Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hiking in the Snow

Tom and I went hiking with the Charlottesville Hiking Meetup Group to Shenandoah National Park.  We started at the west side of the park near Grottoes and ascended Paine Run Fire Road to Blackrock Gap, and returned along Trayfoot Mountain Trail. Average temperatures 35-45 with some snow at Trayfoot Mt. and hoar frost at Blackrock Gap. A bit cold and breezy the whole hike. Lunch was fast and we finished in 5 hours.  Total distance was 10 miles and overall elevation change was 2000'. 

Hoar Frost at Blackrock.  From Trayfoot

Early season snow was beautiful on the colored leaves along the Trayfoot Mountain Trail.  From Trayfoot
Overall this was one of my favorite hikes in many months due to the changing leaves and weather. Trayfoot Mountain Trail descending into Lefthand Hallow was particularly beautiful with rock formations and overlooks.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Karate Rank Exam School Visit

Today I went to a friend's karate school to watch a rank exam.  Here are some of my observations in compare/contrast form.

testing style: them - about thirty people tested, including one black belt (from brown); many people showing forms at the same time; total time about 2 hours; us - black belts test separate dates; less people testing (5-10); kyup exam taking about 3 hours; kata forms usually shown individually.

dojo: us - part of athletic club with no extra participation fees; small test fee to cover incidentals; kendo sister school; them - stand-alone building, business run by main instructor; no test fee (at least for lower belts); other parts include day care and boxing school.

belts: us - white, yellow, green, blue, brown, black; them - white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, brown w/black stripe (black belt candidate), black, red ("dragon club").  black belt instructors wore blue tops, black bottoms; orange and up wear all black; white and yellow belts wear all white.

bowing: them - left foot comes to right; us - opposite

formality: them - I read a sign instructing students to bow when entering dojo, but I did not see a single person do this; no bowing before or after kata, to flags, or when dismissed; only bowing I remember was before sparring, and to open and close class.   us - we bow to the flags when entering and leaving the dojo, when sitting and standing up from side, we bow to the instructor at start and end of class, start and end of kata, when dismissed to the side.

stances: us - low and strong, emphasis from beginning (white belt) on foot and knee direction; them: high, less emphasis on foot position/direction

kiai: them - not emphasized, optional for black belt candidate; us - essential for intensity, power, intimidation; emphasized from beginner level.

breathing: them - emphasized only for black belt candidate; us - introduced at beginning, part of training for blue

intensity: them - not seen until brown; us - required for blue

kicks: them - snappy, not turning base foot, fists up whole time; us - more thrusting, turn base foot, hands down for counterbalance

kata: them - shorter, less intensity in all ranks; overall less emphasis than sparring; no partner kata; us -much time and effort emphasis, longer, more deliberate, intensity required for blue and encouraged from beginning.

sparring: them - full contact at upper levels, padding (head, chest, hands, forearm, shin, feet, mouth guard), small ring; lots of bouncing, little passing;  us -  limited contact zone all ranks, no padding, must learn to control punches, control space is 3-4x bigger, variety of staring positions (close, regular, far)

sparring stance: them - fists up like boxer's, body forward facing; us - fight stance (body side facing, front knife hand up at chin level, rear fist at center)

self defense: them - no separate warm-up for falls; most forms send opponent's face straight towards ground, using hair, face, neck; less variety of offensive moves to defend from; very little (no?) tumbling; less organized ("first move of x kata"); not well studied among all ranks, even black belt candidate

weapons: them - dual sticks about 3 ft long of bamboo; a few forms with them including defenses and something that looked like a partner kata, but no formal solo kata; us - knife, three forms starting at green; bo starting at brown?; both with defense forms, solo and partner katas.


While the black belt candidate was demonstrating kata, an instructor asked her to re-do it with better breathing and intensity.  Without thinking, I clapped (and everyone followed) after her second try because it was so much better. The head instructor glared at me and said NO (clapping, booing, feedback, etc, is encouraged at all times during Myo Sim rank exams).   But the sparring matches sounded like an arena.

I summary, I really enjoyed watching this rank exam of another school with my friend (even though I was publicly chastised for offering feedback).  It was an eye-opening experience and made me appreciate my school and style.  I would like to think that Myo Sim is prettier while being more practical.  In a sparring match (with or without gear), most kyup students would be equally matched, but the Myo Sim Black Belts would do better (IMHO).  It was helpful to have my friend, an orange belt at the school, there with me to answer my random questions during the test. However, he did not know the country of origin or founder of his style.
I recently found a good panoramic photo stitching software that seems to work really well. It's called Autostitch and it's free. And pretty easy to use. It automatically straightens and balances the exposure, and I think it corrects barrel distortion. Here is as example of my recent trip to Black Rock in the Shenandoah National Park:

From Austin Mt-Furnace Mt Hike SNP
I used the panoramic assist program mode in my Nikon P50 which helps you overlap about 20% of the frame and line up the horizon. I have not used it with my D100 and a tripod, but I will show you an example soon, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just rode my bike to work for the first time this year. Not sure what took so long, it felt really good to get out there. I felt slow but it can't hurt the calorie count. Dropped another pound at my SlimDown weigh-in last Friday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fun With GPS

I love maps. Maps of all types. Historical, political, nautical, fantasy (my favorite is Middle Earth), and especially topographical. And when you mix maps with an portable electronic gadget you have a recipe for fun.

Tom thinks I am crazy for wanting to document every location of every picture I ever take. But I like recording this sort of info especially when we are in the wilderness or traveling. For the longest time I was geotagging manually. This is the process of using a program like Google Earth to point to the spot where you know (or guess) the picture was taken, and then the software records the latitude and longitude coordinates on the exif metadata tags.

Don't get me wrong. Google Earth is great, but the process of geotagging is slow. There are more simple programs out there, but I was still running into the problem of not knowing or remembering the exact location of the photo. And after a ten-day trip, this can be impossible.

That's when I started looking into real-time geotagging devices for my camera. But they are expensive and camera specific (and I would probably need to upgrade my camera). For the same price range you can get a unit with topo maps, bells, and whistles too.

The trick for me was to find out how to use the gps unit to automatically geotag my pictures. Automatic is the key, considering I take about 1000 exposures on a 1-week trip. It took quite a bit of hunting around on the internet and experimenting with my unit before I came up with the solution.

The key to automatically geotagging your photos is simple - time and date stamp. Every camera records the time and date taken, according to what you set of course. It is stored in the metadata tags, an invisible universal packet of info that comes with each photo.

So I knew that all I needed was a gps unit that could record my movement in a file with date, time, and location, and the ability to download the data at the end of the trip. In the gps world, this is called a track, and the universal file format is gpx. It turns out that almost all modern gps units will do this.

From Rocky-Brown Mountain Hike SNP

The next step was to find software (preferable free) to read the gpx track file, interpolate where necessary, and write the metadata tags automatically. Surprisingly, Microsoft Pro Photo Tools easily does just that. It will also allow you to change the time/date stamp if your camera was accidentally set wrong. To make things easy, you just make sure the gps and camera are set to approximately the same time.

From Rocky-Brown Mountain Hike SNP

I purchased a simple Garmin etrex Venture HC. It will save 10,000 track points, and a typical hike takes about 2,000 (you can change the resolution setting). I wish I had spent a little more money (well an extra $100) on a unit that has an optional removable SD memory card (my unit has only 24k) so I could go longer without downloading (I don't typically travel with my laptop). I also got the US Topo Maps.

I plan to track every minute of my trip to New Zealand. Matt said I could use his laptop to download data when needed. I don't have New Zealand maps yet, but I found a NZ Road Map opensource project that looks promising.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Nice Walk in the Park on an Autumn Day

Today Tom and I hiked 12 miles in Shenandoah National Park. We decided to finally buy an annual park pass hoping to get a lot of use out of it preparing for our trip (it takes two visits to break even). And we are fortunate to be living close to a wonderful national park.

We hit the trail at 9am when it was still 45 degrees out, but quickly warmed up. From the Brown Gap parking area we headed along the Austin Mountain trail along a very rocky ridge. The walking was slow and treacherous but fun because of the uniqueness. Then we headed down to Madison Run and up Furnace Mountain for a long and steady 2000' climb. Lunch was very nice from a rocky ledge overlooking the ridge we just crossed.
From Austin Mt-Furnace Mt Hike SNP

The final 1000' climb to Black Rock was a little difficult for me because my legs and back were getting sore, but Tom encouraged me along. In all we finished in 6 hours 45 minutes.
From Austin Mt-Furnace Mt Hike SNP

Other than some normal soreness from hiking 12 miles, my feet felt fine with the new insoles. I was not carrying as much as I usually do, only about 8 pounds. My boots did ok, I am still torn if I really need a new pair. My ankles twist a lot in these and I am not sure a new pair would help that much.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

We are going hiking tomorrow, our longest yet. 13 miles, 2750ft elevation change. My goal is to finish in under 8 hours, including photo stops, not including lunch. Time to test the new insoles with the old boots, hope they wont hurt my feet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hiking Boots

I have what is coined by the shoe/boot industry as "low volume" feet. Not only are my heels narrow, but my overall feet are skinnier than average. According to a sales guy at Richey Shoes only 1% of the U.S. population fall into this category. I find this statistic hard to believe, but this is the excuse most shoe and boot manufacturers have to only make regular and wide sizes. For most shoes I can get away with regular width, and I have found some brands that err on the narrow side.

When it comes to hiking boots you have to have them properly fitted. If they are too wide in the heel, they will slip with every step and cause blisters every time. The boot must grip your heel and move with you. If the rest of your foot does not fill the boot it will slide and allow your ankle to twist and trip. This is my problem with my current pair of boots. They were almost narrow enough for me when I first bought them 8 years ago, and over time they have stretched and allow my foot to move around.

Boot problems get worse when you add a backpack, which is what happened on our Dolly Sods backpacking trip. My feet and ankles hurt so bad by the end of that trip (granted it was some of the most treterous hiking I have ever done). That's when I decided I need a new pair of boots.

I have ordered and returned two different pairs since. New Balance makes a nice pair of narrow boots ($150), but the size 10 was too small (my usual size), and the thought of buying 10.5 size anything makes me cringe. Plus they were too small in the sides of my fore foot, and I don't thing a half size will fix this. Unlike dress shoes and even running shoes, boots must have a roomy "toe box" to allow your toes to flex and spread with each step.

My second pair of tryout boots were Asolo Atlantis. ($133 at These run narrow, and fit me pretty well, but still slipped a little in the ankle. So I decided to return them and hold out for the perfect boot (but now I am wondering if I should have kept them).

Now I have my eye on a pair of Lowa Renegade that are sized narrow ($190 at But they are out of stock and the factory won't be making them in narrow for another few months.

So now I am quickly running out of time to break in a new pair of boots before the trip. I have trid Plan B, which is new insoles. I tried Superfeet for a long time, but they hurt my feet even after they were broken in. Currently I am trying Orthofeet BioSole Gels that I got at Richey & Co. The sales guy there said that I am not used to having my arch supported, so the new insoles will feel weird. So far they are ok, but I have not hiked in them yet.

I have my eyes on a pair of Lowa Banff Pro narrows. But they are pricey and possibly too heavy. What makes them unique is their leather lining (instead of gore tex). It is supposed to be more foot-conforming and breathable, while just as waterproof.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

NZ Prep Time

A friend asked that I blog more about my trip to New Zealand, so here it is, not to entice jealousy, but to share my excitement.

The 25-day trip itinerary is very full, with 13 days of hiking, 3 days of canoe/sea kayaking, 3 ferry rides, and over 35 hours of driving. Much of the hiking is over steep and rough terrain. Tom and I have been hiking almost every weekend for the last several months to prepare for this aspect of the trip. It seems that since my back injury my feet became soft and my legs complacent. My goal is to be able to hike 12 miles with an elevation change of 3000' in less than 8 hours with a 20 pound pack. Tom is a very good hiker and I have no worries about him being able to complete all of the NZ hikes, and I am about half way to my conditioning goal. My other goal to make NZ more enjoyable is to drop another 15 pounds. I will keep you updated on my hiking and weight goals. To see the hikes completed so far, see my web album.

We will have three free days in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, so I will be blogging about what to do here.

Another aspect of trip preparation is shopping. We won't have much room for our stuff, but the urge to go wild is overwhelming. "But it's a once in a life-time trip, and I need it." Well, luckily (or not), my wonderful husband has great restraint. My biggest shopping element is hiking boots, which I will talk more about later.

Stay tuned.