Travel Notes: Conclusion to my 2012 Road Trip

After watching Space Shuttle Discovery take off from Cape Canaveral (video), I drove nine hours to Georgetown, SC where I met with a friend for dinner and spent the evening in my first Bed & Breakfast; the house was built in the early 1800s, but it was in fantastic shape (video).

From there I drove 4 hours north and stayed with a friend just outside Raleigh, NC, where I had a delicious home-cooked vegan dinner and enjoyed a relaxing evening. The next morning I drove another 4 hours and met a friend for tea just outside Richmond, VA.

The thing that I noticed about South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia was the sheer number of trees that seemed to be everywhere. And these weren't just any trees (pic); they were huge! Most of them were three times the height of telephone poles (i.e., several hundred feet tall).

A few months ago when I drove from New Hampshire down to Florida by going through Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia, I remember thinking to myself over and over, "Wow, this country is huge!".

The same exact thought occurred to me again going from Florida back up to New Hampshire, only now I was realizing what a rich country this was (both its manmade buildings and roads, and in its huge quantity of natural resources).

I'm also blown away by the fact hat after all the driving I've done in the past two months, I've barely scratched a third of the continental United States!

On Thursday I drove into Washington, DC, met a friend, had dinner, and then attended my first real stadium-style sports game: a hockey game (pic) between the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals. The noise was incredible: there was a meter that showed the noise and it reached 120db a few times. Several people were removed from the stadium by security guards for causing trouble.

When the Capitals finally won and we left the stadium, the noise and rowdiness followed us out. We were on the highway in traffic leaving the city and there were still people beeping their horns to the Capitals chant.

Several times I was warned about the terrible Washington, DC traffic, but having never driven in DC I had no first-hand experience. I can tell you now, it holds to its reputation. At one point it took me 45 minutes to travel 5 miles. No matter what time of the day or night, there always seemed to be a huge volume of cars on the road.

Several expressways have automated systems for catching speeding cars: radars with cameras that clocked your speed and took a photo if you were speeding; a ticket is automatically mailed to you several days later.

I spent Friday visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air & Space Museum and getting a members-only preview of Space Shuttle Discovery (photos). 

I watched Discovery launch into space last year. Standing not more than five feet away after seeing her fly over my head only a few days earlier on the back of a Boeing 747 was absolutely breathtaking.

Several friends that I had made during the NASA Tweetup last year came down for the special event and it was really nice reconnecting with them. One of them who happens to live just outside DC let myself and several others stay at her house for a few days. I was reminded yet again how some friendships never die. Relationships forged by a mutual appreciation for something greater than the individual seem to breathe a life of their own.

On Saturday I dropped a friend off at Dulles International Airport. When I took the wrong exit out of the airport (and paid a $4 toll), I decided to take advantage of my "mistake" and choose a longer, but more scenic route back to New Hampshire. 

I drove through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts on US-15, I-81, I-84, and I-90, avoiding entirely the more common, and far more mundane, I-95.

In fact, I enjoyed this alternate route so much that the 12-hours of driving was probably my favorite stretch of the entire road trip. I passed so many farms with horses, cows, and cattle, drove through many different types of forests, over huge rivers, and across mountain ranges. On top of all that, the weather was perfect the entire day. (Road trip photos here.)

By the time I arrived at my parents house in New Hampshire, I felt like I was in a trance, as if my mind and body were one with the vehicle. When I arrived back in familiar territory in Massachusetts, it was hard to believe that I had been in Florida only a few days earlier; reality felt unreal.

I also began to realize that I probably won't be driving through any of the states I just went through for a long time. While I enjoy driving (perhaps even long-distance driving the when the scenery is enjoyable), I think it's an incredible wasteful form of transportation, both in terms of time and fuel.

On my way down to Florida, I drove 2,498 miles (4,020 km), using about 100 gallons (378 liters) of fuel which cost me around $375. On my return to New Hampshire, I drove 1,679 miles (2,702 km), using about 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel, which cost me around $250.

In total, I drove 4,177 miles (6,722 km), burned 165 gallons (624 liters) of fuel, and spent about $625.

But more importantly, I spent about 100 hours of my life sitting in a chair, staring out the window, and causing my body physical and metal stress over controlling a several-thousand-pound hunk of metal.

Driving is, without a doubt, a job best handled by a robot and I for one cannot wait until the day when we can all step into a vehicle, tell it where we want to go, and then spend our time being productive, calm, and enjoying our humanity.

The state of Nevada recently became the first state in the world to offer a driving license for a robot. They haven't issued any yet, but they have issued several learning permits.

Travel Update: Leaving Florida, Planning for Australia

After electronically obtaining a six-month Australian tourist visa over the weekend, I purchased my one-way ticket to Australia. I leave May 9th from Boston, MA and, after a layover in Los Angeles and then in Auckland, New Zealand, I arrive at the Gold Coast Airport just south of Brisbane, Australia (for you travel geeks the precise route is BOS-LAX-AKL-OOL).

Initially I'll be staying with a friend near Brisbane, but I intend to explore the rest of the country by train (Australia is nearly as big as the continental United States). I hope to visit Cairns and Darwin in the north, Sydney and Melbourne in the south, Alice Springs in the middle, and finally Perth in the west.

I also intend to maintain a travel budget of $500-$800 USD per month while I'm there. I've heard this will be quite difficult with Australia's relatively high cost of living, but that makes the challenge even more enticing.

I'll also need to have relatively consistent internet access to continue working. Both internet access availability and my budget will play a part in determining how much of Australia I actually see.

Tomorrow morning I will be watching the Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted to the top of a Boeing 747, do a low flyby over the ocean en route to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum in Washington, DC where it will retire. (The first shuttle launch I attended was space shuttle Discovery on STS-133 last year.)

After watching the shuttle fly out from Florida, I will begin my week-long drive up the eastern coast of the United States, driving north to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I will meet up with a friend for the evening.

On Wednesday I will continue driving and visit two more friends in North Carolina and Virginia, arriving in Washington, DC on Thursday where I will stay for a few days, participating in a special event for the unveiling of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian (the same shuttle I saw leave from Florida).

My goal is to arrive back in New Hampshire on Monday, one week from today, where my sister is due with her baby girl. I will immediately list my car for sale on CraigsList and hopefully sell it before my trip to Australia in May.

If you happen to live somewhere along my route from Florida to New Hampshire, or anywhere in Australia, please let me know; I'd love to meet up!

Travel Notes: Thoughts on Florida

I don't know what it is about Florida that attracts me here. Perhaps it's the way I'm reminded of space travel and humanity's quest for exploration and pushing boundaries. Perhaps it's the constant reminder of flight by the birds and small airplanes that always seem to be circling and flying overhead.

Or maybe it's the way everything always seems green and reminds me of tropical places, or perhaps it's all the long, straight, and well cared for roads.

Perhaps it's how whenever I'm here it feels easy to blend in, like a tourist among so many other tourists, in a country that feels familiar, on a coast that holds enough cultural similarities to my northeastern roots to make me feel at home.

Perhaps it's the way things sound, the way construction projects and big trucks seem mostly absent and the chatter of birds somewhere in a nearby tree creates a background for the consistently flat landscape, creating what acoustically feels like a gigantic empty room with a blue ceiling dotted by the occasional cloud.

Or maybe it's the way the beach feels, the way I can walk around for hours dragging my feet in the warm ocean at the beginning or end of the day, even during the height of tourist season, and still not feel crowded or claustrophobic but rather invited, embraced, calmed, and welcome.

It's comfortable here and the more time I spend in Florida the more I understand why this is such a common place for retirement within the United States. Beaches here are plentiful. Warmth and sun is abundant. Sidewalks look new. Roads and landscapes are well cared for and the breeze always seems to blow at just the right time.

Whenever it becomes known to me that I will soon be leaving a place, possibly not to return, I always take some time to contemplate whether or not I've been able to capture the essence of the place.

Have I been able to capture the essence of Florida? That's seems hard to say. In the past year, I have spent nearly eight months living here and yet I still feel a longing to remain. Does this pull extend from laziness or from contentment?

Instead of waiting around to find out, I will continue traveling.

Inhaling Peace, Exhaling Release

I have what feels like the entire earth to myself, this huge open expanse inviting me to come play, to run, to sprint, to feel the sand between my toes and the warm breeze on my skin. 

But I don't run. I stroll. I feel the lukewarm water lapping gently at my feet and watch as the quiet waves roll in softly and ripple across the infinite sandy expanse.

I close my eyes and inhale deeply, taking into my being the pure energy that surrounds me. It's intoxicating. I cannot breathe deeply enough. It's as if the air itself is so full that my lungs are unable to capture it. My body tingles with overwhelm.

I look up at the stars and exhale a sense of immense gratitude and contentment. If peace itself could be captured in a bottle, this must be what drinking it feels like.

With all the places in the world to visit -- with all the places that my freedom allows me to go -- I suddenly feel no desire to go anywhere, no sense of urgency to see a new place, or to relocate, or to even explore. 

What more do I need? Where else will I go? What more could I possibly ask for in a destination? 

What was it about this beach in Florida? Was there some energy here that my being was connecting with? Or was this experience perhaps more superficial, more related to the warm weather and the never-ending sunshine?

For the past few weeks I have gone for a walk on this beach near Cape Canaveral almost every single day and incredibly this experience has followed me each time. 

I arrive about thirty minutes before sunset and spend two hours or so walking and/or running until the sun goes down and the stars come out. 

Each night before leaving I stand in the ocean and look up at the stars, picking out planets and constellations and watching for satellites and shooting stars. 

With the ocean before me and the stars and planets above, I can feel my infinitesimal size.

Why am I here? What am I doing? What is my purpose for traveling? Why do I need to go anywhere?

I ponder these questions over and over while simultaneously feeling certain that I won't stop asking them, just as I feel certain that I won't stop traveling. (After all, none of us really do stop traveling. We're in constant motion, whether on this planet or through time itself.)

I'm reminded by these experiences that my travels are not a method of 'searching'; I'm not trying to fill a void or figure out what's missing. Everything I need, everything I ever will need, is already here; I'm already complete.

What travel does is help me strip away all the social conditioning, all the preconceived ideas and expectations that I create for myself. It helps me release all the bits and pieces of identity that I, and others, have plastered all over me in attempt to create a definition and a design that can easily be grasped onto. 

Embracing change as a constant requires embracing detachment and movement as constants as well. Letting go is part of moving forward, just as moving forward is inherent in letting go.

Travel helps me rediscover what's already here, what goes with me from place to place, from moment to moment unchanged. Just as the ocean washes away my footprints, so does each moment wash away the previous, leaving behind only what was already here.

Travel Notes: An Abrupt Closing on Road Trip Notes

I've been procrastinating with finishing my travel notes from the road trip. Today I finally took some time to analyze why that was. 

The remainder of my notes do not contain more than casual observations or a simple "here's where I went, here's what I did next". 

Sure, there are a few interesting tidbits here and there -- exploring Auburn, Indiana, also known as the 'Home of the Classics', and touring the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum where several multi-million dollar classic cars were on display; being chased by a violent tornado storm that killed more than 40 people in the states I was traveling through and then hearing tornado sirens for the first time just outside Atlanta, GA and  experiencing a near miss with a tornado myself (it touched down just down the street from where I was). 

But beyond those highlights, there was just a lot of driving, meeting up with friends for lunch or dinner, torrential downpours, and then more driving. 

I had originally intended on writing travel notes that described my whole journey in detail, but as I worked on those I realized that the writing would contain so much fluff. There would be so little substance, so little meaning to what I was writing. As a result, I procrastinated. I delayed. I put it off until tomorrow.

By not finishing the travel notes from my road trip, I've felt mentally held back from sharing what I'm experiencing right now, here in Florida. 

My regular evening walks on Cocoa Beach have birthed many interested thoughts and feelings and I've wanted to share those here with you. That stuff does feel like it has substance, but I was pushing those notes off until tomorrow too, until I finished "catching up" with the road trip stuff. 

So this is my last travel note on the road trip. The trip taught me how much I dislike driving long distances and it reminded me why I've avoided owning a car for the past two years. It's nice to see places while traveling by land, but I find that travel by train, bus, bicycle, or even just my own two feet is far more appealing and educational.

I've also learned that making regular notes to capture the travel experiences in the moment is vital to capturing their essence. That's why I'm going to start publish shorter, more frequent travel notes from here on out.