Friday, April 30, 2010

Unboxing of Black Diamond Alpine Trekking Poles

Trekking pole gave become, for many, an integral part of their hiking gear. They come in a wide range of materials, styles, and weights. From the classic wooden staff or suitably long gnarled branch to exceedingly thin but strong carbon fiber poles. Handles can be dimple or complex, some even shaped to hold your hand like a gaming joystick or at an angle to improve comfort. Multiple-segment adjuddtanle poles can sport various locking system and dome even provide shock absorbers. Their is a style of pole to suit anyone.

I order mukti-segment pokes for their flexibility. They're easier to travel with. I don't see anti-shock systems as useful. While I want my poles to be light I'm not generally willing to go all out for the lightest pikes in the market. I've played with standard and unusual (e.g.Pacerpolea) grips.

My trusty old Lekis gave bout recently. My Komoerdell Duilick C3 poles are so stuck at one segment as to make them impossible to lenghten or shorten. I shattered an Alpkit carbon fiber pole two years back. I think thecinly completely healthy pair of poles I Noe have are my original Pacerpoles. I needed something new. I settled on Black Diamond Alpine Corklite PPoles. Thes pokes use the BD Fliplick system and combine carbon fiver and aluminum in their construction. They are therefore a but heavier than many all carbon fiver pokes weighing 9.4 ounces per pole (claimed weight is 8 ounces). A lotvof that weight is in the grip and padded strap. I think that is fine as long as the grips prove comfortable over the long haul.

YouTube Video

- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Run From the Border: Michigan-Ohio Border to Jonesville on the NCT

9:00PM, embers are glowing, the stream is gurgling, people are settling down for bed as the sky edges into complete darkness - or as complete as it can get in southern Michigan near Waldron. We are encamped near Lake Number 8 (I kid you not that is the name of the lake) after having completed about 16.5 miles of hiking along the North Country Trail and surrounds starting out at the Ohio-Michigan border and fetching up here. It has been a long tiring rewarding day.

The North Country Trail (NCT) winds its way from New York to North Dakota spanning over 4,000 miles. It hasn't achieved the cachet of the other long distances trails like the Appalachian , Pacific Crest, or Continental Divide Trails. Perhaps it will someday but I would not be surprised if that day never really arrives. The NCT spends hundreds of miles traveling through wilderness areas and between sparsely populated places especially in places like Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But it also travels through rural countryside using paved paths, dirt roads, two lane paved roads, and hiking paths. The trail does't have the grandeur, at least not the obvious grandeur, that is afforded a hiker traveling through mountains blessed with big vistas. But that does not mean the NCT lacks for things to see you just have to look in a different way and at different things. We would get a good chance to do this today as we walked the small roads near the border of Ohio. Once you leave the paved road and start your walk along the dirt lanes vehicle traffic almost disappears. It becomes much easier to look at the farms you are walking by. Who has left last year's corn in, who is letting fields go fallow, who is raising cows or chicken or pigs? Who really cares about how their classic rich ruby red barn looks good and who is willing to let that lovely deep red fade to rust? Which of these buildings has been here for hundreds of years and which are new? You can soak all that in as you stroll on past through the heartland of farm country. At the same time you might ponder if any off-their-rocker types of people are around. We are, after all, hiking in Hillsdale county which was the home of the Hutaree militia. But those thoughts never really gain much purchase.

As the sun rose and the day warmed we walked by all manner of small farms. We also walked by other things. For example, the Milk Run. A long segment of trail between two paved roads that sported at fairly regular intervals discarded small containers of chocolate milk (vitamin D enriched). Perhaps some kid was given a milk each morning on his or her way to school and got on the bus they would toss the empty carton away. Or perhaps they walk to school and toss the carton as they finish it. We counted 17 cartons on one side of the road and just 2 on the other. Once we crossed a paved road the cartons went away; clearly the child lived on that paved road or just off it in a direction we were not going. If an NCT hiker comes through here in a few weeks will he or she find more cartons dotting the trail?

The road rolls on as we pass more farms some with small stands of trees but most sporting only fields and a tree or two the add zest to the outbuildings. Take a break along the East Branch of St. Josephs River, a mean name for something so small at this point, and continue on. YOur feet grow tired as you pound along the hard packed dirt or pavement. But the gloriously clear blue fine spring day buoys your spirits as you march on past more horses, cows, cats, chickens, turkey vultures (why did they seem so interested in us?), and more. Then almost without warning the trail veers off the road into the Lost Nation State Game Area and you are hiking a traditional hiking path through forests with stands of pine, maple, and oak (I think). The wildflowers, mostly invisible to me, our bursting forth: wood lily, marsh marigold, hepatica, and more are spreading themselves to the sun. t is a fine way to walk the last few miles in mid-afternoon feeling tired and looking forward to setting
up camp. Which, of course, is exactly what we have done.

YouTube Video


For some reason my first night's sleep on most any camping trip, perhaps any trip, never feels all that restful. I know I get enough sleep but it just does not usually feel that way. This last night was no exception. It was a warm night. I didn't need my fleece cap and I could have ditched my t-shirt if I had wanted to expend the effort instead of just laying under my quilt trying to sleep. I know that I slept, that I did not pay attention to the outside world as fully as I would normally even before I fell asleep. For example, I suppose I heard the owls screech during the early portion of the night but it did not register. However, it would seem like little time would pass before someone fired up a stove, probably Tim igniting his Whisperlite (has their ever been a stove so misnamed?) sometime around dawn. I just could not bring myself to get moving quite that early though sleep really would not be an option anymore. I seriously began stirring sometime around 07:00 I think. The drizzle that had disturbed our camp a few hours before had left no real noticeable impact. My tent was dry by the time I packed it away around 08:00. The campsite was cleaned up and people began heading out to the cars to handle the shuttle around 08:00. Many had gotten up and really moving before me. In an exceedingly rare moment Andy was well and truly done with everything before John. Andy is notorious for being slow in breaking camp, far slower than John. There was no reason to rush. We broke camp under overcast skies. You could tell that the rain might not be quite done with us. Ewa was the most certain of this and it would turn out that she would be right - we got a tiny bit of drizzle as she, John, and I waited at the road where we had parked for the others to return from the car shuttle. It was then that I realized I had lost my Powermonkey charger. I could have, maybe, gone back to the campsite to look for it but that would have required at least half an hour of walking plus the time spent searching
for the charger. It wasn't going to happen.

We waited for the others to return and swatted at black flies that seemed to be everywhere once we left the woods. They returned as the bit of drizzle , really spit from the sky, subsided and we all set out along the trail. We returned to the woods. The woods here were bursting with wildflowers. We walked through the woods happy with the day enjoying what was given to us. Right up until we hit our first stream by a road. The stream wasn't that wide, likely less than 20 feet but it was deep enough that rolling up your pants legs after removing shoes and socks was a good idea. The water was not too cold and the stream bed was not rocky so the crossing was easy. We spent far more time taking our shoes and socks off and putting them back on then we would crossing the stream. After all, you want to try to dry at least some of the water and dirt off your feet when you regain the land. After leaving the stream for a short walk down a tree lined road past a home with dozens of decorative and very vocal roosters in front (was he raising them for good or ill, we will never know). We spread out in the woods once again strolling past even more plots of wildflowers and along some sections of trail that really could use some serious tender loving care. Andy and I would follow a turning that was indicated by an incorrect blaze making a mini detour costing us about ten minutes. We caught back up with everyone else at the second stream crossing. This time the stream bed was not as kind to our naked feet as the first one had been but the stream wasn't too wide so it was easy to tough it out as we waded through the calf deep water. The water was cold but hardly as cold as it could have been. We continued on until we would reach a spot of confusion. A trail intersection that if you did not have up to date information from the local NCTA chapter would just mess you up. A new trail was being prepared, was in decent shape for a ways (up to another stream crossing that we achieved by either walking or shimmying across a log) then around a field to M34. The old route would pop you out on the same busy road about a quarter mile north of where we were. The re-route makes sense but a blaze, just one even at the intersection, pointing the way would have been nice to have. However, this was a nice spot for a snack break especially as it was edging past noon by now. We had probably hiked nearly a third of the distance we figured we had to travel by this time.

A bit more road walking through a small village with no services for hikers along a sidewalk on a fairly quiet street would lead us to a Rails to Trails path that was made of who knows what. John thought perhaps slag from iron mining or similar. It would turn into gravel eventually. This was a nice trail. It was easy on the feet and it took us through small woods and eventually past Second Lake and Bawbees Lake as it took us straight into Hillsdale. I enjoyed the walk on this portion of trail even though it was getting tiresome in a way as you started to think why is it taking so long to get somewhere. We knew that the start of the rail trail meant we had about ten miles to go. We would pause now and then to admire the view of the lake or peer at some of the nice homes. As we approached Hillsdale we began to encounter people. Families were out to enjoy the now very pleasant afternoon. When we left the rail trail we saw many locals out having fun. And in time, seemingly at last, we crossed Bacon Road and knew we were about six miles away from the end of our day. It was a little after 15:00 by now and some of us hit the Sitco station for things practical (water) and luxurious (ice cream and Vernors ginger ale). What a nice thing to have two thirds of the way into the hike.

Hillsdale seems like a very cute town. It's too bad we followed the NCT as laid down because I think an alternate route using minor roads could have been nicer. Sure it was nice traveling by the local college (Hillsdale College?) and I even got to answer some intelligent questions by a young pair of adults about what we were doing this weekend. The walk along the M99 bikeway was nice enough. But once that walk left the woods for the sidewalk along the major road that funnels traffic into Jonesville it becomes a slog for mile after mile. Our legs were tired and our feet were feeling the pain of pounding the pavement. TIme seemed to slow for me. I was trailing John, Andy, and Ewa who were a couple hundred yards ahead of me chatting as they plodded along too. Perhaps that was just as well as I don't think I would have been in much of a talking mood. John and Ewa are definitely strong hikers (Ewa in particular) and Andy though he claims not to be in great shape certainly was having no trouble of keeping up with them. On and on we went. I was so happy to see the sign for the Jonesville Village Limits. On and on we went. Passing a Walmart and still it seemed like we were not in the heart of the village coming to where we had left the cars by the police department. We kept plodding on. Eventually ANdy could see the sign for the US12 intersection which was near where we had left eh cars, but we still had a solid half mile to go. TIme slowed and we got closer. Just after 18:00 we joined the rest of the group at the McDonalds to figure out what would be next. OUr hiking was done but we still had things to do and our legs and feet were letting us all know they had had enough. They were sore and we were stiff. Of course stopping and sitting in cars or at a dinner table was only going to make us feel worse in some respects. We were all walking like old people. At least the dinners we had at the bustling family style restaurant near Hillsdale was nice enough especially given how inexpensive it was. We were done with our 34 to 35 miles of hiking and weeks we will get back together to hike another chunk of the trail.

-- Post From My iPad

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Noise Canceling Headphones Mini Review

Flying is a poor environment fir listening to audio. The constant loud rumble of the engines intrudes and there is no escape. You have two choices beyond dealing with it: passive or active noise removal. Passive approaches take the form of in ear headphones line my Shure SE115 which isolate the ear canal with a foam plug that cuts out the unwanted sound. I like this style of headphone as it's unobtrusive and fits easily in my pocket when I don't need them. However, after a while my ears begin to ache a bit with the pressure of those plugs (admittedly a long while). And while the isolation is good those low frequencies still creep annoyingly in. That brings us to the other option: active noise cancellation. I purchased a pair of Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B headphones for $130.00.

This type of headphone uses a microphone to sample the external sounds and then generates a counter sound designed to interfere with the external sound in such a way as to cause it to diminish in volume. It works though it can also affect the audio you are listening too. As you might expect these headphones are bigger. They must be to hold microphones and batteries. You aren't going to shove them into a pocket. When the battery dies the active noise canceling stops leaving you with basic headphones that block a measly bit of noise from the outside world.

But when the noise canceling is on the result is quite noticeable and listening to music, a podcast, or audiobook becomes much more pleasurable. The rumble of jet engines remains but it is attenuated enough to become easily ignorable. I've not tried to do serious critical music listening with the headphones but I've not noticed any unpleasant audio artifacts. Frequency response also seems good enough especially when you keep in mind the ambient noise levels you are contending with.

All in all for $130 these headphones have proven their worth.

-- Post From My iPad

Saturday, April 17, 2010

iPad's First Backpacking Trip

One reason I bought the iPad was I hoped to use it when traveling. Not only do I hope to be able to return to longer form writing like I used to do years ago when I routinely travelled with my 2100 and external keyboard but that I might be able to use the iPad to help create more interesting items like longer videos in the same vein as I have done on the iPhone. The jury is out for video and photo creation on the iPad though I think the potential is certainly there, but I think the iPad as writing tool is going to be a hit.Let me go back in time and give you a bit of history about my travel writing.

Fifteen years ago when I was developing software for the Apple Newton I would write journal entries at the end of most every day. Initially I had to do this using the Notes application which really was not the best tool for the job but it was the only option. You were limited to a fairly small note size and editing was really not practical. But it worked well enough. I used the Apple keyboard that connected via a serial cable and did not bother to watch the screen as I typed. I couldn't really do that anyway given my vision. As the Newton operating system matured tools for writing improved. A word processor came out with OS 2.x and that made writing much easier. I was quite happy with this solution. The combined weight of the MessagePad and the keyboard was about 1.75 pounds as I recall. Another big plus the Newton had was very long battery life and field replaceable batteries (it used AA batteries). Data was also quite safe on the Newton. Even if the device suffered a system crash, a rare event, your data was secure. This would prove a telling positive point in time. But in 1997 the Newton was discontinued by Apple and my MessagePads began to age and slowly get beat up and wear out. After all they would be used on numerous backpacking trips as well as more gentle forms of travel. I began looking for a replacement device.

I wanted a device that would work with a portable keyboard so I could type long form journal entries without having to resort to either Graffiti or trying to thumb type on the tiny built-in keyboard. Thumb typing is something I have never gotten good at and don't think I ever will. The Handspring Visor, a Palm OS-based PDA, seemed to work well enough but it had a huge problem that I did not become aware of until I was bit. If the device crashed your data was wiped out. The data was volatile. This was exactly opposite of the Newton. I lost several weeks of journal entries when I got stung by this feature. I purchased a backup device after this that I could use in the field but I never really trusted the device after that. It also felt less solid than the Newton (OK, it really was less solid weighing a lot less). I moved on to the Sharp Zaurus 5600 and later C1000. I was sucked in by the allure of a Linux based device that would, in theory, let me do a lot more. A true little computer in my pocket. But I couldn't find a good portable keyboard and it would turn out that both devices, especially the C1000, had lousy battery life. Truly awful. Had I gotten them to work the way I wanted, had enough meekness in me to get things like decent GPS mapping working, they could have been pretty darn cool. But it was not too be.

The Apple iPhone was next in line. As I have already noted I am a lousy thumb typer so doing long form writing on the iPhone keyboard in either portrait or landscape mode was not really viable. If I had time and was in a position to recharge the phone I could do it (see my journal entries for trips to Portugal and England for example). But I wouldn't want to use the iPhone for long term field writing. However, the iPhone has made it possible to easily record audio, photos, and video in the field and then get that material out to the world quickly. It is remarkable how important that is. If you can get something out quickly and easily you, or at least I, are more likely to actually get that special thing out there. My recent postings about Tucson and Portugal are prime examples of this.

Enter the Apple iPad. Finally I have a device that combines long battery life with the ability to use a real keyboard (even the onscreen one is a good keyboard that I think most normally sighted people could type on quite quickly) with other media creation functions that will make the iPad very capable especially if you elect to buy a cellular enabled device (I have a WIFI only iPad). While I don't expect I will build videos and such in the field while backpacking, I will want to conserve battery life, the addition of the camera dock will let me do just that when I have ready access to both power and an internet connection. I can also see the iPad being used as an aid, and I stress aid, in reading documents like costume maps and the like. Paper version are essential but if I can look at a digital map I can probably find myself much more quickly than I can on the paper which I cannot easily zoom to read.

Last weekend I took my iPad and wireless keyboard (combined weight 1,030 grams for the hardware; I did not bother taking my iPad out of the Apple case so that added an extra 170 grams - for a total of 1,200 grams. On a long trip I'd not bother with the Apple case, or probably any case, I'd slip the iPad into a padded envelop for some extra protection) on their first backpacking trip. After I settled down in camp I took the iPad out, turned on Bluetooth, turned on the wireless keyboard, and entered my first really lengthy journal entry on a backpacking trip in a very long time. It worked wonderfully. I turned the screen brightness all the way down and just typed my way through the journal entry without looking at the screen (which isn't really practical if you have low vision as I do, but when it is dark dimming the screen down still leaves it bright enough that I am sure most anyone could easily read it as they type). The final result: I think I spent about 20-25 minutes writing and the battery indicator only lost a couple percentage points. That bodes well for long term usage. It is important to turn Bluetooth off on your iPad when you are done using the external keyboard. I would also recommend explicitly turn off the keyboard too. If you fail to do this it is more likely than not that a key, like the caps lock key, will get depressed in your backpack as stuff shifts around and if the keyboard and iPad are actively paired your batteries will drain away. This happened to me and over the course of twelve hours my iPad lost 85% of its charge.

-- Post From My iPad