After more than five weeks and 5,765 miles of driving through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and very, very small parts of Arizona and Nevada, Road Trip 2009 is over.
This was the fourth year I've done this project, and I've now covered a fourth major region of the United States. In 2006, it was the Pacific Northwest; in 2007, the Southwest; in 2008, the deep South; and this year, it was the Rocky Mountain region. All told, my CNET Road Trips have taken me through 21 states and have covered 18,618 miles. And while there are 29 states I haven't visited yet (on Road Trip, at least), I feel like the projects have allowed me to see a great deal of our amazing country, including many of the back roads that most people don't get to see. And that is quite a privilege.
For me, there were many highlights this year. Any list of those (not exhaustive, of course, as that would be impossible in a story like this) would include being on hand for new cadet in-processing at the Air Force Academy; getting a chance to visit and explore the infrastructure of the underground fortress, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station; visiting a group of Utah canyons and national parks I've been wanting to see for years; trekking to the great Utah Earthworks, the late Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and his wife Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels; getting to be the first reporter to see the completed solid rocket booster designed for future missions to the moon--and maybe Mars; walking the volcanic wonderland that is Craters of the Moon; driving through Montana's incomparable Glacier National Park; seeing the incredible downsides of decades of hard-core mining in Butte, Mont.; visiting a former Wyoming coal mine that has been reclaimed and turned into a huge wind farm; and, of course, fulfilling a years-long mission to explore the hot springs of Idaho.
The trip began, and ended, in Denver. But by the end, that felt like pure coincidence, especially as I returned to the Mile High City from a totally different direction than I had left it. Ultimately, though, I have to seriously tip my hat to Colorado's Rocky Mountain region. Coming from California, I always felt that the Sierra Nevada mountains were as good as it gets--in North America, at least. Now, I'm thinking I may have to reevaluate.
As always, Road Trip is also a chance for me to try out some of the latest tech gear. Among the gadgets I was testing out that I ended up using the most were Apple's latest 13-inch MacBook Pro; Nikon's D5000 digital SLR (complete with HD video); Inmarsat's BGAN satellite modem; Flip Video's UltraHD; Apple's iPod Touch; Amazon's Kindle 2; Verizon's MiFi 2200 mobile hot spot; Hewlett-Packard's OfficeJet H470; LiveScribe's Pulse pen; and of course, the Audi Q7 TDI clean diesel SUV I drove for those 5,765 miles.
When you're driving about 150 miles a day for more than five weeks, as well as doing three or four hours of daily reporting and an additional three or four hours of writing and photo processing, there's not a lot of time left for other things. And that includes trying out new technologies.
That means, of course, that some of the gadgets and technology I had brought with me never made it out of the bag. Among those are Sony's MDR-NC22 noise-canceling headphones and Adobe's Creative Suite 4 Master Collection.
I also didn't really get a chance to use Apple's iPhone 3GS much, at least beyond what my own personal iPhone 3G can do. I will say, however, that the 3GS is definitely much faster than the previous model, and if I wasn't locked into my 3G, I would likely upgrade now.
As someone needing to do a fair bit of online research and, of course, file daily stories and photo galleries, the quality of Internet connectivity was constantly on my mind.
I stayed in 27 different motels during the course of the trip, and while almost all of them promised high-speed wireless Internet, my conclusion is that few were able to actually deliver on that commitment.
I don't know why I'm still surprised at that fact. After four years of doing these road trips, I guess I assume that by now, big hotel chains like Best Western, Holiday Inn Express, and so on will have figured out how to provide true high-speed Internet to their customers. Yet, again and again, my experience was of slow, barely usable connectivity. I guess my standards are too high.
That meant it was often a struggle to get my stories and photos out on time. Fortunately, cafes, restaurants, and libraries also offered Wi-Fi, and I always had access to Verizon's EV-DO network, though that, too, was often sub-standard in quality.
So now Road Trip 2009 draws to a close, and I will get back to my usual reporting on all things geek culture, mainly from my office in San Francisco. But my thoughts are already turning to Road Trip 2010, which I believe will take me to the East Coast. So if you have thoughts on destinations that might make make sense for me to check out, please don't hesitate to let me know.
In the meantime, thank you so much to everyone who assisted me on this project, be it the many public affairs representatives who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate me, or my editors, who often had to be cleaning up my words late at night.