Thursday, December 29, 2016

#5 - Thursday, 29 December 2016 | Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Greetings and Happy Holidays!

On Christmas Day I moved my base to my stepfather Joel's house where my parrot Jesse has been a houseguest. We went to iPic theaters in the afternoon for an early dinner and the film Christmas Office Party. Joel and I have seen loads of movies at iPic since I returned to Chicagoland almost four years ago. It is part sports bar with a gourmet menu and part movie theater with eight small cinemas with luxury seating and wait service for food and drink. We get the premium reserved seating, which are power recliners with a pillow and blanket! Popcorn is included and for the first thirty minutes they will bring you cocktails and the full menu. I don't much care for eating in the dark other than appetizers or popcorn so we usually have our meal in the sports bar and then have a beer or two during the film.

The following day–Boxing Day in the U.K. and a number of countries that previously belonged to the British Empire, including Canada–Joel and I went shopping at his favorite grocery store where they make an amazing super kale fruit smoothie and I picked up some Amy's Organic vegetarian microwave meals for the week's dinners, and then had a wonderful sushi dinner at Wok 'N Fire in South Barrington.

I remain in the holding pattern as I await delivery of my new truck and am able to then head south. In the meantime, I continue preparations and am enjoying relaxing at coffee shops, my sister's "Plenty" home store and with Joel watching hockey games and such. My toes are still crossed that perhaps my truck will arrive today and I can be in Key West for Saturday night's New Year's Eve, but have resigned myself to that not happening in which case I will take a mini road-trip instead. I really can't put 3000 more miles on my vehicle before I trade it in so I am limited on how far I can go. But have camera, will travel ...

Happy 2017 to you and yours. All the best in the new year and beyond, MJ

Thursday, December 22, 2016

#4 - Thursday, 22 December 2016 | Algonquin, Illinois

Even the best laid plans ...

Yesterday afternoon I received the disappointing news that due to Coachmen RV factory set backs my travel trailer will not come off the factory line until January 17. This was the bad news after good news during some morning research that led me to believe that the 2017 F-150 trucks with the second-generation 3.5L EcoBoost V6 and new 10-speed automatic transmission (my ordered model) had begun to ship.

When life gives you lemons make lemonade ...

So... once I have the truck and am able to get the spray-in bedliner taken care of and install the Extang tonneau cover that John Apple so generously gifted me, I will hit Florida with tent and sleeping bag. I'm easy. I just need warmth and wildlife. I need to capture images, hike, pick my guitar around a campfire, catch spiders and snakes. The adventure just got more adventurous. I can't leave now as I can't put more miles on my CUV that I am trading in. I need to wait for the truck. Assuming that the RV was available for pickup around January 24, I will just have to drive back from Florida to get it and then return to the south. I will want to use it for a week or so and then store it in southern Florida where the pipes won't freeze while I am in Malaysia. Extra miles, yes, but they will be done in style in my tricked out shiny new truck.

Happy holidays to you and yours, MJ

Monday, December 19, 2016

#3 - Monday, 19 December 2016 | Lake in the Hills, Illinois

If I wasn't already restless and yearning to get out of Dodge, the subzero temperatures of the last two days have provoked those emotions. I type this during breakfast at a Panera restaurant as my toes struggle to thaw. I am now without a garage and scraping the frozen snow off my car this morning with the thermometer showing -10ºF/-23ºC was grim. Sunday afternoon I moved into the guest room of my sister's home in Lake in the Hills, Illinois. I didn't leave her house yesterday except to walk her dog. I could have remained in my soon-to-be-former house until noonish on Tuesday, but there was nothing left there and my tasks were complete. Last night she and I ordered a pizza and started binge-watching Mozart in the Jungle, a refreshing show she had learned about while watching one of the stars as a guest on the Chelsea show. My parrot Jesse is living with my stepdad in Hoffman Estates, about 30 minutes away, because she wouldn't be safe around my sister's wonderful rescue dog Stella. After this morning's breakfast, I will go spend some time with Jess before I meet with my real estate attorney at 1:30 pm. Tomorrow at 2:30 pm. my attorney and real estate agent will attend my house closing while I do anything else. I just want the check.

As I sat in my sister's house yesterday afternoon, I read one of the many thousands of books Lisa owns. She has bookcases and book stacks in every single room of the home she shares with my brother-in-law Randy. I spotted a Frommer's guide to Southern Florida where I hope to be within the next two weeks (maybe sooner?). The temperature there is currently over 80ºF. I can't be canoeing the Everglades, hiking the prairies and necking a cold beer in the Keys soon enough.

However, here I am – in the frozen heartland – and I must occupy myself and prepare to depart. I have shopping to do and my projects include reorganizing my photo library in Adobe Lightroom and working on some marketing assignments for the company in Seattle I used to work for. The best thing about the work I do is that it is largely computer-based and have laptop, will travel. And will blog ...

All the best, MJ

Thursday, December 15, 2016

#2: Thursday, 15 December 2016 | Huntley, Illinois

I am in a holding pattern. I will close on my house on Tuesday, 20 December, but I can’t flee the frozen heartland until I have four axles beneath me. My shiny new travel trailer and truck are expected on disturbingly vague dates: “by Christmas” and “by the end of the year”, respectively. My itinerary for 2017 will be open, and I will follow the weather to try to stay between fifty degree nights and eighty degree days. However, snowbirds flock to Florida during January so I have already made some campsite reservations. The first begins 3 January 2017 for four nights at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Will I make it?

Kissimmee Prairie is between the Kissimmee Chain Of Lakes and Lake Okeechobee with the Blue Cypress Conservation area just to the east and the Atlantic coast near Vero Beach just further east. There is much to see in this area and it is the base camp from which I will seek to find the introduced population of the Mexican theraphosid species Brachypelma vagans along the canals and orchards near Fort Pierce. It is my first destination regardless, but the question is whether I will have to forfeit my prepaid campsite during the first week of January. While much of my western camping will be the boondocking, the free and dispersed primitive camping I defined in the first blog entry, Florida has fewer opportunities for staying at no cost on public land, and during the month of January most RVers crowd southern Florida. The state park offers full hookups with electricity and water for $16 a night so I eagerly made a reservation hoping my timeline would jive. Now I just need Coachmen RV/General RV and Ford/Tom Peck Ford to do their part. Because of the many snowbirds (people who flock to warmer climes during the northern winter) who made reservations long ago, campsite reservations are tricky and I was only able to book four nights. Once I hit the road I will be able to begin picking some other spots. The only other reservation I have made is not prepaid and is not in a state park. I will seldom stay in private and comparably expensive RV parks during 2017, but I will have to during January and have my second set of dates scheduled beginning 16 January at The Boardwalk RV Resort in Homestead. This is a great location to be able to explore Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Reserve and drive out to the Florida Keys. I’d like to try to find a campsite in the Everglades while I’m down there, but I will find comfort in knowing that my RV is parked in a gated RV park with security if I decide to drive all the way out to Key West without it. It all depends on timing. Should the Gods of Love and Reason (who caught that Rush reference?) cooperate and RV and F-150 arrive by December 29, I will be off and will make it to Key West for New Year’s Eve (sought alone to rule the fate of man … Cygnus X-1, Hemispheres, Rush).

As I mentioned in the premiere posting, this blog will be an almost daily supplement to what will be daily posts to my @jacobipix Instagram. Follow the exploits of one guitar-picking, snake and spider chasing photog and his little parrot as they tour America. It’s a reality TV series in the making! You’ll learn all sorts of crazy stuff including new words like boondocking and shunpiking. How about glamping? It’s a matter of perspective, but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify. This word is a mash up of glamour and camping and refers to those who have more amenities than most people do in their brick and mortar homes. Hell, I just watched an episode of Big Time RV where a couple bought a $650,000 motor home. That’s right. That’s four times what I sold my house for! But I’ve spent years camping in leaky tents, sometimes freezing me arse off in a cheap sleeping bag poorly suited even for summer. Some will accuse my new 31 1/2 travel trailer of being too posh. The grass is always greener …

As I wrote before, I will return to Chicago in early February to fly to Dubai and on to Kuala Lumpur and my final destination of Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. After a week at the LimeTree Hotel in Kuching, I will return to KL to fly to Langkawi Island to stay at Berjaya Langkawi Resort. However, with any luck, before the month of January ends my buddy John Apple will be joining the spider chase in Florida. Those of you who know John know that he is an expert on araneomorphs or "true spiders", as well as other little invertebrates. I imagine his girlfriend Ashley will be with him, and the three of us will comb Florida for all sorts of creepy crawlies. Having John as a field researcher will definitely increase my yield of true spider photographs for upcoming projects, and it will be good to have some company around the campfire at night.

Stay tuned as I continue to document #roadtrip2017. My post frequency will increase as I take delivery of my vehicles and prepare to depart. I will be on the road to Atlanta as soon as I can, overnighting in a hotel there during my two day trip to southern Florida. Will I make it for New Year’s Eve and toast 2017 with a tropical drink in some bar in Key West? Or will I still be bundled up in Chicagoland? Only time will tell …

All the best, MJ

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


PIKEY is a term that is oft used pejoratively to describe "gypsies" in the UK. Typically, it refers to Irish Travellers or pavees that lead an itinerant lifestyle, often moving about in caravans. You may have heard this term in the film Snatch where Brad Pitt plays an Irish "gypsy" and speaks with an almost indecipherable accent. I love this movie, but I prefer the BBC/Netflix series Peaky Blinders, which is in my Top 10 favorite television programs of all time. In Peaky, the gang's enemies use "pikey" as a dismissive ethnic slur not because they are of Irish origin, but because they have Romani heritage. "Tinker" and "gypsy" are equally pejorative synonyms. The Romanis, a traditionally nomadic ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent, entered Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Fans of Peaky will note that the language the "Blinders" occasionally use to speak to each other is Romani (or Romany).

I have found my greatest happiness as a nomad of sorts. I was entrenched in my suburban Chicago life for some time and then moved about the country, occasionally with some haste. I moved to the Washington/Idaho border to live in Pullman. Fourteen months later my journey continued and I ended up in Nashville. As much as I loved living in Tennessee, my road trips to exhibit at reptile shows from Kentucky to Florida, and occasional trips to visit my family in northern Illinois, were the highlights of that period. Next I moved to Seattle for less than a year, then moved back to Chicagoland, up to Milwaukee, back for a short stay with my mother and stepfather in Chicagoland and then, finally, back to Seattle for a longer stay. During the aforementioned moves, I once lived in four states in one year.

I now travel the world as often as possible and have made numerous visits to the UK (a dozen as of this writing) since 2006, plus field trips and holidays to Costa Rica, Suriname, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Tokyo. I've visited Amsterdam. I've passed through Dubai, Guyana, Hong Kong and other exotic locales. In October I visited Budapest and February will see my return to Langkawi Island, Malaysia after a week in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. However, this world travel has only occurred over the past ten years. I didn't own a passport until 2006. I got it for my first trip to England, which preceded my field trip to Costa Rica later that same year. I believe my wanderlust is the result of my youth.

My father worked hard when I was a kid, often working two or three jobs as his career in law enforcement evolved. A municipal job meant vacation time that is rare in the United States. Eventually he got to the point where he could save all of his time off so that we could go on three or four week long vacations. These weren't resort holidays. They were road trips. We mostly camped and cooked outdoors as we covered the United States and Canada visiting one national or state park after another. My parents were frugal and we became immersed in the natural world. In our basement my dad had a map of the United States, and he would use colored tape to mark our annual routes. By the time I was in high school, these colorful lines crisscrossed the states and provinces with very little area left unexplored.

My passion for road trips continued as an adult as did my passion for wildlife and nature, especially reptiles, amphibians and arachnids. When I was 21 or 22 a friend I met through a mutual love for tarantulas and other creepy crawlies and I took a road trip to Texas and explored the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. Ever since I have loved driving the open road myself and have continued to take in the majesty of the U.S. terrain. I am happiest when I am moving about and seeing new things.

Three and a half years ago I left Seattle to return to the Chicago area after a tragic accident took my mother's life. I bought a house. I settled. And I have been unhappy. Part of that is losing my mom and then losing my dear dog two years ago today. Those were the two most important relationships of my life, and those losses have exacerbated my feelings of depression, anxiety and unrest. I never intended to live in Chicagoland again, but I don't know that I would have stayed anywhere for long. The truth is that I was ready to leave Seattle.

During January 2016 I spent 24 nights on the road between Chicago and Los Angeles. I had events to attend, but I took as much time as I could to divert to national parks to take pictures. Photography is one of my passions, but it is truly just a natural accompaniment to my love of nature, wildlife and scenery. It is interesting to visit new places and interact with strangers you'll never see again. That January was amazing and I thought about living for an extended period on the road, often with destination unknown.

Nothing made me appreciate impermanence and the fact that tomorrow has no guarantee than the loss of my mother. I yearn to make the most of life. I wish to enjoy my life on the trails now; to explore the back roads and even the superhighways with some relative youth. I seek the happiness of transience and variety. As a life-long loner, I have the selfish fortune of doing only as I choose. Why return to Nashville or Seattle, or seek some other place I'd enjoy, if I can move about and enjoy them all?

This is the start of a new blog and now you know why its title includes the terms "pikey" and "gypsy". I've spent a lifetime traveling and have transversed many of the highways of the U.S. and Canada. Now I want to do it again on my own. The other two title terms may still require some explanation. "Shunpiking" is a term used to describe driving the back roads and avoiding highways and superhighways as much as possible. One of my favorite books is by Neil Peart. He is the drummer of Rush, one of my all-time favorite bands. After two great losses of his own, first his daughter and then his first wife shortly thereafter, he rode 40,000 miles on his motorcycle and documented the stories of his back road travels with Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Neil enjoys his alone time as I do, and also enjoys the interactions of chance encounters with strangers along the road. I read it for the first time 10 years ago and, perhaps, I am finally getting around to chasing the same healing. "Boondocking" is a term used to describe traveling by RV or motorhome, but shunning the RV parks and developed campsites with power, water and waste hook-ups for free and temporary remote locations on public lands that allow overnight parking (often up to 14 days). This dispersed camping (outside developed campgrounds) without "hook-ups" is also known as "dry camping". In the American west, 43% of the land is public, and there are books and websites with GPS coordinates for great free camping spots.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. I haven't even left town yet. This past weekend I ordered a 2017 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 with the brand new second-generation twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 10 speed automatic transmission. It has the maximum trailer towing package and is rated for pulling 12,200 pounds. I'll be pulling 7600 pounds in the form of a 31 1/2 foot 2017 Coachmen Freedom Express Liberty Edition 276RKDSLE travel trailer. This blog is so I can document my entire journey, but I skipped the researching RV and truck, buying them and selling my house. That's not as much fun as tales from the road. I have wanted out of my house for quite some time, especially since the loss of my sweet pooch Taylor. I have wanted out of Chicagoland since I've returned. I am not one for a sedentary lifestyle. I've spent some quality time with family over the past three and a half years, but I am increasingly restless and wishing to be chasing critters and capturing images full-time. With camera, books, laptop and guitar, I can live a life on the road.

And so the journey begins ... I am hoping to be in Key West for New Year's Eve. That might be a bit ambitious. I close on my house December 20, but the RV dealer has promised a delivery by Christmas and the Ford dealer can only guess "by the end of the year". I have a reservation in a Florida state park for January 3, but I might have to abandon it. Regardless, in early January I will be in southern Florida, combing the Keys and the Everglades for snakes, spiders, birds and other wildlife.

Keep up with me here for frequent, almost daily, stories from the road and please follow me @jacobipix on Instagram (same for Twitter) to see my daily images.

Cheers, Michael