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 Notes: Ithaca, NY

In February 2012, I began a 17-day solo road trip through ten US states, driving a total of 2,498 miles. The following travel notes are from that road trip.

After Saratoga Springs, NY, the next stop on the road trip was Ithaca, NY. The journey to Ithaca reminded me of something I wrote in 2010, Starting the Journey to Ithaca

Much like the message in that essay, the journey to Ithaca took seemingly forever, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it because I wasn't focused on the destination.

On the way there I made some interesting observations: I saw someone refilling five-gallon water bottles with water from a stream trickling down from the mountain (there was a pull-off for cars; it looked like that was a common source of drinking water). I also saw a farm with lamas grazing in the... snow.

The road to Ithaca snaked up and down the mountains with an average speed limit of 55mph; it was typical to drive 65mph on these roads with no divider between you and oncoming traffic. I felt like I was on a racetrack for most of the drive once I got off the main highway.

Lots of farms surrounded Ithaca, but they were mostly used for growing feed for the animals (cows, horses). While Ithaca itself felt affluent and modern (especially in the downtown area), only a few miles away in all directions lie farms and communities that hadn't changed much in a hundred years.

I met my friend Molly Yarrington for the first time after arriving in Ithaca and we walked to a small local cafe where there were lots of young people with at least a dozen laptops. It reminded me how much the Internet is changing everything. 

What would've once been a town to leave for the "big city" (or 'village' as many signs on the highway called them) is now a place where you can experience small town life while remaining connected to and working within the modern world.

After the cafe we walked around a bit and visited a waterfall (Molly tells me there are lots of trails and other outdoor stuff to do in Ithaca). We then had lunch where the conversations continued. 

I ended up spending the night in Ithaca and after doing an interview with Radio Enso, Molly and I continued talking into the early morning.

We talked about a seemingly endless number of things but one topic that we explored on several occasions was that of what to do with our natural talents. 

Should we pursue the things that we're naturally good at, or should those things become the foundation for exploring other areas that are of equal interest to us but are perhaps of less natural inclination?

For example, few people know this about me but I'm very military-minded. I genuinely enjoy the hardship, the discipline, and the dedication of soldiers and warriors.

Emotional detachment comes naturally to me, as does the tendency for sacrifice and service. I even generally live the lifestyle of a warrior, only living with what's necessary.

But I have other interests that are in conflict with those natural inclinations. For example I consider myself a humanist and I enjoy philosophy. The concepts of peace and equality are very important to me as well and I seek sustainability and harmony.

If I pursued only the things that I was naturally good at, then I would probably become a solider or focus only on sports or other activities that complement my natural inclinations. 

However, if I instead use those natural inclinations to create a foundation from which I can explore other things, then I would create and live a more vibrate and rich life. 

Harmony would be built upon a foundation of dedication; sustainability would be created with a willingness to sacrifice. I would create and build things with a tendency for sharing and service.

I feel that I've been fortunate that my interests have always been so varied and so strong that I've never 'settled' on one thing. The closest I've come to 'settling' on something was in the choice of my first career. I didn't like computers any more than I liked space travel, but in my early teens pursuing a career in the technology industry was the most practical choice.

I believe that balance is important and if all we do is pursue what we're good at, then we'll end up living a very one-sided life.

On leaving Ithaca the following morning, I drove by several of the 'finger lakes'. These huge lakes are literally shaped like giant fingers. (See them on the map.)

Travel Notes: Saratoga Springs, NY

In February 2012, I began a 17-day solo road trip through ten US states, driving a total of 2,498 miles. The following travel notes are from that road trip.

After Northampton, MA, my next stop on the road trip was Saratoga Springs, New York, where I was visiting two friends who I met in Florida last year during the NASA Tweetup: Joel Glickman and Phylise Banner.

Joel is an experienced pilot who has flown all around the United States solo in his single-engine Cherokee airplane. Phylise, who was previously terrified of flying, is now training to become a pilot herself.

Joel took me up in his friends airplane last year and gave me the controls for a few minutes -- it was an absolutely incredible experience. I happened to arrive in Saratoga Springs shortly before Joel and Phylise returned from a flight that day and Phylise sent me a message via Twitter (yes, it works up there!) inviting me to meet them at Saratoga County Airport if I wanted to go up again.

I arrived at the small airport just as they were landing and Joel took me up. We skimmed a few feet above the frozen Saratoga Lake and then conducted a few Zero-G maneuvers (the pilot pulls the plane up almost into a stall, then pushes the nose down hard, creating weightlessness for a few seconds before straightening out again).

In airplanes not designed for acrobatics, I learned that you're not supposed to do turns greater than 90 degrees without wearing a parachute, as there is an increased risk of something going wrong. Joel asked me if I wanted to do a few 50-degree turns. With a big smile on my face, I agreed.

The turns were so hard that I could feel the blood rushing out of my head and upper body, being pulled down towards my seat. The forces were incredible! I could only imagine what fighter pilots must experience doing similar moves, going much faster and turning much harder.

After we pulled out, Joel turned to me with a smile and said "So much for 50-degrees... that was 110."

We headed back to the airport and Joel let me take the controls. I've always been somewhat familiar with airplane controls because when I was ten or eleven years old, my dad bought me Microsoft Flight Simulator for the PC, along with the yoke and rudder pedals accessory.

Flying a real plane doesn't really compare to a flight simulator, but having at least some familiarity with the controls definitely helped with confidence.

I lined the plane up with the runway and slowly took the plane down. Joel was handing the pedals, the trim, and basically everything else; I was steering and pushing the nose of the plane down, controlling our decent.

When we were about a hundred feet off the ground, Joel took over and landed the plane.

You can see our entire flight path here. Joel tracks all his flights using an app on his iPhone called MyFlightBook (yes, there really is an app for everything).