Staying Put

We were on the road for 109 days. We traveled 7,259 miles in the RV and 4,146 miles in the car, through 26 states. We burned roughly 1,750 gallons of gas. We had one mechanical breakdown on the RV’s engine, and many problems in its living quarters. We saw dozens of friends and family across the United States. We had many laughs, and a few tears. All in all, in was a wonderful, amazing adventure. But all good things must come to an end. Or at least a pause.

We made it to California on September 27th, 2015, and we’ve decided to stay here for some time.
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(The picture on the right is from 13 years ago of my brother Paul and some of his friends on a spring break cross-country roadtrip. Paul passed away in January of this year from cancer, and a great deal of our summer travels have somehow incorporated aspects of “Living like Paul” who loved life, and always lived it to the fullest. If you’d like to learn more about his life, check out www.LiveLikePaul.com)

My (Matt’s) family is here in California, so since arriving three weeks ago (today!) we’ve been living in the “guest house” of my parents’ house, eating most meals with them, and getting some wonderful R&R.

We originally thought our entire roundtrip route around the country could be done in a few months, but we ran into problems and slowdowns of various sorts, and we weren’t even halfway done after three months. With autumn upon us, we realized we wouldn’t be able to shoot any cities (at least pretty-looking-with-leaves-on-the-trees cities) on our return trip. We also realized that we shot footage over the summer for about ten different videos, yet had only edited and released one (since arriving in California we’ve finished one more).

So we’re going to stay put for a bit. My hope is that by dedicating myself to editing, that I can release a new video every 2-3 weeks. Come early spring we plan to get back on the road for our eastbound journey, hoping to film more videos along the way and partake of many new adventures. Stay tuned!

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Dallas

I am going to indulge you with more in-depth stories of each cities we have since visited. I’m sure the recap wasn’t nearly long enough to satiate your interest ;)

We arrived in Dallas not even 20 hours after the precious baby, Aidan Michael Coakley, was born. We drove straight to the hospital and found our sister’s hospital room. We knocked on the door, and heard an unnaturally cheery voice behind the door. There was Giselle, our sister, walking around in her perfectly curled hair, beautifully natural makeup, and fashionable sandals. Ummm, seriously?! She put my post-labor self to shame. Did she really just have a baby?! Two months early? Au naturale??! I certainly wouldn’t have guessed so.

After visiting for a bit and seeing Matt’s brother and nieces, we left to find a place to stay for the night. We found a beautiful campground right next to a gorgeous lake in Lewisville, which was around 30 minutes away from our family in Irving. Matt’s other family- mother, father, and brothers- also came in to town to meet the new baby and visit with the family, so we got a bonus in being able to see them as well.

We made a two day trip down to Hillsboro to visit my great-grandmother (Cecilia’s great-great-grandmother) and family in the area. It was wonderful to spend time with them and marvel at my great-grandmother’s spunk and feistiness. She does not let those years hold her back

We spent the rest of our time in Dallas laughing and sharing memories, grilling, making s’mores, eating way too much TexMex, and Matt shooting and editing like crazy, of course. After two weeks and two inches onto our waists, we said our goodbyes and left for the Gulf.

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A (Short?) Recap!

The last time I wrote here we were in Indiana. We are now in Colorado! How did we get here?!

In Indianapolis, we heard of our brother and sister-in-law going into labor two months early so we decided to hightail it down to Dallas, Texas, to be with them during this time. After spending two wonderful weeks visiting with Matt’s family and my relatives in Hillsboro, we traveled south to Houston.

We decided against shooting Houston because Texans are Texans and we had heard of a lot of trouble given to fellow droners in that area. (It isn’t hard to imagine someone shooting down a drone they see… only in Texas…)  Matt was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of visiting the space station and I was able to fulfill my dream of saving money by finding a free– FREE- full service campground! Haha! One of my prouder money-saving days. We spent an evening visiting our friends the Hohlers and Pepes and then left the Lone Star state to spend time in the Pelican State- Louisiana.

I have always dreamed of visiting New Orleans and soaking in all the best parts about this city, specifically, the food. We tasted so many wonderful flavors and saw so many beautiful scenes. Unfortunately, we only spent 24 hours in the Big Easy because someone had beat us in making a drone video of the city. Which was made fabulously, by the way, and we would totally recommend watching it.

Next, we headed to Birmingham, Alabama. We had researched the economy and tourism budget of this beautiful place previously and had hoped to make a video of it, but when informing the local airport of our intent to fly in Birmingham (following FAA regulations, mind you) we were harshly told that we were, “Not authorized to fly in my airspace.” So we left, a little dejected, to have our spirits lifted by some friends in Little Rock, Arkansas.

We only got a taste of Little Rock because of the airports being so close to downtown. We met up with the Pohlmeiers and their newly expanded family of 6 to eat some serious grub at a local mexican restaurant. I am really particular about my tortilla chips being paper-thin, and this restaurant had the thinnest chips I have ever eaten! They literally broke upon contact. I was in heaven.

Our next stop was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. We had a surprisingly good time in this eclectic town. Our favorite part was how quickly Matt was able to shoot the city. We watched a few horse races and blew $6 on losers- cheapest date ever! The weather was perfect and the city was just small enough not to be a huge time commitment on our trip.

No time to even think about editing, we left for Santa Fe. Originally, we had hoped to just pass through on our way to Denver, CO. However, as soon as we entered the city limits we fell in love. It took hardly any convincing at all to get Matt to shoot Santa Fe. Not surprisingly, I was in love with the food. Surprisingly, though, I was also in love with the architecture. We finished Santa Fe in less than two full days (our record time!) but we knew we couldn’t leave New Mexico without getting shots of the amazing landscape. So, what we had planned on being only a few hours’ stop turned into a four-day trip. We loved every minute of it.

We are now half exhausted from the get-‘er-done frenzy we have had, and half exhilarated from all of the fantastic experiences we have shared as a family. In a few minutes, we will be arriving in Colorado Springs to spend the night with Matt’s dear aunt and uncle before continuing on to Denver. We look forward to keeping you updated!

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Spam-A-LOT

14,133.

 

That is the number of comments that were pending approval this morning.

While I would like to think that we are just that popular, the truth is that 100% of them were spam.

Every few days, we have been deleting thousands upon thousands of spam comments. I don’t know how these automated comments work, but it is the biggest pain in the butt. I changed the settings on comments, requiring the comments to be approved before they show up on the website and annoy everyone else. However, sifting through thousands of comments to find your much-appreciated words is exhaustingly time-consuming.

Therefore, if you are leaving a comment, please DO NOT include a website or email in the comment form. I have blacklisted any comment that includes either of these. Thank you for helping us save time and sanity :)

 

Sample comment that won’t be marked as spam:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.04.33 AM

 

 

 

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Disabling Our ‘Contact Us’ Form

Matt and I recently discovered that our contact form on our “Contact Us” page has not been working- we have not been receiving any of your comments/questions/inquiries. We sincerely apologize for this oversight on our part and ask that if you have tried to contact us in the past, please try again using another means listed on our contact page. We are really excited to talk with you about the trip we are taking this summer- we hope you keep in touch!

P.S. The contact information may look a little strange. We have been getting a lot of SPAM- we must have shown up on some kind of list- and are trying to cut down on the automated spam. Thanks for understanding!

-Matt and Holly Coakley

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A Stationary Home

 

Finally our RV troubles are mostly (fingers crossed) fixed. After finishing a visit to Detroit and saying a final farewell to our friends in Columbus, we continued out west. We are now in Indiana- about thirty minutes south of Indianapolis. We found a simple and peaceful state park campground that offers camper accommodations for $16 a night- what a steal! So far, we have stayed for almost a week and we plan on staying for at least a half a week more. I can not say how nice it is to stay stationary in our home for more than a week at a time. It is so much fun to visit with friends and family, but it can get exhausting living out of a suitcase (or reusable grocery bag in our case).  We’ve had a campfire, gone on nature walks, and Cecilia has enjoyed swimming in her little pool and practicing walking in the grass.

This being our first time staying for more than a few nights in a campground, we have really been able to experience the “culture” of campers. And it really is a culture- like a camaraderie between fellow camp-goers. Have you ever noticed how random bikers wave to each other as they pass on the highway? Its the same idea with campers! We’ve been invited to join in yard games and had conversations with strangers like they were our long-lost cousins. You see all varieties of camp-living people coming together. It’s actually really neat. There are the ‘roughin-it’ tent-ers, the bare-bones tent camper-campers, the ‘we-take-such-good-of-our-RV-we-still-use-one-from-the-fifties camp goers, past-our-prime-but-still-very-comfortable pull-behind trailer campers, the small apartment on wheels campers (like us), and the brand-spankin-new, tripped-out spaceship-with-an-engine RVers. Watching the different types of campers set up their site is fascinating. It’s like a psychology course with s’mores. Some people park, level, and are set, while others go to extreme lengths to get comfy. The astronauts across camp pulled in to their site and immediately pulled out their travel solar lamp post, two sun tents to cover their picnic tables, six tiki lamps, sun screen for around their porch, hanging lamp lights, American flag (with a spotlight, of course), and lawn games. I mean, who travels with a lamp post? It’s kind of impressive. If you’re a full timer and have the extra storage, why not make every place you stay as homey as possible?

We’re still working on that signature camper hospitality, naturally not being so extroverted. We are also taking our time figuring out our preferences for camping. This time, Matt pulled out our camp chairs to place by the campfire and even put our camp mat down underneath our awning for us to be able to walk on comfortably. We now how a kiddie pool, toys, and some shoes on our “porch.” I think we would seem like we totally knew what we were doing, but maybe that’s because I have no idea what that would seem like. We’re still finding our place in the camping world and enjoying every bit along the way.

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Fireside Chats

As I write this, I am sitting by our campfire, watching the embers die down.

Matt is in the camper putting Cecilia to bed- bless his soul… I get some time all to myself this evening. The night is so quiet, save for the chirping of crickets, the muffled sounds of neighbor campers, and the neighing of horses half a mile down the road. So peaceful. 
Matt and I just celebrated our second anniversary. I never understood anniversaries until I had the honor of having one myself. So much cooler than birthdays. I mean, how much work does it take to grow older- conscious work, that is. A birthday celebrates something so passive in comparison to an anniversary. It takes work, commitment, self-denial. It’s a triumph in Love. Truly a celebration. 

I don’t know if it’s the warmth of the fire or the taste of the marshmallows, but I’m feeling quite romantic right now and want to talk about love. What is love? There are infinite others who are much more experienced and qualified to answer a question so profound, so I’m only going to reflect a bit on what it has meant to me- to us– these past two years. 
To Matt: 

What is love? What is your love? 

Love is kind and gentle. Love is joyful and forgiving. Love is trying to be selfless more and more every day. Love is trying. 

Love is letting me tickle you until your stomach hurts and not tickling me back because I hate tickles. Love is pretending to be interested in my show-and-tell of everything I bought at the store- including groceries. Love is being patient with me when I interrupt you from your work every fifteen minutes to complain about morning (/afternoon/evening) sickness. Love is not complaining of the awful stink while you hold my hair up and help clean the bathroom when my vomit sprays the walls. Love is caring for my sickness even when you are sick. 

Love is keeping a notebook of the silly things I say and often reading it to yourself because you can’t get enough. Love is laughing with me. And at me, understandably. Love is thanking me. Love is massaging me. Love is comforting me. Love is loving me even when you don’t like me. 

Love is telling me how much you love my newfound love handles. Love is checking out my newfound love handles because you actually, seriously DO love them. 

Love is the death to your old self the moment you said, “I Do.” It is the new life you embraced so willingly, without abandon. Love is life. 

Love is Cecilia. 

Love is seeing your smile on her. Love is hearing your laugh in her. Love is seeing your joy through her. Love is Cecilia… Love is Cecilia. 

Love is praying with me. It is supporting me while I learn to pray. It is pushing me to be holy. Love is encouraging me to be selfless. It is sharing my pain in being selfless. 

Love is the pain in denying yourself for me. It is the pain in denying yourself for our daughter. It is the pain in growing; it is the pain suffering. 

Love is the joy in denying yourself for me. It is the joy in denying yourself for our daughter. It is the joy in growing; it is the joy in suffering. 

In all these things, and so much more, I see your love. 

And in all these things I am so grateful.   
What is love? What is my love?

In a word… sucky. Too often, I have failed to love you even half as much as you deserve. I take you for granted; I forget how lucky I am. 

You are good, you are true, you are beautiful. 

I promise to act on this knowledge every day. To take your actions and use them as examples, to learn from you, to learn from God, to try to love you better. I promise to try. With all I’ve got. I promise to try. 
I love you, my love- more and more each day. I love you. 

Happy anniversary. 

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RV Troubles

There’s always something. I feel like we haven’t even caught up on detailing our other mishaps, and yet we find ourselves with another.

At 5am on a Saturday morning (one week ago today) we woke up in Columbus, OH to the sound of our generator shutting off. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we knew what we needed to do.

Car. Jumper cables. Battery. Restart. Done.

Nope.

Turns out the issues this time were more than accidentally running down the battery. We spent Saturday and Sunday trying to track down the problem with the help of our friendly, local RV Dealer, but since I don’t have the right tools, there was only so much that could be done via a phone consultation.

On Monday morning I made several calls to repair facilities. The earliest anyone could get us in was Wednesday. Not too bad, I thought.

So I take in the RV as early as possible on Wednesday. Then we waited. We heard nothing from them at all that day, which was a little disappointing, but not surprising. By Thursday around noon I still hadn’t heard from them, so I called.

“We’re charging the battery right now,” (so you couldn’t have done that at any point yesterday?) “and then we will get the generator started and will start to pinpoint the problem”.

I don’t need to detail every point of the ensuing three days, but suffice it to say we’ve been given the runaround several times. Finally last night, Friday, we learned that their electrical expert is on vacation and won’t be back until Monday. They “think” they know what the problem is, but won’t really know until he’s back. So on Monday they can work up an estimate, order the needed part(s), and then they can begin actual repairs. Here’s hoping they don’t keep giving us the runaround.

Thankfully we’ve had some awesome friends here in Columbus who have generously hosted us for much longer than we had expected. Our food is filling up their fridge (otherwise it’d’ve gone bad in our not-currently-working-because-of-electrical-problems RV fridge) and our blow-up air mattress is filling up their guest bedroom, but they’ve been awesome in rolling with the unexpected punches as they occur.

In the meantime, we’ve finished shooting aerials of Columbus, and today we’re heading up to Detroit to spend some time with Holly’s great- (also great) aunt and uncle; hopefully we’ll be able to shoot some aerials of Detroit as well. It’s an unexpected stop for us, but that’s the nature of this summer…everything is flexible and we’re just rolling with it. We honestly had expected to be on the West Coast by now, but at the rate we’re going, and looking ahead at the cities we expect to hit before we get there, it’ll be at least a month before we see the Pacific.

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Equipment and Process

I’ve had a few people suggest that I write a post about the equipment and settings that I use, and processes I go through to create the drone videos, so here it is. If you’re interested in just reading about our adventures (and misadventures) RVing, you should skip this post.

Equipment

So, without further ado, here is what I keep in my drone case:

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  • DJI Phantom 2 version 2.0 (the drone) and stock transmitter (the controller)
  • Zenmuse H3-3D (the gimbal to stabilize the camera)
  • GoPro Hero4 Black (the camera)
  • Snake River Prototyping BlurFix filters (I’ve got the Circular Polarizer, ND4, ND4/Circular Polarizer and ND8, to be used in different shooting scenarios)
  • AVL58 (video transmitter and receiver so I can see what I’m shooting while I’m shooting)
  • Lilliput 7-inch monitor
  • iOSD mini (onscreen display for telemetry data for more accurate flying)
  • 6 batteries for the Phantom 2
  • 2 batteries for the monitor and video receiver
  • Hex wrench to put on/take off the camera
  • Smaller Hex wrench to adjust the gimbal when necessary
  • Extra set of propellers
  • Screwdriver

And here are a few pictures of my setup, sans case:

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When I started droning a little over a year ago I had the regular Phantom 2 and transmitter. The new version (v2.0) has stronger motors (apparently), better propellers (apparently), and a different way of controlling the tilt of the camera (definitely).

In my last post I told about how I lost my first drone. Following that incident I purchased the Phantom 2 v2.0. I had many troubles in finding a drone that was as reliable as my first in making high-quality images, but that’s for another post. Suffice it to say, after several packages back and forth from B&H and Amazon (and a few trips to Best Buy) I was the proud owner of a reliable drone.

Setup and Settings

Using the PT2 Assistant Software, there are a number of settings that I customize to get the most out of the drone.

The first thing I do is adjust the gain settings for the Phantom 2 to make for smoother flight. The default gains are: Pitch 125%, Roll 125%, Yaw 120%, Vertical 140%, Attitude Pitch 260%, and Attitude Roll 260%. I adjust the Pitch and Roll settings to 90%. The rest of the gains I leave at the default settings. I don’t think there’s a magic number in this regard…and the gains should be different depending on which version of Phantom is used, which dampers are used on the gimbal dampening unit, and what additional accessories are on the drone. The reason for this is each setup is slightly different, and the weight of the drone will affect the way it flies, so the gains need to be customized to a particular setup. I did a bunch of tests at different gain settings to figure out what worked best for my setup.

PhantomGains

On the gimbal, I use the black 40° dampers. These are the softest dampers, and I was surprised that they seemed to be the best for my setup, but for whatever reason it seemed to produce the best image with least amount of jello.

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For settings, I have the tilt gain set to 1 (I’m not sure this actually affects anything with the v2.0 controller, but I know on my old drone I kept it at 1 so that I could get a smooth/slow tilt). The Horizontal Limit I put at 0, and the Vertical Limit I put at +1, which is technically just slightly above level, but I’ve found in real-world scenarios that it ends up looking level.

GimbalSettings

Because I use the H3-3D, but I’m shooting with the Hero4 (which is weighted slightly differently than the Hero3) I also put coins on the gimbal to balance it out.

On the GoPro I adjust a number of settings to try to get the most out of the image. These are my preferences, and I know that many people will adjust settings differently for how they like to shoot, but here’s what I do:

  • Resolution: 4K
  • Framerate: 30fps (24fps would make for a more filmic look, but 30fps is more flexible for a broad range of uses)
  • Angle: Wide
  • Low Light: N/A
  • Spot Meter: Off
  • ProTune: On
  • White Balance: Generally 5500k or 6500k, depending on the time of day. I prefer a warmer look to my videos, so a lot of times I shoot at 6500k and if it ends up being too warm I can tone it down in post.
  • Color: GoPro Color (I know a lot of people shoot in Flat color, which gives more latitude for color correction. But I like the colors to pop, and the way I look at it is this: it’s easy to remove saturation from an image without much quality degradation, but putting saturation back into a compressed image usually introduces even more compression artifacts, so I like to start with a more-saturated image.)
  • ISO Limit: 400 (there’s too much noise at the other settings)
  • Sharpness: Medium
  • Exposure Compensation: -0.5
Process

It starts with Holly and I (mostly Holly) researching a city to determine what locations we should get shots of. Since we’re moving from city to city we don’t end up doing that research until shortly before we arrive…otherwise it’d be too hard to keep track of everything. We put together a list of locations, and then while I’m shooting I also keep my eye out for things that look interesting/fun/exciting/cool/crazy/unique.

I follow the weather very closely, hoping for a “Partly Cloudy” forecast. That allows for a nice textured sky, and during Golden Hour also makes for very pretty colors. Of course I can’t always wait for the best weather, so a lot of times I’ll still shoot in less-than-ideal conditions, but I try to get at least one shooting session in ideal conditions.

I love shooting at Golden Hour, so I get up early enough to be at my first location before sunrise. When we were in New Hampshire we were so far east in the timezone that getting to the shoot location before sunrise meant getting up at 4am. Now that we’re pretty far west in the Eastern Timezone, my mornings aren’t quite so early, and I can usually get up sometime between 5 and 6. I usually will then spend 2-3 hours shooting in the morning, which allows for enough time to go to several different locations while still taking advantage of the morning light. Later in the day I start shooting 2-3 hours before sunset, again going to several different locations and taking advantage of the sun-low-in-the-sky light. It’s really a simple process, really, but the early mornings can be tiring.

For each video that I make, I want to make sure I have enough content that I’m happy with, so I usually will do 5 to 8 shooting sessions. With 6 or 7 flights with each session, this translates as 30 to 45 flights of about 10 to 12 minutes each, so I usually end up with 6 to 8 hours of footage of each city. Obviously that’s a lot of footage for a 3-minute video, so I’m trying to make my workflow more efficient. I hope I can get it down to 4 to 5 sessions, and make the flights shorter and more deliberate so that there isn’t as much useless footage to go through.

That’s the basics of it. It’s a learning process for me, so as we go along I adjust my workflow as seems fitting.

In a few days (or weeks) I’ll write a separate blog post on the post production process, because that’s definitely a subject all its own. In the meantime if you have any questions on anything I’ve written here, please feel free to leave comments and I will respond as I’m able.

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Niagara (Slips and) Falls

At the beginning of our stay in Buffalo, we visited Niagara Falls.

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photo credit: stock-free-images.net

The falls were beautiful, although we only saw the American side. I was surprised how unfamiliar they looked from that angle; when I visited the falls as a child I must have been in Canada. Seeing the sights, I was reminded of a story I wrote when I was seven or eight. Do you remember The Reading Rainbow? I loved watching it as a child, and one day they mentioned a story-writing contest they were hosting. I was just getting into creating stories, and was so excited for the chance of getting a book published! I submitted a story that I wrote specifically for the contest. I was so proud of it and thought I was so clever to think up an idea so witty. The basic storyline is such: Niagara, a girl who was born unfortunately large, did not fit in in her community so she ran away and picked up the musical hobby of playing the flute (made from a tree trunk, of course). She was so big that she had difficulties finding a space large enough to perform- until she came across a huge waterfall. As she played on a rock at the top of the falls, people gathered around and admired her, not realizing how tall she was with such a huge backdrop. She got so excited with her newfound popularity that she started to dance to her own music, slipped on the wet rock, and fell to an almost certain death.

“And that is why they call it Niagara Falls.”

I was flabbergasted to find out I did not even place in the contest! I can’t imagine why they would not wanting young children reading that book…

 

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