A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: leviathant

Who says you can't relive your youth?

Revisiting New Orleans

sunny 80 °F

I've been meaning to write an addition to this log for the past few days, but a combination of amazing scenery and a dearth of respectable network connections has foiled even the very thought of contributing to roadtrop.com - but now, Melissa is driving from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon -- at night -- so I'm going to make the most of what I have and catch up on my thoughts on the trip.

We are going through so many things that if I fail to write them all down, I fear I will forget the details. I don't even really remember the last thing I wrote on this site, so I'll start at New Orleans.

My first trip to NOLA was on April 1st, 1999, for a somewhat life-changing interview for a job I didn't end up getting. I didn't see much of the city - just what I could see out the windows in a drive from the airport to the garden district. The following year, I spent an extended weekend in the city with online friends - the main premise was to see Nine Inch Nails in concert, but we also wanted to explore the city, and catch The The at the House of Blues. It was such a good time that a few of us decided to do it again the following year. This time, we rented out a house on Borboun Street, and basically lived in New Orleans for a week. "Let's do this again next year!" We were all totally into it. But I was talking to this girl in Australia who was going to be going to New York for a week, and then New Orleans for a week, and I had a new car, and I suggested maybe we drive down. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

I am a nostalgic person, romantic to a fault. I can't really express to you how good I felt when, ten years later, Melissa and I opened the door to the room we stayed in a decade before, and aside from the futon being replaced by a bunk bed, that room was exactly as it had been. Something about that room, and walking down streets I hadn't revisited since 2002, took me right back to that place in my heart when I fell totally in love with Melissa. Seeing equipment that sent man to the moon is cool, sleeping in the Everglades is cool, hanging around Key West was really cool, and there are great things yet to come - but if we drove straight home from New Orleans, this vacation would be wholly satisfying.

Aside from all that gushy stuff, I *finally* met Butler Ives, who I've been talking to on and off for over a dozen years. He took us to get Po Boys at Tracey's, where they serve Barq's Root Beer in bottles I'd never seen before - because as Butler told us, Barq's is from New Orleans, and somehow they work it out so that they only serve those bottles in their hometown. I wanted to take some home with me, but space is limited. It wasn't until just before Butler had to dash that we could even remember how we first got in contact. He had sent me a write-up about a party in Trent Reznor's house way back in the early days of the NIN Hotline. It's a little crazy, thinking about how long ago that was.

As much as I enjoyed reliving old memories, there are new ones waiting to be created, so after spending the night in New Orleans, we were Texas-bound. We were going to Dallas by way of Beaumont, where we camped overnight in a Walmart parking lot. Dallas was where Mel's friend Julie lived - I think Mel goes into more detail here, but in short, Julie's family knows good food, and hooked us up. In between a home cooked meal and Fuel City Tacos, we visited the spot where JFK was shot. Dealey Plaza feels like it's a different shape and size when you're there, compared to photos and videos you see all your life. Up the road, near the cabin where Dallas was founded, was a memorial to John F. Kennedy, which I had not been aware of. It's minimal, but it's respectful, it's simple and effective. You can stand in the middle of it, and it blocks your view of the city around it, although sound gets through just fine.

What followed was a long haul from Dallas to Carlsbad, New Mexico - but not before fulfilling childhood dreams of seeing petrified dinosaur footprints. Since I'm trying to compress several days of travel into a post that I can write in the two hours between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, I'll put it like this: Dinosaur Valley State Park is an idyllic location, and I feel like anyone who's ever animated dinosaurs has done so after having visited this place, because it looks like the setting of any dinosaur video, shy of the Jurrasic Park films. I wish we could have stayed longer, but so much to do, so little time. The next stretch was basically a sundown trip across Texas. In a nutshell: It was dark and I took most of the trip doing at least 80mph, and it still seemed to take forever.

We spent the next day at Carlsbad Caverns, a phenomenal experience. The caverns were extraordinarily expansive, and very nicely lit by the park service, but what really sold me was the natural entrance to the caverns. This gaping maw of a cave, with an installed path that seemed to descend forever, while cave swallows swoop and poop overhead, is something pictures simply will not do justice to. I couldn't get the phrase "Mines of Moria" out of my head as we kept going down further and further into the depths of the cavern. Winding through the chambers, you go from a room that has a cavernous reverb sound, to another section that is so quiet I can hear nothing but the constance of blood rushing under various freuquency bands of tinnitus I've developed over years of aural abuse. After several hours seven hundred feet below the surface, the chill was getting to us, so we took the elevator to the surface, where the sun quickly warmed us back up for our trip that evening, the goal of which was Las Cruces by way of El Paso.

That's where I've got to wrap it up for now. My next entry is likely going to be very, 'woo, cars!' as I gush about my drive down the Coronado Trail, and the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff.

Posted by leviathant 12:16 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Flickr dump from Matt's camera

I'm a few days behind, so it's a trip down (short) memory lane

Here is a small selection of the photos I've taken while in Savannah, Daytona, Key West, Cape Canaveral, the Everglades, and Miami - not in that order. You can now find them as a subset of pix.roadtrop.com.

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Posted by leviathant 09:28 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Bite sized Roadtrop time-lapse videos, hot off the renderer

The Everglades, Key West, and going north through Florida.

sunny 84 °F

GoPro.jpg
The last two days' time-lapse videos are a bit different from the previous crop, for rather silly reasons. Two days ago, after we wrapped up lunch in Key West, I turned the GoPro on, and forgot to change it out of it's default startup mode of 'video', so the last half of the day was recorded as full HD 1080p realtime video, which I could probably take the time to cut down to a time-lapse version, but time on this trip is precious, so I'm just excising it. Most of it is us driving around Key West, and these sorts of videos are more interesting (to me) when we're going down long stretches of highway, or if we've planted the car in front of something interesting.

The following morning, while an amazing amount of mosquitos flew around our car and tried in vain to get through the flyscreens we magnetically attached over our sunroof and windows, I sat down with the GoPro manual and had another look at the settings, as I hadn't had much time to get to know it before the trip. I discovered that I could set the camera to record the pictures upside down, saving me from having to rotate the video in Vegas. I also discovered the different exposure modes, notably, the one that's designed for mounting it on your dashboard pointing outward. With the new default mode being set, hopefully I won't miss any more of our travels.

Since the Day 7 video was so short, instead of playing it back at half-speed, it's actually at quarter speed, and if you're one of the 7 or 8 people who watches these things, please comment and let me know if you prefer that to the speed all the other ones play back at, or if it doesn't really matter. And in a break from the musical backgrounds we've been including and composing, the Key West video simply uses field recording from the street where we were parked for a bit in Key West. It'll be interesting to see if YouTube identifies the music in the background and chastises me for it.

Day 8 was long, long slog from our camping spot, located at the end of the one road into the Everglades, stopping at the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand (it's really so much more than a fruit stand) and pausing at Starbucks for our morning upload, then driving up through central Florida, ultimately heading west into Pensacola, where we stayed with an old friend of mine, Jordan. He's stationed there with the Navy, after having spent a while in Gitmo- as medical staff, not as a detainee! The drive was something to the tune of 12 hours long, it was definitely 12 hours boring. The magic of the GoPro intervalometer has transformed that into two short minutes, where even in HD mode, you'd have to strain to see all the bug splats before we hit the storm that helped wash them off our windshield, if not our bumper.

We recorded the music for that video a few nights ago while staying in Homestead. I didn't get as much time to work on this. Actually, it's about as raw as you can get - it's just Melissa playing over a beat I wrote. There are more important things to do on this trip than fleshing out musical sketches - but I really like that we're making music as we go. Given how much American Routes we are consuming via streaming audio on the drive (to AT&T's chagrin, according to a text message I got) I wonder how long before what we record starts to sound like rootsy blues/jazz/country/rock. That actually works as a nice wrap to this post, as our next stop is New Orleans! We have to go to Basin Street Station and give them a fat donation for the binge streaming we've done over the past week.

Posted by leviathant 09:31 Archived in USA Tagged florida key_west time everglades pensacola lapse gopro time_lapse robert_is_here Comments (2)

Timelapse: a day of roadtropping in under two minutes

Bite size pieces of our view on the road

In planning for this trip, I thought it might be a cool idea to do a timelapse video of our journey. We certainly wouldn't be the only people who've done this, but it would be a great way for us to remember a month-long trip that's so packed with events that a week in, I'm already having trouble remembering just where it was we were three days ago. At first, I thought about getting some older Canon point-n-shoot, installing hacked firmware, and mounting that somewhere, but after doing some research, I discovered that a camera called the GoPro Hero HD has a built-in intervalometer. You can set it up to shoot pictures every 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds. Maybe even more than that, but that's all I needed to know. So a few weeks before we hit the road, we checked Adorama, and they happened to have a blowout on the previous generation of the camera, to make room for the newer, even flashier cameras.

These little things are amazing machines. I'd seen videos people took with them, but in doing this research, it was the two videos of people dropping their GoPros while skydiving (at 2,000ft and 13,000ft), then finding them (while they were still filming!) that sold me. Or maybe it was the video of a GoPro falling off a surfboard and rolling around in a reef that impressed me (That one was found a few months later, in perfect working condition). I knew that nothing we were doing would be that hardcore, except maybe climbing Half-dome, but that level of engineering really impressed me. What also impressed me was that it was $153 for the camera, with six mounts, a 200mph suction cup mount, and two cases (one waterproof), new in the box.

I tried mounting it to the dashboard, but had I read the instructions I would have known that for as great as the 3M moutning adhesive is, it doesn't work on textured plastic. So, on the glass behind the rear view mirror it went. Through a somewhat archaic process involving the two buttons and cryptic LCD display, I set the camera up to take a photo every 30 seconds. I had to buy a new (third!) case that allowed me to run USB into it so that we could power the camera whenever the car was on.

The case also has a slot on the side for easy removal of the hot-swappable SD card. I can pull the card out, dump the photos onto a hard drive, then pop it back in and it picks up taking photos where it had left off.

Like any other digital camera, it stores the photos using incremental numbers appended to the photo name. This comes very much in handy when its time to turn those photos into a video. For this, I use one of my favorite all-around programs, Sony Vegas. I started out using this for multitrack audio, but it's developed into a phenomenal video editor, and I've learned how to utilize that. In this case, I import the photo sequence, set a framerate, and because the camera is mounted upside down in the car, rotate the video. I play around with the resolution, reducing it for a speedier upload, add audio, render, then whenever we have wifi, upload it to YouTube.

With some downtime in Daytona, Melissa busted out the mandolin she brought with her, and recorded a tune into our Zoom H4n. I put together a beat using Figure on my iPhone, and dubbed in some traffic sounds I recorded outside our hotel. Since I had uploaded the first few videos before having audio, I simply used YouTube's audio replace function to swap in music, but you can hear part of the track we recorded on the Day 4 video. Day 5 features a beat I put together on the Tempest a few months ago as part of Melissa's composition for "Pulse," a dance piece performed in New York earlier this year.

Day 1: Philadelphia to Cape Hatteras

Day 2: From the Outer Banks to Knoxville, TN

Day 3: Knoxville, TN to Atlanta, GA

Day 4: Spending the day in Atlanta, then driving to Savannah

Day 5: Savannah to Daytona Beach via Highway A1A

Also, there are more pictures available at pix.roadtrop.com:

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Posted by leviathant 11:56 Archived in USA Tagged florida savannah georgia daytona atlanta kennedy_space_center video gopro timelapse Comments (0)

What to drive, and how to drive it

Station wagons, fuel economy, and gadgets!

semi-overcast 77 °F

Over two years ago, as the concept of this roadtrip became more concrete, we started looking at what sort of vehicle we might take on the road with us during this massive journey. The kinds of vehicles that come to mind when I think "stereotypical road trip" are basically RV, van, or VW minibus. In my own experience, my family made trips to Florida and North Carolina to visit my grandparents several times. At first, we took Dodge Colt Vista - something of a minivan predecessor. After that car kicked the bucket, we replaced it with a Dodge Caravan. Or maybe it was the Plymouth equivalent. It had not occurred to me until typing this paragraph, that I've spent most of my roadtrip miles in Dodge vehicles - even if one of them was basically a rebadged Mitsubishi.

"My Greek father, John, was a mechanic and a general fix-it man. As far back as I can remember, he owned a big, blue Honda station wagon. The back was filled with buckets of tools and hardware, and miscellaneous mechanical parts. It was filthy, and smelled of hot vinyl. He always had it tuned to a radio station that was playing Cliff Richard's "Some People" or Tiffany "I Think We're Alone Now."

"I have many fond memories of that blue station wagon, and when I was in my late teens, I bought a shitty $2000 blue station wagon of my own. Mostly, I used it to transport band gear, for which it was very useful. Being shitty, it developed many problems, most egregiously - the windsheid leaked at the top. My mother, when borrowing it one time, fixed it with silicon caulk, which was obviously slathered across the top of the windshield and onto the roof. The next time my mother borrowed it, I was in the USA on our roadtrip to new orleans that partly inspired this one. When I got home, my mother said, "Your car's been confiscated." I was, naturally, shocked. What on earth happened, I asked her. I thought maybe she had been dealing drugs - anythign is possible with my mother. Turns out that she had simply been driving it on Paramatta Road, where police had 'randomly' pulled it over for a safety points check. It failed spectacularly, and that was the end of my blue station wagon. Until Matt came home with this one.

"I love small cars, but my heart lies with big blue station wagons."

Wagon.jpg
There were two big features that had me eyeing up a Dodge Magnum for the roadtrip. For one - I was pretty sure that if I put down (or took out) the back seats, I could lie flat on my back and still have room to stretch. The other thing that it had going for it was surprisingly good fuel economy for a full-size vehicle. At the time I was looking, we both drove Hyundai Elantras - I could squeeze 450 miles out of a full tank, getting at least 32mpg. The base model Magnum has an advertised fuel economy of 27mpg. That's close to double the economy you'd get out of a van, certainly double the economy of any RV. But some research, combined with some advice from old friends had me doubting the longevity and capabilities of the base model's 2.7l V6 engine. Additionally, if we're going to be on the road for an extended period time, we're going to want something comfortable, and generally, car manufacturers only give you a cozy interior if you take a bigger engine with it.

Now the next step up version of the car was now on my radar. It has a 3.5l V6, 250 horsepower (my 1st car had less than half that at 89hp) - but only gets 23mpg on the highway. That might not seem like such a drop, but that was now almost 10 fewer miles per gallon that our Hyundais got. And when you're planning to drive tens of thousands of miles in a single month - that's several hundreds of dollars of added expense. Some of the niceties that kind of offset that are the fact that the model we eventually found had the 'comfort package' installed - power adjustable everything (you can even reposition the pedals), big comfy leather seats, a sunroof and Sirius radio, and the one we found was low mileage at a great price. But still - 23mpg! And that's what the EPA says we'll get if we're on the highway, I don't even want to know what it got driving the streets of Philadelphia.

Scangauge.jpg
One thing it did not get, something only available if you bought even BIGGER engines, was a car computer display. Buy a Magnum with a Hemi, and you get an active readout of your MPG, various fluid temperatures, and other handy diagnostic things. Since we were going a long distance relying on this car not only for travel but for a place to sleep, I'd love to have something like this on our car. Retrofitting it is possible, but I couldn't justify the cost. I did learn about this thing called a Scangauge though - it shows even more information, and works with just about any modern car. Really, the only thing I wanted it for was the fuel economy meter. If we had an idea of what effect our driving techniques had on the gas tank, we could save a few bucks on this trip.

I've already gotten way too wordy, but the long and short of it - through careful driving, and hanging behind tractor trailers when we could, we've been getting around 27mpg. Again - doesn't sound like a big deal. On a 500 mile drive, that's about 3.2 gallons less per day. At four dollars a gallon, that's $13 a day. Being on the road 35 days - that's a savings of $455 over the trip.

And that's cheap. As Mel just added - "Gas costs three times as much in Australia as it costs here."

Posted by leviathant 08:33 Archived in USA Tagged wagon money van vehicle mpg economy speed scangauge Comments (0)

Day 1: Fog, rain, Route 13, and an enormous bridge

rain 60 °F

After briefly showing Tony around the house that he was going to look after for the next month, we took to the road under gray skies that promised our first day would not be without rain. We took quickly drove through Delaware and Maryland via routes 95 and 13. I took the first shift driving - our GPS said that if we continued at pace, we would be in Hatteras by 6pm, although we didn't really have any intention of getting there quite so early. For one, the fog along the Maryland/Delaware peninsula was incredibly dense, even well past noon.

Usually, during long drives, the drive itself takes a back seat to the destination - top priority on day 1 is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, without attracting attention from law enforcement along the way. A great way to reinforce the less rushed schedule we're on has been to pay attention to our fuel consumption gauge, and actually go the speed limit.

Our car is rated at something like 23mpg, but according to our Scangauge, I was able to push it up past 25. When Melissa took the wheel in Virginia, she was able to eek out 27mpg. Compared to the fuel economy that vans or RVs afford you, and given that we're driving some 15,000 miles in a month, this is a big reason why we chose a station wagon for the trip.

After going a fair way into Virginia, a little bit past the "Isn't Rte 13 boring? We're not. Ahead 5mi" sign (didn't catch the name of the business behind the observant sign) it was time for us to pull off the road for a bite to eat. As we were talking about this, we saw a banner at the edge of a strip mall parking lot, "THAI FOOD". I'll admit, if you asked me what kind of food I might find on the eastern shore of Virginia, Thai wouldn't be my first guess, but it sounded like a great lunch, so we pulled in to what turned out to be one of the sadder strip malls I've been to. That Thai restaurant that had invited us off the highway? "Coming soon." There were folks building the counter inside where residents of this area would soon be eating delicious Thai food, but the only other place in this strip that had food was a standard fare strip-mall Chinese buffet. Outside another store front was structural damage, evidence of an unfortunate high-speed joining of road vehicle and immovable structure. There was a Mexican restaurant - but it was closed. Even the Chinese buffet looked closed. We got back on the road, and followed signs to a cafe - also closed. We were close enough to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that we decided to just snack at this point, stopping at a local grocery store to pick up some bread to tide us over.

Before long, we had made the bridge-tunnel - a 20 mile engineering expanse featuring a series of bridges and tunnels, with a restaurant in the middle of it all. At a scenic viewpoint just before the bridge, we got out to have a good look at it, curving off into a hazy vanishing point on the horizon. The drive across the bridge reminded me of driving across Lake Ponchatrain a decade ago, when Melissa and I drove to New Orleans. Happily, by this point the clouds had broken off, and as we emerged from one of the tunnels, doing the requisite hairpin turn to get into the restaurant, the sun was beaming down unhindered by clouds, without a drop of rain in our sight. I found the view from this island in the bay stunning - you emerge right alongside what I can only guess is a major shipping route, given the number of enormous vessels we saw cruise past the restaurant in the time we were there.

After a late lunch, we were back on the road south to North Carolina.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Setting out
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Posted by leviathant 14:53 Archived in USA Tagged mpg cbbt fuel_economy Comments (1)

An impromptu test of our custom recreational vehicle

Using a trip to Cabela's as an excuse to sleep in the Magnum for the first time

sunny 40 °F

The very day that we had completed installing the bed in the back of our car, I wanted to test it out. It felt a bit like having a tent, but only your backyard to camp in, and not having the childish luxury of an uncluttered, unbusy schedule. But sleeping in your car, in your driveway, in your neighborhood - that didn't have any appeal to me. It was winter, our street gets a fair amount of regular traffic day and night, although I bet at least one neighbor would get a funny story to tell friends and family that day. So we built our home away from home, and then we occupied ourselves with other things while we waited.

It's April now, and we have just about all the equipment we need for the trip. There were still a few things we needed though, things that we could probably find at an enormous sporting goods destination superstore. About an hour and a half's drive north of us, there is such a store - and they, being sporty and outdoorsy, have a massive parking lot and encourage spending the night in your RV in the driveway. It was last Friday evening when we had the idea to go to Cabela's. That idea formed within the same hour the store was closing for the day.

This turned into an excuse to break from our wait, to see just how well the bed we constructed in the back of our car would work. An added incentive: the forecast for the evening predicted that the temperature would drop to freezing - which is at least as cold as Yellowstone tends to be in May. So we set off a little before midnight, and after an uneventful trip up the northeast extension of the PA turnpike, we arrived at our destination around 1:30am. Snaking our way up the road to this absurdly huge superstore, we followed the signs pointing us toward the RV parking, cut the lights, and clambered into the back. We may have just been parked in an empty lot in Hamburg, PA, but turning around to the bed and seeing the rear windows as a panoramic viewport over where we slept gave me kind of a thrill. This morning-after photo doesn't really do it justice.

large_Back.jpg

At first, it felt like the heat from the ride up would be sufficient, but the cold front that whipped wind at us the whole drive north had the cabin temperature equalizing with the ambient outdoor temperature within an hour or so. We had started off with just the light sheets that we had made the bed with months before, but it wasn't long before we pulled out the sleeping bag that was stowed under our bed frame. It was warm under the covers, but the air on my face and in my nose gave me a chill that reminded me of sleeping overnight in the White Desert in Egypt.

We awoke the next morning as sun poured around where we slept. It didn't look much like our neighbors for the night were up yet. Or, if they were, they had the advantage of much larger quarters to spend their morning in.

large_Neighbors.jpg

Although we woke up just in time for the store to open, we wanted some breakfast first. Whenever I need food in a strange town - particularly breakfast, it's hard to go wrong a local diner. Having that in mind, we made our way to downtown Hamburg and before we could even look for it, we stumbled across the Hamburg Diner. This little eatery was situated in between houses on State street, and was just what I was hoping for. We walked in (and were very clearly the only non-locals there), seated ourselves in a booth, and ordered scrambled eggs, home fries, & toast. We had the younger server, the older lady was busying herself with regular patrons.

Breakfast at the Hamburg Diner

Breakfast at the Hamburg Diner



We paid cash for our meager bill (Sometimes I forget how cheap food is in the further-out bits of Pennsylvania) and backtracked over the Schuylkill river and down the road to Cabela's. What followed was hours of spacing out in front of racks of guns, knives, and ridiculous displays full of mostly stuffed whitetail deer. I really can't express to you how many stuffed deer there are in this place, and I'm not even counting the trophy heads hung on the walls. They also had polar bears, an elephant, a rhino, mountain lions, zebra, wolves, wildebeest, chipunks and squirrels... so many stuffed animals. There's a pond stocked with trout, and an aquarium with a few large tanks full of, well, mostly catfish. There were a lot of other fish too, but catfish dominated the aquarium. Melissa took the opportunity to get familiar with the tilt-shift setting on her Canon G12:

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We did a lot of wandering - there was a 'gun library' (read: the used gun gallery), a side-gallery with a bunch of trophy deer heads and an animatronic bow hunter who regales you with tales about deer, a huge clearance section, and the 'bargain cave' - a section of Cabela's that resembles Gabriel Brothers, where all the open-box items are sold off at cut rates. Eventually, hunger tore us away from the consumerist trance, so we grabbed lunch at - where else - Cabela's restaurant. Mel grabbed a Bison Bratwurst, I went with a sandwich called "The Legend" -- a buffalo burger, topped with bbq brisket and cheddar cheese. We both sucked down Pennsylvania Dutch White Birch Beer, and spent another two hours in a daze before we finally picked up some bear spray, knives, and other outdoorsy things. We were on the road by 2:30, and back home by four.

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I'm really looking forward to doing that kind of thing over and over again, with different destinations and 'homes', for a whole month. Of course, I'm also glad we've got a few couches to crash on along the way. Oh hey, by the way, this is Matt. With Melissa driving for half of each day, I'll see if I can catch up with her post count before the trip is through. We've got a lot of fun stuff to document our travels (look for the semi-cliche 'time lapse video of the entire trip from the dashboard' video when we're through), and I'm really glad we're able to share that.

Posted by leviathant 21:12 Archived in USA Tagged planning Comments (0)

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