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.
Then, while wandering around the airport, I found a new friend
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
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
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.
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.
And 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
See 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)