5.23.2011

An Interview of Sorts

Got an email from a chica who is planning to ride from Santa Cruz to Georgia on her Vespa 250. Here are the Q's she sent me, and my answers ~

Background Questions:

How long did you have your Vespa before you went on your journey?
I had it for a year. I rode exclusively in San Francisco proper - it would have been smart to do some day trips before the real thing; riding in the city makes for an awesome foundation but it takes different skills to ride long distances and on highways and byways.

How long did you plan for the trip itself?
Two months? It all happened pretty fast but in a way that is a good thing. It's good to have a long time to plan something like this but I think if people give themselves TOO long to plan something (anything), it's easy to get caught up in the planning and re-planning and alternate-plan-planning and then it is never done, never lived.

Did you go on any long-ish trips to practice before you left?
Nope. But I would recommend it, as per above!

Did you take a Motorcycle Safety Course, or did you just read a safety book?
I had a private day lesson when I first got my Vespa from a guy who did biker safety courses for a living - he was fantastic. I never felt the need for anything additional while I was in the city. When I decided to go cross country, I read Proficient Motorcycling which I cannot recommend enough. I've written about it here.

I have a white helmet, which I also highly recommend. Yeah, they're generally dorkier than black ones, but SO much easier for other drivers to notice. When I got my Vespa, which is the iridescent pearl color, I bought a basic white helmet (3/4) and took it to the Vespa shop and they painted it to match my Vespa. So it wasn't quite as dorky as plain white. A sticker or awesome painted trim or something could also sex up a plain white helmet. If you don't already have a white helmet, keep your eye out when you're out and about - they are SO much easier to notice. And that goes a long way toward keeping you from getting hit.

Did you ever ride Hwy-1? What did you think?
Never did! But that seems like the ideal type of road, to me - I took similar through the sierras and on the east coast. I was nervous about windey two-laners before setting out (because of driver error on the part of those who might share the road), but my worries were unfounded (though I stayed aware at all times, as anyone on two wheels should). The scenic highways generally have less traffic, and what traffic there is generally is there for the scenery and not in so much of a rush. And those roads are just incredible on two wheels, with the landscape right there, and the scents in the air, and the changes in temperature as you ride... it's heaven.

Gear Questions:
Did you have any 'armor' under your jacket or pants, or was it just leather?
I wore leather pants made by Alpine Stars (motorcycle gear) which had knee padding, and a really old leather biker jacket I had (the old kind). So no real armor, though the leather was so thick I wasn't worried. Seems armor is more common in the nylon/fiber gear? I loved my leathers. Had no problem wearing them everyday for two months. Even stretching out on pavement at a gas station or on the side of the road was comfortable in those babies!

Any particular reason you chose that 'outfit'?
It was relatively cheap - I had Harley boots that were free from a friend who worked at Harley and the jacket I had from highschool and so I just needed to buy the pants. And leather made more sense to me, for safety, durability, etc than any other biker pants. They were really warm when the air was cold, they were water resistant in light-to-moderate rain. They were super sexy which actually made me feel safer: the full black leather + sparkly little Vespa was incongruent. It wasn't a look that was immediately "figured out;" I looked more like a cartoon than an easy target. Although I didn't fully realize any of this till about Pennsylvania. :)

Did you bring any things that you found you didn't really need?
No... but I packed really light ~ here is a post of what I brought.

Did you have a backpack on your back?
NO. I think that would have been horrible.

Health/Food Questions:
Did you just grocery shop a lot, or stop at restaurants - were you able to bring food along with you or did you buy it as you went?
I bought as I went, but I kept a little stash on the Vespa - granola bars, apples, stuff like that. Stopped at grocery stores most of the time - cheaper and healthier - but also had my share of diner food. I spent a lot of nights with people - friends of friends or people I met along the way - which often meant really good food, too!

How did you have water handy?
I think I had three water bottles that I'd fill from taps, campgrounds, people's houses. I made sure to drink A LOT. Even if I wasn't thirsty. Every time I pulled over, at stop signs, etc, I'd have some water.

Did you ever get really dehydrated and need to use the salt you brought along? Or just get sick in general?
No, never did get sick or ill or anything.

Moving Questions:
Did you ship your stuff out to New York? Any good company to look at for cheaply shipping some boxes? I'm trying to work out how to move my stuff. I don't have really any large items, just things that can go in boxes (and my bicycle).
No. I ended up only being in NYC for a month, during which time I stayed with an ex-boyfriend, and then moved to Wyoming. So I flew back to CA, bought a truck, loaded what possessions I could fit, and drove to WY. I had my Vespa trucked out but I cannot remember the company. Before I left on the trip, I put my stuff in storage with a company that does shipping too - cannot remember the name either! But there are companies that give you like a month free storage and then they'll ship your stuff for a fee. That sort of thing is getting really common, so do your research and call companies to find the best price.

Did you ship changes of clothes, etc, to the places you stayed at for longer amounts of time - like your sister's house, or friend's?
No. I just wore their clothes.

The Vespa Questions:
What kind of Vespa did you have, and how many miles on it before you left?
Mine is a Vespa ET4, 150cc. I have no idea how many miles I had on it when I left. I'm sure I have a photo somewhere..... You'll have more power and more packing space with the 250; I think the interstate will be possible for you on the 250, if you choose to take it, whereas I avoided it at all costs.

Did you have the original tires, or did you 'upgrade' before you left? What kind of Vespa preparation (maintenance, etc) did you do or have done before you left?
I put new tires on right before I left - they were a bit of an upgrade but nothing super fancy - and had the tires replaced and a tune up at Scooterworks in Chicago.

Did you have any ideas of how to fix different things that might go wrong (basic understanding of the motor, etc)?
Not really! I checked my tire pressure daily - blowing a tire was my biggest concern.

Did you have any concerns about putting that many miles on your Vespa in a few short months?
No. I was curious but had faith in my machine. Others were skeptical. But I had zero trouble with the Vespa.

Did you get a list of Vespa dealers in the states you traveled through?

Yes. This is easy to find online and I carried a list of their addresses and phone numbers. Never did need it, though.

The Trip Questions:
Have you ever crashed/fallen off/somehow injured yourself or the Vespa?
No.

Did you drive in any sort of inclement weather? What did you do when it rained?
Yes. I rode in the rain many times, and when I was in the vicinity of Rochester, NY, they had the biggest rainstorm in documented history. Flooded the streets, I rode on the sidewalks when I could (you can't see potholes under several inches of water, which is no biggie for a car but bad on two wheels).

I stopped at laundromats twice that day to put my socks and shirts in the dryer, layered trash bags under my leathers (I didn't bring proper MC rain gear; it's bulky and I didn't think I'd need it that much, and in smaller rainstorms, the leather was just fine, this happened to be torrential - rain came in through my shoelace holes, under my helmet, everywhere).

I had SO much fun. But I made myself find a place to stay at around 2pm because I was soaked through for the nth time and thought it maybe wasn't the smartest thing to be wet and cold and riding with no windshield. It was so much fun though. I saw one other biker that day.

Riding in the wind was actually worse than riding in the rain. There was major wind in South Dakota and a few other stretches. It's hard to ride when it's coming crossways - takes muscle to stay in a straight line when your ride is light, - and when it's coming straight at you, it feels like you're being punched in the chest over and over. But I think the 250 maybe has a windshield? That would solve the chest punching issue. One other thing about rain - you don't have windshield wipers on a Vespa. I was constantly wiping my face shield with my glove while riding, in order to see.

How many hours a day did you ride, and did you ride only during certain hours of the day?
It varied, based on where I was. In Nevada in August, I'd be on the road by 5am and end by early afternoon (when it's hottest). As I made my way east, it turned from summer to early autumn, and I'd start later in the day - 8 or 9am - because it was often very cold in the mornings and never as hot midday.

How often did you stop to take breaks during the day's ride?
Often. I'd stop to eat, to gas up, to do jumping jacks if I was cold, to take photos. Stopping often kept me alert. And a lot of fun things happened when I stopped!

Did you ever have any problems with your Vespa - oil, tires, etc?
Nope.

If you had to make a change in your route, did you have each state's map, or an atlas? How did you make sudden changes to your route? (I'm thinking of when you couldn't get past the buffalo and had to go another direction...)
In that instance, I had the little free park map of the Black Hills on me, and could easily reference where I was and where I could go. Other times, I'd stop at a gas station and look at a local map or ask people.

Were you ever in a place where you worried that there wouldn't be a gas station in time, how did you make sure you never ran out of gas?
The only time I was mildly concerned was along Highway 50 in Nevada, because towns are so few and far between. But I could get 100 miles on one tank, so I was fine. Other than Nevada, I filled up when the tank was half-full, just to stay on the safe side.

How did you know what the traffic would be like on the roads you chose (for example, how did you know a secondary highway wasn't traveled really heavily as well?)
I didn't. Usually it was fine and often divine, but sometimes the traffic sucked. I can think of three stretches I really didn't enjoy: crossing the Diablos from the South Bay to Tracy, CA; Hwy 212/310 from Laurel, MT to the Wyoming state line (a road I still hate, even in a truck); and along lake Erie.

Did you have music, and if so, how did you listen to it?
No! I really missed music. I sang a lot. Helmets have really awesome acoustics.

As I've begun to plan my route, I've started by looking at my Atlas, because I'm not a huge fan of staring at the computer screen. But I'm realizing that it's hard this way to know how long or short a route will be - is this why you used Google Earth?
Yes. Atlases just don't work if you want the smaller roads. I hated mapping my trip - it was tedious and annoying, but I could find no other way, other than google maps. Maybe a GPS would do it? I did my trip before GPS was popular and affordable. Maybe?

I may have asked this in another question, but I'm interested in knowing how many miles you went (an average) during the day, and how many hours that took. Just to get a sense of how much longer this will take than in a car.
I rode anywhere from 150 miles to 350 miles a day. 250 miles in a day was perfect. But, this was all off the interstate. Sometimes stretches of ten or twenty miles of dirt or gravel roads where I had to go like 15 miles an hour. On secondary highways, I enjoyed going 55 miles an hour. I'd say I averaged 35 or 40 miles an hour on any given day, so that would make a 250 mile day = seven hours of riding (not counting breaks for gas, food, chat, photos, exploring, naps, whatever). You'll have more options for speed on a 250, though.

What You Learned Questions:
Have you since your trip thought of a better way to map your trip out, or do you think the way you did it was still how you'd do it again?
As noted above, I'd explore the potential of a GPS - either to pre-plan or to bring with. If that failed, I'd have to stick with the original way I mapped it out.

There's probably a lot you learned about planning and executing a trip like this and I'm sure I don't even know the right questions, so anything you can share would be so appreciated.
Don't worry too much! I didn't map the full trip before I left, just the segment from SF to Bozeman. I mapped out another length in Bozeman, then stopped at libraries along the way to map out further segments. So, it doesn't have to be done all at once. Public libraries are wonderful. You can use the computers for free, and it's good free shelter if you need it. Everyone I met wanted to help me. I got lost every day. I never felt scared.

And Finally, the Feelings Questions:
Even starting to talk about this has brought a lot of feelings out from different people, and overwhelmingly people my age say 'oh that's so brave, go for it', and people older than me (or people really close to me like family) express lots of concern, and say it's a really bad idea, very dangerous, etc. Did you experience any fear that maybe it really was a bad idea, or that you were taking too many risks with your life? This is kind of a hard question to frame, because really, I'm just interested in your thought process during the planning stage when everyone was weighing in with their opinion on your decision.

I know exactly what you mean. Only one person in my life at the time was supportive before I left. However, EVERYONE changed their tune when I was halfway across the country and proving my own success, which made me want to barf on them. "Oh, my friend/daughter/whatever is doing this *amazing* thing...." when just weeks before they had been SO demeaning. So demeaning. It wasn't just concern, it was like, YOU'RE going to fuck this up. YOU will make a mistake and you will crash and get hit by a semi and get gang raped on the side of the road and it will be YOUR fault. I think some people feel the need to destroy other people who represent their own dreams that they let go.

As for the true, valid, compassionate concern ~ my answer to this (to others and to myself) is that "the bad things" could happen anywhere. I could wreck and lose a leg while riding in SF or even in a tiny, safe suburban neighborhood. Same with the gang rape. Same with any great fear anyone might have. Give yourself every reason to succeed with proper knowledge and confidence (not to be confused with cockiness), and then, why not go for it? Safety is an illusion. Another illusion is that you are ever not safe. I say this because the things in my life that have seemed like the worst things at the time have proven to be the things I am most grateful for. It took the separate incidents of nearly dying and having my home burn down for me to grasp this, but it's now a truth for me.

This is not to say I was not nervous. I didn't shit for four days before I left (sorry for the TMI but is there any more blatant proof of nervousness?!) But, a week or two before I was set to leave, I was evaluating my feelings on the trip, and that VOICE - the voice in your head that says "don't go down that street" said, "Don't DON'T go." It was a double negative. It said GO. And I trusted that.

3.26.2011

snippets and a few more A's

Is there anything you didn't bring that you wish you had?
Well, I often wished for jeans; I missed wearing them along the ride, but jeans are too bulky to have rationalized packing a pair, especially as I spent most of my time in leather pants. But that was more of a whim-wish rather than something I really needed or would have benefited from.

Before leaving, I debated at length over whether or not to bring a tent, GPS, and mace/weapon. Finally, I realized the debate in my head was really about "shoulds" versus "self." I "should" have brought a tent, a GPS, and mace. But I didn't want to, and I went with my feeling and did not bring any of those things. I never needed them, never wished for them. They would have just taken up space.

Do you have a photo journal of your trek?
Yes, of course! But this was back when I was shooting 100% film. I did not own a digital camera. Strapped to the seat behind me was an insulated cooler bag with my camera and rolls and rolls of film! Some of it was color, some black and white, and I dutifully kept it all cool with refreezeable ice packs.

When I got to NYC, I developed all my film and rented darkroom space to make contact sheets. I had time to scan some of my negs, and those images are scattered throughout this blog. I might have a few more on my hard drive. But the bulk of the images are sitting in a old steamer chest under my desk, waiting for time in a darkroom...

Is there anything that you did while on the trip that you wish you'd done differently? And as a follow up, anything you didn't do that you wish you did?
Nothing comes to mind...

How did you average less than 5 bucks a night on lodging???
I stayed in a handful of motels. I camped. Mostly, though, I spent nights with strangers. Some of these people were friends of friends who generously opened their homes to me ~ in Chicago, I stayed with an awesome med student named Maureen who was the girlfriend of my sister's best friend's boyfriend's roommate.

Other times, I stayed with really wonderful people I met on the road. In Fairmount, Indiana, the hometown of James Dean, I was planning to camp but stopped for a milkshake first (priorities! and this happened to be the best milkshake along my route), and met two brothers at the milkshake shop; they were on motorcycles and we started talking, and I went home with them! (not in THAT way :)

Weren't you scared? Any tense moments?
I was scared for a few days directly before leaving. But I feel that way before I do anything ~ it wasn't like an informative fear, it was nervousness about doing something new. It's a very familiar feeling.

Crossing the Diablo Range on the way to Sacramento was extremely scary - legitimate, real, animal fear. But that lasted maybe twenty minutes and I got through it and it informed the way I traveled from then on, in a good way. That's it. I honestly never felt scared from the second day onward.

What was your most interesting animal encounter while on your Vespa journey?
A full-grown cheetah licked all the sweat off my arm in Ohio, and he was purring.

Did you get lonely?
Not really. I felt really alone on the shores of Lake Erie where I had a total meltdown in a gas station parking lot, but that was exhaustion more than anything else. (I got viciously jealous of the people I saw driving by in their cars and their minivans with their CUPHOLDERS. As I sulked around the asphalt, I swore that no one realized the luxury of a cupholder; damn them for taking their cupholders for granted!)

Because I spent so many nights with people, I really enjoyed having the days to myself. Sometimes, I got a motel room just to be alone, because I had SO much interaction with people, even when camping.

Do you still have your Vespa?
Yes! But I can't find the key right at the moment....

Had you read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' before you took this trip? Are you familiar with Peter S. Beagle's book "I See By My Outfit"?
I have both books, they were given to me by different people, but have not read either one...

What comforts of home did you miss the most while on the road? Which aspect of life on the road did you miss the most once you settled in one spot?
As mentioned above, I really missed my jeans! When I stopped, it was really hard to for me to be inside. It was weird and uncomfortable to sleep in a bed every night. It was hard to travel in cars - I had to have all the windows down. It was hard to spend more than an hour indoors without loosing my mind. I spent a lot of time sitting on the curb in Brooklyn, because I had to be outside.

Would you do it again if the opportunity arose?
Yah! But maybe on a horse like Kit.e suggested. I think that would be so fun in a group....

Did you learn anything from the trip?
Tons and tons. This question deserves a book (winkwink!)

OK, I'll finish up the rest next time!

3.16.2011

Finding The Roads Less Traveled

Aargh. At some point between January and the present, my EMT class went from being 8 hours a week (doable) up to 20 hours a week (feeling impossible). This schedule is making me crazy. So sorry to be like, "I'm back on Vespa Vagabond," and then crickets. I really want to be writing here and it feels like a mirage right now, just right out of reach.... OK. On to question one.

What was the actual route you took (for those of us who hope to take a similar trip one day)?
Preparing my route was actually one of the most challenging, or, rather, most tedious aspects of the trip. I had a basic trajectory across the country, loosely constructed by connecting the dots between a handful of spots I definitely wanted to hit: San Fran (starting point), Montana (to visit my sister), the Badlands of South Dakota (pilgrimage), Maine (I just wanted to see Maine), Boston (to visit a childhood best friend), NYC (the destination).

I did not want to travel on interstates. My Vespa went 70mph if pushed, but it was not a pleasant ride at that speed; 50 - 60 mph was much more comfortable, and slowing to 25 or 30mph was quite lovely too, depending on the road. Plus, the speed limit of the interstate is, what, 70 or 75? And the common speed is 85mph or more. There was no way I could keep up with the flow of traffic on the interstate, nor did I want to. I did ride the interstate for seven miles - it was totally unavoidable - and I rode on the shoulder and hated every second of it.

While the interstate is a fast and easy way to get from Point A to Point B, I was so grateful for the limitations of the Vespa, for they required me to take smaller, more meandering roads, and this is where the magic happened, where the beauty was found. (This goes for traveling by car, too!) The trip would have been wholly different if I had not been so completely dedicated to sticking to the minor roads.

So, interstates were out, and I found, in areas where the interstate was not the main thoroughfare, that secondary highways were unpleasant routes as well because they were the main thoroughfare, and therefore less than ideal on a Vespa. I wanted to take the most low-key roads possible ~ frontage roads, back roads, I even chose dirt roads if they were the only alternative to the interstate. This is where the tedium came into play: With every online map program, trip planner, or even AAA, if you plug in your starting point and your destination, it gives you the fastest, most direct route - the interstate. If there's no interstate, it gives you the undesirable secondary highway.

And so I found my starting place on google map. Zoomed in so that I could see ALL the streets and roads. And then I picked my way along with the arrow keys. Sometimes, I'd have what seemed like a great route and the road I was "on" would turn into a dead end. Then, I'd have to backtrack on the google map until I found a new series of roads that, together, would take me from one town to the next.

Sometimes, this was easy and straightforward. I crossed the state of Nevada on Highway 50 ~ it doesn't get any easier or more straightforward than that! Wyoming and South Dakota were also easy to map, simply because there aren't that many roads in either state and the roads are not heavily traveled. Iowa was simple to map as well ~ it seems the road system is set up on a perfect grid through the corn and bean fields.

However, my method got more complicated around mid-size cities and in moderately populated areas. Utah and Montana were incredibly difficult (and irritating) to map, as was upstate New York. I think this is because the areas are populated enough to require interstate routes and major highways, but not populated enough for secondary routes and byways. Much of New England was very easy to route - and gorgeous to ride - because the population density meant lots of little connecting roads and byways.

Obviously, these routes of mine were more complicated and detailed than the average "take 1-90 for 450 miles, then take exit 45." As I searched for routes via the zoomed-in google map, I wrote down every turn (because with this technique, there are often many turns) on a sheet of paper. If my route hit a dead end, I'd cross out a series of turns and write down the new, successful version. Since these directions were far too complicated to memorize, I transfered the directions, line by line, to index cards and affixed a plastic sleeve to my Vespa, between the handlebars, that housed about five cards at a time.

While riding, I could glance down and see what my next turn would be. When I got to the bottom of an index card, I could slide it out of the sleeve with one hand (while riding, if need be) and tuck it into the pocket of my leather jacket. I threw away scores of these cards when I stopped for gas ~ I probably used about 1000 cards through the course of the trip.

Due to the challenges of mapping my way in this manner, certain routes were based solely on finding appropriate roads that would take me in the general direction I wanted to go. That's how I passed through Wyoming. Wyoming was not a "destination point" for me; I rode through Wyoming because the least complicated way to get from San Francisco to Bozeman was across Nevada, which landed me in Utah, and from Utah it was better for the Vespa to go through Wyoming than through Idaho. Thank goodness. That accidental route is the reason I turned around, when I reached New York, and came back here to live.

3.10.2011

Q&A Sesh

EMT class + calving season = I'm so fried.
So, let's do a Q&A sesh!
It will help get the blood flowing to this part of my brain
(the Vespa part)
plus, I'm curious about what you're curious about.

Leave questions in the comment section of this post
and I shall answer them....


2.27.2011

Tally Ho!

I always promised I would come back to this. That I would finish Vespa Vagabond. Well, I'm here. I am back!

Late last night, when I dug out my notes and journals from the ride, two loose sheets of paper fell out of one of my journals. Columns of numbers scribbled in smudged pencil. A tally of my expenses from the ride.

If you read Honey Rock Dawn - this post in particular - you've glimpsed my obscene compulsion to organize data. When the ride was over (I don't remember doing this, but the handwriting is most certainly mine, as is the motive) I tallied up my receipts. In categories. With my gas receipts, I made note of the date, the city and state, the cost per gallon at that particular station, the amount of gallons (or fractions thereof) purchased, and the dollar total.

Some highlights ~
First gas receipt: July 28, 2005; San Francisco, CA
Final gas receipt: September 28, 2005; Rockville, CT

Lowest price of gas: $2.369/gallon in Cokeville, WY; August 10, 2005
Highest price of gas: $3.379/gallon in upstate NY; September 18, 2005

Minimum fill-up: 0.220 gallons near Baker, NV; August 6, 2010
Maximum fill-up: 1.493 gallons in Emmetsburg, IA; September 6, 2010

Total spent (two months, 6,000 miles) ~
on gas: $152.95
on lodging: $288.13
on food + misc: $406.38

My remarkable little Vespa used just 46 gallons of gas to cross the continent. I'm so glad I make (and keep) these obsessive charts; I never would have remembered these details otherwise!

8.01.2009

Hello Out There..... (echo... echo....?)

It's been a year and a half since I've been on this blog; I'm amazed I remembered the password! I'm here to say that yes, I am coming back to Vespa Vagabond. ((I just don't know when.)) My ride across the continent was too spectacular and too special to simply leave this blog and this story half-told.

But I can't dive into it right now. Writing memoir, at least for me, demands that I go back completely to the time and relive it - every detail, every smell, every feeling - I have to see it and feel it in order to write it. I become fully immersed to the point of probably seeming crazy and the past is more real than the present. I don't know how other writers work, but this is the only way I know how.

While writing The Daily Coyote, I split my time between working with Charlie, and going into the past and writing. I did nothing else. I did not cook, I did not see my friends, I rarely showered. I lived and breathed my first year with Charlie in order to write the book, breaking only to spend time with Charlie.

And while I loved living that way for the time that I did - it was surreal and dreamlike and so utterly romantic - I am not ready to go back into that space quite yet. I want to live in the present. I want to do things, notice what's around me, create with my hands, have adventures with my animals and the people I love.

And with the way I work, I can't do all those things and write about the past (Vespa Vagabond) at the same time. I have no idea if I'm explaining myself very well, but the point is, I love Vespa Vagabond. I will return to it. Sorry I can't give you a timeframe.

Happy Trails!

1.10.2008

Ciao For Now

Some things have come up which necessitate putting this blog and the stories of my ride on hold. It's not over, nor forgotten, just on pause while I finish some other projects. I'll be back in the fall.

EDITED 12/8: Yes, I know it's winter, it's a blizzard out my window at the moment. Am touched that many of you are eager for more installments, however, I am trying to survive my life right now, and until my band of clones gets delivered, I would appreciate your patience. Posts will resume when they do.

Red Road

12.02.2007

Q & A: The Camera

A week before I set out on the ride, my beloved Canon A2 camera body broke after seven faithful years of hard use. One of the dials lost its traction and spun freely, rendering the camera useless.

I really didn't have money lying around for a new camera. I had just bought some spendy leather pants, and the details of the trip ahead were all unknowns, including the financials. So, instead of buying a camera equivalent to the A2, I decided to throw down $99 for a cheap, discontinued Rebel body - my logic being that, essentially, a camera body is just a little box that keeps the film dark. I shoot strictly manually and never use the programmed settings.

However, the body is only half the camera; there is the lense, as well, and though I like shooting with a more basic body, I never compromise on a lense. I only took one lense on the trip, my delectable 28-70 f2.8 Canon L Series lense, a lense that still makes me swoon every time I hold it. It is gorgeous; heavy; worthy of being the centerpiece on a dining room table - if I had a dining room table...if I had a dining room.

Anyway, along with being cheap, the Rebel body is extremely light, and with my lense attached, it was totally unbalanced - it felt like I was holding a lense with a growth on the back of it rather than a camera with a lense on it, and it made shooting with one hand impossible. None of this was the end of the world, but it was definitely a nuisance.

It should be noted that everything I have said about camera bodies here pertains to film cameras. I shot film on the trip, not digital. I love film, with a deep, romantic love that will never die. The names alone - Portra VC, TMAX 3200 - make my heart flutter, as does the smell of processing chemicals, the time alone under a dim red light bringing images to life.

But, these things are as foreign in Wyoming as palm trees, and so when I moved here, I began shooting digital. Charlie's early photos were shot with a borrowed Nikon D70, which was a great camera, but I yearned for my sexy Canon lense and recently bought a Canon EOS 30D. It reminds me of my A2 - fewer bells or whistles than the other models, but savvy enough for one to be confident in, and it has a nice heft, creating the perfect balance.