Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The aftermath

December 20th, 2011 7 comments

After six months and 31,000 miles, I am finally back in Minnesota.  The final game of the trip is still a few hours away, but I have already unpacked Sam and begun to ease back into a somewhat normal life.

I didn’t have much in the way of possessions before the trip, but the boxes I left in storage greeted me menacingly upon my return.  “Open me!  Need me!” they screamed. What could those things be? What could I possibly need now that I did not need for half a year?

I am tempted to get rid of it all, but the window to do so is before I open those containers. After I see what’s in them, it will be too late.

On the other hand, I miss using some of the things, like my nice IPS LCD monitor.  Clothes, too.

I also had a bunch of clothes in storage, by which I mean I have at least three more pairs of pants and a half dozen shirts.  That’s a huge increase from what I had with me on the road.  It felt kind of silly, but I was almost overwhelmed with the number of clothing options I had from my recently reacquired wardrobe.

The surprises didn’t stop with my items in storage.

The first thing I did when I got back to Minneapolis — even before I unpacked — was to change Sam’s oil. I like changing oil, not only because it’s really simple, but also because I’m leery of oil-change places.

Unfortunately, I was left with few options other than Jiffy Lube in Greenville, SC when I last had Sam’s oil changed.  They charged me an arm and a leg, filled the windshield washer fluid reservoir with water (that then froze in Colorado), and didn’t use the replacement crush washer I had provided for the drain plug. As if that weren’t enough, they left me another surprise: they used the wrong oil filter!

Jiffy Lube used the filter on the right (6607), which is NOT correct for Sam. The box for the correct filter (9688) is on the left. (Both Fram and MileGuard are made by Honeywell)

Poor Sam.  Those morons at the Jiffy Lube in Greenville used the filter for a 2.5 l Outback, not a 3.6 l Outback like Sam.  That’s a considerably smaller filter.

Fortunately, the outer gasket sizes were similar enough that oil didn’t leak all over the place, but I’m concerned about the reduced filtering capacity.  The Jiffy Lube receipt itself shows that they used the wrong filter, so you’d better believe that I’ll pursue that if Sam ever develops any oil-related engine maladies.

I amassed a huge collection of other receipts, too.

Just some of my receipts from the trip. And a coffee.

There was a time when I had grand plans of itemizing every trip expense. Ha.  Here’s a coarse breakdown:

  • Nights in hotels/B&Bs: 115
  • Nights camping in tents: 15
  • Nights camping in cars: 1
  • Nights in hostels: 8
  • Nights surfing couches: 40
  • Nights on red-eyes: 2
  • Highest hotel cost per night (inc. tax): $120 (Whitehorse, YT)
  • Lowest hotel cost per night (inc. tax): $40 (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Gallons of gas burned: 1,215
  • Highest price paid for gas: CDN$1.459/litre = US$5.70/gal in July 2011 (on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory)
  • Lowest price paid for gas: US$2.979/gal in December 2011 (in Houston, TX)

And in aggregate:

  • Cost of lodging: $7,900
  • Cost of gas: $3,800
  • Cost of car maintenance: $1,000
  • Cost of food: $1,800
  • Other direct trip expenses (e.g., plane tickets, gear): $4,000
  • Other fixed costs during trip: $14,000

That doesn’t include the biggest “expense,” opportunity cost. I didn’t work much over those six months I was on the road, so the trip “cost” me half a year’s income.

Overall, was it worth it? Without hesitation, I say: YES.



Just one to go

December 17th, 2011 4 comments

Look at this map for a second:

Blue: states/provinces/territories visited. Red: states remaining. Gray: territories not slated to be visited.

Isn’t that a thing of beauty?  Minnesota is the only state I have yet to play hockey in on the trip.  Sure, I’ve played there numerous times in the past, most recently on June 17, 2011, but those sessions were from before I embarked on my grand tour.  For the trip to conclude, I have to play there once more before the end of the year.  Minnesota’s neighbor, North Dakota, served as warm-up to my homecoming.

In the original version of the trip plan, North Dakota was supposed to be the first state. Unfortunately, I had trouble finding a game there in late June, so I bumped it back to early September when I would be traversing from the western side of the continent to the eastern side.  Again, there were problems finding a game on both the right day and in an accessible location, so I bumped it back as far as possible.  North Dakota became the penultimate state.

When the Puck Daddy story was published, I received some messages from people who were shocked that I could not find places to play in North Dakota.  One of those people was a guy named Erik who worked at UND in Grand Forks.  He tweeted:

@teuobk You said in your blog post you couldn’t find hockey in North Dakota? Look me up, there is PLENTY of hockey to be had in Grand Forks

…which sounded great to me!  I always love getting connections to games.

True to his word, Erik hooked me up with a game to play in when I was in Grand Forks today. Even better, he got me a ticket to watch the UND Fighting Sioux play an exhibition game against the Russian Red Stars at the beautiful Ralph Engelstad arena. (Did I mention that Erik was also a goalie?  That could be a trip theme itself: goalies helping goalies.)

Inside the Ralph at the University of North Dakota

Grand Forks is not a large city, but its passion for hockey outshines that of cities ten times as big.  The players at my skate were down-to-earth guys with a lot of skill, the ice at the arena was nice and fast, the employee at Hockey World who sharpened my skates did a great job, and the fans at the UND game were boisterous despite it being a somewhat lopsided exhibition contest.

I’m glad my second-to-the-last stop was in Grand Forks.  North Dakota worked out in the best way possible.


On Exploration

December 15th, 2011 Comments off

Sam’s license plate sums up the trip in a single word:

Explore.  Simple yet powerful.

What does it mean to explore?  Must it be the discovery of the previously unknown?  Is it enough to merely venture outside one’s past experiences?

I propose that exploration is a state of mind.  It is a journey rather than an accomplishment.  Whether for personal enrichment or advancement of human existence, it’s the sense of wonder and discovery that’s important.

Exploration can occur anywhere.  It can be repeated by many, as in high school science classes, or it can be new for all of history, like the Voyager spacecraft.

Anyone can be an explorer.   It doesn’t take a huge budget or unlimited vacation account, nor are there any age restrictions whatsoever.  All it takes is the desire to learn.  Exploration is the deliberate pursuit of knowledge and experience.

I decided to explore by embarking on a trip never before undertaken, playing hockey in every state.   Tomorrow, some career cube dweller will get curious and try a new route to the office. Ignore merit: we are both explorers.



On Adventure

December 14th, 2011 2 comments

I was getting caffeinated with my friend Stu in Peoria, Illinois earlier in the trip when the topic of adventure came up.   We commiserated about how quite often we required some sort of catalyst to experience those crazy story-worthy times.

Engineers tend to suck at adventure.  Adventure is what happens when things go sideways, and engineers try to avoid that. Engineers train over and over again in school and industry to manage risk, pay attention to details, and plan for the future.  Engineers aren’t going to run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere unless doing so is a deliberate part of a plan.

To quote the early 20th Century explorer William Morden:

Contrary to popular impression, most of those who go into distant and little known areas or who collect specimens in far places, are not impelled by a desire for “adventure.” I do not mean that they do not enjoy pitting themselves against and overcoming difficulties encountered.  What I mean is that their purpose is to procure their information and collect their specimens with as little labor, as little danger, and as little “adventure” as possible.  I have heard several explorers say that, if they find themselves facing a situation against which they have not prepared and which seems likely to bring their work and possibly their lives to an end, then they have been guilty of an error.  Carefulness in making plans and in working out the major details of a project should cover every contingency, so that, should danger arise, and expedition will have within itself means of eliminating or overcoming the difficulty.”

While a lack of adventure was desirable for Mr. Morden, it’s a horrible way to come up with compelling material to share.

One of my greatest fears about the trip was that I would end up making it boring.  I would plan and prepare to excess, execute successfully, and be left with nothing to put in a book except white space.   I would complete the trip with minimal risk, but I wouldn’t see much.  That would be like business travel without the hard-partying marketing department.  How boring.

Trips need spice!  I resolved to kick mine up a notch, even beyond the hockey-everywhere aspect.

  • Walking around Las Vegas in all of my goalie gear? Done!
  • Taking my friend Alex up on an offer to do a yoga class in Iowa? Did that too!
  • Adding Hawaii into the trip on about 10 days notice? Yup! (The Aloha State wasn’t part of the original plan.)
  • Getting my skates sharpened by over a dozen strangers? Oh yes. (And if you don’t think that’s an adventure, obviously you’re not a hockey player.)

I will concede that there were moments of weakness.  There were states in which I squandered my time: I drove in on the freeway, played hockey, spent most of the rest of the time in my mid-tier hotel room, and drove out on the freeway.  I am not perfect.

However, I am glad to have recognized those moments of creeping complacency and corrected  course by putting myself into uncomfortable situations.

I turned left on purpose when I was supposed to turn right.  I reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  I learned about myself and came to no longer fear certain truths.  And I got a few stories out of it all, more even than I’ve shared here.

What was my catalyst?  The knowledge that I would have to share what I saw and did, and that to say, “I did nothing” would be an embarrassing waste.


Lessons from the road

December 13th, 2011 3 comments

Spend enough time on the road, and you’re bound to figure out a thing or two.  Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past six months:

  • Coffee and Tea: Flying J and Pilot (which are corporate siblings) have the best coffee of any of the major truck stops.  What’s more, they have decent full-leaf, pyramid-bag hot tea available for the same price as coffee.
  • Working: Starbucks might not have the best coffee in the world, but it’s decent and consistent.  More importantly, Starbucks locations provide a consistently good environment for doing work on the road, by which I mean they have lots of power outlets.  Just about everywhere these days offers free WiFi, and most quick-service restaurants have plenty of seating, but relatively few offer ample AC power.
  • Finding hotels: Tripadvisor is fantastic for finding good hotels.  Hipmunk is a good tool for associating hotel prices and locations, and it integrates the Tripadvisor ratings, too.
  • Low hotel prices: When making reservations for a hotel, the path to the best price varies depending on whether it’s a chain hotel or an independent hotel.  If it’s a chain, the lowest price will never be from a walk-in, so always reserve online using either Orbitz or — check them both, as one is often less expensive than the other. There have been at least three times on this trip where I’ve walked in to a hotel, found that the walk-in rate was higher than the online rate, and made an online booking from my smartphone at the registration desk.  If the hotel is an independent, the walk-in price will almost always be lower than the online price.
  • Banking: Banking while traveling can be expensive due to ATM fees.  Even the largest national banks tend not to have ATMs everywhere.  On top of that, in Canada, there are conversion fees.  The solution I found was a checking account with Schwab Bank.  They refund all ATM fees, do currency conversions at bank rates, and don’t charge a conversion fee — which is usually about 3% for other debit and credit cards.

Flying J (and alternate branding Pilot): best truck stop