Archive for the '01. Pre-Trip' Category


T-Minus 48 Hours ‘Till Touchdown

Nathan Ready to Go!Almost time to leave, people!  I head to Chicago on Wednesday evening to fly out bright and early at 6:00 AM on Thursday morning.  After a sure-to-be-awesome 7 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, I’ll touch down in Lima at 10:00 PM.  Ha! Excited? You bet I am. This calls for another picture of me giving a thumbs up.

IMG_0256Motel 6 Cockroach Plays PossumI returned from Wilmington, North Carolina where I joyfully fulfilled my best manial duties at my brother’s wedding (see left) and braved the possum-playing cockroaches (see right) and offers of cocaine (unfortunately not pictured) at the Wilmington Motel 6 apartment complex.   Shoot, bugs and coke peddlers — it’s probably pretty good practice for South America, right?  I’ve spent today doing final packing and getting my stuff in storage.  The bags pictured below are what I’m bringing actually bringing with me.  The backpack is carry-on, the cinched up duffel full of knives, liquids, and gels (oh my!) will be checked.Bags I'm Bringing

I had some nervous moments over the weekend thinking about the trip, but today I’ve just been both relaxed and excited about the prospect of finally starting this baby.  No nervousness now.  We’ll see how I feel once I’m actually on the plane to Lima.

I have reservations for four nights at the Barranco Backpacker’s Inn in Lima.  Their website is awesome?  During that time, if I like Lima, I might look for a room or apartment to rent for a month.

That’s all for now, kids.  I need to go and make a fake bus or airplane reservation to print as “proof” of onward travel from Lima.  Apparently I’m technically supposed to have that before I’m given a tourist visa or allowed to enter the country.

My next post comes to you from Lima.  My next post comes to you from… victory!  Hah.

NathanYou probably just got a link from me, didn’t you?

Well, then break out your bookmark button, brother! Add a favorite, friend! Ready your RSS reader, rock star! That’s right – it’s exactly what the internets need: another blog!

Join me, Nathan Shipley, as I embark on blog-ified journey around the world. Why bother with all the expense and time-commitment of circumnavigating the globe when you can virtually enjoy nearly the same experience vicariously from the comfort and security of your own office? Leave it to me to get horking, blue-in-the-face sick in India or Cambodia! I’ll be the one to get kidnapped by rebels in Colombia! Why should you have to suffer the embarrassment of realizing the cute Thai girl you just left the bar with isn’t the “girl” you thought she was? Sit back with your cocktail and enjoy the story.

Of course, I have no idea what will actually happen on this trip, but this is where you’ll be able to read and comment about it as it does. Beats a heartless mass-email, doesn’t it?

A Brief Disclaimer:

This site is written for a pretty general audience: anyone I know. That includes friends, immediate and extended family, grandmas, grandpas, co-workers, etc. However, please understand that I make no guarantees that this will always be a sanitized, family-friendly, swear-word free read. It’s quite possible I’ll get drunk, pissed-off, or see something that wouldn’t live on prime-time television … and then go back to my room and write about it. Family, consider yourself warned. Hopefully I won’t sully the favorable image you have of me too much. :)

So what do you do now?

There’s a rough overview of my motivations and plan on the “About Nathan” and “The ‘Plan’” pages. I’ve also got a few entries I’ve written during the lead-up to the trip if you either scroll down or have a gander through The Archives (links on the right bar).

Check back after I’ve actually left for Lima, Peru on June 12th and it should hopefully be a little more interesting. My first entry, We All Scream-A For Lima!, is about the area I’m hoping to stay in once I’m in Lima, if you want to learn a little more about that. Happy time-wasting!


BlackHawk 3-Day Assault Pack Review

UPDATE, March 10, 2009. This page was originally posted on May 15, 2008. I’ve been traveling with the Blackhawk 3 Day Assault Pack for 9 months now and have some additional observations posted at the bottom of this page.

This is it, people! I finally picked a backpack from the big pack of backpacks to pick! After much consideration and reading on the internets, the BlackHawk 3-Day Assault Pack will be what I carry with me on my trip around the world. Hah.

Blackhawk 3-Day Assault PackIt seems that people end up on this page by searching for the pack on Google, so let me offer some first impressions if you’re here looking for third-party information about the pack from the perspective of someone using it for world travel. First of all, I’ve posted a bunch of high-res pictures of the pack on Flickr. Check out a set of pictures of the BlackHawk 3-Day Assault Pack here. Furthermore:

  • It is definitely sturdy and well-constructed. I would expect no less from a company that purports to supply “The World’s Finest Tactical Gear.”
  • It is well padded. The padding on the back and all of the straps make it pretty comfortable.
  • For a skinny guy like me, I have to tighten the waist strap as far as it will go for it to be effective. However, once it’s tightened, it does help take the load off of my shoulders.
  • When loaded to weigh about 20 pounds, the shoulder straps do dig in to my shoulders slightly. I’d imagine if I had been through Basic my shoulders would be beefier and this would be less of an issue.
  • I tried my morning run with the pack loaded to about 20 pounds. I found that as I bounced up and down running, the smaller straps that tighten the large shoulder straps would become progressively looser. I had to tighten them periodically as I ran. This is not an issue when walking. Perhaps if the waist strap was a little tighter it would be less of an issue? I could also tie knots in small straps to prevent them from slipping.
  • Blackhawk 3-Day Assault PackBlackHawk mentions that the zippers have “silent pulls.” As far as I can tell, this is not true. I think they say that because, instead of metal pull-tabs on the zippers that could clank around, there are thin ropes you pull on. The zippers certainly make zipper noise when you zip and unzip them. So much for my dreams of silently stalking someone and removing my Bowie knife without their knowledge.

Blackhawk 3-Day Assault PackOverall, it’s a great pack. I’m planning on using some Eagle Creek Packing Cubes to help organize the contents. I don’t think it will have *quite* enough room for the things I’m hoping to bring with me, so I’m considering bringing a small duffel bag to check on the plane for additional storage. This way I’ll also be able to bring my pocket knife. That’s to be determined, though.

It’s quite obvious that I am NOT in the assumed target market for this backpack. The packaging includes a card that says “Americans have no greater responsibility than the defense of freedom. At Blackhawk Products Group we are proud to support our Special Operations Forces worldwide by providing ‘The World’s Finest Tactical Gear’ for those who venture into harm’s way. When America’s Team defends our nation, they will be wearing BlackHawk!”

*sigh* Oh well, I guess if I need to fulfill my greatest responsibility as part of “America’s Team,” I will be aptly prepared for the “defense of freedom.” Right? Sure.

UPDATE, March 10, 2009.

This page was originally written before I left on my trip. After traveling with it for 9 months and 8 countries, I now have some additional notes and observations about the Blackhawk 3-Day Assault Pack and how I use it:

  • Nothing has broken, ripped, or come undone on the pack. It’s damn sturdy. The zippers do not separate when pulling them closed over a tightly packed compartment.
  • When the pack is actually completely full, I don’t have to tighten the waist strap all the way. I hadn’t actually stuffed it to the gills in my pre-trip test.
  • The pack snugly fits two Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes (turned on their sides) and one Half Cube (on top of the other two) stuffed full of clothes in the large storage compartment with some room to spare. I use one normal Pack-It Cube for shirts (14 x 10 x 3 in), one Pack-It 2-Sided Cube for pants, shorts, and a towel (14 x 10 x 4 in.), and one Half Cube for socks and underwear (10 x 7 x 3 in). A laptop can be squeezed in between these cubes as well.
  • In the smaller front pocket, the Eagle Creek “Pack-It Wallaby II” toiletry kit fits nicely along with numerous other junk stuffed in the pocket.
  • The pack fits in 95% of airplane overhead storage bins, even it is stuffed completely full. (The above-shown pictures do not show the pack stuffed completely full.) After around 20 flights, it hasn’t fit in the overhead storage compartment of only one smaller regional jet. Everything else has been fine. Airline employees have never questioned the sized of it when I wear it on my back. Nice to be able to keep valuables inside this pack and not have to put it in checked luggage.
  • A 15 inch Macbook Pro laptop fits comfortably in the large storage compartment of the pack.
  • A 7 inch ASUS netbook EeePC fits nicely in the “secret” compartment sewn in to the back of the pack. By “secret compartment,” I’m pretty sure I’m referring to what Blackhawk calls the “pouch to fit an optional HydraStorm Hydration System.”
  • The “secret” compartment makes a nice place to hide important documents – passport, wallet, papers, etc.
  • As mentioned above, the tightening straps (especially the shoulder straps) still slowly loosen as you walk around with the pack. They need to be tightened periodically, which is at least very easy to do by just pulling down on the straps that hang in front of you off your shoulders.

Hopefully this is helpful!

You are reading a post written by a man who is sitting in his office chair for the last time.  In case my excited tone doesn’t translate through in that last sentence: it feels really good.

Today, Thursday, May 1st is my last day of work.  I’ve fought through the senioritis of my last few weeks of work, finished my projects, packed my desk, tied up lose ends and think I managed to do it without burning any bridges.

Me and the officeWe even had a “Goodbye, Nathan!” lunch at the office yesterday, after which I wrangled everyone in attendance into Studio A for a group picture.

After today, I’ll have exactly 6 weeks until I get on a plane in Chicago and head to Lima, Peru.  What will I do with those six weeks in the Thrill Capital of the Midwest we also call West Lafayette, Indiana while I wait to leave?  Here’s the plan:

Exercise.  Figure I’ll run on even days and lift weights on odd days!  I realize it probably doesn’t seem like my guns could get much higher caliber than they already are, but I don’t think it could hurt to try.  Or maybe not.  I’ll at least go for runs, though.

Practice Spanish.  I’ve had four years of it in high school plus a semester in college.  I probably learned more working as a bus boy at a cafeteria, though.  Needless to say, I’ll be using the Rosetta Stone software daily to try to get up to speed.

Attempt to get a base tan on my very white body.  This probably won’t work.  I will most likely just turn pink.  Whatever, yo.

Order things I need for the trip.  Things like packing cubes, an extra battery for my camera, a quick-dry towel, emergency traveler’s health insurance, a credit card to travel with.  Not exactly exciting, but necessary.

Finalize any planning and research I decide to do.  As I’ve mentioned earlier on “The Plan” page, I’m growing less and less interested in actually reading much about my destinations.  I think I’d rather fly by the seat of my pants when I get somewhere and be surprised.  However, I am keeping a Google Document online for each destination where I paste any useful links or text from websites and forums.

Spending time with friends, saving money, and general chillaxery.

Aughta be enough to keep me busy!


I am not a Lebowski Achiever.

The Dude“Please accept this letter as formal notification…”

After four years at the company, I met with my boss yesterday and put in the notice. I made the announcement in our weekly staff meeting this morning to a surprised and bemused bunch of producers, editors, and videographers. The company-wide resignation email from Human Resources went out today. People shook my hand, told me congratulations, and gave me hugs. I got more emails from co-workers today than I ever have in a day. (Even one from an executive VP!)

There were smiles and raised eyebrows at the ethereal “plan” for my trip, which I’m getting pretty quick at explaining.

I have taken the final step to really, actually, FINALLY going on this trip. I will be unemployed; a man of leisure. (At least for a while.) It’s official and it feels great. Remind me why I was nervous about this?

So, Dude, how did that meeting with your boss go again?

“Okay! The old man told me take any rug in the house!”

The bums will always lose? Ha!

Though I’m starting in Lima, I can’t wait to get to Colombia… and there might even be a war on!

Colombia holds a strong mystique in my mind and it’s a high priority destination for me. I’m not entirely sure why, but I definitely have an interest in going to a place where that all anyone knows about are cocaine, kidnappings, and rebels. On the contrary, most of what I’ve read about visiting Colombia has been overwhelmingly positive. Colombianos are said to be very kind and welcoming. The same can’t be said for the FARC, though. Things may just get interesting yet, people.

Troops in EcuadorTroops are massing at the Venezuelan and Colombian borders, and I’m fixing to head right into the middle of it. Granted, not for a few months, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

I’ve spent a good bit of time reading articles and about the history in the region over the past few days. Daniel Howden of The Independent writes:

This is an alarming degeneration in the region and has ominous overtones that could lead to provocative developments,” said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington think-tank.

There’s no question of the enormous political tension now and any miscue could set off a conflict,” said Michael Shifter, a vice-president of the Inter-American Dialogue group in Washington.

The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New RussiaAt this juncture, I’m feeling quite undeterred. Especially after reading the first chapter of Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi’s “The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia.” Not that I want to live my life like Ames has, but I did read his story about a civil war breaking out near his apartment a month after moving to Russia with earnest.

Ames writes about October 3rd, 1993 in Moscow:

“The rebels stormed out of the White House and seized surrounding territory, disbanding and beating Yeltsin’s troops…raced down to the Ostankino TV tower. … I was watching television as the battle began. The announcer was terrified. And suddenly, just the way it happened in Dawn of the Dead, my TV went blank.”

Ames then goes on to talk about being awoken by tank cannons and actually going out and walking through the “war zone” the next morning.

“On the naberezhnaya, I gathered with a crowd of Russians to watch the tanks fire into the White House. Snipers took aim at us. Bullets were ringing off the lamp-posts and the heavy cargo trucks parked on a lot behind us. We scattered for cover. … Elsewhere in the park, while gunfire rattled, a group of men drank vodka and played chess. On a bench farther down, a woman lay on her back, reading a book.”

Interesting. Crazy.

Wonder what the state of things will be in Colombia when I’m there? Will things have simmered down or, to quote my friend Steve, will kevlar be the new cotton? Here’s hoping for no “miscues” or “provocative developments.” I gotta get to Colombia.

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