Road Trip 2008: 5,000 miles through the Deep South

After trips through the Pacific Northwest and Southwest, reporter Daniel Terdiman will hit the highways of the Deep South this year. The trip will wind through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas.

On Road Trip 2006, I traveled through the U.S. Pacific Northwest, stopping at destinations such as Grand Coulee Dam, Google's Columbia River server farm, and the McMinnville, Ore., home of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. During Road Trip 2008, I will journey through the Deep South. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

SAN FRANCISCO--Over the 8,260 miles I've driven on Road Trip 2006 and Road Trip 2007, I've visited, written about, and photographed some of the most interesting destinations in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

I've also gotten to road-test some really cool gadgets and drive the spiffy and comfortable Infiniti QX56 over some long and very hot distances.

Now I'm getting ready to depart on Road Trip 2008. This year, rather than leaving from my home base in San Francisco, I'll be flying east and starting a grand tour of the Deep South in Orlando, Fla., on June 10.

Road Trip 2008 gadgets

Last year's trip through the U.S. Southwest was hot, but at least it was dry. This time around, as I meander through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, it's going to be both hot and humid. But at least it will be early summer--as opposed to the middle--and the review 2008 Outback 2.5 XT Subaru is providing will be properly air-conditioned.

Last year, I had the good fortune to indulge my inner geek and drop in on some sights and sites I'd long wanted to visit. Among them were the Grand Canyon Skywalk; the incomparable Hoover Dam; the gargantuan meteor crater near Winslow, Ariz.; an amazing collection of vintage commercial and military airplanes in Tucson, Ariz.; the only existing Titan Missile museum in the world; the Top Gun school; a community of off-the-grid sustainable living houses called Earthships; and majestic canyons in Arizona and Utah.

In Las Vegas, I got to walk under the Strip while slogging through a series of graffiti-filled tunnels. I also went on backstage tours of two Cirque du Soleil shows, Ka and Love.

One great thing about my road trips is that I often get behind-the-scenes tours not generally available to the public. An example was a tour last summer through parts of Hoover Dam that have been off-limits to the public since September 11. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

This time around, I'll be making the Cirque part of the experience once again when I go backstage at La Nouba, Cirque du Soleil's long-running Disney World show.

Being in Orlando, of course, no trip would be complete without a lengthy journey through Disney World, and I'll certainly be doing my part.

I'll also be on hand--if the stars align--for the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery after its trip to the International Space Station.

I haven't finalized my itinerary yet--I will likely be turning to you, dear readers, for some suggestions--but other destinations I know I'll be hitting will be Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.; UPS' world distribution center and the Louisville Slugger bat factory, both in Louisville, Ky.; the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.; Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn.; Johnson Space Center, in Houston; Fort Benning, in Columbus, Ga.; New Orleans, for a look at the city's post-Katrina recovery, or lack thereof; the Everglades; and more.

As in the previous two years, I will also be carrying around a passel of high-tech gadgetry to test on the road.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk, which juts out over the Colorado River, was a destination on Road Trip 2007. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

One goal of the trip is going to be seeing which cell network has the best 3G Internet service. As such, I'll be using Verizon's USB727 and Sprint's Compass 597 EVDO cards. I'll also have an Apple iPhone, which, of course, features AT&T's Edge network service. While I won't be able to do it every day, I intend to try tests of each network's service in several selected locations to see which one is best.

Apple has also lent me a MacBook Air to try. I'm already well-versed with Macs, as I use a MacBook Pro every day for work. But the Air will be my first test of a computer that relies almost entirely on the Internet--with the exception of input via USB--for its incoming information. Whether this will be a successful test is unclear, but I know I will be happy to be carrying a much lighter machine with me.

Another device I'm looking forward to trying is the Dash Express car navigation system. This is car GPS geekery at its best, a truly interactive system that allows users to send addresses and other data to the device from their computers, and to share data with other users.

At the end of long days of driving, writing, and processing photos, I'll need downtime, and Showtime and HBO have given me DVD sets of Weeds and Oz, respectively. I expect to spend many late-evening hours in front of the MacBook Air--with its external SuperDrive--watching them.

The Titan Missile Museum, near Tucson, Ariz., is the only restored Titan missile silo in the world. I visited the site during Road Trip 2007. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

Last year, I carried my personal Canon Rebel XT and used a couple of lenses Canon lent me. This time around, I'm going to use a loaner Nikon D60 digital SLR and several lenses, including the stock 18-55mm, as well as a 16-85mm and a 70-300mm.

That's for still images. For video, I'm going to be using two systems. The first is the Flip Ultra, the latest model from Flip Video. This gadget will allow me to shoot quick footage and upload it quickly to the Internet and this blog.

In addition, I'll be using Qik's new service. This is live, streaming video from a Nokia smartphone. Qik will allow me to broadcast streaming video from just about anywhere, and then make it possible for viewers to send instant messages while the video is playing. This will be very useful, as it will make it possible for some of the interviews I do during the trip to be interactive. You will be able to view my Qik channel both on the Road Trip package main page, and on my personal Qik page.

By using service from Qik, I'll be able to stream live video to the Internet and make it possible for viewers to interact with me. Qik

Using technology like Qik's is key this year, as one of my goals is to make the trip much more interactive than it's been the past two years. Exactly how that will manifest is still not entirely clear, but there are definitely a few things I know will make it more user-friendly than in the past.

First, I'll be Twittering constantly. You can follow my Twitter feed here.

Another thing I'll do at least a couple of times, if not more, is organize meet-ups along the way. I'll likely announce them on this blog and on Twitter.

I also have some gifts to give away--DVDs from Showtime, video games, one or two iTunes gift cards, and possibly some CNET swag. I'm still working out precisely how I will give this stuff away, but much of it will be based on reader interactivity. As I mentioned above, I'll be asking for some suggestions on things to visit during the trip, and I will likely reward those with the best advice.

Further, I'll be trying out reader-submitted photo galleries. After a week of the trip, I will likely post a blog entry going back over the places I've visited and ask for readers' photos of those places. Then I'll put up a gallery of the best of those images, giving the photographers credit, of course.

To top it off, I may simply ask readers for ideas for adding even more interactivity. I want to bring you along with me, if not in my car, then at least on the Internet.

I'll also be podcasting from the road, blogging constantly of course, and in general, trying to document the trip in as many ways as I can.

All told, I expect to cover nearly 5,000 miles in a large loop out of Orlando. The past two years, I drove almost 200 miles per day, and I don't expect that to be much different this time. I hope you'll come along for the ride.

One of my last stops on Road Trip 2007 was a visit to the Fallon Naval Air Station, in Fallon, Nev., home to the famous Top Gun school. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

 

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