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Cross-country Segway rider hits film circuit

Josh Caldwell, who rode one of the geeky scooters from Seattle to Boston for a documentary film, talks about the coast-to-coast experience. Photos: Rolling across America at '10 MPH'

Not many people can say they've ridden a Segway Human Transporter cross-country. But Josh Caldwell can, and he has the film footage to prove it.

Caldwell, along with close friend Hunter Weeks, filmed the feature-length documentary , which depicts a transcontinental journey atop one of the electric scooters from Seattle to Boston in 2004. Caldwell had the honors of actually riding the Segway while Weeks and a few crew members followed him in a Jeep Cherokee over the course of 100 days.

Now, several film festival awards later, 10 MPH is going on another cross-country trip. This time, it's for a series of film screenings that began in Seattle on Saturday and will be held in a total of 21 U.S. cities. The tour ends August 27 in Dallas. Want to know what happens? We won't spoil it for you; you can rent or purchase the movie from its official Web site for that. But CNET recently caught up with Caldwell to find out why he named one of the Segway batteries "Luigi"--among other things.

Q: When did you first get the idea that you wanted to make a movie about taking a Segway cross-country?
Caldwell: I think we just had the idea that we wanted to go out and make some kind of film and we weren't sure what that was. Around that same time, Hunter and I were working at a software company, and a buddy of ours called up and he said, "You guys should take a Segway across the country and make a movie about it, because nobody's ever done that." We thought it was a little bit ridiculous at first, but the more we thought about it, we thought that it would be a fun kind of way to make a film, and we definitely captured some interesting stories along the way.

So had you been a Segway fan before your friend encouraged you to make the movie?
Caldwell: I had never even touched one. I hadn't even ridden a Segway until probably a month before we took off. Hunter and I went over to the local Brookstone and hopped on one right before we ordered it and said, "Well, this is easy enough to ride, so I think we can do it." That's when we decided to make the purchase and run with it.

What was the Segway company's reaction to it?
Caldwell: We thought they'd be really excited because we thought it was a unique idea and it would definitely give their product a lot of good exposure. But they weren't quite as keen on the idea, I think because of some of the potential liabilities and things like that. So they didn't really hop on board with us when we started. They gave us a couple of batteries to help us out but didn't extend much support beyond that. But now, with the film out, they've hopped on board and are giving away a Segway (on) our Do Your Thing blog where people can share stories about people who are out pursuing their passions and things like that. If they submit stories, they can enter to win a Segway and some other cool stuff from our sponsors.

Do you currently own a Segway?
Caldwell: The one that we rode across the country, and then we have one left that they gave us when we finished up the expedition as well.

Did you name your Segway?
Caldwell: I always thought about naming it, but I guess I never got that personal of a relationship with it even though I spent a ton of time on it and a lot of miles. We named the batteries. There was like, Mario and Luigi and Muppet names. That's what we ended up naming them.

So you named the batteries, but not the Segway?
Caldwell: Yeah. Because we had eight sets of batteries, so we kind of had to keep track of which ones we were using, and we paired them up and such.

Along the way, how often did you encounter people who had never heard of a Segway before? Did people just marvel at it on occasion?
Caldwell: A lot of people had definitely heard of the Segway, but there were definitely places that we got into and people were like, "What the heck is that?" And there was some marveling about it. You'd see people just really rubbernecking. One of the funniest times, I was going through a construction area, and a lady was holding up a "Slow/Stop" sign. I pull up by the sign, I'm the first person in line, and she's like, "Whoa, what is that? Did you make that thing?" And I said, "If only I was that smart."

What was the oddest experience along the way?
Caldwell: There were definitely a lot of unique experiences out there, from the cool and really genuine people that we met to the stories that we captured for the film. Maybe one of the most bizarre times was during a stretch in Wyoming where I was kind of on my own. I had a couple batteries in a backpack and I was just out there solo. I was changing batteries, and this guy that was a little intoxicated came up to me, and he tried to convince me that the heater was broken on the thing, and then he tried to hop on and go to Boston (the final destination) with me on the Segway, and I had to convince him that it was really kind of a one-man mode of transportation.

By the end of the trip, did you feel like you never wanted to get on a Segway again?
Caldwell: No, I never had any animosity in my relationship with the Segway, but it was definitely nice to know that we don't have to go 50 to 80 miles a day and that I'll be in the same place for a few days in a row.

When did you decide to do this tour of a bunch of American cities to show the movie in theaters?
Caldwell: Well, we played in festivals for about a year; we played in over a dozen festivals, we won three Best Documentary awards. We were able to get DVD (distribution) for the film and we really wanted to share the film in a bigger capacity and have it in theaters for people to see. Just playing it in festivals, it was a really inspiring story for people. So we thought, what better way than to do a theatrical tour and take it across America on a similar route to the one we did, taking it to rural and small-town America and also to some big cities as well and share the film and give people the opportunity to see the film.

What do you think of Segway inventor Dean Kamen's new work with the Stirling engine, which has been getting some buzz recently?
Caldwell: Yeah, I was just reading about that, and the potential that it might get put in some Swedish electric car. I think it's pretty interesting. I think he does a lot of fascinating stuff, from the water stuff that he's working on to the Stirling engine. He's definitely a pioneer out there and it's definitely been cool to meet him a few times.

Are you of the school of thought that thinks the Segway can still change the world?
Caldwell: Well, I haven't seen any cities built around it yet, but I could see some potential for it. One of its problems is that it's just way too darned expensive right now so it doesn't really make it that accessible for people. But I could definitely see it as something that people could use.