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Start:  Highland, Indiana (9 AM)

End:  International Falls, Minnesota (12 AM)

Miles:  ~ 650

Monday:  We set off from Nana’s house yesterday morning and drove north through Chicago, Madison, Eau Claire, rural Wisconsin, Duluth, and rural Minnesota until we stopped just shy of the border in International Falls.

Highlights:  Wisconsin sure has a lot of cheese stores!  We saw a Castle, Haus, Chalet, and several of unspecified type.  Duluth is actually a pretty nice city!  Really cool grain silos, large ships, and other industrial buildings along the port and bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Saw a redwing blackbird, and after dark a few foxes and deer on the side of the road.  The last leg of the trip was the roughest, in the Boundary Waters national area, which included hard rain and high winds, fireworks going off DURING said rain and winds, fog, deer looking ready to bolt, and most of all the dark woods.  We were going to cross into Canada last night, but we saw the motel sign and just needed to sleep.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Bluffs, Wisconsin

Bluffs, Wisconsin

Minnesota Welcomes Us

Minnesota Welcomes Us

Lowlight:  I think my camera lens is broken.  AGAIN.  All these photos are coming out grainy and just wrong.  Will look into this…

Tuesday:  Officially leaving the U.S. today, not to return until reaching the Alaska border.  After crossing into Canada first thing this morning, we’ll be heading northwest to Winnipeg and Regina, stopping in the city or perhaps going a few more miles down the road.

Anchorage or bust!

Below is a map (hopefully this works!) that I’ll be adding to as we go along to track the route.  Notice that according to Google, the area between Whitehorse YT and Tok AK doesn’t really exist.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=201480590623565578563.0004a5df2b74730aa1961&ie=UTF8&ll=51.524013,-116.50701&spn=22.972677,66.785301&t=h&output=embed
View Alaska Trip in a larger map

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Mom and I are leaving for Alaska this morning, by way of Chicago, International Falls, MN and Winnipeg, Canada.  I haven’t gotten my act together to set up a travel blog for our trip, but I’ll try to post some photos and updates here if we have wi-fi service.

I’m also planning to start a new blog – or a new series on this blog – about life in Alaska.  I’ll be publicizing that once I get my Internet connection (i.e. connection to the rest of the world) set up and settle in at work.

Not feeling particularly ready for the trip, but here goes!

View of the mountains (via the Mudflats blog)

View of the mountains (via the Mudflats blog)

In the view days of calm before the storm, also known as Spring Break, I spent a lot of time working, and a fair amount of time sleeping.  But I also spent some time (a little over a full day) seeing parts of Upstate with a couple friends.  We passed through a lot of farmland and saw a lot of lovely historic architecture, unfortunately a lot of it empty or at least not what it once was.

We stayed overnight in Rochester at Reen’s B&B and saw a bit of the city, including the Eastman House, the random assortment of buildings downtown, the Public Market, AAAND the flagship Wegman’s Grocery Store in the suburbs.

Here are three representative images from the trip:

Barn in Upstate

Barn in Upstate

Downtown Rochester

Downtown Rochester

Eastman House, Rochester

Eastman House, Rochester

Back to work and blogging soon!

Cities, and people who think about cities, are usually all about place and space.  I’d like to make the case instead that cities and the way we think about them – by which I mean, the everyday activities and movement within cities, more than the physical landscape itself – are really all about time.

First, time defines the urban in contrast to the rural.  This is not to say that rural areas exist outside of time, but that they experience it differently.  Time, in agricultural terms, is cyclical, relying on the predictable recurrence of sunrise and sunset, of spring and summer; action is dictated by the length of day and the growing season.  Unpopulated rural areas, forests and wetlands, adhere even more closely to the natural cycle.  Extraction operations like mining may rely less on that cycle, but only through the benefit of technologies like electricity and industrial machinery.  In popular perception, at least, rural life is slow, unhurried, and “close to nature,” relying on the sun rather than the digital clock to tell the time; urban life, in contrast, is fast-paced, frenetic, and full of impatient crowds, rushing so as not to be late.

Suburbs seem to exist in the middle space between these two ideas – slower and calmer than a bustling downtown, but still tied to time-sensitive activities like the morning commute, the after-school program, and the evening news.  Time is still measured, but much of it by the car’s dashboard clock.

It has been observed that we have built our cities with increments of time:  the “forty-five minute rule” claims that city size has historically been determined by the length that can reasonably be travelled in forty-five minutes.  If on foot, about two to three miles; if in a horse-drawn cart, somewhat longer; if by train or car or motorized bus, longer still.  While this may not hold true in all cases, it seems to make sense:  a person can only spend so much of their waking hours travelling, or else nothing would get done.  City height and density may have been determined in part by construction technology and infrastructure limitations, but its breadth may be most practically determined using travel times, not physical distance.

The importance of time in urban movement – and it seems that urban life is all about moving from one place to another – is most evident in public transit.  We often choose one mode over another based on travel times, even if it puts us a couple blocks out of the way; we may even spend more money on a cab just to save time.  Using NextBus and similar tracking services, we determine our schedule by the number of minutes to arrival, not the length or even number of stops the bus or train has to travel.  Our estimated travel time may make one place seem more accessible than the other, even if they are both exactly one mile away.  We measure our reasonable walking radius by minutes as much as by miles; and even in easily-understood grid cities like (midtown) Manhattan or Chicago, we orient ourselves at least as much to the time spent in transit than to the miles we travel every day.  In more chaotic cities like Boston or Paris, the zig-zag distances we travel are hard to measure, and it’s not really worth doing so anyway.

A good rule of thumb:  most places in Chicago seem to take forty-five minutes to reach; most places in Columbus take ten to twenty.  If the destinations are close, we may take a leisurely walk and allow ourselves extra “cushion” time to leave.  If they are further away, driving time must include a traffic jam and some time to search for parking; if taking public transit, we build in extra time to wait for the bus or train, and even more if a transfer is required.  Unless it’s just up the street, we expect to take some extra time getting there.

Trains are most closely linked to time, and are often disconnected from space.  Consider the origin of standard time itself:  the development of cross-country train networks in the United States created the need for a common understanding of when noon or eight or five actually occurred, rather than each town measuring for itself by solar position alone.  (A plaque near the Chicago Board of Trade building commemorates that city’s part in the “invention” of time.)  Because the train’s route and schedule are already circumscribed, we think little of the actual distance we travel, but conceive of the trip more or less as a straight line from A to B, within a given time frame.

Train schedules and maps exist even further out of real, physical space:  the stylized, rectilinear diagram of the London or New York subways alter the form of the city itself to be more legible as a network of colorful lines; stations that appear relatively far apart may indeed be only a block or two away, as is the case with the Regent’s Park and Great Portland Street Tube stations in London. [walking] [by train].

Furthermore, particularly for commuter rail with few or no connecting stations, the schedule is all we really need.  When will it depart?  When will I arrive?  The intermediate locations, not to mention the actual path of the track, is irrelevant.

Inter-city travel may be more or less time-dependent than intra-city.  While we pay attention to miles on the highway, relying on the odometer and the gas tank to remind us when to stop, when we travel by air, we worry primarily about whether or not we’ll miss our flight.  The actual experience of travel is disconnected from the physical distance:  we arrive in one airport, wait a bit, board the plane, perhaps watch landing and takeoff and catch glimpses of farm fields before ascending above the clouds, then touch down again at an eerily similar airport elsewhere.  Frequent flyer miles remain somewhat arbitrary numbers, points we accumulate over time.

Because movement is such an integral part of urban life, we must inevitably rely on time to determine the rest of our actions.  We generally work for a given number of hours, whether or not we are salaried; we take our children to and from school; we must pay attention to opening and closing times of our stores and restaurants and offices; we make appointments and plans and attend events according to the time we have left.  And, of course, somewhere in the midst of everything we find time to sleep.  We find time, lost time, make time, waste time, need more time or time off.  A city itself may be a place, a location, a location in physical space, but in our everyday conception of the city in which we live, it is really a series of time.