Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adventures in Albuquerque


Something momentous happened yesterday. Something historic. In fact, I'm not sure if this will ever happen again in the history of the world. My Amtrak train arrived early in Albuquerque, NM. After being plagued by 1-2 hour delays on most of my previous train trips, I was shocked to arrive an entire hour early.

I was greeted by the welcoming committee from BikeABQ, an advocacy organization that works to get more cyclists on the roads and keep them safe.


They lent me a bike, a helmet, and a bright vest and they took me on a tour of the new bike paths and boulevards that have recently been unveiled. You really can't go more than a few feet in downtown Albuquerque without seeing a sign for another bike route. It was the perfect weather for riding through town, and also felt a lot safer than all the riding I'd been doing in LA traffic. And the bike they lent me was no regular bike. Ben Savoca, Vice President of Bike ABQ, let me borrow his XtraCycle.


It connects to the back of most bikes and converts your ride into a cross between a cargo bike and a tandem bike. There's a padded bench and an extra set of handlebars so you can bring a friend along. You can also fold down the sides and strap in everything from camping equipment to lumber to surfboards. You can see it in action here:

I rode to the Rio Grande Zoo next where I was going to ride my 28th mode of transportation- a camel.


I'll be honest- I didn't actually get very far with this mode of transportation but it was a fun ride. I talked to Caterine, the zookeeper in charge of the camels, who said that they can run up to 35 miles per hour! But that's only for very short distances when they're running for their lives. Generally, they stick to a pretty slow pace. And Caterine made sure to clear up the big myth about camels- they don't store water in their humps. Their bodies are incredible when it comes to conserving water, but they use those humps as fat reserves. Although a camel might not be the most practical mode of transportation here, there are a few places where these rides would be more reliable than cars. Especially when moving over sand. I set up my ATC3K helmet cam for the camel ride, and I'm curious to see how that footage worked out.

I rode the Xtracycle around town a bit more before returning it to Ben. Then I was off to my accommodation for the night. Since Albuquerque was a late addition to the Un-Road Trip, I sent out a request for information over twitter and received a few leads. One of them was from my sister who has a friend who grew up here, and whose parents still live here. So I stayed the night with the Buchalters, and enjoyed a night in a real bed, (after my not so restful night on the train, with another one coming up tonight). Harvey Buchalter is an amazing sculptor and even showed me around his studio. He makes incredible sculptures and bowls out of woods and stone.



And now I'm sipping ice tea at the Flying Star Cafe, taking advantage of their free WiFi. I'll be catching a train in two hours, and 25 hours later I should be arriving at Union Station in Chicago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leaving Los Angeles a Little Sorer

I don't think I've ever been so sore in my life. I think it's the combination of many miles of walking and biking combined with short spurts on some crazy forms of transport that work muscles that I never knew existed.

I woke up on Monday morning at Shiva and Larry's house, and borrowed their bike and helmet to ride down to Manhattan Beach. This was my second time riding in LA traffic, and it was only mildly terrifying. Some of the streets did have bike lanes, and I rode on the sidewalk for part of it, (and with so few pedestrians in LA, I didn't even have to share it).

At Manhattan Pier I met up with Brian Spencer and his son Calvin from Vurtego Pogo Sticks. They've brought the classic toy to extreme sports by getting rid of the spring and creating pneumatic pogo sticks. You pump it full of air before you start jumping, and depending in your size and experience you can change the PSI to ensure optimal jumping conditions.


Calvin was probably pogo-ing somewhere between 3 and 6 feet. But that's just the beginning. After getting some serious height, Calvin would do a front flip off the pogo stick and land on his feet. Meanwhile, I was working on staying on my Vurtego Pogo Stick for more than ten seconds. With a half hour of practice, I was finally able to stay on for about a minute and I was pretty proud of myself.


Next up, I was walking again. This time it was about an eight mile walk from Manhattan Beach, along the ocean, to Marina del Rey. I met up with my friend Scott along the way. At 3PM we were meeting up with Ron Levy from RowBike.


This is truly one of the most unusual vehicles I've ever ridden. It's essentially a cross between the rowing machine and a bicycle. It has the sliding seat, the stationary leg stands, and the bar you pump- except it's all balanced on a two-wheeled bicycle. Ron warned me that the first few minutes on the bike would be totally disorienting and I would have no clue what I was doing. He was right. Your arms have to pump the bar as you steer in the breaks between the pumps, and you have to balance all the while. Ron held on to the RowBike tightly as I took a few more pumps and awkwardly moved forward a few feet. He assured me that I'd be riding steady in no time. Sure enough, six or seven minutes later, I was riding down the bike path right behind Ron. Once you get the hang of it, the RowBike is a blast! It was invented by the same man who invented Rollerblades. He built one for himself about a dozen years ago, and has sold a few thousand since then, but now Ron's company has bought the rights to the vehicle and they're bringing it to the mass market. After a serious full-body-workout, Scott and I parted ways with Ron.


I was feeling pretty beat at this time and not looking forward to the walk that lay ahead. A hotel in Santa Monica had invited me for the night, but had suddenly started ignoring my phone calls, so I had to make a last minute change of plans. I'd have to stay at Scott's for the night, which I'd normally be happy about, but it also meant an eight mile walk between me and the couch I'd be sleeping on. That's when Scott and I had the realization. I think he's the one who noticed it first. It turns out the Culver City buses run on natural gas, which is definitely an alternative fuel when it comes to vehicles. So after a serious discussion and some twitter consultation, we decided that a natural gas powered bus would work within the occasionally arbitrary rules of the Un-Road Trip. So I hopped on the alternatively powered bus, and rode six of the miles to Scott's apartment. After the bus ride, I hobbled the remaining two miles to Scott's apartment, finished up some editing, and fell asleep easily.

The next morning, feeling slightly refreshed but still a little achey, Scott and I walked a leisurely four miles to the Tesla Store where we met up with Jeremy. He's been working with the company for a few years and knows everything there is to know about the car. I just don't understand how all these other electric cars companies out there seem to be manufacturing slightly beefed-up golf carts, while Tesla puts together one of the best and speediest sports cars on the market that also happens to be entirely electric. I guess the $100,000 price tag probably has something to do with it. If that's too steep for you, they're also coming up with a $50,000 sedan which will be available in 2011. They may seem expensive, but after the government rebate and never spending another penny on gas, the price looks better and better.


After a quick test drive, Scott and I turned around and walked the four miles back to his apartment. I got to sit down for about thirty minutes and drink some water, and then it was time to walk the four miles to the subway station that would take me to LA's Union Station. And now I'm on the train bound for Albuquerque, which was a late addition to the trip. I wanted to check out New Mexico, and I was also curious to see how well I could plan a last minute stop. So far, it's looking pretty good. Now I'll see if I can get some sleep. I'm starting to think it may be worth it to splurge on one of these sleeping cars for at least one of my train trips. Until then, I'll be using my jacket as a blanket and a T-shirt as a face mask.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Video from San Francisco

I cut together footage from day 4 & 5 of the trip in the Bay Area. I rode a lot of trains and took one of the best bike rides of my life on a Pi electric bike. Also, look out for the premiere of the official Un-Road Trip Helmet Cam, (also known as the ATC3K), generously provided by Oregon Scientic. The I hopped a train to Palo Alto to check out some prototypes of the Aptera electric car.

Day 4 & 5 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

One week down and exhausted in Redondo Beach

I started out this morning in Pasadena, where I had spent the night at my friend Adam's house. I walked down the subway station and hopped on the Gold Line to Union Station where I switched to the Purple Line and continued until the last stop at Wilshire and Western. And then I started walking.


For 11.5 miles. I went down Wilshire Boulevard past the La Brea Tar Pits, E! Headquarters, and Rodeo Drive before turning on Santa Monica Boulevard. The walk became a little less scenic as I walked along the busy road for the remaining miles. Three and a half hours later I walked up to Helen's Cycles in Santa Monica.


I was meeting up with Brad, a manager there, who was going to ride with me over to Manhattan Beach where they have another store. We rode through the streets a bit before we got to the bike path on the beach. I felt surprisingly safe riding on the street. Cars seemed to be pretty aware of us and definitely gave us enough room. Brad moved to Los Angeles about three years back and commutes by bike pretty regularly. He saw a big rise in bike sales when gas prices soared a year ago, and many of those people have stuck with it even after gas prices came back down again.

After a little under two hours, (and about 15 miles), we made it to Manhattan Beach. I headed to the pier meet up with a group of Kangoo Jumpers. Kangoo Jumps were developed in Switzerland and have been a hit in Europe for years, though they're still pretty new in the US.

They look like ski boots with compressible ovals underneath, and wearing them feels sort of like running on a trampoline. It gives you a great work out, and it's also helpful for recuperating runners who can't put as much pressure on their knees. I ran with a group of trainers and Kangoo Jumps enthusiasts who regularly attend Kangoos Jumps classes at a gym. Running with them down the beach was a lot of fun, though it got exhausting pretty fast. As we ran by dozens of people stared, took pictures, and yelled out questions about them.


After two miles I traded my Kangoo Jumps in for a bike and rode to Shiva and Larry Nelson's house. They own Beach Jumps, the California distributors for Kangoo Jumps, and they generously invited me to spend the night. Larry first discovered the shoes a few years ago, and was immediately struck by how fun they are. "You feel like a kid as soon you put them on," he said. And he's seen runners who have been sidelined by knee surgery start running again thanks to Kangoo Jumps. Shiva and Larry are working on introducing the shoes to more gyms and running clubs, and hope the work out craze catches on here as much as it did in Europe.

Now, I'm off to bed. I think I'll get a good night sleep tonight. Especially since I'm not sure where I'll be sleeping tomorrow night. A hotel in Santa Monica invited me to stay, but I haven't heard from them in a while so I may have to find a back-up plan. Anyone have friends/family in the Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or Marina del Rey area?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good times in Santa Barbara (on Day 6)

First off- my new buddy Kent in Santa Barbara put together this video from my visit on Friday.

Un Road Trip Santa Barbara Stop-Over from Traffic Solutions on Vimeo.

It was an especially exciting leg of the trip as it included three new modes of transportation. I got into Santa Barbara on Thursday night and was immediately struck by the amount of pedestrians and bikers walking and riding by. I walked to Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort, who was generously hosting me for the night. After a great night of sleep- probably my most restful one so far- it was time to meet up with the folks from Santa Barbara's Car Free program. They had arranged a whole morning of car-free activities in the area. First we took a spin in their electric shuttle.

We drove by some Santa Barbara landmarks including the zoo, Beanie Baby creator Ty Warner's mansion, and a park donated by the family who invented the Clark Bar. Mary Byrd, who heads up the Car Free initiative, also pointed out some of bike paths that traverse the city.

Next up, they had arranged a ride for me in a Tesla Roadster with May.


After seeing Who Killed the Electric Car, May was inspired to buy an electric vehicle and signed up for Tesla's waiting list. When she finally received her car, she was shocked that it was so sporty, but she fell in love the first time she drove it.

We arrived at the Santa Barbara Sailing Center and boarded the Double Dolphin Catamaran along with Captain Don and a bunch of the other local Car Free partners.


Though there may have been some clouds, it was a relief to get out of the heat of the past few days and it was a beautiful ride. The catamaran has a sail as well as two gas engines, although the wind wasn't allowing for any sailing. Skip Abed, the owner of the sailing center, said he's hoping to switch the catamaran over to an all-electric motor soon.

Pretty soon, we were returning to the dock with time to catch a quick lunch with Mary, Laura, and Kent. I raced back to the train station just in time to make the train to Los Angeles. For more pictures from the day, you can check out the photo gallery at the Santa Barbara Car Free website.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Video froms Days 2 & 3

My trip to Lodi Wine Country was truly a whirlwind- I traveled by air, water, and ground, and barely had time for sleep. In fact, when I filmed the narration for this piece, you can literally hear me slurring my words from exhaustion. Enjoy!

Day 2 & 3 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 2 & 3: The Recap

After taking the ferry from San Francisco, I got ashore in Vallejo and was instructed by Anna, (the fearless leader for my time in Lodi as well as the Marketing/Media Relations Manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission), to walk a quarter of a mile north to meet up with her at a neighboring marina. After I figured out with direction North was, I headed over and within a few minutes I was being lead onto a beautiful 40-some foot motorized yacht.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but my expectations were not as grand as this. The boat had a beautiful deck and a spacious interior, music blasting, fridges full of beer and wine, and even a chef aboard! I figured they must have been expecting someone else, but they seemed happy enough when I arrived, so we started the engines and headed into the delta. As soon as we started moving, Ruben (the chef) and Adi (his wife and an aspiring childrens book author) started bringing up a variety of appetizers. After sleeping in a partially-reclining train seat the night before, it was fun to suddenly be thrust into glamorous yacht life. Everyone got a chance to steer for a little bit- in between eating the various courses that Ruben kept bringing up from the kitchen.


After a few hours we reached Lodi and bid the boat a fond farewell. We were meeting up with Joel and his agricultural helicopter next, but we couldn't see him at first. We waved down two kids who were driving around on an electric golf cart and asked them if they could drive us around to help look for the helicopter.


After checking out a few possible locations we finally found the aircraft parked in a nearby field. Before I met Joel, I never even knew that agricultural helicopters existed. Apparently, they plant seeds and spread plant treatment just like a crop duster. Joel took us up and gave us a tour of the Lodi area as well as the crops they grow there. After having seen it from the water, it was incredible to see the same areas from a bird's eye view.

And there wasn't a dull moment inside that helicopter- Joel started showing off with some loop-dee-loops and dives. I thought he was just trying to make us sick, but apparently it's all part of the job. They have to spread some of these seeds from just a few feet over the ground, and do quick turns and pull-ups to avoid obstacles and move over to the next row without missing a spot. We came in for a landing at Jessie's Grove, and were greeted by a dozen great people from the winery. They've been growing grapes there since the 1860s and it's all stayed in the family.

Next up, we were off on a horse-drawn wagonette (provided by Deena Kirby and All Seasons Carriage Company) to George Cecchetti and Karen Chandler's for dinner and festivities.


I thought the arrival at Jessie's Grove was impressive, but there must have been over forty people waiting for us at when the wagonette rolled in. Dinner was being prepared- many of the dishes featuring the George and Karen's own olive oil that they grow and sell. It was amazing to meet so many people enthused about the Un-Road Trip. I was up talking with some really interesting people until nearly 1AM, when I figured I better call it a night since I had to be up the next morning at 5:30AM.

Day three probably was not the most carbon conscious day with the yacht and helicopter, but I want to be thorough with the my research of diverse vehicles. And the next day I wasn't going to be use a drop of gasoline.


Brian and Greg met me in the morning of day four to ride bikes back to Jessie's Grove so we could get there in time for a live shot with Bethany Crouch from Sacramento's Fox 40. Then we were off with Deena and the wagonette to head over to the Molekumne River, where we were getting on a Duffy Boat.


It's an electric boat made by the same people who built the jungle cruise at Disneyland. It's especially great for spotting animals on the river, since the electric motor doesn't startle them like a gas engine would. After riding up the river for half an hour, we met up with Joseph and Mary (yes, their real names) who own Sierra Adventures Outfitters. It's a great backpacking/camping/outdoors store in downtown Lodi and also lead tours on the river. They brought up kayaks for us to take upstream to Heritage Oak Winery. They brought an especially cool kayak for me called a Hobie.

In addition to a paddle, it also has foot pedals. It's almost like riding a horizontal elliptical machine. The current was barely noticeable as we started up the river, and I was really speeding along thanks to those pedals.


After about two hours, we stopped on the bank for a snack. It also gave Anna a chance to dry off after an unexpected swimming excursion. When we got back in our kayaks, the current had become significantly swifter. The pedaling wasn't as easy as before, and there were a lot more snags and logs in the water to avoid. I ended up getting into a tussle with a tree which filled my kayak with twigs and leaves during a particularly fast-moving stretch of the river. I was almost ready to ask for a tow and see if that Duffy boat could come back, but Mary kept assuring it that it was "just after the next bend." After a little more than an hour of pedaling we finally reached our destination and I was beat.


After collapsing for a few minutes and downing a bottle of water, we started on the short distance to Heritage Oak Winery. Everyone else went in a car, but Kirk from the Stockton Record came along for the walk. Tom and Carmella Hoffman were hosting me for the night at their winery, and I got settled in my room and relaxed for a bit before dinner. It was another fancy affair that night, with about a dozen people. We sat outside watching dozens of hummingbirds flitting around as the sun set over the vineyard. I sat with Mary and Joseph from Sierra Adventure Outfitters and heard about all the amazing work they've done to keep the Molekumne River clean and welcoming to non-motorized boats. They're also working on starting a new tour where you can kayak from winery to winery.

Thankfully, it was an earlier night than the one before and I was asleep by 11PM. I woke up at 5:30AM again to do another live-shot with Bethany. This time we were getting on motorcycles, (ridden by Fred and Bob), to get to the Lodi Train Station for my morning train. Although I recently got my motorcycle endorsement, this was my first time riding on a public road. I was riding behind Fred, who had an impressive Harley complete with helmets that had a PA system so we could communicate and he could pipe in music. Racing down the street, listening to classic rock, watching the vineyards fly by- it was a fun ride.

Bethany rode the train with me to Stockton, and the Fox 40 Mobile News Studio, (aka satellite truck), met us there. After spending two days together, our last liveshot was a little bittersweet. After saying goodbye to Bethany and Dan, (the Fox 40 cameraman), I got ready to board the ACE Communter train to Fremont and leave Lodi Wine Country behind.


Next up- San Francisco.

Clips from Fox 40 in Lodi

Check out some of the live shots I did with Bethany Crouch and Fox 40 in Lodi Wine Country. She was a lot of fun, and I think you can tell we were having a pretty great time.

Finally- video up from Days 1 & 2

After some faulty power outlets and a lack of fast internet, this has taken a little longer than anticipated. But here it is- video from the first two days of the Un-Road Trip- complete with 14 MPH cooler, a mayoral tandem bike ride, and more!

Day 1 & 2 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

More video coming soon...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Get a load of Lodi

I can honestly say that the last two days were some of the most incredible ones in my life. Lodi Wine Country is not only beautiful, quaint, and productive- it also has the warmest, generous, and most interesting people I've ever met. I truly realized how much of a collaborative effort this Un-Road Trip really is. And I've experienced some amazing modes of transport too- from the spectacular to the luxurious to the down-right exhausting. I'm already up to fifteen modes of transport. And I'd love to blog more, but I've got to be up at 5:30AM. I've already started on the real blog entries for day two and three so stay tuned!

Monday, April 20, 2009

1 day done- 69 to go!

Day one and four modes of transportation down. It truly felt like a whirlwind, but the timing worked out surprisingly well. And the weather was amazing- a pleasant breeze and right around seventy degrees. I left the house a little after 8AM this morning on the 14 MPH cooler. I had forgotten to charge the cooler since its initial charge a few days ago, but it rode smooth for its leg of the trip. I chose a quiet neighborhood to drive it through, but I encountered a lot more cars than I expected. They seemed more amused than annoyed though, and all the joggers I passed seemed a little jealous.

When I got to George Himes Park, I handed the cooler off to my dad and hit the trails. My mom came along because she was afraid I'd get attacked/mugged/mauled, though I can't really imagine a much safer place than SW Portland. We walked through the park which goes right under I-5 and leads to the South Waterfront. I was hoping to hop on the streetcar to get to the Riverplace, but we just missed one and it was a pretty short walk anyway.

We picked up the tandem bike from Waterfront Bikes and rode it over to the Riverplace where we were having a ceremonial send-off. Thanks to some shout-outs on facebook and twitter, a bunch of people showed up. It was so fun being surrounded by so many friends and family- some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Also, had no one been there, it probably would have been sort of strange when Mayor of Portland, Sam Adams showed up. He was incredibly gracious and generous with his time. He hung out for over half an hour, worked the crowd, took pictures, and seemed genuinely excited about the Un-Road Trip. Daniel Stark, my new twitter pal, came down and took some pictures which he's generously letting me share here.

The most surreal part of the experience was probably when Mayor Adams was being interviewed by KATU News and he was extolling the merits of the trip and spoke of his interest in hearing what I learn about sustainable transportation. The Mayor of Portland was talking about this little trip that I dreamed up about a year ago- crazy!

But on to the important stuff- riding a tandem bike. I'd never ridden a tandem before, so I was especially honored to be doing it for the first time with Sam Adams. Although it's essentially the same as riding a bike, you're never quite sure what the person behind you is doing. So it surprised me every time the person behind, (called the "stoker" in tandem terminology), would shift a little or start pedaling a little faster, and I'd suddenly remember that I wasn't alone on the bike.

I didn't crash or anything though, and halfway through I let Mayor Adams take the "captain" position in front. Our speed increased significantly after the switch- he really is a pro on a bike! He did some impressive weaving and even went "off road" on the grass for a few feet to avoid some dogs.

To check out more pictures from the launch at the waterfront you can head over to Daniel's blog.

After the ride, I met up with my sister and nephews for a quick bagel lunch on the waterfront, before I headed off for the train station. And after a night of occasional sleep, I arrived in Oakland, hopped on the BART to San Francisco and now I'm waiting for a ferry to Vallejo. Coming up later today- boat and agricultural helicopter!

Sleeping in transit

I wrote a long blog post about the first day on my laptop, but my laptop isn't connected to the Internet right now, and I'm not sure if there's a way to transfer it to my iPhone somehow to upload it. Either way, that blog will be uploaded shortly. I just woke up after a punctuated night of sleep. They keep the lights on in the train all night and all the seat's functions, (i.e. leaning, extending foot rest), are extremely loud. Plus, people are boarding the train all night long. All this could have been avoided by reserving a sleeping car, but I'm doing this trip on a budget so all I've got is a seat. After a few hours, I groggily pulled a t-shirt out of my bag and threw it over my head. Amazing- instant light blocker and noise muffler! My last few hours were much more restful. Now I've got two hours to go before before we pull into Oakland. I was orginally supposed to meet someone from ZAP Cars in Martinez, but he bailed a few days ago, so now I'll be taking the train a little further, getting on another regional train, then backtracking a bit and taking a ferry to Vallejo. That's where I'll be meeting up with another boat that will take me into Lodi Wine Country. I'll be staying at a winery tonight, and I imagine it will be a much more restful night.

Stay tuned for a blog of day one very soon- complete with awesome pictures of my tandem bike ride with the mayor by Daniel Stark!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Only a few hours to go

I'll keep this brief because I should get some sleep tonight. I can't believe I'll be on the road in twelve hours. I'll probably be riding the 14MPH scooter towards downtown by then. Then a walk through George Himes Park before I meet up with Mayor of Portland Sam Adams to ride along the waterfront on a tandem bike. It will look sort of like this, except I'll be on the bike too.

I'll be meeting up with Mayor Adams just before noon at the Riverplace, so feel free to come down if you're in the Portland area. I guess I should sit in the front seat, though he's certainly the more experienced biker. And then I'll head over to Union Station by 2PM, so I can get on a train bound for California. Hopefully I can start editing some footage from the day while I'm riding the rails.

So I guess that's all for now. The next time I blog I'll have started the Un-Road Trip. Or I'll at least be much closer to starting it. See you on the (un)road!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stranded before I even leave

Last night I got an email from ZAP, an electric car company based in Northern California. We've been in touch for months, planning a meeting for April 20th. They were going to pick me up in one of their vehicles after I arrived by train in Martinez, CA. We were going to swing by their offices for a tour and interview before they dropped me off in Vallejo where I'd be getting on a boat to head into Lodi wine country. Well, it seems that something else has come up and ZAP can't meet up anymore. I'm guessing this won't be the only time something like this is going to happen. But I already have a few back-up plans coming together. I was in touch with a guy who owns a fleet of Motorized Rickshaws from India.

We haven't talked for a few months, but he's based in the area and I'm seeing if he can give me a lift. Otherwise, I can take the train all the way down to San Francisco and then take a ferry back to Vallejo. Or I may be able to still get off the train in Martinez and just walk to Vallejo. It looks like it's just over the bridge, although it's always tough to tell how walkable a place is when a Google Map is your only reference.

On the flip side, I finally found a few leads to help me get down the Caloosahatchee River in Florida. Earlier this week I was sending emails to anyone who had any connections to the river, and a few of those emails paid off. Hopefully I'll get some confirmation on that soon.

And in Ellen Degeneres news, I sent an email off to my latest contact there. Maybe this one will actually get back to me. But who needs Ellen when you've got the Mayor of Portland, OR joining you for a leg of your trip. Sam Adams will be meeting up with me Sunday morning as I hit the (un)road. He's a serious bicyclist, and I was hoping we might be able to ride a tandem bike together, but it's not clear whether his schedule will allow for that. Either way, I'm looking forward to meeting him. And it couldn't hurt to ask if he knows Ellen Degeneres.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Action-packed day in San Fransisco (and vicinity)

I'll be spending Earth Day in San Francisco this year, and checking out some awesome modes of transportation. First off, I'll be riding a Pi electric bike across the Golden Gate Bridge with the CEO of Pi Mobility. The bike is truly a work of art, but don't take my word for it- watch this video:

After checking out their headquarters, I'll swing down to Palo Alto where Aptera is showing off their new car. Although calling it a car doesn't really seem right, as it doesn't like any car I've ever seen. If a spaceship and an ipod had a baby it might look something like this:

In Ellen Degeneres news, I've found another lead thanks to some friend's friends, (thanks Sam and DJ!). I'm sending another email in- we'll see if this one works. Third time's a charm. Right?

And if you missed my appearance on KGW's Live @ 7, you can watch it here.

Okay, I better get out of here. With only three days to go I'm running out of time to worry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Test Pack

I'm all packed, though I'm about to unpack. I just wanted to make sure that everything would fit in my backpack. I'm taking this Voltaic solar-paneled backpack:

It's awesome and can charge my iphone and my cameras, (though I'm honestly a little scared to plug my video camera into this thing). And it does it all "on the go"- as long as my back's getting some sun it will be charging my appliances. It's not huge, but it is surprisingly roomy. I'm traveling pretty light, but I've crammed in shirts, boxers, socks, cords, hats, snacks, a rain jacket, an electric razor, and a laptop and there's still some extra room. I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff which should top it off.

Only five days to go now. It's starting to dawn on me that even though I've been planning this for nearly a year, I still have no clue what I'm getting into.

And don't forget- I'll be on KGW's Live @ 7 tonight. If you're in Portland, OR you can watch on channel 8, if you're somewhere else you can watch at

And no news from Ellen Degeneres. I haven't even heard back from the follow-up email I sent yesterday. Maybe that means they're discussing it? Or maybe they've dedicated a recycling bin to me? Well, I hope it's a recycling bin and not a trash can. I would expect at least that from Ellen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Big Boxes, Ellen, Oprah, & Live @ 7

I got home today to find a huge box sitting on the bench outside my parents' house.

And once you see the box, you pretty much know what's inside. It's a 14 MPH cooler! The brown box, (that's a little less flashy), sitting behind it had the seat cushion and backrest in it. It's got a 500 watt electric motor that should run for about an hour on a charge. Hammacher Schlemmer lent me this vehicle for the journey, but you can have your very own for just under $500, (plus an extra $30 for the padded seat). It comes with the front wheel and handlebars inside the cooler and took about fifteen minutes to assemble it. Here it is in process:

Some of the instructions seemed a little backward, (I almost put the brakes on facing the wrong way), but I eventually sorted it out thanks to some photos I found online. After charging it for a half hour or so I took it for a short spin in the front yard, but I'll hold off on those pictures till later. It's sort of like riding around one of those electric supermarket carts, except you always have a cooler of beer/soda within reach.

And no news from Ellen Degeneres, though I did send another follow-up email. I did hear back from a producer at Oprah today who liked the clip and sent some encouraging words, before adding, "I don't see a fit for it on the show at this moment, but will definitely keep it in mind for the future." Well, at least someone from Oprah wrote back within a week. After nearly three weeks of contacting Ellen's show through many different modes of communication, I haven't heard a word. What's the deal Ellen? Keen Footwear, one of my sponsor for the trip, even offered to give shoes to the whole audience if I can get on the show. But I'll keep persevering. Just like Ellen did when she wanted to get on the cover of O Magazine...

In more awesome news, I'll be on my favorite local TV show tomorrow night- KGW's Live at 7. It's hosted by Stephanie Stricklen and filmed at the new studio in Pioneer Courthouse Square, (which I got to check out a few weeks ago at their tweet-up), and like the name implies it's on at 7PM on KGW (Channel 8 in Portland, OR), or via the live stream on their website. I hear that in addition to being a great show, it's also known in the industry as a stepping stone to Ellen Degeneres. You hear that Ellen?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Email Explosion!

I guess that's what happens when I disappear into Passover-land for a few days. I get back to my email to find a flood of messages. Events have been scheduled. Modes of transportation have been canceled. And they want the jugband to play at a Willie Nelson cover band night.

I was hoping to start the trip with a Dog Powered Scooter, but I just got word that the inventor, (based in Bend, Oregon), won't be able to make it up to Portland on April 19th. This seemed like a fun vehicle to start out with, but I'm still hoping to fit it in towards the end of the trip. Look at how much fun these people are having:

I'll still be starting the trip with velomobile and 14 MPH cooler, and that's nothing to sneeze at. And speaking of that cooler scooter, it was supposed to arrive on Friday. I was hoping to bring it along for a photoshoot with the Oregonian this week, so I hope it arrives soon. I think every photograph becomes much more compelling if there's a cooler scooter in it.

Also, a new vehicle was brought to my attention this week, though I'm not sure what the availability is in the US.

It's a palanquin! Basically, a wheel-less human-powered vehicle that transports a human. This seems like a great way to get around, though my Google searches for "palanquin rental" haven't come up with much. I'm not even looking for a super-fancy palanquin- a simple oak one would do fine. And I don't think the costumes for the carriers are strictly required, though certainly recommended. Sort of like when people add "black tie optional" to a wedding invitation. I think my best bet to find one would probably be to visit some Hollywood prop rental houses and see if they have something left over from The King and I or Anthony and Cleopatra. Maybe I could find one of those chariots from Ben Hur while I'm there?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lotsa Matza and bikes too!

Un-Road Trip planning is taking a very quick break in order to celebrate Passover. Woo hoo! Some people get sick of Matzah after the first day, but I love the stuff. This is definitely my favorite Jewish holiday.

In Un-Road Trip news, I'm hoping to meet up with a company in San Francisco called Pi Mobility. They make this awesome futuristic-looking electric bike.

I can't wait to try one of these out. I'm also hoping to meet up with Dahon, a company that makes folding bikes like this one:

Look at that amazing transformation! I've always wondered how comfortable it is to ride on one of these things, so I guess this is my chance to find out.

And no word from Ellen Degeneres. My information is with a "head executive" somewhere though. Worst comes to worst, at least my information made it into a very important trash can.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I knew there was something cookin' at Segway

When I talked to the folks at Segway last week about meeting up when I'm in New Hampshire they were game, but asked if we could hold off talking about it for another two weeks. They said they were working on some "special projects." Well, it's pretty clear what those projects are now. Segway has teamed up with GM to create the PUMA. It's a two wheeled device that falls somewhere between Segway and golf cart. I always thought that it was time to forget the evolution of the automobile and start again from scratch. We'll compile a list of needs that commuters have, and try to address them with a whole new vehicle. It seems that Segway's got the same idea with PUMA.

It has a bunch of features which sound super-fancy, but which I don't quite understand like "dynamic stabilization," "advanced sensing," and "drive by wire." Basically, it's a super-balanced, intuitive, and efficient vehicle. The PUMA can get up to 35 MPH and can travel between 25-35 miles on a single charge. Segway's not saying when it will be ready or how much it will cost, but they say it will be fully designed and tested by January 2010. I hope I get to try one out when I visit Segway headquarters in June.

And no news from Ellen Degeneres. I guess I just have to wait until the mysterious "Ellen executive" gets back to me- if he gets back to me. On the bright side, I will be on KGW's Live at 7 next week. I've been a fan of the show since it premiered a few months back, and I'm really excited to be on it. And I topped Brave New Traveler's list of 5 Outrageous Travelers. I have to admit that I'm quite honored. But probably not as honored as I would be if I got a call from Ellen...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cooler scooters, Matt Lauer, and more happy thoughts

Reading over yesterday's entry, it seems like I was letting all the little complications get the best of me. My SPOT still isn't working and I still don't have a ride down the Caloosahatchee, but I am feeling more positive. I had a fun meeting with Peter Ames Carlin from The Oregonian and got an encouraging email from Matt Lauer, wishing me luck on the road.

I also had a nice email exchange with Hammacher Schlemmer, who are sending me one of their 14MPH coolers to use on one of the first legs of my journey.

It's got a 500 watt electric motor and, (as the name implies), it can go 14 MPH with a range of 15 miles. They're not cheap- about $500- but Hammacher Schlemmer is being very nice and lending me one for the trip. As long as I don't crash it, they say they want it back. Now that I have my motorcycle endorsement, I don't think they need to worry.

And I also heard back from a woman in Florida who's trying to hook me up with Reynolds Marion, who's invented the Hyper Sub, a submarine/power boat fusion. He came up with the original idea as an 11 year old, and now he has a working prototype. It looks pretty sweet.

I would love to go for a ride in that thing, though it's still in the prototype stage, so I may have to settle for a tour on dry land. Either way, it would be pretty awesome.

And now for something not at all Un-Road Trip related. As a longtime NPR listener, I've heard the name BJ Leiderman thousands of times. He's mentioned at the end of most broadcasts as the guy who wrote the theme song. But who is BJ? And how did he become so prolific? I don't have the answer to the second question, but here's a video of him and some of his masterpieces:

I wonder if he'd be interested in writing a theme song for the Un-Road Trip?

And no news from "you know who." I'll just leave it at that.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Two weeks to go

I think I've entered what they call "crunch time." It's the part where there's too much to think about and it doesn't seem like I'll be able to finish everything before I leave. And then there are the little issues that start coming up:

• My SPOT GPS tracker has been having some issues and can't seem to send a signal. It was working fine a few days ago, and I have no clue what could have happened to it. So I guess I should send it in to be repaired, but with only two weeks to go I'm nervous it won't make it back in time. I keep thinking if I just keep playing around with it, it will start working again, but I guess that's not very realistic.

• The Un-Road Trip is taking me through Los Angeles about a week after I start, and it turns out that it's a tricky city to get around without a car. My schedule there was starting to come together, but today I got word that I may have to switch one of my transportation appointments. When you're in a car, moving an appointment around may not be such a big deal, but when you're walking, biking, and pogo-ing around a city it starts getting tricky.

• These Amtrak fares are starting to add up. The train legs are definitely going to be the most costly part of this trip. It's too bad they're the only people not supporting the project. Maybe I could reach out to Canadian Rail?

• I still have the same hole in my itinerary- finding a boat to take me down the Caloosahatchee River, from Lake Okeechobee to Alva. Anyone have any leads?

In more positive news, I'm meeting with one of my favorite journalists tomorrow- Peter Ames Carlin- who's writing a story about the Un-Road Trip for The Oregonian. He used to be the TV critic for the paper, though in these rough times for newspapers they're getting rid of some of the specialized assignments. Hanging out with Peter should make for a fun morning. And maybe he has friends on the Caloosahatchee River?

Friday, April 3, 2009

I think I just joined the club

I had a great conversation with Mark Dixon of Yert earlier today. On July 4th 2008, he returned from a year-long eco-expedition through all fifty states. Along with a few friends, Mark traveled the country in a Ford Hybrid and explored the wonderful world of environmental sustainability. They interviewed over 800 people along the way and are currently in post-production for a documentary about their year. Here's a quick intro to the project:

Mark had a lot of great suggestions based on his experience- from how to keep track of video footage to avoiding poor cell reception in West Virginia. His recommendations were really helpful, and it was nice to be able to ask a lot of the questions that had been collecting in my head- How many clothes did you pack? How did you find a last minute place to crash? What kind of microphones did you use?

I feel like I'm suddenly a member of a strange little club- the Association of Weird Road Trippers. In addition to Mark and the Yert folks, there are a number of other people out there doing interesting bike trips or going cross-country in a solar car. I hope we can all meet up for cupcakes sometime and compare notes.

And in Ellen Degeneres news:

I heard back from my contact, (through a mutual pal), at Telepictures, (the company that produces Ellen), who said that she passed on my information to their "Ellen executive." I guess that means I'm one step closer to Ellen. I'm not sure who the "executive" is, but he sounds official and I hope he gets in touch soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Does Ellen read TreeHugger?

I sure hope so. Or maybe she reads Wend Magazine? Both of these classy establishments wrote about the Un-Road Trip today. I met up with Wend Magazine here in Portland, and we filmed a fun interview on the Willamette River which you can watch here.

TreeHugger wrote up the the trip too and is helping me look for more modes of transportation, as you can see in their post here. I've already had over a dozen people get in touch today who read the post and are excited about helping. Though I still haven't had anyone volunteer their boat to take me down the Caloosahatchee River...

I did get in touch with a nice hot air balloon pilot in New Hampshire, who said he's happy to help out with the trip, though he couldn't promise the wind would take us in the right direction. He says you never really know where you're going until you're going. I could very well end up back-tracking a few dozen miles. I really want to use a hot air balloon though, so I think I'll probably risk it and bring a folding bicycle along.

And still no news on the Ellen front. I'll follow up with a few people tomorrow. I bet after she reads those blog posts, she'll call me up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Big news!

I just got a call from Ellen Degeneres!

April Fools!

Wow. Now, I'm really depressed. I really shouldn't play with my own emotions like that. So, no, I haven't heard from Ellen Degeneres yet, (or any of her people). But I'm still patient. Maybe she's playing an April Fools joke on me by not calling. It will be so funny when she calls me tomorrow and we laugh about how good that joke was.

I did just find about about a cool new device though- the Vurtego Pogo Stick!

I probably couldn't do any of those cool tricks, but it would be fun to try it out. Also, these guys have been featured on Ellen. Hopefully by the time we meet up in Los Angeles, we'll have that in common.