General


I created an instagram account back in 2012 and promptly didn’t actually do anything with it. It was no doubt a busy time. I didn’t really start doing anything with it until just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve posted every few days. And sometimes I post more than once a day, but rarely more than that. (Actually I think it can be irksome to find someone you follow posting more than that.)

So what changed? I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in the last couple of years I have renewed interest and the digital cameras and editing software available these days are very good. I’ve also found it to be a fun distraction at the end of the day. I can get into rush hour traffic, or I can take to the street, get in a walk and snag a few photos along the way. Both the popularity and simplicity of the instagram app have made it interesting as well. We all have phones practically glued to us.

Below are the 2015 stats by the numbers. From virtually no posts at the end of 2014 to 246 posts as I write this. Stats courtesy of the https://squarelovin.com website.
Instagram Posts 2015
The photos you see along with this post are the ones that have turned out to be the most popular (at least by way of ‘like’ counts) during the course of the year. The bicycle shadow with leaves was the most popular. And it should also be obvious that Austin folks and myself really like the Austin skyline. We do have a beautiful city.

I’d like to keep the same pace of posting next year but time will tell. This is most definitely a hobby and then there’s the real life & job.

Ferry Building Clock TowerIt’s rare when I visit San Francisco for anything other than work-related stuff. But I’m in the city now with very little agenda. I’m walking and biking around and grabbing a bite/drink as the mood suits. Maybe a little shopping. Sure, I’m a tourist I guess. Granted, I’m pretty localized to the Nob Hill, Financial District, North Beach, Chinatown, Wharf and Union Square areas. At least so far.

Maybe it’s because I have so little agenda that I’m walking slower but man do the locals seem to walk fast. I don’t think I’m known for walking slow. Certainly not among my coworkers. Or maybe it’s Austin folks. Whatever it is, they’re moving fast. A small woman walked past me yesterday morning. In short order she was half a block ahead of me. Not an isolated example. No surprise, there are more people on the street than in Austin – at any time other than SXSW – so maybe it’s just the law of averages.

Austin has it’s share of odd people, and we’re proud of it. But San Francisco is doing it’s part to keep up with Austin in this department. Clearly not my first visit to San Francisco and not the first time I have observed a few odd people walking the streets. It was readily apparent even when I was a kid visiting in the 70’s. I wondered then and I still wonder about their circumstances.

Many of those fast walking folks I mentioned above are, naturally, toting mobile phones. Nothing new here obviously. In Austin we complain about drivers messing with their phones while driving. They weave around like drunks. Same here, but they’re walking with the phone up to their face. You have to watch out for them because they’ll walk right into you. Phones, phones, phones. We’re addicted to our phones. I’m just as guilty – though I do try to stop walking before reading the next email. Ok, maybe once or twice…

Update: have to add car horns to my observations. Second only to New York and Boston I think. There are lots of impatient drivers here. Block someone for a few seconds and they’ll be on their horn.

Mobile phone's at the ready

Today is the start of the 40th annual Easter Hill Country Tour. EHCT has rides Friday, Saturday and Sunday over the Easter weekend. There were 3 route choices this Friday. A 25 miler, a 49 miler and an 85 miler.

I opted for the 49 miler (which my Garmin tells me is actually closer to 48 miles.) This is a route I’ve done before. In fact, it’s frequently part of the itinerary of the yearly tour. In both 2008 and in 2011 at least the first leg of this route was also covered.

Click the map at right for all the gory details.

The first leg from Kerrville over to Ingram is perhaps the best part of the ride. At least I think so. Its only downfall is it’s hilly right from the start. But the route is otherwise the most scenic part of the loop ride. Winding, lumpy and rural.

Once you get to Ingram you’re subjected to several miles of Hwy 27 as you head west. This is a heavily traveled road though and while there’s a sizable shoulder, the road and shoulder has been surfaced with a really lowgrade chipseal. It’s essentially sizable gravel topped with asphalt and tar. It’s extremely rough even under the best of conditions and uncomfortable to ride a road bike on that has 23c 100 PSI tires. This part of the route is just to be endured.

Mercifully, the route eventually turns north on Reservation Rd. There’s little to no traffic on this road and the surface improves dramatically compared to hwy 27. In fact, the rest of the ride from this point is pretty nice. This year we sailed down this leg of the route with a stiff S-SE tailwind. When you’re going 20+mph and you feel no wind at all it means the wind behind you is pretty stiff. 😉

Later of course we would need to turn back toward Kerrville and head into the teeth of that wind for the next 20 miles.

The last leg is on Ranch Road 783. Mostly this is a good road for riding. Surface is good and traffic is not bad. It picks up closer in to Kerrville. Along the way back in we were greeted by some friendly folks that figured they owned the road and standing on the horn would simply get us to pull over and let them blow by. (There is rarely a bike tour I do that I don’t encounter at least a few pinheads on the roads. Not much you can do about it. Haters gonna hate.)

Winds were stiff on that last leg of the route. All tolled, a good route and good ride which turned into a really good workout too given the wind and hills. If there was only some way to avoid that section on Hwy 27 I’d sure like this one a lot more.

Tomorrow, we take in Hasenwinkel Rd. Always a great route.

My Bike Gearing

This blog post might have been more aptly titled ‘How to Bike Up a Mountain When You’re Over 50 and Don’t Want to Kill Yourself’ but that seems just a little too long, so I shortened it. As I contemplate heading out to Cyclefest later in the summer and riding up to the McDonald Observatory, it occured to me to jot a few notes on climbing big, long hills.

First of all, let me establish what I mean by climbing up a mountain. It’s probably obvious and it doesn’t matter that much what ‘category‘ of climb we’re talking about as far as I’m concerned. What I mean is any climb of a few thousand vertical feet over an extended course of many miles at a grade ranging from >5% to upwards of 10-15% or more. The climb up to the McDonald Observatory qualifies if you believe the route profiles I’ve found online.

First of all, let’s assume you have some basic level of fitness and a medical authority of some sort like a doctor has taken a look at you and told you it’s ok to consider getting your heart rate up to 180 over an extended period of time. Maybe you’re lucky and just super fit. Congratuations. This should be easy for you. If not, you can still do this but you’ll at least need to be somewhat fit.

I’m mostly a weekend rider. I don’t have time to ride every day and I’m not a super athlete. But I like to be able to bike any route I want and a mountain shouldn’t stand in my way. In fact, the views are great up there so that’s where I want to go.

The secret is not that big a secret: get the right gearing. The ‘right’ gearing is something you’ll need to figure out, but I think what you want to find is gearing that let’s you keep a cadence that doesn’t blow out your knees and allows you to stay just this side of completely winded. You’re going to be huffing and puffing, but it can’t be so bad it’s unsustainable. If it’s unsustainable, keep tinkering with the gearing until you find something that works. If you find they just don’t make gearing that low, well, maybe this isn’t for you. But I bet you can easily find the right chainring and cassette combination.

Over the years I’ve become a fan of the Ultegra triple chainring gearing. With a chainring of 30 teeth and a cassette cog of 28 teeth in the back I have found I can settle in and ride up the likes of Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez. These days you don’t have to go with a triple chainring setup though if you don’t want to. Compact cranks are made that effectively give you the same gearing.

Below I’ve made use of Sheldon Brown’s good old gear calculator to take a closer look at how the Ultegra Triple compares to, for example, the SRAM Apex line of cranks. The first graph is the gain ratios plotted for the 3 chainrings on my current bike (taking into account wheel, tire, crank length etc) with a cassette that goes from 11-28. The second chart illustrates the gain ratios for a similar configuration with SRAM Apex and with a cassette that goes from 11-32. Note the Apex uses a compact crank of 34 teeth instead of the granny 30 tooth one on the Ultegra Triple. From low to high the range covered by either setup is identical. In both cases, there’s also plenty of overlap between chainrings. This shows me I could quite easily switch to Apex and ride on the same as always. Happy climbing.

Shimano Ultegra Triple

SRAM Apex Compact

Our hotel in Purmamarca
The colorful hills around Purmamarca
One of a thousand sleepy dogs in Argentina
Group dinner in Purmamarca
Me on the salt flats

At the end of the 2nd day, we arrived in Purmamarca. Our hotel was a great little place called the Hostal Posta de Purmamarca. Click thru for their web site. Nice place and a beautiful setting. The colors of the hillsides in all directions were impressive, especially in the late day sunshine. One of my photos here is a shot of the hotel from its parking lot.

Like Tilcara, a lot of the little town was gravel streets, so pretty much everything was a little dusty. There was a great little market around the town square in Purmamarca. Our guide on the tour said they didn’t really negotiate on prices but things were not terribly expensive and as it would turn out, relatively economical compared to other towns further south. Lots of interesting bags, hats, blankets, rugs, sweaters, metalwork and jewelry. Picked up a bag for Kem here. One of the other guys on the tour, Grant, found a great sweater here. I wish I had looked for one. We didn’t need one in Purmamarca, but it’d turn out later that I’d really want a sweater.

A hill right in the middle of town had a trail up to it and it made a great spot to get a birds eye view of the town and take some pictures. Herb and I hiked up and took some photos.

The next morning, our 3rd day of the tour was a pretty jam packed one. It was intended to be a ‘rest day’ where you explore Purmamarca but it was effectively only the 2nd day or the tour and the 1st day wasn’t all that taxing a ride. More than a couple of us were up for a ride that morning. Plus, the weather that morning was outstanding. Little or no wind, bright blue sky, cool temps.

The ride choice that day though was non-trivial. Especially considering it wasn’t really a ‘supported’ ride day. Route 52, our road for the day, goes through Purmamarca toward Chile and over the Andes. It quickly heads up at a steady 7% grade or more to a mountain pass that peaks at 4,170 meters. That’s about 13,600 ft. My Garmin data for the day indicated our overnight stay in Purmamarca was roughly at around 7,400 ft. Given all the hills and mountains around us it was hard to imagine we were already at altitude. So to get to the summit is a considerable climb from Purmamarca of about 6,000 ft.

Our bikes for the trip were outfitted with triple cranks and some really low gears. The extended 7% grade wasn’t going to be that bad in low gear. My main concern with doing the ride was running out of water and what the effects of altitude would be. We weren’t backed up by a van that day and there’s literally nowhere out there in that part of the world to stop and get water. It’s basically a desert and few people live there. I would have loved to give a shot at going all the way to the summit that day but it would probably have taken 5+ hours at the pace I was going and certainly more water than I had. I started out with 3 water bottles and went as far as the water allowed.

Aside from the limited water, our group was on a timetable that day. We were supposed to shuttle up to the salt flats starting at 1pm, beyond the summit on route 52. If I wanted to join that excursion I kinda wanted to get back in time to shower, grab a bite and be ready by 1.

The ride that morning was great mostly because of the stunning views and fine weather. Thankfully the road was good as well. There were a few places where it had crumbled or been washed out but otherwise much better than I imagined it would be.

These kind of climbs are not bad if you just find a gear you like that allows you to spin and then keep a pace that has you just this side of breathless. No doubt at that altitude it’s a little easier said than done to keep from being breathless but my pace was quite slow. You can look at the Garmin data again (that link has 2 days of data, so look at 2nd day) to see that my pace hovered somewhere around only 5 mph. I rode up somewhere above 10,600 ft and then the Garmin seemed to quit registering for some reason. Maybe it only quit telling me what the grade was, I don’t know. In any case, as I headed to 11,000 ft I was down to my 3rd water bottle and I wanted to be ready by 1pm so I turned around and flew back down to Purmamarca.

It may have taken 2.5 hours to climb up but to get back down it took very little time. Trust me, you want to bring a jacket or more to wear going back down. It gets cold. You’re no longer working hard and you’re going fast and you’re at altitude. I had good weather even but later in the day the clouds rolled in and I would have been riding through fog on the way back down. Assume the weather’s going to be bad.

The photo here of the road behind me was taken shortly before I made my U turn back toward Purmamarca. The view back down the mountain gives you some perspective of the winding hair pin turns you take as you ride up. Going back down the turns are a bit treacherous because many of them are strewn with gravel. You have to go pretty slow on the descent. I never got over 30 mph going back down.

It’s taking me forever to get my notes written up on the tour. Can’t believe I’m only on the 2nd day. I want to get notes down before I forget what the details of the trip were like….

Looking back on the road/mountain I've just climbed.ju

Westminster Abbey

Friday was a day of tours. I’d read about and been told that the walking tours of London were worth doing and so I arranged to find one on Friday morning. The ones I had read about are every day but they differ by day. You can find all the details at www.walks.com. The one I did was the Royal London and Westminster Abbey tour. They all start at a Tube stop and you just show up, pay a fee to the tour leader and off you go. We started in Green Park and made our way down through the park to see the changing of the guard. The tour guide was very good.

The skies opened up on us after the changing of the guard and there was even some lightning and thunder. Thankfully I had an umbrella along and it wasn’t long before we were in Westminster Abbey. The Abbey has a fee to tour it unless you’re going to a service there but if you’re just going to the service you don’t actually see that much. The service seemed to be confined to one small area. Kinda strange, but it seems more of tourist spot than a church at this point.

Some very interesting memorials within the church. For example, the church is were Charles Dickens is buried. On the day I was there, June 10th, they were still commemorating the anniversary of his death (June 9th) with a couple wreaths of roses.

Our guide through the Abbey was excited to point out the ‘cartwheeling Verger’ that was about to do a service at the church. I’d never heard of him but apparently he made quite the name for himself at the recent royal wedding. See for yourself in the video.

Cycling around London

The walking tour finished in time for me to catch the Tube over to another part of the city to join a bicycle tour group done by BrakeAway Bike Tours. I did the ‘Secret London’ tour though I’m not really sure why it’s called that. The tour was a lot of fun and while there was a bit of rain along the way, mostly it was fine. The highlight was probably the Tower Bridge and being able to bike over that. We rode from about 3:30 to 8:00. Didn’t seem possible. We made lots of stops and our tour guide and ride leader, Brian, did a nice job of explaining the sights.

White Horse, Parsons Green

With the endurance test that is modern day airline travel out of the way this morning, I had the day to work out my body’s reaction to the time change – which always hits me hard – and to wander around a bit of London today.

The flight from Austin wasn’t all that bad as such things go. No delays and the flight was uneventful. Flying ‘coach’ though is just plain painful. You’re packed in there like sardines and forced to remain in an comfortable chair and position for, all tolled, about 12 hours over two legs of the trip. The flights were completely full too so very little room to spread out. I had not been able to get an aisle seat arranged in advance, but thankfully one of the folks in my row actually wanted the window and hadn’t been able to arrange that either. So we worked things out.

After getting off the airplane, you have to work your way through passport control and customs before you can get to your luggage. You get in one of those ever moving lines like at an amusement park. It was a looong line. When they finally looked at my passport they asked one question and stamped it and I was on my way. Couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds.

I picked out a few people speaking American English but otherwise most of the people in line were non-native English speakers. Mainly that’s because the EU and UK folks have their own line to go through, and it’s shorter.

I didn’t really do much on my first day. My flight arrived around 7’ish and by 8’ish I initially found my way via the Underground to my B&B. Fiona, my B&B hostess had sent me Tube directions. ‘Take the Piccadilly Line to Earl’s Court and then the District Line to Parson’s Green’. Then it’s a little hike. Sure, no problem… I’m sure everyone’s familiar with navigating the Underground in London but me, but I’m going to jot some notes here in the event I ever want to refer back to this again. (It’s half the point of my writing this stuff down in the first place.) A little reading and other suggestions had suggested I get an Oyster card. This is the electronic card you ‘fill’ with a certain amount of money to then use to enter and exit the Tube stations. If I’d actually looked at the web site in advance I would have realized I could have bought one in advance and had it shipped to me, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to buy it from a ticket machine at the airport and failed 3 times trying to use 3 different cards. Thankfully there’s a manned both that provides assistance and I told him how many days and he suggested an amount. I paid $25 Pounds and off I went. At Earl’s Court there’s lots of platforms to choose from to make a transfer. Didn’t take me long to find though soon I was off to Fulham and the Parson’s Green station. By the time I’d gotten my luggage, found my way to the Underground, bought a ticket, ride, transfer, walk… I arrived at the B&B by 10am. Only one bag and a day pack but still, plenty to lug all that way.

Fulham Neighborhood Homes, London

The B&B is really more of a home stay. Reminds me of many of the home stays I did in New Zealand. A retired woman named Fiona has a home in the Fulham neighborhood at 17 Homestead Rd and it has up to 3 rooms that she books. It’s a completely renovated home tucked into a row of homes on what seems like a pretty quiet street. Her son lives in the basement apartment and it has its own entrance. 1st floor includes a small living, dining, kitchen area. Out back is a small patio. 2nd floor has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. 3rd floor has one more bedroom and bath. Everything’s modern, clean and up to date. Nightly rate, 70 GBP.

B&B at 17 Homestead Rd, London

Later I wandered around the streets of the neighborhood. Found a pub named the The White Horse and had a tasty beer and a bit to eat. The picture at the very top of this posting is inside The White Horse.

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