When I created my first website, DelsJourney.com, back in 2001 I had no idea that 21 years later my website and its extension, ExtremeGeographer.com, collectively would be one of the longest-running and most extensive personal websites on the Internet.  That certainly wasn't my goal.  I created DelsJourney simply because I wanted to share a few travel stories with a few readers.

I also didn’t realize, back in April 2001, how much time I would spend creating and updating the two websites, not by a long shot.  Over the past two decades I’ve spent literally thousands of hours posting the 7,000+ photos and writing and editing the more than 800 webpages that are on my two sites.  It’s my own fault, though, because I’m such a slow writer and an even slower editor.  If you work for a newspaper or magazine with tight deadlines, here’s a tip:  Don’t hire me!

 
 
 
Above:  The home page for DelsJourney.com.

I haven’t done any of this to make money.  My websites aren’t monetized in any way, a dying breed in this age where everyone on the Internet, it seems, just wants to make a buck.  Instead, I did it simply because I wanted to share my stories with others and allow curious readers to travel with me vicariously around the world, from the barren Australian Outback to the steamy jungles of Belize to the blistering hot Arabian desert and many places in between.  

Instead of making money, my websites have actually cost me money.  Over the years I’ve spent thousands of dollars in web hosting fees without earning back a penny in revenue, but I’m OK with that. 

So you might be asking:  Why did I spend all that time and money these past two decades creating my websites?  Here’s the scoop:

The Story of DelsJourney

In early 2001 I was working as a mapping specialist for a large engineering firm in Portland, Oregon, a job that I’d been doing for almost 10 years.  I figured that no one should work at the same job for more than a decade, so I quit on my 10-year anniversary in late March to go traveling.  After working at a stressful job for so many years, I wanted to travel around America and see new places, visit old friends, and learn more about my family’s history.  Then I planned to visit New Zealand and Australia, my first trip overseas, because I’d always wanted to see those countries.  After traveling for 18 months, I planned to move back to Portland and resume my job there.  Well, that was the plan.  Things didn’t turn out that way for various reasons.

I figured that my trip would be a good opportunity to learn about a new field called web design, so I bought the software package Microsoft FrontPage and created DelsJourney.com in early 2001.  I posted my first entry on April 5, shortly before I left on my six-month road trip around America.  It was a simple website with a blue background and a green "road sign" theme, and I hoped it would attract a few dozen readers, mostly friends and family.  I planned to keep it posted until I returned to work in 18 months, then I’d take it down.  But as I traveled around the U.S. I became a bit, ahem, consumed with it, spending more time writing web entries during some weeks than actually traveling. 

After several months I had amassed a large and growing readership. and by the end of my trip, in 2002, DelsJourney had become one of the most popular personal websites on the Internet, ranking in the top 2% of all websites in the world in terms of traffic.  I’d like to credit that to my incredible writing skills (?) but, in fact, it was mostly because I’d posted several thousand photos, unheard of back then for a single website.  DelsJourney soon passed six million pageviews, a bit more than the few dozen readers I hoped for initially.

 
 
 
Above:  Updating my website in Brisbane, Australia (April 2002).  Sometimes it seemed like I spent more time writing about my travels than actually traveling!
 

My readership has dropped off a lot since those heady days, partly because there are many more websites now:  millions today compared to a few hundred thousand back then.  Another reason for the drop-off is a new field called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  I used to naively assume that the best webpages about any particular topic would eventually rise to the top of the Google rankings.  Not so. 

Today it's possible to "game" the system and, with the right skills, push your website towards the top of the search rankings no matter how poor or sparse your content.  I have to admit that I've gotten frustrated at times, having spent weeks writing dozens of pages about a particular topic only to see them surpassed by meager webpages that contain just a few sentences.  If you have the bucks, you can push your website up the ladder.  Sadly, with the Internet as in life, it always comes down to that word:  money.  I don't partake in SEO or pay someone to do it for me, partly because I'm cheap and partly because, like I say, I don't make any money from my website.

Nevertheless, I kept posting updates on DelsJourney through 2016, albeit at a slower pace and sometimes only once a year.  What the heck, it was fun and interesting, and I still enjoyed sharing my thoughts and stories with others.  Some of my friends thought I was nuts, though.  "Why are you paying hosting fees to keep your site posted if you're not making any money from it?  Just take it down," they would say.  Needless to say, they're not my close friends.

I decided to keep my site up partly because DelsJourney.com had become a part of me.  It's my story.  Also, along with my travelogues, over the years I've written what I believe are the most extensive and informative stories posted on the Internet about several topics that touched on my family’s history, especially involving World War II.  That includes my dad’s naval unit in China called SACO, the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, and my uncle’s Navy ship, the U.S.S. Neosho, which was sunk during that conflict.  But I've also written lots of quirky and off-beat stories, including how my dad in 1965 split a hotel room in Thailand with a young, unknown actor named Burt Reynolds who was making his first movie there.  Having spent hundreds of hours writing these stories, heck, how could I take my site down?

I moved to the Middle East in 2013 and worked there for three years, then I returned to the U.S. in 2016 ready for another road trip around America.  To describe that trip I created a new website, ExtremeGeographer.com, the one you’re reading now.  I closed the book on my eclectic DelsJourney website in March 2016, having posted more than 540 webpages there over the previous 15 years.

DelsJourney Revised

A few years ago at the start of the Covid pandemic and lockdown, I was thinking about ways to put my Covid “down time” to good use.  DelsJourney was looking pretty dated, with small text and small photos compared to newer websites on the Internet, so I thought about sprucing it up a bit.

Technology, of course, has improved a lot since 2001 when I created my DelsJourney website.  For example, what looked good 20 years ago on the smaller monitors of that era doesn't look so good on today's larger monitors.  Bandwidths have increased, too, so instead of having to post small photos, like I did back in 2001, I could now post much larger pictures.  With its small text, tiny photos and narrow page margins, DelsJourney.com just looked "old" so I decided to give it a much-needed makeover.  "Gosh, how hard could it be?" I naively said to myself.

In fact, it turned out to be a massive project, much more than I anticipated.  From 2020 to the summer of 2022, I spent over a thousand hours revising my website to make it look and work better.  First I cleaned the HTML code – the source data that's behind all the text and photos you see on each webpage.  When I created DelsJourney in 2001, I didn't know much about HTML and didn't realize how important it is to have clean, readable code.  During the makeover I spent six months reviewing and editing over a half-million lines of code, one by one.  My code edits didn't affect the website's appearance (i.e., what you see) but it made the site a lot easier to manage, like if I need to upgrade it again in a few years. 

After that, I increased the size of the more than 4,000 photos, one by one.  Then I improved the organization and navigation, making it easier for readers to get around.  I also added several more stories and photos and did a lot of editing, which for me is a never-ending task.  I was embarrassed to find some misspellings on my DelsJourney website that had been sitting there for 15 or 20 years which tens of thousands of people had read.  Oops! 

   Before    After        
 
 
 
Above:  Here's the makeover showing the "before" and "after" for one of my DelsJourney.com pages.  Now, repeat it for 541 pages and you're done!
 

When I started the makeover in 2020, I figured that I’d spend maybe a couple months on it.  But like so many of my other projects, it soon took on a life of its own and I didn’t finish the work until a few days ago, nearly two years after I started. 

But it was an interesting task, this makeover, because from all that editing and photo revision work, I got to relive my travel experiences, some of which I’d forgotten about.  It was like I was traveling back to those places, whether in the south Pacific, New Zealand or Central America.  I was stepping back in time 10 or 20 years, reliving those same feelings of discovery and exhilaration (and occasionally, despair) once again.

As I re-read my stories from 20 years earlier, I thought about how much America has changed since then.  Is it still possible for a guy from blue-state Oregon to spend a day driving around Mississippi with a red-state southerner talking about Civil War history, Confederate flags and slavery, like I did in June 2001, without getting into a heated argument about politics?  And if I took another road trip around America like the one I did in 2001, would the only casualty, as with that trip, be a two-foot long scratch in my car door, like what happened to me in Texas after a deranged guy there saw my Oregon license plates?  Is it even possible to take a pleasant road trip around America today devoid of confrontation in this increasingly-divided country?  Gosh, I hope so.  But sadly, I'm starting to wonder...

The Future of DelsJourney

I created DelsJourney.com using HTML code, which was about the only way to create websites back in 2001.  My new website, ExtremeGeographer.com, on the other hand (and like most websites today) is based on what’s called a “content management system” (CMS).  To create a CMS-based website, you don’t need to know much about coding.  Instead, you write your text and dump it into a template along with your photos, and the template magically does the rest.  Frankly, any idiot can create a CMS-based website, as I've proven with ExtremeGeographer.com.

Creating an HTML website, like DelsJourney, is like making dinner from scratch:  you have complete control over everything, but on the other hand it’s also a lot of work.  Creating a CMS website, like ExtremeGeographer, conversely is like eating at a restaurant:  it’s much simpler but you can’t control or change things as much.  The bottom line, as I discovered, is that updating an HTML-based website with over 540 pages, like DelsJourney.com, is a heck of a lot of work.  But now with its newer look it’s hopefully ready for the next 20 years.

And I mean that literally because during my massive makeover, I’ve set up DelsJourney to be easier to change in the future as technology evolves, like if I decide to widen the margins again or, once again, increase the text size on every page.  I can do those things easily now.  I’ve also made arrangements to fund the maintenance of DelsJourney.com for many years after I'm gone, and hopefully for decades.  So unlike those websites that you bookmarked years ago and then checked again a while later, only to find they no longer exist, you can keep coming back to DelsJourney again and again, for many more years if you'd like (poor sap).  And all of this for the low, low price of… well, nothing!

I Was Here

I spent all of this time updating my website partly because I wanted to continue sharing my stories with others well into the future, but another reason is less altruistic.  I think all of us, especially as we get older, have a desire to say, “I was here.”  That’s especially true for single people like me who have no children as their legacy.  People often become more reflective in their older years and want others to know that they had lived a life and were here.  That’s one reason, I suppose, why so many people write autobiographies when they get older:  to be remembered.

 
 
 
Above:  Thousand-year old pictographs at Grand Gulch in southern Utah.  It looks like a bumper sticker on a van, doesn't it?
 

Back in 1995 during one of my around-the-country road trips, I spent a few days backpacking in the sandstone canyons of southern Utah in a wilderness area called Grand Gulch.  It has some of the most pristine and accessible pre-historic Native American artifacts found anywhere in the U.S.  I was hiking up a streambed in a narrow canyon on a hot afternoon when I pushed aside the branches and reeds so I could sit down and rest.  As I pushed my way through, suddenly above me on a sandstone wall emerged an incredible array of yellow pictographs.  They were well-hidden so I’m sure no one had seen them in many years given how remote that area is. 

There were three human figures likely drawn over a thousand years ago:  a large figure about three feet high, a smaller figure, and one that was even smaller.  It was like one of those bumper stickers that you see on a van with stick figures representing the family inside:  daddy, mommy and a little child.  The person who drew it eons ago I’m sure had the same feeling that I did as I worked on my DelsJourney website:  they wanted to say, “I was here.”

Speaking of pre-history:  as part of my makeover project, I recently posted a story on my DelsJourney’s About page describing what it was like back in 2001 to create a "travel website," as I called it initially (the term "blog" hadn't emerged yet).  So please read on if you’d like to know what creating a travel website was like back in the Stone Age of the Internet.

 

 From my "About" page of DelsJourney.com, posted in July 2022: 


 Creating a Travel Website in 2001

     
 
 
 
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 an update for DelsJourney.com (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.

 
 
 
Above:  The Canon D-30 digital camera that made my DelsJourney.com 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 DelsJourney.com.
 

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!

The traffic on DelsJourney.com 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. 

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, including 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.  When I created DelsJourney.com back in 2001, 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

 

 
 
 
 

 

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