Road Trip – 26th July 2013, Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) to Lubbock (Texas)

I awoke early and often overnight at Jayson’s house, due to the rain and lightning. There was a LOT of both, with the lightning getting REALLY close, sometimes as often as once every 2 to 3 seconds. When I asked in the morning how big that storm was on a scale of 1 to 10, I was told it was probably a 3 or a 4…. errk!!! Jayson also told me about the tornado warnings that they regularly get, and the chaos it causes all around. Being from a country that doesn’t have tornadoes, its almost impossible for me to comprehend the effect they have, both the fear of them, and the actual damage and loss they can cause in their wake.

Also, we heard the terrible news about the passing of Barnaby Jack overnight. Although I had never met him personally, I was aware of his work. Jayson had met him several times, so it was a somber morning of trying take it all in :(

Before I left, no trip to the hacker hostel would be complete without an #AwkwardHug picture :) (For those non-InfoSec readers of this blog, do not be alarmed! This is something that Jayson does wherever he goes. Check out http://awkwardhugs.org/ for more pictures :) )

20130726-jayson-awkwardhug-largeThere had been a LOT of rain overnight, and my car was parked in a puddle about 4-5 inches deep. Either I had to climb in through the back, or try to bridge the gap between the nearest dry patch of land and the car. I tried the second option, which was kind of successful, although there was now mud all over the driver foot well. Some interesting “slippy peddle” incidents on the way out of Oklahoma City. Ooops! :)

I was trying to get to Roswell, NM, by the end of the day, but leaving Jayson’s quite late in the day meant that was just not going to happen. I headed south into Texas and aimed at Lubbock as a stopping point.

I had some preconceived idea in my head that Texas was desert wasteland with tumbleweeds, scrubland, and cacti. I have no idea where that visualisation came from, but it really wasn’t like that at all. It was very green, lots of trees and plants, rolling hills… nothing like the stereotypical idea I had in my head. It was a long drive that day, and keeping off the major roads and interstates meant I got to see some smaller locations along the way. I did have a couple of “oppps! shiiiit!” moments when the heat on the roasd caused some major mirages in the distance that hid oncoming vehicles. This combined with the high average speed of everyone meant that there was some frantic “foot to floor” moments to get past fast moving trucks.

I arrived the Lubbock late afternoon, grabbed some food, and collapsed in the nearest Holiday Inn Express I coud find.

Road Trip – 25th July 2013, Alva (Oklahoma) to Oklahoma City (Oklahoma)

After listening to the water flowing through the air conditioning unit all night, I was glad to get up and get out. I filled up the car at the gas station, and the guy behind the counter asked if I was South African! Once he discovered I was English, he offered me a free fountain drink from the machine, which was greatly appreciated.

The primary reason for heading to Oklahoma City was to meet Jayson Street, who had kindly offered to let me stay at the “hacker hostel” as an overnight stop. Although we had talked via twitter and email for a long time, I had yet to meet him in person. My original road trip route was already passing through West Oklahoma state, so a slight detour was not going to cause too much of a problem.  It was only a short drive from Alva to Oklahoma City, so I took it slowly so as not to arrive too early. I grabbed lunch at Denny’s, which was the slowest “fast food” I have had on this trip, and was quite a poor excuse for a meal.

I know some of my InfoSec followers have seen pictures of Jayson’s back yard, with the river and wildlife surrounding the house, and I had expected him to be living slightly out of the city itself. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although not in the center of the city, it is certainly not in the middle of nowhere. The drive to the house takes you through and into deepest suburbia, and yet round the back of the house, its all grass and river and green. Amazing location.

As I rolled up outside the house, Jayson appeared at the door and greeted me like a long time friend, firm handshake, buddy hug, which I was caught off guard with. He did the grand tour of the house, his “lab”, the great “Portal” themed mirrors, everywhere in fact.

We sat in the lab for ages, just talking and laughing about stuff. I have no idea how long we were there, but eventually we moved into the TV room to watch “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” in 3D, which I was expecting to be some sorry excuse for a B-Movie, but actually I really enjoyed it :) Also large amounts of ordered+delivered pizza were consumed.

After the film, Jayson took me out to the yard to look for fireflies, which had been showing in abundance for the last few days. Ooo… fireflies, I have never seen them before! And I still haven’t seen them, because they were no longer around… arse! :(

A bit behind with updates

Sorry about the lack of updates. I was a few days behind when I was on the road, but since arriving at DEF CON, powering on my laptop anywhere near the hotel is just a dumb move. Even tethering via mifi is possibly a bit risky, and incredibly slow with 15,000+ geeks and their digital toys all trying to connect to the same one or two cell towers.

Once I get back this week, and have caught up with work and home stuff, I will add some more updates of the roadtrip.

Road Trip – 24th July 2013, McCook (Nebraska) to Alva (Oklahoma)

The day start just like any other day, get up, have breakfast, drive to Cambridge :) (that was Cambridge, Nebraska though).

20130724-cambridgeHeading into Nebraska, the countryside turned into green farmland on both sides, with the sun slowly burning away the early morning mist.

20130724-farmlandAfter heading east for a while, I turned south into Kansas towards Norton. I was looking for West Mohawk Drive, a photo opportunity if ever there was one. So, driving slowly east of of Norton, I looked for that sign… and looked… and looked. At some point I realised that I wasn’t going to find it, and sped up a bit… well, a bit too much, because the next thing I know is that my rear view mirror is full of flashing blue and red lights. 72mph in a 65mph….. yeah, i know…. so, I was issued a warning.

20130724-kansas-warningThe moral of this story is: cruise control, use it…. :)

The second moral of this story is that *MAYBE* speaking with an English accent and/or having an English license that could mean a whole bunch of paperwork for them may work in your favour… maybe….

As I headed further south into Kansas, I noticed a few things. They joke about Kansas being very flat, which it is in the grand scheme of things, but actually the section east of Denver was far flatter. Kansas actually had some rise and falls on the road, some long sweeping curves, some towns along the way that kept things interesting.

The next thing that kind of sprung into my mind was the selection of fast food choices as the towns got smaller. Obviously smaller towns ended up with less “fast food” choices. I would have expected the last remaining choice in the smallest of towns would have been a McDonalds or maybe a Dennys. No, it was Pizza Hut! If you drove through a town that wasn’t much more than a cross roads with a shop and a gas station, the fast food restaurant would be a Pizza Hut.

So, unsurprisingly, when I stopped at this tiny place called Alva, just over the state line into Oklahoma, the only place to eat appeared to be Pizza Hut. I was served by one (absolutely stunning!) female staff member to start with, who had absolutely no idea where my accent was from… None! Not sure Alva, OK, gets many outsider/foreigners passing through or stopping there. Once she found out it was “proper” English I was speaking, it turned into a 3 female staff tag-team to serve me. Each time they would approach my table, ask me something mundane, then walk quickly back to the front desk, followed by the next one who would do the same. It was quite amusing :)

And then, the hotel…. the recommended one was full, the next one was still under construction, so choices were very thin on the ground. The one I booked into looked like the rooms from “My Name is Earl”. The toilet needed kicking to actually stop its flush cycle, the shower was a frikkin death trap (the non-slip base in the bath was no longer non-slip), the main light switch didn’t work, and the aircon unit on the wall sounded like I was in a room next to a giant waterfall. I stayed there as little as I could that night…

Road Trip – 23rd July 2013, Boulder (Colorado) to McCook (Nebraska)

The traffic heading in to Boulder as I was leaving was CRAZY. Proper rush hour stuff, not helped by mile after mile of road works on the major roads. There was almost as much traffic heading out of Boulder, but at least it was moving.

Now, east of Denver, the landscape opened up and flattened out… a lot…. how flat? Well, lets see what happens on the dashboard camera over the course of a few hours, shall we?

20130723-flat05 20130723-flat01 20130723-flat02 20130723-flat03 20130723-flat04It was so flat that seeing a tree was exciting! :) And that was pretty much all there was on this day. I knew it was going to be flat-ish, but quite how flat, or for how long it would stay that way.

I had planned to stop overnight at Wray, CO, but when I got there I realised that it wasn’t much more than gas station, a church or two, and some traffic lights. Looking at the map, I chose to head to McCook, Nebraska for the overnight stop.

McCook was slightly larger, but I was just glad to see something other than flat, flat, and more flat. I headed for the nearest motel, and checked in. I was glad that the bath was a spa bath, as I had hurt my right knee earlier in the day, and wanted to get some heat into it. Sadly though, the bath itself was tiny, and when I turned on the spa jets, I thought the bath tub was going to shake itself to pieces and make me deaf at the same time. Not such a great day….

Road Trip – 22nd July 2013, Telluride (Colorado) to Boulder (Colorado)

Monday’s road trip was a nice gentle trip down through the mountains, followed by a bit going up through the mountains. I didn’t really stop for anything along the way, so no photos to show. The scenery along the way was just mountains and trees and sky. For mile after mile, I was treated some views like the ones below. Such an easy day’s driving, no hurry to be anywhere or see anything specific. Just drive…

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There were a few moments when it felt like I was driving through the “Sound of Music”… but obviously without the singing… or the jackbooted thugs trying to kill me :)

Today was also a bad day for driving on the wrong side of the road. One was one of the instinct moments at a stop sign, where I was waiting for a while before I had a clear spot. When I drove out into the road, I got half way out,  and then mentally went “err… umm..  er…. ooo…”. I managed to get across to Subway eventually, thanks to the other confused looking drivers on the road at the time :)20130722-oops

The second time was not quite so bad. I had to drive through some road works / construction zone where they were resurfacing the road. We were diverted to the wrong side of the road for about 3 or 4 miles, by which time my brain had adjusted back to the UK side. When the diversion stopped and the vehicle in front of me moved over to the right lane again, I wondered what he was doing, and why there was a large queue of traffic in front of me in the left lane… oh! OK….its cool, I do know what I am doing, really…

20130722-roadworksOne thing that I did notice over the last few days in the mountains was just how well the roads are built to mostly keep a constant rate of ascent or descent. They follow the contours of the mountainside, curving left and right, but the rate of ascent/descent varies very little. There were points where the only reason I knew we were going up or down was from the noise the engine was making as the load changed, and the height readout from my GPS.

Boulder itself was very hot and sticky, and much larger than I had imagined…. oooerr, that sounds like the start of an interesting first date :) As I rolled into Boulder, I decided that I did not want to “slum it” that night, so checked in at the Marriott, grabbed some food at IHOP across the road, had a shower, and the next thing I know, it was the morning. That was the best night’s sleep I have had so far on the trip.

 

Road Trip – 21st July 2013, Zion National Park (Utah) to Telluride (Colorado)

Well, Zion National Park was just breathtaking! Just so much “oh wow!” in one small area… so much in fact, that i forgot to turn the GoPro on until after I was well out of the park. I did manage to grab this mosaic with the Canon 650d on the way up. It was still quite dark in the canyon, with the rising sun only just clipping the top of the mountains on the left, so the images are a bit grainy as they tried to cope with bright sky and dark rocks (with some odd colour issues with the far left pane).

20130721-zion-01It was like this all the way through the park. Worth a visit if you are ever over that way. In my opinion, its equal to Yosemite for wow factor. Yes, sure, Yosemite covers a much larger area, and has some amazing views, but Zion is much more compact and is wow at every corner, everywhere you look, all the time.

In fact, I would just like to complain in general that Utah is just so rugged and beautiful that my progress through the state was slowed by my just gawping at some of the stunning views as I drove along. I had no idea Utah was like this. Just amazing, really….

So, on to Monument Valley. Now, dont shoot the messenger here, but after Zion earlier in the day, Monument Valley was…how can I explain this…. not quite as impressive as I had somehow built it up to be in my own head. I am NOT saying it was rubbish, far from it. The views were amazing, as per below, but I think I had been spoiled a little with Zion in the morning.

20130722-monument01On the way out and up from Monument Valley, I saw this perfect area on the side of the road to take a few pictures from, so I jumped on the brakes, and pulled off into the gravel…. and slid…. and slid….. and slid some more! I finally came to half, and there was dust everywhere. As I climbed out of the car (which was still in the cloud of dust), and walked towards the spot where I wanted to take the photos from, I noticed two very VERY alarmed people just standing there, staring at me, and looking a little terrified. Yeah, I can see how that may not have been the best first impression to make, sliding to a halt, kicking up a lot of dust, and then seeing this large guy with blue/green hair come charging towards them. I just nodded at them and walked past (with a wry grin on my face). On the other hand, secret cameras show that at least one of them wasnt really that scared :)

20130722-uhoh2A bit further out, there was a place called “Mexican Hat”. Why on earth would you call a place “Mexican Hat”? Err… well, this might have some part to play in that.

20130721-mexican-hatThen, and complete unintentionally, I scared someone else witless. I rolled up to a stop sign, and waited until there was a space for me to pull out and turn left towards Cortez, CO on the 160. While I was waiting there, I noticed another vehicle at the junction, just to my left in the slip road. The car was parked at an odd angle, and the lady in the drivers seat was just sitting there starring into the distance. I rolled down my window to see if she was OK (as you do), and the moment I pointed at her and asked loudly if she was OK, she started screeching and screaming at the top of her voice, started the car, and sped off down the road, leaving big black skid marks as the tyres smoked away…. ah, the effect I have on some people :) Although I did expect to get pulled over by the police down the road, after she filed some report about a stranger with blue hair….

20130721-eek

I headed into Cortez, CO, which was going to be my planned stop-over location for the day, but I was there very early. I grabbed some lunch, and watched the storm in the distance flickering away with lightning. I look at the map for suitable places to end the day. Montrose was just too far, so what about this Telluride place, seems about the right distance… yeah, lets go.

Well, I had managed to get myself somehow turned around a little, and the route to Telluride was straight through that storm I had been watching. The water running down and across the roads was amazing and terrifying, and the lightning strikes were close, and the thunder was louder than the music I was playing in the car (and I was playing it loud!). There were two car in front of me, heading into the mountains, while on the other side of the road, there was a constant stream of vehicles all trying to escape the storm. And I do mean constant! Not sure I saw a break in the traffic for 20-30 minutes. I thought it was a heavy storm, but I bet the locals just thought of it as “heavy mist” :)

So, up I went…and up… and up some more! And it got darker, and wetter… and the car at the front got slower and slower. Soon we had ourselves a convoy of cars lined up behind this one car that either didnt have the power to get up the mountain, or more likely, really didnt have a clue how to drive properly or get the hell out of the way. Some of the locals in the queue behind made some quite dodgy overtakes, only because they knew the roads. Eventually we got to the top and start going down the other side…. only to discover that the car at the front didnt like going downhill, and was even slower going down than coming up. Grrr….

Eventually, I gave them a gentle nudge over the… no, not really :) They turned off halfway down, and all was well again. I rolled into Telluride and found a room at the Victorian Inn. No aircon, but at 8500 feet, it cooled quickly in the evening. And, amazingly, SECURED wireless. Yes, I know, wireless inherently isnt secure, but at least they had WPA2 enabled, unlike every single other place I have been to so far on this trip, who require you to use open wifi and a web portal login. Grrrr….

I did go for a quick wander around Telluride in the evening. It was full of healthy, physically fit, beautiful people and families with perfect looking kids, running or hiking or on mountain bikes…. and then there was this large unfit lump of a guy (me!). Yeah, i really didnt fit in there :)

After I grabbed some food, I went back to the room and collapsed…

Road Trip – 20th July 2013 – Tonopah to Zion National Park

Saturday morning was just like any other morning…. apart from being in the middle of Nevada, in a hotel with drunk mating whales making noises all night, and despite leaving early to beat any traffic that might be out there, somehow I got caught behind three large swimming pools doing 65mph across the desert on the back of a trailer (happens to me all the time!)

20130720-poolsOn the way out into the desert, I drove past the Tonopah test range, and grabbed this shot. There were some great contrails in the sky that morning.

20130720-tonopah-test-range-largeThere wer plenty of roadsigns along the way warning you that you were driving through an open range, and to be careful of cattle and horses. What? Where? I dont see any? Pah…

Anyway, a little later on, I start to see some dark dots on the horizon, out in the desert. Cows! They will be easy to spot if they are on the road. Except they dont start out on the road :( They start at the side of the road, behind large bushes and small trees, and then slowly wander out into the road without any real apparent care that you are hurtling towards them at 85 75 65mph in a 2 tonne metal death machine on wheels. At that point, every dark spot at the side of the road had to be treated as a possible cow.

And I was right to be as wary as I was. Not only do they wander out by themselves, they are usually part of a larger group of suicidal cattle who want to cross the road.

Have a look at the image below, and quickly tell me if its safe to carry on, or should I be standing the brakes as hard as I can?

20130720-cows01Yeah, thats fine, they have all crossed the road…. oh… wait… what is OOOOOOOOOOOO FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU….

20130720-cows02The cattle version of “Come on then, if you think your hard enough!“…. thankfully I had slowed enough when I saw the main group way out in the distance, so I easily rolled to a stop 100 feet from this brave/stupid calf. I had to then roll slowly to about 20 feet away from the calf before it decided to make a run for the rest of the group.

Just over the top of the rise you can see in the images above, I found this sign at the side of the road

20130720-low-flying-largeThis was because just over the mountains ahead of me was Area 51 (also known as Groom Lake, or Dreamland),which is a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. So, not only did I have to be watching the road for cattle, I was also expected to be aware of low flying aircraft and possible sonic booms. Nice :)

I wasn’t there for Area 51 though. I had originally planned to drive up to the back gate entrance (which you can legally do), but I decided against it on the day. Instead, I stayed a little longer at Rachel, NV. You may have heard of Rachel before, its where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost stopped in the film “Paul” at a place called the Little A-LE-INN. The picture below is the famous Extraterrestrial Highway sign (route 375), and underneath in the background, is Rachel, NV… and I do mean ALL of Rachel, NV.

20130720-sign-largeand here is what I was here for

20130720-little-aleinn-01-large20130720-little-aleinn-04-large

20130720-little-aleinn-02-large

Don’t worry, I am not some UFO conspiracy nut of any kind. Its just somewhere I wanted to see while I was out this way, and it only added a few hours to the trip.

As soon as I walked in and opened my mouth to talk, the staff were all “oh you are from England? Have you seen the film “Paul”? You should totally do a road trip with a friend in a Winnebago to find aliens! you should go to Roswell as well…”. They have the sales talk down to a fine art :) but they then let slip that the part of the film “Paul” where they were apparently in Little A-LE-INN wasnt actually filmed there, it was recreated in a studio and filmed there instead.

And again, blue/green hair and an English accent had people talking to me pretty quickly. There was a mum and her son there having breakfast. She was from Salt Lake City, and had “just upped and gone to get away from it all for a while“. Yeah, alarm bells were ringing in my head about the whole background to that situation, but she was a really nice lady to talk to. I stayed and had breakfast with them both, talked about all kinds of things, and then had to make my excuses and get back on the road.

On the way out, I noticed that above the bar, the ceiling was covered in $1 notes

20130720-little-aleinn-03-largeApparently, many years ago, someone left a dollar bill with their name on it and wanted it left there, like leaving a piece of them in the Little A-LE-INN, and it all got a bit out of hand after that. I asked them if they knew how many they had, but they have never counted them. I signed a dollar bill with my name, and left it on the counter as I left.

So, back on the road… and more sodding swimming pools in the way (although, technically, they were the same pools as before, they just went past me while I was stopped)

20130720-pools2I was heading across to Zion national Park, Utah, as suggested by Steve Kirk. A bit of a long haul without much of anything to talk about… except….

I stopped at Mesquite on the I-15 for some fuel and some lunch. As I sat there (in McDonalds… dont judge me!), I was aware of this young girl (8-10 years I would guess) who kept wandering past my table and looking at me. Eventually she stopped at my table and said “I love you hair!”. I smiled back and was about to say something when her mother shouted across the restaurant “Carly! What did I tell you about talking to strangers?”. The girl (Carly) looked suitably told off, but as she walked away, I said to her “Thank you for your comment about my hair, but you mother is right”.

I was expecting that to be the end of that incident, but her mother obviously heard me speak… and the accent, and then said (you ready for this?):

“Its OK, Carly, he is from England, so don’t worry”

I did grin at the time, but seriously? Its fine because the large stranger with the blue/green hair is actually OK to talk to because he is English? Ah yes, that is because we (as a nation) have never done anything bad or used force to subjugate another nation against their will to expand our empire, and we all know how well that ended :)

So, chalk up yet another “blue/green hair and English accent is awesome” moment in public places. I keep saying in “public” places, because things didn’t go quite so well when its in a slightly less public place. More news about that in future updates.

Anyway, I got to Zion National Park early, grabbed a room at a lodge nearby, unpacked, and just sat outside on the patio, watching the sun go down.

  • Roadkill: 0 (nearly hit 3 cows, 1 horse, and a jack rabbit though)
  • Aliens seen at Area 51: 0
  • Aliens who saw me at Area 51: Unknown
  • Mothers who think that their kids talking to strangers who are English is OK: 1

Road Trip – 18th/19th July 2013 – Las Vegas to Tonopah

OK, a few days late, but here we go :)

Heathrow T5 was hot and busy, and once I got through security, I grabbed some lunch. When the food arrived, I did have a good giggle at the cutlery that arrived with it. Unsure if this is just being mean, or if its “aircraft safe” cutlery that you really couldn’t do any damage with if you smuggled it aboard. It appears to be all handle, with some thin part at the other end that gives the impression of it being something like a knife. When I took this picture in the restaurant, a few other travelers had a knowing grin on their faces, and nodded at me in approval.

20130718-knife

Then, while wandering around the airport, I found a new friend

20130718-dalek

Yeah, about that image…. time to get some exercise I think….. let me get the roadtrip and DEFCON out of the way first.

The outbound trip was pretty uneventful. I didn’t get upgraded to British Airways Club World (as I have been on the last 2 trips, 4 flights), so I had to “endure” World Traveler Plus. I ended up sitting next to a “fidgeter”. You know the type, just wont sit still, wont go to sleep, wont just watch a film, just moves and fiddles and does this and does that and… SIT THE FSCK STILL WILL YOU!!?? Thankfully, earplugs and Nytol meant that I was asleep pretty quickly after we took off.

Once landed, leaving the air conditioned inside Las Vegas airport and walking out into the dry hot blast of desert air never gets old. The first time I did this trip, I really wasnt ready for just how hot it was, and got quite freaked out, but this is my third trip, and that blast of heat and the smell is like an old friend, and I just smiled to myself as I headed towards the rental bus to the rental location.

Rental Company: This is quite a large vehicle for just you sir, are you sure?

Me: Yes, I`ll be doing a lot of miles, and I`ll also be bringing 2 coworkers, their luggage, and several undead torsos back to Las Vegas from San Diego during when I return.

Rental Company: OK, no worries. Here you go, Sir!

The guy behind the counter didnt even blink when I mentioned “undead torsos”, respect for that! What happens in Vegas…

So, I got a Ford Explorer

20130720-car-large

Do you see the white cloth thing on the inside of the windscreen? Its a T-Shirt that I place over the back and top of the two mobile phones to stop them overheating in the desert sun. Last year, both of them shut down within 30 seconds of each other, and wouldnt turn back on again for 15 minutes. Not good when one of them is acting as the GPS for the trip.

So, next stop is the first night’s accommodation, which is a cheap but remarkably good place south of the strip. I dump all the bags off, and head out for some food. I end up at an IHOP that I use a lot when in Las Vegas. Its far enough away from the Rio hotel that I feel its safe to use wireless devices without being paranoid :)

While waiting for the food to arrive, i break open the Mifi package from TEP wireless, a company I have used several times before to provide me with internet access without being charged a fortune for roaming charges. I power the unit up and…. no mobile signal. Most people would call them at that point, but like most geeks, I took the thing apart, battery out, SIM out, cleaned the contacts, re-assembled it, and… still no mobile signal :(

I send them an email via the free wifi at IHOP (via VPN, I am not that dumb!), explaining the situation, eat my food, and head back to the hotel and sleep.

I awoke the next morning, packed the car, assembled a Borg-like collection of power and data cables across the dashboard for the mifi plus 2 mobile phones, and headed out for breakfast. And at that point, I am so incredibly glad that my anti-depressant meds have worked over the years, because I got an email back from TEP wireless. It said “oops, sorry, we should have cancelled your order because we dont cover the USA at the moment“… WHAT… THE…. FSCK…. nicely done guys! You lost a long standing customer from that one single action. Leaving me completely without internet access for my roadtrip was unacceptable. A few years ago, I would have been a very VERY unhappy person….  instead, I needed alternatives, and in a hurry!

The first year I came to DEFCON, I got myself a SIM only deal from T-Mobile, so I went to see them again to see what they could do to help. They couldnt have been more helpful if they tried. They offered to see if the mifi I had would work with one of their SIMs (it didnt!), so they suggested that maybe I should look at buying one of their Mifi units plus a 1 month PAYG SIM plan. 20 minutes later, I was walking out with data access, and it only cost me $140, which works out LESS than I was going to pay for TEPs rental. Hell yes :) I tethered the phones in the rental car, and so the road trip really starts!

Stopped for an early lunch at Dennys in Pahrump, NV. I was quite disappointed that the signs I had seen on previous trips that were along the roads were no longer there. Actually, this is just an excuse to use the most amusing Parhump images I had from previous roadtrips… tell me you havent just smiled or chuckled to yourself :)

judge-kim-wanker

Friday was a bit of a deadline day on the roadtrip. I had to be in Death Valley by 2pm to be set up for a very specific event. The Cassini spacecraft (in orbit around Saturn) would be taking a sequence of images to create a mosaic of Saturn, but deliberately positioned so that Earth and its moon would be visible in the field of view. The first time this happened, the full impact of “the pale blue dot” image was not obvious until after the event, but this time, it was advertised in advance. There were a few events on Earth to celebrate this new image being taken. One of these was named “Wave At Saturn”, where people on earth would take images of themselves waving at Saturn at the correct time. During the sequence of images, the one that contained the Earth would be shot from 2.27pm for 15 minutes.

From the moment I knew this was event was going to happen on the same day that I was passing through Death Valley, I knew what had to be done. So, getting to Badwater Salt Basin, Death Valley, California on time was not really an issue. The issue was what i stupidly put myself through next to get the image.

Out on the salt flats, out further than the tourists were going due to the excessive heat, the ambient air temperature was showing 51c/124f, but in direct sunlight, it was well over 60c/140f and rising rapidly.

20130719-waveatsaturn-temperature

While I was setting up and taking the images, I burned the little toes on both feet as my boots heated up in the sun, and then burned my fingers on the metal camera tripod that was too hot to touch. As soon as I was pretty sure I had at least complete 2 sets of overlapping images for the mosaic (just in case), I headed back to the car. That was the hardest walk of my life. I wanted to walk faster because I wanted to get out of the heat quickly, but I also knew that walking faster would make me hotter, and make the situation a lot worse. I stopped twice on the way back, and poured a small bottle of water over my hat and shemagh to help with cooling, but they were dry again by the time I had taken more than 20 steps. The thoughts running through my head were “If I do collapse all the way out here where the other tourists haven’t ventured to because of the heat, will they notice me, or will I die where I fall?”. Yeah, that was a bit crazy out there…

… but the image makes it all worth while. This is only the small version of the image, please click on it for a much larger version.

I believe that Saturn is somewhere in the region of where the clouds are that I am waving at. Its only a rough estimate because it was so bright out there that I couldnt properly see my phone screen, and also Google SkyMap was have a few issues running on my phone because it was overheating (and shut down shortly after I got a rough location).

Once I had that set of images, I was off to the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, NV for an overnight stop. I kind of got the impression that Tonopah was not the largest place in the world when they started advertising the Mizpah Hotel on boards at the side of the road… 90 miles away from Tonopah!

That was a LONG drive from Death Valley to Tonopah, but some great desert views all around, and and interesting archeological find, showing that the Egyptians were building pyramids just outside Beatty, NV far earlier than previously believed.

20130719-pyramid-beatty-nv-largeAnd so I finally rolled into Tonopah, a long way from anywhere, and arrived at the Mizpah Hotel. It was actually very nice, the bed was comfy, the aircon was VERY welcome after Death Valley earlier in the day. After a long day, with some near disasters and a hard deadline to meet, I was glad to collapse early into bed. The only downside about the hotel was that the water pipes made some very disturbing noises at 4am, like 2 drunk whales mating at full volume. I was assured by the staff in the morning that there were indeed no whales (drunk or not) at the hotel :)

20130719-mizpah-hotel-largeSee that blue Toyota car in the image above? The joys of everyone using cruise control on long stretches of dead-straight roads means that I was ~300 yards behind that car for 90+ minutes, all doing 85 …err… 75mph. I never want to see another blue Toyota jeep again….

So, things I learned today:

  • Having Blue/Green hair appears to be a surprising talking point in public places. Loads of comments from people at gas stations, restaurants (both staff and patrons), hotel staff. Am sure having an English accent also helps, but I certainly didnt get this response from strangers wanting to talk to me last year, and I am sure I spoke with the same accent then :)
  • The desert will try to kill you in any number of interesting ways if you dont give it the respect it deserves. Plan accordingly, then plan again.

Today’s counts of “things”:

  • Nature trying its best to kill me: 1 (Death Valley… yes, I know there is a hint in the name, OK?)
  • Heat mirages of cars that were actually really cars coming towards me that tried to kill me: 1
  • Tech Failures: 2 (GoPro getting too hot and shutting down, Mifi from TEP not working)

Pre-DEFCON 2013 Road Trip

As usual, I get some time to myself before DEFCON, and head out on a road trip to see parts of the USA that I haven’t seen yet. OK, its viewed from inside a car, whizzing along the road, but I just enjoy driving in the US so much, I find it very relaxing.

This year, I am mostly heading East from Las Vegas, after the obligatory trip north to Death Valley (it was 122F last year, I think it might be higher this time). The weather reports have looked kind of crazy hot, with wildfires breaking out all over the place, so have had to find decent information website to keep an eye on about those while I travel.

Last year I did just under 1800 miles in three days, which was just nuts… a lot of fun, but exhausting. This year, I have planned most days to be a lot less strenuous, doing an average of 350 miles a day. More time to stop along the way, more time to take slightly slower routes away from the interstates and major freeways. Even so, I`ll still be on the road for ~3500 miles, passing through 10 states in 10 days.

2013-defcon-roadtrip-large

Along the planned route:

  • Death Valley, CA
  • Tonopah, NV (overnight stay)
  • Area 51 back gate (plus Rachel, NV)
  • Zion Nation Park, UT
  • Monument Valley, UT
  • Up through Denver, CO (and timing dependent, may call in on the Jackalope, if she`ll let me…)
  • Across to Nebraska, if only because I haven’t been before
  • Down through Kanasa
  • Oklahoma to hopefully visit Jayson Street
  • Head back through Texas
  • stop at Roswell, NM
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Yuma, AZ
  • and arrive San Diego, CA

So, if I call and ask you to come bail me out, try Las Vegas first, then Oklahoma second :)

I will have a US mifi with me on the trip, so will still have access to email, internet, and the ability to update this blog, facebook, and my twitter, so expect some amazingly mundane images of fast food, alcohol, blue skies, the rental SUV, random people I meet, and pictures of me standing in front of things,with a blue and green mohawk and grinning lots :)

And there is DEFCON, which is a whole different environment. More alcohol, more food, hopefully catch up with a bunch of people I have only ever talked to online, and shooting high powered weapons in the desert with strangers.

What could possibly go wrong….CAN I LEAVE YET????