Thursday, December 25, 2008

Florida: An Un-Road Tripper's Paradise

I started house-sitting in Melbourne this week, and I'm taking advantage of being in one place for more than a day to get back to some Un-Road Trip planning. Today I've been mapping out some of my options in Florida. There is tons to do there- especially with water-related modes of transportation. I can already see a route forming:

View Larger Map

Also, it's late December and it's sunny and warm here. The southern hemisphere is great! Although I hear July is a different story...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two weeks down (under)

It's hard to believe I've already been in Australia for two weeks. I'm working on some video pieces to give you a better feel for the trip. But until those are ready, here are a few pictures to bring you up to date.

I spent last week in the Riverlands of South Australia surveying the burrows of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats:

Wombats are notoriously shy, but we did manage to see a few:

After surveying wombats, I had a few days to explore Adelaide, South Australia's main city. It's also a great central location for a lot of great day trips. I took a 2-day trip to Kangaroo Island which, due to its secluded nature, has stayed mostly free from invasive plant and animal species. It's a great place to see lots of Australian animals, and my trip was definitely no exception:

We saw tons of sea lions, wallabies, and koalas. We also saw penguins and echidnas, but I only have video footage of those ones. I'll try to get that up soon.

Also, my new favorite ice cream bar:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Australian Weekend

A few exciting highlights from the weekend:

• I learned how to play cricket from two kids. I thought it was like baseball. It's not. There are these sticks you try to hit to get people out called wickets.

• I tried Vegemite (spreadable yeast extract). It was darker than I thought- it almost looked like Nutella. It tasted like salty yeasty stuff. I'm not in a hurry to try it again.

• I'm starting to get a hang for all these Australian nicknames for everything. Breafast = Brekki, Biscuit = Bikki, Chewing Gum = Chewy, Tasmania = Tazzy

• It turns out that many young people are familiar with the Portland/Seattle music scene. One man who worked at hat store liked the Deecemberists, but he thought The Shins were overrated.

• There's a crazy Australian TV show that's like Survivor for kids. In the episode I watched, the kids were driving go-karts through an obstacle course- wait for it- while blindfolded!

• I haven't seen any marsupials yet, but I heard a dog barking at a possum in a tree. I also learned that Australian possums are different from American possums. The Australian ones look a lot cuter.

Okay- I'm off to South Australia to survey wombat burrows for a week. I don't think I'll have internet access, but I'll be sure to post pictures next time.

Also, in Un-Road Trip news I've been getting some great leads in Florida thanks to Nate at the Tourism Department there. I may even get to ride in a swamp buggy or sleep on a pirate ship!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Greetings from the other hemisphere

I've been in Australia for just about twenty-four hours, and it's still sorta surreal. I went from winter to summer, skipped a day, and everyone suddenly talks with an accent. Also, all the trees look different, the seagulls are smaller, and people drive on the other side of the street. It's strange to be in a city where English is still everywhere, but it still has the feel of a foreign city. I'm yet to see a marsupial, but I think I'll take care of that next week. Anyway, it's great!

The flight flew by, (pun intended), and the fifteen hours was full of snacks, lots of on-demand video programming, and frequent tea service. I also slept for seven of those hours. Going through customs took over an hour, but I got to see a food-sniffing dog lead a customs officer to an older woman's tote bag. The dog sniffed and walked around excitedly, before it suddenly sat down right in front of the bag. It turns out she was trying to smuggle in an apple. She claimed it was an accident, but the customs officer didn't seem to believe her.

Then I boarded a bus to take me into the city, and the adventures really began. I checked into my hostel and spent the rest of the day checking out downtown. I went to the Australian Center of the Moving Image and saw an interesting exhibit about Australian production designers in film. They had a lot of intricate models and sketches from various films, and they even had one of the sets from Baz Luhrmanm's new film Australia. I did some shopping, got an Australian cellphone, (feel free to call me at 04 1444 9804), and checked out a few pubs with some other people from the hostel. Okay, this is getting a bit rushed but I'm off to check out the Queen Victoria Market and a few museums. I'll keep you posted...

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Autocanoe

Wow. I really want to take the Autocanoe for a spin! It's part canoe, part something else, and it's amphibious! Technically speaking, they call it a Pedal Powered Amphibious Recumbent Tricycle and a Roadable Pedal Canoe. Take a look at the Autocanoe in the water:

And on land:

You can't buy a completed Autocanoe, but you can buy plans to construct your own for $40.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Training in the Outback

To prepare for this trip, I thought it necessary to complete an intense training regimen. Since I'll be completing the Un-Road Trip in the spring though, it seems inconsistent to be training outside in the Pacific NW winter. So in a few days I'll be heading to Melbourne, so that I can properly prepare for the Un-Road Trip during the Australian spring/summer.

Okay- that may only be half the truth. I've also always wanted to visit Australia, and this seems like a good time to do it. I'll definitely be staying active down there. For my first week, I've signed up to survey wombat holes outside of Adelaide, and I'm also putting together some plans for working on an organic farm on Kangaroo Island. I figure I should be doing thing I can only do in Australia, and those seem to fit the bill.

And I'll still be knee-deep in planning for the Un-Road Trip. Although the blog updates may be slightly less consistent as I struggle to find WiFi in the outback, the posts will certainly be more action-packed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

California's Lookin' Blue...

And by that, I mean that it's being filled by those little blue markers in Google Maps as I keep learning about new modes of transportation in the Sunshine State.

View Larger Map

So far I've learned about some beautiful bike trails and tours through wine country, great kayaking locations, the world's largest tramway, and a semi-submersible vessel, (it's not quite a submarine, but it's close), in Morro Bay. And the emails are still coming in... Thanks California!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Barge and in Charge

I was having a hard time finding a river cruise to connect some Southern and Midwest cities, but the search is over thanks to RiverBarge. They operate cruises on "America's only floating hotel barge." When I think of barges, I think of an old camp song. Here's an especially melodic rendition of the "barge song," enhanced by a stirring slide show of somewhat relevant images:

But back to RiverBarge... They operate cruises year-round from New Orleans to St. Louis to Galveston, and many destinations in between. They may even put me to work on the ship in exchange for a free ride. It seems like a great way to experience some of America's waterways. I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

And I'll end with one more rendition of the "barge song."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The plot is thickening...

The more I work on the Un-Road Trip, the more I realize what an organizational challenge it will be. In the past week, I've been in touch with representatives of state tourism departments from Texas, Idaho, Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They all have awesome ideas for the Un-Road Trip, from riding blimps in Boise to canoeing through the Everglades. So how do I keep track of everything? I wasn't sure, (and I'm still not sure is this is the best way to do it), but I started a Google Map with all the possible activities. Hopefully as time passes a route will start to appear.

View Larger Map

Do you have any modes of transportation I should add? Let me know...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Raftin' Down the Mississippi

I'm not sure if I'm actually going to do the tied-together log raft, but I definitely want to take advantage of one America's most famous waterways. Surprisingly, I haven't found that many passenger boats going up and down the Mississippi. The company that operates one of the most famous ships- the Mississippi Queen- is for sale and it's unclear when it will take its next cruise. There's another company, RiverBarge Excursions, that offers four to ten day trips on their "floating hotel barge." Many tour operators offer afternoon/day trips, (and there are one or two that offer an overnight trip), but it seems like we've passed the heyday of the paddle wheeler.

Of course, there's always the option of resorting to a boat that's generally not open to the public. I've started talking to some people in Kentucky who may be able to get me a ride on a barge on the Ohio River. I'm sure there are tons of ships on various industrial missions going up and down the Mississippi. Now I just have to figure out a way to reach them...

Friday, November 14, 2008

A real live hovercraft!

I'll be honest- I was never sure that hovercrafts really existed. I remember commercials for toy hovercrafts when I was a kid. I really wanted one of those. It was radio-controlled, a foot long, and it could glide over land and water. Well, this one's a little bigger:

This hovercraft can also glide over land and water, and at 60 MPH too! I imagine it's a pretty smooth ride, since you've got an 8" pillow of air underneath. It's a two-seater so you can bring a friend. Also, "land and water" really simplifies it too much. They say that the "hovercraft travels over smooth surfaces such as ice, water, sand, mud, snow, and short grass, in addition to short distances over asphalt, concrete, or dirt roads." Not too shabby. It doesn't say how long the 12 volt battery lasts though. This is another Hammacher Schlemmer item, with the similarly steep price tag of $13,999.95. And if you want the trailer to haul it around, it will cost you an additional $1,999.95.

I'm tempted to take this vehicle the whole way, (that is, if i could afford it). I haven't been able to find any hovercraft rentals or hovercraft tours in the US, but there are a number of hovercraft manufacturers so hopefully I can partner up with one of them for a ride. Anyone have any connections in the hovercraft industry?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Velocipede!

This is another offering from Hammacher Schlemmer. This Carbon Chassis Velocipede is, according to their site, the "first human powered vehicle (HPV) to have a carbon fiber monocoque chassis." I have no clue what that means, but it sure does sounds impressive and apparently race cars are made of the same stuff. At first glance, it looks like an uncomfortable position to be sitting in for a prolonged period. I rented a recumbent bicycle at the beach once, and didn't feel right for a few days after. In full disclosure, I was also towing my nephews behind me in a cart, so that may have added to the strain. They claim that riding this qualifies as "low-impact excercise," so I'd definitely give it a shot. The shape eliminates drag, so that must help, and also:
The interior has a recumbent seat with variable longitudinal pedal geometry for a customized fit that maximizes comfort and pedal power efficiency. A Shimano derailleur and SRAM Gripshift Rocket shifter on the hand control allows smooth, shudder-free shifting.

I couldn't even try to explain that, but with the $14,000 price tag I probably won't have to...

State by state by state...

Planning an Un-Road Trip is a daunting task. It's easy to find cool modes of transportation- there are tons of them! The problem is linking them up. I know I want to ride trains, kayaks, horses, segways, bikes, hot air balloons, etc. Now I have to find a place where I can take a boat to a train station, and a train to a hot air balloon, and a balloon to a horse ranch, etc. That's where it get complicated. So I've started contacting the tourism boards in every state. They have a more intimate knowledge of how their state's laid out, and the transportation opportunities available, so hopefully they can assist with piecing together the journey...

So far, the representatives from Alabama and Minnesota have been the most helpful. Apparently, they have some covered wagons giving rides in Auburn, Alabama. I wonder if I could convince them to take me a hundred miles or so? And I wonder how horse/oxen upkeep compares to car maintenance?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fresh trailer! Still hot!

I just finished editing a new trailer for the Un-Road Trip. This one features one of my favorite TV personalities, (who I'm proud to call an acquaintance). I watch him every morning on Today, and now he's narrating my very own trailer! Take a look:

Un-Road Trip: The Trailer (with Matt Lauer) from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Advice from a veteran road-tripper

This past weekend I got a chance to hear William Least Heat-Moon at Portland's Wordstock Festival. In the late 1970s he hit the road after a particularly bad day in which he got fired from his job and split from his wife. His three month road trip became the best-selling book, Blue Highways. He stayed away from major highways, sticking instead to the back roads which are usually indicated by the blue lines on the map, (hence the title).

He's also documented an Un-Road Trip of his own in River-Horse, in which he crossed the entire United States, using its waterways, in his 22-foot boat. Most recently, he's published Roads To Quoz about a road trip he took with his wife, concentrating on visiting small towns in America.

He's spent a lot of time both traveling alone and with others, and he had a few recommendations. He warned that, "the greatest danger of traveling alone is desolation." On the upside, when he's traveled alone, it's easier to find time to document everything. You may feel isolated and crazy without others, but you'll be able to write and photograph without distraction. On the flip-side, it can be tough approaching strangers when alone, because who's to say you're not crazy. If you're with someone else, you've got at least one guy to vouch for you...

I'll definitely keep all that in mind when I hit the un-road.


This may be the most improbable and amazing vehicle I've ever seen:

This is another offering from Hammacher Schlemmer. It's a Motorized Monocycle! Conceived in France and manufactured in the Netherlands, this fiberglass framed vehicle seems like a cross between a bicycle and a hamster wheel. It runs on a 31 c.c. engine, can travel up to 25 mph, and can "drive" for up to 2 hours on less than a half-gallon of gas! That translates to over 100 miles per gallon, which is pretty impressive. The catalog explains that it can "negotiate any dense surface such as pavement or grass."

They also warn that it's not street legal, so I'm a little unsure where you are allowed to ride your monocycle. But assuming you were able to pay the $13,000 price tag, (and $800 for shipping), you can probably just ride it in the velodrome in your backyard.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Looking into hot air balloons...

I wanted to learn a little more about this mode of transportation, so I checked out this book from the library:

After some reading, it seems that traveling by balloon is going to be a little tricky for the Un-Road Trip. When in a hot air balloon, you're really at the mercy of the wind when it comes to the balloon's route and landing location. Although I also read about people who've taken balloons around the world, so I guess that by playing with different currents and ranges of altitudes, you can get yourself moving in a somewhat less arbitrary direction.

Also, it takes two teams to fly a hot air balloon. One of them is in the air, the other is on the ground acting as retrievers. They're driving behind the balloon in a truck, trying to be as close as possible when the balloon lands so that they can help with packing up and transportation of the balloon. This part seems a little troublesome with the Un-Road Trip. Although I wouldn't technically be riding in a truck, my presence in the balloon would require the truck. I'll have to think about that one...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The 14 MPH Cooler

It's a cooler! No- it's a kind of scooter! No- it's both! This is definitely one of my favorite vehicles that I've come upon in the past few months. Not only can this cooler hold 24 cans of your favorite beverage, it also goes 14 miles-per-hour! It's equipped with a 500-watt electric motor and can go up to 15 miles on a single charge. Doesn't this look fun?

It may not be the the speediest option, but with a few well-timed charges, (and I don't actually know how long it takes to charge), I might be able to go eighty miles in a day. The 14 MPH Cooler is yet another vehicular wonder from Hammacher Schlemmer, and it costs a mere $500, (and $30 more for the cushioned seat and backrest).

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Vehicular Wonders of Hammacher Schlemmer

Suspend your disbelief for a moment, and pretend that we all have an infinite amount of cash. Okay. Now open up your Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. These guys supply you with the things you never realized you didn't need. I first heard of Hammacher Schlemmer when I saw some of their items in the Sky Mall catalog. I think everyone's perused that catalog sometime after you finished the airline branded "magazine," and before you've succumbed to watching an edited version of Failure to Launch. My dad once even ordered something from Sky Mall- an extendable duster for high ceilings.

I'm also a satisfied Hammacher Schlemmer customer. A year ago I bought one of their lamp alarm clocks that becomes brighter and brighter as your wake-up time nears. It turned out to be pretty helpful during dark winter mornings. The clock was about fifty dollars, but their real exciting items start in the hundreds and thousands. And they've got a whole lineup of items that could be a great addition to the Un-Road Trip. Over the next few days, I'm going to introduce you to a few of my favorite vehicular items from Hammacher Schlemmer. Today's item:

The Lake & Sea Paddle Boat: I enjoy the required exercise and vigor of the paddle boat, but they look sort of dinky. Not anymore. This vehicle looks more like a speed boat with its sleek design and yellow cover, and although you may only be moving five miles-per-hour, you'll be cruising that reasonable speed in style. Of course, it'll cost you... about $3,500. If anyone wants to chip in, they can sit in the second seat.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bi-Coastal Research

I'm currently sitting at SeaTac airport, waiting for my plane to board. I'm heading to New York for about a week to see some friends and meet with some people over there about the Un-Road Trip. Hopefully I'll find some people interested in funding it...

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Center for Wooden Boats

Yesterday I headed down to South Lake Union to:

I met up Dick Wagner, who essentially started the Center for Wooden Boats from his back dock over thirty years ago. Now the center has it's own building and boat workshop, a full-time staff, and hundreds of volunteers. They think of themselves as a living museum. Every time I've visited, there were classes, lectures, and workshops taking place in the boathouse, and there are always boat-loads (ha ha) of people building or restoring, (their own or the center's) boats. You can also rent many of the row or sail boats as long as the weather conditions aren't too bad. Wooden boat-building is part of the heritage of the Pacific NW and the center is not only preserving it, they're keeping it alive.

I wanted to hear Dick's thoughts on using watercraft as an important part of the Un-Road Trip. He had some great recommendations and filled me in on a lot of boating history as well. I filmed it all, so you'll see that up here soon too. I also talked to a man who was restoring his sailboat that he's already used to sail the world twice. He's gearing up for a third trip, though he's not sure when he'll set sail. He's been restoring the boat for ten years already, though I thought, (and told him), that it looked pretty done. He laughed at me, but said he appreciated the encouragement...

Monday, October 6, 2008

New MOT*: The Railcar

I was perusing the Travel section of the NY Times online, when I learned about a new mode of transportation- railcars. I'd never heard of them before, although in the past few months I've come to realize that there are a lot of vehicle that can use railroad tracks. Trains, obviously, but also rail riders- a type of pedal-powered cart- and the classic "hand car," as demonstrated by Kermit and Gonzo in this clip from The Muppet Show:

But back to the railcar- they're basically golf carts that run on rails. Until twenty-five years ago they used them to inspect the tracks, but now people ride them for fun. You can see the whole NY Times article here. There's even a North American Railcar Operators Association. I think I'll get in touch with them and see if they can help me get a ride for the URT**.

Also, I'll be talking to Dick Wagner tomorrow. He's the founder of Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats, and I think he'll have some interesting insight on using oceans, rivers, and lakes as part of the trip. In a recent email to me he wrote:
The water is the globe’s best freeway system and we have ignored it too long.

I think he's onto something, and maybe he can ever give me a ride in the one of the Center's boats. They have some sailboats that have already been around the word a few times, and they also have this cool steam powered boat:

* I'll probably be writing "mode(s) of transportation" a lot in reference to the Un-Road Trip, so I figured it was time to start an abbreviation.

** And I guess I should abbreviate Un-Road Trip too. Is this too much too abbreviation too soon? Let me know...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Camera Family Tree

In the last few weeks I've been doing a lot of research on camcorders in preparation for the Un-Road Trip. With all the traveling I have planned, I need to make sure I have a reliable and portable camera that's up to documenting journey. After about six years with my trusty Canon ZR45, I decided it was time to retire the ol' dame. I've been through a lot with that camcorder; dozens of segments for my old NYU TV show, weeks at the Sundance film festival, and even a trip through Eastern Europe with my dad. But it's not the spring chicken it used to be- relative to new cameras, the ZR45 is pretty heavy, it uses tapes, and the headphone jack hasn't worked for a few years. So after reading some reviews, I decided on the Canon Vixia HF100. First off, it's adorably compact and is about the size of a soda can. On, someone uploaded this uncomfortable photo to really emphasize how small it is...

The camera's in his right pocket, in case you weren't sure. It also records in HD, and instead of recording onto tapes, it stores the video on memory cards, (which are a lot more convenient and storable when on the road). I've started playing around with it, and I think we're going to be good friends. But now that I have the camera, I've started to get excited about all the accessories. I could get a shotgun mic or a wide angle lens. Or a tele-converter lens- which I'm not exactly sure about, (but it says it increases the focal length by a factor of 1.5). And then there are the filter sets, and even a shoulder strap! I'll probably have to spring for another battery at least. I should probably just get Canon to sponsor the trip. Anyone have any connections?

With camera accessories on my mind, I headed over to Glazer's Camera in Seattle for some browsing. I got a new tripod- a Cullman 52013- which is the lightest tripod I've ever picked up, and it can even fold down small enough to fit comfortably in my backpack. It was the display unit and the last one they had left so they gave me a great deal. I also bought an adorable black and red camera bag, because I figured the HF100 deserved a home of its own. It's made by M Rock, is shockingly rigid for being so light, and it's even adventurously named the "Rocky Mountain." And yes, I'm being overly descriptive in hopes that they sponsor the trip.
And that's probably enough spending for now, since I don't currently have a job and am yet to secure funding for this project. I think I better to go dance for nickels on the corner. In a week's time, I may have enough for another battery.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It begins...

A few years ago, my friend Peter and I came up with a plan to walk across the country. We both really wanted to do it, but after doing some calculations we realized it would take a really long time and both of us had jobs/school to get back to...

The idea stuck with me though, and over the years it has morphed. And then about a year ago, the idea for the Un-Road Trip popped into my head. I have a lot of ideas going through my mind, but this one was very persistent. So I started making plans and talking to people about it, and I got even more excited. Everyone I told was really enthusiastic about the project, so after some planning and calculations I'm making it happen. And now you're probably curious about what this Un-Road Trip is about. Well, here's the first of many videos I plan on making. This one explains the basics:

The Un-Road Trip: The Premise from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

So... What do you think?

And thanks to Chris Harris for filming this and Paul Gude for illustrating all the modes of transportation.