A whole year of this. Aimlessly driving down American roads. This was my experience the year I lived in a van.

It’s also been a whole year since I quietly launched this channel on Twitch.tv. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much response. As entertainment goes, this is against everything Twitch stands for: it’s prerecorded, repetitive, uneventful, and sometimes downright boring. But despite all that, last year people watched it for over 56,000 hours at an average of 6.4 concurrent viewers. Not bad for a 24/7/365 channel!

I’d like take this opportunity to tell the story of how this project came to be.

Origins

In 2018 I took a year off from my job to pursue a dream of mine: a year-long, cross-country road trip. I won’t go into too much detail on that here (there’s lots of stories in the archives), but during that time I felt pressure to share details of my adventures on social media. People who learned of my trip wanted to follow along.

The trouble was, creating content took time away from my time adventuring, not to mention I had no existing social media audience. Other than my wonderful and supportive friends and family :) I tried growing a social media presence but I’ve never felt comfortable promoting myself – perhaps the primary aspect of the social media game.

At some point in the hundreds of hours of driving I hatched a plan. I would save all of my dashcam footage and make it available online, sort of a slow tv art project of grand scale.

This would allow me to “passively” generate content while simply driving. I didn’t know if anyone would watch it, but I knew the idea was at the very least unique.

a looping animation of various still frames from dashcam footage

250+ Hours of Footage

While premise was simple, it wasn’t easy. The SD card in my dashcam could only hold around 8 hours of footage; if I waited too long the oldest footage would be overwritten. Unfortunately this did happen on occasion, most notably I lost many hours of gorgeous footage of Badlands National Park Every couple days I had to pull out my laptop and back up the footage to an 8TB external hard drive. When I had reliable wifi, I backed up the footage to the cloud (using Amazon Glacier).

To conserve disk space, I didn’t record any audio with the dashcam. This decision ended up being controversial to some members of my future community, but consider yourself lucky you don’t have to listen to muffled fragments of my podcasts and audiobooks.

When the trip was over I had in hand about 2.5TB of unedited footage. That’s enough storage to hold 1/8th the text in the Library of Congress!

In this trove there were a few captivating moments. Most of it was uneventful. All of it was high-quality, consistent, and honest footage of the United States of America.

Editing

It was obvious that the average user gets immediately bored and “changes the channel” when nothing changes after about 20 seconds or so. I tried to trim out all moments where the vehicle wasn’t moving. I did not trim any red lights, traffic, or other normal driving circumstances

Needless to say, editing 250+ hours of footage isn’t an easy task. There is no software that is designed to work in this immense timescale.

By hand, I searched the footage for thumbnails of gas stations, parking lots, drive-through restaurant lines, and other humdrum moments. Instead of cutting them completely, I carefully trimmed them to appear as if I pulled into the parking space, came to a stop, and immediately pulled out. There are numerous little cuts like this, and I think most go by without people noticing.

Going Live

Exactly one year ago today (April 16th), My birthday btw I went live. The first viewers started to trickle in, mainly people browsing the generally-uninhabited Travel & Outdoors category on Twitch.

The response was generally positive, but it was obvious the channel wasn’t for everyone. Many new viewers watch the channel for about a minute, realize that it’s pre-recorded, and leave forever. Put simply, my channel doesn’t provide the back-and-forth between streamer and viewer that those users come to expect.

Others, however, got hooked.

I have viewers who have watched hundreds of hours… enough to see the footage loop several times! Having a background in software development I wrote a bot to keep the viewers company. Through the bot they compete with each other for a spot on the “miles leaderboard,” or use the !location command to check in on where we are, or they use the !timewarp command to jump to a random moment from the trip.

Some stats

As I wrap up, I wanted to include some stats for the nerds:

  • 46% of the community is from outside the USA.
  • The most common words viewers use to describe the stream are relaxing, calming, and peaceful.
  • The channel gets an average of 242 unique viewers per day.
  • I have made $213 from the Twitch Affilate program.
  • The most-requested feature is to add more footage.


I really appreciate you stopping by. If you’re interested in learning more about the bot I wrote, check out this article about Tripbot. If you’d like to help support the stream, please consider subscribing for free with Twitch Prime.

Thank you!

-Dana