About This Website

 

Reflections of a Blog Pioneer:

Creating a Travel Website in 2001

 

July 2022

 
 

Above:  My faithful 2001 Dell laptop with its "huge" 30 GB hard drive.  It's primitive by today's standards but hey, twenty years later it still works, as you can see.

The world of technology was very different back in April 2001, over 20 years ago, when I created my first website, DelsJourney.com.  The Internet was in its relative infancy then, laptops and cell phones were rare, and Wi-Fi didn't exist at all.  Websites were hard to create back then, especially when traveling like I was, and the first digital cameras were only just starting to emerge.  Because of those hurdles, there were very few travel blogs back in those days or really, websites of any kind.

 

It's not unusual these days to see someone use a digital device in a rural area far from cities.  But back in 2001 as I traveled around America, I received lots of strange looks in campgrounds whenever I took out my clunky (but cutting-edge) Dell laptop to work on my website.  Laptops had been around only for a few years, so curious passersby would often strike up conversations with me, wondering what I was doing with a computer in a campground.  How bizarre!

 

Posting those web updates was also a challenge back then, especially on the road like I was, because it required a phone jack (and thus a motel room) along with several cables and adapters.  The fastest connection speed back then was only 56K, which is 100 to 1,000 times slower than a typical broadband connection today, so I had to keep my website's photos small.  And the idea of posting any kind of video, which devoured bandwidth, was beyond absurd.  This was long before YouTube, mind you, not to mention Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram.

 

Above:  Posting a website update (at 56K) using a telephone jack in a Port Huron, Michigan motel room in August 2001.

But the smallish photos that I did post were top-quality thanks to the Canon digital SLR camera I had bought just before I left on my journey in 2001.  The 3.3 megapixel Canon D-30, laughably low-resolution compared to today's behemoths, was one of the first digital SLR cameras on the market ("SLR" meaning that it used interchangeable lenses).  My cutting-edge camera got lots of stares from passersby because no one had seen anything like it.  Digital SLR cameras today, by contrast, are as common as falling rain. 

 

But even with my Dell laptop and Canon D-30 camera considered top-notch technology for the day creating a travel website back then was still a big technical challenge.  As I traveled around America, New Zealand and Australia in 2001-02 while teaching myself HTML and Microsoft FrontPage (the programming language and web design software, respectively, that I used to create DelsJourney.com), I spent endless hours trying to solve one technical problem after another in my continual quest to post web updates wherever I might be:  from the deserts of Utah to the Pacific islands to the Australian Outback and many places in between.

 

But looking on the positive side, once I did post stories they were often ranked highly in Google or Alta Vista (remember Alta Vista?)  That's because there were far fewer websites back in 2001.  There were only a few hundred thousand websites back then instead of the tens of millions today so the competition was thin.  Thanks to the thousands of photos I'd posted on my site, which was unheard of back then for a single website, and the wide range of topics I'd written about, DelsJourney.com was ranked in the top 2% of all websites in the world in terms of traffic for many years until about 2006.  Consequently, almost anything I posted on my site immediately shot to the top of the search pages.  Gee, it almost wasn't fair!

 

 
 

Above:  The Canon D-30 digital camera that made my website possible.  I bought this camera, one of the first digital SLRs ever produced, in March 2001.  The photos were only 2160 x 1440 pixels (3.3 MP) but it was still a great camera.  Over the next eight years I shot over 25,000 pictures with it, many of which I've posted on this site.

 

My website's traffic has dropped off a lot since then as more websites have been created and technologies like SEO have emerged (that's Search Engine Optimization, as in "Pay me big bucks and I'll push your site up the rankings" something I'll never do).  But I can proudly say that DelsJourney.com still gets several hundred pageviews a day as of 2022.

 

I've received lots of emails over the years from readers, including two death threats (yikes) and three marriage proposals (really yikes!)  But the most satisfying messages I've received were from folks who told me that I had inspired them to create and post their own travel websites.  I'd like to think that DelsJourney.com has been a model for later travel blogs, and hopefully many.

 

A Major Overhaul

Over the years DelsJourney.com had begun to look dated, so during the Covid pandemic of 2020 to 2022, I decided to hunker down in my house in Portland, Oregon and give my 20-year old website a much-needed makeover.  After an initial, naive "Gee, how hard could it be?" phase, not weighing the fact that DelsJourney contained more than 500 webpages, I dug in and spent over a thousand hours on the massive overhaul.

 

The full extent of the huge task didn't hit me until I was six months into it, after I'd reviewed and cleaned a half-million lines of HTML code, one by one.  Yes, this was turning out to be another one of my typically small-projects-grown-large that have repeatedly (but pleasantly) plagued my personal and professional lives.  It was the same naive nonchalance that I had back in 2001 when I first thought about creating a travel website:  "Gee, how hard could it be?"  Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. 

 

Before

After

 

 

Above:  Here's my DelsJourney makeover showing the before and after.  Now, repeat this for 541 pages and you're done!

To accommodate today's larger monitors, I spent hundreds of hours increasing the size of the more than 4,000 photos in my website, one by one.  I also increased the text size, improved the navigation, revised and enlarged the maps, and improved the quality of the music to reflect today's higher bandwidths.  I also posted several new stories and pictures.  Heck, I even posted some video clips from my travels back in 2001.

 

I didn't finish the overhaul until the summer of 2022, two years after I'd started, having worked on the task in between working at my "real job" which I was also now doing remotely from my home, thanks to the pandemic.

 

But despite all the recent changes I made, I decided to keep the basic appearance of my original DelsJourney.com website intact with its blue background and green "road sign" theme.  So even with its recent makeover, what you see now is, to some extent, how my site has looked all these years.  Yes, I may be a geek, but by gosh, I'm a sentimental geek.

 

A New Website But Still Not Monetized

I posted stories on DelsJourney.com until 2016, when I created a new travel website called www.ExtremeGeographer.com.  I've written over 800 webpages in the two websites describing my travels since 2001 and collectively they're one of the longest-running and most extensive personal websites posted on the Internet.  My new website, ExtremeGeographer, uses more current web technology (Joomla instead of HTML) and looks a lot flashier than DelsJourney.com.  I've thought about merging my two websites into a single, modern-looking site using fancy web technology.  But like I say, I'm sentimental so I decided to keep the two websites separate.

 

Above:  My new website, ExtremeGeographer.com, describes my journeys after 2016.

 

One thing has remained constant among both of my websites, however:  neither is monetized.  You'll never see an advertisement or irritating pop-up on either site.  I didn't create DelsJourney or ExtremeGeographer to make a buck and I never will make any money from them.  Just the opposite, in fact, because over the years I've spent thousands of dollars on hosting fees so I could share my stories with others. 

 

By the way, that's another big difference between then and now.  Back in 2001 when I created DelsJourney.com, the few blogs that existed rarely had any ads, while today it's hard to find a blog or YouTube video without ads.  Sadly, it seems that everyone on the Internet these days is just trying to make a buck.  But not here.  Not ever.

 

It's easy to create a travel website today given all the recent advancements in technology.  In fact, almost any idiot can do it  as I proved with ExtremeGeographer.com.  But creating a travel website back in 2001 while on the road, like I did, was a huge challenge.  I suppose that's why no one except a few crazy fools like me tried to do it.  Regardless, I hope you enjoy DelsJourney.com and happy reading!

Del Leu
Portland, Oregon

 

 

September 2002

Above:  Busy (?) at work in Portland in 1994 back in my mustachioed days.  Oooh, check out that "modern" computer! 

Greetings!  My name is Del Leu.  I'm the author of DelsJourney and here's the story of my website.  It all began in Portland, Oregon in March 2001.  That's when I started getting "itchy feet" after working as a computer mapping (i.e., GIS) specialist and transportation planner with the same engineering consulting firm for 10 years.  Precisely on my 10-year anniversary in 2001, I quit my comfortable job with those assuring paychecks and started living like a hobo as I began an 18-month trip around America and the world.  Yes, many of my colleagues thought I was crazy and maybe I was!

 

During my journey, I planned to take long road trips around my three favorite countries:  the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.  Well actually, I'd never been to New Zealand or Australia (in fact, I'd never been overseas before), but I'd always wanted to visit them.  I also wanted to visit the south Pacific, another place I'd never been, so I decided at the last minute to throw that in, as well.

 

Above:  Updating my website and now sans mustache in Brisbane, Australia.  (April 2002)

Being my family's unofficial historian and "keeper of stories," I've always been interested in genealogy.  So I decided that my 2001 trip around America would be a great opportunity to learn about my family's history first-hand.  It's one thing to read about an important place, but it's much more satisfying to actually visit it and walk on the ground, breathe the air, and wipe the cow manure off your shoes.  And so, during my trip around America, I visited dozens of sites around the country that have historic ties to my ancestors, some of whom were among the earliest settlers of North America.  In many ways, my trip around the U.S. evolved into a personal quest of understanding my family's heritage.

 

I also figured my trip would be a great opportunity to learn web programming, so I started up this website before I took off, deciding to use a "green road sign" theme throughout the site.  I brought along a laptop computer on my journey, a digital camera, and a thick "How-To" book on Microsoft FrontPage, figuring that I would learn how to design websites as I went, using HTML and CSS.  During my travels, I posted stories and photos of the places I visited, from Bellingham to Boston, through the south Pacific and across the Australian Outback using my sarcastic wit and childish sense of humor.

 

Above:  I love highway signs, including this one in the Australian Outback.  I decided to use this same green road sign motif for the navigational buttons, on the left side of my website.

Although I created this site mainly for my friends and relatives, I figured that anyone interested in traveling might find it interesting.   Sure enough, as I traveled around the U.S. and overseas, I started getting lots of e-mails from folks who had stumbled across my website.  During my travels, I posted over 400 webpages and more than 2,000 photos on this site, and if you print the whole thing out (as I have) it's over 700 pages long.  Yes, the website was a lot of work, and during my travels I frequently had to hunker down for several days at a time to update it, time that I would've rather have spent traveling.  But the website was also a lot of fun and I'm glad I created it.

 

After my road trips around the U.S., New Zealand and Australia in 2002, I thought about taking my website down.  But I decided to keep it posted and updated because I figured that travelogues never go out of date.  I also figured that new readers would enjoy reading about critically important topics such as:

By the way, I haven't monetized my website and never will.  I created my website for fun, not to make money, so you'll never see any ads or irritating pop-ups here.  Not now and not ever. 

 

I'll keep posting information about my travels and other things on a periodic basis.  I've posted lots of things here to read, so feel free to peruse DelsJourney and I hope you like it!

 

Del Leu

Welcome to my website!  Here's a brief "howdy" from yours truly.

 

Website Organization

I've divided my website into the following categories, listed on the left:

  • News   My updates.

  • Stories   Selected travel stories, for those who prefer an "ala carte" way of reading my website.

  • Close-Ups   In-depth information about some of the topics I discuss.

  • Family History   Stories about my relatives, including maps, photos, and family trees.

  • Funny Photos   I'm a phunny guy and love taking pictures of phunny things.

  • About   This page, of course.

 

More Info

If you're still not satisfied, here's even more information about my website.

  • Who Am I?   A brief description of myself and my philosophy on traveling.

  • Music   I've posted music throughout my website, as described on this page.  I've also posted here a list of my top 10 albums and a song from each.

  • Privacy   My policy on respecting the privacy of folks I've mentioned in this website.

  • Why I'm Responsible for the Current Recession   A little economic humor.

  • My Thanks   A list of the kind folks I encountered during my travels (and travails).

  • FAQ  (Frequently Asked Questions)   In case you want to know even more about me (I pity you).

  • Site Statistics   Some stats about my website's traffic.

  • Contact Me   If you're wondering whether I really do exist (hint:  I do), feel free to send me an e-mail.

 


In Search of My Heritage

As I mentioned above, one reason I decided to take this trip was to research my family's history.  I've always been interested in genealogy and during my trip around America in 2001 I wanted to learn as much as I could about my ancestors by visiting the places where they lived, fought and died. 

 

I spent several months retracing my ancestor's footsteps and learning their stories.  Indeed, after a few months my journey around America had turned into a personal quest to discover my family's heritage.  I've described some of the more memorable sites and events below.

 

 

 

 

Henry's bridge

 

 

The Bixby Bridge, California  (June 2001).  Back in 1982 I took a picture of this beautiful bridge on the Big Sur coast of California, not realizing the role that it had once played in my family's history.  Many years later, I found an old photo of this bridge taken in the 1930s and, from the caption, learned that my great-uncle, Henry Swang, had helped to build it (Henry also helped build the Golden Gate Bridge).  It had been nearly 20 years since I had seen the Bixby Bridge, so I decided to visit it and pay my respects to Henry Swang.  I was excited as I headed south on Highway 1 and finally spotted the bridge up ahead.  I pulled over and spent a few hours here admiring my great-uncle's work.

 

 

Tommie Lee, my tour guide

 

Corinth, Mississippi  (June 2001).  The bloody Battle of Shiloh was fought just a few miles from Corinth during the Civil War in 1862.  As I discovered a few years ago in some old family papers, my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, fought with the Union Army here and spent several weeks in Corinth, so I decided to visit the town.  I ran into a local historian and fellow Civil War buff here named Tommy Lee, who was kind enough to give me an eight-hour tour of Corinth and the Shiloh battlefield.  Tommie's ancestors had served with the Confederate troops in Corinth, but it didn't matter to either of us that our ancestors may have fought against each other here 140 years earlier.

 

 

Ransom Myers

 

Greeneville, Tennessee  (July 2001).  Shortly after leaving Corinth, Mississippi in 1862, my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, was shot in the left arm, which was later amputated.  He returned to Michigan to recuperate, then joined the Michigan cavalry and became a one-armed courier, seeing fierce action throughout Tennessee until the end of the war.  In 1864, his unit helped capture the Confederate general, John Morgan, in Greeneville.  I spent an afternoon in Greeneville, visited the house where Morgan was captured, and got a great tour of the Greeneville Museum from the curator, John Hendricks.

 

 

Israel's Wolf Den

 

Brooklyn, Connecticut  (July 2001).  One of my ancestors, Israel Putnam, lived in this area in the 1700s and, for better or worse, supposedly killed "the last wolf in Connecticut" when he was a young man (I guess there was no SPCA back then).  Following dirt roads and a mile-long trail, I found "Israel's Wolf Den" which, as I was disappointed to discover, was merely a cleft in the rocks.  Israel later became an American general during the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  In fact, some historians claim it was Israel who issued the famous command: "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

 

 

"Is Nathan home?"

 

Coventry, Rhode Island  (July 2001).  Nathanael Greene, possibly another ancestor of mine, grew up in the mid-1700s in this house called "The Homestead."  Nathanael later became one of the most able and successful American generals during the Revolutionary War.  In fact, George Washington considered Greene to be his best general during the war.  Greene had a modest upbringing.  He was a self-made man and remained humble throughout his life.  His childhood home is off the beaten path and took me a while to find, but it was well worth it because I got a personal, hour-long tour from a kind neighbor woman named Mary, the house's caretaker.

 

 

The landing site

 

Ipswich, Massachusetts  (July 2001).  Before my trip, I had spent many months in Oregon researching my family's genealogy via the Internet.  One town that kept popping up was Ipswich, Massachusetts, where one of my ancestors, a man named Humphrey Bradstreet, had landed from England in 1634, a few years after the Pilgrims had settled in Plymouth.  Therefore, I decided to stop in Ipswich.  With the help of a local librarian there, I discovered the spot where Humphrey had landed on the ship "Elizabeth."  After taking this picture, I wanted to reconnect with my past, so I walked down to the dock and dipped my hand in the ocean.  It was a stirring (and salty) moment.

 

 

Moses' gravestone

 

Rowley, Massachusetts  (July 2001).  Humphrey Bradstreet's son, Moses, was my oldest ancestor born in America (in 1643).  He moved from Ipswich to the village of Rowley, one of the oldest communities in the U.S., and died there in 1690.  I had run across Moses' name several times on the Internet but knew little about him.  With the help of Susan Hazen, Rowley's Town Clerk, I found the graveyard where Moses was buried and, after walking past rows of graves, I found Moses' 1690 gravestone, barely readable after 300 years of weathering.  Standing by his old gravestone, I felt a true connection with my eight-times grandfather, Moses Bradstreet.  Gosh, I even got goose bumps.  I still do when I think about that moment.

 

 

The Erie Canal in Lyons

 

Lyons, New York  (August 2001).  While doing some Internet research in Oregon, I discovered that I had relatives from Holland named Meijers who, in the 1600s, settled in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands, today known as New York state.  One of the Meijers' descendents, Solomon Myers, settled here in Lyons (think "Last of the Mohicans" for the era and location).  He fought in the U.S. Army against the British during the War of 1812 in the area around Buffalo.  I spent a few hours in Lyons and, with the help of Deborah, the Town Historian, found documents related to Solomon Myers.  Solomon's son was Ransom Myers (described above), who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War and lost his left arm.

 

 

The helpful librarian in Putnam

 

Putnam, Ontario  (August 2001).  A story has been passed down in my family for many generations about our Canadian ancestors named Putnam who crossed back and forth over the U.S. / Canada border repeatedly in the 1800s, but the reasons were obscured by time.  Therefore I decided to visit the small village of Putnam, Ontario, to see if there was any connection there with my family's history.  With the help of the friendly Putnam librarian, I discovered that the town's founder, a man named Putnam, had crossed back and forth over the Canadian border many times in the early 1800s to avoid capture during a rebellion he had led in Canada.  I was excited to discover this because it had, after all these years, corroborated our family's story.  My family has always done things our own way and now I knew where we got it from!

 

 

The Myers plot near Mayville

 

Mayville Michigan  (August 2001).  After fighting in Corinth, Mississippi, during the Civil War, my one-armed great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, returned to his farm near Mayville, Michigan in 1865.  A few years later, his daughter, Minnie, eloped at age 16, much to Ransom's displeasure, and years later she bore a daughter who would become my grandmother.  After her husband died, the heart-broken Minnie and her daughter left Mayville around 1900 bound for Seattle.  With the help of the Mayville librarian, I found the farm that had been owned by Minnie's father, Ransom, along with Ransom's grave.  After tracing Ransom's footsteps in Mississippi and Tennessee earlier in my trip, I felt like I had now completed the circle.

 

 

Henry's 1893 barn

 

Windom, Minnesota  (August 2001).  After researching my father's ancestors, described above, I began tracing the paths of my mother's ancestors, who had settled in the Midwest during the 1800s.  My first stop was in southwestern Minnesota where her ancestors had arrived from Germany in the 1870s.  This was a few miles south of Walnut Grove, the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder at the time.  In fact, my great-great-grandfather, Henry, may have known Laura, because they were the same age.  I visited the farm where Henry's father homesteaded in the 1800s and found a barn that he had built in 1893.  During my visit, two guys stopped by and I learned that I was related to one of them, my only known relative still in Minnesota.

 

 

Ole Svang's homestead

 

Webster, South Dakota  (August 2001).  Many of my mother's ancestors came from Norway in the 1800s.  She once mentioned the town of Webster, South Dakota, so I decided to visit.  In fact, I spent two weeks there doing research.  With the help of the kind staff at the Day County Recorder's Office, I learned a lot about my great-great-grandparents, Ole and Birgit Svang.  I even found the homestead where they had farmed in the 1880s.  Ole and Birgit arrived by covered wagon and lived in a sod house but after many years of hard work, they were evicted from their land after being unable to repay a farming debt, a common fate among homesteaders.  I camped at their deserted homestead one night on the windswept prairie of South Dakota and tried to envision how difficult their lives must have been.

 

 

The farm where my mother grew up

 

Bismarck, North Dakota  (September 2001).  I stopped in Bismarck in the fall of 2001 for what I thought would be a few days to research my mother's history, but I ended up staying much longer.  My mother, who had died in 1999, never spoke much about her childhood, but she did tell me that she'd grown up in Bismarck in the 1930s and that her parents had been well-off and not affected by the Great Depression.  As I learned, however, she had actually grown up in poverty on a farm north of Bismarck and then moved to Bismarck with her destitute family when she was a young girl after the farm had failed.  I spent seven weeks piecing together her family's story and learned that it was one of toil, stress, and despair.  Apparently she had been too ashamed to admit the truth.  However, the harsh conditions that she had endured during the Depression only renewed my deep respect for her.

 

 

Helga and my mother (center) in 1926

 

Regan, North Dakota  (October 2001).  After my mother passed away in 1999, I found an old photo album that she had kept hidden for many decades, which had belonged to her mother, Helga Swang.  I don't remember my grandmother Helga, who died when I was young, and knew little about her.  From the photo album, though, I pieced her story together and learned that she had taught in a small school in North Dakota in the 1920s.  The album also contained the only pictures I've ever seen of her mother, my great-grandmother, Anna Swang, who died in 1933 after a life of hard work.  From the photos and subsequent research I did in North Dakota, I came to know and appreciate the undaunted Helga and Anna, and I developed a close feeling of kinship to both.

 

 

Hester Bailey (left) and her friend, Alice

 

Wing, North Dakota  (October 2001).  Perhaps the most amazing encounter of my 2001 trip around the U.S. occurred in the smoky "Chat and Chew Cafe" in the tiny town of Wing, North Dakota.  I met an elderly woman there named Hester Bailey and, through our conversation, I learned that Hester had been my grandmother Helga's kindergarten pupil eighty years earlier in 1921.  During the next two hours, Hester told me stories about my grandparents that I'd never heard, and the only stories about my great-grandparents that I've ever heard.  Hester even recognized herself in one of my grandmother Helga's photos, which Helga had taken in 1921.  Hester is 89 years old and we still keep in touch.  In fact, she recently sent me a large quilt that she had made for me.

 

 

My parents in Dickinson (1943)

 

Dickinson, North Dakota  (October 2001).  My father joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was sent to Dickinson to attend officer training school.  The day after he arrived, he attended a dance held for the officer recruits.  My mother, who had just graduated from high school in Bismarck, was in Dickinson that weekend visiting a girlfriend.  You guessed it:  my mother met my father that night at the dance and the rest, as they say, is history.  I stopped in Dickinson to visit the dance hall where my mom met my dad but was dismayed to learn that it had been torn down the previous year.  Nevertheless, after visiting the college that my dad attended, I visited the site (now an empty lot) where my parents met and where they had once danced to the music of Glenn Miller.

 

 

Skykomish High School

 

Skykomish, Washington  (October 2001).  On the last day of my drive around America I stopped in the tiny logging town of Skykomish, set high in the Cascade Mountains about an hour east of Seattle.  My father had moved here during the Great Depression with his parents and siblings.  They were a poor but contented family, reminding me years later of the television show, "The Waltons" (perhaps one reason I like that show).  My grandfather ran a grocery store in Skykomish called "Leu's Market" for many years until he suffered a stroke in 1957.  Skykomish is much quieter these days, almost a ghost town, but I stopped here and visited the high school where, back in 1941, my father had been a star basketball player.

 

 

My father (left) and his brother, Bill, during their final visit

 

Edmonds, Washington  (November 2002).  In the fall of 2002, after visiting New Zealand and Australia, I was getting ready to return to my job in Portland when my father became ill.  He was diagnosed with cancer so I decided to stay with him at his house in Bellingham, Washington.  Later that fall, with only a short time left to live, he told me that he wanted to see his older brother and best friend, Bill, one last time.  The next day I drove my dad to Edmonds and he and Bill had a memorable visit.  During their visit I videotaped an interview of them and Bill described, for the first time, his experiences during World War II on the U.S.S. Neosho, a Navy ship that was sunk by Japanese dive bombers in the Pacific.  My father died a few weeks later and Bill died the next spring.  They were part of what many, including myself, call "The Greatest Generation."