Here endeth the journey

Posted by dunkyb on Tuesday, 3rd July 2012 at 13:38 GMT
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Ah, it's good to be home again. Can cook and eat my own food, watch my own TV shows, sleep in my own bed. All very pleasant.

So, thoughts from the journey?

Well, I'm not planning on buying a Camaro. There's a lot of good things about the car: It's very comfy, goes like it's jet propelled, gets decent fuel economy. On the other hand, it's automatic (not a terrible auto, but still a bit clunky), it understeers like the steering wheel isn't connected to anything (the engine is pretty damn heavy) and the visbility is atrocious (I've ranted about this one before).

Still, according to the stats, I spent 160 hours driving in it over the past two months, which is quite a long time. I've seen an awful lot of roads, almost all of whom had terrible road surfaces. For some reason, the Americans are generally unable to keep their roads anywhere near flat, preferring massive potholes. This may be acceptable when you're driving something with soft suspension, but the Camaro had 'sporty' suspension, which just led to a series of dull thuds along the roads.

So, any questions about the trip?

And I think it's gonna be a long long time...

Posted by dunkyb on Saturday, 30th June 2012 at 04:01 GMT
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And it was a bloody long time.

So, I decided to go see the Rocket launch this morning (well, it is the most powerful rocket currently launched). On the bright side, it was only 40 miles or so north. On the down side, the launch was scheduled for 0613. And it was a 45 minute drive to a decent viewing point.

So, as a result my alarm went off at 0415 (to give me time to pack up). I'm managing to rationalise this by pretending it'll help me adapt back to UK time. I packed up (how did that get there?!), checked out and headed North in the dark. On the downside, my windows were covered in dust from the various storms I had recently. However, I solved this problem by driving fast enough that I didn't need to see behind me (yes, for some reason only the front windscreen has wipers).

So, shortly after six I found myself driving along a riverside road near to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (this launch was military, so not from the civilian parts of the space station). Both sides of the road were full of parked cars (clearly this launch thing is popular, despite the hour!). Pootling onwards, to just outside the Air Station, I found some viewing stands and more importantly: space to park. Sure, it was on a swamp, but nothing could possibly go wrong.

I bounded out of the car and listened to the commentary (the place I'd found thanks to sheer random chance had speakers distantly explaining the launch) - 4 minutes to go!

Woohoo! My timing was excellent (as always!). It was about 15 minutes before sunrise. The sky was a beautiful dark blue and I'd just caught the launch.

Regrettably, 18 seconds later, the launch was held. Sticky valve it turned out.

Luckily, about half an hour later the launch was started again. This time we got to T minus 3 minutes and 34 seconds until it was held. Another, completely different sticky valve.

At this point, I noticed that whilst the fish swimming in the river were having fun (whole shoals of little silver fish jumping out of the water together), so were the mosquitoes. I could see the little bastards (well, I'm sure they were about three feet across) snacking on me. A small, but entertaining slapping dance ensued.

Luckily the countdown started again! This would finally distract me from the pints of blood I was losing to the local fauna! This thought distracted me for several minutes until once again the countdown was stalled. Turns out it was another sticky valve (Are you ******** kidding me?! This isn't ******* rocket science!).

By this time, I'd spent about an hour and a half by this swamp, watched a fun sun-rise over Florida and started to enjoy the weather. I'd also grabbed my kindle, so was less bored than usual.

Luckily the handsome and talented Rocket Scientists worked out that the valves could be manually opened (FFS!) and the launch could go ahead. In another hour and a half. More luckily I remembered I had cold drinks in my car and a camping chair (Gotta get more value out of my $10!).

Chair, plus Diet Coke, plus kindle, plus Sun, plus splashing fish led to a rather pleasant hour or so.

The countdown started again. By this point I was getting increasingly cynical about the prospects for the damn thing getting off the ground, but suddenly we were down to the last ten seconds (We do owe a great debt to 'Die Frau im Mond'). I looked over at the VAB - that's not a launch pad. I looked at the launch pads I could see - nothing happening there. Luckily, it turns out that rockets are pretty damn obvious, and this one made quite a lot of fuss as it rose over a small clump of trees nearby.

OK, so I was about 10 miles away from the launch. As a result, it was completely silent. The rocket slowly lifted about the trees and slowly struggled into the sky. Then the noise hit. Pretty damn loud considering the difference. Can understand why they say that within 100 ft of the launch the noise kills you (and within 400 ft, the fire kills you - wouldn't this also happen within 100?!?).

Still, seriously impressive and I'm glad I've finally managed to catch a launch from close up (I saw a night shuttle launch from Miami when I was there, but that was from 200 miles away).

As you can probably tell from the map, I'm nearly back at Atlanta. Decided there was no point staying in a crappy hotel nearish the airport, when I could stay at a crappy hotel slightly less near the airport. Not long to go tomorrow.

So, this is nearly it. Over 7000 miles driven (nearly 1/3 of the way round the planet, or ~12 times the distance from Land's End to John o' Groats). I've been here for the best part of two months, hit a lot of states, seen no live bears.

Any great insights or mind expanding ideas? Nope. It's just time to go home.

Day X minus Two

Posted by dunkyb on Friday, 29th June 2012 at 03:25 GMT
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My dastardly plan to stay by the beach for an extra day has finally paid off. IT was sunny today (and a little breezy, but not too bad).

As a result, I went for a swim (to break up my otherwise uninterrupted day of lazing around). There were some flaws with this plan:

1) my contact lens were washed out within the first five minutes by..
2) ... the surf. Which was a little over-enthusiastic, probably 3 - 6 ft breakers. This was very popular for the...
3) ... surfers. One of whom decided to try and run me over.

Aside from that, all good fun!

Am getting up early to try and see the Delta IV Heavy launch tomorrow morning (it's a little early...)

Am rapidaly running out of time on this break. Still, it's certainly feeling like it's time to go home. That's gotta be a good thing (either that, or I'm looking forward to a First Class flight).

Is that a rocket in your pants...?

Posted by dunkyb on Thursday, 28th June 2012 at 04:37 GMT
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I've actually been to the Kennedy Space Center before. All I remember was allegedly seeing an armadillo during the bus tour around the various sights in the centre.

Luckily, this time was different. Within a few minutes of starting the bus tour, we saw an alligator. According to my book, Alligator >> Armadillo. So the day was looking up already.

I don't remember any of the centre from my previous visit, so I'm going to assume that either a) I was blind drunk last time I was there or b) They've changed a lot. I'm pretty sure 13 is below the drinking age in the USA, so a) is looking doubtful (though not impossible...).

Anyhoo, got to see some cool stuffs today. The weather may have been piss-poor again but it was a surprisingly fun day - I got there at 1100 and didn't escape until 1630, that ranks it the #2 museum to the USAF one.

So, what did I see? Well, there was an Alligator but I'm pretty sure I covered that earlier. There was a pervading sense of decline throughout the whole place. Pretty much every exhibit was 'Look at this cool thing we did tens of years ago' (with the occasional 'We fucked up and killed these people') but almost nothing that was 'We've come up with these cool ideas for what to do next'.

Yes, I know full well that NASA's budget is a fraction of what it was but for fucks sake! It took ~42 years for mankind to get from Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic solo to landing on the moon. In Decemeber it'll be 40 years since we last landed on the moon. And what the hell have we done since?

Still, was cool to see all the old hardware and get a feel (there were some very good cinema presentations about Apollo narrated by the various people who were there) for how these things felt at the time.

Then I spent the evening sat on my balcony drinking a beer (or six), reading a book and trying not to get blown away (this tropical storm may be slow, but it's certainly fairly breezy). That was extremely nice. So nice I'm going to do it tomorrow. This will lead to one hell of a drive (possibly through the aforementioned storm) on Friday to get back to Atlanta. That'll be entertaining.

Brief Pelicans

Posted by dunkyb on Wednesday, 27th June 2012 at 05:08 GMT
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Now this is the way to spend the last few days of my break. Today I've done SFA. Well, that's not strictly true. I got up, had a shower, moved to the balcony and watched the Pelicans.

That's the best feature of this place. Sure I'm overlooking the sea, but more importantly I have a flock of about six pelicans who intermittently appear. They seem to spend their day bobbing up and down (when they're sat on the water), skimming the waves (looks like they're able to use ground effect to some benefit) and diving for fish (Or they keep falling out of the sky for no good reason).

Still, meant I could get through some of the Kindle Daily Deals I've been buying.

Went for a nice amble along the beach this evening (unsuccessfully dodging chunks of Tropical Storm Debby (who names these things?!)). Not enough decent skipping stones if you ask me.

Still, nice quiet day all round. Three days to go until I'm heading back home. How little can I do in that time?


Posted by dunkyb on Tuesday, 26th June 2012 at 06:17 GMT
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Another long day in the car (see the map over there) but I'm now in a suite overlooking the Atlantic on the Florida Coastline. That's the good news. The bad news is this. It's a tropical storm that's due to pass through in the next couple of days. I think that's going to put sun-bathing out of the window.

Went to another pub quiz tonight. Again, did pretty badly (got completely murdered on the music rounds, I'm exactly the wrong age!), but hey, it was fun and I got to drink some beer. Sure, I could have drunk beer anywhere, but I'm aiming to win these quizzes on a team adjusted score. I got 35/100, which when you adjust for a four person team means I had a cool 140/100. That's about twice what the winning team had (and they had five people). So overall, I'm pretty sure I won. Obviously I turned down the free beer, it should go to a more deserving home.

So, now I've got a few days in Florida (with piss-awful weather). Think I'll do some reading and go to Cape Canaveral. Failing that, there's always Disney!

Day Forty Seven

Posted by dunkyb on Monday, 25th June 2012 at 02:30 GMT
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Well, the Football wasn't exactly a success. Still, I managed to find a bar full of Eng-er-land supporters. Though, I think by the time you're 'singing' 'Ten German Bombers' you're probably not gaining the moral high ground. Rookie mistake.

Still, the beer was acceptable, particularly when I switched to the micro-brewery next door.

OK, so Savannah may not be massively exciting (though I was surprised by the number of 'Brits' signing anti-Italian songs), but hey, it's only a stop off.

Tomorrow I'll head down to Florida (another long drive ahead - see yesterday's post for details). At least I don't need to worry about the football on Thursday!

Day Forty Six

Posted by dunkyb on Sunday, 24th June 2012 at 03:45 GMT
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Well, like I said, it was a long drive today. Nearly 400 miles which is a record for this trip. On the downside, it did take quite a while. As a result my day went like this:

Get up early.
Get in car.
Take short detour to buy replacement kindle.
Marvel at the advantages of buying in Dollars.
Swear at driver who decides to change lanes without checking their blind-spot, nearly into the side of my car.
Head to a service station for a pee, refuel and lunch.
Succeed in one of these.
Fill car with petrol (at $3.10 a gallon!).
Fill self with burger.
Arrive at hotel, check in, head to room.
Find hotel is 3 miles from centre of town.
Buy pizza.
Eat pizza.

Well, the last one hasn't happened yet, but I'm hopeful!

Tomorrow I'm heading to Savannah, which is very close by. As a result, I'm a) having a lie in and b) planning on watching the football in a bar somewhere in Savannah. Should be a nice day!

Dickhead Driver of the Day: Mk V

Posted by dunkyb on Saturday, 23rd June 2012 at 04:39 GMT
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Today's award goes out to every single American driver, almost without exception.

The standard of driving in the states is lamentable. People, who in the real world, wouldn't be trusted with a padded spoon are given full control of a V8 pickup truck the size of a double decker bus (not the mention the various guns they're probably carrying). It appears that US drivers spend ~30 hours learning about driving in a classroom before they're allowed into the real world, but I've got no idea what the hell these lessons cover, probably just 'How to drink a super-slurpee whilst flipping someone off'.

My journey today from Washington to 'Middle of nowhere' should have taken three hours. It took five. Not because I got lost, but because the traffic was regularly stopped on the Interstate. According to the radio this was due to 'Congestion'. Bollocks it bloody was. It was due to the fact that all American drivers are complete Dickheads.

Here are a few illustrations of the American Driver.

Their major fear is empty road. It's either a fear of tarmac that's unencumbered by an oversized American sedan, or a desperate desire to shove their head up the person in front's arse. There can be no other explanation for why they drive so close together. Whether they're driving at 10mph or 80mph, they'll leave a gap that's so small you'd need an electron microscope to find it. As a result, when one of them tries to bleed a little bit of speed off by tapping the brakes, the guy behind nearly ends up in the boot of the preceding car and slams his brakes on in reaction. This cascades nicely down the road until we're all stationary and I'm planning some hate crimes.

Ah yes, the brakes. Americans seem blissfully unaware that to use the brakes on a nice free-flowing road like an Interstate is basically equivalent to flashing a sign on your car saying 'My brain is so small I have trouble putting trousers on'. They'll swerve into your lane (into that nice gap you're using to protect yourself from the car in front slamming on his brakes) and then slam their brakes on (There was a reason that gap was there, Arsehole!). Why? Fuck knows. Maybe it's a mating ritual for retards.

This neatly brings me to lane discipline. They haven't got a fucking clue what those white lines on the road are for. Sure, they're basically able to go in a straight line for up to 20 yards at a time, but then something twitches in the small mass of material that passes for their brain and they bounce left or right into another lane. Why, that lane might be moving slightly faster. I'm not even going to get into their inability to overtake on the left, preferring instead to undertake everyone wherever possible - even when you're in the act of moving over (I've had one guy skip across three lanes, rather than wait for me to move a lane to the right). However, when the traffic is slow, this gets even worse. Some of the people on the Interstate were easily doubling the distance they were travelling by skipping lanes so frequently. As soon as they felt that their lane wasn't the fastest, they'd jump into the next one. No need to wait for a gap, they'd just switch on the magic flashing lights that make people get out of your way and then jab the wheel thingy over to one side. This would inevitably set off another brake cascade (and some more eloquent swearing from myself).

The great thing about American cars is that they always have cruise control. This is great. You get to the speed you want to be going (speed limit plus a bit), flick a switch and bam! You're moving at a steady speed and can put your feet up on the dashboard and relax. These systems are clever, they aim to maintain a steady speed, so increase the revs slightly when going uphill and the opposite when going down a slope. Americans, despite being legendary lovers of labour saving devices, are often unable to use cruise control. They instead prefer to just jam their foot on the accelerator at a fixed angle, holding the revs constant. This leads to the obvious conclusion. You slowly over-take them on the flat or move past them quite quickly when going uphill, only to find that as soon as the other side of the hill appears they're parked on your back seat and flashing their lights wondering why you've slowed down. I've not slowed down, you illiterate badger fiddler, you've sped up.

So, solutions to this problem:
- Well, obviously, all Americans should be made to drive proper manual cars. Their tiny brains will mostly be unable to get them out of the drive, so real people will be free to move around the country in peace.
- No BMWs should be exported to America. These people are mad enough as it is, putting them in a Beamer just multiplies the problem. It's an unholy union of dickheadedness.
- All vehicles' power should be directly proportional to the IQ of the driver (or the lowest IQ of the people on board). An average driver should be allowed an average amount of power, say: 50 bhp. At 110, you're allowed double that, at 120 double again (so 200 bhp) and so on (in both directions. If you still want a thirty tonne pick-up truck fine. But you'll probably be pushing it with a 12.5 bhp engine.

It's probably just a sign of the whole 'Individuality' of the country. No-one is able to drive in a fashion which doesn't do them any direct favours, but makes the traffic around them flow easier because their tiny brains are too weak and feeble to understand how it may benefit them in the long run.

And remember, these are the people voting for the leader of the 'Free' World in November. God help us all.

Heading South

Posted by dunkyb on Saturday, 23rd June 2012 at 04:14 GMT
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Final womble around Washington today. It was still bloody hot, so we headed back to the hotel to shower and cool down. Dropped my Dad off at the airport and decided to belt a few hours down South to make the next few days' drive down to Florida easier.

You can tell that Washington is a Government city. The roads were essentially blocked at 1500 with traffic (no crashes or collapsed bridges or any other excuses). As a result, it took me five hours to head down to South Virginia - not really that far. On the bright side, I'm nearly out of Virginia, which is where I picked up my speeding ticket earlier in the jaunt.

Long day of driving tomorrow (should be my record distance covered). Should add nicely to my total of over 5900 miles so far!