How Does Hawaiian Airlines Measure Up?

best passenger planes
Hawaiian Airlines has solid 767s still flying. But they’re making way for Airbus A330s.

If you ask me whether I like something, I can give you a definite answer. Do I like black licorice? Oh, hell, no. Do I like a nice big bowl of tonkatsu ramen? You betcha. Do I like Hawaiian Airlines?

Hmmm. OK. I’ve just flown four long legs on Hawaiian Airlines, and I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. You’d think it’s a simple question -- but it’s hard to evaluate the sum of the parts versus the individual parts themselves. Let’s break it down into pieces so you can see whether Hawaiian Airlines is right for you.

[textbox rows=”4″]
Where I Flew
Phoenix, Ariz. to Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand

Let’s Start with the Schedule and Airports

One of the reasons I chose Hawaiian Airlines was to avoid Los Angeles International Airport, both outbound and inbound. Hawaiian’s flight from Phoenix gave me a great morning flight on Thursday as opposed to a late-night flight.

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330
A Hawaiian A330. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

Hawaiian also connects via Honolulu to all sorts of destinations in Asia, and our future travel plans include South Korea and Japan (both on our list). So if they passed this test, they’d be a perfect airline for future trips.

Oh, and Honolulu International Airport? It’s wonderful for a layover on the way to Auckland Airport. The little garden area and semi-outdoor corridors give it the nicest vibe of any US airport. Unfortunately, its customs, immigration and baggage areas are an absolute morass. I’d take LAX any day, and that’s saying a lot.

How was the Hawaiian Airlines Staff?

Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents -- no matter what their role at Hawaiian Airlines, they were all far nicer than your typical North American Airlines. Here are a few examples.

Hawaiian Airlines 767 Iwa
Heading out to Honolulu on Iwa, a Hawaiian Airlines 767.

I slept through the initial snack/meal service on my flight out of Auckland. I went back into the galley and asked if they had anything left. I got a nice little sandwich, some fruit and a cookie. And no disgruntled attitude about why I missed the flight attendant’s pass through the cabin.

On my flight from Phoenix to Honolulu, I drained my 24-ounce collapsible water bottle and was feeling the thirst. I took the empty bottle back to the galley and asked if I could get a bit of water. Well, the flight attendant kindly filled it all the way up.

Small stuff, right? But it adds up.

Speaking of Food ….

The meal services on the flights were fairly nondescript sandwiches and chicken/rice dishes. They were still considerably better than most meal options I’ve had on long-haul flights with US legacy airlines, though considerably short of the fare on Asiana or All Nippon Airlines (with Asiana being downright tasty).

On the flight into Honolulu from Phoenix, they also served some fun flavors of the islands: sweet onion potato chips and some sort of rum punch that was plenty tasty.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 Nahiku
This Hawaiian Airlines A330 was delayed for three hours.

Da Planes, Da Planes!
[textbox rows=”4″]
Tail Numbers and Aircraft Names
PHX-HNL: Boeing 767 with Sky Interior (N588HA, Iwa)
HNL to AKL and Back: Airbus A330 (N388HA, Nahiku; N389HA, Keali’iokonaikalewa)
HNL to PHX: Boeing 767, old interior (N581HA, Manu o Ku)
This is where Hawaiian Airlines has some problems. I really liked our first 767, even though it didn’t have AVOD (on-demand entertainment) at each seat, which is pretty much the standard for long-haul flights on other airlines. It’s the old-school drop-down screens. But I didn’t really care since the Hawaiian Airlines flights were about $1,000 cheaper for my party collectively than competing airlines. Plus, I had a Kindle loaded with some great books. I also like the 2-3-2 seating configuration on the 767, which also gave me ample legroom (6’2 with a 32-inch inseam).

The 767 from HNL to Phoenix was older, and had the earlier, dingier interior. Still, the legroom was perfect.

Hawaiian Airlines Keali'iokonaikalewa
We’re both happier than we look – I just have a horrible fake camera smile, so I just go neutral (and this was before the delay).

Now let’s talk about those A330s. They’re the future for Hawaiian Airlines as the 767 gets phased out. The A330 in and of itself isn’t a problem: How Hawaiian Airlines chooses to configure them, though, is a big-time pain for tall travelers. I slid into my seat, and my knees immediately contacted the seat in front of me. So I did what all smart travelers do: I pitched all the reading material in the seat pocket onto the floor in front of me. It opened up some space, but not enough to separate me from the seat. It’s odd that lists the pitch at 31 inches; I’ve flown on plenty of planes with 31 inches of pitch that gave me a little room between seats. The seat cushions were pretty bad, with my left buttock aching about an hour after takeoff.

Also, the Airbus cabins were Yukon cold on both flights. They did have AVOD, but most content would cost. Again, not a big deal for the price break. But factoring in the tight spacing, this becomes more of an issue.

I will definitely avoid any Hawaiian Airlines A330 in the future until they decide to provide some extra space, regardless of price or convenience. There’s just too much competition out there.

Hawaiian Airlines Keali'iokonaikalewa A330
That’s Hawaiian Airlines Keali’iokonaikalewa in the background … and before we loaded aboard, got settled, then deplaned for the mechanical problem.

Another Little Hitch

Our flight to Auckland was delayed a full three hours by a mechanical problem. That put us at the gate in Auckland just short of 2 a.m., which is pretty rough. Our scheduled 22:25 arrival was already late for travelers craving rest in a real bed.

But things happen, and I get that. Still, Hawaiian Airlines could’ve scored some points by setting passengers up somehow for the delay. Maybe by providing meal vouchers for the delay, or waiving the in-flight entertainment charge. Unfortunately, they missed that chance to make a better situation of a long delay.

What’s the Bottom Line?

I really wanted to love Hawaiian Airlines. I still want to, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. That’s a bummer, because the actual on-the-line employees got it right. The corporate suits, unfortunately, have handed them either aging or cramped aircraft that are well short of the standards being set by other airlines. They’re addressing the aging planes, but they’re replacing them with cramped sardine cans. This is a huge disservice to their pilots, cabin staff and ground staff who do so well.

Fortunately, it’s also reversible. The suits could make some adjustments to the aircraft coming into the fleet, and heed my very good advice when it comes time to refresh the cabins of the A330s currently on hand.

Here’s the good news: If you’re of a shorter stature, the seat pitch won’t matter as much to you. My wife, who is 5’7, had no problem catching Zs on the 767 and A330. Obviously, my 2-year-old wasn’t bothered by the seat pitch!

But since we come as a package and I’m the guy who gets to book the flights, I don’t see Hawaiian Airlines being my go-to airline for future flights unless they’re on a 767 or the A330s get a bit more room for us tall guys.

This is the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking

The Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua is absolutely the worst place in the world to go mountain biking. If you ride here, you will go back home. You’ll prep your bike for a ride and get yourself to what used to be your favorite local trails. You’ll straddle your bike at the trailhead, look down the trail and think "Well, this is a bit pointless."

That’s because your local trail doesn’t beckon you with the fragrance of spruce. It isn’t protected from the sun with a canopy of redwood trees and ferns. Its ground doesn’t grip your tires just right.

What I’m saying is that, next to the Whakarewarewa Forest, your local trail probably sucks. I’m sure you love it. I used to love my favorite local trails, too. But within 6 minutes of cruising through the Whakarewarewa Forest, I felt like it ruined my local trails for me. I thought of my usual rides -- mile after mile under a punishing, unrelenting, angry sun through acre upon acre of dried-up Tattooine-like dirt that is practically unfamiliar with concepts like moisture or wetness.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
I could ride here every damn day.

I’ve ridden in some cool spots like Whistler, BC. But the trails there didn’t make me think I’d hate returning to my local trails.

Seriously, This is What It’s Like to Ride the Whakarewarewa Forest

I started my ride out by renting a bike at Mountain Bike Rotorua, which is perched right at the edge of the trail area. My Giant Something-or-Other full-suspension bike, some packets of Gu and a map cost me $60 NZ for 2 hours, but I planned to go longer (they promised to make up the difference later). I brought my own pedals and a helmet. Just one thing: I was so eager to get out on the trails that I forgot to get a pump from the staff. This would come back to haunt me. No fault of theirs at all, and everyone was perfectly nice and accommodating.

Anyway, the trails meander uphill, but not consistently. They roll and dip upward. You might gain 100 feet of elevation but climb for 160 feet. Jeep roads radiate up the hill and intersect with the trails. Much of the singletrack is directional, with a general net loss of altitude. I guess locals go up the Jeep roads, then grab the trails on the way down.

So all these trail intersections make it really easy to get lost. And it’s easy to lose your place on the map. I made life harder by taking photos of the map before handing it over to my wife so she could hike – the important one came out blurry.

The trails themselves feature lots of changes of direction rather than relatively straight, fast runs. You’ll do a lot of steering, and you need to pay attention. There are steep chutes and the occasional drop-off. And you’re going to work hard: I climbed 1,800 feet in about 20 miles.

Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking
My ride for the day

How was the Rental Bike?

A mixed bag. It was my first experience with a 650B/27.5 wheel. It thought it handled almost indistinguishable from a 26er, which is nice considering the sharp turns and switchbacks. It was also my first time on a 2X11 drivetrain, which I found really agreeable. This one wasn’t very well tuned, though, and the chain often wandered in the first two cogs. It probably worked fine in the bike stand, but things change when a drivetrain is under load.

I’ve been on the other side of this equation. There were a few creaks and groans throughout the whole package, too. The Fox fork worked well. Overall, the Giant just didn’t have that meticulously maintained feel of my personal bikes – but hey, what can you expect? It’s a rental, and it wasn’t built part-by-part by a guy like me. And it doesn’t get broken down to bare frame and rebuilt regularly like my bikes.

Tell Me About That Missing Pump

Welp. I got a flat. I had a patch kit, but I made the mistake of leaving port without a pump. I nearly brought my own on this trip (I also forgot to bring an SD card for my GoPro, so I took the ill-advised route of one-handed cellphone camera videos).

Anyway, I walked a good way looking for someone with a pump. I went through six riders before finding a few that had pumps. The upside is I got to banter with some nice people. My patch kit and borrowed pump saved the day; the Mountain Bike Rotorua staff seemed inordinately surprised that I used my own stuff to patch the bike up.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
One of the many trails that make up the worst place in the world to go mountain biking

I wasn’t really thrilled to be out there without a pump, so I tried taking some roads as a shortcut back, and I got really damn lost on all those roads. And my blurry map photo was no help. I actually got to a place where I was clueless about my whereabouts, and I was genuinely nervous. I thought back to my training from Cody Lundin, and cultivated my "party on" spirit – which involved riding back to the last location where I knew where I was – even with legs about to cramp and no Gu left. Sure enough, that got me back where I needed to go. My 2-hour ride had ballooned to nearly 4 -- but the Mountain Bike Rotorua folks didn’t charge me for the extra time because of the flat.

So is Whakarewarewa Forest the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking?

Yes. I have a six-hour race the weekend after I get back from New Zealand. All I can think about is how I’m gonna keep from falling asleep of sheer boredom turning laps on this dry, dusty, barren expanse of trails. I mean, I had strep throat a week before my trip. I haven’t been training per se during my two-week trip. But hey – I’m not expected to win. And six hours isn’t that long for the physical effort. But man, mentally it will be hell after riding in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I’ve actually thought about not showing up, but I just can’t bring myself to not do something I signed up to do.

I suppose I’ll get over it and start taking my pleasure in my local rides again. But my wife and I have both the phrase “the next time we’re here” already, and you can bet I’ll have some serious mountain bike plans when that time comes. And may it be sooner than later.

How to Survive Summer Heat in Phoenix – Or Other Hot Places

summer heat
Dress right for the heat – you’ll feel better.

I hate summer heat in Phoenix – and I’m sure I’d hate it in any other hot, desert city. But you know what? It’s not so much the heat that bothers me. It’s the people who don’t know how to deal with it. I’m going to clue you all in based on my experience living here since 1980.

Stop Obsessing Over the Temperature

Right, that’s it: No more posting graphics about the forecast. No checking the forecast. Look, you don’t need to know whether it’s going to be 95 or 125. In this case, knowledge isn’t power. There is literally nothing you can do as a result of knowing the exact temperature that will make summer heat in a desert any more comfortable or any less challenging. You’re gonna be hot until October, and that’s simply all there is to it. Whether it’s 95 0r 135, you should take exactly the same steps. Repeat it with me: Exactly. The. Same. Steps. The only impact knowing the temperature has is psychological, and it’s demoralizing rather than helpful.

summer heat
Make these your best friend

Drink a Lot of Water, Already

I don’t want to hear anyone say "but you can drink too much water, too." Tell you what – come up with a sourced number of people who have died from hyperhydration  (aka, drinking too much water) in a given year. Then, I’ll reply with stats from the same year from dehydration deaths. Guess which one will be astronomically higher.

I’m now at 6’2, 198 pounds. I usually drink north of a gallon a day – more if I do anything outdoor. Oh, and it helps to know how to drink water. Don’t sip it: Pound a quart per sitting if you can. Read Cody Lundin’s "98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive" for the science behind it. Something salty to go with your water or even an electrolyte tablet now and then will also help. I have a post with more advice about hydration.

Get Out In It

If you do nothing but scuttle from air-conditioned area to air-conditioned area, you will never acclimate an iota to the summer heat. You need to spend at least some time in the heat. That doesn’t mean you need to be stupid about it, so dress right, wear sunscreen and – I can’t possibly say this enough – drink your damn water.

What does dressing right mean? On days I head to the office, I wear breathable, light clothes. Fortunately, I work in a place where people won’t think twice about my Eddie Bauer Guide Pro pants and (discontinued, damnit) Mountain Hardware McClane shirt.

On my own time, I favor my Onno hemp t-shirts and -- well, pretty much the same sort of pants I wear to work. I don’t believe in shorts. If I’ll be in the heat a long time, I’ll cover my head with something. And I never, ever hike without a pretty good bunch of gear that works for me; one of the more unusual items is a shemagh, which is great for covering up from the sun or even any sudden dust storms that blow in (yes, that happens in the summer).

Why no shorts? Because I like to cover skin from the sun. If I were really smart, I’d probably opt for a long-sleeve version of my hemp t-shirts. Look at traditional Arab dress – it’s light, flowing and layered. Great for insulation from the summer heat. Oh, and avoid wicking materials. They dry too quickly to cool you. Stick with quality cotton or – as I prefer – hemp or bamboo blends. They’ll keep you cooler and won’t make you stink.

Why a Trip to Ireland is on My List for 2016

Giants Causeway 1c
Giants Causeway  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I was cleaning out a closet stuffed with books, I unearthed my old copy of Round Ireland With a Fridge, a true-but-silly travel story about Tony Hawks; Tony lost a bet, and his "reward" was to circumnavigate Ireland by hitchhiking. But here’s the kicker – he had to do it while toting a small refrigerator. The re-discovery of this book propelled Ireland back into my mind, and to the forefront of my possible destinations for 2016.

Round Ireland With a Fridge paints Ireland’s people as up-for-anything characters who roll with the oddities in life and don’t sweat the small stuff. The descriptions of the towns sound more than a bit idyllic, especially to a desert dweller like me. I would really welcome some cool temperatures once we’re in the middle of months of 110-degree heat (that’s about 50 for you Celsius users).

The stunning Belfast Castle taken from the gar...
The stunning Belfast Castle taken from the gardens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I have to bet that the craft beer craze has sunk its claws into Ireland at least a bit, so I’d be eager to look beyond the Guinness (if you’re a craft beer aficionado who knows Ireland well, this is your cue to speak up.

Also, I’m more than a bit intrigued by WestJet‘s service to Dublin. I can hop on a WestJet flight from Phoenix to Toronto, and there I can board one of the new-to-them WestJet 767s and get to Dublin. It sounds like a lot of fun without too much fuss – but I am one of those oddballs who finds getting there to be a big part of the fun. I recently had a great round-trip experience on WestJet, and I’d like to see how the airline makes the most out of its upgraded fleet on a flight to Dublin.

A view from a WestJet flight.

So, once we’re there, what’s next?

Usually, we like a good mix of independent travel mixed in with a guided tour here and there. The do-it-yourself method allows flexibility and spontaneity, while guided tours are great for those times when some local expertise and know-know can enhance the experience.

I’d plan to use some of the major cities – Dublin and Galway in Ireland, and Belfast in Northern Ireland – as bases. From there, we could take a look at some of the better-known sites while keeping an eye out for surprises beyond the guidebook. The Giants Causeway is definitely among the best-known destinations, and I’d have another read of Round Ireland With a Fridge to ferret out a few more ideas.

round irelandAnd I admit that I’m about to bet a bit nerdy here: I’ve read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series – which TV viewers know as A Game of Thrones – five times already. I visited the Wall when I was in Iceland, so I’d like to see some of shooting locations scattered around Northern Ireland. There are also plenty of castles for me to check out because I really can’t get enough of them. I also have some good friends who insist that I’d love hiking in Ireland – we can’t hike like we used to since our daughter was born last year, but we can at least get in a few short but interesting hikes, I’m sure.

When my family starts to talk about our big yearly trip, this is will all be part of my pitch for Ireland.

If you’ve been there, what are some travel tips you’d offer a couple traveling with an 18-month old?

This post is sponsored by Allens Belfast Bus Tours.


Best of Travel 2015

Headed to Toronto on WestJet.

Despite 2015 being my first year as a parent, this has been a good year for travel. We got the Little Person on her first international trip, in addition to numerous runs around the country; she may have even outflown me with a total of 18 legs to her credit.

In spite of my expectations, I have some really interesting thoughts about my travel highlights. So here’s my Best of Travel, 2015 travel edition.

Best Airline

Considering that I flew two trans-Atlantic flights on a Lufthansa 747-8i, you’d expect Lufthansa to win this handily. All the Lufthansa employees I encountered were as polished as they were personable. They were excellent with our Little Person (let’s not forget the onboard bassinets and stuffed animals), and the economy class seats were the best I’ve flown in.

By WPPilot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Orange County John Wayne is a better airport than you probably realize. By WPPilot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
But not so fast, says WestJet. This Canadian carrier was the surprise of my travels in 2015 – a likeable, eager-to-please, reasonably priced revelation that makes me wish it had a few US hubs. It’s Boeing 737 fleet is honestly nothing special, especially next to the marvel that is the 747-8i or even a newer iteration of 737. But WestJet one me over by having modestly priced upgrades to its premium cabin, which also gets you free food and snacks.

I am bummed that I can’t fly WestJet more. But you can bet that I will go out of my way to get on a WestJet intercontinental flight; they just added some 767s to the fleet. I’m eager to see what WestJet can do on a widebody aircraft on a long flight.

I expected Lufthansa to be great. And they were. I wasn’t sure about WestJet – but they delivered a wonderful air travel surprise.

Best Airport

This is hands-down Orange County John Wayne Airport. It has barely any lines or queues to speak of. It has an open, airy design that makes the best use of natural light. It’s easy to get around.

Lufthansa 747-8i
Lufthansa was great – but WestJet wins the upset for my favorite airline of 2015.

And in VinoVolo, it has terrific food. Skip all the the restaurants and hit VinoVolo. If you have time to sit and dine, they have an excellent charcuterie platter; though they pride themselves on wine, they also serve a small stash of bottled craft beer.

If you’re in a hurry, go for the to-go picnic boxes. I got a Mendocino Picnic box before my last flight out of John Wayne, which they modified with some pieces of prosciutto for me. I made everyone on the plane jealous with a fine selection of cheese (including an amazing brie), fruit, nuts, crackers and dark chocolate.

My only quibbles were the terrible WiFi and scarcity of power outlets.

In contrast, Chicago O’Hare International Airport is nothing short of the worst of the worst, from taxi times to TSA. Avoid connecting at O’Hare if you can. It truly stinks. I’ve had a lot of things happen at O’Hare, and none of it is good.

Best Brewery

Best of Travel 2015
Good times at Iron Fist Brewing.

When my family travels, we are on the lookout for great breweries. And by far my favorite is Iron Fist Brewing Company. It had everything I like – a warehouse/industrial vibe, a decent food truck and a stellar and varied selection of beers.

If you’re visiting, a flight is the way to go. But do yourself and a few good friends a favor and grab a few bottles of the outrageous Pillow Mint stout.

I also have a lot of great things to say about Noble Ale Works. It’s the best thing happening near the House of the Mouse in Orange County.

Best of travel 2015
An absolutely perfect autumn day in Schwabisch Hall.

Best Destination

If you crack open a travel guide for Germany, you won’t find any mention of Schwäbisch Hall. I wouldn’t have known about it if I didn’t have family in the area. So all those "follow the guidebook" people are missing out on a picturesque, storybook example of a German village (pronounced "willage" by my relatives, father included).

You can spend some time shopping in the town center. Or you can head out to the Einkorn ro hike – if you’re there in fall, pick some apples! If you’re a diehard fan of American football, you can also check out the – and I’m not making this up – Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, which is one of the stronger gridiron teams in Germany. Be on the lookout for the very amusing sausage-dispensing vending machine.

Oh, and if you’re near the village of Rosengarten and you notice some cool art hanging up in a public area, the odds are good that you’re seeing my Uncle Johann’s work.

Best Laugh

Best of travel 2015
This mannequin is definitely yelling “ja!”

So my family rolled into Stuttgart Airport on the German equivalent of a harvest holiday. Everything in the airport before security was closed with three exceptions: A convenience store, an electronics store and a sex shop. I don’t know many people who hit the airport for a ballgag or a flogger – but if you’re one of them, Stuttgart has you covered.

I figure the outfit pictured would make security searches a breeze, but I would want to accessorize with a nice gas mask -- which might cause difficulties at the security checkpoint. So I refrained. (Equality points to Germany for having a male mannequin in the window.)

Best Hotel

We absolutely fell for the Hôtel BELVUE. But after the events in Belgium following the Paris terrorist attack, I wonder how this wonderful place is getting along. It’s right on the edge of the neighborhood that was a focus for the subsequent investigations.

If you can get past that, you’ll enjoy great architecture, a reasonable price and far more space than the European norm. A few other things add to the Belvue’s cool factor: It’s designed to be energy efficient, and is also used to train people for hospitality careers. I could go on about this, but the Hotel Belvue website says it best.

Best Travel Gear.

I have this Grey Ghost backpack that the company calls the “Lightweight Assault Pack.” So yeah, it’s largely aimed at the military crowd. But me? The only thing I assault is the mundane, the ho-hum, the boring. The Lightweight Assault Pack helps me in that endeavour ably.

I picked up a selection of MOLLE pouches to add to the outside of the pack for different purposes. That makes it really quick and easy to configure it for a pretty serious hike (complete with knife and fire-making materials) or as a perfect carry-on items (definitely minus the knife and fire stuff). It fits beautifully under an airline seat, it wears comfortably and it has plenty of space even before adding external pouches. Great stuff!

Best News Overall

My daughter made her first trip abroad at the age of nine months. She was just about perfect – excellent on the airplanes, willing to eat anything, constantly ready to go for a ride in her Ironman stroller. Here’s a little story about what we did and how it all worked out.


Scenes from a Desert Airplane Graveyard

I know a lot of people get freaked out in a graveyard – but to me, an airplane graveyard is even more unsettling. Few of the residents seem ready for the scrapheap. It’s like carting a 50-ish person off to a deserted lot, him in a hole and shoveling dirt on him. Too young, too much still to give the world.

Just look at these. Imagine how much money is just sitting here – and most of it was fully functional before being stripped of useful parts and left to the elements.

Even if they can fly anymore, there are still plenty of perfectly good uses. I’ve stayed in two hotel that were once airplanes – one a 747 in Stockholm, the other a Bristol freighter in rural New Zealand. I’ve dined in a great old CIA cargo hauler in Costa Rica. And think of the company that makes homes out of 727s! I would love to live in one of these! And what worth are they as scrap, I wonder. And how long will they sit in the desert before getting turned into a cola can?

Anyway, I shot these photos at Phoenix Goodyear Airport GYRt, where there’s a pretty good-sized airplane graveyard for airliners. What you’ll see in these photos are airlines from all over the world, and not a bunch of old beaters. There’s only one DC-8-ish sort of plane, and a bunch of 757s, A340s and A320 family aircraft. Sure, the DC-10/MD-11 types are past their prime for passengers. But they’re likely the oldest by a long shot.

For some of these shots, I tried going in for close shots of the aircraft to convey the sense of decay.

airplane graveyard
I had to take this photo because it shows the amazing scale of the Boeing 747 – I’m pretty sure it’s a 300 series. But whatever it is, it’s hundreds of yards behind an MD-80 and a 737 … and still manages to make them look like light twins.
airplane graveyard
This Airbus A340 makes a forlorn backdrop as a light GA plane – probably with a student pilot – comes in for a touch and go. On of my favorite things about the older Airbus widebodies is that muscle car, nose-down look.
airplane graveyard
Three widebodies in one shot: a pair of DC-10s and a 767.
airplane graveyard
Here’s a closer look at one of the DC-10s, with its door and a lower panel open. It looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic film.
airplane graveyard
The missing radome and doors of this 777-200 are just depressing.
airplane graveyard
Signs of life at the old airplane graveyard.
airplane graveyard
A tangle of winglets, tails and stabilizers.
airplane graveyard
This cannibalized 757 is a bleak husk – a mangled corpse denuded of dignity.
airplane graveyard
I can imagine having this A340 delivered to some cool piece of property and turning it into the ultimate Wandering Justin house.
airplane graveyard
The mountains make a great backdrop here.

If you think visiting an airplane graveyard sounds like fun, check out my story about running a 10K race through one of the most-famous of them all!

Literature Review: The Cruelest Journey by Kira Salak

The Cruelest Journey Kira SalakToday’s post is travel writer Nichole L. Reber’s review of the Kira Salak memoir, The Cruelest Journey. Nichole is full-on obsessed with the fraternal twin crafts of writing and reading, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy her insights. Get to know Nichole and her work by visiting her website or her Facebook page.

“No place is safe. Safety, itself, is an illusion.” Kira Salak

The women’s memoirs I’ve read since repatriating to the US have repeatedly disappointed me. Rather than travelogues about other cultures and a writer’s (small) place in it, today’s publishers churn out self-obsessive memoirs aimed at women as if we were interested solely in finding boyfriends and making babies with men of foreign accents. Women writing about living in Japan, Yemen, mainland China, and Hong Kong, for instance, focus on infertility or stealing husbands, treading nowhere near anthropological observations of the other cultures. Then there’s Kira Salak. She raises travel writing to the level of explorer writing.

The Cruelest Journey Kira SalakHer book, The Cruelest Journey, published by Brooklyn-based Restless Books, is a riveting read. It, like her other books and National Geographic stories, reveals a women who eschews the easy route, the cliché destination. Salak has crossed Papua New Guinea and made a 700-mile cycling trip across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. She has ventured into Iranian vistas where local travel guides don’t take their clients, and explored Madagascar, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Libya, Bhutan, and Borneo. At the age of 20, backpacking through Africa at the height of a brutal civil war in Mozambique, she was kidnapped by marauding soldiers.

“Since then I’ve sought out countries that are dangerous in order to reveal situations no one else is covering, like slavery in Timbuktu and genocide in eastern Congo. These tragedies are very emotionally difficult to witness, but if by shedding light on them I can improve even one person’s life, I feel it’s worth the risk,” she wrote in National Geographic.

The Cruelest Journey Kira SalakThe Cruelest Journey tells her journey kayaking solo six hundred miles down West Africa’s Niger River in an inflatable kayak toward the Saharan city of Timbuktu.

She begins her trip with a single backpack in a torrential downpour from the Malian town of Old Ségou. She reveals how Timbuktu fell from its zenith during the Songhai Empire’s reign from 1463-1591, when its academic and artistic riches were tantamount Florence’s during Europe’s age of Enlightenment until it was sacked by the Moors in the late 16th century, and how it’s come to be the rubble heap and tourist trap it is today.

Salak equips herself for the journey with the writings of 18th-century Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who twice labored over this course but perished along the way. Determined to follow in (most of) his footsteps, she shows us a place that time has all but abandoned. She witnesses polio and leprosy, voodoo priests and shamans, and abundant slavery, despite its being outlawed there. She kayaks through a pod of hippos like tiptoeing through a field of landmines.

She learns to discern the differences between tribes such as the Tuareg, the Fulani and the Bambarra, the Bozo and Somono. Most nights she stops at villages, learning to deduce which tribe lives there by characteristics visible from the river, if she can’t already discern that by how the village inhabitants react to her from the shore. Do they wave and exchange greetings, yell and threaten her, or watch her like a zoo animal? All the while she searches for commonalities, for ways of communicating and better understanding by speaking to them in Bambarra.

Thoughts on Male Travelers

One particularly enjoyable part of Salak’s book is her ability to alternately make fun of and admire male travelers. (Though admittedly her adoration of Park sometimes reads like Oriana Fallaci’s hero worship of Alekos Panagulis in A Man.)

“He doesn’t hide his distress, and his trademark equanimity fails him, revealing glimpses of a traumatizing ordeal. Many male adventurers of his time chose to hide such candor, opting instead for bravado or tedious ethnographical digressions,” he says of Park’s narrative of his capture by Moors. When the women among his captors repeatedly inspected his physique, they became particularly hands-on to find out if circumcision also applies to Christians. Park supposedly had some say in the matter, allowing only beautiful women the chance to inspect his white skin and naughty bits.

The Cruelest Journey Kira SalakAs a female traveler, though, Salak isn’t as lucky. On one occasion she is nearly raped – or at least molested – by a male villager.

Gender Differences in Travel

“My gender will always make me appear more vulnerable. But to not travel anywhere out of fear, or to remain immobilized in a state of hypervigilance when I do, feels akin to psychological bondage. I do not want to give away that kind of power.”

She doesn’t decry this reality. She does in a way that can be described as literary anthropology. “The Somono fishermen, casting out their nets, puzzle over me as I float by. ‘a va, madame?’ they yell.”

Each fisherman carries a young son perched in the back of his pointed canoe to do the paddling. The boys stare at me, transfixed; they have never seen such a thing. A white woman. Alone. In a red, inflatable boat. Using a two-sided paddle.

“I’m an even greater novelty because Malian women don’t paddle here, not ever. It is a man’s job. So there is no good explanation for me, and the people want to understand.”

Considering the death-defying adventure she’s chosen the reader wants to understand too. What would compel a person to take such a trip? She addresses this and the very fundamental things that, as I learned when living abroad, mark the difference between tourism and travel.

Why Embark on These Trips?

Concerning “what we look for when we embark on these kinds of trips,” she writes: “There is the pat answer that you tell the people you don’t know: that you’re interested in seeing a place, learning about its people. But then the trip begins and the hardship comes, and hardship is more honest: It tells us that we don’t have enough patience yet, nor humility, nor gratitude. And we thought that we did. Hardship brings us closer to truth, and thus is more difficult to bear, but from it alone comes compassion.”

Salak’s poetic prose, like the parallel narratives of her journey and Park’s, meanders throughout the book like the bends and curves of the Niger itself. “The late afternoon sun settles complacently over the hills to the west. Paddling becomes a sort of meditation now, a gentle trespassing over a river that slumbers. The Niger gives me its beauty almost in apology for the violence of the earlier storms, treating me to smooth silver waters that ripple in the sunlight. The current – if there is one – barely moves. Park described the same grandeur of the Niger during his second journey, in an uncharacteristically sentimental passage that provided a welcome respite from accounts of dying soldiers and baggage stolen by natives.”

Heading Into Deeper Water

Her deft handling of dynamics, coupled with the occasional sweetener of levity make The Cruelest Journey an energetic read. This Restless Books publication and Salak’s other books such as Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea, traverse the depths of the human condition, weaves between fear and bliss, and blurs borders of time and place.

As Jessa Crispin points out in an essay in the Boston Review: “That the market has not sustained the work of other, more rugged, less self-obsessive women travel writers may have more to do with our expectations as readers than with any faults of their writing. We still look to men to tell us about what they do and to women to tell us how they feel.”

Meanwhile, for readers who like their water deeper, there’s the work of Kira Salak.

Schwäbisch Hall – Views of a Different Germany

Schwäbisch Hall
The river isn’t just pretty – it was essential to Schwäbisch Hall’s prosperity through salt production.

When people found out I was going to Germany in October, the reactions were almost identical.

"Munich! Oktoberfest!"

Sure, that might’ve been happening while I was there. But I was headed to a different part of Germany for different reasons. I figured that after nearly three decades, it was time to visit the German part of my family. On my father’s side, I’m a first-generation American (and only second on my mother’s side).

I thought that, with a new little person in our family, it would be a nice time to re-connect with people who were part of some of my favorite childhood memories. This would take Sarah, Anneka and me to a part of Germany that’s not even in the travel guidebooks -- to a region of Swabia that sees few American travelers. We were headed to Schwäbisch Halll.

These are photos I took in Schwäbisch Hall, though there’s also the odd shot of Gaildorf (my father’s hometown) and Rosengarten. If you’re headed to Germany, I hope it gives you a few thoughts about going beyond the typical itinerary. In a later post, I’ll post a few helpful hints for travelers. For now, have a look at a postcard-perfect vision of Germany.

Schwäbisch Hall
Schwäbisch Hall is straight out of a postcard.
Schwäbisch Hall
A more modern side of Schwäbisch Hall – a brewery turned restaurant, and a terrific, free art museum.
Schwäbisch Hall Saint Michael Church
The St. Michael church in Schwäbisch Hall
Rosengarten Germany Johann Schutt artist
My Uncle Johann is an artist, and this is one of his pieces hanging in the Rosengarten village hall. He also does more realistic landscape pieces – talk about pushing your artistic limits!
Schwäbisch Hall Einkorn
This is near the Einkorn, the highest point in the Schwäbisch Hall district. Is that a beautiful forest?
Schwabisch Hall
This little girl from the desert is delighted by fall in Baden-Württemberg.
Schwäbisch Hall
A sunny, perfect fall day in Schwäbisch Hall.

If you’re wondering about the family visit – well, my German relatives were exactly as I remembered them. I also had a great time meeting some of them for the first time. They took time to show us around the villages and fill me on some great history -- both family and local. I can’t say enough about my cousin Andrea, her husband Jurgen, and to Mirjam, Simon, the twins Maria and Johannes, and Martin and Malena. (Andrea introduced Anneka to spaetzle, her new favorite food.)

And of course, I’m not going to forget my Aunt Siglinda and Uncle Johann. To me, they hadn’t changed a bit and were every bit as great as I remembered. After seeing them again, I definitely don’t want to let too much time pass before visiting again.


Four Cheap Things to Do in Jeju, South Korea

Travel guidebooks sometimes call Jeju “the Hawaii of South Korea.” Though it falls short of Hawaii’s scenery, I really liked it. It has everything from a city of nearly half a million people to outdoor recreation. Also, this list of cheap things to do in Jeju will show you how to have fun without spending a lot.

Here are a few of my favorite parts of a visit to Jeju, along with one spot I regret missing. There is plentiful transportation; city buses run often, and taxis offer a reasonably priced option for quick trips around the city.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Cheap things to do in Jeju
At the base of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Cheap Things to Do in Jeju

Hike: Mount Halla (aka Hallasan)

A visit to the island’s highest point will give you a great view of the entire island. I enjoyed views of the many smaller volcanic cinder cones that dot the landscape. Along the way, I passed through forests populated by roe deer. Be sure to get an early start — there’s a 1 p.m. cutoff time to climb all the way to the summit. Hallasan not a technical hike, but the longest trail is 6 miles. There’s a 1,600 won fee to use the trails, which is about $1.50 U.S.

Climb: Seongsan Ilchulbong

This volcanic tuff cone pops up along the seashore and draws flocks of tour buses. The climb to the top is short, steep, and very crowded. But it’s worth the trip. On the way down, I found a second path that leads to the shore. There, you can try fresh raw seafood like abalone and octopus fresh from the water. The admission to climb Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak was 2,000 won, or about $1.70 U.S.

cheap things to do in jeju
Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Go Underground: Majanggul Lava Tube

A few miles south of the seashore, there’s massive lava tube designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of Manjanggul-gil, Gujwa-eup is open to visitors, and those familiar with caving may be shocked at how developed it is. Still, the sheer size makes it worth mentioning on my list of cheap things to do in Jeju. A few features inside are well lit, and people handy with their camera settings can capture some images worthy of framing. I prefer my caves and lava tubes less developed, but I still enjoy any chance to go underground. The admission fee will fluctuate according to exchange rates, but it was less than $2 during my visit.

Imbibe: Boris Brewery

Travel guides say Modern Times is the best-known brewery at the moment. “Best-known” and “best beer” are two different things. Had I known about Boris Brewery, I would’ve bypassed Modern Times (the beer there is simply awful). The latest venture by brewer Boris de Mesones, Boris Brewery earned a bronze medal at the Australian AIWA international beer competition and a silver medal at the European Beer Star. I like hoppy brews, so I’d suggest trying the two India Pale Ales on tap.

If you’ll be in Jeju anyway, be sure to check out Jeju Loveland. I also have a blog post all about it. Enjoy!

Don’t Make This Mistake if You Visit the Desert

You know why so many post-apocalyptic movies are about scarcity of water? Because water is really, really, really ridiculously important for the functioning of the human body and little things like growing food.

After reading stories about a French family’s disastrous experience with the a desert hike in the American Southwest, I felt awful.

If you haven’t heard, here’s the quick version: A vacationing French family went for a hike near White Sands National Monument in Mexico. In August. With barely any water. The parents died; their 9-year-old son, Enzo, survived, but will have to live with the most awful memories and probably a terrible case of survivor’s guilt.

"How stupid! Didn’t they realize what they were doing?" squawked many people.

I understand this knee-jerk reaction: The national park authorities did everything possible to alert people of the dangers, with more than adequate warning signs. I can’t say why Ornella and David Steiner didn’t obey them. This unbelievably sad situation was unnecessary and easily avoidable.

I think I found the real identity of the doctor who wrote about water intake for the New York Times.

But I feel a great deal of sympathy. Maybe they just didn’t understand the basics of human physiology and the critical role water plays in it. Or exactly how the hot, dry and unbelievably vast desert can suck moisture from a person’s body, especially during physical exertion. There is just nothing in France that can prepare a person adequately for the desert Southwest; it may as well be a different planet. Irresponsible articles like this mind-boggling piece of shit in the increasingly out-of-touch and haughty New York Times don’t help matters. The staggering ignorance of the comments is nearly equaled by the author’s ridiculous generalizations. The writer also failed to prove the harm in drinking 64 ounces a day, even in cooler, more humid conditions.His attitude encourages American to stay inadequately hydrated, fatigued, over-caffeinated and overfed.

hemp clothing
Your author (right) with Cody Lundin, putting our water knowledge into practice in the best laboratory there is – the high desert!

Where I live, people need to get rescued from Camelback Mountain – which is right in the middle of a city – every single year. In 2014, first responders went on 120 rescue missions (remember, this is just one mountain among many in the Phoenix area). Nearly every one of these rescues can be traced to dehydration – from getting immobilized by heat exhaustion to the lack of mental sharpness induced by dehydration. That leads to bad decision making, which leads to falls and injuries. Note to the New York Times: Precisely zero people have been rescued from Camelback Mountain due to the effects of hyperhydration. No adult is going to get hyper-hydrated by drinking that often-stated 64-ounces-a-day standard.

My foreign friends, especially those from Europe where deserts aren’t really in your frame of reference, I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you all to get back home safely. So I’m going to give you a few things to think about:

  1. The deserts in the American Southwest are huge. In many cases, they’re bigger than the countries you live in. Do not underestimate their size.
  2. Drink a lot. If you drink three liters a day as a baseline (more for increased heat and/or physical activity), you’re going to be in at least somewhere close to your needs.
  3. If you’re exercising or hiking or doing any physical activity, you need some electrolytes to go along with your water. Drop a few Nuun tablets or a few scoops of Skratch Labs mix into a liter of water, and you’ll stave off cramps and other effects of heat exhaustion. (NOTE: Nuun and Skratch Labs did not compensate me in any way for being mentioned. They’re just what I use whenever I exercise outdoors in the desert. Use whatever tastes good or makes sense to you.)
  4. Don’t forget to bring a snack. Raisins and nuts are compact and calorie-dense, and can balance the calories you burn.

There are a great many tips for staying safe in the desert. I can’t even scratch the surface here. If you plan to visit a desert region, I recommend picking up a copy of 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin. You will learn incredibly valuable information on hydration, desert safety and other wisdom that can be the difference between life and death. I’m not exaggerating. If Ornella and David Steiner had read this book, they’d still be alive and Enzo would still have parents.

Cool Stuff Roundup – Summer Edition

la compagnie
La Compagnie’s 757s look stylish inside and out.

I just realized that’s in been months since I’ve done a Cool Stuff Roundup. I aim to correct that today with a few very interesting tidbits I’ve culled from various locations online.

Let’s start with some air travel.

You know it’s a favorite of mine – and that I don’t love to hate airlines nearly as much as many people. And an airline like La Compagnie could make us both like airlines even better – it’s an all-business class airline operating between Charles de Gaulle Airport, London Luton Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey (which is the Paris of the Eastern Seaboard -- kind of. OK, not at all). La Compagnie also charges a barely even premium economy price.

La compagnie
Two of these seats for a $2,500 round trip for two? Yes, please.

For example, I priced a flight for one adult at less than $1,500. Word is a couple traveling together gets an even better price. Here’s what you get for that price: A Boeing 757-200 (previously owned by the excellent and meticulous Icelandair) holding less than 80 people; two by two seat layout with 180 degrees of recline; outlets at the seats; wifi; on-demand entertainment; seasonal menus; and a few other niceties I’d like to sample. The only downside I can see is that La Compagnie doesn’t seem to have airline alliances. So I’d have to book my flight to Newark separately, which creates a possible vector for problems. Still, I’d give La Compagnie a try next time I head to Europe. I’m sniffling and whinging a bit since I only found out about La Compagnie days – literally days! – after booking a trip to Europe on another airline for about the same price. In economy class. Grrrrr.

OK, let’s get a little closer to home with some coffee news.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that craft beer and top-quality coffee are my favorite beverages. When I was in Portland, I got hold of a super-delicious treat at Stumptown Coffee Roasters: a nitro-charged cold brew. It had the texture and look of a pint of Guinness, but tasted better (look, people, Guinness is mass-produced mediocrity – there are way better stouts out there).

Now, I no longer have to go to Portland for my nitro cold-brew fix: Songbird in downtown Phoenix is now pouring nitro cold brew. And soon, local newcomer Hazelrock will also be pouring nitro. This is a good time to be a coffee enthusiast in Phoenix!

Let’s shift gears back to transportation.

Ready to roll on Amtrak? If you’re in business or first class, you might get free digital newspapers to pass the miles.
Sorry, but I have to mix my metaphors by bringing up trains. Amtrak clued me into a nice new feature for its business and first-class passenger service: They’ll be able to enjoy unlimited access to the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers via the trains’ free onboard wifi; previously, Amtrak had distributed paper copies. Amtrak views this as an environmentally friendly move that will save 25 tons of newspapers each year.

I’d recommend swinging a deal to get the Wall Street Journal – I love that paper for its mix of serious news from around the globe and its often snarky, sly humor. Still, from a green perspective, this seems like a very nice move. Let’s also not forget that the newspaper format is kind of an unwieldy pain to handle – I’ll take it in electronic format any day.

OK, I’ve mentioned planes and trains. Let’s get boats in here – or rather, container ships.

I piqued the curiosity of two of my good friends last night by mentioning that people travel around the world via container ships. Not as crew – just as self-loading cargo. This article makes it sound awfully interesting. I could see this being a very interesting way to pass some time to do some writing, exercising and sleeping without the distractions.

If you just graduated college and you’re looking for something oddball to do, this is your answer. Right here.

The Born Adventurer
Meet the Born Adventurer.

Let’s wrap this up with a look at, a new blog I’m publishing.

This one is about a pretty big change in my life – being that dad to a new little girl who I hope will follow my interest in seeing the world. She’s not even 9 months old, and already has a passport and been camping. This story about her first milestones is really what the blog and my style of being a dad is all about. Give it a look, and spread the word -- I’m hoping to connect with like-minded parents to see what we can all learn from each other.

First Impressions of Toronto

A few moments from landing in Toronto.

On paper, I’m nothing you’d expect from an Arizonan. I have an instinctive grasp of hockey. I’m a member of the local curling club. Really, I should be from Canada.

But I haven’t even been to Canada in more than five years. That changed with my first trip away from the Southwest since this spring. I’m here to attend Mindcamp, a conference for creative professionals.

I got here the day before the conference starts just to allow cushion for things to go wrong. So far, the trip has been a mixed bag on that end. My first flight on WestJet (which will get a blog post of its own) was a great success. Unfortunately, my allegedly unlocked phone and international calling plan are hardly living up to the name – yet another time when T-Mobile has disappointed me. I also goofed up my check-in for the Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Center; that was my fault, though I was able to change my reservation in less than 10 minutes.

My room at the Holiday Inn.

I spent my first evening roaming Toronto. Being a craft beer fan, I had my radar pinging for a likely hangout. I wound up walking down Church Street, which lives up to its name with a series of elegant mini-cathedrals. They are just the tip of what makes Toronto’s architecture interesting; there’s a lot of classic gothic-inspired architecture right alongside some swoopy, modern lines that would be right at home from Sydney to Tokyo. Speaking of which, I can see the CN Tower from my room on the 22nd floor.

toronto c'est what
Testing craft beer at C’est What

Here’s a quick summary of my more interesting finds:

  • C’est What – A terrific beer bar that offers a mix of its own recipes, along with craft brews from around the region. I saw lots of interesting adjuncts from hemp to cacao nibs to ginger. And one of their guest taps, the Dereliction, was rated at more than 200 IBUs! (It was delicious.) They also take their food seriously, and aim for locally sourced ingredients. My poutine was pretty terrific, and the service was very personable and knowledgeable.
  • Loblaw’s – This appears to be a grocery chain, and it’s probably something locals take for granted. But I could’ve disappeared in the seafood section alone. It’s where I’m planning to have my first breakfast, for sure.
  • Toronto Railway Museum – I wish this had been open when I found it. But it was way too late, I guess. It’s built into an old wheelhouse which it shares with Steamwhistle Brewing and some retail stores. There’s also a tiny mini-railway out front along with some locomotives. Beautiful use of existing structures.
  • Daily Sushi Japanese Restaurant– It’s a few doors down from my hotel. I had a nice sampler plate of that chef’s recommendations. The waiter was also kind enough to bring me some tempura squash on the house.
An old locomotive silhouetted against the Toronto skyline

My snap judgment on Toronto is that it has an upwardly mobile, confident, prosperous feel. I don’t find it quite as friendly as Vancouver. The Starbucks outnumber the Tim Horton’s, and damn if I can find anything resembling a for-real coffeehouse on par with Stumptown, Intelligentsia or anything of that ilk. If you put me down somewhere random in Toronto and didn’t tell me where I was, it would remind me of a power-washed Chicago -- even though the drivers and cyclists are far more courteous here. It just has that big Midwestern city flavor to it. I do love its cosmopolitan diversity, though. It’s the melting pot that the U.S. claims to be.

Next up, I take the bus to Orillia for Mindcamp!


Are These 5 Things Ruining Travel?

ruining travel
A selfie stick and a duck face, all in one photo! (Photo by Marco Verch)
Awhile back, "Ask The Pilot" writer Patrick Smith labeled the selfie stick the scourge of global travel. I get his point: hordes of people waving metal poles, so intent on showing people that they were There that they forget to enjoy Being There. I like a few self-produced travel memories, but I don’t want to document so much that I forget to do.

Patrick got made me think a bit about what I consider the scourges of travel. To be clear, they’re not ruining travel for me, but they could be screwing yours up. (If I’ve left something off the list, set me straight in the comments.)

Ridiculously Doctored Travel Photos

I’ve been to some photogenic places. I have some beautiful photos from travels hanging in super sizes on my walls. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photos similar to mine processed beyond all reason into cartoonish facsimiles of themselves.

I’ve seen more than a few travelers post these photos and say "that’s where I’m going!" No – you’re going to a real place, not a rip in space and time where the scenery looks like it’s been abused by a cheesy photographer who plays with high dynamic range too much. These photos set up expectations that are hard to match.

ruining travel
I have almost no relevant art for this post – so enjoy this photo of kitties in South Korea.

Time for Some "Best" Control

Go to just about any travel discussion forum online. Count up the number of threads with the word "Best" in the title or subject line: "What’s the best food truck in San Francisco? What’s the best underrated cosplay-themed hotel in Belgrade? What’s the best miniature golf course in Sheboygan that caters to cross-dressing dwarves who work as assassins?" (Blame Bill Fitzhugh’s book Pest Control for that last one.)

Look, anyone with a functioning brainstem should know that nobody will ever agree on "the best" of anything. What’s wrong with asking for 5 of your favorite recommendations for -- well, whatever category you’re interested in?

Giving the Plot Away

ruining travel
I hope you like dogs, too.

When it comes to their entertainment, people are terrified of spoiler alerts. But when it comes to travel? It seems like people want to iron the surprises out, that anything not scheduled is ruining travel. Sure, a certain amount of research helps people get the most out of their travel – that’s the entire reason this blog exists! But do webcams, drone footage and virtual reality tours not suck the anticipation and surprise right out of the experience?

My advice: Do your homework, but leave room for spontaneity, for surprise.

Extreme Cheapskate Antics

I love a good deal. My specialty is scanning air travel routes and prices, mulling a huge list of variables (airline, alliance, aircraft type, schedule, reputation, etc.) and distilling that into a good deal. Not the cheapest, but a perfect intersection of value that fits my budget. It’s a beautiful thing. Sarah applies this same thinking when she digs for hotels and activities.

ruining travel
First cats, then a dog … now a baby. And yes, she likes to travel.

But when I see someone from a prosperous nation posting online for tips on free things to do in Mumbai, the blood vessels in my eyes feel like they’re about to burst. That’s another frequent topic – name the location, and people are looking for the cheapest, free-est things they can do; I half-expect someone to post about fun things they can get paid to do while traveling.

My friends, travel costs. Experiences cost. I have never regretted a penny I’ve spent on travel. I have, however, regretted money I didn’t spend. I have a list of things I should’ve done, but cheaped out on. That’s what I regret. And if you really, absolutely, positively must do something for free when traveling abroad -- simply walk around with your eyes open. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

Oh, and there’s a special hell reserved for travelers who pull all sorts of antics to save the equivalent of 25 cents when bargaining with someone who makes a 20th of their income. I’m not saying be a sucker – I’m saying “don’t be a cheapskate.”

Local Living

"How can I experience Place X like a local? How can I eat in Location Y like a local?" These are some of the silliest questions to ever take up 1s and 0s online.

You experience a place like a local by becoming one, or tagging along with one. And that last one is even questionable; your local will probably show you the cool stuff, not the routine places she actually frequents. Locals like to put their home’s best foot forward.

And here’s something else to remember: Locals eat at Applebee’s, too. They go to chain restaurants and drink over-roasted, over-sugared, vaguely coffee-flavored confections at Starbucks, too. That’s why there’s a ChipotleSmashPizza everywhere short of Olympus Mons.

Am I Just Getting Cranky?

I sound grumpy. Shit. I’m glad that people travel abroad at all. But it would be great if the people we send to each others’ countries might be more than walking travel cliches who exist to do something more than share their photos online.

Go forth and travel, people. But try to think about it a bit, eh?

Get a Great Deal on Luci Solar Lanterns

Luci light
My campsite – lit by Luci.

You might remember my Camping Lantern Review of 2015 that I published last week – and the MPOWERD Luci light that took top honors. If you’ve had the urge to get a bunch, MPOWERD has some deals for you. Shipping is also free for orders $75 and up during the promotion, which runs through June 8.

You can get two of the shag-a-delic Luci Aura lights (which will throw some swingin’ colors onto your yard or campsite) and a Luci Lux for $49.98. That’s $20 off!

camping lantern
The MPOWERD Luci solar-powered camping lantern boggles my mind with awesomeness.

The other option is two Luci Outdoor lights plus a free EMRG for $29.98 – $10 off on this deal, which is the one I’m going for. I plan to give some of these to my outdoor friends as gifts, so I might as well save a few bucks while I’m at it.

And remember – you can also give Luci lights to people in communities that don’t have reliable electricity. I like handing my money to a socially responsible company that stands for something beyond the bottom line; giving a Luci or three is a great way to let other companies know they should act like MPOWERD and make the world better in a way that fits them. (HINT: I ordered two of the Luci/EMRG packages and selected the GIVE option for 2 Luci lights to get the free shipping.)


My last post also mentioned jerky. And loyal reader Trevor wants me to cough up my recipe. Here is is:

1. Get 2 pounds of either top round steak or rump roast.

2. Get a big enough dish to accommodate the meat.

3. Add two cups of red wine, plus the Korean BBQ sauce of your choice.

4. Mix well, add the meat.

5. Marinate for at least 24 hours, flipping the meat once halfway through.

6. Slice into strips.

7. Lay it out on your dehydrator, lightly salt the strips (use quality salt) and let the dehydrator go to work.

8. Uncover to find delicious jerky. Eat while standing at your kitchen counter. Growl at anyone who approaches. (This enhances the flavor.)


Random Cool Stuff – May Edition

English: Food dehydrator Français : Déshydrateur
Slightly nicer then mine, but the same brand. Get one ASAP! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t believe May is almost over already. But the good part of a month flying by is getting to share a some random cool stuff I gleaned this month – from the Internet, from books, wherever.

Up first, let’s talk about some interesting things I’ve started to do with stuff out of my foods dehydrator. My two favorite dehydrated foods are jerky and apples. But check this out – there are a few things you can do with jerky and apples next time you go camping -- beyond just eating them as-is.

First, the jerky. If you use those dehydrated meal packs, you’ll notice that they’re generally low on protein. Bump that protein factor up by tossing some jerky in there – but be sure to add a bit of extra hot water. If you make a nice jerky in a good marinade, this will also make your camp food far tastier. Speaking of dehydrated camp meals, I’ve heard that some people make complete dehydrated meals at home: If you have some advice, please pass it on – I’d like to take a shot at this, and I trust any advice from a reader more than a random Internet search.

The Swedish FireKnife is a cool piece of gear – it could be a game changer in “Naked and Afraid!”

The same goes for the apples. If you’re making oatmeal, toss some apples in there for extra flavor. Delicious!

Now I’m about to get personal. Ever since I went to the Aboriginal Living Skills School, people have been wanting me to try getting on the TV show Naked and Afraid (this includes many of my relatives, and I am more than slightly disturbed by how many want me to run around naked on TV).

Anyway, I ran across a reference to some of the gear choices Naked and Afraid contestants picked at the start of the show. It got me wondering what I’d pick. Only one of them picked a piece of gear that I use: the Swedish Firesteel. This is a solid piece of gear that I’ve used to start many fires – even at home for my barbecue grill: Like anything, using a flint is a skill, and it’s one you should practice even when you don’t need to. I’ve also started more hand drill fires at home than I have camping, no contest.

You're seeing this ridiculous dog in a bike basket because this is a "random stuff" post. This ludicrous dog was in Hanoi.
You’re seeing this ridiculous dog in a bike basket because this is a “random stuff” post. This ludicrous dog was in Hanoi.

Back to the Firesteel: I think a smart Naked and Afraid duo would be smart to make it one of their choices, with the other person using a small bushcraft knife. I’d suggest resisting the urge to go with a machete, big quasi-survival knife or hatchet. Not even a bottle – there are ways to make water-carrying vessel, one that can endure heat to boil water for purifying; iif you could get the Swedish Fireknife, you’d get knife and flint in one and be able to let your partner grab a water vessel. That’s a pretty kick-ass little knife with a sharp Scandinavian-ground edge. The flat spine and thin-but-strong blade make it great for batoning, which negates the need for an axe. It’s also stupid-cheap, yet very decent, un-fancy quality for frugal folks.

Get one of these. Seriously. (Photo from

Third up – I’ve absolutely fallen in love with my 32-ounce BPA-free REI bottle. It holds plenty of water, and a pair of them are with me on every hike. I had only one problem with them, and that was the wide mouth. One false move, and I’m wearing more water than I’m drinking.

I discovered the Guyot Designs Splashguard, a cool silicone insert that turns many types of wide-mouth bottles into sippy-cups for outdoorsy adults.

But there’s another really cool thing the Splashguard can do: Have you ever had a pair of bottles, one with water that’s disinfected and ready to drink, and one that you just treated with a few drops of iodine -- and you can’t remember which is which? Your Splashguard can be the key. The bottle with the Splashguard is ready to go, the other isn’t. Of course, you can also have different-colored bottles. The Splashguard is still a pretty solid way to keep from drinking untreated water.

Let’s take this back to modern times. You know how much you hate the middle seat while flying? Well, one company has a solution to that problem. How likely are you to see this on an airplane anytime soon? I vote "no chance in hell."

There are so many great ideas out there – like scramble crosswalks and movies that aren’t sequels/prequels/reboots/remakes – that never come into use. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way of the world. And airlines, especially those based in the United States, take a special pleasure in ignoring any way to make flying better.

That’s all I have for you today. See ya next month!

The Great Camping Lantern Review of 2015

camping lantern
A camping lantern trio ready for testing.

A few months ago, my neighborhood had a blackout. And true to Murphy’s Law, I had a much harder time than necessary finding any of my flashlights or candles. It took some irritating groping in the dark – and I don’t mean the fun kind – before I found a flashlight.

This got me thinking that I need to have some light sources around in conspicuous places. I headed to a few outdoor stores to pick up compact camping lantern sampler. I wanted to see which ones would be good for stashing around the house, stuffing in a backpack/car or even doing both. I wound up with a UCO (pronounced "you-coe," which I get wrong in the video below) Clarus lantern/flashlight combo, the tiny little NEBO Tools LUMO and the MPOWERD Luci Solar Light. Each one has multiple light levels and easy ways to attach a carabiner so you can dangle it from a handy spot inside your house or the roof of your tent.

camping lantern
The UCO Clarus camping lantern/flashlight combi impresses me – a lot.

Before you watch the video, be aware that I could see better than the GoPro camera could. So the tent appears brighter in person than in the video. ANOTHER NOTE ON THE VIDEO: ANY AND ALL LENS FLARE IS ACCIDENTAL – I AM NOT CHANNELING JAR-JAR ABRAMS!

Let’s take a quick run through each camping lantern. The Clarus has a neat metal loop in the handle. Clip it to a carabiner and hang it from the rough of your tent, give it a little downward tug and it expands into a mini camping lantern. Push it back in, and it focuses the beam flashlight style. For $19.99, it’s hard to argue with the value of having one of these. 150 lumens, 3 AAA batteries.

camping lantern
The super-cool and compact LUMO camping lantern.

The tiny little LUMO is quite a deal. For $5.99, why not have one of these in every room of the house, in your car an in your backpack? It’s not the sort of gizmo you’ll regret buying. It’s the least-bright camping lantern of the three, but it’s also unbelievably small and inexpensive and comes with its own little carabiner. It’s only 25 lumens, but that’s better than zero lumens while fumbling in the dark for a 300-lumen flashlight you can’t find.

As you can tell, I really like the Clarus and the LUMO. But it’s the Luci that blows my mind. And why not? I mean, it’s an inflatable, waterproof, solar-powered camping lantern. Attach it to your backpack to charge, which it will in about 8 hours. It’ll then give you about 12 hours of light, or you can let it sit somewhere and hold its charge for a year until you need it.

camping lantern
The MPOWERD Luci solar-powered camping lantern boggles my mind with awesomeness.

MPOWERD is also positioning Luci as a serious helping hand to bring lighting to people in areas that don’t have reliable – or any – access to electricity. What I think of as a camping lantern is a primary lighting source to some people around the world. I’d say get a bunch for yourself and as gifts for your outdoorsy friends, and maybe throw a few bucks at MPOWERD to put a Luci in the hands of a family in need of some light. $10 – $25, lumens not listed. Or I missed it.

Honestly, each camping lantern in this post deserves a place in your gear stash. Any of them will also make a great gift for anyone, even those who think “If the outdoors are so great, why did we invent the indoors?”.

Four Unusual Tourism Niches

tourism niches
A look at the sarcophagus at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are all sorts of tourism niches out there. You’ve heard of people traveling for food, shopping, golf, medical treatments, maybe even to visit war zones, disaster sites or the graves of dead celebrities. There’s also a lot of unsavory stuff out there that sways me from my usual stance that anything that motivates a person to get a passport, hop on a plane and get out of the usual milieu is a great thing. But let’s skip that for another day. I want to introduce you to a few tourism niches that I find genuinely interesting, potentially enriching and maybe just a bit nerdy.

tourism niches
View of Chernobyl taken from roof of building in Pripyat Ukraine. Photo Taken by Jason Minshull, then digitally zoomed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atomic Tourism Right now, there are people taking a tour into the 1,000-square mile Exclusion Zone established to keep people away from the wreckage of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tourists are heading to Ukraine to fork over rubles to go into one of the most ghostly areas ever – the abandoned city of Pryp’yat’. They’re braving high background radiation levels (this recent blog post will show readings from a Geiger counter at various places).

tourism niches
An active volcano is a great location for sound tourism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other sites that can take you straight back to the Atomic Age, from the excellent Titan Missile Museum in Arizona to the White Sands National Monument. Personally, I’d absolutely love to take a trip into the Exclusion Zone, mostly to see what happens to a city when humans all but abandon it; believe it or not, there are still people who squat in the Exclusion Zone for all sorts of reasons. Here’s another fascinating article about the Exclusion Zone.

Sound Tourism

tourism niches
Glaciers make incredible noises, too.

I wrote about this awhile back, and I’m still fascinated by the idea of going places to hear things. And I’m not talking about concerts. In some cases, sound tourism is about not hearing things – it’s about silence The Sonic Wonders website has a great collection of ideas for people interesting in sound tourism (definitely one of the tourism niches that interests me most). The booming sand dunes are closest to me over in California. The site also lists Jökulsárlón Floating Icebergs and the creaks from the little icebergs. Some of the more interesting natural sounds I’ve heard while traveling have been the sound of water flowing under a glacier, and the rumble of huge cinders belching out of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Oh, and howler monkeys make a really eerie "woofing" sound. Urban Exploration This is one of those tourism niches for people who think creepy equals cool. If you’ve ever wanted to poke your nose into an abandoned building or spend the day mapping out an abandoned subway tunnel, this is for you.

tourism niches
English: Inside Richmond Asylum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you turn to the right information sources, you’ll discover all sorts of places in your urban environment are waiting for you to arrive armed with flashlights. Urban exploration does carry some high risks – arrest, accidents, even encounters with people who calls these "abandoned" areas home. Still, it’s all pretty tempting. I know of an entire largely forgotten underground portion of Phoenix that even has a bowling alley. And there has to be a lot more that nobody talks about – the same probably goes for your home city. Urban exploration reminds me a bit of caving. Enthusiasts don’t like to share their secrets with the masses. But here’s a good place to start.

tourism niches
Ol Doinyo Lengai Crater, Tanzania. Taken from south-western edge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volcano Tourism Out of all the odd tourism niches, this is probably my favorite. The forces that shape the world fascinate me. I’ve stood on mountains that are emitting sulfuric fumes. I’ve looked into recently erupted volcanoes. I’ve seen the aftermath of catastrophic explosions (the blown-out visage of Red Crater in the Tongariro National Park is my favorite example). It really makes me realize how much power geographic forces possess.

tourism niches
Imagine the explosive power behind making Red Crater explode.

If you’d like to see volcanic forces first-hand, I recommend Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii. I would also have recommended the oddball volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania. National Geographic wrote an amazing piece about 10 years ago all about its unusual black, free-flowing, low-temperature lava. But an explosion blew the Tim Burton-esque landscape that was once at its summit into oblivion. Enjoy the photos, anyway. And there’s also a place in Guatemala where you can ride a sled down a volcano’s cinder landscape. Here’s a source for planning your own volcanic vacation.

Find Adventure at a Cenote Dive Site

cenote dive site
English: Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The SCUBA diving experts at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors have opened me up to the many adventures in their sport. Encountering underwater wildlife and examining shipwrecks could definitely lure someone into SCUBA diving.

But I started thinking about some of the reasons I like hiking; one of the main reasons I hike is to see cool geological sites. Volcanoes, towering cliffs, caves, that sort of thing. I asked my PADI friends what sort of geological oddities I could find underwater.

The PADI crew tells me the cenotes – or sinkholes – in Mexico might be the best bet. There are cenotes all around the world, from Australia to Canada to Zimbabwe. The famous The Great Blue Hole dive site in Belize is one example.

cenote dive site
Swimmers in cenote, Yucatan, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But let’s talk about the cenote dive sites in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They’re packed with stalagmites and stalactites, two of the features I like best in dry-land caves. These are some incredible caves. It sounds like you have thousands to pick from in the Yucatan thanks to a lot of limestone. You can narrow the search for a great cenote dive site by consulting a PADI dive centers near Playa del Carmen: Pro Dive Mexico, Scuba Playa and Dressel Divers can all help you find a great cenote dive site. If you really want a long-lasting adventure, find out which ones connect to larger, horizontal underwater cave systems (some cenotes are connected, and can extend 300 feet under the water table).

Cenote unterirdisch
Cenote underwater (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something else cool about cenotes in Mexico: They have their place in the mythology of indigenous people. In the Maya culture, some cenotes like the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza were considered a gateway to the afterlife. So you may catch a glimpse of artifacts or human remains!

I’m still on a quest for more interesting underwater geological sites. I imagine that any underwater volcanic activity is probably too deep and otherwise dangerous for SCUBA divers to approach (but correct me if I’m wrong). And I’d love to know of submerged meteor impact craters, fissures -- just about anything. Chime in with anything you know about, and I’ll collect your info for a future post! In the meantime, here’s a fun blog post about cenotes in the Yucatan. It also has some good photos.

Thanks as always to my friends at PADI for the great information.


Random Cool Travel Tidbits – April 2015

Greta Garbo graces the tail of this Norwegian Air Shuttle 737-800.
Norwegian Air Shuttle has a lot of personality – and its latest effort to show it gets them a space in the April Random Cool Travel Tidbits post.

It’s time for another Random Cool Travel Tidbits post. That’s where I share some not-so-deep (but still interesting) thoughts about the sort of things this site is all about -- travel, adventure, gear, advice.

First up, let talk about a piece of luggage that’s designed for travel in our times. How’s that, you ask? Can it make your airplane seat widen by four inches, or get you automatic business-class upgrades? Sorry, not quite. But the Barracuda CAN give you a handy tray for eating or pounding away at your laptop while waiting in a crowded boarding lounge. It CAN collapse small enough to slide under a bed when you’re not traveling. It CAN power up your cell phone’s dying battery with an onboard charger. The ergonomic handle is pretty nifty; an optional GPS/proximity tracker are also pretty cool, and may well be worth an extra 50 clams.

The Barracuda has already exceeded its Kickstarter goal. You can still grab a good deal – these will start at about $480, but Kickstarter contributors can score one for less than half that.

Next up, I have some airline fun. I think way too many travelers dehumanize and denigrate airline employees. I sometimes get annoyed with them myself, but I always try to remember that they’re real people.

Norwegian Air Shuttle seems to be trying to remind people that human beings are behind every flight. I’ve noticed quite a few recent posts on its Facebook page that give the names of its pictured crew members. So far, it’s been captains and first officers – it would also be great to see flight attendants, gate agents, mechanics -- the whole gamut. It seems to fit very well with my impressions of Norwegian Air Shuttle. All my flights on them have been very personable.

grey ghost lightweight assault pack mod 1
This is the perfect day pack that you can push beyond just being a day pack.

Let’s swing back toward gear for the next few tidbits. I’ll start with day packs. I’ve had some decent daypacks like the REI Flash 22. The Flash 22 is pretty good, but I keep wondering -- what if it was a bit more flexible? What if it had some sort of modularity like military gear, which features these handy things called MOLLE loops. They allow you to add external pouches to existing packs. You can mix and match the pouches to the activity. This version has straps and goes for about $90. There’s also a version without straps that military dudes will attach to a ranger vest, chest rig or some similar setup.

Problem is, the military stuff is stiff, heavy and -- military looking. I don’t like the whole OD/camouflage look. Well, I ran into the Grey Ghost Lightweight Assault Pack Mod 1 when I wandered into Edgeworks while I was visiting Frederick recently. It was light, flexible, sturdy and equipped with MOLLE loops. You can also find them for a reasonable price. Add a few MOLLE pouches, and you could probably be out for a few days if you travel light. Absolutely super. (By the way, the Edgeworks crew is very friendly, and they have a great selection. It annoys me more than a little that a tiny town in Maryland has a knife shop better than any in my metro area of like 5 million people.)

REI Kingdom 4
The new tent for the new member of my family.

Speaking of light packers -- I hate, hate, hate giving space to anything that doesn’t earn its keep. That’s why I don’t use travel pillows. I haven’t ever found them comfortable, and they can only do one thing. But I like to be able to rest my head in uncomfortable confines. My solution? A stuff sack filled with whatever makes sense – t-shirts, socks, a jacket. All will work fine. There! Now you have yourself a pillow that earns its keep in other ways!

Alright, one more gear update combined with a little announcement: There’s a new little person in my family. She’s not quite 4 months old yet, but her mom and I already talking about her first camping trip. Obviously, our much-loved The North Face Rock 22 can’t accommodate us and Little Traveler. So we used our REI dividend and a 20 percent of coupon to snag an REI Kingdom 4 tent. The footprint isn’t huge, but the thing is tall enough for me to stand inside. And it has a room divider so neither of the big people will roll over onto Little Traveler; she’ll have her own room and a nice little nest in the Kingdom 4. Also, on our first try, we assembled the Kingdom 4 in less than five minutes.

Watch for a future full review of the REI Kingdom 4.

Now, I’ll bring this to a close with your chance to do something good. If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you have a pile of airline miles. I know these are precious – they’re great for upgrades and other perks. I get it.

Still, I hope you’ll think about using some of your air miles to help seriously ill kids. Make-A-Wish needs air miles to help grant wishes – travel is one of the biggest expenses in helping grant wishes, and nearly 75 percent of wish experiences require travel. All April long, Make-A-Wish is making a special request for air miles as part of its Give Wishes Wings campaign. Visit the Give Wishes Wings site and find out how your air miles can help.


12 Great Wreck Dives You Should Visit

wreck dives
The Maru-Chuuk

It seems my old friends from the Professional Association of Dive Instructors are at it again – trying to lure me into SCUBA diving. And they know the right way to do it -- show me a bunch of photos of sunken ships and sharks.

PADI has also compiled a list of its 12 favorite wreck dives in the United States. What I like about this list is that they’re relatively modern wrecks. Each will give you a glimpse of fairly recent history.

If you’re looking at this list and wondering how to get started, it’s pretty easy – get SCUBA certified. There are more than 6,200 dive shops worldwide where you can get a SCUBA certification. Not quite as numerous as Starbucks, but still easier to find than you might imagine.

wreck dives
The Carthaginian

Now, let’s check out the dive sites and see what PADI has to say about them! I added some of my own commentary in italics.

Maru-Chuuk (San Francisco) — This cargo vessel, sitting 200 feet below the water, had six 500-pound bombs rip it open and send it straight down, smashing to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Learn more here:

Carthaginian II (Maui) — This whaling-vessel replica rests at 95 feet and was sunk on Dec. 13, 2005, to serve as an artificial reef for marine life such as turtles and stingrays. Learn more here:

wreck dives
The Sea Tiger

Sea Tiger (Oahu) — This boat, which was originally apprehended carrying 93 illegal Chinese immigrants was sunk as an artificial reef in 1999 and is just a short boat ride off of Wakiki Beach. Learn more here:

YO-257 (Oahu) —This former World War II Oiler Boat sits 120 feet below water and is considered an advanced wreck dive. It is reported that it’s not uncommon to see reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles will often rest on the decks of the wreck. Learn more here:

wreck dives

We can safely guess that PADI folks will use any excuse to get themselves to Hawaii. I’m not judging --

HMCS Yukon (California) —This ship is a 366-foot-long destroyer which lies 105 feet below water and is the crown jewel of Wreck Alley in San Diego. The best photo op for this wreck is the huge smokestack that is covered with bright-orange and pink corynactis anemones. Learn more here:

Destroyer? More than 360 feet long? Wreck Alley? How can you NOT want to dive this?

wreck dives
The Yukon, which is in San Diego – nobody, not even Ron Burgundy, really knows what this means.

Oriskany (Florida) —The wreck titled the "Mighty O" is said to be the Super Bowl of wreck dives.  This 888 feet long ship is the world’s largest artificial reef. On this dive you’ll have the opportunity to see amberjack, grouper, red, snapper, butterflyfish and French Angels. Learn more here:

Sounds like we have lots of fish – and lots of ship here. I’ll resist the temptation to take a poke at Florida and cite novels by Laurence Shames, Tom Dorsey and Dave Barry as evidence.

Manhattan (Great Lakes) — Lake Superior’s Alger Underwater Preserve contains several wrecks like the Manhattan, containing old nails, chains and pulleys and is a great representation of a 19th century steamer. Learn More here:

wreck dives
The Manhattan

Well, not all wreck dives can be in warm tropical places. I suppose you could drop into  Chicago if you do this dive and have a nice bowl of ramen at the Slurping Turtle(keeping the aquatic theme) to warm you up.

LuLu (Alabama) — This vessel sank off the coast of Orange Beach, Alabama on May 26, 2013 making it the state’s first artificial reef. Now divers travel 90 minutes from shore to explore the boat 115 feet below the sea’s surface. Learn more here:

wreck dives
The Lulu

Papoose (North Carolina) — The Papoose was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1942 and below water is where it has remained ever since. On a daily basis, five to 10 sand tiger sharks can be seen hanging around the sunken ship. Learn more here:

If you like sea creatures as well as wreck dives, I say this is a winner.

USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg (Florida) — A decommissioned U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship, the Vandenberg lies upright in 130 feet of water and is a favorite with divers, due to its large size of 520 feet. Learn more here:

wreck dives
The Papoose, and a shark!

This one also sounds like a winner – though 130 feet down doesn’t sounds very easy! SCUBA experts, feel free to correct me and tell me I’m just being a big baby!

Spiegel Grove (Florida) — This vessel served in the U.S. Navy and was nicknamed "Top Dog," as this massive warfare ship once carried 330 troops, 18 officers and eight helicopters. Divers have the opportunity to fin through the wheelhouse, find barracuda on the deck and swim through propellers at the stern.  Learn more here:

I’d be all over a trip into the wheelhouse!

wreck dives
The Hoyt S. Vandenberg

U-352 (North Carolina) — This German submarine had a crew of 40 serving aboard the vessel. Of that 40, 15 remain inside as of May 9, 1942 when USCGC Icarus downed the ship. It now lies 115 feet and the must see for divers include the conning tower, gun mounts and torpedo-loading hatch.

Oh, my! This sounds like a spooky, creepy winner. I have a soft spot for U boats since I visited the U-505 at the as a boy.

wreck dives
Call it the Top Dog …
wreck dives
I can’t resist a U-boat.