In 1991, my husband Michael bicycled across the United States, from Los Angeles to Boston on a ride for charity. He pedaled every inch of the way on a trip that lasted 43 days. It was one of the first things I learned about him when we began dating, and I was fascinated with his stories and how he made a video of his adventure using a Sony Handycam Hi8. He enjoyed my own story of spending 10 weeks traveling through Australia and New Zealand and shooting 75 rolls of film in the days before digital cameras. (Obviously we both have the travel and visual storytelling bugs.) After we started our family, he began talking about making the trip again when our children were older. This year is the 25th anniversary of his ride, and we decided to make our own family epic adventure on a cross-country drive from California to Virginia. Five people in a car for 23 days driving over 3,700 miles.
Call us crazy.
We began planning a year ago. First we had to narrow down possible dates, and we talked about what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay along the way. For us the adventure was the most important, not merely counting miles as we crossed the United States inside a car at 65 miles an hour. We wanted them to experience the beauty of the United States. We wanted to visit parts of the country that the boys and I had never seen, and give them an understanding of how large and diverse our country is. They have learned about U.S. history and geography at school, but seeing it and living it and putting it in context with people and culture makes it real.
And like Michael did 25 years ago, we wanted to record the adventure.
Our plan was for everyone to have a camera of some sort, including the boys. They had starter cameras such as the Kodak Zi6 and Zi8 which have all bitten the dust over the years, so we knew that there was going to be a camera investment prior to the trip. We discussed the types of photography that we would do, which was mostly travel/landscape/panorama, probably some macro, and hopefully a lot of video as well. We considered the boys’ ages, their level of comfort with technology, camera ease of use, portability, storage, and we read many reviews. Finally we decided to purchase an iPod Touch 6th generation for each of them, and we bought them about four months prior to the trip so that the boys could start practicing on their new technology.
To ensure that the boys understood the iPods were strictly for photo and video, I only installed camera and video apps—no games—and set restrictions on downloads. I also optimized them to maximize battery life, because they do tend to drain quickly, but we also brought six-foot long charger cables to use in the car if necessary. We put the iPods in Ulak protective cases, and then rigged each iPod to clip onto a lanyard so that the boys could carry it around their necks. The boys chose their favorite case color for easy identification, and they each had mini flexible tripods and selfie sticks. The iPods were dropped a few times during the trip, but the Ulak cases protected them well.
For my tech gear, I brought a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-105mm f/4L walk about lens and a 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, as well as a travel tripod with ball head and a monopod (which doubles as a walking stick). I considered the other lenses in my toolkit such as the 16-35mm f/2.8L lens and 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, but I had to be realistic about how much I would use them. Plus the 70-200mm gets really heavy to carry around all day, and I’ve been struggling with tendinitis in my arm for over a year, so I decided to forgo the extra zoom capability and avoid aggravating the problem. In addition to the DSLR, I also took many photos with my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, which was mainly for Instagram, but I even used my own iPod Touch for some photos.
Michael went hard core on new camera and video gear. During the year leading up to the trip, he acquired a GoPro Silver, a GeekPro (less expensive and still pretty good), and a small duffel bag full of gadgets to go with them. Then for Father’s Day we gave him an LG 360 Cam (LGR105) so that he could create 360 images and videos. He rigged a custom tripod attachment so that he could set it up wherever he wanted. The LG can connect with smartphones so that you can use the phone screen as a monitor. It’s new technology, and there are some bugs in post processing (the app is a little clunky), but he still created some pretty cool images and videos.
(For links to our gear, check out the list at the bottom of the post.)
As the family CTO, I can say that keeping track of everything during the trip was hard. I had a checklist of steps that I went through each morning and evening, as well as every time we got out of and into the car, to ensure that we had all of the gear. Each evening during the 23-day trip, I collected the boys’ iPods and downloaded the day’s photos and videos, saving each in a separate folder on my laptop. Then I downloaded all of the stuff from my Canon and Samsung, and Michael downloaded all of his stuff to his laptop. We also brought along a 2TB external drive and backed up everything to it each day. We made sure to plug in all of the devices and charge them overnight so that they would be ready for the next day, and we packed it all up the next morning. Then once we got back home, I transferred everything to my media desktop and began importing into Lightroom, and downloaded the boys’ photos and videos to their laptops so that they could use them in projects.
Because we had so much gear to charge every night, I brought along two travel Tripp Lite surge protectors and a Sabrent 10-port rapid USB charging brick. Between the three devices, we were easily able to handle the nightly recharging.
So was it worth it carrying all of that gear around and doing all of that work? Absolutely.
Our sons have an alphabet list of invisible disabilities, and it was heartwarming and gratifying to watch them use their technology to create visual stories. We set a goal to tell the story of our adventure through each person’s eyes, and I have loved seeing what they made and what was important to them, what they wanted to remember. Our two younger sons made several hundred photos and videos each, and our teen son made over 1,300 photos and videos. Sometimes they followed me around and photographed the same things that I did—or photographed me working with my camera—but they also began to look for things that captured their interest. They began to see the world through the camera lens and to look for shots, and so gained a new perspective on each place we visited. They have photos from California to Virginia, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, national parks and fun stops on Route 66, the food we ate, and the places we experienced. They began to learn how to tell the story with their images, and that’s a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.
Sharing the Photos
As an educator, the chance to experience places that I had never been was fantastic, and I created a huge library of photos that I can use for future class projects. Over the next month, I plan to sort through the photos and upload libraries to Flickr to share with other educators as Creative Commons photographs for non-commercial educational use. Stay tuned for announcements of the new libraries in Flickr.
This is the beginning of our adventure story. Next post will be about their first plane flight and our time in California.