Change how you see the world…

When the world changed (dramatic statement, but it’s the truth), I told myself that I would use this additional time at home to learn something new.

Fast forward to almost 6 months later – and I’m still on that path to learning new things and sharpen (or create) new skill sets. And if you’ve been following my posts (or social media) you’ve been force-fed the new “skills” I’ve been learning on Photoshop.

One of my favorite managers once told me that I “had the ability to see things as they are – and how they could be.” That quote has always stuck with me and I truly feel like it explains how I think and how I react to the world around me. Photoshop has allowed me to fall down that rabbit-hole and really share the things, places and experiences I’ve had and share them in creative new ways as I see/saw them.

Here are some fun ways I’ve been able to share my experiences through pictures, videos and a little bit of magic (aka Photoshop)….

Below was my first “edit” that recapped a year of training for my first full IRONMAN triathlon – and since I said “IRONMAN” I’m obligated to inform you that and IRONMAN triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run race that has to be completed in under 16 hours (Yes, during one day – and Yes, all back to back). This journey was years in the making and an experience that I’ll never forget – and this edit celebrated a lot of those moments over 12 social media squares.

My next edit was a celebration of the weekend road trips I mentioned in a previous post, some of my favorite places, a few trip down memory lane and some special memories “socially distancing” with friends over FaceTime and Instagram Live. From a technical perspective, this is when I learned how to use overlays and get creative with PNG layers of MP4 files – this means creating images that come to life by adding videos to posts that look like pictures until you click on or scroll to the image. If I had a dollar for every time someone messaged me and said “Woah – I didn’t realize that was a video” I’d have… like $3.00. But the fact that the creativity wasn’t lost on anyone made it worth it.

Discovering Overlays was a game changer for me. Something simple like adding translucent bubbles added magic to my images and helped bridge some of the imagery from one post to the other as the bubbles “floated” across my timeline/edit.

As a subtle tribute to Pride Month, some life lessons and my June travels I used overlays to add a rainbow to one of my posts too. A little transparent background image helped reflect the importance of looking up and looking in – again, not everyone will get it, but I do and that’s what’s important. And there are a few “Easter Eggs” hidden in the posts that make me laugh and I know some of my friends catch/caught.

I’ve also tried to step up my Layering skills by taking elements like splashing water to look as if my images were present during the splashing or existing within in the same moment. Was it perfect? Not even close – but I was so excited when I learned how to do it on my own and can’t wait to find a new opportunity to use this same “skill” in a marketing piece or another project.

And in the same layering fashion, I loved taking moments of exploring new places (like the awesome forests in Maui, HI) and dropping them into the succulents and ::struggling:: green grass in my own backyard. I was trying to create the message that adventure awaits you in your backyard – or where you can find it – but I guess I’m the only one who would know that the background and foreground plants was my backyard (again – “IF” you get it).

And that brings us to my most recent edits. I’ll admit it got a little busy at the bottom – but in my defense I did those edit in the car while on a road trip and REALLY wanted to get some of those awesome moments in there.

I was really excited to work some more of photo/video edits in there – especially since there were so many cool videos to share from #Adventuring in Kentucky and Virginia. Please take a look at my Instagram account (@MatthewCGoto) and see how some of the images come to life (or play video – however engaging as you may find it).

What I’ve found is that while busy is fun – I’m going to start to go with larger images and challenge myself to take higher quality images. The term “visual storyteller” is overused, but as a millennial (another overused term) I’m going to own it and really try to tell a story – which has been what I have wanted to accomplish (in addition to learning new skills).

In my last few posts (at the time of this post) I was really challenging myself to find ways to better blend my images (not that I don’t like a Kodak film role, Polaroid frame or ripped edge). The branches in the images below helped me attempt to blend the images – but there are some dead giveaways and flaws – but I’m looking forward to stepping my game up and being able to look back at these posts and identify ways to make them blend smoother or get even more creative – feedback and expert tips much appreciated!

Thank you for reading this longwinded post and encouraging me on this continued adventure to learn new things – and to share how things are and how they could be.

And I know that I have a lot to learn – and that makes this journey so much more exciting and fun.

Working for the Weekend…

I’m spent the entire “adult” portion of my life working weekends. Key weekends like Labor Day weekend, Martin Luther King weekend and Memorial Day weekend have been busy work weekends for as long as I can remember – and I’m not complaining, it has just been my “norm” and part of my career field. But one of the “silver-linings” of COVID is that 1) I haven’t had to travel on weekends and 2) I didn’t/don’t have any place to be.

So after the first few weeks of Shelter-In-Place (or quarantine, however you view it) I decided to start exploring new places in my backyard (AKA Driving Distance) that would take back my weekends – and provide MUCH needed physical and mental relief from the stress of what else was going on in the world. There are a ton of state parks and outdoor recreation areas with enforced social distancing guidelines (and limited parking which helps).

I wake up early on weekdays – but I wake up earlier on the weekend to make sure I get even more time for myself… and time to adventure!

On top of the weekends at home – I was able to take advantage of the “work from home” status to change up my scenery and visit family who had also been sheltering-in-place. (Disclaimer: COVID test were taken before visiting anyone – and I 100% wear a mask and carry hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes everywhere I go)

Even though you may think you know where you live, I challenge you to get on TripAdvisor, Yelp and even Google your city to see what other people are seeing and doing. By doing this, I’ve been able to find a lot of hidden treasures minutes away – or within a few hours – from where I live.

One of my favorite things about these newly found weekend adventures, is finding small businesses that are finding ways to operate under the COVID rules and restrictions. Whether it’s ordering a to-go lunch at a small restaurant or buying a small gift from a local mom & pop shop/roadside pop-up, I feel like I’m doing my part to help support small businesses during this chaotic and uncertain time. And I’ve experienced some of the best customer service in years – being nice and courteous never goes out of style… even if a mask covers a natural smile (and yes, “smeyesing” – smiling with your eyes – is a thing).

Not really sure what the point of this post was – but I hope it inspires someone (or anyone) to find the silver lining in situations and finding ways to catch the curve ball thrown at you and to make the best of the situation. The issues happening in the world are 100% real and devastating… I’m not discrediting any of that (lord knows I’ve felt my fair share of setbacks and struggles in the past few months – like all of us have).

But life isn’t just about what happens to you, it’s about how you react and respond to it. I’m using this “opportunity” to be more present, to be a better listener and getting outside for some fresh air – and a fresh perspective.

How you are making the best of our new normal?

Relive & Reimagine…

As I’ve said before, I take A LOT of pictures… and I have really enjoyed the time I’ve had to reorganize, reflect and relive memories through these images lately. While part of this is 100% my need to be organized – it has also helped me focus on the things I’ve had the opportunity to do, give thanks for the people I have in my life and retrace my footsteps as I’ve traveled across the country and the world.

I told myself when we went into Shelter-In-Place (SIP) that I would view it as being given more time in the day (and ultimately in our life). SIP meant that I wouldn’t be traveling, I wouldn’t be going to events and I wouldn’t be leaving my house for site-visits… so my positive spin on this was it meant more time for “Me.” And with this newly found/forced “me” time I wanted to make sure I was using the time productively to better myself. So every week I try to learn something new – and for the purpose of this blog post, I have been learning more about Photoshop and how to use its (never ending list of) tools/features.

Pair my jog down “memory-lane” with my new found love of Photoshop – and you have a recipe for a lot of late night night editing…

Now I am still a Photoshop Novice – but I am really enjoying the (YouTube) training and tutorials. And while my work is very rough, it’s been awesome to share point of views of what is and reimagine the images to what could be.

Here are some of my latest “works” – and I’m hoping that I can look back at these images in weeks to come and see improvements in my Photoshop skills – and creativity!

If any of my Photoshop savvy friends have advice, tips/tricks or shortcuts please send them my way! I’m really eager to learn and add more feathers to my editing cap!

Spending the holidays in the Smoky Mountains is something I look forward to – but I brought some of the California sunshine and greener pastures to this flashback.
It was so dark when I took this image that you couldn’t see the stunning redwoods surrounding our cabin in Redwoods National Park. But you could see a few stars… I took it upon myself just to add a few more.
I don’t think anyone likes looking at pictures of themselves… but after a while you almost forget the subject and spend more time on the layering and effects (FX) you’re applying. I love how a few clicks can pull the same image into totally new environments.
Here is the same image again – but with a mix of falling leaves and dust. Almost as if I jumped out a pile of leaves. I need to figure out better ways to crop/cut hair – but I like how my layered leaves came out with the lighter layers making the leaves appear closer than the darker leaves.
New Zealand is one of my favorite places on the planet – for the amazing relationships I’ve formed there but also because of its natural beauty. One night in Omaha, New Zealand while my friends were all inside, I spent hours taking pictures of the amazing sunset trying to capture what my eyes were seeing… I’ve always loved this original picture, but the enhanced edited version speaks truer to that exact space and time.
Under Armor trademarked “We Must Protect This House” – but instead of lifting weights or bearing arms – my version of protecting or defending is a little more… out of this world, haha.
And there are some moments in life that feel magical.. being in the right place, something happening at the right time or the chemistry of being with the right person. This image was taken by one of my best friends on a very random and adventurous days exploring San Francisco – and it was “magical.” So being able to reflect that (via lens flairs and overlays) tells the story behind the photo more than words can explain.

Again, I know I’m a novice editor and there are imperfections in my work. And I’m grateful that I have the opportunity, resources and TIME (Thanks, SIP) to get my editing to where I want it to be one day.

This is probably one of my most recent pictures – and it’s still a work in progress until I can replace the East Bay with a body of water or Westeros (pre-dragon attack).

Open and welcome any feedback and I hope everyone else is finding positive, fun and therapeutic things to do while we’re all under the SIP.

Thank you for following along!

My latest Top Picks…

I’m sure everyone is spending more time shopping for things online these days – especially now that going outside just isn’t an option. We share our favorite places to eat, places we recommend visiting with friends and family – so why not share what we’re buying/using right now?

I’m currently obsessed with Perfect Bar protein bars… They are only refrigerated protein bars that I’m aware of and they are delicious! I love having one after a long run or as a late night snack before bed.

The dark chocolate chip peanut butter are my favorite so I have been sticking to that flavor. Maybe one day I’ll venture out an try another flavor – but I could happily stick to the CCPB flavor for the rest of my life on this planet with no complaints…

Check these out on Amazon!

Without the ability to overpay for coffee right now, I’ve perfected my at home barista skills. I drop 1-2 shots from my Nespresso machine into 1/2 a bottle of these chocolate protein shakes and I instantly have an iced coffee to start the day (and to be honest I go back for the other 1/2 of the bottle and add another shot (or 2) later in the day too!

I love these protein shakes, especially after a long endurance workout. But like I mentioned above, pour it over some ice an mix in a few shots of espresso and you’re in business for the day!

Check these out on Amazon!

With the current “Shelter in Place” going into week-three here in California, I’ve been adding to my home-gym with this awesome set of resistance bands.

Whether you have a home gym or go to a local studio, you can 100% benefit from having your own set of resistance bands to sneak in workouts at home – or easily pack them when you’re out on the road!

Find this on Amazon!

And with having to do most of my cycling indoors on the bike trainer, I’ve been keeping the rest of the garage clean by keeping a cover on my bikes gears and tires. This awesome find has been a life saver to keep the garage and my SUV clean when moving and stowing my bike(s)!

I throw my bike(s) in the back of my SUV all the time, and this awesome find keeps the gears covered from getting snagged on my seats and also covers both tires from tracking in dirt/debris. And it’s quick and easy to throw on! There are more expensive options out there, but at $20, this was a killer find!

Find this on Amazon!

Let me know what you’re using right now as we are all find new ways to stay busy, fit and sane in this COVID-19 world!

CHeck out all of my current “top picks” on my Top Picks Page!

Thanks!

Wake Up Early. Go the Extra Mile. Bring a Friend.

I love California. I could ramble off a long list of reasons why I have called this state home for the last 10 years of my life, but for the purpose of this post – I’ll stick to one main reason – adventure at our fingertips.  

As an avid hiker and lover of all things outdoors, a friend of mine and I got the recommendation to journey 30 minutes outside of our current bubble and explore a new hike in the Easy Bay. (For my non-Bay Area friends – the San Francisco is the “Bay” and the 60-75 mile stretch from the “North Bay” (North of San Francisco – Napa, Sonoma, Marin, etc…) and the “South Bay” (San Jose, Santa Clara Valley, etc…) and also the “East Bay” (Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, Walnut Creek, etc) and the “Silicon Valley” (essentially, the West of the Bay – Palo Alto, Cupertino, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, etc).

So we woke up extra early for a Saturday morning (ouch) and carpooled out to Fremont at 6:00am – stopping for Starbucks first.

Our destination – Mission Peak Regional Preserve (East Bay Regional Park District Website: https://www.ebparks.org/parks/mission/).

We were advised to get there by 6:30am – which was the goal, but the coffee didn’t kick in soon enough and it took us an additional 15 minutes to find the trail parking lot (off Mission/Stanford Ave – behind the housing developments). And in that extra 15 minutes, the entire trail parking lot was already full (way before the sun came up) and we had to park a few blocks down the hill (appropriate as “hill” was the theme for the day) and down the street once we could find a parking spot. If parking is any indicator of popularity, we could already tell this was going to be worth it.

The bottom of the trail (at least this trail start) has a few porta-potties and picnic benches – so come prepared with your own water (snacks and hand-sanitizer) the trail head is pretty much an invitation to hit the trail – but (very) limited amenities.

Depending on when you start your hike, you’ll definitely want to check the weather temperature. We knew it would be low 50’s and dark when we started, but there was a great deal of dew and moisture in the air – and a fair amount of mist. I had hiking boots in the car, but ended up wearing my running shoes since judging by pictures, the trail looked pretty carved out. There were only a few (2-3) areas with lose gravel that made me wish I had my boots – but nothing smart foot placement and a cautious pace couldn’t handle. I also had gloves and a warm hat which came in handy as we got closer to the top. As the elevation increased, the temperature actually got colder (especially if you plan to make the climb before the sun comes up).

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From step 1 on the trail, you can be within feet of grazing cattle who aren’t even phased by your presence. It was a beautiful start to the day being able to see these cattle and near coyotes waking up in the distance. The howling of the baby coyotes trying to find their pack off in the distance was a a little eerie at first but a pretty cool reminder that we’re visiting – but this is their home.

I’m not gonna sugar-coat it – the path to the top is a CLIMB. Based on my GPS watch (Garmin Forerunner 945), it was 2,244 feet of elevation gain on the 3.43 miles to the top of Mission Peak. My suggestion – spot something in the distance (like a park bench or directional post) and commit to walking non-stop from point to point. The smaller goals take your mind off the fact that you could look up at any minute and realize that you still have so much farther to go… Your calves, hamstrings and glutes will be on fire – but think of it this way, you could pay $30+ an hour for a workout class and not work your (literal) booty off this hard – so be grateful for the free burn (your wallet and a$$ will thank you later… just not the next day (like today) where todays theme is “Sore & Hungry”).

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The recent rain made for some amazing lush and green landscapes. The entire trail was framed by green grass as beautiful rolling hills – topped off with soft clouds brushing the tops of the mountains.

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About 1/2 way up, there were a handful of rock formations like these. It was pretty cool to see, but don’t think to deep into it. Hikers were knocking these down and re-stacking them. While they look cool, they aren’t of spiritual or cultural landmarks… just well balanced rocks. And my creative angles caught the top to bottom view of these, but they aren’t more than 18 inches tall. Sorry if you thought it was bigger – it was cold outside, haha.

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Moments like this totally made the morning – just over 3/4 the way up to the top, you turn and realize that you’ve made it to the east side of the mountain. From that point on (and again, based on our start time) we were greeted by the sun – almost as if the sun was on a race with us to meet at the peak of the trail.

While we fancied ourselves of the “more fit” of those attempting the hike that morning, peoples of all abilities made it to the top and there were 4-5 benches along the trail for people to stop and rest if needed. And the incline was hard, but it never got to the point where you would need an arm rail or need to use your upper body to climb.

The top has a unique pole that everyone stops to take a picture with – the true “I did it” badge of honor to show that you’d climbed Mission Peak.

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Love this girl! Anyone who willingly wants to meet at 6:00am for an intense outdoor workout in the cold is a “ride or die” personality you want in your life – and the quality time to catch up, laugh and connect is the icing on the cake to any workout or adventure!

Just as we reached the peak, we heard a large group singing Happy Birthday with plastic cups filled with champagne to toast the birthday girl (Note to Self: Surround yourself with friends like that).

We took photos for the people who made the ascent before us – and the people behind us took our photos – the natural understanding and sense of community that I hope people carry back down the mountain and into their everyday lives. After the 3.4 miles of climbing I loved how strangers made sure they took the perfect picture for you – because they also understand what it took to get to the top (including the shared muscle fatigue and exhaustion).

Our timing – even with the 15 minutes of getting lost looking for the trail head – could not have been better. We got to the top to meet the sunrise – and take some pretty awesome pictures to welcome the sun and celebrate the climb!

 

For the anyone wondering “How did you get those photos?!?!” (the most popular question I get on my posts) – I use my iPhone for candids up and down the trail and used my GoPro Hero 8 Black to capture these awesome (and high resolution) photos.

 

I’m sure some people had no idea what we were doing – but we didn’t care. We were going for capturing the moment, excitement and accomplishment… and handstands for the sake of doing handstand!

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And if the climb (I have to reiterate CLIMB) to the top wasn’t rewarding enough, we had an equally enjoyable time back down the trail. And to our surprise, with the sun up we got to see more of our surroundings and the breathtaking Jurassic Park-vibes the trail was serving that morning…

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And the morning mist I was low-key complaining about when we got started, showcased its true value to us on the way down as we had this beautiful rainbow paint the sky in front of us the entire hike back down to the trail head.

It wasn’t till hours after the hike (and a much needed nap) I took a good look back at these pictures and saw the subtle double-rainbow that wasn’t visible to us in the moment.

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Overall, it was another great day to be alive and a beautiful adventure in California. I strongly suggestion Mission Peak for anyone wanting to see the East Bay from a new point of view – and get in a solid leg workout!

Wake Up Early (like at 5:45am on a Saturday)…

Go the Extra Mile (or 3.4 miles each way…)

Bring a Friend (to share the experience with…)

If you know of any other fun Bay Area adventure, please let me know and comment or send me a message! I’m eager to share this trail with friends and excited to see what next adventure is on the horizon!

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“I am, Giant”

There is so much I want to say about my IRONMAN experience…

Completing the 140.6 mile triathlon has been a goal of mine for years. And with seven 70.3 mile triathlons (the distance before the 140.6) under my belt, I finally felt ready and prepared to make the jump to the “full” Ironman triathlon in 2019.

At mile 132.6 in the race the sun began to set and I slowed my “casual” pace down to walk to take the entire experience in. It was then, when a particular quote and song from my training profoundly hit me – and that reflection is what I wanted to share in this post…

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Photo Credit: Sarah Lau-Braunhut (Ironman Arizona 2020 & IMAZ Alumn: Facebook Group)

At the Mile 18 marker of the 26.2 mile run, I looked up to the beautiful, watercolored Arizonan sky and it hit me – that it wasn’t just the day that was coming to a close – but also my journey to becoming an IRONMAN (more IRONMAN specifics in a later post to come).

Like all things in life – there is a start and a finish. But for me, this finish was an actual “finish line” and the difference between the start and the finish was 52 week of physical training, mental toughness and self care/preparation.

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Photo Credit: Julia Reich (Ironman Arizona 2020 and IMAZ Alumn: Facebook Group)

I’ve done a ton of endurance races in my life (as most people do in their late 20’s – early 30’s) and I’m generally the person who picks up speed to sprint to the finish. But not today. Not this race. And not this goal. This moment was when a quote and song from my training spoke to me and appeared clear as day, almost as vivid as if the words were etched along the concrete trail in front of me.


Background on the quote…

One of my favorite quotes I had obsessed about during this year of training was –

“It’s Not the Result That’s Important, It’s Who You Become in The Process of Achieving the Result.” – John Canfield

And at mile 16 (or mile 132.6 of 140.6 miles) it hit me that I was definitely going to cross that finish line and I was definitely a different person than I was 52 weeks ago when I committed to this goal.


Background on the song…

Music fueled a great deal of my training, and my “go-to” song was “Giant” by Calvin Harris & Rag N’Bone Man. Here is a cliff notes version of the lyrics –

“I would be nothing
Without you holding me up
Now I’m strong enough for both of us
Both of us, both of us, both of us
I am a giant (ooh)
Stand up on my shoulders, tell me what you see
‘Cause I am a giant (ooh)
We’ll be breaking boulders, underneath our feet
I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am a giant (oh)
Don’t hide your emotions
You can throw down your guard
And feed from the notion
We can be who we are
You taught me something, yeah
Freedom is ours
It was you who taught me living is
Togetherness, togetherness, togetherness”
– “Giant” – Calvin Harris & Rag N’Bone Man
When times got tough during training – like mile 56 of a 112 mile bike ride, 2,100 yards of a 4,2000 yard swim or mile 13.1 of a 26.2 mile run knowing I was only doing HALF of what was going to be expected of me on race day, I spoke to myself and asked my “Giant” for help.
Who was this Giant? Well, he was the voice inside my head who reminded me that I was stronger, tougher and worth working hard for. Basketball players may channel Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or Lebron James – but in the triathlete world, that “Giant” to me was Craig Alexander (2011 IRONMAN 70.3 & 140.6 World Champion), Lionel Sanders (multiple IRONMAN 140.6 & 70.3 Champion) or Tim O’Donnell (2019 IRONMAN World Championship Runner-Up) – all icons and legends in the triathlon world who not only stood out as IRONMAN Champions – but were legends at the largest IRONMAN stage in Kona, Hawaii.
During training I would watch Youtube video of their key races, their training routines and pre/post race interviews. Their dedication to their craft and laser focus in swimming, cycling and running made me want to be a stronger athlete.

Now back to the story…
 So as I looked into the sunset and could visually make out the 8 miles ahead of me leading to the finish line, I started to think about how far I had come and how this big, epic, scary, audacious and bucket-list goal of mine was minutes (okay, hour’ish) away from being one of those “breaking boulders (underneath OUR feet).” 
I say “our” because I started my training with my “Giants” being my sport specific idols. But my internal thoughts and voice slowly developed into its own person – the “Giant” within me. I was creating and fueling my own driver and motivator.
As my personal fitness and mental toughness improved this year, I didn’t always have to look to my idols content to motivate or push me – I found that push in myself to be better and to naturally want and expect more from myself (don’t get me wrong – watching any of Lionel Sanders workouts will always humble me and leave me in awe). I was becoming my own giant and my own motivating voice inside my head (Did I just admit to talking to my own self in third-person? Yup, A little crazy? Probably. All aboard the crazy train.. Choo Choo).
In my 6th 70.3 race, the first race of the 2019 season – I crushed my Swim, Bike and Run personal records in Santa Cruz – becoming my own giant and identifying that not only was I out performing my previous efforts – but I still had gas in the tank to push harder – and to give it that little extra effort that I didn’t know existed months prior.
Just one month before IRONMAN Arizona at Tempe 70.3, I took my PR time from Santa Cruz and CRUSHED it by 9 minutes – with my BEST bike time (on what is known as a pretty sh*tty bike course). I can vividly recall the conversation in my head during lap 2 of the 3 lap bike course. I had improved my time from lap 1 by minute and could ultimately pull my fastest bike split EVER if I could shave 3 more minutes on lap three – and then I did. That right there is Giant AF, my friends.

And even more important than race timing and personal records, I became my biggest cheerleader and my biggest driving force to step up my own game. The outside voice of “You can do it” turned into the confidence to know and own the statement, “I can do it.”  

And there are too many additional voices and faces to name that kept motivating inspiring and holding me accountable to my IRONMAN dream – for them, I will forever be grateful. There wasn’t a single conversation, text or social media message that didn’t positively impact me and leave a lasting impression on me and this amazing experience.

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There were many setbacks, injuries, low-points and moments that derailed my training and straight path to this finish line – but the person I became this year made my drive (and Giant mentality) bigger and stronger than the problems and setbacks I faced.
The lyrics of Giant also said “Stand up on my shoulders, tell me what you see.” That view started as a medal, a finish line and even visualizing the social media “I did it” post minutes after completing the race. But as the race got closer, and my personal Giant got bigger, the view was a better and stronger me. Not just athletically – but mentally stronger, emotionally in-touch with the overall experience and (SO) appreciative of every milestone and step it took to get there – and again, grateful for the support system I had cheering me on to accomplish this goal.
These thoughts, memories, quotes and song lyrics got me from mile 132.6 to mile 140.6 in what felt like the blink of an eye – and with the biggest smile on my face when I got there.
Could this just be the rambling of a 35 year old who worked way to hard this weekend and still needs to rest and recovery? Possibly (add dehydrated and sore to the list).
But that home stretch to the finish line is one I don’t ever want to forget…
Or the months of work it took to get there…
Accomplishing something new,
Becoming something more
And finding your own Giant inside yourself

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Don’t forget to come up for air…

This year has been challenging. Work has been challenging. Projects with the home renovation have been challenging. And committing and training for a triathlon has been challenging.

Disclaimer: This isn’t intended to be a dark post –  if you can make it till the end, you’ll see the marshmallows in this bowl of Lucky Charms. 

I could elaborate – but the point is, life will always present challenges. Life will throw you curve balls, disappointments and derail you. But staying focused on the end goal, the overall benefit or the “finish line” helps to keep you going. And to be honest, that isn’t always going to be enough. You’ve got to develop a new level of perseverance and for me, if I’ve had to do any training this year its been on developed my mental toughness.

One of the most common questions I get when people hear that I’ve been training for a race (which some might consider cruel and unusual punishment) for almost a year is “Why?” And frankly, my “why” keeps changing. Some days it’s because I started this whole ordeal because it was a bucket list goal. Then it became a science project to see what my body was capable of. And some days it was because I’ve gotten this far so why stop now… But ten months into this process my answer today would be “to see what else I can learn in the process.”

In this process, I’m learning that mental toughness is a muscle that needs to be exercised, fueled, flexed and also given time to recover.

When the alarm goes off at 5:30am to workout from 6:00am-7:00am, 49% of me says “GO BACK TO SLEEP…” But the 51% says “You’re working towards something bigger.” And some days, its 75-100% “Lets do this” and 25-0% “You’re warm and comfortable – you’d be crazy to jump in a swimming pool… it’s ####### January!” But I’ve had to train myself to see the cost and the benefit and put my faith in the latter.

This same practice comes to play when you’re on a bike for what seems like forever, your butt hurts and your legs are cramping… You have to rely on that toughness to tell you to keep your cadence up, switch to a lower gear and that “little old” hill climb will be over soon.

…and when the hill is greater than your push that day – you walk your bike up the hill next to speeding cars honking at you… and you use the time to hydrate, eat whatever nutrition you packed for the ride and tell yourself every honk is someone who thinks you look damn good in bike shorts.

It’s not the outcome you wanted like powering over a tough climb, but you didn’t stop and made the best use of your time and effort – and that’s still a win.

That mental toughness is telling the voices in your head (and in the outside world) that your smarter, stronger and bigger than the obstacle in your way. Sure, you’ll get knocked down and failure is always a possibility. But toughness means getting back up and continuing to move forward and learning along the way.

There are a million Instagram posts, quotes and stories that reinforce this – but not enough dots to connect you from where you are to where you want to be.

For me, I connect those dots by fueling my mental toughness – and I do that in a lot of different ways.

I try to celebrate the milestones and forward momentum no matter how big or small they might be. I post almost all of my workouts on my Instagram Story (because posts on FB or an actual IG Post would be way more annoying than my posts already are). I do this, because on long rides on my indoor bike trainer, I love watching my IG Story highlights and seeing my times, distances and training that got me to where I am today. I am far from where I’d like to be, but I can 100% celebrate how far I’ve come. Using IG Stories has helped me do that and after 10 months of training, I can smile and laugh at the posts – which burn about 12 minutes (and growing) of time on the bike! (@MattthewCGoto on Instagram)

Selfishly, everyone likes attention – I’m not going to say I don’t like compliments or praise received on social media. But the reason I like the comments (and don’t act like you don’t) is because I’m my hardest critic. I’m the first person to compare the watts from todays workout to yesterdays. I can tell you if I’m getting faster or slower in each discipline down to the second, yard and mile. And I have a laundry list of thing I know I can do better or be better at… But I’m not as quick to give myself a pat on the back or praise – which is worth its weight in gold when someone who you care about, respect and trust leaves you the comment “I’m proud of you” or “You’re killing it.”

Narcissistic? Maybe. Reinforcing Mental Toughness? Absolutely.

Another way to build your mental toughness is by finding a community of support who can hold you accountable and cheer you on. I train mostly by myself because of my travel schedule, but I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to have a local gym/studio with caring, passionate and supportive people who always ask me how my training is going. Not just to be polite, but because they genuinely care and are cheering me on through this journey. I can’t count the number of times I left a hard workout feeling physically depleted – but fueled spiritually and mentally because of the advice, support and energy my community shares with me.

And I have some amazing friends and mentors who send me random and unexpected messages of encouragement – who I can never truly thank enough for their support. And my Plus+ for life has been more understanding and supportive than I deserve – especially with the 5:00am wake-up calls and the fact that I’m always wearing running shorts in public. #WhoWearsShortShorts #ItsMe

And I also fuel my mental toughness by leaving myself positive affirmations. For me, this comes in the form of post-its (so many post-its) to remind myself how many days I have till my next race – or to be confident with new projects at work or during tough decision making. Sometimes it’s setting a playlist with music that puts me in the best state of mind to crush a workout, relax or sometimes hits so hard I’m ready to go to war. And sometimes it’s as simple as a bag of gummi bears (Haribo – everyone else to the back of the line) waiting for me in my stinky gym bag as a post workout treat. #TreatYoSelf #GummiBears #HashtagsAreStupid

But what I have found to be the one of the best ways to reset, put me in the right mentality to take on challenges and to fill the mental toughness tank in my brain is to take a step back and come up for air… (and unlike everything else in triathlon, air is free)! The “time out” to breathe helps put things into perspective, slows down your heart rate and allows you to re-evaluate the situation.

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I like filming my swim workouts for corrections – especially in interval training (which I’m terrible at – Example 5,001 of being a tough critic). But this screenshot mid-300 yard repeats was inspired by one of my favorite triathletes, Cody Beals. He has a blog that I follow and I have found a lot of inspiration and motivation through his story, experiences and the fact that he’s a bad ass triathlete that just won IRONMAN Mont Tremblant with a sub-8 hour finish… His photos are way cooler too: http://www.codybeals.com =)

If you get anything from my 2,000 words of rambling, I hope you can take these traits to build your own mental toughness – or at least gain some understand as to why other people do the things they do..

  • Celebrate Milestones
  • Be Open and Appreciate Praise
  • Find a Community of Support
  • Positive Affirmations
  • Come up for Air

And if you are one of the lucky ones who have these tools, please help provide these for others. Give the compliment, ask what you can do to help someone else breathe easier and take the 2 seconds to give someone praise – you never how how impactful that can be. Sure, I’m talking about triathlons which most people will never try – but these principles speak to challenges in general – and we can all agree that we appreciate all the help we can get when life gets challenging.

So when things get challenging – like this mornings swim workout that I felt would never end, my neck mobility was non-existent and my coffee wasn’t kind to my stomach  – I came up for air (literally – I soooo need to write Dad Jokes). I looked at my mental toughness checklist and appreciated the fact that I’m healthy, spending time on my personal growth and development, and have so much to be grateful for. Then I put my goggles back on my face (and awkwardly smiled at the old dude splitting my lane – he didn’t share my joy… but I’ll win him over eventually) and started playing one of my favorite songs in my head, and got back to swimming with the rhythm of the song in my head keeping my pace – and pushing through the neck cramps by switching lanes and being grateful for clean restrooms conveniently located to near the lap pool.

Once I finished the workout, I took a 6:48am selfie with goggle lines on my face and smiled – not just because the workout was done – but because I dipped into my mental toughness to go head to head with this mornings challenge… and I came out ahead.

I am still learning – every single day I’m learning. And in being open to learning I hope that I am growing in this process.

That you for reading – I hope you were able to cash in on the metaphorical Lucky Charm Marshmallows of positivity I hoped to share in this post.

I’m excited to share more of my triathlon journey with you and all that I’m learning in the process. If you have any training tips, advice or even general feedback – please send it my way – like I said, I’m always learning and would love to learn from your experiences too!

 

#UpInTheAir and on Another Adventure!

Travel has become second nature to me – even though “first nature” sounds more appropriate for the amount of time spent on the road and in the air. I get asked all the time “how do you get accustomed to traveling all of the time?” and the honest answer is, I don’t really know how not to.
My entire professional career was built on traveling to events, conferences and teaching opportunities – so to me, getting on a plane is just how I get to work – similar to your commute on the highway (but mine serves 6 ouch beverages of your choice and peanuts or pretzels).
And while this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, it’s my normal and I’ve grown accustomed to the #UpIntheAir life. And while the biggest reward has to be sharing my passion and enthusiasm with others, cashing in on my travel rewards and mileage is a very close (and amazing) second! 
A year of travel behind me, my travel bank of points bursting at its seems and August marking the end of the second quarter – made August the perfect window of time to take a break and cash those points in. And with one of my close friends celebrating his 40th birthday in August… a trip had to be planned!
Group Texts were created, friends and friends of friends started conversations and before I knew it we had travel dates and a destination set! Discussions seemed to run around the clock with friends sharing links to sights and sounds to experience in the different cities on our adventure, reviews of the best places to eat and drink and an endless amount of Instagram photos posted from others who have walked (posed and snapped) from our future destinations and whose footsteps we couldn’t wait to follow! 
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This planning process and anticipation started months in advance, but before I knew it I was headed to SFO to board the first leg of my journey. Bags packed in advance, itineraries checked (and double checked) and time carved out for exploring, adventuring and the freedom to “wing it” and play it by ear.  So here I am, on my flight just hours from new languages, new experiences and new memories. Celebrating a friends milestone birthday is reason enough to celebrate – but an even sweeter reward is knowing every early morning flight, every delayed travel leg and every travel segment helped make this trip possible. 
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I cant wait to share where I go (and what I eat) and look forward to making memories with old & new friends! Stay tuned for updates and keep sending positive travel vibes my way! Back #UpInTheAir – and I wouldn’t change it for the world! 
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Fast Forward to after my adventure – Here’s how you get from the West Coast of the US to the Amalfi Coast of Italy:
Stay tuned for more pictures and videos from this absolutely amazing adventure!

Enjoying Island Time on Dauphin Island

I am a strong believer in making time for yourself and keeping family close. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that my cross country road trip peaked surrounded by new family and new adventures in a new place!

Packing up the car and driving from California to Alabama may not be for everyone – but to me it meant that I could bring along our dog, mountain bikes and everything else I could need for adventuring (like a tent, beach chairs, snorkels, fins, etc).

Our trek East stopped on Dauphin Island, AL – an island I honestly had never heard of before. I have been to Mobile, AL a few times before, but Dauphin Island totally had the Island vibe which is shocking only being 30 minutes from Mobile.

This small Island had great beaches, a small neighborhood that seemed to have a rich sense of community and was totally made for riding your bike. I was over prepared with my Specialized mountain bike – beach cruiser or fixed could easily braved the flat terrain and sand coated trails around the island.

The Island had a bird sanctuary on the south east end of the island separating the main road from the beach. While this area wasn’t bike friendly, it sure made for great views and a nice walk.On one end of the sanctuary, there was a bond packed with turtles. I had never seen so many different kinds of turtles in one place (aside from the reptile exhibit at the zoo).And while most people probably panic reading that there are alligators around threatening the safety of children and pets – I was thrilled to have a gator sighting!Leave it to me to go from a Bird Sanctuary to a decommissioned military base. I knew the armory/military base was somewhere on the island but didn’t realize it was just around the corner from where I saw Osprey nesting.I spent a few days on the island and could have spent twice the time there going to the aquarium, taking day trips to Pensacola or trying out the new waffle dessert place on the island.

One of my favorite things to do was to wake up early and start the day with a morning swim and walk along the beach. There’s something special about being the only person on the beach, almost as if Mother Nature had raised the sun and brought the waves to you on the shore to say “Good. morning!”The sandy beaches were rich with specs of greenery peaking through the sand with occasional flowers decorating the warm and tan landscape.

I imagine Dauphin Island being a perfect place to train for an Ironman… There were plenty of bike friendly roads for the bike, the open water gave plenty of room for swimming and if you have to run – no better place than the beach!

Alabama

#AustinCoffeeTour

When most people travel to the Lone Star State, I don’t think Coffee is the first thing on their mind – unless it’s me, then its the first thing on your mind at all times!

As I planned my trip to Austin, TX I did my homework in advance and I was pleasantly surprised to read about the booming “coffee scene” the Capital of Texas had going for itself. So knowing I was going to be working from Austin for a few days the #AustinCoffeeTour began!

There were plenty of websites reviewing the different coffee shops and venues to check out. The two websites that helped guide me were Austin.Eater.com and Foursquare.

Austin.Eater.com had fantastic photos, great reviews and helpful maps. Their Austin Coffee review defined 28 excellent coffee shops in Austin – a great starting point for the #AustinCoffeeTour.

FourSquare.com was also a great resource as the reviews and photos are all from customer feedback and personal testimonies.

But the number one resource for my #AustinCoffeeTour was the recommendation of good friends and Austin natives (Jess, Meg & Ryan) – they helped me find one specific coffee shop that wasn’t even on my radar but left a lasting impression (and tacos – oh, so many tacos).

DISCLAIMER – I am not a coffee expert, this is my own personal perspective and feedback. I don’t know a damn thing about the beans, where they came from, who ground them or if they were fair trade/organic or magical and lead to a bean-stock. BUT I do know what I like and this review is based on that!

So I packed up my work bag with laptop in tow to work from different coffee shops in and around Austin, and here is what I wanted to report…

Houndstooth Coffee introduced something brand new to my taste buds and almost two weeks later and I’m still craving another taste of their signature “Lime Iron.”

The Lime Iron (from what I can remember) is a smooth cold brew infused with lime and sugar – a remarkably refreshing and light flavor that tasted like coffees exotic and sweet cousin – that didn’t stray too far from its cold brew roots. If the description didn’t do the drink justice, the picture below sure does!

This locally owned staple of the Austin Coffee community did not disappoint! The whole place was sleek, clean and welcoming – but not nearly as welcoming and helpful as the Baristas on site. I hate that I didn’t remember my baristas name, even with a long line behind me, he wanted to make sure I was blown away with my selection that morning (because of course I told him all about my trip and my current #AustinCoffeeTour). Houndstooth’s website says that their baristas don’t just pour beverages – they craft them – and craft they did! The Lime Iron is a must – and if anyone wants to overnight me some to California I’ll happily pay the shipping!

Another unexpected stop on my #AustinCoffeeTour was Irenes’s. Just after lunch before my 1:00pm conference call, I was roaming the streets of Austin looking for another coffee shop when I saw the lush green wall, neon lights and creative billboard inviting me to Irene’s.

While Irene’s may be more of a cocktail bar with a midcentury American vibe, I loved this place and enjoyed a slight twist on my traditional coffee. While the coffee menu from the counter had the expected drip coffee, expresso, americano and chai options – I sprung for the Iced White Chocolate Matcha Latte.

Firstly, because it sounded fancy and had the longest name on the menu… Secondly, Texas is hot and humid and the sound of anything ICED sounded heavenly. Now Matcha isn’t coffee – it’s ground tea leaves – but it was on the coffee menu and this is my coffee blog so we’re gonna talk about it! The Iced White Chocolate Matcha Latte was delicious! There is a subtle green tea vibe from the matcha power that is blended with the steamed milk but it is refreshing and is a pleasant taste to mix up your coffee routine if you’re use to espresso everyday.

Like I mentioned above, the billboard caught my eye and drew me in instantly! I only wish I had time to come back in the evening to experience the patio and one (or some) of the signature cocktails they are known for – but back to coffee…

Austin, TX is very walkable – as long as you can brave the heat – and not jus walkable, but CLEAN and walkable. I was really impressed with the whole downtown area, centered around the State Capital building (pictured below) which was gorgeous – but they didn’t have coffee, so moving on…

As much as I travel, one of my favorite things is connecting with old friends and meeting new ones – and Austin was no exception! There are a few very special people I get to work with throughout the year who live in Austin and I’m lucky to be able to call them friends – they suggested I visit “The Canopy” which is a very urban and upcoming hotspot in eastern Austin (right?) which is home to a studio, art gallery and a coffee shop among other catnip for millennials (there were vintage trailers in the back, murals on the concrete walls, overhead Edison bulb lighting and and art gallery : hipster heaven).

San-Ten Coffee & Eats was one of my favorite places in all of Austin! I got to meet up with my friends here early one morning and it was a one of a kind experience! San-Ten is a Japanese inspired Coffee Shop with popular coffee offerings and delicious food menu as well.

I started the morning with the Ohayo which was rich and smooth – so smooth that I had to fight the urge to gulp the drink down, it was delicious! And the shop was creatively decorated with so much Japanese influence and the level of presentation extended deep into the drinks.

There is an art to latte art – crafting a leaf (or rosetta) or a heart is not an easy task. So when you get a drink with a perfect leaf poured from steamed milk over your latte – you know the work put into the drink will most likely reflect the work put into the finishing details!

One day I will learn the art of latte art… Until then, I will admire them one cup at a time! I have to give a special shout-out to my favorite Barista from Los Gatos, CA, Arman – No one can leave a finishing touch on a latte like he can.

Yeah, this is my #AustinCoffeeTour – but one cannot survive strictly on coffee alone (trust me, I’ve tried) and luckily for me, the toasts at San-Ten exceeded expectation. When you visit a popular coffee shop, you expect the homerun to come from the coffee and may steal a base or two with small bites – but the grand slam was the pairing of the breakfast toast and lattes (and I have no idea where the baseball reference came from – possibly the outfield, lol).

After the Ohayo and the (yummy) breakfast toast, we moved on to the macchiato set. The set includes a small steamed milk latte paired with a shot of espresso. The espresso was surprisingly sweet and matched perfecting with the smooth latte.

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Catching up with good people is good for the soul – but also provides ample opportunity to make your way through the coffee menu – and that we did!

And I hate that I can’t remember the name of the last drink I had, but it was the winner for the day! It tasted like a rich vanilla milkshake blended with two shots of espresso. I had no shame in downing this in a few sips – I wish I knew how to make lattes this smooth… I’d never leave the house (which may be a good thing).

After a little more visiting with friends, I was off for a few more conference calls and then on to my next “nesting” location for the afternoon!

Quick Shoutout- Thanks for making time to meet & hang, Meg & Jess!

My new friend, Ryan (not pictured – sorry, dude) generously gave me a few more recommendations which I jumped on!

My next stop was Lazarus, a brewery made popular by their craft beer, coffee menu and most importantly their life changing tacos. I know, this wasn’t intended to be a food blog – but I feel like every place in Austin served Tacos. Literally – gas station tacos, coffee shop tacos and I’m sure they even have elevator tacos and bus stop tacos.

With the weather is Austin reaching near death (I’m only being slightly dramatic) I found refuge in the House Brewed Cold Brew from Lazarus. This Californian has been spoiled by our coastal weather and near perfect climate (aside from that whole global warming and state wide drought thing) so anywhere away from the humidity with air conditioning was a welcomed venue – made only better by a tasty menu of food and drinks like Lazarus provided.

While I really enjoyed the cold brew (no cream or sugar needed) I have to report on the tacos… I asked the bartender/barista if the tacos were any good, and he literally laughed at me as if It was the most ridiculous question he had ever heard – and now that I have experienced them, I 100% support his reaction. I put my ordering in his hands and he brought me a Chorizo Taco from the breakfast menu a and an “Al Pastor” taco from their lunch/dinner menu.

These tacos can only be described as a carnival of delights for the taste buds. The Al Pastor taco was brisket that was marinated to perfection and exploded with flavor as it met your tongue – and the chorizo taco from the breakfast menu would make anyone a breakfast person! I devoured both tacos without even touching the salsas – which I’m sad about because I heard that the “green sauce” is amazing. I also regret not experiencing the craft beer selection. There was an actual craft beer tour happening as I was on a conference call with 30+ people working their way through the beer selections ounce by ounce – but like I said, I was still working and bouncing between conference calls on this #AustinCoffee(and taco)Tour.

When roaming Congress Ave in the afternoon, I had to appreciate this sign outside of TOMS’s – while they promote their glasses and shoes (with great purpose) I loved the shout out to “Coffee” and the love of “Love” – two of my favorite things.. but my shoes and sunglass game was pretty strong as well.

And the last – but not least on my #AustinCoffeeTour that I wanted to mention is Flat Track Coffee (another A+ recommendation from Ryan)! In my previous post, I shared the colorful mural that covers the east side of this coffee shop.

Flat Track Coffee combines two of my favorite things – bicycles and coffee!

I am sad to report that there are 130+ cooler pictures of this place on Yelp.com than the ones I have to share – which only speaks to what a popular spot this is for tourists and as a must visit for coffee loves in and around East Austin.

Upon walking in to Flat Track, you’re immediately pulled to both sides of the shop – Do you venture to the right to see what the bike mechanics are working on or get a closer look at the bikes and vintage artwork on the wall – or go left and dive in to the coffee menu and bakery items?!?!

I must have been standing in the entrance looking around longer than normal, because the barista warmly asked me if I needed anything and if it were my first time in the shop (I suppose my tourist light was shining brighter than usual). I gave my “I’m visiting Austin” introduction and he suggested I get the Cortado – a popular choice from the regulars.

A Cortado is a small drink made up of 1/2 espresso and 1/2 warm milk – the milk is used to take the acidic bite off of the espresso – and that it did! Again, the craftsmanship in the look of the drink is always an indicator of how good the actual drink is going to be, and this cortado was no exception!

I spent a few hours here knocking out e-mails and returning calls, and I loved the vibe of this place. Multiple locals and “regulars” all greeted by the staff and each other – totally a neighborhood coffee shop and meeting places for cycling enthusiasts. A few of the staff were in the back of the coffee portion of the shop grinding beans and comparing the aromas of each of the beans and their blends. You could tell this was their passion and something they truly put their hearts into – and their matching Flat Track shirts in different colors set the scene or what could be a reality TV show on “Creating the Perfect Cup.”

I followed up my first drink with their signature cold brew – which was rich with notes of graham cracker and cola (their words not mine) – but damn it was good! Flat Track is the kind of place I wish I could visit daily – so much, that I had to get one of their signature T-Shirts. A nice reminder of the cold brew, the cortado and most importantly my #AustinCoffeeTour.

I know these were just a few of the amazing places Austin has to offer – and I cannot wait to plan another trip back to see more of the city, bike more of the trails and get a bigger taste of Austin (literally).

If you have any recommendations, please let me know! I want to get back sooner than later and want to make the most of my trip! As always, thanks for reading and I can’t wait to share more from this amazing roadtrip with ya’ll over the next few blog posts!

Deep in the heart of Texas!

One of the joys of working from home, is often changing where “home” is. Anyone who has been following my blog or social media posts have probably realized that I don’t like to sit still for long – and changing up my workplace is a reoccurring theme.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to piggy back on someone else’s business trip by joining them on the 1st leg of the trip to Texas and I jumped on the opportunity.

So after a work trip to Southern California, I met my ride and we headed East leaving the West Coast behind us! Two days later, we arrived in Capital of Texas – Austin!

I’m not sure how many cups of coffee or miles we drove, but my bloodtype was “espresso” by the time we made it to our AirBnB in Austin, TX.

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I heard Austin was “cool” but I was blown away by the unique and creative displays of art, architecture and how lush and green everything was!

If you’ve been reading MatthewGoto.com a while, you’ve probably seen multiple landscapes and murals that I’ve gravitated to across the different cities I’ve traveled to – but Austin takes the cake for creative expression, hands down!

It’s one thing to allow for creativity in the form of large scale art and its a whole new world when its celebrated like it is in Austin.

 From what I learned from conversing with strangers (mostly coffee shop employees and Uber drivers) the creative expression stems from the Hope Outdoor Gallery, which got its start in 2011. While the purpose isn’t as clear as it’s roots suggest (when I was there I saw a ton of people just writing their names), the goal was to create a place for large scale street art focused on inspiration, education and positive messaging.

Either way, I found the park to be inspiring. To know that a city dedicated a place for the outside thinkers, the creatives and those who need to be inspired means its my kind of city. And based on the traffic and amount of people coming and going its a project that deserves the extra funding or support to keep going! I know – its looks like no one is there, but I strategically took photos when I had good shots of the art – without the tourist obstructions of dads in cargo shorts and teenagers posing for their next filtered instagram post.

 From the top of the Hop Gallery structures, there was a pretty impressive view of the Austin skyline! There are a ton of new apartment buildings and highrise’s coming in – which only speaks to the growth and demand of the city. I wish I has the opportunity to visit the park at night to see how lighting brings different pieces to life and to take in the starlit glow of the skyline.  Surrounding the Hope Gallery were shaded trails that were equally painted – which at first seemed a bit vandalized but gave the park a very Alice in Wonderland vibe (assuming you were on the tail end of the caterpillars pipe or were on the same recreational usage as the Madd Hatter). img_2199Even after leaving the Hope Gallery and making my way past the North side of the bridge (separated by the Colorado river) unique murals decorated the parking structures, walkways and facades of almost every blank space you could see.

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While in Texas, its hard to go longer than a few minutes without seeing the Texas flag posted somewhere – Austin is 100% Austin and proud of it. Which shows not only a strong sense of community, but a progressive and welcoming one at that.

But street art aside, Austin is probably (and should be) more well known for its outstanding food options! For the few days we were there, we ate like Kings and didn’t have a bad experience anywhere we went. The food was always delicious, the portions reminded us we were NOT in California and the customer service always left us with a smile.

By popular recommendation, we went to Terry Black’s Barbecue… a MUST if visiting Austin. I was a little hesitant with the “mess hall” set-up where strangers stood in line for their opportunity to scoop the side dished of their choice into paper trays lined up on their medal food trays… But the peach cobbler, mac and cheese and potato salad make up for it and give the place a very “down south” vibe which add to the overall dining experience!Back on Congress Ave, South Congress CAFE was a great dinner option with equally large portions and a cocktail menu we generously made our way through (with no complaints). Congress Ave was filled with places to eat, unique places to shop and my favorite – more street art! But my absolute favorite thing about Congress Ave was that almost every establishment had an old school neon sign. It gave the street a very unique and old school vibe but also lit up the street at night almost welcoming you to explore every corner and stop along the way.

So this is the Californian in me talking (or being a naive millennial) but I had no idea that Austin was the capital of Texas. I cant be the only person – I for sure that Dallas had this one on the bag.

But either way, the State Capital building in Austin was spectacular! It caught my eye when we drove in, stood out when I was looking at the skyline from the Hope Outdoor Gallery and was even bigger and more grand in person.

I enjoyed walking the meticulously kept grounds rich in monuments and facts. And couldn’t have asked for better weather (or lighting) to explore this history rich landmark.

I joked in my instagram story of there being so much #History – because there was! Every statue had a story and stood for some monumental (get it, lol) achievement or mileSTONE (another bad pun – but I don’t care if you laughed, I did).

Now to my favorite part of Austin… It has got to be one of the most active and outdoorsy cities in America, right?!?! I mean there were people running, riding bikes, going for walks, paddle-boarding, canoeing and walking there dogs everywhere… Okay, the paddle-boarding and canoeing was just in the river – but you see the picture I’m painting.

Not only were there beautifully landscaped and paved walkways along both sides of the river and downtown, there were trails and paths carved out as well making this the perfect place for cyclists (especially those with road bikes and mountain bikes)!

The bridges were also lush with park benches, colorful planters and perfect picture opportunities to take in the views of (the growing) downtown area.

And it was hard to cover ground on the trails because every so often there was a break in the trail to provide river access for the canoes, paddle-board and kayaks. You could bike or run right by them, but after a long workday bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop I loved taking the short breaks to enjoy more of what mother nature had to offer.

Even on a weekday, there were plenty of people out on the river taking in all that Austin had to offer. Between biking between coffee shops I always noticed there were always people on the water – which made me wonder, what the hell do these people do all day that they can spend hours on the river on a Tuesday?!?! I’m not mad – just tell me your secret!

While I wish Silicon Valley had these kind of walkable and photo worthy places to stop and enjoy – but Ya’ll (and yes, I mean YA’LL) can keep the Texas heat and humidity.

img_2264 I don’t know much about space or geology – but Texas must be 100 miles closer to the sun than California. You can quote me on that, not being an astronaut or geologist my uneducated assumption felt pretty accurate.

Even on opposite ends of the bridge and miles away from the Hope Outdoor Gallery there were reminders of the inspiration and optimism. After seeing this mural stretched between city blocks I googled the Hope Projects and found out that H.O.P.E. actually stood for Helping Other People Everywhere – an awesome mission that extends much farther and deeper than graffiti and colorful artwork.

 And when seeking shelter from the sun (even at 6:00pm in the afternoon) I found even more murals between a parking garage and movie theater. You can’t see the details of the mural behind my narcissism above, but there where classic movie posters set as the background to colorful art and Texas imagery.

 And back on Congress Ave among the restaurants and shops were plenty of tourist traps, that I of-course flocked to like catnip. The “I Love You So Much” stop was on my to do list, but unfortunately the line of people to take selfies was too long – don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie (see items #148-165 above) but I prefer a casual selfie and not 300 angles and options to be filtered and painted for future sharing.

I couldn’t pass up this photo opportunity – for my love of Coffee and well, Love… Shoes and Sunglasses aren’t the top of my “Need” list – but since they were on the sign, I’ll take it!

This mural was on the side of one of my new favorite coffee shops (my next post is dedicated entirely to Austin Coffee Shops, so if you want to know where this is – stay tuned)!

And we ended our final night in Austin, Texas doing something unique and one of a kind – paddle-boarding Lady Bird Lake / the Colorado River at sunset with light up paddle-boards!

Through AirBnB we found The Adamson Bro’s who run their “Glow Paddle” Paddle Board Tours from the Texas Rowing Center in Austin, through Lady Bird Lake. I’m pretty adventurous and I’m a sucker for fun new excursions – and this is an activity I’d gladly do again tomorrow! Our guides were awesome, knowledgable and up for some good conversation – and the unique experience of paddle boarding the lake with neon lights fluorescently lighting the way was one of the best lasting impressions of Austin we could have asked for.

The experience was so unique and fun that I didn’t get much video footage from it or the steadiest of photos – but if you are ever in Austin, do yourself a favor and book your boards now!

You can check out 60 seconds of our tour on my Vimeo channel, not the greatest footage – but you can appreciate the gorgeous Texan sunset and the glow of Austins skyline over the water.

I know these are blurry photos – but when your photographer is on a stand up paddleboard you are just grateful they get the photo and your GoPro doesn’t find its was to the bottom of the lake.

I wish we had more time in Austin than the few afternoons to explore after long workdays – but I got a healthy taste of it and I am eager to return sooner than later to see more sights and sounds – and to paddle the lake one more time… maybe this time I’ll stay in focus! =)

Austin quickly became one of my favorite cities – in so many ways. There is so much more I want to see, taste and explore so I’ll be back soon!

Excited to share my next post showcasing the different Coffee Shops I had the honor of experiencing per locals and friends recommendations!

If you have any recommendations of your own, please comment and let me know! My next trip to Austin will be 0% work and 100% play and I’m going to have to plan accordingly to fill my days with everything I want to do!

Stay tuned, the #AustinCoffeeTour post is coming soon!

Till we meet again, Austin!

Appreciating Earth – Today and Everyday (especially on Earth Day)

We live in the beautiful state of California – where we have gorgeous beaches, spectacular mountains, rolling hills and more outdoor adventures than you can count.

But none of that actually counts, unless you take advantage of it!

It’s hard to find time to be adventurous and take time to disconnect – but it’s not impossible with strategic planning and sticking to tight schedules.

In honor of Earth Day (and the needed mental break), this past weekend we loaded up Black Beauty (our all black Ford Explorer Sport) and rented an AirBNB in the mountain range north of Santa Barbara. It was remote, not “that” easy to get too and a total change of pace and vibe from our lives in Silicon Valley. An afternoon drive (and a few Starbucks stops) is all it took to make our way down the 101 along the amazing coast and we were there.

We have become pretty good at the whole “road trip” thing this year. We’ve got the perfect car cooler that keeps all of our drinks and snacks chilled (and was perfect to keep grocery’s cold with our AirBnB being a healthy trip up the mountain). We know exactly how to set up the dog bed, harness and supplies needed to bring our dog (aka most important member of the family) along with us.

Side Note: If you travel with your dog, you need to purchase an AutoDogMug! It’s a water bottle with a small bowl attached to the top that allows you to squeeze water into the bowl and releasing the bottle sucks the additional water back into the bottle so you can easily offer your four legged friend some H2O by reaching over into the back seat and not have to worry about spilling or splashing!

Speaking of coolers and supplies- we have built a solid arsenal of supplies that you can’t Road Trip without…

  • Folding Chairs
  • Beach/Picnic Blanket
  • Collapsible Tent
  • First Aid Kit (and lots of sunscreen)
  • Cooler (mentioned above)
  • Charging accessories
  • Beach Towels
  • Dog Gate

And while that list sounds like a lot, it really doesn’t take up much in the car – and if you shop around you can find items that stack really well or fold flat to maximize trunk space. Anyone have any Road Trip “must haves” that we are missing?!?!

Our beach blanket lives in the car year round. It has hosted many picnics (in random parks and parking lots – especially when traveling with pets who aren’t allowed in most dining establishments), provided a cool surface when the street was too hot for puppy feet and has been more than clutch when changing tires or covering items we didn’t want see by passerby’s.

But back to our much needed “disconnect” and #ED18 (Earth Day, duh) – our AirBNB exceeded our expectations. Yeah, it was 30+ minutes from the closest grocery store and you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get to it but it was 100% worth the extra haul – I could explain to you in detail why, but I’m confident the pictures below paint a pretty convincing case…

After the climb up the steep and single lane mountain road, we turned into a long gravel packed driveway that led to the coolest little cottage nestled at the top of a succulent rich landscape surrounded by lush trees and greenery. *Spotted Caesar (@Caesar_Johnson_JRT)The grounds had so many trails and paths, each one made you feel like you were exploring corners of the property never seen before – but small terra-cotta pots or clay creatures were hidden in the landscape to remind you that every inch was a part of the master plan. And if the views weren’t spectacular enough, there were about half a dozen wind-chimes scattered around the property which let you hear the ocean breeze as it climbed up the mountain, added to the soundtrack nature played and set the mood for exploring and adventuring. I’m mad that I didn’t get any pictures of the ceramic fish that I kept finding along the property – I want to find a similar one to hide in our backyard to remind me of this weekend and this property!The entire landscapes flowed naturally as if Mother Nature went above and beyond to spoil this area – but the level of detail was due to Mother Nature, one absolutely killer landscape architect and very detailed oriented gardener. We have a decent yard at home, but being able to let our dog run free around the property and take in the sights and smells made this trip extra special knowing every member (fur not not) enjoyed the retreat!

The vibrant blues and greens throughout the property echoed the clear blue skies and teal green ocean views in the distance.

This mountain retreat was so high and had such clear views that you could literally see the “line where the sky meets the sea…” (any Moana fans out there?!?!)

Does anyone know what this dinosaur of a plant is called? There were hundreds of them everywhere in Santa Barbara and along the coast and I really want them incorporated into our backyard landscape (that is – when we figure out what it is we plan on doing back there).

While the plan was to sleep in and enjoy the mini-vacation, the sun greeted us bright and early and the birds seemed to sing extra loud and extra early this weekend – and we didn’t mind the change of schedule one bit. Watching the sun rise from the east and seeing the rays of light Peak through this large tree was amazing… we went a little outside of the property line (whoops) to capture this picture. Totally worth the risk of tetanus climbing through the rusty barbed wire to get here, but I wish the photo was able to capture the soothing movement of the tall blades of grass as the wind swept through.While Caesar enjoyed chasing ground squirrels, scaring lizards from under plants and “watering” everything and anything under the sun we enjoyed finding different species of succulents and plants we can only dream of growing in our yard.

Some of the plants were the largest we had ever seen, giving us very Jurassic Park vibes.

I wish we had more time to explore all of the paths and trails carved out on the property, but the few we found were plenty enough for the weekend and beautiful reminders of Mother Nature’s beauty.

You can see some of the paths in the photo below with large stairways blocked out by large pieces of stone.

The view below is from the trail that took us just above the property our cottage sat on. It’s views like these that make you start planning what monumental life occasion could be staged here?!?! A friends wedding, a renewal of vows… OR yet another millennial photo pretending to be deep in thought so I can post it later with a meaningless quote (we all know that is coming).I have zero guilt in shameless selfies when there were so many picture perfect moments to take advantage of. But even Caesar was over taking photos after our first day exploring the property…

He was originally sitting on the bottom rock in the picture below – a picture that would have surely made him Instafamous – but he saw a lizard and took off and his endorsement deal from Petsmart remains a dream (a parent can dream…)

Being so close to Santa Barbara, we had to explore the city known for its Mediterranean climate, wine country and beautiful beach culture.

Caesar had zero complaints about our little day trip into SB. He absolutely loved running along the beach and attacking every piece of seaweed that washed on to shore. But if you are traveling with your pets make sure you plan in advance which beaches you plan on visiting as not all beaches are dog friendly. We had to make a few stops till we found a beach that was pet friendly.

Doing your homework as to where you can and can’t take your pets might help you find hidden gems in the area like hikes that lead to waterfalls (like these!).

We stumbled onto this waterfall while googling the area after we had lunch at a small park off the freeway (again, a big blanket always comes in handy).Pictures can’t do the nights sky justice….

Joshua Tree is one of the only places I have ever been with so little light pollution that the stars and moon fully illuminate the earth below.

But this cottage was so remote that the stars and moon were enough to light up the sky and cover everything in sight with a blue tint that seemed to magically enchant everything in sight (no Instagram filter can do that…. yet). We already miss the sounds of frogs croaking, creatures shuffling in the leaves under the trees, that long and winding dirt mountain road and the whimsical sound of wind-chimes dancing as the ocean breeze sweeps the mountainside.

We are grateful for the amazing AirBNB Cottage Rental, Black Beauty for a comfortable and safe trip and the ability to make the time to reset and disconnect ourselves. Sometimes you have to disconnect and hit the reset button so you can bring your best self to the table.

It’s not even Monday, and I already feel refueled and rejuvenated for the week ahead – but don’t think for one second I’m not missing relaxing on the patio of the cottage.

And we are mostly grateful for beautiful, stunning, surprising and all inspiring Mother Nature! Thank you for keeping this giant spinning ball looking so good for the past 4.54 billion years! You continue to amaze us, entertain us and reward us! We hope that we leave a minimal footprint behind (and sorry about that whole road tripping in a large SUV thing – we use recyclable bags and avoid one time use plastic bottles – so they cancel each other out, right?)

Happy Earth Day! Let me know how you celebrated Earth Day 2018 and if you know of any road trip worthy destinations please let me know!

I’m excited to report back after our next adventure (it will be our longest and farthest road trip to date)!

As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more pictures and videos to come!!!