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This section describes the three years (2013-16) I spent in Qatar before my road trip.  The stories include:

 

By November 2015, I’d been living in Qatar for over two years and things were going well. In fact, things were going great and I was "loving life," as they say. I'd become comfortable with the cultural differences and hadn't made a major faux pas in months, my work was enjoyable, and I'd adjusted to life in the Middle East reasonably well. I missed America, certainly, but was really enjoying this new experience.

But then my office of 120 people was given some bad news:  our contract was being terminated due to the decline in oil prices and the growing economic slump in the Middle East. Yep, my entire office was being cut. 

 
Above: Every Friday morning (weekends in the Middle East are on Friday and Saturday), I walked three miles down Doha's waterfront, called the Corniche. My destination?  "Del's Beach," one of the few patches of sand on Doha Bay. (4:20)
 
   

The economies of all of the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, as well as Qatar) were getting hammered due to the decline in oil prices and consequently mass layoffs, such as the one dealt to my company, were becoming common. I'd sensed the first tremors in Qatar about a year earlier when I started hearing rumors of massive cutbacks. Thousands of expats like myself had poured into the country years earlier when oil prices were high, and now thousands like myself were flocking to the Departure gate of the airport, heading home. The economy of every Gulf country is very much "boom and bust" and you always have to be prepared for the worst.

And I was. In fact, I was fine with it, because I’d spent almost three years in Qatar and had saved up a little money. I would’ve preferred to continue working in Qatar because I loved the multi-cultural experience (and, OK, the money), but I was fine with moving back to the U.S., because I missed home and was looking forward to taking some time off. In fact, the first thought that popped into my head when I heard the news of our office’s contract cancellation was, “Road Trip!”  And fortunately the Central Planning Office (CPO), was given four month’s notice, meaning that our jobs wouldn’t disappear until March 1. Therefore I spent much of that time planning a major road trip around America, which would start in the spring of 2016, shortly after I returned to America. Along with planning my trip, I also started perusing the Toyota.com website, figuring out what kind of truck I wanted to buy when I got back to Portland.

The "Extreme Geographer" Idea Takes Off 

The day after we got the news about our office’s contract cancellation, I sat down at my computer and asked myself, “Where in the U.S. do I want to go on my road trip?”  I opened my GIS (i.e., computer mapping) software and started creating a dot map, putting a dot on each place I wanted to visit in America. 

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Above: Shortly before I left Qatar, I rounded up a few friends from CPO and we took an all-day "Desert Safari" in the Qatari desert, near the Saudi Arabian border. We had an absolutely crazy driver -- but somehow we survived. And the camel ride was awesome! (2:18)
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During the next few days, as I’d occasionally update my dot map, certain themes started to emerge. Soon I’d placed dots on some of my favorite places that I’d wanted to visit again, like Cape Hatteras and southern Utah, other dots indicated places I’d never been to, like Memphis, and of course some dots represented my friends and relatives around the U.S. that I wanted to visit. Even some that I didn’t want to visit. OK, Aunt Edna, I’m joking.

During those first few weeks of planning the trip, I also started placing a few dots over places of geographic extremes, like the easternmost point of the United States, which I’d visited in 1985, and the westernmost point of the Lower 48 states, which I’d visited in 1993. “Heck,” I said to myself as I looked at my map – I would’ve said something more colorful but this was the Middle East and swearing is discouraged – “if I’m going to those places, I should also go to the southernmost and northernmost points of the U.S because I’ve never been to those places.” 

So I placed dots on Cape Sable, in Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida and also on a place called Angle Inlet in northern Minnesota, which extends just above the 49th parallel, the straight line that runs east-west from Minnesota to the state of Washington, and which defines the U.S. border with Canada. Some of you might think that Key West is the southernmost point of the Lower 48 states, but it’s an island and according to the “rules” that I was developing for this road trip, I wasn’t considering islands (or Alaska or Hawaii) – otherwise, this “geographic extremes” trip would be virtually impossible, for me or anyone else. So yes, Cape Sable is the southernmost point of the United States mainland. And due to a surveying error in the 1700’s, this obscure place called Angle Inlet in Minnesota is the northernmost point of the Lower 48 states. Very few people have been to Angle Inlet and fewer people have been to Cape Sable, because both places are really hard to get to. But I wanted to go to both because, well, I’m the extreme geographer!

Those were the extreme cardinal directions:  North, South, East and West. Then I decided to also visit the extreme ordinal directions during my road trip:  Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest. Using my GIS software and Google Maps, I calculated the coordinates of these locations and studied the aerial imagery at each point. I also started doing some Internet research and realized, surprisingly, that no one seemed to know where these extreme ordinal points were located. For instance, I read several newspaper articles online that said San Diego, California was the “southwesternmost point of the United States.”  But they were wrong, because according to my calculations, the southwesternmost point of the United States was up near Santa Barbara, a bit farther north than San Diego, certainly, but a whole lot farther west. And yes, I'll describe my methodology for calculating these points later.

A few weeks later -- by now it was early December -- I started calculating the extreme inter-ordinal points of the Lower 48, deciding to visit those places during my trip, as well. That's because, after all, I'm the extreme geographer!  These included the north-northwesternmost point, the south-southeasternmost point and the other 6 inter-ordinals. Altogether then, between the cardinal, ordinal and inter-ordinal points, there were 16 extreme compass points around the U.S. that I wanted to visit during my upcoming road trip. These included:

  • The four extreme cardinal points:
    • Northernmost point (in Minnesota)
    • Easternmost point (in Maine)
    • Southernmost point (in Florida)
    • Westernmost point (in Washington)
  • The four extreme ordinal points:
    • Northeasternmost point (in Maine)
    • Southeasternmost point (in Florida)
    • Southwesternmost point (in California)
    • Northwesternmost point (in Washington)
  • The eight extreme inter-ordinal points:
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  • North-northeasternmost point (in Maine)
  • East-northeasternmost point (in Maine)
  • East-southeasternmost point (in Florida)
  • South-southeasternmost point (in Florida)
  • South-southwesternmost point (in California)
  • West-southwesternmost point (in California)
  • West-northwesternmost point (in Washington)
  • North-northwesternmost point (in Washington)

I located each of these 16 points on a map of the U.S., zooming in close so I could see the nearby houses and bridges, and I figured out in my mind how I’d get to each point. Again, my rules were simple:

  • No Alaska
  • No Hawaii
  • No Islands

After doing more Internet research, I realized that no one had ever been to all 16 extreme compass points. Certainly people (including myself) have been to some of these locations but no one had been to all 16 – or at least had never documented it. And that’s when I decided that the theme of this road trip would be “Extreme Geography.” 

My goal was to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme geographic compass points in the Lower 48 states. And since the trip’s theme would be Geographic Extremes, I started adding more extreme destinations other than the compass points, including the highest city, the lowest lake, the lowest city, the longest highway, the coldest city, and the driest place. So by January, I’d created a map containing over 100 destinations around the United States and Canada and started setting up my new website, www.ExtremeGeographer.com.

Looking at the map I'd created, now I just had to connect the dots! I’d still be in Qatar for another few months, but I was eager to get back to the U.S. and begin my trip.

Here are more photos of Qatar as I started to plan my road trip around America:

 

A Walk on the Corniche

 

A CPO Lunch

 

Our Desert Safari

 

National Sport Day 

 

Shater Abbas

 

Greetings and welcome to my website. My name is Del and this is my first entry in ExtremeGeographer.com. I started a previous travel website in 2001 to describe my solo travels around America, New Zealand and Australia, but after I’d returned to America and gone back to work in 2004, I kept posting occasional entries there for many years. Over time, though, I’m afraid my entries became less and less occasional as I got busier and busier at work.

But now I’m embarking on a new adventure around America, so I’ve started this new website. I’ve taken dozens of road trips around America and most have had a theme, such as “The Lewis & Clark Trail” or “The Oregon Trail.”  The theme of my upcoming road trip is “Geographic Extremes” so I’ve created this new website, ExtremeGeographer.com to describe my travels. Catchy name, huh?

So let me pick up where I left off. In 2013, I was living happily in Portland, Oregon and working at Metro, a government agency, when I got a good job offer in Qatar, a small peninsula of a country in the Middle East about the size of Connecticut, next to Saudi Arabia and surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Gulf – or what Americans call the Persian Gulf. 

I accepted the job, moved to Qatar that spring and worked for three years in Qatar’s capital city, Doha (spelled as "Ad Dawhah" on the map here), doing computer mapping for the country’s urban planning agency. I worked in a 120-person group called the Central Planning Office (CPO), which helped coordinate the numerous transportation projects in Qatar, and I was a senior analyst in the five-person GIS (geographic information systems) team, spending most of my time creating maps for various bus transit and city planning projects.

I’m a geographer and have been doing computer mapping for the past 25 years, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Although I’d worked briefly in Abu Dhabi, a large city in the nearby country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) several years earlier, this was the first time I’d ever lived overseas. After living in Qatar for three years, I moved back to the U.S. in March 2016 and recently embarked on an extensive road trip around America, during which I hope to visit each of the Lower 48 states.

My Experience in Qatar

Living and working in Qatar was great – kinda crazy sometimes, intense lots of times, and definitely a sacrifice because I greatly missed America every single day – but overall it was a great multi-cultural experience. In fact, moving there was one of the best decisions of my life. I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot about other cultures, and I hope to move back someday when the Qatari economy improves. I’ll describe my whole Qatar experience in more detail later. 

For now, though, I’ll just say that I felt totally safe in Qatar – safer than anyplace I’ve ever lived in America, including Portland. Each summer I'd come back to the U.S. for a month of vacation and all of my friends would say the same thing:  "But it's so dangerous over there. Aren't you afraid?"  And each time I'd have to spend 20 minutes explaining that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and that everyone there was treating me exceptionally well. Sure, that was partly because I was trying to learn the culture and because I'd taught myself to read Arabic and knew a few handy phrases, like "As salam alluykum" (peace be upon you) or "Shukran" (thank you). But it's mostly because Qatar is a safe country. In fact, I always laughed when Americans would tell me how "dangerous" Qatar was, because I felt a lot safer in Qatar than America, considering all the wackos in the U.S. running around with guns.

I must admit that the main reason I moved to Qatar was for the money, because if you have certain technical skills, salaries in Qatar can be higher than in the U.S. (and quite a bit lower if you don’t). But what I really took away from my three years of living there was the amazing cultural experience, interacting with people from, quite literally, all over the world. That’s because 80% of Qatar’s population is imported from other countries. Oh, and because of that, 75% of Qatar's population is male, which also took some getting used to.

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Above: In April 2014, I hired a driver one day and, with my friend and colleague Shashi, we drove around the entire country of Qatar. We did the whole trip in about six hours. (6:24)
   
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The main thing I learned from my experience in Qatar, after dealing with hundreds (thousands?) of people from developing countries like India, the Philippines, Lebanon, Nepal and Egypt, was how lucky I was to be an American. To put it bluntly, we Americans are spoiled. There is so much bounty in the U.S. -- and freedom -- and unfortunately I think most Americans take it for granted. When you walk into an American grocery store, you can buy anything you want and as much as you want. When you turn on a faucet, there’s clean running water. When you drive on a highway, drivers are (mostly) courteous and you don’t have to worry about being robbed – except at the gas pump. And during an election, every vote is counted (despite what certain politicians might tell us). 

From the stories that my many expat colleagues and friends from Asia and Africa told me, not everyone in other countries around the world can say the same about wherever they’re from. Every year I came back to visit America for a few weeks and one of the things that struck me during my visits were all the trivial things that Americans complained about.

America is a great country – being an American, I think it’s the greatest country in the world -- and by living overseas, I gained a new respect for it. I don't want to sound arrogant or condescending, but I wish every American could live overseas for a while, because if they did, they probably wouldn’t take so many things in the U.S. for granted. Living in Qatar, and interacting with people from all over the world, including numerous developing countries, gave me a lot of perspective and appreciation for what I have here in America. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now.

And by the way, regarding the pronunciation of “Qatar”?  The Qataris (and I) pronounce it “COT-ter.”  not “ka-TAR” like many Americans pronounce it, and not “CAT-ter” like a lot of Brits do. Qatar rhymes with “water,” of which there’s very little. It also rhymes with “hotter,” or which there’s a lot. An awful lot. 

I’ve posted scads of pictures on this page to give you an idea of what it’s like to work, live and have a bit of fun in the tiny country called Qatar. 

 

Heading to Qatar

 

 

Settling In

 

 

Fun at CPO

My last few weeks in Qatar were a series of logistical challenges, trying to get everything ready for my move back to America. A big issue was my furniture, which I had shipped over to Qatar by sea freighter in 2013 and now my company was shipping it back to America for me. Closing out things at my apartment was also a lot of work and, of course, I spent time saying goodbye to my colleagues at CPO whom I’d grown close to during the past three years. I also ran around town and closed my various accounts and took care of a host of other logistical matters, like getting my passport/visa cancelled, and everything was quite crazy. But it all worked out and on my final night in Doha, I had a chance to walk around town and say goodbye to all the places that had become so familiar to me during my stay. 

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Above: The day after Christmas in 2015, I shot this video of my wonderful bedroom in my apartment in Doha. I lived in downtown Doha in a high-rise apartment building with the curious name of "Beverly Hills Tower." (2:02)
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Oh, and then there was my roommate situation. Doha is one of the most expensive cities in the world (I paid $5,000 a month for my 3-bedroom apartment) so a lot of expats who move to Qatar find roommates to share the expense. I was lucky to have two good roommates in succession. My first roommate, Arul, was a co-worker of mine at CPO and was about my age. Originally from India, he’d lived in San Jose, California for the past many years with his wife and son and, since I’d grown up in San Jose, we had a lot in common. After about a year, though, he found another position about five miles from my apartment, so he moved out. It didn’t take me long to find another roommate, though – in fact, only 10 minutes online. His name was Gerry and he was a jovial Irishman from the Dublin area. Gerry had a great sense of humor and we got along well. 

Neither of my roommates saw me too much, though, since I spent most of my time ensconced in my bedroom when I wasn’t at the office. My bedroom was only 243 square feet but I had everything I needed there including a refrigerator, all my furniture from America, a great view of the Arabian Gulf, and most importantly, a fast Internet connection and a couple of big-screen monitors, where I did my computer work and watched American TV shows, either streamed live or downloaded from iTunes. I also watched lots of live American sporting events on ESPN's web channel -- the best $168/year I ever spent -- though they were usually broadcast at some crazy hour due to the time difference,  I'll never forget waking up at 3 a.m. to watch my Seahawks play in the Super Bowl (and win!) So everything considered, I was very content in Doha and was sad to leave.

Flying Back to the U.S. -- with Sister Goldenhair

Actually I almost didn’t leave. On my last night in Doha, I said goodbye to Gerry, who’d found a new place to live in the same apartment building, then I did some last-minute cleanup in my apartment and got ready for bed around 10 p.m. My flight was leaving at 8 a.m., so I’d called for a cab to pick me up at 5 a.m. and set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. And then I set another alarm for 3:30 a.m. as a backup. And then – being a total worrywart about such things – I set the alarm on a third clock for 3:30 a.m. as an added precaution and then went to bed, assured that at least one of the three alarms would wake me up on time.  

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Above: And here's a tour of the rest of my 3-bedroom apartment. I lived on the 19th floor and had a great view. By the way, Doha is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I paid $5,000 a month for my apartment -- so roommates in Doha are a necessity. (3:55)
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I got some sleep, woke up a while later and snoozed for a long time, then I started thinking, “I’ve been lying here for quite a while. I wonder what time it is.”  I lazily opened my eyes and glanced at the clock and it said 4:37 a.m. It took a couple seconds for it to register in my brain, but then I bolted upright in my bed: “4:37!  My taxi will be here in 23 minutes!”  Somehow all three alarm clocks had failed to go off (they were new clocks that I’d never used before – or more likely, it was due to user error). I sprang out of bed, took the world’s quickest shower, gathered my stuff, said a very quick goodbye to my apartment, which had been my home for the past three years, raced to the elevator, and made it to the lobby at 4:58 with my heart pounding. The taxi driver was already waiting, so from there it was off to Hamad International Airport and onto the plane. 

My flight left Doha around 8 a.m., shortly after sunrise, and I settled back into my window seat. Now, I have to confess that I have a strange tradition:  Every time I take off on a flight from the Middle East bound for America, the first song I listen to on my MP3 player is the 1970’s hit by the group America called “Sister Golden Hair.”  I’ve flown from the Middle East back to the U.S. probably eight or nine times over the past decade, and on each flight, as soon as we’re airborne, I turn on my MP3 player and listen to that song. It’s partly because of the group’s name (America) and partly because it reminds me of someone I knew in high school. We all have funny traditions and that’s one of mine.

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Above: The day after CPO closed, I went to Souq Waqif (the traditional marketplace in Doha) with my good friend and CPO colleague, Shashi. He was going back home to Bangalore, India the next day to look for a new job -- and a wife (presumably in that order!) (1:52)
   
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I’d grown accustomed to the 24-hour flights between Doha and Portland during the past three years, and I actually enjoyed the long flights -- as long as I had a window seat. On planes, as in life, I like to have my own little space. Wherever I was, I didn’t need a big space, like in First Class or in a big house or a big apartment, but I wanted it to be my mine. Plus I love looking out the window. Yeah, I’m one of those annoying folks who always has their window shade open on long flights while everyone else is watching TV or sleeping with their window shade closed. Not me. On any flight (except over an ocean), I usually plaster my face to the window, staring in wonder at the scenery below as I think about when I last visited there, or the history of the area, or what people down there were doing, or if I’ll ever visit that country, or a million other things. I’ve always been fascinated with looking at the earth, which is one reason I enjoy creating maps.

Each time I fly back to the U.S., I try to take a different route. On various trips I’ve changed planes in Heathrow (London), Manchester (England), Madrid, and New York. On this trip I was flying from Doha non-stop to Chicago, then on to Portland on another flight. The Doha-to-Chicago leg was about 16 hours long but I enjoyed it, ate lots of (pretty) good food, looked out the window a lot, and watched some good movies – and a few bad ones. 

As much as I enjoyed living in Qatar, it was always great to return to the U.S. and to step off the plane on American soil. I’m back home!  It was nice to get to Chicago and I laid over at O’Hare for a few hours and ate some good American food at the airport (a pepperoni pizza and a big chocolate chip cookie), then boarded a plane bound for Portland. Our flight landed at PDX around 8 p.m., which meant that I’d followed the sun all day for the past 24 hours, seeing it rise in Doha and now setting in Portland. It was, quite literally, one of the longest days of my life. But it was great to be back in Portland. Home, sweet home.

Note:  I’ll post more stories on my website about my experience in Qatar later.

 

The Last Day of CPO

 

 

Souq Waqif with Shashi

 

Packing Up

 

My Last Day(s) in Qatar

 

Flying to Portland