bad and it gave us a chance to see Atlanta early on Saturday mornings. When the race day came, my goal was to get a sub 2 hour time for the half marathon. While I started out strong and was able to keep pace with my roommate for the first 8 miles, he took off quickly when I began to slow down. The final 3 miles of the race were extra painful because it was on the concrete desert of the Georgia Motor Speedway (yes, the same one I went to watch in March!). The day happened to be cloudless and the hottest one of February, which only intensified the heat wave that radiated from the tarmac. If I was going somewhat slow for the last quarter of the race, being on the race track made me slow down to the pace of a snail. Unfortunately, I did not meet my sub 2-hour goal and ended up coming in around 2 hours and 8 minutes. My roommate came in at 2 hours and 3 minutes for his time.


In April, I had my shot at redemption with the Tear Drop Half Marathon. This half marathon took place in the North Georgia mountains and featured 8.5 miles of straight downhill. If I was going to get a sub 2 hour race time, this was the place I was going to do it. What I had yet to realize about downhill running is that the pain is not immediate, but sets in later than usual. This meant that I cruised along for the downhill portion, but the final two miles were excruciatingly painful. Even the smallest uphill after the continuous downhill felt like I was climbing Mount Everest. It was around mile 6 that I realized if I kept my pace up I might be able to come in just under 2 hours. Although it certainly wasn’t easy, the thought of finishing sub 2 hours fueled me and kept me going strong for the latter half of the race. The last quarter mile was scary, because I could see the race clock and saw that I only had 2.5 minutes left on the clock. I skirted across the finish line with 30 seconds to spare. While on some mental plane it felt awesome to finally reach the goal I had set out to do, in the physical world my body was on fire. My legs were so messed up from the downhill that I had to hobble around for the next week. Sitting down and standing up was a feat each time I did it without falling over. Overall, I’m very happy I could enter into the world of half-marathon running with my friends and make some awesome memories.


So that’s a wrap! Besides a bunch of classes, some work here and there, and various to trips to restaurants all over Atlanta, that was more or less my Master’s experience in a nutshell (Hmm, now that I have my Master’s I wonder if they’ll give me a green golf jacket too). Graduation was a busy affair with my family coming into town to watch not one, but TWO graduations. I’m such a goober that I decided to walk for both the undergrad and graduate ceremonies. It would haven’t been so bad, except that I forgot my sunscreen for the first ceremony and turned into a bright red tomato for the next few days. On the bright side, I did get two fake diplomas that contained advertisements to join the alumni association!

Once again, I’m very thankful that I had this extra year to complete my Master’s and hang around Georgia Tech. I’ve had an unforgettable 5 years on the campus and will always try to find ways to make it back to Atlanta whenever I can. It’s a wonderful city filled with wonderful people and food. It’s hard to move away from where you know home is, but I know I’ll be back one day, I’m sure of it.


Posted by oklempay 01:55 Archived in USA Tagged hiking georgia half_marathon masters georgia_tech gt

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