Category Archives: Travel

Four days, four Motel 6’s

On our way out to Los Angeles last year, we were pretty straightforward about it; We asked Google Maps the quickest way to get there, and that’s the way we went. We decided that this year, we should take our time and see a little more of the country on our way out. So on New Year’s Day, January and I packed up the car, packed a cooler with water and 5 hour energy shots, and headed west toward our first stop: Omaha.

If there’s one thing I can say about Omaha it’s that it’s cold. Or at least it was during the night we spent there. The temperature was right around zero, but the wind chill brought it down to the negative 20 range. As I unloaded our overnight bags into the Motel 6, I was seriously concerned about frostbite. I’ve been told by Nathan that this is absolutely normal for this time of year. No wonder he left.

We spent the next day dilligently driving through Nebraska and Wyoming, which is about as exciting as it sounds. In general, the landscape was nice, and I’ve never seen so many cows in my life, but it got a little old after the first couple of hours.

At the end of day three, we rolled our way into Salt Lake City and settled in at the downtown Motel 6.

After my blog post last week about our tentative travel plans, a friend from Twitter who lives in Salt Lake City volunteered to meet up with us and show us around the city. Christian is actually a local elected official who lives just a couple blocks away from the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, so he was the perfect person to show us everything we wanted to see.

We started the day off up in the hills above the city where we were able to enjoy this amazing view of the whole valley.  Afterwards, Christian guided us around the various historical parts of the city, including a recently built LDS temple, the big downtown temple at Temple Square, and the uber-massive Convention Center where Mormons gather twice a year for teachings. We were able to see everything we had wanted, and with the added bonus of having someone who knew what everything was along for the ride. January has all the really good pictures, so I’ll leave those for her to tackle in a more detailed article, but we had a great day visiting Salt Lake City. Thanks for showing us around, Christian!

Early afternoon, January and I hit the road again and made our way through the Salt Flats of Utah. Apparently, back in the day, the Great Salt Lake extended all the way across Utah. Eventually the water dissipated, leaving behind miles and miles of salt, up to six feet deep in some places. We stopped at a rest area about an hour outside of Salt Lake City to check it out.

At the bottom of that picture is actually snow, and you can see where it just stops immediately where the salt flats start. Looking at it, you almost expected it to be 20 degrees warmer stepping across the dividing line.

After another night of driving, this time through Nevada and the winding hills of California, we reached Motel 6 #3 in Oakland. It was right on a harbor and was actually pretty cool, but we were really too exhausted to appreciate it. The next morning, we worked our way into San Francisco for a brief self-guided tour of the city. We eventually reached the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped to get a few pictures and contemplate walking across, which we ultimately decided against.

The weather was amazing; Although it was only in the upper 40’s, having passed through Nebraska and Wyoming really made us appreciate it. Gus also appreciated that, as we worked our way down California 1, we kept our windows down so he could enjoy the breeze.  As we approached Monterey, home of our fourth and final Motel 6 experience of the trip, we took the time to stop at one of the fresh fruit stands on the side of the road. I’m pretty sure that if I lived out here, I wouldn’t eat anything except oranges from these stands.

So here we are, tucked in at the Motel 6 in Monterey California. In the morning we’ll get up, load our overnight bags back into the car, and stop off at Monterey Bay to catch the sunrise before we work our way down the Pacific Coast Highway toward our eventual destination in Venice. We’ve got a lot more pictures (and videos) from the trip, so we’ll have to compile something once we get settled in, but we wanted to give you a little taste now. I hope you’re enjoying following along with us, and if you haven’t yet, you can see updates and pictures from along the way on the main Team Soell page.

The Plan

In one week, Team Soell will be on the road to California! In between wrapping presents, going to various family functions, and visiting with friends who are in town we’ve been eagerly discussing our travels plans and the sights we want to see along the way.  Last year, as you may recall, we took the straight-forward southern route; This year we’re taking our time a bit and seeing what there is to see in the northern states. So, I present to you, The Plan:


January 1: Team Soell packs up first thing in the morning heading west through the neighbor states of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. After twelve hours of driving we plan to set up camp in Omaha, home of all that beef you’ve heard about.

January 2: We continue our westward push through Nebraska and Wyoming, ultimately landing in Salt Lake City. January has a strange fascination with the LDS church, so we’re hoping to get there late on day two, get some good sleep, and spend the next morning visiting the temple and other big Mormon sites.

January 3: After getting our fill of Big Love, we’ll work our way through northern Nevada and Plumas National Forest in California until we end up in Napa Valley.

January 4: Our apartment in Venice won’t be ready for us until the 5th, so we’ll spend a day in Napa Valley checking out the vineyards, drinking some local wines, and enjoying the warmer weather.

January 5: On the last day of our trip, we’ll work our way down the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway until we reach the LA coast.

If you know of any interesting places we should check out along the way that are relatively close to our travel path, we’d love to hear about them. We’ve already been told that we absolutely must visit Harris Pizza in Bettendorf, Iowa and we’re planning doing exactly that.

We’re also going to take tons of pictures and make frequent posts here and on Twitter, but you’ll want to keep an eye on the main Team Soell page for the most frequent updates, including a live map of our progress with embedded status updates and pictures.

We’d also really like to hear from everyone while we’re out of town. Unlike last year, we’ll actually have a mailing address this year, and I promise here and now that anyone who takes the time to send us a letter (or baked goods?) will get a letter in return:

Team Soell
363 Rose Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

Change of plans once we hit California:

January 3: Instead of heading to Napa — let’s be honest, neither January nor I really know that much about wine — we’ll head down to San Francisco and set up shop for the night.

January 4: Six hours away from Venice, and 36 hours until our apartment is ready. That leaves plenty of time to do some sight-seeing in San Francisco. After we’ve had enough of the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ll drive two hours down the road to one of the top dog-friendly cities in America: Carmel-by-the-Sea. We’ll settle in, grab some dinner, and rest up for the last day of our roadtrip.

Looking Westward

Thanksgiving is over; The leftovers have been eaten, the wishbone has been cracked, and the more adventurous of us have braved the crowds of Black Friday bargain seekers. With this major holiday behind us, we’re officially free to begin looking forward to what we’ve been waiting for all year: California.

Last January, we were fortunate enough to have been able to spend a month outside of the frigid midwest in sunny Los Angeles. It was without a doubt one of the biggest highlights of the year, and we’ve been apprehensively hoping this past year that we’d be able to pull it off again. I’m happy to announce that we’re going back!

Our plans last January kind of came together at the last minute; Around the middle of December, January had the brilliant idea to see if anyone on Craigslist was looking to sublet their place for a reasonable price. Things quickly came together and three weeks later we found ourselves in a tiny one bedroom apartment two blocks from the Venice pier. This year’s plans shaped up just as quickly, but a little further in advance. We’ll be staying in the same general neighborhood, but a little further back from the beach: eight blocks as opposed to two.


Shortly after New Years, January, Gus and I will hit the road westward! We’re planning to take our time and do a little sightseeing, so be sure to check back for updates. We can’t wait to get out there, and we definitely can’t wait to share some pictures along the way.

The View From a Taichung Flat

This past week has been a whirlwind of complete craziness filled with working, cleaning, sicking, visiting, more working, more sicking, shopping, packing, and finally flying half way across the world to Taiwan on what has to be my longest and most tedious travel experience to date. In stroke of pure luck, I managed to catch that awful life-sucking flu going around the northeast portion of the country in the middle of all the other craziness going on. I am starting to feel better now, but being on a plane breathing moisture free recycled air for three days really doesn’t help anything.

The short story attached to my impromptu international travel extravaganza goes something like this: A few weeks ago, while Andy and I were still enjoying the sun and surf of Southern California, my dad called to let us know my little sister had been in a minor scooter/car accident in Taiwan, where she is currently living. Fast forward to last Monday when Team Soell was trekking its way back across the continental US, Julenna called with the news that three hospital visits, numerous internal photographs, and several non english-speaking medical professionals later, she learned that she had torn both her ACL and meniscus and would require surgery as soon as possible. Since my father doesn’t have a passport and his wife has never been on an airplane before, I was the obvious choice to hop on over to accompany her on the wild and crazy adventure of surgery in a foreign country.

So here I am, after three days of vertical sleeping positions, in Taichung, Taiwan snapping photos on the balcony of my sister’s flat. I got in late last night after a crazy flight that went Columbus to Chicago to LA to missed the connection to Taipei so I spent the night in LA to Tokyo to Taipei and then a train ride from Taipei to Taichung. I have today to get caught up on as much sleep as possible before we head to the hospital Friday morning for the surgery.I’ve heard rumors that acupuncture is on the menu for today. This should be fun.

Let me show you around

Since we’ve been out here, we’ve been asked a lot about the place we’re staying.  To bring everyone up to speed, our whole California trip started when January saw an ad for a sublet in New York City for the month of January.  After doing the math — and realizing that Winter in New York isn’t really much of a vacation — she had the idea of checking out the fairer coast.  We managed to find a place a block away from the beach in Venice for a very reasonable rent; It’s nothing fancy, just a place for us to cook our meals, get a little work done during the day, and sleep at night.

But a picture speaks a thousand words, and I’m a big-old geek, so I’ve put together a 3D panaomaic tour of our apartment.  Ok, not the whole apartment, but this is the living room / kitchen area.

So check out our Venice home away from home:

If you’re up for installing the Silverlight plugin, you can check out the tour yourself, zooming and moving at your own pace, by visiting the Photosynth site  The viewer is a little confusing, but if you just click and drag, it should take you from picture to picture, taking you on a complete view of the front half of the apartment.  For a different perspective, just click on the icon in the upper-right. The apartment is definitely smaller than we’re used to, but it’s been good to us for the past month.  If I get enough positive feedback — and the weather turns bad — I may expand the tour to include the bedroom, hallway, and the kick-ass balcony at sunset.

I am not a morning person

The biggest downside to spending a month in California while continuing to work full time for your east coast based employer is getting up every morning at 5:30 (5:30 — 6:30 — 7:30 — 8:30) so you can keep regular business hours.  I am not a morning person. At all. I have trouble convincing myself to roll out of bed by 8:30 when I’m at home, so you can imagine what 5:30 is like for someone like me.  Add to this the fact that, like most non-morning-people, I’m very much a night owl and given the option I will stay up well past midnight.  This means, for the month at least, it takes a concerted effort to force myself to be in bed by 10:30 at the latest so I can get my requisite seven hours of sleep.

Last night didn’t quite work according to that plan, and as a result I’m running on about five hours of sleep with at least one more before I can even seen sunlight.  

But you know the old saying “better exhausted in California than wide awake in Ohio.” That’s a saying, right?

Roadtrip Report Number 1

We’re off! After weeks of planning, January and I hit the road yesterday on our big California adventure. Getting to that point, however, wasn’t without its excitement. Murphy’s Law almost dealt us a deathblow on Saturday when the “check engine” light reared its ugly head. We took the car into the shop, hoping for a report that it was just low wiper fluid or something equally trivial. What we got was the other end of that spectrum: a $1200 estimate that would take two days to complete. After changing into sackloth and ashes, January and I discussed our options: put the trip off for a few days so we could get the car fixed, or put off the repair and take our second car — our 21 mpg Lincoln Continental. Around this time, the mechanic called back with word that it may not be what he expected and that a $300 repair job may be all that it needed. We authorized the repair and later that evening, we were back on track.

Sunday evening, we packed up the Buick with our clothes, technology and puppy and started out. We weren’t quite sure how Gus would respond to a cross country road trip, but so far he has been surprisingly great. For the most part, he just sits in the back seat looking longingly out the window; In Indiana it was the vast, empty fields that captivated him and by the time we hit Missouri he was equally entranced with the lights of the passing cars. Neither of these, however, remotely compared to the intensity with which he gazed longingly at the cows in Oklahoma. We could see the years of repressed instinct begin to kick in as he thought about all the different ways he would love to herd all that cattle, all while whimpering every so slightly.

After 17 total hours of driving to this point, there’s not much else to report; I’m a little tired of listening to January’s top-40, I’m sure she’d be happy if she never had to listen to a Mountain Goats song again, and Gus just wants to know what in the world is going on. By nightfall, we should find ourselves in Albuquerque where we are staying with a friend of January’s. Then, tomorrow morning, we’ll start again on the last leg of our trip. Check out the main Team Soell page at for some pictures we’ve taken along the way.

The Cure for Sad

Confession time: We spent four of the five evenings the week after Thanksgiving sitting in bed, eating pizza and watching seasons 1-2 of Alias.  That fourth night we mixed it up by having frozen lasagna instead.  Winter has officially set in and the darkness is starting to take its toll on the Newbanks-Soell household.

Our hibernation technically started Thanksgiving week when January and I both came down with a wicked stomach virus.  We hosted about 25 friends and their collective 7 children at our house the Saturday before Thanksgiving and by the end of the night we had two containers of leftover turkey, a quart of stuffing, one pumpkin pie, and at least five confirmed sick adults.  The lesson we took away from this: if you’re going to have more than two kids over, make sure you leave antibacterial gel bottles everywhere.  And under no circumstances should you let all of them pile into your bed with their grubby little munchkin hands.

After we spent that first week quarantined in bed, retching and eating nothing but saltines and canned peaches (with the syrup rinsed off, of course) it just became second nature.  The fact that it’s pitch black outside by the time the working day is over doesn’t help much, either.  All of this combined adds up to one thing for me: Seasonal affective disorder, which can be conveniently abbreviated as SAD.  Well, this year Team Soell is fighting back against SAD.  How, you ask?

Team Soell is going to California!

Actually, I shouldn’t have wasted the bold type on that sentence.  The kicker in our California plan is that we will be spending the entire month of January living just steps from Venice Beach.  How close?

The long and the short of it is that January found someone who was looking to sublet their place for a month and we jumped at the opportunity.  January, Gus and I will hit the road just after New Year and spend the next thirty days living in the sunny mid-sixties climate of LA county rather than the sub-freezing temperatures of central Ohio. 

Check back over the next two weeks for the travel plans.  Since I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to write about, I plan to step up the blogging and I’m sure January will have some great pictures to share.