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Hitting the highway for Road Trip 2006

Hop in the station wagon as CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman negotiates the Pacific Northwest with a car full of gadgets. Photos: Road Trip 2006 gadgets

SAN FRANCISCO--If there's one thing I've learned over the last couple of days, it's that satellite phones were not meant to be used in the concrete canyons of a major downtown area.

I know this because I have two of the take-and-use-anywhere phones for the road trip I'm embarking on Thursday, and I've found that the devices have a very hard time maintaining a signal without a clear view of a whole lot of sky.

I'm hoping my luck will change as I begin my two-week trek through the American Pacific Northwest. During my journey, which we're calling "Road Trip 2006," I'll be searching for, reporting and writing stories related to technology and science--or at the very least, pieces likely to appeal to CNET News.com readers.

You'll be able to follow my progress the whole way as I file a full story and photos--or at least a blog entry or two--nearly every day. You can even track my steps using an interactive map.

The plan is to drive north from San Francisco in my 2001 Subaru Outback station wagon, heading into the woods and away from the city.

In addition to the tent, cooler, air mattress and camping stove I'm toting to keep this trip affordable (no five-star hotels for me, and only a few motels), I'll be carting along what seems like a Radio Shack's worth of gadgets, many of which are review units I'll test along the way.

The collection? The aforementioned pair of satellite phones (an Iridium 9505A and a Globalstar GSP-1600); a 15-inch Apple Computer MacBook Pro; three GPS units (a Garmin Nuvi 350, a Garmin GPSMAP 76CX and a Magellan Roadmate 3000T) with two separate car navigation systems--we'll see which one gives me better advice; a new video iPod with portable Altec Lansing iPod speakers; a Sony PlayStation Portable; and a Canon PowerShot G2 digital camera to document the whole thing.

If my car gets broken into, I'm in big trouble.

Road Trip 2006 gadgets

I've designed an ambitious and diverse itinerary that will take me through five states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada) and into Canada's British Columbia. I plan to move every day and cover long distances, so it's a good thing I've got 8,000 songs on my iPod.

The first stop will be Arcata, Calif., a small college town on the Pacific coast about 100 miles south of the Oregon border. There, I plan to visit the Arcata Kinetic Lab, where evil-genius scientists slave away all year long to craft vehicles the likes of which most people have never seen. They're basically giant sculptures that happen to be engineered to ford rivers. Go figure.

From there, I head north into Oregon. Ideally, I'll visit Crater Lake National Park, but that may be pushing it, as I need to make good time heading toward Washington state.

I'll swing through Portland, a town with a blossoming technology community, and I'll likely find something to write about there. What, I'm not sure. I'm leaving Portland as a wild-card.

Next, I intend to head into northwest Washington and to visit Olympic National Park. I've never been there before, but from what I gather, the rain forests there are something wonderful to behold. I suspect there's some fascinating science to explain a lush green environment which, from pictures I've seen, seems like something you'd be more likely to find in the Amazon than the United States.

Road Trip 2006

After that, I'll return to the world of high technology with a visit to a lab at the University of Washington in Seattle where researchers are working on virtual-reality glasses. Could such glasses really display an alternate reality? Stay tuned.

Next up, I'll speed up to Vancouver for the city's premiere of Cirque du Soleil's "Varekai" and a look at some of the technology involved in that fantastical show. I'll also stop by the ballpark of the class-A Vancouver Canadians to find out about the technology used in the lower minor leagues. Later, I'll stop in on two other teams in the league to compare notes.

After Vancouver, it's back into Washington state and to Critical Massive, the Seattle Burning Man community's annual regional event. This event is put on with all the major principles of Burning Man itself: that everyone participate, that people leave no trace behind, that attendees practice radical self-reliance and that everyone engage in a gift economy. I will investigate what it takes to put on one of these events.

By this point, I hope to have mastered the gadgets, especially the three GPS units, and a satellite phone data kit which, in theory at least, should allow me to access the Internet from even the most remote locations.

But you never know: Technology can be difficult to figure out, especially when one is trying to do so in the confines of a car jammed to the rafters with technology, camping gear and books. So if I suddenly report in from Utah, blame it on the car navigators.

In any case, my itinerary has me heading next toward Grand Coulee Dam in northeast Washington. It's one of the largest concrete construction projects in the country's history, and for the technology side of the equation, there's also a nightly laser show projected on the dam. Nature, engineering and technology hand-in-hand: How much better can it get?

From there, it's slowly into south-central Idaho for a look at the formation of dozens of natural hot springs, as well as the lunar landscape known as Craters of the Moon National Monument.

By this point, I suspect I'll be tired of the road and it will be just about time to head home anyway. So I'll pack up all the gadgets, sort all the photos, pop the iPod back in and begin the long drive home. I hope you'll follow me all the way.