Mini-Update from Connecticut

Greetings from New England!  After making a mad dash across America in September, I’m currently in New London, Connecticut where I’ve been visiting my brother Don and his wife, Debbie for… gee, nearly three weeks now. 

When I arrived here on the first day of October, I planned to stay for only a week or so before resuming my meandering trip south, but they’ve been so hospitable that I decided to extend my visit.  Any future hosts of mine should take that as a warning:  If you’re really nice to me, I just might hang around your place for a good, long while so beware!  But seriously, it’s just nice to be with family.  And they’re the first family I’ve seen in over a year, since I left the U.S. last fall and flew back to Qatar.

Staying here at Don and Debbie’s house for the last few weeks, in a place that doesn’t move at 60 miles an hour, has been a nice break from the nearly constant 400-mile days that I was doing in September as I drove from Colorado, up to Montana and Idaho, down to Kansas, up to North Dakota, back east to Maine and then down here to Connecticut.  I put over 10,000 miles on my truck in September, which – to put into perspective – was more than I’d driven each year for the many years I lived in Portland.  And it was 10,000 miles more than I drove during the three years I lived in Qatar (though I didn't have a car then). 

As you can probably imagine, by the time I got to their house in early October I was pretty road weary.  I had to drive a lot in September, though, because I left Colorado late in the season – about two months later than I’d initially planned – and had to get through the upper Midwest and the Northeast to visit all those extreme geographic places before the weather turned cold and the snow started to fall (which it did tonight).  So September was a frantic dash across much of America and it all seems like a blur now.  It’s a good thing I took tons of pictures along the way to remind me of all the amazing places I visited.

During my stay here in Connecticut, I was hoping to post full website updates describing my September travels but I didn’t have time.  However, I DID post 23 new panorama pictures of the Midwest and Northeast, as well as an updated route map on my Home Page.  So I wasn't being a total flake – a partial flake, certainly, but not a TOTAL flake!  However, I will post full updates, along with pictures, videos and maps, of my September and October travels in a few weeks when I get down to Florida.  But for now, I wanted to post this mini-update to summarize my recent travels.

Since I Last Wrote...

The last time I wrote, in mid-September, I was visiting my old friends Mark and Jayne in the Twin Cities.  After spending a few days with them in Minneapolis, I drove down to Iowa where I visited Rich, another old friend from high school, then I stopped at a couple interesting places in Iowa. 

Above:  In Madison visiting with Martin, one of my favorite professors from my grad school days.  I hadn't seen him in 20 years and he hadn't changed a bit.  Wish I could say the same about me!

And yes, there ARE interesting places in Iowa – quite a few of them, actually.  That includes the “American Gothic” house (the famous painting by Grant Wood) in the small town of Eldon, where I took a photo of myself standing in front of the same house with the same pose, complete with pitchfork.  Later that day, I stopped at the "Field of Dreams" ballfield near Dyersville, Iowa, and walked into the corn rows in left field just like Shoeless Joe Jackson, though I didn’t disappear.  At least I don’t think I did.  It’s a very cool place and I highly recommend it.  And best of all, it’s free.

From there, it was on to Wisconsin where I visited my alma mater in Madison and gave a talk in the Geography Department, dispensing career advice to future computer mappers.  I also had a great visit there with Martin, one of my former University of Wisconsin professors and the only person in the Geography Department who was there when I was a grad student in Madison soooo many years ago.

After leaving Wisconsin, I made a quick dash across the Midwest to upstate New York where I visited Jake, a former colleague from Madison who’s now a professor at Syracuse, then it was up to Maine where I visited three extreme geographic compass points in a single, chilly afternoon: 

  • The north-northeasternmost point (near Madawaska),
  • The northeasternmost point (near Grand Isle), and
  • The east-northeasternmost point (near Hamlin).

The next day I hit the easternmost and east-southeasternmost points of the United States, both at Quoddy Head on the Maine coast, so I’ve now been to 13 of the 16 extreme compass points in the contiguous United States.  The last three are in Florida, which I’ll visit in November. 

Once I hit those three sites, I’ll become the first person to visit all 16 extreme compass points in the contiguous United States, so just think: you’re witnessing history in the making!  But seriously, this quest to visit the 16 extreme compass points has taken me to numerous fascinating places that, even as a geographer, I probably wouldn’t have ever visited.  As I’m discovering, it’s not about actually getting to the 16 sites but rather it’s about the interesting journey – and the interesting people I’ve met – along the way.  That’s a good metaphor for life, I think.  Or maybe not because what do I know?  I’m just an extreme geographer, not Plato.

After spending a few days in Maine, I did a quick drive down to Connecticut where, like I say, I’ve been staying with my brother and sister-in-law since early October.  During my time here, I’ve been doing lots of things, mostly preparing for the second half of my road trip.  I’ve been working on my truck quite a bit, like caulking the canopy to keep the rain out, which has become a never-ending task.  I’ve also installed no-see-um screens over the regular metal screens on my canopy windows as I prepare for the plethora of pesky bugs I'll encounter in Florida.  I used to live in Florida and, believe me, if you go camping there you really need no-see-um screens – on your tent, on your canopy, on your nose – just about everywhere to keep out those nasty little critters.  

Above:  Quoddy Head, Maine in late September and the easternmost point of the United States.  Cool lighthouse, huh?  Much better looking than the guy by the sign.  

I also visited with two of my nieces, Katie and Sarah, these past few weeks who were kind enough to drive up from Maryland/New Jersey to see their wonderful Uncle Del (well, “wonderful” is a subjective term).  And while here I’ve acquired a taste for Connecticut-style pizza.  We’ve gone to a local chain called Pepe’s Pizza a couple times where they serve, quite honestly, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.  I’ve always been a thick-crust kinda guy, but this thin-crust pizza, hot from a searing, massive brick oven, is the absolute best.  Add a cold bottle of White Birch Beer (kind of like a clear root beer) and I’m in heaven.

Oh, and Don, Debbie, Katie and I had a great time on a clear, crisp day last week visiting Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, a re-creation of a New England town circa 1830, resplendent with the vibrant fall colors.  And a few days before that, we had a good time at Mystic Seaport, similar to Sturbridge Village but with a seafaring theme.  The town of Mystic was also the setting for “Mystic Pizza,” the 1980’s film with Julia Roberts.  But I’m telling you, Mystic Pizza has nothing on Pepe’s Pizza.

So between all of that, as well as updating (sort of) my website and getting ready for my trip to the Southeast, I’ve had a great time here in New London, and Don and Debbie have been terrific hosts.  Like I say, I’ll post full updates from September and October, complete with photos, videos and maps, in a few weeks when I get down to Florida.  And speaking of that…

My New Plans:  A Winter in Florida

As much as I’ve enjoyed visiting with Don and Debbie, I’m getting that itch to hit the road again – spurred in no small measure by the dropping temps and falling leaves here in coastal Connecticut.  A few days ago, it hit 81 in New London but today it was cold, windy and drizzly, topping out at a nippy 50 degrees.  Yes, it’s definitely time to head south.

My original idea, back in March when I was planning this whole road trip, was to visit the Southeast this fall, then I’d drive back to Oregon in December, wrap up my trip, and start looking for my next job.  But gee, I’ve been having so much fun that I decided to 1). spend the whole winter in Florida, and then 2). resume my road trip in March, slowly making my way back to Oregon, wrapping up my road trip next summer.

As much as I love Oregon, I decided that I’d rather spend the winter hanging out in sunny Florida, sprawled out on a beach under a palm tree, rather than sitting in cold, rainy Portland.  Also, there are a ton of places, especially in the Southeast, that I’m not going to be able to visit before the winter sets in, so I decided to extend my road trip into the spring.  After visiting the Southeast in March and April, I plan to slowly make my way back to the Rockies and the Southwest in May and June before heading back to Oregon in July or so – then I’ll go back to work somewhere.  At least, that’s my current plan. 

So it looks like I’ll be on the road for at least another 6 or 7 months.  Bet you can’t wait to read lots of new website stories, huh?  Or maybe you can.

The Logistics

Now, you might be wondering where exactly I plan to live during my four months in Florida.  Good question!  First I thought about renting a room somewhere, ideally in the Bradenton/Sarasota area south of Tampa, where I lived for a few months back in the 1980s after graduating from college.  I really loved that area and have a lot of good memories there.  But last week I started looking at the multitude of State Parks in Florida and decided instead to travel around the state from November until March while staying in State Park campgrounds.

Above:  Welcome to Connecticut, my 32nd state on this trip. Sixteen more to go!

After doing some online research last week, I realized a couple things about the State Park situation in Florida.  First, most Florida State Parks have a 14-day camping limit, so you can’t just pull in someplace and set up camp there for four months.  You have to keep moving. 

Second, Florida State Parks get really crowded in January and February, so you have to make your reservations several months in advance.  You can’t just show up at a Florida campground in January and expect to find a site, and that’s especially true the farther south (i.e., warmer) you go.  If you want to camp in the Florida Keys during the winter months, you can pretty much forget it unless you’ve made your reservations several months – or preferably, a full year – in advance.

With all that in mind, I spent much of last week cobbling together a crazy camping schedule based on campsite availability.  I’ll be staying at 18 different Florida State Parks from early November until early March, traveling to all parts of the state, from the panhandle all the way down to the Keys, while staying an average of three or four nights at each campground.  I've planned out every single night, from November to March, in advance but that's the way you have to do it, unfortunately.  Like I say, campsite reservations in Florida during the winter months are a must.

You also might be wondering what I plan to DO for four months in Florida while waiting out the winter.  Lots.  Lots of sitting on the beach, that is!  Of course, I’ll also be visiting several extreme geographic sites, like the southernmost point of the contiguous United States (Cape Sable in the Everglades).  I’m also going to visit the Keys, including the Dry Tortugas, a cluster of small islands which are several miles from Key West and are accessible only by boat.  The Dry Tortugas is one of the most fascinating places in the entire U.S. and after all these years, I’m finally going there. 

During my Florida winter, I’ll also be teaching myself some new GIS programming skills, updating my website, teaching myself more Arabic and doing a myriad of other tasks.  In general, I plan to spend a lot of time sitting on various beaches under various palm trees while working on my laptop, with a cold drink by my side.  Yeah, it’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it. But don't worry:  I'll post lots of pictures of the beaches and palm trees and cold drinks, so you can at least enjoy a Florida winter vicariously no matter where you might be.

So, folks, those are my plans.  As you can probably tell, I’m really looking forward to my “winter in Florida” as well as resuming my road trip in March as I meander through the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and eventually back to Oregon.  Like I say, I’ll post more stories about my September and October travels after I get down to Florida in November, so be sure check back. Until then, thanks for visiting!