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Showing posts from 2010

It’s Not Too Hard

On April 9, 2008, my life was irrevocably changed. Every risk I’ve taken in the last two years has been a direct result of almost a single moment in time. I remember looking at one of my best friends, Brad, and saying “I am going to quit my job and travel the world.” To hear Brad describe this moment is somewhat shocking, because he could see in my eyes how real this was, and he knew it would happen. It started out, as it always does, with a small risk. Brad wanted to do European Delivery on a new BMW and spend a couple weeks driving around Europe – for me to join him would require taking the longest amount of consecutive vacation from a job I had ever taken in my life, an entire two weeks . Our trip would end in Amsterdam, where some of the guys on my team worked, so I was able to justify it by finishing up with a week working out of our Amsterdam office. Brad’s brother Adam joined us for what would turn out to be a whirlwind tour across most of Western Europe and a defining experien

Audio/Visual Gear for 2011

A huge part of my traveling is sharing my experiences with friends and while I enjoy my writing, nothing beats photos and videos for simple, pure sharing. Over the last two years I have slowly tweaked the hardware, software, and technologies I use for this, always trying to find a balance between cost, usability, and quality. In July I took a couple major steps, adding a DSLR and a high definition audio recorder to address what I felt were major gaps in the video of my ContourHD (audio and low-light performance). As I prepare for my next adventure, I’m taking the knowledge gained over the last year and changing things up again. First of all, the Zoom H2 is out – the audio quality was amazing, but it is simply too big, too bulky and (most importantly) too much of a hassle to use. I am currently looking for a smaller, much simpler device that I can activate with the touch of a button/slider through a jacket pocket. I plan to equip this two small external microphones including a shotgun

Gear Review: A Year of ExOfficio Abuse

For just over a year now, I’ve only worn five pairs of underwear – for much of that time, I’ve only had three pairs actually with me. At times, I’ve swapped as often as four times a day while at others I’ve gone as long as three weeks without changing or washing a pair. A few times I’ve even gone over a week straight without removing a pair at all (or taking a shower for that matter). It sounds absolutely disgusting, but I assure you that even in some of the most extreme circumstances I’ve been fresher feeling (and smelling!) than after a day at the office in a pair of Fruit of the Looms.

What’s Next?

I’ve been home from my scooter trip for a month now, and by far the most common question I’ve heard anyone ask is “What’s next?”  It’s a question that has consumed me for months, and needless to say, it’s not easy to answer. My plan for the next adventure is a bit more ambitious. If you’ve been following me, you know that I have two driving reasons behind my recent adventures: the first is to help people in need through charitable donations while the second is to inspire “normal” people to look up from their daily routine and see the amazing beauty of the people and world around us, to realize that we’re all the same and enjoying that is as (or more) important than focusing on our own small bubbles of existence.

Third Person Memory

Apparently I’m not the only person in the world who uses the internet – today I got to enjoy the slightly bizarre experience of reading about myself as written by others who encountered me on my long scooter ride. I thought I’d share these on my blog and relive my own memories a bit.

Gear Review: Around the World with the SPOT Personal Tracker

Sometimes when I’m hundreds of miles away from any cell or internet service and haven’t been able to communicate with the outside world, my mom likes to update friends with stories about my exact location:

Gear Review: 120+ Nights in a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2

In the last two and a half years I’ve only used one tent, a fantastic 3lb compact two-person tent from Big Agnes called the Seedhouse SL2 . It’s a little frightening to realize that during this time I’ve spent over 120 nights sleeping outdoors in it, and I’ve set it up and torn it down over a hundred times. I’m not a professional gear reviewer who spends a couple nights in different tents throughout the year, so I can’t compare it from personal experience to other tents – but I can say, from immense personal experience, that this tent will not let you down. Ever. The Seedhouse SL2 is a very simple design with a single aluminum hub pole held together by some sort of magical kevlar or nylon. Toss it on the ground and maybe kick it once or twice and it self assembles rapidly with strong mechanical clicks, reminiscent of a Transformer – I’m not sure exactly why, but this action is always a pleasure to experience and makes the first few moments of setting up camp enjoyable.

Journey’s End

One of the hardest things with any long journey is coping with the end – you feel amazingly free at first, but this quickly turns to boredom. Worse, you may find yourself changed in many ways, perhaps unexpected, and accepting this can be quite difficult. This is the fourth time in the last year I’ve gone through this, each time different. In November, 2009, I returned from one of the most bizarre and thought-provoking vacations anyone can imagine, where I rode a mototaxi thousands of miles across South America (I cannot recommend this type of experience enough). I had already made plans to quit my job, but I think everyone I worked with secretly hoped I would change my mind when I returned – unfortunately for them, this experience solidified my need to experience life at a different level. Immediately after my final day of work on December 31, 2009, I set out on a road trip across the US with the goal of getting the few remaining states in my “all 50 states” merit badge. Sleeping in

The Night Road

The sun flees behind me, sullen, as I pass it by. Night slowly smothers my world, until all that exists is a shrunken cone of light, a feeble token of my unwillingness to fully surrender to the darkness. The smooth dark curves of the mountain road reveal themselves by this light, tantalizing glimpses of yellow and white paint keeping me within the night road’s embrace. Each curve is a new mystery to explore, the road leaning away from the light and refusing to reveal itself. They must be felt, intimately, each meter of the curves coyly unfolding itself under my touch as I slide along it. The sharpness often stabbing, forcing an unexpected response, rapid deceleration followed by careful, thoughtful exploration. Mysterious shapes slide by, tugging at my mind, familiar yet completely foreign. The road consumes my attention, even to consider what lies beyond, in the darkness, is a risk not worth taking. Somewhere above lights in the sky beg to be revealed, but the curves before me refuse


In nearly three months on the road, mostly spent camping and travelling, I’ve had a number of things break or die on me. In some ways it’s surprising, in others I suppose expected. Here’s a quick rundown as of today: Panasonic FS-10 Digital Camera: This little guy was amazing. For the last year, it’s been my main camera and has held up through some serious abuse in South America and Asia, not to mention all the times it came out at parties and whatnot back home. It’s been dropped, thrown out of mototaxis, bounced down hills, frozen in snow, covered in sand, and kept on ticking…  Until I took it out for some pictures on the AlCan and the lense mechanism finally jammed for good. RIP. Sony PRS300 E-Reader: I can’t travel without an e-reader anymore, they are so simple and small and easy to deal with compared to bringing books. This one came all over Asia with me and survived being recharged and partially blown out at a suspect plug at 15k feet in the Himalayas, but finally gave up the g

The Coolest People Aren’t Selfish

I’ll be the first to admit it – when it comes to typical Americans, I’m pretty jaded. As a general whole, our culture in the US is very self-centered and “me first,” as can be seen from the way we view work to our politics. Having spent about half my life in the developing world, I’m always saddened by this back home because it’s amazing how people with (what we perceive as) very little are so much more willing to share. One of the things I love about traveling is meeting people who let you intersect with their lives for just a brief moment, bringing you into their bubble in a way that many of us wouldn’t normally do to strangers. Something about the romance of being on the road seems to open people up to things outside themselves and as you get to encounter some of the coolest people (or, perhaps it’s just that this willingness to engage with a stranger is what makes them the coolest people and I just randomly bump into them while traveling). I’ve met many great people on this trip, f

The Living Dead Scooter

Something didn’t feel quite right – after the top end rebuild in Whitehorse and a careful break-in on the Alaska Highway, I expected Red to be ready to tear up the roads through Canada and the US. Instead I found myself still sticking to around 40MPH due to a slight vibration and a perceived lack of smoothness in the engine. I wanted a professional to take a look before sliding around the deserts and mountains of the US and stopped by Fritz Scooter & Motorcycle Repair in Seattle for a health check. The result wasn’t good. Within a few minutes Jake realized Red was a dead scooter riding: the crankshaft is shot. The piston is burned to shreds, bearings are loose, seals are leaking, and the crankshaft is bent. This is definitely the reason for the original failure and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t spotted in Whitehorse, though it’s understandable since they don’t work on these every day. So, nearly 12,000 miles into this journey, I’m stuck again waiting for parts from Chicago (whi

The New ContourGPS Camera

In the last year, I’ve filmed hundreds of hours of video all over the world with my ContourHD 720p bulletcam. I consider it one of the most important pieces of electronics that I carry around and never travel without it. Two other devices I usually carry with me are my Locosys BGT31 GPS datalogger (which allows me to track and log my GPS position every second) and my SPOT GPS messenger (which allows me to upload and share my position every ten minutes). I’ve usually done well on merging my GPS and photo data (though I abandoned that on this trip due to convenience), but one thing I’ve always struggled with is the ability to merge GPS data and video. Earlier in the year I wrote some tools to do GPS integration with Adobe Premiere but the resulting processing overhead of my hack was so high as to render it unusable. Instead I found myself referring to the GPS track outside the video to place positional comments within the video, rather than the map overlay I envisioned. As such, I was e

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks

In the past couple months on the road I think I’ve spent more time riding my scooter through rain than I have in the dry – this is clearly reflected in the fact that as time has gone by I’ve invested more and more money in things to keep my stuff dry, since wet gear sucks. One of my favorite purchases for this trip is the pair of Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks I picked up just before leaving, in 13L and 20L sizes. They cost me around $20 each and are one of the best pieces of gear I’ve purchased in years – extremely durable, effective, and simple to use.

Stranded in Whitehorse

If you follow along on Facebook or Twitter , you know that Red broke down around a hundred miles south of Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon Territories last Sunday – after nearly 10,000 miles of travel in seven weeks, quite the success.  When I left Fairbanks, I knew there were problems with my trans belt slipping (for a few thousand miles) but the plan was to baby it back to the real world where I could get replacements.  Unfortunately for me, I did a bit too good of a job cleaning out the carbs and engine in Fairbanks and Red was running incredibly well on the ride back down the Alaska Highway. After weeks of cold, clouds, and rain, I finally started the day last Sunday in warm, dry sunlight.  I was well along the Alaska Highway, had a great destination in mind for the night (the Yukon Motel & RV Park at Teslin, where I stayed on the way up, and got to pick up some parts and good food in Whitehorse. One of the important things I picked up in Whitehorse was a pack of 1A fuses

The Two Faced Dalton Highway

Considered one of the most isolated roads in the USA due to its extremely limited services and the lack of real towns, the Dalton Highway is one of the holy grail roads for adventure riders in North America. I have to admit that it was not at all what I expected – the sordid tales of extreme road covered in fist size rocks, foot deep mud, extreme drops, and horrid corrugation were all true… but only in very small sections of the road. I expected 414 miles of some of the worst road on earth and instead encountered maybe a grand total of 20 miles of not-great road in total – and at least a hundred miles in total of some of the most pristine tarmac I’ve ever seen. As such, I went into the Dalton expecting an extreme riding experience and a severe challenge of my skills and discipline – and on the way up, I got it, but only due to the weather. It was absolutely horrible, with temperatures hovering just barely above freezing, rain and mist a constant companion, and fog massively reducing

The Bittersweet Final Push

On July 15, I left Washington DC with four simple goals: I wanted to swim in the Arctic Ocean, I wanted to have an amazing experience getting there, I wanted to inspire my friends and others to take risks and live life, and I wanted to raise money for a cause that’s important to me. Today, just over a month later, I sit in Fairbanks Alaska preparing for the final grueling 500 miles up to the Arctic Ocean. I have traveled just over 7,500 miles and spent 28 of the past 32 days on my scooter, often from early morning to late at night. I’ve slept on the side of the road in a tent for all but six of those nights. I’ve seen much of the varied terrain that North America has to offer, from plains to prairies to lakes to mountains to glaciers and forests. I’ve been nearly face to face with wild bears and wolves without a cage or fence. I’ve been soaked through to my skin and shivering in pain from cold, been blistered and red from heat and wind and sun, swollen from bee and wasp stings, and bl

The Story of a North Face Jacket

It’s a simple love story, really. It started in January last year when I was preparing to ride my Vmax from San Diego back to Washington DC in the dead of winter.  I needed something that would keep me warm at temperatures equivalent to -10+F due to windchill and I knew the North Face ski pants I had picked up on the way out did the trick (when layered appropriately).  I walked into REI San Diego and ended up spending more money than I have ever spent on a single piece of non-formal clothing, walking out with an awesome red Hyvent North Face hardshell. Amazingly, it exceeded all my expectations – with three fleece shirts, a down jacket, and the North Face hard shell I looked like a giant puffy red ball, but I actually stayed warm in temperatures equivalent to -30+F when I encountered a massive cold front on the east coast.  Even more amazing, the shell kept me dry (and warm) when riding for five hours through a tropical storm in Florida (everything I owned was soaked, except my ch

The Alaskan Freakin’ Highway

I still can’t figure out how I feel after the last three days on the Alaskan Highway. It all started so well leaving Dawson Creek, a beautiful sunny day with only a bit of frustrating wind to hold me back. Traffic wasn’t bad, the road was nice, the scenery was green, and all was well. Except for those evil looking clouds in the distance… By the early afternoon, those evil looking clouds were no longer in the distance. In fact, they were pouring evil cold rain on my head.  Now, rain itself isn’t so bad, especially a fairly mild rain. It’s easy to walk around town or run to your car and not get too wet. Riding through it on a motorcycle or a scooter is something entirely different though. First of all you get completely soaked because of your speed – I mean, really soaked. It’s like standing under a shower, everything gets wet regardless. Next, you lose a ton of visibility. The clouds block the sun so there’s low light, then your dark tinted goggles work against you. Except they’re co

Red’s Dead, Baby, Red’s Dead

Actually, Red is fine – I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay homage to Pulp Fiction (“Whose chopper is this?  Zed’s.  Who’s Zed?”). Two days ago as I left Edmonton through the small farm roads of Alberta, I was e-mailing back and forth with Ryan Jeffries at Scooterworks USA about my issues.  After a lot of back and forth including me sending him mp3’s of my engine sounds he agreed that it sounded fine and came to the conclusion that the impacted plugs may have been due to carbon buildup in the exhaust with bits breaking off and impacting the plug.  At this point it was just wait-and-see and pay careful attention to Red’s every whim looking out for any signs of engine damage. I just got Red back from the mechanics at Scooterville Montana and Ryan was right – there was a lot of gunk in the carb and tons of buildup in the exhaust.  They cleaned it all out, gave him a bit of a tune-up and now Red is rocking just like the good old days.  He sounds great, moves fast, and cruis

The Dilemma

After a brief moment of happiness thinking I was using the wrong plug, I found out I wasn’t.  As a result, the fact that the last two plugs have come out impacted implies there is something potentially very wrong with Red.  I rode around to two mechanics in Edmonton and both agreed – worse, they both said they’d need to do an entire teardown to investigate and that this would cost up to a thousand dollars Canadian!  Even better, one wouldn’t be able to get to it until Tuesday and the other shop said middle of next week.  Add the cost of a hotel for all those days and things look quite dreary. This is definitely something I didn’t consider on this trip – I’m entirely too used to third world mechanics tearing down and rebuilding things from scratch for pennies.  Genuine isn’t a global brand like Yamaha or Honda, so I can’t find a dealer up here to work on it under warranty (in fact, the big dealers won’t touch it).  The end result is that I’m facing a dilemma. Do I continue on, sticki

Road Zen

The day after riding hours in the rain and cold through the mountains of Quebec, the switch flipped for me.  It happens to me on long trips, which is perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy them so much – suddenly the world just fades away and becomes almost a shadow that only extends for a few meters around me.  Time doesn’t pass so much as it flits past in a series of snapshots, very much like in the video I posted – blurs of images followed by comparatively excruciatingly slow experiences. A bird flying three feet away me for less than a second, but I can see all the detail of its feathers and stare deep into its left eye before the moment blurs and it’s gone.  A chipmunk crossing the road in front of me and I somehow know, a hundred yards away, that it’s going to be confused – slamming to a halt as he wrenches his body left and right in front of me, torn by indecision, only to stand on his hind legs and berate me before finally running off to the right.  A dragonfly floating in the air

Arctic Bound

Travel Day 2: Boston, MA to Island Park, VT – 261 miles, 9 hours After a fantastic morning (but sad parting) with my friend in Boston, I hit the road north at just after 10AM.  Most of the morning was spent navigating the suburbs of Boston on local highways, but after a few hours I finally made it out into the mountains of New Hampshire.  Red held up great and is running smooth, although the slight vibration at over 40MPH is getting worse – I’m going to look for somewhere to balance the tires and see if that helps. Later in the afternoon I ended up on some fairly empty back roads through northern New Hampshire and Vermont, so it was lots of fun to relax and enjoy the scenery and the ride without worrying about people passing me constantly (even when I’m doing 45MPH in a 45 people go crushing past).  Unfortunately right after my final gas stop I ran into my first rain of the trip!  I had to pull over and quickly unpack my rain gear, but everything stayed dry as I putzed around throu