SAN FRANCISCO--As someone who grew up a political junkie, I was always hard-pressed to explain why I had never visited Washington, D.C.
I don't have to make excuses anymore, not after Road Trip 2010, my journey up and down the American Northeast that began in D.C. on June 23 and ended Saturday in Orlando, Fla.
Indeed, the trip--which covered 5,266 miles of driving in a Porsche Panamera through Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, and an accompanying jaunt to Florida--was an opportunity for stop after stop at some of the United States' most famous locations, many of which I'd never been to before, or at least not since I was much, much younger.
And though I was born on the East Coast, I've lived most of my life in California, meaning that bringing Road Trip to the Northeast in its fifth year--after previously covering the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Southeast, and the Rocky Mountain/Continental Divide region--was an opportunity to take a look at my roots and see what treasures lay there and in the states nearby.
As always, I began the planning of Road Trip 2010 looking for destinations that would photograph well and support photo galleries with a substantial number of pictures. The subject matter could be nearly anything and in fact was. Over the course of the trip I produced stories, photographs, and video touching on subjects as diverse as military, aviation, space, architecture, manufacturing, research and development, high tech, sports, entertainment, nature's beauty, hydroelectric power, transportation, haute cuisine, history, money, and community.
Such an extremely broad cross-section of topics generally leads people to ask me what the connective tissue of one of my Road Trips is, and the short answer is that my destinations are the kinds of places that interest me. Pure and simple. And my job is to translate what I see at those spots into something that can appeal to a broad audience that generally comes to CNET looking for news about technology.
Of course, my blog is called Geek Gestalt, and if you look at the things I covered on the trip--things like the construction of the next-generation Naval aircraft carrier, or the manufacture of the new $100 bills, or the beauty of Acadia National Park, of the hidden secrets of Fenway Park in Boston, there's always something there to satisfy someone's inner geek.
The tech gear
When I plan each year's Road Trip, I always think about the kinds of tech gear that would be the most useful to me as I travel around the country. Clearly, as an information gatherer, I place a premium on gadgets that can assist with the creation of content, or can help me process data in one way or another. So the most useful gear I had this time around was without question the Nikon D300S I was road-testing, as well as the three lenses I used, the Apple MacBook Pro I wrote everything on and on which I processed my thousands of photos and dozens of videos, and the iPhone 4 I used as my main communications hub. Stay tuned for a separate piece later today on the Apple gear, including the iPad 3G I road-tested.
I also wouldn't have been able to do the trip at all without a car, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend Road Trip 2010 road-testing Porsche's Panamera, the company's first-ever four-door car. I'll also have a separate story on that later today.
As has been the case with the cameras I've carried in previous years, I greatly appreciated the Nikon D300S I was testing, even though it was meant for someone with far greater understanding of cameras than I. Though I feel I have a good eye, I'm the kind of photographer who shoots almost exclusively on auto and relies on photo-editing tools to fix things later.
But despite worrying that the D300S--a much heavier and more sophisticated camera than the Canon Rebel XT I own--would overwhelm me, I grew to like it more and more each day. A camera that fits comfortably in your hand and takes very high-quality photos with a sufficiently speedy shutter, the D300S proved adept at handling a wide variety of lighting conditions, and with the help of the three lenses--a 10-24mm, an 18-200mm, and a 70-300mm--I almost never felt that, even on auto, the camera couldn't give me what I needed. If only I could have brought some expertise to the use of the camera, I feel certain it could have given me much, much more. As it is, I shot thousands of terrific pictures and produced dozens of photo galleries. And millions of page views later, I have to say that the D300S served me very, very well.
One of the many ways that it surpassed the Nikon D5000 I reviewed during Road Trip 2009 was in its ability to shoot lengthy high-definition video. While the D5000 was among the first digital SLRs to be able to shoot HD video, it was limited to 5-minute clips. The D300S, by comparison, lets you shoot clips as long as 20 minutes--and while that might not be long enough for someone trying to cover a live event, it was certainly enough for me in almost every situation I encountered. If you read through the dozens of stories I wrote during this year's trip, you'll find many videos I shot using the camera.
Indeed, having now spent the last couple of months shooting with the D300S, I am dreading handing it back to Nikon and returning to my own Rebel XT. The Canon is a fine device, but compared with what I've been using all summer, it simply doesn't measure up. Nor should it. The Rebel XT cost me about $600 in 2005, and the D300S is a $1,500 camera--body only--today. I'm now trying to figure out how to raise the funds to buy one of them, as well as a couple of good lenses. I can't go back.
The other gear
If you read my Road Trip 2010 preview story, you'd have noticed that I said I was bringing a bunch of other gear with me on my travels. Here's where I have to sheepishly admit that with the exception of the devices I've already mentioned above, I wasn't able to get the time to test out everything else I was carrying.
Limited to the 24 hours in each day of the trip, I barely got enough sleep along the way as I spent hours each day reporting, more hours driving, and then still more time writing stories and processing photos and videos. Sometimes I managed to eat. But, alas, that meant that beyond the gear that was integral to the trip, the rest stayed in the suitcase.
And that means I have to formally apologize to the companies that provided the gear I didn't get to: Hewlett-Packard, and its ScanJet Professional 1000 mobile scanner; Sprint, and its EVO 4G smart phone and Overdrive 4G mobile hot spot; Eye-Fi, and its wireless SD card; Joby, and its Gorillapod tripod; Powermat, and its set of wireless chargers; GoPro, and its GoPro Hero wearable camera; and Vicon, and its Revue wearable camera.
To all of those companies, let me say that I appreciate that you felt good enough about my project to lend me your gear, and I'm sorry for not getting to it.
Picture of the Day
One thing I did get to, each and every day of the trip, was my Picture of the Day challenge. Each day, I posted a photograph and tasked readers with telling me what was in the picture. From all those who answered correctly, I'd then pick someone at random, and they won a prize. From starting the series about two weeks before I hit the road until Thursday, I received more than 7,200 responses and built up a roster of regulars who figured out the solution nearly every day. Some of them even shared their secrets for how to identify even the hardest of the images.
Generally, I tried to find the right balance between very hard images that I figured few would be able to figure out and those that I knew dozens, if not hundreds would easily identify. Looking through the more than 40 images in the series, there were those such as Fort Knox, which 551 people got, to a cannon on the former home of John Hancock, which just one person identified.
Although it required time I generally didn't have, running the Picture of the Day challenge was gratifying on many different levels. First, I was able to establish informal relationships with some of the regulars. And secondly, through the ingenuity and attention to detail of many of those who provided the correct answers, I actually learned a lot about the things in the pictures. And it was really nice at the end of a long, hard day, to see that so many people were responding. I felt like I was connecting with readers, day in and day out.
After making nearly 40 different stops, all of which I planned myself because they sounded exciting and photogenic, it's hard to pick out my favorites. But luckily, a few do stand out. At the top of that list is certainly my tour of the USS North Carolina, the world's most technologically advanced submarine, which was led by the boat's commander. Next up would be getting to see from very close up the production processes of the next-generation $100 bill and the U.S. quarter at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, respectively. A visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, Fallingwater, also was near the top of the list.
But pretty much everything I did on the trip was terrific--and that's why I did it. I have the luxury each year of spending a couple of months meticulously planning the project, and that's why I'm usually able to arrange to get a behind-the-scenes tour or places the general public doesn't get to go. It's a terrific privilege and one I know I am lucky to have.
Now, as summer nears its end, it's time to move on to other things. But in the back of my mind, I'm already thinking about Road Trip 2011. If you want to know more about that, you'll have to keep watching this space. See you soon, I hope.
Since June 23, Geek Gestalt has been on Road Trip 2010. After driving more than 18,000 miles in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last four years, I've been looking for the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more throughout the American northeast. You can follow my progress on Twitter @GreeterDan and @RoadTrip and find the project on Facebook. And you can also test your knowledge of the U.S. and try to win a prize in the Road Trip Picture of the Day challenge.