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For years I’ve been flying over the continental US, looking down on crop circles and major rivers from 30,000 feet, wondering what was going on down there.   A few times I drove across the country by car, moving, but always on interstates, always in a hurry.

Apalachicola, Florida    January 15, 2020

When my wife and I decided to take our beater van east for Christmas, we agreed that we wanted to travel slower, using smaller highways, and to travel only in daylight, (a real constraint on travel time in December).  We were aided by our cell phone navigators, set to “avoid highways”, which often put us on the old highways and back roads not much traveled these days.  In the end, we managed to cover 8200 miles, crossing parts of 25 states in a total of 29 days on the road.

 

Iowa, December 14, 2019

Fort Madison, Iowa December 14, 2019

My plan had been to write a blog post every few days while on the road—a plan that worked fairly well during the trip east, when we were twice stopped by snow and had a few extra hours off the road to rest.  I used the time to download picture from the camera chips, and gather my thoughts enough to write a brief blog post.  But the trip south and west did not involve any snow days—we did stop in to see a few family and friends along the way—but not enough time to gather my thoughts.

 

Nebraska, December 12, 2019

 

We’ve been home for about 5 days now, and I’ve just managed to go through the 27,000 photos I took—about 21,275 of them through the windows of the van.  I exported them to a chip, and am watching them in random order on a small digital picture frame.

Of course, life does not occur in random order, and looking at 21,375 photographs twenty years ago would have required a mountain of paper.  But photographs have always been about seizing moments out of the stream of time, then viewing them later in a different context.

 

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, December 18, 2019

 

Of course, I could have set up a dashboard camera to record every foot of highway we traveled down—as at least some people are doing, to provide evidence in case of accidents.  But using a hand held still camera allows some choice of viewing angle (straight ahead through the windshield vs looking out a side window, plus the ability to aim to the side of the road) and the selection of the instant of exposure.

 

Maryland, January 9, 2020

Of course, there is the issue of safety.  Shooting pictures through the windshield from the passenger seat is not a problem, but since my wife and I split the driving evenly, and I was not willing to forgo photographs of half the trip, I needed to devise a way to make photographs that didn’t interfere with my ability to keep the van on the road.  My method was to keep the camera on my knee, and to raise and trip the shutter with the camera off to the side, without attempting to view the image in the camera.  Needless to say, the camera frequently was not level, but it was usually close enough.  I have auto focus lenses, but these frequently spend time “hunting” for the focus point, and often settle on the dirt on the windshield, not on the more distant subject I want to focus on—so I used an old manual lens.  The problem there was that on the repeated trips to and from my lap, I would sometimes inadvertently move the focus on the lens—a problem solved with duct tape.  And I discovered that of the two camera bodies I carried on the trip, one could adjust the exposure much more quickly than the other—so that became my default camera.  And I put the camera down during times that driving required my full focus—in snowstorms and heavy traffic.  In addition, my wife was very adept at alerting me to hazards she thought I wasn’t reacting to fast enough—a service I sometimes return.  But I do think about the worst vehicle accident I was ever involved in—incited by a temperamental tape deck that diverted the attention of the driver (not me) who allowed his front wheel to fall off the edge of the road, followed by rolling the car down an embankment…

I did do some writing on the road, and will share some of those thoughts in the near future.

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