Archive for September, 2011


September 28th, 2011 10 comments

If you’ve taken a look at the map of my trip progress, you might have noticed a strange southern loop from Wisconsin down into Alabama and back into Indiana.  That wasn’t accidental; instead, it was a byproduct of my strong desire to go to Rose-Hulman‘s homecoming on September 24.

Cheerleaders for R-O-S-E at the homecoming football game

I got my BS in Electrical Engineering from Rose in 2004, and I’d been back for homecoming three times in the intervening years: 2005, 2006, and 2008.  It seemed time to make another appearance.

Why do I go back?  It’s not really to see the school.  Rose-Hulman is great, and it means more to me than my other alma mater (Stanford), but the real reason I go back is to visit with my fraternity brothers.  OK, OK — the homecoming bonfire put on by Rose is fun, too.

The bonfire is fueled by hundreds of railroad ties stacked in something resembling a log cabin configuration.  Back in my day (get my cane!), the fire was better because we used actual creosote-soaked ties, but even with the recent years’ untreated lumber, the fire is pretty entertaining.

A few hours after a great speech by noted physicist Michio Kaku, the school put on a rousing display of fireworks before igniting the blaze.  Thousands of alumni, students, and hangers-on flooded the IM soccer fields to watch the spectacle.

A sea of people watch the bonfire blaze

A few daring people even ran up to the extremely hot fire to tag some of the unburned wood.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they singed their hair, as it was nearly impossible to spend any length of time within 100 ft. of the blaze.

One guy did plan ahead.  He made what looked like a proximity fire suit out of foil (sort of), got a roasting stick, and browned some marshmallows in no time flat.

Roasting marshmallows the quick way

Back at the fraternity house, the mood was festive.  For context, you should know that my chapter’s house sits on about 23 acres of wooded land about a mile down the road from the college campus.  The space provides the opportunity to have a bunch of buildings, several fire trucks, and some big bonfires of our own.

I stood around the bonfire chatting with my Brothers, new and old.  We told stories, laughed at past misadventures, and pondered the future.  It had been 10 years since I first spent a homecoming at the house, and it was jarring to see how much older than the actives my classmates looked.  I could see the passage of time in my face, too, and that made me all the more glad that I chose to do this trip before I aged even more.

A photo from 2000: me (as a freshman) and the rest of the guys in Alpha Eta class

There were no ice arenas within 70 miles of Rose-Hulman, so I had played in Indianapolis the Friday before Homecoming.  That left me with nothing on my to-do list except to reminisce and have fun.

That said, part of the appeal of Homecoming is that it ends before it wears out its welcome, and this one was no exception.  Sunday morning came, and that saw me departing for more hockey, seven hours away in West Virginia.

People like goalies

September 27th, 2011 5 comments

I’ve now played in 27 spots on this trip, and a universal truth is emerging: people like goalies.

Several people have used the exact phrase, “We love goalies!”

Empty nets are no fun

Even when I don’t play very well, I often get asked if I’m going to make it to the next drop-in game scheduled on some coming night.  I don’t think they’re asking that so as to avoid the game themselves.  On the contrary, if an ice session starts to have a reputation of being devoid of goalies, its popularity will drop.

I was talking to a guy named Eric when I played in Springfield, Illinois.  He mentioned that I was the first goalie to show up to the rink’s Monday-evening drop-in game in about six weeks.  More than a month with two empty nets?  No wonder not many skaters showed up.

Over the course of the trip so far, I have been the sole goalie at six skates, and a bunch of other times, there would have been only one goalie had I not been there.

Players at a drop-in skate will never tell a goalie that he was a sieve.    The skaters will tell you if you did a great job, but if nobody talks to you after the game, that’s the sign you didn’t do so well.  Yes, a lousy goalie is better than no goalie, and goalies tend to be in such short supply that there’s no need to risk alienating them.

Funny how skaters like the challenge of shooting on a goalie.  It would be trivial to bury shots in the net without a goalie being in the way, but that isn’t nearly as satisfying as beating a goalie in the process.

Yes, people like goalies, and I like being one.



Assumptions from a small sample and homogeneity

September 24th, 2011 Comments off

As I drive throughout the country, I can’t help but wonder how my perceptions of each state and province are being skewed by the small areas of my visits.

For example, I know how beautiful northern Minnesota can be, what with its many lakes, dense pine forests, and rugged terrain.  However, if one’s sole exposure to Minnesota were to be running I-90 across the southern part of the state, one would conclude that it’s just one big farm field.

As a corollary, it’s amazing how similar many of the states and provinces look, at least when the sample size is limited.

Here’s a quiz: which state/province was the following photo taken in:

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Tennessee
  3. British Columbia
  4. Saskatchewan

Hard to tell, right? (Answers at the end.)

It isn’t just the plains.  Mountains look similar, too.  Match the following three photos to their respective states/provinces:

  1. British Columbia
  2. Wyoming
  3. Alaska

Photo 1:

Photo 2:

Photo 3:

Perhaps it’s simpler to notice the similarities than the differences.  Perhaps I just have “mountain fatigue” or “plains fatigue” from seeing so much of each landscape.  It all starts to blend together after a while.

For that reason, I’m looking forward to the changing of the seasons.  The colors of the leaves, the crispness of the air, and the coming of the holidays will add a nice jolt of variety to the trip.

(Here are the answers: the first photo shows rural Saskatchewan, and the last three photos are shown in the order that the options are listed: the Alaska Highway near Muncho Lake in British Columia, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and a glacier along the Glenn Highway in Alaska.)


Half down, half to go

September 22nd, 2011 2 comments

Summer has given way to autumn, and with that transition, the trip is half over.

I see the sun rising later and setting earlier every day now.  It’s a stark change from the beginning of the trip.  When I was in northern Canada and Alaska, it was light nearly all the time.  Now, darkness gets its turn.

It never really got dark in Fairbanks. This was the view from my hotel window around 2:00 a.m. on July 9. No long-exposure trickery here; just a snapshot from my phone. (ISO617, f/2.8, 1/15 s)

So, where do we stand?  The latest numbers:

  • 94 days down, 89 to go
  • 17,200 miles driven, roughly 10,000 to go
  • 20 states visited/played in, 30 to go
  • 4 provinces visited/played in, 6 to go

If you’ve been paying close attention to my mileage estimates, you might have noticed that they’ve been fluctuating a bit.  You might also have noticed that the mileage reported for my completed path on Google Maps is somewhat lower than the mileage reported above.  The main reasons for the discrepancies are that my routes have changed from my initial plans and that I do some driving within each of my destination cities.  So far, I’ve been averaging about 20% over the theoretical mileage due to that in-town driving.  Due to all of the uncertainty, I’m going to leave the overall trip estimate at a nominal 30,000 miles, even though 27,000 miles is looking more likely.

Major accomplishments so far:

  • Only one speeding ticket
  • Not yet eaten by bears
  • Hockey found in every spot except North Dakota

In other words, things are going well.

I will continue to chase the waning sun as I cover the eastern half of the continent.  Autumn in New England promises to be beautiful, and I’m particularly excited about visiting Newfoundland — a place that it seems many Americans would struggle to find on a map.

Meanwhile, the question of “what comes next” continues to loom large.  I am going to base my decision first on where I want to live and second on what I want to do. With luck, I will find that spot and that vocation yet on the trip.


Food: the plan and the reality

September 21st, 2011 5 comments

I had grand plans for what I would eat on this trip.  I would feast on local fruits and vegetables.  I would cook every night, not but from scratch.  I would start each day with a healthy breakfast, and I would stop to make myself a practical lunch every afternoon.

“Food, glorious food!”

— Oliver

Ha.  That lasted about two days.

The first night, I camped at a national forest in northern Minnesota.  I stir-fried some tofu, fresh broccoli, and fresh onions, and put it all over a bed of rice.  It was delicious.  It was something I’ve done a thousand times at home.  It was a huge pain to do it on the road.

First, I had only a very small cutting board, so I didn’t have much room on which to work.  Second, my stove was meant for backpacking use, so it was underpowered, which led to long cooking times, not to mention high fuel costs.  Third, to keep the perishable ingredients fresh, I had to use a cooler, but that was a problem unto itself.

The cooler required ice.  The melting ice got everything in the cooler wet, and the ice itself was expensive, especially in the more remote parts of Canada. I thought that it might be easier to use a smaller cooler, so I set aside my awesome Coleman 5-day Xtreme cooler in Fairbanks and got a smaller one.  Turns out that a small pain is still a pain.  By the middle of August, I had given up on coolers all together.  That smaller cooler now sits empty in Sam’s cargo area.

Breakfast and lunch had similarly lofty goals that were quickly crushed.

So what have I been eating? Fast food?  Pssh. Not in this life.  Maybe if I wanted to feel greasy and bloated.  (Okay, okay; maybe I’ve stopped at Taco Bell a couple of times for a quick burrito, and I’ll admit that I’ve eaten a few subs at Subway, but that’s it.)

Here’s what it’s come down to: bananas and beans.

Oh sure, there are some other foods, like tortillas, peanut butter, and Sriracha hot sauce, but bananas and beans are the core.  Bananas are fresh, keep for a few days without refrigeration, cheap to buy, and don’t require washing prior to consumption.  Beans are high in fiber, high in protein, cheap, taste good, and require no preparation when acquired in cans.  Similarly, those other foods are shelf-stable, inexpensive, and (with the exception of Sriracha) minimally processed.

In what can only be a bad thing for my teeth, kidneys, and body in general, I’ve also been drinking A LOT of coffee.  Many cups on a normal day.  Even more if I’m driving.  I prefer tea, it’s true, but coffee wins for the convenience and availability.  It’s hard to find good tea, but decent coffee is everywhere these days.

The best food, however, has come from the generosity of my friends and family with whom I’ve couch surfed and visited.  Thanks everybody!

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