Defcon 11 - The Trip From Hell

As many other attendees, I was looking forward to Defcon since the last day of the previous con. 4 days at the Alexis Park Hotel satisfies the Renderman side of my personality enough to keep it under control for the other 361 days of the year.

For whatever reason, for DC11, there was some higher being, Karma, or something that just did not want me to go. There was no bloody way I was going to let it stop me.

The story starts a couple days before Defcon. I was leaving the Monday before the con so as to have a nice holiday before the insanity started. This was also the day of my birthday.

The RenderMobile (My laptop AKA 'Marion') had a problem where the power plug in the back had a bad connection and required you to bend the power plug at weird angles in order to get AC power. This was a problem, especially for wardriving where the plug would come loose and goto battery power, eventually suddenly dying at an inopportune moment. I had fixed this problem before with a solder bridge across the bad connection and figured the connection had broken again. After taking out all the screws I proceeded to make the repair. However, this time, there was no AC power of any sort. After much frantic work and cleaning of solder buildup, I had to concede that the laptop was foo barred - the system still booted from battery power, but without AC power I couldn't charge it again. BIG problem, especially since I was looking forward to the wardriving contest. After much teeth gnashing, I decide that in the morning I'll spend the money and rent a laptop just so I can still participate.

After skipping a lesson that I always looked forward to in another hobby of mine, I went and rented a laptop from a local store where I knew most of the staff. I rented a nice little HP laptop w/ DVD drive and everything except wi-fi built in. Not a bad little unit, except for XP home (bleh). I took it and started trying to load Win2K on it, however HP has done something weird with their hardware causing very strange panics when trying to load 2K. Not having the time, I decided I could get away with XP home. Sadly, this involved reloaded *6* CD's of content in the stupid HP recovery. All this is going on during a huge ass B-day party BTW. After loading XP home I started doing my own customizations, this involved; Wi-Fi setup, Netstumbler, Zone Alarm, Camera Drivers, Transferring a huge amount of MP3's and movies, and setting up all my secure communication channels for the off chance of actually trying to connect to the Defcon Network (S/KEY'd SSH tunnels with a non-privileged account), and a huge amount of XP patches.

I got the laptop configured in record time even while drunk. In the morning I packed all of my gear into the car and proceeded to forget a case of CD's and another case (both of which I could live without), and one of my B-day presents that would have been useful in Vegas.

I drove off to Calgary to pick up my traveling companions and the rest of the I-15 caravan, expecting the trip of a life time I went with my head held high. 3 blocks later I lowered it a bit. I had forgotten my signature Fedora hat.

Driving back to pick up my hat, I smelled something sadly familiar; boiling engine coolant. After popping the hood, I found it was only some spilled coolant boiling off the top of the block that I had spilled while changing the thermostat to a more Vegas friendly one

Relieved I drove off to Calgary

Upon Arrival in Calgary, I picked up my traveling companions and was informed that the rest of the caravan was late picking up their rental car because someone at the rental agency was being an ass. This gave one of my traveling companions a chance to run some errands; one of which was going to traffic court to change the date of a court appearance for 4 traffic tickets in 1 day. After looking at the tickets myself, there was defiantly something weird going on, but this should have throw up some flags for me (not because of him personally, but just the situation).

We eventually meet up with the rest of the caravan, exchange radio frequencies and head out

With Ras driving, we were about an hour out of Calgary, going south on HWY2, when our electrical started going weird. Anything more than a toothbrush plugged into the inverter I had was overloading the inverter. About 2Km outside Nanton the engine started really bogging and running rough, we radioed the other cars and pulled over. We popped the hood and found coolant boiling all over the place and getting sucked into the air intake. Calling AMA (auto club) we told the others to continue without us and we'd catch up with them in Vegas.

A short while later AMA arrived with water and we filled the Radiator back up and tried to start the car. *Click*, the battery was dead. We had already unplugged all our accessories so the only thing left was the Alternator. A boost later we were on the way back to Nanton (1 horse town). Turning left across the highway into the Pontiac dealer, the battery lost charge and died. Another boost and we made it. We went into the NAPA parts store beside the dealer; no alternator. We went to the Pontiac dealer; No alternator. At this point we are thinking we are pretty well screwed, however the AMA tow truck driver was off shift in 15 minutes. He dropped off the truck and got his own car. In the mean time we pulled the alternator (3 bolts and a plug) and called the nearest Canadian Tire (Auto parts place) in the next 3 horse town over, about 30 minutes away, found an alternator and put a hold on it. The tow truck driver was a great guy and realized we were stuck, and drove me to Okotoks to get this alternator and back again. A 1 hour trip later and 20 minutes of installation and we had a running alternator and a charged battery. We quite thankfully got back on the road again only about 2 hours behind schedual.

After 12 hours we had cross the border without incident, gotten through Montana and Idaho late at night with no problem. Expecting that the worst was behind us, we entered Utah.

Just to goto the side for a moment; Anyone who knows me, knows I am deathly afraid of Utah and usually gas up just before the Border in Idaho and just gun it through the entire state. I have no problem with religion, however when it's their major tourist attraction, people like myself don't fare well there. The gods knew this

Matt (my other traveling companion) is driving, had been for a couple hours. We have just entered Utah. I'm in the Front passenger seat, Ras is in the back. It's about 6am, just at twilight where headlights aren't that effective, but it's still dark enough to need them. A long straight stretch of I-15 is in front of us, with the good old American 'Amber waves of grain' on either side. This would be a lovely sight, if only that deer weren't the same color as grain.

I'm semi-conscious, keeping an eye on Matt (see about court reference), checking speed, electrical (alternator) to make sure there are no problems. At about 75MPH (130 Km/H), A deer decided to run out infront of the car from the right side of the road. Brakes, tire squealing, I see Bambi come flying up the hood and the windshield come exploding inwards. I start screaming and swearing, not because we are currently spinning off the road, or the fact that this is my dads car, it's the fact that this is another in a long string of things trying to prevent me from going to Defcon and I'm pissed!

After the car stopped spinning (we didn't flip, thank goodness), we all took stock of our vital organs, checked for holes, checked our shorts and got out. There were by standers who were behind us who stopped and helped. One guy probably had medical training and made us sit down after we got out. We knew we were ok, but he forced us down, at which point I ended up with a rock in my ass. After a few minutes of stunned silence we found the only injury was a minor glass cut to my knee. Everyone thought we had flipped because of the dust cloud we threw up, but thank goodness for the 'wide track grand prix' we were driving, we just skidded off the highway into a fence.

At about 6:20am, I phoned home to let my folks know. "Mom, Dad, I'm in Utah, Guess What...."

The State Trooper came by, got out of his car and looked around. Skid marks, Dead Deer, Skid marks in ditch leading to car in fence, pretty self-explanatory. After taking statements, checking for intoxication, etc, and calling a tow truck he told us the situation. First he started saying that he was not going to write us an $80 citation of destruction of state property (the bush in the ditch) because it was caused by other state property (The Deer). At this point I'm thinking "Welcome to Utah. Sorry". He saw it was just an accident, and admitted that there had been a number of deer hits along that stretch that week and we were the only ones who had walked away (hooray for us)

After inspecting the damage I noticed my Mag-Mount antenna which is normally on my roof, was now stuck to the door. Everything appeared to be intact. Kudos to Fab-corp for selling an antenna that can survive a 75MPH Hit from a Deer!!

I started taking pictures for insurance and posterity purposes with Ras's camera all the way until the Tow truck came. It was quite sad to see the car sledged onto the tow truck deck.

We were towed to Brigham City, Utah. A 2 Horse town, about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City. The absolute last place I wanted to be on earth (See above fear of Utah).

We drop off the car in their impound lot and are driven to a Pontiac dealership. At this point we are basically dumped there and have no freaking clue what the hell to do.

We collect our wits and decide we should phone the insurance company. This is at about 8am. "Sorry there's no-one here". So much for customer service.

I was determined not to let this MAJOR setback stop me from getting to Vegas. I told my traveling companions, "If you want to turn around and go home, that's fine, but I'm continuing on".

After waiting a while and trying to figure out how to get the hell out of there, we got a hold of the insurance company. It was not very painful, however they neglected to inform us that a rental car was covered under their 'loss of use' coverage. This would have been nice to know and would have made things alot smoother.

We set about finding an alternate route to Vegas. There was a Hertz rental place in the dealership, an obvious first stop. Apparently this rental place only had 5 cars and hey were only for use as courtesy cars and had to be returned there. They would not rent one way.

From there we got on the phone and started calling all the rental places in town. For a 2 horse town, they had a surprising number of rental places. All ended up giving roughly the same answer: Can't rent a car to anyone under 25. Now, this was a problem since I was the oldest and I was only 24. Greyhound didn't have a depot there, nor any other service that could get us to Salt Lake City or points beyond. We were once again, screwed

However, as Hackers, we were not giving up and resorted to social engineering. Back at the First Hertz counter we convinced the lady to rent us a car to goto Salt Lake (60 miles away) where we could catch a flight from there to Vegas, and she'd have another employee pick it up when they went to salt lake anyways that evening. Once again the age thing came up to bite us (I'm going to be as much an idiot at 25 as I am at 24) and she wouldn't rent because none of us were 25. She mentioned that the only way was to use a corporate rate. Corporate rates for some reason lower the minimum age to 18 or 21 (depending on the company). Ras seized upon this and said he worked for ADT security (he used to, not any more). This was good enough for her and she rented us the car. As the only one with a credit card, I had to sign all the paperwork and pay for it.

After finding someone who could take us to the impound lot to get our stuff (which was still in the wrecked car), we all piled into the rental to get our gear. Unfortunately, some jackass had parked a new truck directly behind us. With a deadline to meet a flight from SLC to Vegas, we once again were stuck. After asking around for 10 minutes, we found the owner and got him to move. We were then led back to the impound lot where we had a scorched earth policy, nothing was left behind in the car. We took the manuals, garage opener, cigarette lighter, everything.

After getting lost in the city, we found the interstate again and proceeded to boot it to SLC.

En route we got a hold of Avis in the SLC airport who had a weird policy; the 'no car to under 25's' rule didn't apply to foreigners (wish they would have mentioned that when we phoned the first time), and in SLC, a bunch of Canadian Hackers is about as foreigners as you can get. Using the corporate rate trick to get a reduced rate, we decide to drive down because it is cheaper than a last minute ticket with all our gear (we packed excessively because we were driving. We'd have packed lighter if we'd know we were going to fly).

Switch rental cars in the parking lot and we continue down I15.

At this point I'd been up for 36 hours, no food, and had totaled a car. I needed rest. Ras volunteered to drive. I slept

Through out the next couple hours down I-15 I was in and out of consciousness in the back seat. I could hear that Ras was just flooring it. He was bouncing of the engine governor the whole way (which was at 107MPH, BTW). I then hear Matt shout 'Ghost car, Ghost car' and Ras hitting the brakes. Going the opposite direction was an unmarked Utah state trooper. He tagged us at 98 in a 75 zone. 2 more MPH and we would have been into criminal speeding and we'd be bailing Ras out of jail. As soon as Ras pulled over when he knew he got caught, I told him 'Your driving, your problem'. $150 ticket later, despite my sleep deprived state, I decide to drive since once again, the car is in my name.

Finally we exit Utah, and into Arizona and then Nevada. Pulling into the Hotel, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it to Vegas finally, and alive.

Wednesday I dropped off the rental car at the airport and decided to have the best Defcon I possibly could

That was the adventure of the trip down. The trip back was just as entertaining and stupid

The return trip from hell

After partying all week at Defcon, from Tuesday night to Sunday night, it was time to finally deal with the issue of getting home.

Ras had been working the phones, trying to get us a rental car to drive from Vegas to Edmonton. We got shut down at every call. It seems there is some law that a Canadian cannot drive an American car one way into Canada, nor can an American drive a Canadian car one way into the states. Originally we were thinking this was some corporate rule, and Ras was trying to sweet talk them, but he ended up yelling at them which got us no where.

I decided to take he calm approach. I called Avis and tried to reserve a car one way to Canada from Vegas and that I was Canadian. They said there was no way they could do that. With a little prodding I found out it was a law, and not company policy. This changed things

After phoning my dad and deciding that there was no way to get back into Canada via rental car, he agreed to meet us in Great falls Montana and drive us back across the border. It's an 8 hour drive one way from Edmonton to Great falls. Did I mention my dad was cool.

I called Avis and reserved a car with them to be picked up at Mccarren Airport in Vegas, just a short cab ride away. I get there and head for the counter.

As with any major technology, when you need it, it doesnt work. The Avis computer network was down, my reservation was lost in the ether. This was not a problem because they had lots of cars.

After filling out the forms, The agent noticed I was only 24 and said that she couldn't rent me the car as per company policy. I told her that I was a contractor for ADT security (which worked previously) and that their corporate rate covered me. However, this time, they were smarter and wanted to verify my employment. I told them that I was a contractor who worked for another company so my business cards weren't ADT, then they asked for a pay stub and I responded 'Who brings a pay stub on Vacation when they weren't planning on renting a car?'. This seemed logical to her, but she had to clear it with a manager, who thankfully allowed it.

Paperwork was filled out and the final thing was payment. Run through my credit card, comes back denied. Not totally surprising, since all the extra rentals and everything had tightened my available credit. I called the credit card company and their automated system verified I had enough credit. Try it again, still no. Call up Visa and find that the Alexis park hotel had maxed out my card putting a hold on a massive deposit for the room. I offered to cover the fees in cash, but the rental agencies want everything guaranteed by credit card (what more guarantee can you have than cash in hand?). The lady on the phone with Visa comes up with a novel solution, phone banking - to pay down some of the credit. However as I know that it's insecure, I don't have it setup or use it. The Visa rep puts me in a conference with my bank to pass me over to setup phone banking to pay off some of the card and free up credit. In this process though I get cut off and the call gets dropped. I have to go through the whole thing again. This time I get through to a human who after a mountain of verification questions, helped me setup phone banking, and transfered a bunch of money to free up room on my credit card.

After about 45 minutes of dealing with age restrictions & credit card non sense, I finally got the damn car

I went bak to the AP and partied at poolcon till we got shtdown, then hung out with remaining random people getting drunk

After a few hours sleep, we packed up our crap on Monday morning and proceeded to head off. Fortunatly, Panthera, who was in the original attempt at a caravan on our way down was heading back at the same time so Ras rode with him and Matt with me, which made things nicer since everyone had leg room now.

FRS radios provided a great deal of entertainemtn along the 16 hourdrive

I had decided that since I was the only one who did'nt have an incident while driving, I would drive the whole way back. Which is quite a feat when you've been partying for a week, up for 72 hours and have only just recently had 6 hours sleep. Vast quantities of Red-Bull and Bawls kept me going.

We arrive in Great Falls at 11pm. The avis counter closes at 11:45 so we had just made it. We swapped gear from the rental into my dads car and headed out.

A couple hours later we cross the border without an major problems. The only one was from Ras. Since he was a Danish citizen he needed to sign a release or something upon entry to the US, they then stapled a 2 piece chunk of card into his passport. Half was to be taken by Canadian customs as proof of his exit so they have a way of telling who's over stayed, etc. About 100 ft after the border, we hit the brakes and start reversing. They forgot to claim Ras's tag. He went in to get them to claim it because if he did'nt, thier stupidity could prevent him from being allowed back into the states because according to thier records, he never left (?)

Many hours of driving later, we get home. My dad then proceeds to shower, shave and goto work after driving 20 hours. Did I mention he was cool.

All in all, a VERY long trip. The car was written off by the insurance company as an accident and we got a decent pay out on it. The insurance company was pretty cool and covered the $938 (CAN) in fees from the rental cars. So in all, the trip only cost me a bit more in gas, and the deductable on the insurance. However, the physical/emotional cost was something I could have done without.

If you've read this far and have any pity I've got a paypal account under my mail address of and any donations will go towards the $100 deductable for the insurance and anything the insurance company didn't cover (extra insurance. etc). No guilt trip, but it never hurts to ask


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