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 Hotels.com — 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


Gulf Coast

December 12th, 2011 4 comments

When you think of the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, Louisiana and Biloxi, Mississippi, what do you picture?  For me, it was utter devastation.

1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28, 2005







(part of the remarkably prescient warning about Katrina issued by the NWS before the storm struck the coast)

I felt compelled to drive through those areas hit hardest by the storm.  Yes, there were reminders of the destruction.  In the Lower Ninth Ward, I found empty lots with weeds growing high, old abandoned houses still blazed with the SAR x-code, and roads so rough that I was glad Sam had a high ground clearance.  Biloxi, too, showed shadows of the storm in the form of stately live oaks standing sentinel over empty lots, driveways to nowhere, and numerous concrete slabs.

Happily, signs of life were plentiful.  Old buildings were being actively demolished in the Lower Ninth, and new homes were being constructed in their place.  Biloxi was further ahead, with many shiny new buildings standing proudly along the coast, as if to defy Mother Nature.

You know how most Waffle Houses around the South look kind of shabby, old, and cheap?  Not so in Biloxi.  There, Waffle House restaurants look clean, new, and sturdy.  They have facades of brick instead of sheet metal.

Hockey, too, endured hardship along the coast.  The only ice arena in the area, the Gulf Coast Coliseum between Gulfport and Biloxi, was inundated with 12 ft. of seawater when the storm struck.  Skates, Zambonis, seats, the refrigeration system — all destroyed.  What had once been a thriving example of hockey in a non-traditional area — there were youth leagues, adult leagues, and an ECHL pro team — was wiped off the face of the hockey map.

For two years, there was no ice, but the local hockey enthusiasts did not give up.  They rebuilt, and in 2007, the Earth’s greatest game made its return to southern Mississippi.

Gulf Coast Coliseum, after post-Katrina repairs

There were some changes, it’s true.  The two-year absence and the much smaller post-storm population caused attendance at the pro games to dwindle to a point where they were no longer viable.  Did the locals give up?  No.  Instead, they got a different pro team (the “Surge“) in a league with a lower cost structure (the SPHL).

Adult and youth interest, too, had waned without the ice.  Did the locals give up? No.  They redeveloped an active youth program, with at least a few of the local kids being good enough to play junior hockey.  Adults, too, continued to play, and that’s how I met Roy.

Roy is the guy if you want to play hockey in the Biloxi-Gulfport area. Real hockey: ice hockey.

Roy left a couple of comments on my blog, and emailed me, too, asking if I wanted to play hockey in Biloxi when I came to Mississippi.  I admired his persistence, and there weren’t many other options for hockey in Mississippi, so I happily accepted his offer.

That’s how I found myself on the ice at the Coliseum playing with a bunch of other hockey enthusiasts.  Many were from the North, but so too were there players from the South.  It was a fun game, and a few of the guys had some real skill.

Yes, the changing rooms left something to be desired (there weren’t any), and the short benches left the skaters a bit more winded than they would have liked (good for us goalies), but it was great fun regardless.  I was playing hockey in southern Mississippi.  Who would have expected that to be possible?

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Lost and destroyed

December 11th, 2011 Comments off

With less than a week remaining in the trip (incredible!), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the things lost, damaged, and destroyed over the past six months.


  • Washcloth, somewhere in Canada.  Found about a day after I bought a new one.  In other news, they still manufacture washcloths in Canada.
  • Hockey cup (as in, one for protecting “the boys”), most likely at the motel in Oklahoma City where I dried out my gear.  There was a moment of panic at my next game in Fayetteville, Arkansas when I tore through my hockey bag trying to find it and realized it was gone.  Without going into too much detail, I was forced to switch from a double-cup system (which is common in hockey goaltending) to a single-cup solution.  There was still protection down there, just not as much as I would have liked.


  • Merino wool shirt, at Denali NP in Alaska.  While sliding down the rocks by the waterfall, my shirt got torn in several places.  I sewed the holes closed, but it just isn’t the same.
  • Convertible pants, at Denali NP in Alaska.  Also a victim of the rocky ride that tore my shirt.  I sewed the holes in my pants closed, too, but vanity forced me to acquire a replacement pair, the excellent prAna Zion pants.
  • Westcomb rain jacket, throughout my backpacking excursions.  This extremely expensive rain jacket was also extremely light in weight.  Unfortunately, it did not stand up well to abrasion, and now there’s a large mark on the back of the jacket where my pack was rubbing.
  • Driver-side rear tire, along the Alaska Highway near Fort Nelson, BC. I hit a pothole and was forced to find a replacement tire in Whitehorse.  Then, a bit later…
  • Passenger-side rear tire, in Ohio. This tire picked up a nail and developed a slow leak.  The nail was too close to the sidewall to patch, so I simply added more air every couple of days.  That worked for about 10,000 miles until I got to Denver for the second time, but then the slow leak changed to a fast leak, and I was forced to give Sam an entirely new set of shoes.
  • Windshield washer fluid, due to actions in Greenville, SC.  I got Sam’s oil changed in Greenville, and the place “helpfully” topped off the windshield washer fluid.  Unfortunately, they seem to have used fluid with a low methanol content, which caused it to freeze once I hit cold weather in northern Texas.  It took me the better part of a day of dumping fluid and cutting what remained with high-concentration methanol to get everything unfrozen and spraying again.
  • Sam. The trip has been hard on Sam, in the sense that he now has a number of scratches, chips, and abrasions that were not present at the start.  Most of those things are cosmetic, but I am a bit concerned about corrosion  along the bottom edge of the rear hatch where the cord for the lights on the cargo box runs.  I didn’t notice the paint damage until it was down to bare metal.


  • Dangler, at the rink in Houston, TX.  That might sound dirty, but a dangler is actually a piece of polycarbonate tied to a goalie’s mask that exists to protect the goalie’s neck.  Polycarb is extremely strong, much more so than acrylic (aka Plexiglas), but it will still break if scratched and loaded in a certain way.  When I took a puck to the dangler in Houston, my dangler shattered.

A photo from the game showing my shattered dangler at my neck, before play stopped. (Photo: Karen)

  • Goalie skates. Well, not technically destroyed, fortunately, but they will need to be replaced after the trip.  I’ve had them since 2004, so they’ve had a good run, but the steel is nearly gone from all of the sharpenings over the years.  Newer skates have replaceable steel blades, but my skates are old enough that the only option would be to replace the cowling/blade assemblies.  That would be nearly as expensive as buying new skates, so I’m just going to go with the all-new option.

I’ve also lugged around a few things that I never used.


  • Cooler.  Okay, I used this a few times, and I even replaced it with a smaller one in Fairbanks, but since about Phoenix I haven’t used it to keep things cold.  Probably could have gotten by without a cooler at all.
  • Light stand.  I used my tripod for the first time in North Carolina, but I have never used my light stand and associated gear.
  • Maple extract.  Why in the world did I bring maple flavor on this trip?!
  • Bear spray.  Even when Tyler and I actually encountered grizzly bears at close range in the Denali wilderness — the exact situation where one would want to have bear spray — I failed to remember I had it and left it holstered.
  • A box of mashed potato flakes.  Yes, I ate instant mashed potatoes throughout the summer, but since I started experimenting with some of the ideas in The 4-Hour Body back in mid-November, I’ve been avoiding such things.  Hence, the unopened box that’s been riding around since then.  I should get rid of it.
  • Recovery strap.  Haven’t gotten Sam stuck yet!  Haven’t found anybody else to get unstuck, either.

Overall, though, I’ve found uses for most of the things I’ve carried with me.  What’s more, most of those items have survived the trip intact.  Who knows what the final week will hold, but I’m hopeful that nothing else will be destroyed or damaged between now and next Sunday.