A weekend in Arcata

Many weeks ago, Audrey asked “Should I do this?”

Next thing I know, we’re driving 7+ hours to Aracata, California so that Audrey could attend Godwit Days. She would spend the weekend birding around with various groups, snapping photos, talking about birds, birding birds, and meeting her birding idol: David Sibley.

Yes, THAT DAVID SIBLEY.

I would spend this same weekend sharing a very cute and comfortable Airbnb with her and spending my time doing a bit of work remotely, riding my mountain bike around trails near Arcata, and then spending the evenings searching for more birds with Audrey.
Godwit Days Festival

Arcata was a really nice town to visit with all its murals:
Birder

Bike lanes all over the town:
Untitled

The Arcata Community Forest was such a great up-hill ride. Akin to Forest Park of Portland, but far more open to bicycles, horses, and just overall more old-growth and natury.
Bike

As I spent time exploring the city, there were a few things I noticed that differentiated it from Portland:

  • Lots of bike lanes, but a distinct lack of bikes.
  • Hardly any sirens. I saw police cars, but rarely ever heard a siren.
  • Never once heard a train or anything on rails.
  • Generally far more quiet.
  • Very short buildings, hardly a building over 4 stories tall.

Although I only biked around Arcata Community Forest, I had a sense that there was so much nature to be appreciated in the surrounding area, that I wanted to return to the town to explore the forests far more than I had the chance this time around.

What else did we do?

Great beer at Lost Coast Brewery:
Cheers n beers

Twice:
Nice Light here

and just generally relax and do our “thing”.

Oh,

I was able to get a couple of nice birdy pics with my D610, like this Great Egret:
bird

Check out my Photo Album to see the rest of the photos.

Cheers!
-Tomas

Northern Baby Loaf – Take 1

I had read about this neat route that goes from Hillsboro to Tillamook and back. It would require camping in the woods, riding fat tires, and eating tons of food. My type of ride.

Friday Afternoon. My co-worker left the office about an hour before me so that he could ride the full distance from the office to Stub Stewart State Park. The plan was for me to meet him there to stay the night, he would then spend Saturday riding to the coast to meet with family. I was to ride from the park to Tillamook via the Northern half of the Baby Loaf route by Velo Dirt.

Here was my intended route:

Friday evening went all accoring to plan. We met up at the hike-in camp at Stub Stewart State Park. There was literally nobody else in the entire camp loop so we moved to a spot by the lower firepit for an evening by the warmth of a fire.

Saturday morning was chilly as it rained ever so lightly through the night.

KPR took an early leave just as the sky was starting to ligthen.

I was on my own again.

During my ride into the park, I wanted to get some video shots of my progress as practice in videography.

Sure, it would add more time to my travels but I didn’t care. I was not in any rush to get to Tillamook.

There was one incident however where I had placed the camera in such a way that it bounced out of my possession and I didn’t realize it until I was over 2 miles away. Downhill. Back up the hill and through the trail I pedaled to find the camera and continue my project. Ooops.

Back on the road, the sun started to peak from the gray curtains in the sky.

As I crossed highway 26 to head due West, I knew I was going into unfamiliar territory. From this point on, I saw very few people. What few people I did see where those working on their land or driving past. No other cyclists, runners, or walkers.

I had to cut through some timber land, which at the time I did not realize I was trespassing. The signage was old and unreadable so I took a chance to follow through with my route, pushing my bike over the hill onto the other side. Over 800 feet of elevation gain, the first elevation spike of my day. The weather was warming up and sun peaking out from the clouds.

Just as I was finishing the ascent up Timber Road, I took another detour to explore and un-signed lumber road. I was wondering why it wasn’t part of my route or any route. I just had to see what was up.

As I started bushwacking an overgrown road, I thought I would be able to parallel my route and rejoin it further West. But as I hit the end of the road and was able to get a better cellular signal to check the maps, I learned that the rod really did end and would not reconnect even though my route was a mere 1/4 mile downhill from my position.

Baby Loaf Take 1

I snapped a picture to commemorate the scenery of lumber harvesting and set back to get back on route.

Riding through Timber, the town, I didn’t see a single person which wasn’t difficult of a feat considering the size of this “town”.

This is where the pavement ended and the dirt road began towards Reeher’s camp.

As I pressed further West and up to higher elevation, the road became closed to traffic yet again, but this time it was still open to bicycles. Yay!
It was extremely helpful in terms of navigation and mental assurance to see where I was on the climb by loading my route in the Ride with GPS mobile app. I could see my position on the climb represented by a blue dot.
Baby Loaf Take 1

However, another obstacle loomed ahead. I started to see snow:
Baby Loaf Take 1

Higher and higher I rode until the road was snowed over. I stopped for dinner on some tracks to ponder my evening.
Baby Loaf Take 1

I was feeling great, warm, dry, and well fed. Press on I would until I could go no further. The snow was too warm to ride on so I pushed for a mile.

A whole mile and 1 hour of pushing in ankle-deep slush, I did the math: It would take me another 12 hours to get through the snow. It was time to make the call and turn around.
Time to make a snowman

At this point, it was well passed 11pm, fog was rolling in, and a light rain would start to tease me. I put on my rain gear for what it was worth, turned around and followed my tire tracks back to the intersection where I could ride again. This walk of shame only last 15 minutes. One thing I did notice on my push-whacking through the snow was the distinct lack of any other tire tracks or tracks made by another human being. In fact, by 11pm, I had not seen another human being nor vehicle since 4pm. Sweet. Now my brain kicks into overdrive and imagination starts to run wild like the distinctly non-canine tracks that were now in the snow. They weren’t fresh, but I didn’t notice them before. They were wide and might have been bear or bobcat. I don’t know.

What I did know that that after a bit of frustration that I had to turn around, I started to grow a bit tired. I could wear my headlamp to see where I was going but mist in the air reflected so much light in my eyes I had to control my speed to keep from sliding off the road.

Although I love sleeping in a hammock after long day of riding and adventure, being isolated left me with heightened senses of the world around me. Rain drops or wildlife made all sorts of noise throughout the night that left me uneasy and nearly sleepless. Next time I’m bringing a friend or taking some sleep aid. Maybe even take some sleep aid. Whatever, I survived the night.

Waking up with some downpour on the tarp, I didn’t want to get out of the hammock.
Wakey Wakey

Audrey had texted me saying she was already at breakfast in Tillamook and was wondering when I would meet up with her. I had to inform her of my situation and that I could do with a pick-up on her way back home. I found a quick route through the forest that would take me back to Highway 6. The rain just got worse.

I raced down the logging road which dumped me right into Gales Creek campground. Although still closed for the season, there were vehicles parked in the day-use area
Soaked

I was so glad to get out of my wet clothes, find a bite to eat, and nap in a dry bed back home.

Baby Loaf, you win this time. I learned a bit from this experience and will be back to try again soon.

To see all my photos of this weekend, check out my Flickr set:
Baby Loaf Take 1

Check out the Baby Loaf route as planned by Velodirt:
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/7013958

Cheers!
-Tomas

Upping my photography game

A story that really starts back when cameras captured our souls on ribbons of plastic call “film”, I liked taking pictures and shooting video.

I still remember the day my father showed me how to focus on his 35mm camera. When he brought home a VHS camcorder that took full sized VHS tapes. How I pined for a PXL2000 camera to make action movies about whatever.

When I visited Japan in 1994, I took over 300 photos on film with a crappy point-and-shoot, and about 6 tapes on a borrowed mini-camcorder that was never really watched again. I really don’t know what happened to the photos, but there was one project out of it that won some kudos at school involving my host’s house and a manually glued panorama before digital panoramas were a thing.

Then in late 1999, I bought my first 1.1 megapixel digital camera. I think it was an Olympus. It used a 4MB smartmedia card that blew me away with its quality and compact size. The major draw back is that downloading pictures from the camera to my computer took over an hour through a 9-pin serial connection. Oh the early days of digital.

Then as the years went on, my wallet grew larger, the megapixels went up, and digital cameras became all the rage.

I got a Motorola RAZR as soon as I could so that I could take photos and send them to friends.

If I broke a digital camera, I immediately went out and got another.

Mid-2000’s, writeable CDs and DVDs were crazy cheap so I used them extensively as my backup medium as hard drives over a few GB were still in the $200+ range.

After moving to Oregon in 2005 and getting a new DVD drive, I soon found out all my disc archives of digital photos could not be read by anything. The old drive didn’t want to work any longer. The new drives couldn’t read the format, and even a new drive of the same model as the old drive didn’t want to read the discs. Hundreds if not a thousand photos were just written off.

Crap.

But then Google’s Picasa Service came alone. Having a GB of photo storage in this wonderous Cloud (before it was really called a “cloud”) where I could upload all my digital photos and never worry about them getting deleted.

It was a start.

In 2007, I bought a Flickr Pro account. It promised unlimited photo storage, photo sets, albums, tagging, and all sorts of features that are pretty standard on all photo hosting sites out there.

Since 2007, I have uploaded over 13,000 digital photos. Various models of digital point and shoots, crappy camera-phones, early iPhones, Android devices, and scanned photos.

In the last couple of years, I’ve had the privelege of meeting some professional photographers and given a few oppurtunities to take photos for them at various events. The photos on these high-end digital cameras were AMAZING.

I’d never really considered myself a “photographer” type or even though about pursuing it as a career. But as of late, I find my photos making their way into other blogs, being used in corporate email blasts, and getting more comments on Flickr.

Maybe I had a thing for photos?

I purchased a GoPro Hero 3+ in the spring of 2015 and started recording fun things like this bullfrog jumping, a mountain bike ride, and time-lapse drawings.

After our vacation to Alaska in August 2015. An amazing trip to Denali National Park that blew my mind. I reflected on all my hundreds of photos that were all shot with my iPhone 6. It was the only camera I used for months and on this vacation.

With two cameras that didn’t really have any adjustable settings, I found myself frustrated and limited. It was a fixed lens on the iPhone 6 that had zero zoom features (digital zoom is less than useless), and after seeing a moose cross our path and I was unable to get a single decent shot of it, I started to crave a better camera.

There is a Nikon D3200 at my office that I’ve been learning how to operate. Studying tutorials, YouTube videos, and practicing photo-processing of RAW images in Lightroom and Photoshop. Reading about the different cameras, sensors, lenses, and all the latest technology in the photography world. The D3200 is an OK camera, but the picture quality wasn’t really any better than what I was getting on the iPhone or a borrowed Sony RX-100.

That’s it. I want to “up my game” in photography.

What does that mean?

More time spent learning Adobe Lightroom. Paying attention to composition. Only uploading Good(ish) photos to Flickr and Instagram. Learn more from the pros.

Invest in a “pro-level” camera.

I had a budget and an idea of what I wanted. The journey to this decision was too confusing to share at this point. It was just another black hole of buying more and more gear. As if buying bicycle parts wasn’t enough, now I had to buy some camera gear.

I bought a Nikon D610 from Pro Photo Supply. I highly recommend this shop to anyone looking for camera advice and all the camera gear you could ever want .

Why did I go with the Nikon D610? That’s for another post.

What I can tell you: After only a few uses, going through the manual to find all the settings, and a bit of practice, some of the shots I can get are just awesome.

Starting with this pair of Wood Ducks:
TAQ_1319.jpg

I’m particually proud of this shot of an Anna’s Hummingbird: (click to see all the detail!)
A damp Anna's hummingbird

What does this mean in terms of future plans? What am I going to do with this refound passion?

I guess you’ll have to read my upcoming posts to find out.

-Tomas

Check out my entire collection of 13,000+ digital photos.

My 2016 Reading Challenge

Last night I finished reading book number 13 out of 52 planned for 2016.

According to the Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, this puts me at 25% complete for the year. Barely into the second month and I’m eight books ahead of schedule. I suppose there will be weeks where I have other happenings that make it difficult to put in the time to ingest a full book in less than 7 days.

Check out my 2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Although I don’t have a roadmap of books to be read, I’ve already purchased the next dozen or so books that interest me to be read in no particular order.

The fulfillment I feel after completing each book makes me sense my time was spent reaching a worthy goal. My vocabulary, mental imaging, and appreciation for good writing feel enlightened rather than deadened as time goes on.

I’ll check in after the next 25% of the challenge is completed.

Now, go read a M-F’ing Book.

-Tomas

Reading List – 2015

I started 2015 off pretty strong with a lot of reading, then had some months where I barely read at all. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the number of books I’ve read especially in the last few weeks of the year.

Here’s a list of all the books I’ve read in 2015, in no particular order:

  1. Stickeen – John Muir
  2. My First Summer in the Sierra – John Muir
  3. Ghost Trails – Jill Homer
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
  5. Life in the Slow Lane – David Cornthwaite
  6. Janapar – Tom Allen
  7. Art Before Breakfast – Danny Gregory
  8. Digital Photography for Beginners – Crys Kirkland
  9. Iggy Peck, Architect – Andrea Beaty, David Roberts
  10. Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrea Beaty, David Roberts
  11. Sketchnote Handbook – Mike Rohde
  12. Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor – Jon Scieska
  13. Telephone – Mac Barnett, Jen Corace
  14. Look Up! – Annette LeBlanc Cate
  15. Nerdy Birdy – Aaron Reynolds, Matt Davies
  16. National Wildlife Federation’s World of Birds – Kim Kirki
  17. How We Learn – Benedict Carey
  18. The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
  19. Desert Solitaire – Edward Abbey
  20. Adventures with Barefoot CrittersTeagan White
  21. The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman
  22. The Girl and the Bicycle – Mark Pett
  23. The Adventures of Beekle – Dan Santat
  24. Sparky! – Jenny Offill, Chris Appelhans
  25. Nature Anatomy – Julia Rothman
  26. A Brave New World – Albus Huxley
  27. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  28. Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding – Linda Liukas

Here are a few titles I really want to read in 2016:

  1. Arctic Glass – Jill Homer
  2. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
  3. The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
  4. Enchiridion – Epictetus
  5. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  6. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Lilith’s Brood – Octavia E. Butler
  8. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawkin
  9. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
  10. Going Somewhere – Brian Benson
  11. The Monkey Wrench Gang – Edward Abbey
  12. Something by the Dalai Lama
  13. The Sculpter by Scott McCloud
  14. The Big Year – Mak Obmascik

Riding Sandy Ridge

I just started riding a Santa Cruz Chameleon hard-tail as my trail bike. Bolted out of work a bit early on a glorious Friday afternoon to enjoy the trail before the rains dampened the weekend.

I recorded bits of my ride using just my iPhone6, a Bluetooth Wireless Remote Control, and a small tripod. Although I had brought the GoPro 3+, I didn’t really use it much on the trail.

The above video was recorded, edited, and posted all from my iPhone 6 as an exercise in video production on the go. I’m pretty happy with the results and learned a few lessons along the way to improve my future videos.

Lesson 1: Recording in slow-mo reduced the resolution of the video. This became evident after uploading to Youtube and seeing the slow-mo compared to the regular videos that are at 1080p. Next time I’ll just record everything in regular video mode and slow it down as needed in post-production.

Lesson 2: The smartphone mount was too bulky for the tripod so it made it very difficult and time consuming to get the shot angle I desired. By the time I was half-way through the ride, I wanted to chuck the mount and just record everythign with the GoPro, but that has its own disadvantages.

Lesson 3: The GoPro can get some great shots but I have to shoot blind to conserve battery. Although I can use the GoPro app on my iPhone to preview where the GoPro camera is pointed, it eats up battery time on both devices that would severly cut down the amount of video time I could record. I really want to look into getting the LCD backpak add-on for my GoPro 3 so that I can more quickly set up shots with confidence and less wasted battery time on the camera and iPhone.

Lesson 4: Need some extra bungee or longer velcro straps for the Joby tripod. I love this tripod for the last 7 or so years, but the strap that is used to secure it to sign posts, trees, or whatever is quite short for my needs. All I need is another 12 inches of velcro so I can secure it to a wider variety of trees and rocks, this would greatly open up the number of angles I could shoot.

Lesson 5: Pre-download some more music. Although the music used in the above video was…OK…it wasn’t great. It just sounded so generic and too heavy for what I wanted to portray. The music that came with iMovie was just all so generic and didn’t work with my project.

Here’s my GPS track of the ride:

I’m so happy with all the work that the Northwest Trail Alliance has done to make the Sandy Ridge Trail such a gem. Please donate or become a member so they can continue their great work.

Coyote Wall and easyClimb

After buying the Surly Pugsley, I was so eager to get out on some singletrack. My two buddies, Brad and Ken, piled into the car one early morning to try our bikes at a route along Coyote Wall. It’s over on the Washington side of the Columbia River near Hood River. A wide-open trail that is always facing the river, lacking of trees until you get near the top, and has some of the most “gnarly” descents I’ve ever faced.

The spirit of mountain biking was reawakened by this day-trip.

16928206257_59eeca6c03_k

More photos on my Flickr Stream.

On our way back from Coyote Wall, we also made a quick stop at a trail in Cascade Locks called “easyCLIMB“. This trail is maintained by the Cascade Locks International Mountain Bikers.

Permanent 2239 – ROCK CREEK – APIARY – TIMBER

After last month’s dismal failure to ride a 200k route, I vowed to ride the Grando a challenging 200k permanent route that would challenge my legs and mental resolve.

This route was it. http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3945068

Owned by the renowened Susan Otcenas, of Small Engine, Big Tank, it will take you over the foothills and rack up some vertical feet while piling on the miles.

I started at 6:30 outside the Cornelious Pass Arco Station on a very chilly and dark Sunday morning with a headwind gusting up to 25mph expected for at least half the route. Within a couple of miles, the sun gave the sky a new amber hue to bring the day.

This was going to be a good day.

Only a couple of miles in and the cold was making hands feel stiff, my layers barely adequate, and my ears sting.

By the time I was merely 5 miles from the start, the sun had started too pop over the horizon and thaw the world around me. Only the shadows remained icy.

Chest ready to burst and warm up, I checked the elevation profile on the Ride with GPS app only to see that I was still less than halfway up the first “Big Hill”. This took a while, but thankfully the cars in this section were few.

After peaking over the range for the first time into a literal white-knuckled descent, an amazing view of the valley, Portland, and Mount Hood in the distance greeted me with blinding but absolutely lovely light.

So far, this is a good day.

Taking care to avoid some small ice patches on Rocky Point Road, I made it down to Highway 30 to head North to the next great uphill challenge on the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway. More climbing. More icy shadows. No jerks.

Another dozen miles or so later, I crossed the foothills for a fourth time and back onto Highway 30 and into St. Helens. Ah, sunshine, flattish roads, and a reprieve from going up.

I come to the realization that I’m nearing the first time cut-off of the route. I reached mile 40 in exactly 4 hours leaving me a scant 12 minutes of padding. So glad I didn’t have any flats so far.

Grabbing some soda to fill one of my bottles, I braced for the final ascent over the hills.

This time I finally shed the last of my “warm” layers to bask in some long-sleeve jersey sunshine. It wasn’t THAT warm, but it kept me quite comfortable.

At Mile 50, a nice long descent towards Vernonia allowed me to make up some time and get ahead of the clock.

“This was a good day.”

At 74 miles, Vernonia was the next control point. Black Bear Cafe was warm and welcoming as usual. A large cinnamon roll topped with frosting a large heap of butter went particularly well with my coffee break.

Timber Road was the next Big Challenge and the incline of the only asshole along the entire 125 miles. Huffing and puffing halfway up the ascent, a rather large red pickup tried to smoke me out with a “Rolling Coal”, but only succeeded in kicking up a racket and a bit of road dust.

Huh.

STILL a good day.

Most of the roads were really quiet and nary a vehicle to pass me by.

I grew increasingly optimistic the ride would be complete before the sun hid itself in the West.

101.5 miles in, there was a tiny blip on the elevation profile. Something I never saw coming when I reviewed the route. Only a half mile long, and 256 feet upwards, it was the ONLY hill I’ve encountered in my miles that had forced me to shift into my easiest possible gearing. This tiny hill sapped the last of the sprint that I had left in my legs.

The final 23.5 miles were a relative dash to get to the finish. I had been texting with Audrey that I would be done just before sundown, but that ETA was constantly being pushed back as my legs were no longer the happy stumps from the start.

As the sky again turned amber-orange, my lights no longer sufficiently powered after being left on all day. I grew anxious to finish as quickly as possible, soreness be damned. No more food stops. No more futzing around. Every car that passed my left was cause to pull-over and wait for the road to clear.

My legs were no longer sore, they were hurting. My breath irregular to hold off the pain.

My phone was barely alive by the end with only 6% battery remaining, but enough to save my recorded ride. Audrey awaiting my arrival at the McDonalds parking lot.

So tired and quickly grown cold, I gorged myself upon 10 chicken nuggets and a chocolate milkshake the likes I had never seen.

My total ride time just shy of 12 hours.

Total spotted wildlife:

    • 1 Red-Tailed Hawk
    • 15 American Robins
    • 200+ empty beer cans
    • 2 White-tailed Deer
    • 10 Crows
    • 1 American Asshole
    • 12 Front-Yard Yappy Dogs
    • Infinite LBB (Little Brown Birds)
    • 10 Goats
    • 2 Cats
    • 2 Miniature Ponies
    • 6 Horses
    • 30+ ducks
    • 17 Geese

This was a good day.

Bike: Soma Grand Randonneur (Grando)
Tires: Compass Hetre 650bx42
GPS: Samsung Galaxy S3 using Ride with GPS app
Miles: 125.2
Total Ride Time: 11:53:58
Calories: Probably not enough
Flat Tires: 0
Mechanical Issues: 0