ASC log 7/1/12: The Sixth Day

Driving into New York.

 

Today was a great day. We started out in Ohio, traversing Ohio and Pennsylvania, and a good deal of New York. I like the New York landscape a lot, it is very green and pretty. No more desert, no more dust in the air, no more stifling humidity, no more waves and waves of corn or wheat or other monotony – the only consistency here were the vibrant trees, meandering rivers, and puffy white clouds, which were perfectly fine with me. I also listened to good music and had a nice conversation in the car.

This was the shortest leg of our whole trip, so we got to our destination early. Unfortunately, the campsites which we had originally wanted ended up being inaccessible to our trailer. We hung around for a couple hours in an abandoned parking lot, looking up other options on our phones and calling hotels. Eventually we had a couple leads to pursue, an RV camping resort in Rondout Valley and a Super 8 in Monticello, our original destination. Both would be more expensive than a campsite, but we didn’t have many options, so a teammate and I took off to scout out the RV park while everyone else went to eat and check out the Super 8.

The trip to Rondout Valley RV park was the funniest shit I’ve experienced in a long time. We drove through a very strange park of New York, which was riddled with abandoned barns / houses / businesses, mansions, hoodlums, orthodox rabbis, oddly-shaped prisons, beautiful scenery, and hicks. We often passed rabbis walking down the street in full rabbi garb, doing things like buying groceries, filling up gas, and getting pulled over by police. For some reason, a normal person doing normal person things is fucking hilarious when they are dressed like a rabbi. I heard later that one of my teammates asked the guy at the front desk of the Super 8 why so many people were wearing funny hats.

Anyways the two of us in scout car arrived at the Rondout Valley RV park, and were met with a very interesting sight. Imagine for a minute all of the stereotypes and prejudices that a European person might have against Americans. IE, they’re all white, fat, drink beer, eat barbeque, speak in southern accents, wear clothes from Walmart, adorn their RV’s with American Flags, and all drive massive pick-up trucks. This is exactly what every single person at this RV park was like. It was absolutely ridiculous. Almost all of the RV sites themselves were taken up by what appeared to be permanent residences, which we weren’t expecting because all of the RV parks we’ve seen before have just been drifters who go there to stay for a night or two and then leave, or go there for vacation. Not these people, they were in it for the long haul. I walked around a bit, and explored the tenting areas. One of them was next to a river and got flooded a while ago, so the ground was covered in mud, weeds, gravel, fallen branches, and sawdust where large fallen branches were cut into. However the areas were still marked as available for camping and had numbers stapled to trees to designate them.

Husband and wife that ran the place were pretty nice, and the husband gave us a tour on his golf cart, but overall it was so unimpressive that it was definitely not an option. Not only were most of the sites terrible and too small for our team, the whole place was so crowded and so filled with sketchy people that I don’t think it would be a comfortable place to stay. The manager mentioned, “there isn’t too much trouble caused around here, although last night we did catch two girls skinny dipping in the pool around 3 AM.” I’m not sure he was trying to warn me, or convince me to stay. As if skinny dipping girls would be my greatest fear. Little does he know, I’m already president of ASDGC, the anti skinny dipping girls committee.

I have to say, I almost wanted to stay at the RV park just because of how ridiculous the whole thing was. I’m sure we would all have great stories to tell afterwards. Alas, the setup was just too janky for us. We settled in at the Super 8, excited to have consistent wifi, showers, and beds, although the price was a bit more than we’re used to (we once paid as little as $6 at a campsite for all of us combined!)

When my scout partner and I got back to the Super 8 from the RV park, it was late and everyone had eaten so we went out to find some food. We passed a Pizza Hut, a Wendy’s, a McDonald’s, and a Burger King in search of something less shitty for you and more substantial. We found an actual pizza place, but waited there for a while with no service. We got tired of it and left, settling for a Subway that was just a few doors down. Unfortunately, the Subway closed at 8 on Sundays. We cursed our poor luck outside of the Subway at 9:30 PM. As we turned around to go search for other options, a man opened the Subway door from behind us. In a thick Indian accent, he asked if we wanted him to make us a sandwich. He was just cleaning up the place and closing, but he still invited us in, turned some lights on, uncovered all the trays, and made us sandwiches. That was the most delicious Subway sandwich I’ve eaten in my life – the sandwich made by this nice man who saw that we were hungry and opened his doors for us long after closing. Such a small and insignificant tribute by him made my night.

We got back to the hotel room, played a couple more games of Bang, and headed off to bed. This time, they were actually beds, too. Huzzah!

 

Here’s to good old New York.

Advertisements

ASC log 6/30/12: The Fifth Day

Beautiful view of the lake in the morning.

 

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that one of our tents got pretty heavily rained upon, and unfortunately a few of the seams leaked. This made the bottom of the tent wet and soaked some sleeping bags. The good news is that I slept in the other tent. Hooray!

I took some nice pictures of the lake (see above) before departing yet again. Illinois was more of the same corn shenanigans as Iowa, and Indiana wasn’t much better, offering endless arrays of corn and trees. It was nice to see some green, I suppose, although the trees got very monotonous after a while. I had a nice chat with Brian, the trailer driver, and it was the first time he got to ride in a car other than the slowpoke trailer. We drove through most of Ohio as well, although stopping just short of the border.

Probably the most interesting part of today was a brief stop at Hardee’s, which is apparently the Midwestern equivalent of Carl’s Jr. I have no idea why they changed the name, but everything else about the restaurant was identical. Anyways we picked up some food there because we ran out of PB&J, and got back on the road. We passed some cities like Chicago and Cleveland, although we didn’t actually see any of Chicago, and Cleveland is a piece of shit. We visited Starbucks for wifi again, but this time we spent a little too much time there, as we ended up quite behind of the rest of the caravan and they had trouble getting to the campsite without us. Luckily, we were able to figure everything out and ended up at a fantastic site.

The site we are at now (in Ohio) has mini golf, a swimming pool, a pool table, a piano, fishing, showers, laundry, and is pretty cheap. Unfortunately we got here too late to enjoy any of these activities, but I might go for a swim in the morning at least, before taking a hot shower. I cooked some sick pasta for dinner, and then we headed to bed. There are still fireflies here, so I guess it’s just a Midwest thing, not a Nebraska thing. They seem to be everywhere. Here they were different, they stuck around mainly in trees and blinked very fast, giving the illusion of Christmas lights. There are also very loud frogs here, who sound like they are mooing and are very annoying.

Anyways I’ll have to go to bed now with no Bang since it’s late. And just when I was starting to hone my skills…

 

I sang this in my head when we were shaking out the wet tents.

ASC log 6/29/12: The Fourth Day

Myself in front of a round barn.

Today, you could tell that our team was becoming steadily more streamlined. We woke up, took down camp and cooked breakfast in parallel, and were out relatively early despite many losing sleep due to the thunderstorm the night before. We drove without interruption, ate lunch quickly, and kept on going. As time goes on, our routine will get faster and faster, giving us more time to relax, see the sights, and sleep along the way.

Driving the rest of the way through Nebraska was pretty uneventful. Quite a boring state overall. I didn’t even notice when I passed onto Iowa, although after a time I did take note of the ridiculous quantities of corn. All in all, driving through Nebraska and Iowa was pretty similar to driving down California – some signs of civilization every now and then, with a lot of rolling farmland interspersed. Because it was similar to California, the drive was somewhat boring.

We stopped in Des Moines to go to Starbucks, not because we love Starbucks but because we needed the free wifi to order t-shirts (which we need in time for the start of ASC in a couple weeks) and to scout out campgrounds for the next few days. We ended up staying over an hour at Starbucks, and I didn’t even have time to post updates here because I had to leave immediately after I finished searching for campsites. Of course, just as we left, a massive thunderstorm hit (probably chased us from Nebraska) and we got rained on pretty heavily on the road. The lightning show was amazing, though.

We beat the storm on our way to our next campsite, in Illinois. We also passed by the Mississippi, and as we pulled over to try and take pictures of it, we got mobbed by a swarm of insects. Fleeing the scene, we got back onto the road and quickly arrived at our destination, the Johnson Sauk State Recreation Area, a beautiful park with a ton of potential campsites. We were lazy and took a spot right next to the parking lot, restrooms, and restaurant. RESTAURANT?!? Yes there was a restaurant at our campsite, at which we merrily ate, over the alternative of eating rice and chili again. The food was pretty good, and we even split a pie for dessert.

As night fell, we saw fireflies emerge again, although not quite as many as last night. The real spectacle tonight was lightning. The storm that hit us last night and that accosted us in Des Moines struck again, this time in full force. While we set up camp we could see thunderbolts light up the sky in the distance, and once we were inside, the real storm began. Lights flashed all around the tent, and the only thing preventing me from going outside and watching the grand display, apart from the fact that I would get soaking wet in the heavy downpour, was the fact that we were back to playing Bang! I’ve gotten a bit better at it, and actually did some winning this time around.

With a full stomach, a cured ego, wet feet, and eardrums full of raindrops and thunder, I am off to sleep.

 

Nebraska, even though I don’t love you, this one’s for you. I may or may not have blasted this song and sung along to it while driving through the last stretch of Nebraska…

ASC log 6/28/12: The Third Day

 

We got to swim in a lake!

This morning’s routine was significantly more impressive than the last morning – we were all up at 6:30, and were on the road by 8. I was even able to shower beforehand, since we stayed at a nice RV park that had such amenities. I doubt I will be afforded that opportunity very often.

Today was actually kind of a shitty day, because it was hot and humid as fuck. The past couple days have been pretty nice weather-wise, but today was just awful. We departed from our rest stop in Wyoming and headed for Nebraska, which I might even rank lower than Nevada due to the stupid heat. But I guess that’s not fair because I might have been in Nevada when it was hot too.

Anyways, the drive was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that we were stuck in construction – laden traffic for a few hours. Despite that, we arrived at the exit for our campsite a couple hours earlier than expected.

Unfortunately, we missed the exit, and due to not having data service at the time and failing to map out the route beforehand, I found myself overshooting the exit by 50 miles. Way to go me. I doubled back and we all set up camp together.

We had a really good time at this campsite – despite the heat, this is the best night of the trip so far. We had plenty of time to relax since we arrived ahead of schedule. We played with bubbles, we took a dip in the lake to cool off, we ate some more delicious rice and beans (now with corn and pikniks!).

And then something magical happened. As the sun set over our campsite, the field in which we set up camp began to come alive, as it was engulfed in a conflagration of fireflies. This was the first time I’ve ever seen fireflies before, and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. We all stopped for a bit to admire them, although perhaps I admired them a bit too much. I tried to take some pictures, but it was tough to catch them while they were glowing since they flicker so fast – the pictures and video that I do have don’t do the display justice. Trust me. It was really fucking cool.

As the excitement of the fireflies died down, we all congregated in a large tent to play a quick game of Bang. It was here that I discovered that I am terrible at Bang. However, it was my first time playing and I think I will be better at it next time. Around 11 we finished the game and went off to our tents to sleep. Well, for me I came to my tent to write this. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep in this heat, but I’ll try. I suppose I’ve endured worse in Hawaii. Also, damn these mosquitos.

With that, my friends, I bid you all a very good night, as I sleep below the stars as well as among them.

 

This song is in honor of the fact that on this day we passed the halfway point of our journey. We’re halfway there.

 

ASC log 6/27/12: The Second Day

The salt flats of Utah.

 

What a beautiful morning! I woke up at 5:40 AM to the sun, and the world is chilly, bright, and green, and the air is crisp. Got 6 hours of sleep without interruption, not bad. I’m typing this up as the rest of my team slumbers. Today we embark for Wyoming, which I suspect to be a bit more bleak than Nevada unfortunately, but perhaps have a bit more vegetation at least. I’ll follow up later tonight. My team stirs now, so I should help take down camp and get ready to set out again.

 

Again I find myself typing while everyone else tries to sleep. Now I’m in a separate tent so I don’t feel quite so bad. Today was a very interesting day – I left Nevada, completely traversed Utah, and ended up in Wyoming. Among the three, Utah was by far the best. I am excited to spend more time to visit Utah on the trip back. Driving through Utah, we passed by the expansive salt flats and Bonneville Speedway, which I almost pulled over at just for kicks. The salt flats were really something else. It was flatter than any place I’ve ever seen before. It looked like it had just snowed everywhere, except it was actually quite hot outside. The heat and the vast flatness of the landscape created very interesting mirages, which gave the illusion that our car was entirely surrounded by water on all sides.

 

After a time we passed the Great Salt Lake, which basically looked like an ocean and made me feel like I was back in the bay, and then made our way into Salt Lake City. That’s another place that I would like to visit again in the future – the city is a massive grid, with wide 6 lane boulevards and huge, nice parking spaces everywhere. Definitely not like Berkeley or San Francisco, where I’m used to cramped quarters, weird bendy roads, and no parking whatsoever.

 

The rest of the landscape of Utah was very interesting, ranging from salt flats, to lakes, to Nevada-esque deserts, to plains, to lush green hills that resembled Switzerland (or what I imagine Switzerland to be like) to large, epic-looking rock formations. The rock formations were amazing; they were so gigantic and colorful, and they exposed a rich geological history of the area.

 

After making some PB&J’s in a parking lot outside of a nice looking lingerie shop, we drove onward, passing entirely through Utah and onto Wyoming. The only good thing I have to say about Wyoming is that the wind is very impressive. I suppose that would explain why the most interesting thing we passed was a windfarm. And a quaint little detour called Little America, whose billboards were far more impressive than the actual attraction. I had a nice long chat about TV shows and Game of Thrones in the car with my passenger while we passed a lot of boring nothingness, and arrived at the Western Hills Campground in Rawlins, Wyoming. This place is actually very nice, despite being largely an RV park. There are showers, toilets, sinks, a mini-golf course, a play structure, and a nice little place to tent. We even found a bunny on the lawn, although it expressed no interest in us.

 

We had a nice hot meal of chili and rice, enjoyed the free wifi for a couple of hours, and headed off to bed. The only thing this place doesn’t have is a power outlet, and my battery is dying so I think this is goodnight for me. Waking up at 6:30 tomorrow for yet another day in the life of a trucker.

 

In honor of us passing the 1000 mile mark today, here’s this:

 

The 2012 American Solar Challenge

CalSol’s newest solar car, Impulse.

 

Today I embark on a journey. I’m going to go to a lot of new places, meet a lot of new people, and face challenges that I haven’t faced before. This is very exciting. This is an adventure well worth documenting.

 

I’ll start at the beginning. Almost 2 years ago, in the fall of 2010, I joined a team called CalSol, also known as the UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team. As you might expect, this team builds solar vehicles. More specifically, we design, build, and race solar cars in national and international competitions. If you want to know more about the team itself, visit our website – a quick google search for CalSol will get you there. Here, I will be talking more specifically about my own involvement with the team.

 

When I first joined, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I hardly knew anyone on the team, I didn’t have any idea of how to build a solar car, and I didn’t know how involved I wanted to get. You might wonder, then, why I even joined the team in the first place. Well, there were a few reasons. I thought the idea of building a solar car sounded cool. I had some friends who wanted to join too. I wanted to get some hands-on engineering experience. And I wanted to feel generally more involved in campus activities at Berkeley. The most important reason of all, however, is that I wanted to make friends. I was having trouble making friends in my classes, and I wanted to expand my friend group outside of the people that I lived with. I will say that, at this point, all of the goals I had in joining the team have been accomplished.

 

I started out not doing very much at all for my first semester on CalSol, fall 2010. I was on a subteam, the Shell Team, who was responsible for fabricating the outer shell of the vehicle which was to become Impulse, our most recently created car. Impulse was set to race in the World Solar Challenge of fall 2011, aka WSC, where solar car teams from around the world compete in a race across the Australian outback. Shell Team was small and scattered, and the leader was very hands-off, so I didn’t have much to do originally. That all changed in the spring. Spring 2011 was very grueling – we were rushing to get the car made by the summertime in preparation for WSC in the fall, and the shell was not close to being made yet. When the Shell Team leader stepped down from his position, I quickly filled his place despite having no idea how to build the shell of a solar car. I stumbled around for the whole semester with only a handful of people on Shell Team to work with, but with a last minute push by almost all of CalSol, we eventually made an awful shell that was just barely good enough to do the job. Fast-forward through the summer and Impulse is complete (pictured above), and again through the fall and it has already completed the 2011World Solar Challenge (placing 20th/37), which sadly I did not attend. So where do I fit in now? Well it turns out that there is in fact another race after that, the 2012 American Solar Challenge, or ASC. This takes place in summer 2012. While I missed the WSC in Australia, I was not going to miss this race.

 

And thus, I find myself here, in the cold Nevada desert at night, typing away on a bench at a campsite while the rest of my teammates attempt to sleep in a packed tent. I am going to be racing, driving the solar car that I helped to build, in a race to compete against teams from other universities throughout America. And to do that, I need to get to the start of the race – in Rochester, New York. My adventure across the United States of America begins.

ASC log 6/26/12: The First Day

Gas station in Nevada. This picture does not do justice to the sheer barrenness of the state.

 

We woke up bright and early and headed out to the RFS (the Richmond Field Station, where we do most of our work). After fumbling around a bit, we left almost an hour late. A reasonable time for our team. We headed out on I-80, the road with which we were to become intimately familiar throughout our journey, since it is going to take us most of the way to New York. Today we were scheduled to drive 9 hours, about 550 miles, ending up in Wells, Nevada. We went from Richmond, to Sac town, over the Sierra Nevadas (I just now realized that the Sierra Nevadas share their name with Nevada), and across the majority of Nevada itself.

 

For this post, it behooves me to explain the manner in which our team travels. We travel in a caravan, both to keep the team together and to mimic conditions in the American Solar Challenge itself, in which we maintain a caravan in order to optimally take care of our valuable solar car, Impulse. The caravan breakdown is as follows: Trailer -> Chase -> Impulse -> Lead -> Scout. Trailer is in the back, consisting of a truck pulling a large trailer, which houses Impulse (as well as misc. other equipment) when we are not driving it. Chase is in front of trailer, and it keeps close track of Impulse during the race by following behind it and by communicating with Impulse’s system wirelessly to analyze data from the car in real time. Impulse is the car itself, which is absent from the caravan during our road trip since it is stored in the trailer, but would usually be in the middle during any actual race or test drive. Lead is in front of impulse, protecting its front end and determining the route – our Impulse driver follows lead directly. Scout goes ahead, looking for potential dangers on the road, picking up food for the rest of the caravan, and acquiring lodging / setting up camp as needed.

 

For the race itself, myself and 2 others will be switching off driving Impulse, and in my downtime I will either be in the chase or lead vehicles. However, for the road trip to NY, I’m in scout, because it is my family’s car that we are using for the scout car. Scout is the funnest car because you can go far ahead and not give a fuck about staying in formation with the rest of the caravan for most of the time.

 

So, back to my story – going over the Sierra Nevadas today, we had some trouble with the trailer, since trailers tend to have trouble getting over mountains. Compounded with the fact that scout doesn’t have to stop for gas as often and can go 90 mph on Nevada freeways, we got a couple hours ahead of the rest of the caravan by the end of the day. This gave us time to buy some much-needed supplies, charge electronics (our inverter broke on the way) and scope out a potential campground, which we ended up using.

 

Before this trip, there was a stereotype that I knew about Nevada, which is that it is a giant desert with not much in it besides Reno and Las Vegas. This stereotype is absolutely true. There are no fucking buildings in Nevada. We passed through 80% of it today and there were only like 2 cities, and they were pretty small. Reno was by far the largest amount of civilization we saw for 6 hours, and it was 10 buildings. Everything else was just a random smattering of shacks / trailers, and thousands and thousands of trucks. The landscape was barren and red, and in some cases spotted with dry brush. It was a very interesting landscape and I’m glad to have experienced it, because it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. However I’m not sure I would fancy to come back. It was very bleak and depressing. I should also note that I only ever actually saw houses twice in the entire drive. I have no idea where the fuck people live in Nevada.

 

We started setting up camp around 10:00PM, because Berkeley engineers are really smart and capable people who know how to plan ahead. Eventually we hacked the tent together, and all 7 of us fit in it nicely. I should go to bed now, since everyone else is waiting for me. Goodnight.