My Weight Loss….

As some of you may know, I have lost quite a lot of weight over the last few months – I went from 275lbs at the start of October to 232lbs in April, a loss of 43 lbs (or 19.5Kgs). Yes, this was actually on purpose, but it did not start out that way.

I came down with some food poisoning at DerbyCon in September 2014 (from the 4th Street live sports bar, OK?), and I lost 11lbs in 3 days. That was rough! I really do not recommend the food poisoning crash diet option…

When I got back to the UK, I caught a glance of my face in the mirror, and the weight loss was quite noticeable, even after I had rehydrated and put a few pounds back on again. Being able to see what that weight loss could do to how my face looked got me energised to continue with the weight loss through some exercise and diet. And so I started doing sessions on an exercise bike, and eating a little less than normal. And the weight just came off…

20150627-weightlossWhen I got to April somewhere, my body hit a plateau, and refused to lose any more weight. This is quite normal, apparently, and can happen to anyone at any stage of their weight loss. I have kind of taken a step back from the cardio side of the exercise for a while, and moved onto concentrating on my free weights and sit ups, but plan to return to cardio after the summer.

Anyway, it appears that quite a few people were so amazed that a nerd who had been so unfit and overweight for so long managed to do this that they have asked me how I did it all. I am kind of taken by surprise by this… mostly because asking me for exercise tips still feels weird :) so I thought it was time to put all my random thoughts about it into a blog post. And they will be very random!

First up, it was always about the weight loss for me, with the side effect of getting fitter and healthier at the same time. Its not about growing muscle mass or bulking up or anything else… just weight loss.

Given my quite long list of injuries that I have to work around, the worst being my knees and ankles, really the only sensible option was to use an exercise bike. This would allow me to exercise the largest set of muscles in the body (legs) to burn the most calories for a set amount of work. It also reduce the impact of the exercise on my knees and ankles, unlike running, which would punish them horribly, especially at the weight I started at. So exercise bike it was…. but what to choose?

I looked around online for some options, checking prices and reviews, and found one I seemed to like. Still not trusting online reviews 100%, and wanting to get it right first time, I went to a “fitness warehouse” store that had a whole bunch of exercise equipment that you could look at and try out. So glad I did that, because the saddle on the bike I looked at was horribly uncomfortable! Soon found one that I liked the look of, was affordable, and had a far better saddle. If you already have a decent real bike, you may want to look at one of those roller road trainers instead.

Now the hard work started :) here are some items that may/will help you when you start

I`d like to point out that all of the items below are my own experiences, and should not be taken as in any way official medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any of the below if you feel that you have a medical condition that may be aggravated by exercise.

  • Dont eat for at least 2 hours before you exercise – you and your carpet can thank me later
  • Hydrate – really… lots… before, during and after
  • Protein – if you find you are shaking a lot after your exercise session, you may need to get some protein in you quickly. I use a protein shake powder which I mix with water, which seems to eliminate the shakes within a few minutes. You may want to investigate the various option yourself.
  • Post-Exercise Selfies – don’t… just don’t, OK? :)
  • Get a large fan to blow air at you – you will sweat like you have never sweated before, so make it slightly less uncomfortable with a fan. I use a large 20″ floor fan blowing air at the front of the bike and me. You don’t want to stop because you are overheating, you want to stop because your legs stop working! :)
  • Get a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) – Don’t work towards a speed or a distance, work towards a specified constant heart rate zone that maximises fat burning. I`ll add some links further down to show how to determine the best heart rate zone for you. Monitor your heart rate during your sessions so you are not over doing it. Its not about being the best or the fastest or doing it for the longest. You are only competing with yourself, and your long term goal is weight loss, nothing else. Find a HRM that works with your phone or tablet, and install one of the free apps that are available. I personally use Endomondo, which allows you to create a free account, and will upload and display the results each time you complete a session.
  • Don’t expect to get to the above heart rate zone in the first few weeks – or if you do, don’t expect to be able to stay there for very long. If you are like me, not only are you carrying a few extra pounds, you haven’t done much/any proper exercise for a long time. You whole body is going have one hell of a shock when you start pushing it to perform and improve. It will scream, it will yell, it will fail, but it will improve each and every time you push it. When you first start, you will feel like you are dying, your lungs want to burn and/or implode, and you will wonder just how the hell your body can produce so much sweat through the pores in your skin. You will shake, your legs will stop working properly (I have lost count of the number of time I had to come down the stairs one step at a time on my butt because I was unable to lock my knees properly). And you know what? That pain, that discomfort… that is your body surviving what you threw at it, and it is undergoing small incremental changes to be able to cope better the next time you do something like that. The cliche of “no pain, no gain” is actually true… well, within limits anyway.
  • Only weigh yourself once a week – pick a day of the week, and weigh yourself at the same time on that day every week. For example, if it was a Monday morning, then wake up, go do whatever your body needs to do when you wake, then weigh yourself… before you have eaten or drank anything. If you can find some scales that measure body fat as well, that’s great, record that at the same time as you weigh yourself. The measurement of the body fat with a set of scales is done by passing a small electrical current through your feet, so it is also best to measure your body fat before you have taken a shower or bath, as the water in your skin will affect the results. Although my own data showed my weight and body fat followed an almost identical downwards trend, I know that some people’s may not. Some may gain water (weight) but lose body fat… it can vary.
  • Really, only weigh yourself once a week!
  • As I know you are going to ignore the two items above – if you have completed a session that you know you worked really hard on, you dug deep and kept your heart rate up further or for longer, and you know you must have lost weight, the temptation is to quickly sneak a look the next morning. I did this too :) The thing is to realise that you may not lose that weight overnight after the session. You could be hoarding water, or you weigh more on this day of the week anyway, or any number of other reasons. Do not be disheartened!! If you do weigh less, YAY! Record that weight if you must, but only record it if you have lost weight. That way, all your data should look like wins :)
  • Warm up and cool down – Give yourself a few minutes at the start of a session to slowly get your heart rate up to the rate you want. For me, if I tried to get there too quickly (2-3 minutes), I wore myself out and I suffered for the rest of the session. I tended to get to my intended heart rate zone at about 5-6 minutes. You will know after a few sessions what is the best approach for you. And the same at the end of a session, try to slowly come down from your intended heart rate over a minute or two.
  • Exercise is boring, doubly so indoors – If you are like me, you will hate the thought of exercise. Its so boring. And the thought of pushing your body to its limits for 30-45 minutes each time with nothing else to do makes it oh so much worse. The solution? Media!! Once I get my session started, I Velcro my 10″ Android tablet to the screen of my exercise bike and watch a TV show. A 1 hour US TV show is usually about 43 minutes once all the ads/commercials have been removed. Suddenly I could do two things at the same time, I could catch up on some TV series I have missed over the years while I plod along with my exercise. Find something that works for you…maybe its music, maybe its an audiobook, maybe its watching some more training videos. Just find something to keep your mind from concentrating on your exercise, and the will power required to achieve the session length you have set yourself is easily 30% less. Find a way to use your tablet or laptop or whatever while you are exercising, and make it part of your setup routine.
  • Headphones (optional) – depending on how loud or how close the large fan is, you may want to look at using headphones for the media above. Bluetooth are OK, no wires to get tangled up and try to kill you, but if you can route the headphone cables safely, then cable headphones are good too.
  • Take rest days – you need to let your body rest, you cannot work it that hard every single day. It will give up, and then you will give up because you think you cant do it anymore. Start slow, 2 times a week, maybe 3 times a week. I found this one out the hard way. One week, I didn’t have my son mid-week like I normally do, so I had a 5 day stretch… I didn’t make it! Day #4 and my legs had absolutely zero energy, they felt like they were made of lead, and I had to stop after 15 minutes (and that was a LONG 15 minutes!). I eventually settled on 45 minutes, 4 to 5 times a week, taking a break on Wednesday and Sunday. Some week it was slightly less, but never more than 5 a week. And it will take you time to get to that point. Just like being able to get to your target heart rate zone, or being able to last at that rate for 30 or 45 minutes, being able to do that 4 or 5 times a week will take a while.
  • Food – Sure, losing weight is all about eating less and moving around a little more, but we are not looking at crash diet levels of weight loss. If you wanted to do that, you could do the Atkins diet and smell horrible, or maybe juice yourself thinner and “Be prepared for changes in bowel function and frequent bathroom visits”, which sounds delightful :) I am not advocating anything here, I`m just telling you what worked for me, your mileage may vary, please feel free to ignore and/or later as required for your own situation. The bad news is that you will need to cut down your calorie intake a little, the good news is that its probably not as much as you expect. If your weight is fairly constant, that means you calorie intake and calorie usage is about equal. Once you add your exercise into the routine, suddenly that’s all changed. Even if you stayed with you existing calorie intake, the fact you are exercising will mean that you are burning more than you are eating. How much that difference is depends on how much you want to cut your calorie intake down. For me, I cut out cheese almost entirely, stopped having cooked meals every evening, drank a LOT of water during the day to keep the hunger pangs at bay, and tried to go for the lighter or less fat options for lunch. This doesn’t have to be hell on earth! Find something that you like that is less calories, and have that instead. No big deal. Now, on previous diet attempts (without exercise), my body started hoarding and shutting down my metabolism when it calorie starved. And really despised what I was doing, and so stopped any ability for it to lose weight. Not helpful! So this time, I “cheated”, and allowed myself two big meals a week. And by big, I mean “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” big, or a McDonalds if I was on the road at the weekend. For me, at least, it kept my body from shutting down, it was fooled into thinking it was still getting normal levels of food, and kept my metabolism up at a decent rate. Plus, its nice to reward yourself for the exercise and punishment you have had to endure, so enjoy it, you earned it….  just don’t go mad with this every day!
  • You may hit a weight loss plateau – this can happen to anyone, and it just your body’s way of taking stock of the massive changes that have happened to you over the previous weeks/months. Its not the end of the world. It may last for a few week, it may last for 6+ months, but it will end. Don’t get disheartened by it, find some other exercise to do, or back off a little until your body start showing signs or weight loss or gain by itself, then get back to your original routine.
  • You will find it harder to hit your target heart rate – what the..?? Well, yes, this can and will happen. Your body is not only burning calories and losing weight, it is also improving your heart and lungs every time you exercise. Eventually it will get to a point where it is able to deal with the punishment you are giving them, and so they will not have to work so hard, which in turn means your heart rate will be slightly slower. The way to raise your heart rate again is to increase the workload. So more resistance on an exercise bike, steeper gradient on a treadmill, etc. Again, aim for the same heart rate zone, just with more workload.
  • Injuries – There may/will be times when you feel a slight twinge in a joint or a muscle, and you think you need to stop. If its really painful, obviously stop immediately. If its only a momentary twinge, slowly work your way up to your original heart rate, but keep a close eye on it. If in any doubt, just stop! Better to stop now and let it heal in a few days than push on through and be unable to do any exercise for weeks because you ripped a muscle. Do not try to rush back again to exercise just because you haven’t done it for a few days. Only go back when you know you are felling better. If you are unsure, start slow, work your way up slowly, but stop if there is any sign that it really isn’t quite ready.
  • Dizziness / Short of breath / Vision problems / Headaches – whoah! Back off! And I mean now! These are all “bad things” ™, and should be seen as a red flag for a number of different reasons. You could be trying to push too hard, and your body is really struggling. When you first start, you WILL be out of breath, and that will be one of the limitations you will face. Its limiting you for a reason… your body just cannot take in enough oxygen and/or remove enough carbon dioxide from your body at your current fitness levels. You will huff and puff, and your lungs will hurt and feel like they are going to explode… but it will get better over time. Accept this, don’t fight it, use it as a self limiter. Its fine, don’t worry!
  • Clothing – I was quite a big guy (still am, kind of), and anyone who is of a certain size and build will know all about chafing… now, imagine what will happen when you are on a exercise bike or treadmill, and pushing hard. I wont go into any more detail on that, but do yourself a huge favour and get some clothing that will reduce that issue. You can thank me next time you see me :) The other thing is that if you are exercising indoors, you can pretty much strip off down to as little as you like to keep cool. Do it… really… doing that plus that big fan I mentioned above will keep you much cooler for longer, and there is far less smelly sweaty laundry to deal with afterwards. I am nothing if not at least practical :)
  • “Before” photos – I really wish I had done this when I started, it would have helped so much. Having a set of photos of me before I started to use as a reference, to compare along the way, to help me out when my mind is wondering “why the hell am I doing this?”, the ability to see what you looked like when you started and what you look like now will spur you on when all you want to do is give up. I don’t have any of these photos, and I avoided the camera a lot when I was really big, so even random pictures don’t really show how big I was. Try a set of photos in the privacy of your own house, don’t wear big baggy clothes than hide the real you underneath them. Maybe even down to just your underwear. A photo from the front, the side and the back, and then save them away somewhere safe. They are only for you to use…. no, really, please don’t send them to me 😉
  • “Along the way” photos – think you look good in some thing you didn’t used to? Take a picture. You fit into that T-Shirt again that you have had at the back of the wardrobe for years because it was too small before? Take a picture. Document it all along the way…. its your fight, and you deserve something to look back at to bask in your own glory and hard work.
  • Social Media – celebrate your wins, you deserve them! Its a brave and bold decision to start an exercise routine to lose weight, and you deserve support from your friends and family whenever you can! I`m not saying you post your pictures every day, or discuss what you had for lunch last Thursday, but mention the things that catch you unaware along the way. Mention things like your favourite T-Shirts being too big for you, or shorts falling down if you don’t wear a belt anymore. Talk about things that you notice accidentally, like walking up the stairs at work rather than take the lift/elevator, or finding that your ankles/knees/back seem better when you do a certain thing that used to cause them problems. Celebrate when you achieve a nice obvious stage in your weight loss, like “another 10lbs”. You don’t have to post to everyone if you don’t want to, especially on Facebook. If you only want a certain group of people to know, then make a group of those people you know will support and appreciate the continued work you are doing. Sure, this exercise and weight loss journey is probably only for you, and maybe those you love, but getting support from others can really help encourage you.

 

A quick bit about heart rate zones. There are a couple of ways to determine your maximum safe heart rate. One is:

220 – your age in years

the other is

217 – (0.85 x your age in years)

To be honest there isn’t much difference between the two methods.

Resting heart rate should be measured first thing in the morning, before caffeine or having a smoke. For most people, that is between 60bpm and 80bpm.

That gives you the lower and upper rates. You need to be looking at somewhere around 60-80% of the way up that range. On the following link:

http://www.runningforfitness.org/calc/heart-rate-calculators/hrzone

Enter your resting and maximum heart rate, and it will show you the various ranges. If you can get into the 60-70%, you will be burning fat and improving your cardio. You should eventually be able to get to the 70-80% zone, but that will take time to acclimatise your body to the work level required to get there. Don’t try to rush it, it will happen when your body is ready.

I am sure I will have missed a few things from this list, but will update this post as I remember them.

 

Again, I`d like to point out that all of the above are my own experiences, and should not be taken as in any way official medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any of the above if you feel that you have a medical condition that may be aggravated by exercise.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Well, as per normal, my blog got left by the wayside :( Sorry about that. I didn’t even get to complete my roadtrip reports from *LAST YEAR*. I need to work on (and then post up) the dashcam video from that trip, which was 7000 miles. Its kind of ready in a rough form, just need to tidy it up a little. It was a lot of driving through some of the most amazing landscapes, but the days were long (especially driving 11 hours through Nebraska in one day!), which left very little time to update the blog with posts for each day. Yes, that is inexcusably poor…. sorry!

The biggest change for me recently is that I started to exercise i an effort to lose some weight. And I have lost weight… nearly 40lbs since the end of September last year. Its been hard work, but nothing that is worthwhile in life is ever easy. I have kind of hit a plateau for my weight, but I haven’t given up on it. It will start to drop again at some point, I am sure. I also started with some free weights to start putting some definitions into the various upper body muscle groups that needed to be worked on.

A few things are coming up in the next few months that I will probably post on here about. Another roadtrip to plan, flights, and travel arrangements for that, plus the stay in Las Vegas for BSidesLV and DEF CON.

Before all that though, I start my Offensive Security “Penetration testing with Kali Linux” training in just over a week (22nd March), which will really stretch me to my limits. I am under no illusion that it will hurt, but what I don’t know is just how much. Will things I have done over the years suddenly come flooding back to me, and help me through some of the training? Or is it gone forever, and I need to get my aging creaky old brain to learn it all again from scratch over the 90 days of lab time I am going to get? Right now, I keep flip flopping between the two possible outcomes. The only way I`ll know is when I get the course materials and work my way through them. I`ll try to document my pain, suffering, failures and successes here… but given my previous blog update failures, don’t be surprised if its a bit sporadic.

 

Saturday 26th – Fairmont MN to Mobridge SD

20140726-route~500miles, 7 hours 45, Fairmont MN -> Sioux Falls SD -> Watertown SD -> Aberdeen SD -> Ellendale ND -> Mobridge SD.

The day started out a little damp from some light rain while I was shoving breakfast down me :)

20140726-breakfastAfter I waddled to the car (I was so full!), off I went… and immediately ran into something that had me chuckling a little. Here I was driving a left hand drive car, in the right hand lane… of the wrong carriageway! Does this count towards my “driving on the wrong side of the road” tally? :)

20140725-wrongsideAs soon as I turned north at Sioux Falls SD, the skies just opened up and let loose with everything they had. Rain, hail, lightning, wind…. it was grim! with almost no traffic (this was the only time I saw two cars at the same time on my side of the road), it didn’t seem to slow the trip down at all. It was like this all the way up to Watertown, where it suddenly cleared to a bright blue sky for the rest of the day.

20140726-rainA very uneventful rest of the day to be honest. Blue skies, fields, farms, more sodding corn, some wheat, lots of small lakes in South Dakota. I was going to stop at Ellendale ND, but when I got there, although there was a motel, the highlight of the town appeared to be a buffalo museum. Move along! To be honest, I am about 4 hours ahead of where I planned to be, which I was really hoping would be the case. At this rate, I can pretty much spend the whole day in Yellowstone park in a few days time without having to just drive through quickly and see it out the window.

Also, I am just about done with driving down long straight roads alongside farms, especially with fields of corn. South and North Dakota, you have been nice to me and allowed me to make up some good time on this journey, but I am not sure I will be returning any time soon to drive along your practically deserted roads.

Friday 25th – Chicago IL to Fairmont MN

First real driving day… and it was raining! Boooo! Once I had all the kit wired up and running in the car, it was time to get rolling, and it stopped raining once I crossed into Wisonsin.

20140725-officeThere are never enough USB sockets in cars if you are a geek. The Tahoe had one USB socket, under the lid/flap in the central armrest, which I used for MP3s on a USB key. So, To power the two phones (one running GPS nav, one running Waze), the GoPro taking images every 10 seconds for the entire trip (time lapse movie will be assembled when I get back to the UK), and the T-Mobile mifi, I needed to bring my own lighter socket extension and several lighter socket to USB power dongles. Yes, its a borgified mess, but it works!

One thing that I was amazed at was the difference in landscape heading west from Chicago compared to heading South. When I went south last year to DerbyCon, it looked like a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland (sorry, it did!), but heading west was full of green and farmland and grass… what a difference! Eve Adams mentioned on Facebook that if I took 65 South from Chicago through Indiana last year, then my assessment was perfectly accurate. Glad I am not alone in that thought :)

20140725-routeToday was ~460miles, 7 hours 45 mins, 4 states, Warrenville (Illinois) to Fairmont (Minnesota), via Bridgeport (Wisconsin) and Algona (Iowa).

One thing I will say about Iowa is you would never be short of some corn. I mean, I drove 3-4 hours through Iowa, and all I saw on either side was fields of corn… as far as the eye could see, nothing but corn. I have hours of time lapse images of corn from the GoPro, but I won’t bore you to death with them. They all look very much like this one.

20140725-cornThe other thing that always amazes me is the sky. We are all used to the sky in the UK being murky on the horizon, like a low mist or fog that means you can never really see the horizon, nor can you actually see the clouds in the sky at the very edge of the horizon. Look at the image above… I know it doesn’t have a high enough resolution to really show it, but I could see the clouds out as far as the horizon. Amazing clarity, and I see this a lot when I am in the US.

Now, onto one of my annual issues I need to discuss about the USA: What is it with the obsession with pickles with your food? Seriously, they are in everything! I expect to be saying “I would like a diet vanilla coke without pickles” some day… well, that’s a lie, I`d never ask for a vanilla coke… nor anything “diet” either to be honest, but the point remains that pickles are taking over your food quietly, invading your homes and your supermarkets, and you just stand by and do nothing! Stand up for your right for a pickle free diet :) Today I asked for a burger at Culvers without pickles… so, as ordered, they did not put any pickles in it (yay!), but they did put a sliced pickle on the top of the actual bun… what the actual!!?? As you can probably tell by now, I don’t like pickles…

 

 

Thursday 24th July – UK to Chicago

Not much to write about on Thursday. British Airways upgraded me (again!) from World Traveler Plus to Club World, so I arrived very early at Heathrow and took advantage of the free food and drink at the British Airways lounge. I assume this piece of art outside the BA lounge is supposed to represent something deep and meaningful…. to me its just a horse with a lampshade on its head. Yes, Yes, uncultured swine that I am…. bite me! :) I would love to know what it really means… unless its boring or long winded….

20140724-bahorseDue to the Club World upgrade, I got one of those first class “seat that turns into a bed” things, so I managed to get some sleep on the aircraft, and the flight staff left me alone (instead of hassling “do you want a meal?” or “a drink sir?” every 10 minutes).

This was the first time I have flown into Chicago and been able to see out the window. Looking out over the city, I was amazed just how much green there was visible from above. I always imagined Chicago to be much more concrete and buildings.

20140724_200103-640x480

Once we had landed at Chicago ORD, I was expecting the usual hour or more wait at border security, but they have installed some new “scan it yourself” kiosks for ESTA and visitors from no-visa-required countries. They haven’t been installed very long…. you can tell because they had staff at every kiosk showing people how to use the machines. Meanwhile, I noticed that the normal line to walk up to the security staff and manually get the passport check and questions was only 8 people long… I was out and grabbing my baggage in 7 minutes. Then, both my bags arrived together in less than 2 minutes. BEST. ARRIVAL. EVAR!!

So, off to Alamo to grab the rental. With this probably being the last of the big road trips I do during the summer months (due to mini-me going to school in September, and so summer holidays will be a logistical nightmare in 2015), I decided to go big with the choice of vehicle. Full size SUV…. don’t judge! To be honest, I was expecting to be carrying some additional people and their luggage on the San Diego to Las Vegas leg of this trip, but they all wussed out and decided to fly this year :)

20140724-tahoeMost of you know I am not a great car nut in any way, but the noise this thing makes is just incredible. I will have to find out just how big the V8 engine is in this, because the growl it makes me smile every time I put my foot down. I will have to get the GoPro in video mode and drive past it so you can hear it. And talking of putting my foot down, I did manage to get it down to an instantaneous reading of 2mpg at one point :)

I headed out to top up on my bacon supplies at IHOP that have been running very low since my last US visit, then checked into the hotel in Warrenville. I chose that hotel because it was very close to the location used by the BurbSecWest group for their monthly meetups, which they very kindly shifted by a week to coincide with my arrival. It was nice to meet a few of the people I only knew from Twitter and Facebook, but despite drinking copious amounts of caffeine related drinks, my brain started shutting down because it thought it was 1am or something. The sleep on the aircraft obviously hadn’t done much to help with the shifting timezones, and I had to bail.

Time for sleep….

Reset All The Roadtrip Things!

Its that time of year where I reset the “roadtrip list of things”. So, in no particular order:

Number of countries I get asked if I am from: 0

Number of times I had to avoid pickles: 0 (cc Miss DJ Jackalope)

Roadkill: 0

Nearly being run off the road by rednecks or native americans: 0

Weight of bacon consumed: 0

Number of Zombies killed: 0

Number of hugs, awkward of otherwise (cc Jayson E. Street): 0

Rounds fired: 0

Miles: 0

Bottles of water consumed: 0

Bottles of Gatorade consumed: 0

Number of times I am delayed by serving staff in restaurants who just want to hear more of my English accent: 0

Number of items I had to buy because I forgot to pack them: 0

Number of interactions with local law enforcement: 0

Number of days where American chocolate actually tastes OK: 0

Number of times I drive without the aircon on: 0

Old friends met: 0

New friends made: 0

New states visited: 0

Disasters avoided: 0

Driving on the wrong side of the road incidents: 0

Number of route changes due to fires: 0

Number of times I swap to American idioms and spelling without realizing: 0 (see what I did there?)

Pictures taken (650D): 0

Pictures taken (dashcam): 0

Hangovers: 0

Number of times I cant find a hotel and end up sleeping in the car: 0

Anything else I may have missed will get updated as it happens :)

Roadtrip 2014

10 weeks today, I`ll be on a plane heading for Chicago ORD on the start of this year’s road trip.

I usually fly into Las Vegas for my road trips, but I have covered pretty much all the states in a 5 day drive radius from there, so this year its a bit different, and much longer.

Chicago -> Portland -> San Diego -> Las Vegas -> Chicago

Roughly 6000 miles, with a week long stop over in Vegas for BSidesLV’s 5th Anniversary Extravaganza!!, DEFCON Hacking Conference, and shooting Zombies in the desert :)

Having done several big road trips around the US in the past, I am pretty sure its achievable, but there are places I can cut corners to make up time if I get caught in traffic or poor weather.

For me, its mostly the driving that I enjoy (well, apart from bacon!)… just me and the car on the road, soaking up the miles, stopping whenever and wherever I want. Its not generally the destination that interests me, nor is it the larger cities. Its all about the experience between places, those empty roads and stunning views that just jump out at you when you round a bend or drive over the top of a mountain pass. Those are the memories I bring back with me.

Road trip will be blogged here as often as I can :)20140515-roadtrip-640

A quick update, for no real reason….

Its been a while since my last update, which is part me being lazy, part me being busy, and part me forgetting :)

Since my pre-DEFCON road trip, I have been to 44CON in London (my first one), which was quite impressive. Hell, I even enjoyed it despite it being in London (I despise traveling to London!). I also used part of my long service award funds to fly over to attend DerbyCon in Louisville, KY. That was a blast. So many great talk and great people. The hotel staff were incredibly friendly, every day. The staff in the restaurant referred to me as “Mr Bacon” after the first day. The reception staff asked me to come down to talk to them if I was bored, just so they could listen to my “wonderful English accent”. The whole event was so friendly, people congregating in the lobby area of the Hyatt hotel or the bar adjacent to the street, drinking to be social rather than drinking to get drunk, hearing people talking loudly, having fun, enjoying the event. I ran taxi service for DualCore and FuizzyNop from the airport back to the hotel. The music events were amazing, with Rance, DualCore + Reme Forbes + FuzzNop kicking it in style. And, as widely reported elsewhere, The Crystal Method brough the house down… literally! The bass was so loud that the ceiling tiles started to snow “dust”, and the metal covers to the air vents fell out due to the vibration. Its a great venue and location, and I will be gutted if I don’t somehow manage to go back again for DerbyCon 4.0 in 2014. Maybe next year I won’t be such an introvert (hey, I did try really hard this year!!), and not go around kicking myself for not talking to people, or for not talking to them for long enough (you know who you are!). Doh! Also, SmashBurger opposite the Hyatt hotel is amazing :)

I also somehow managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to the Kelling Heath star party, to catch up with friends, old and new. It was reasonably clear for at least 4 hours on the Saturday night, but certainly not good enough for me to set up my entire imaging rig…. so I didn’t! I just left my Canon 650D taking 30 second images of the same bit of the sky, and merged them all into a star trails image, showing the movement of the stars across the sky. You can see that the brightness of the individual star trails varies as the thin clouds rolled through the field of view.

20131005-startrails-640So, that is it for my big trips this year (I think). My DerbyCon trip added 4 extra states to my roadtrip map. That large area of green on the far left, is the states I drove through during my pre-DEFCON road trip this year. I miss that trip, was so relaxing to be on the road and watch the scenery rolling past. Next year may be the last time I get to do a decent roadtrip for a few years, so I really need to start planning that early. Maybe a coast-to-coast trip, from New York to San Diego, via a few of those eastern and southern states I have missed so far, and back across through OK/TX/NM/AZ.  Or maybe a northern route from Vegas, and up through WY/MT/ID/WA/OR and down to San Diego. Who knows… it all depends on so many things, starting with being fortunate enough to get sent to DEFCON again.

201311-us-states-visited-640Oh, and possibly a new job role coming up… or not…. I wont know until after I have had my interview. Less “firewall jockey”, and more hands on security, with some extra training that I need to get up to speed on some things. That would be a big change for me, and until recently, change was something I avoided and hated. Maybe this is a sign I am recovering, and that it is time for me to move onwards and upwards :)

 

Road Trip – 28th July 2013, Deming (New Mexico) to San Diego (California)

The last day of the real roadtrip, and I was a little further from San Diego than I had planned. It left me a 620 mile trip to do in a single day. Not impossible, as it was I-8 and I-10 all the way to the coast, but it was still going to be a long day on the road… the longest day of the entire trip. Still, to be only ~200 miles off where I planned to be after 9 days on the road was pretty good I thought.

Not much to report on the last day. I was interstate the whole way, with the vast patrolled US/Mexico border area to my left for a large percentage of the trip. I stopped at the usual border checkpoints along the interstate (not just me, but everyone), and was asked at each one if I worked for the UK military. That did seem quite absurd, as I sat there, with my blue/green mohawk and my Mr Grumpy T-shirt on. Yeah, obviously standard uniform these days :)

I grabbed some lunch at a Denny’s in Yuma AZ, and it was there that I worked out one of the technical problems I was having on the trip. Like last year, I had attached my GoPro to record the road trip with time lapsed images (every 10 seconds) which I could string together into a video. The camera was being powered from the lighter socket via a 12V to USB adapter.

201307-us-gopro

Last year that worked great, but this year, the GoPro was only recording part of the day, and then turning itself off. It took me until the last day to work out the the GoPro was always turning itself off when I stopped for food or fuel. Actually, it was turning itself off when I went to restart the car after the stops, and so I think there was a larger voltage drop when I fired up the engine than last year, and that was turning the GoPro off. As it was stuck to the inside of the glass, and up behind the rear view mirror, I hadn’t noticed this behaviour as it happened. So, sadly, despite driving through some of the most amazing scenery on this year’s trip, the time lapse videos are a bit short :( I will compile them soon and maybe edit the good bits into one video, but I am quite disappointed that there won’t be a full distance roadtrip timelapse this year.

After an uneventful day on the road, I rolled into San Diego late in the afternoon, having completed 3640 miles in 10 days, passing through 10 states. My non-work part of the trip was over. It really didn’t seem like 10 days, it felt much shorter than that. And, as much as I had enjoy the miles and the scenery, I was looking forward to staying in the same hotel for a few nights in a row while I worked at the San Diego office for a couple of days.

So, things that were on my to-do list… laundry! 10 days worth of laundry…. eeeuuuwww! :)

 

Road Trip – 27th July 2013, Lubbock (Texas) to Deming (New Mexico)

Up, breakfast and out on the road. Headed down to Brownfield TX, took a right and headed along the 82. That was a LONG straight road… dead straight! And very fast. Had another couple of “OooShit!” moments with oncoming vehicles hidden in the heat mirage. I wonder how many accidents there are stateside due to mirage related “I didn’t see them until it was too late” moments?

On the way to Roswell NM (or maybe after, the last few days of the roadtrip kind of blurred a little), I saw a crop dusting plane, working away off to my right side. I think most people know they exist, but I have never seen one in real life (we dont have them in the UK as far as I know). It was amazing to watch it, buzzing the fields at silly low speed and altitude, and yet able to pull up at the end of the run, turn, and get back on target for the return run in what seemed like almost no distance. I pulled over to the side of the road and watched it for 10-15 minutes as it worked its way across one field, then cross the road right above my head, and started on another field. Wondrous to see this tiny aircraft flitting about the sky, without a care in the world.

As I rolled into Roswell, I had to stop and take a picture of the roadsign. Not quite what I had imagined.

20130726-roswellsign-01I hadn’t been out of the car for more than 20 seconds when I took that photo. Suddenly, the car behind the sign that the red arrow is pointing at braked hard, pulled across the oncoming lane, and parked on the shoulder behind me. Out jumped this lady who asked if I wanted me photo taken with the sign. Err.. right… OK! Let me just hand over my really expensive DSLR to a complete stranger… but I did….

20130726-roswellsign-02Turns out that she drives up and down that road several times a day, and offers to take the picture for anyone she sees taking pictures of the sign. That appears to be quite often!

I really had no idea what to expect in Roswell. Was it going to be a major city, or a hick town in Nowheresville? Well, it turns out that most of Roswell appears quite normal, like any other New Mexico town or city. That is, until you drive down the main street on one side of town.

20130726-roswell-0120130726-roswell-0220130726-roswell-03After a big breakfast, and having far to much liquid to drink on the road. I really needed to find a restroom… urgently! So, I went into the UFO museum.

Now, I am no UFO crank, I just added Roswell to my roadtrip because I could (just like Rachel NV). As such, this was no trip to somewhere that was going to affirm any beliefs in little green men. I went in, unsure what to expect…

20130726-roswell-0420130726-roswell-0520130726-roswell-06Lots of newspaper clippings and articles posted up on the wall, some audio commentary, and that was about it. I has a slow wander around, looked around the gift shop, grabbed some T-shirts, paid and left.

Stopped for lunch at Denny’s… this one was a bit unusual, not the normal standard Denny’s type building. 20130726-dennys0120130726-dennys02This place was heaving with people, the busiest place I had eaten on my entire trip. It took a while to get served, but I was so hungry, I really didn’t care.

This was deep inside a native American (Indian) area, with lots of casinos… but loosing money was the least of my worries. The biggest threat was losing my life from the crazy driving from some of the “residents”. They really didn’t seem to care, almost like they knew that they would not be held responsible for any actions. I am not talking about one or two small incidents, I am taking pretty much on every stretch of road I was on. Big pickups, usually with even bigger trailers, mostly overloaded and with the load not tied down in any way, overtaking on blind corners, down the middle of the road, against oncoming traffic, speeding past other vehicles and then suddenly cutting across their nose to head up some tiny mud track into the woods. Yeah, I was glad to get the hell out of there. Things could only get better, right?

Well, the road opened up, the cruise control went on… 75mph in a 75mph zone should be OK, right? And I sure didn’t want another run in with the Police due to speeding. So, 75mph it was…

Eventually, on a steep downhill section approaching civilisation again (Alamogordo, NM), I saw a “reduced speed ahead” sign, 65mph. So I thumbed the cruise control down… and down… and down down down!! Ah well, it wasn’t going to slow down on the cruise control in time, so maybe I should touch the brakes instead.

<CLICK>

That was the sound of the cruise control turning itself off when I touched the brakes, so any engine braking I had at the time decided to instantly disappear, and gravity took over. Nice… gravity, large car, downhill…. and, wouldn’t you know it…. a police car! Maybe he didn’t see me… you know, the big car, going fast, downhill, driven by someone with blue/green hair, whizzing past ~4 feet from the front of the police car sitting in the central reservation… or not….

20130727-oops-again-nm-largeOn went the lights behind me as he pulled out into the fast lane, and floored it to catch me. “Gee, why were you going so damn fast?” he said. “Fighting the cruise control, Officer”, I replied as I handed over my UK drivers license and my passport. So, he went back to his vehicle, and ran some checks (while I quickly grabbed the camera for the above shot).

After 5 minutes or so, and with me REALLY hoping that the previous speed warning from Kansas a few days earlier didn’t show up on his system, he walked back to my car.

Him: “That will be $537 and 40 cents, cash, check, or direct payment, within 14 days”

Me: “……”

Him: “Just kidding! Just a warning, sign here, have a nice day!”

Me: “……. err…. ”

While I was signing the warning, we started chatting about why I was there, what I was doing in the US, mentioned I was there for a network security / Hacking conference in Vegas the following week, and then went on my way.

Now, I was confused… using the cruise control got me pulled over… not using the cruise control got me pulled over. Oh well… at least I had another warning to add to my collection :)

20130726-ticketDriving out of Alamogordo, you head through the White Sands Rocket range. Its a vast area, that flat and has a lot of sand that is… err… white-ish. The side of the roads had a lot of odd signs that said things like:

“Do not stop at the side of the road, restricted area”

but then also had hazard/warning lights to alert drivers to any sand storms that could obscure the road, and signs that then said

“In case of zero visibility, do not stop on the roadway, pull to the side of the road”

Given my run-ins with the forces of law enforcement, I didn’t really want to find out which was the least worse option if a sand storm started building, so just kept rolling through and out the other side of the area.

Although I was aiming at stopping at the end of the day somewhere around Tuscon AZ, I gave up early, and stopped in a place called Deming NM. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it before either, but it was there, and had a few hotels to choose from. I chose the nearest to the exit ramp (Holiday Inn Express), rented a room for the night, and just relaxed in the near deserted hotel. You know a place is generally known as a gas and food stop along the highway when even the hotel staff were utterly bemused as to why I had stopped there, of all places. Oh well, it was quiet, with restaurants just down the road, and it had internet access in the room… what more do I need?