Some people on the West or East coasts may call the American Midwest the "flyover states," but after driving more than 5,200 miles around eight states in the heartland this summer, I can definitely say I got to know the region intimately.
As part of CNET Road Trip 2013, I drove deep into eight states in the region over the last month-and-a-half, exploring Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri in search of technology, architecture, aviation, and manufacturing stories.
Over the course of the 5,200 miles, I stayed in 24 different cities and made an equal number of stops, reporting stories on everything from the Doomsday plane, which is the airplane (really, a set of four identical Boeing 747-200s) that America's senior military leaders could conduct a nuclear war from, to the production of Abrams tanks for the U.S. Army.
Given that it was the Midwest, I couldn't help but take in a number of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpieces, and over the five weeks, I visited Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, Ill., his famous Robie House in Chicago, Wingspread and the SC Johnson headquarters in Racine, Wis., and Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Wis.
I saw flying cars, the world's largest collection of superhero comic books, the building where the Wright brothers ran their bicycle shop (before becoming aviation heroes), and even took in the most amazing "museum" in the world, the fun house known as the City Museum, in St. Louis.
Although never a Nascar fan before, I was able to spend a weekend at the Indianapolis Motorspeedway, checking out how Nascar uses technology, and how Goodyear racing tires are used in a major race. I had also been able to visit Goodyear's racing tire manufacturing plant in Akron, Ohio, and reported on the full lifecycle of the company's racing tires.
Heading well to the west, I made it to North Platte, Neb., where Union Pacific operates Bailey Yard, the world's largest rail yard. And I was in northeastern Ohio, where I saw highly-trained technicians carefully repairing Lionel model trains.
I was lucky enough to see Air Force restoration experts working to bring the famous Memphis Belle back to life, and I saw the world's most impressive collection of military aircraft next door at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Through all those miles, and weeks, I drove a Buick Enclave, an SUV big enough to carry me and a bunch of gear, yet smooth enough to make 5,200 miles of driving comfortable. Unlike most previous years of the CNET Road Trip, when I road-tested the vehicles I drove (and then reviewed), this year Buick was the trip's sponsor, meaning I will not be writing a review.
And while I have often loaded up with tech gear to try out during the trip, I decided early on in the planning not to spend much time testing new gadgets. The reporting keeps me too busy for that. However, I did bring along two products to try out.
First, I used Mophie's Juice Pack for the iPhone 5. This battery pack was terrific, offering me a full recharge of my iPhone's battery, which came in very handy during long days when I was out on foot taking photographs, mapping my route, talking to people on the phone, and surfing the Web. Though the Juice Pack is a bit bulky (not its fault, of course, since it is a battery pack) and seemed to sometimes adversely affect some of the device's functions -- like its auto-brightness, or the audio feature of mapping tools -- I am a convert, especially given the poor battery life of the iPhone 5. It's hard to imagine returning to using the iPhone without the battery boost the Juice Pack provided.
I also spent the weeks wearing Jawbone's Up. This little wristband helped me track how many steps I walked each day, and how much I was sleeping throughout the trip. I'm not sure I would continue to use a device like this if I wasn't reviewing it, but it was certainly interesting to see just how much I walked, and how much it differed, from day to day. I also quickly learned (as if I didn't already know it) that I wasn't sleeping enough, and that I wasn't sleeping very well either. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time during the project to use the Up for another of its purposes -- tracking the food I ate. Still, I often found that having the Up on motivated me to walk more, or to think about how much sleep I was going to get -- and that, more than anything, is why I, or anyone else, might want one.
The other major element of Road Trip 2013, as it has been since Road Trip 2009, was the Picture of the Day Challenge. Each day, I posted a mystery photograph, and tasked my readers with identifying it. Each week, I awarded a GoPro camera -- courtesy of GoPro -- to a randomly-selected person who had correctly identified at least one picture that week. And at the end of the seven weeks of the challenge, I also awarded a grand prize, to the person who correctly identified the most pictures.
In past years, there has been just one grand prize winner. But this year, two women, Rasa Virginia, and Angela Montgomery, both correctly identified 47 out of a possible 49 photographs. Because there was no satisfying way to choose which of them won the grand prize, GoPro generously offered to provide two of the prizes -- a complete set of its GoPro Hero 3 camera and all the accessories -- to the winners.
Now, Road Trip 2013 has come to an end, and it's on to thinking about where to take Road Trip 2014. Please stay tuned for the project, which should begin sometime in early June, 2014. I can't wait to hit the road again, and bring you the best of what America has to offer.