Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cameras are tools

Everyone has their favorites. Every samurai has his katana. This is mine: a Nikon F3.
Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm/f2 AiS lens.
In front of HC110 concentrate and "odorless" fixer
Taken with a Kiev 88CM, Ziess 80mm/f2.8, on Fuji FP100C
The F3 was introduced in 1980, the last of the manual focus professional cameras Nikon made. It was so popular, that when the F4 was introduced in 1988 to replace the F3, there were so many complaints, they didn't stop production of the F3. In fact, it wasn't until 2001 that the F3 was phased out. It's a nice piece of machinery. The viewfinder is amazing. Most cameras let you see between 75 and 90 percent of what the picture actually is, but the F3 gives you 100 percent. The viewfinder also gives you your f stop and shutter speed. It's as reliable as a brick, and a joy to use. It's my kind of camera- it gets out of the way and lets me take the picture.

I used to have a nice professional digital body. But it had too many gadgets. The f stop was changed when you twiddled this dial, The shutter speed when you twiddled that one. You pretty much had to use autofocus because the viewfinder lacked a focusing grid. It was all kinds of whizz-bang and nice, but ultimately, I stopped using it.

It was too much work to use. I shot the shoot, came home and sat in front of a computer for hours fiddling with the digital file to make it look like a film shot, which was the look I wanted. I never used the LCD screen on the back of the camera. You either got the shot or you didn't. The moment you were looking for was gone if you didn't so it was pointless to check anyway. You have to have confidence in your ability.

I didn't like the DX sensors because it made it hard to shoot wide angles. So I was looking at an upgrade to a D3X. Ouch. That's a $8,000 body. By the time I factored in a new computer, new storage, new Photoshop, new plugins, new batteries, and memory cards, and all, it came out closer to $10,000. Which made me look at my old F3 again. I can shoot a lot of film for $10,000. And processing takes an hour. All I do is resize and upload. Not much work behind the computer at all.

I'm not taking a side in the old "digital v film" debate. You should always use what works best for you. But that's an explanation of what works best for me. Your milage may vary.

But if you're worried about your milage, get out of the car and on the bike.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Tonight's little storm, although nice, is messing with my ride plans.
At least we haven't needed one of these

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Augusta to St. Charles, the end of the trail, and a visit to St. Louis

We went down to good coffee and breakfast. The eggs were in ramekins with heavy cream and were delicious. And hey, what do you know . . . more french toast! It's the sort of pattern I can live with. I borrowed the pump belonging to the B&B, aired up, and we were off.

We ducked in to the bike shop in Defiance, only the second one we saw open, and looked for another pump, with no joy. It could have come in handy, as a few miles on, I lost the rear tube again. While I fiddled with changing it, my girlfriend fixed the pump, and in no time we were on our way again. I was riding a bit gingerly as I went, since I was on the last spare tube I had brought with me. We also discovered Deep Woods Off isn't as effective as we had hoped it would be while we waited for them to pull a tractor that had been mowing back out of the swamp along the trail. No one was injured in the wreck, but we were almost eaten alive waiting for them to finish it up.

We arrived in St. Charles, and discovered the pitfalls of not using topo maps in picking the hotel. It looked like it was right next to the trail, but actually it was about 70 feet higher on a bluff which we had to walk our bikes up. We checked in, showered, did a quick load of laundry, and my family showed up to take us back and pick up my 4Runner.

My girlfriend tries a two story slide out for speed.
We visited St. Louis and spent time in City Museum.

City Museum St. Louis

This is the greatest thing to do in St. Louis. The key element of the thing that's the coolest is MonstroCity.  It's basically two lear-type jets, a fire engine, a steam shovel, a construction kangaroo crane, the cupola from the old City Hospital, a steeple from a church, a school bus, a ferris wheel, a tiki hut, a log cabin, and several other things all welded together in a several story tall jungle gym for adults. I think my girlfriend scampered over just about every bit of it. She smiled the whole time, which is why we took the trip in the first place. The whole purpose was to make her smile.

We didn't have a "we did it" moment at the end of the trail. But after our visit was over, and we were driving back to Denver, we crossed under the Katy Trail bridge over I-70 and I smiled and said "Hey! We were just here the other day!" It did feel like an accomplishment then. I remembered riding under it a few years earlier with an ex-girlfriend and commenting that I wanted to ride the trail some day. She scoffed at it. She had a habit of belittling anything that might interfere with her goals, such as riding bikes and taking pictures. I remember saying to myself: "I'm going to ride that someday." It took some time, and it took finding the right person, but someday finally came. Our first cycling trip could not have been any better. I can't wait to see where we ride next.

All images were taken with a Nikon F3 on Kodak Portra 400.

Rhineland to Augusta

The french toast was tasty, filled with a whip cream and heavy cream concoction. Hey, you need all that fat to energy while riding. Or so I told myself as I finished breakfast.

Looked almost like a railroad sand house, but probably
just the local granary. 
A nice easy riding day, crossing mile after mile of farmland, crops coming in well. In fact, some of that corn was almost freakishly high, clearly violating the "knee high by fourth of July" rule.

Blew the first tube of the trip on my bike, and changed it on the side of the trail. There was markedly more traffic on this part of the trail, and a couple stopped and offered to help, but I was all but done by that point. Our pump was not being helpful, and I called to see if there was a bike shop nearby but there wasn't. The B&B owner offered to come and get us, but I just limped on in to town on about 25 pounds of pressure in my rear tire.

We ate at the Augusta Brewing Company, and met up with the couple that had stopped to help us again. It turns out they were on their first bike trip as well. Thanked them again for stopping. It's just good form. If you see a bike down, you should always stop and check it out.

The Lindenhof B&B was astounding  We were in a room modeled after the honeymoon suite in a side-wheel steamboat in 1856. Decking on the floors, tongue in groove walls, huge bed set in to the wall, lace curtains and all. The lithograph from Harper's Illustrated that had to have inspired it was on the wall. It was just beautiful. The only nod to modern times was the camouflaged air conditioner, which I was grateful for.

I really liked Augusta. It was a neat little town, and the people were exceptionally nice to us.

Hartsburg to Rhineland

We were up and ready to go early, and breakfast was highlighted by some awesome home made muffins. We were dispatched down the road with bags of muffins for each, which was a nice addition to the day.

Standing Rock
We spent the day looking at the swollen Missouri, watching it lap at the trail as we went along. We passed Standing Rock and looked at past flood levels on it. Every major flood from 1903 to the last one in 1993 are marked on the rock. There may be more, but a lot of what's there is no longer legible.

We pedaled in to our destination in plenty of time. The Doll House in Rhineland. This place was chosen because the web site had images of good looking french toast on it, and good reviews of that same french toast, and I share my life with a woman who loves . . . you guessed it: french toast. Destination decided by breakfast food. I had thought the name of the place was because it was formerly owned by Ken and Barbie, but it didn't look at all like the Malibu Dream House Which was a good thing, actually. I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to that much pink. It turns out the Doll family had lived there originally.

The house was easy to find, they had their own sign off of the trail, just past the ball field. The town is a bit odd. After the last big flood in 1993, most of it was relocated to the top of a bluff not to far away. There's an interesting footprint left behind in the form of part of the old street grid.
Doll House
The Doll House is the only original building from town left on the old town site. We had the place to ourselves. Apparently, the state website had reported this section of the trail to be flooded and everyone else was staying off of it. There was a  bit of weather that night, a thunderstorm that was pretty impressive even by Colorado standards. The tornado siren right outside out window didn't go off, so all was good. Storm aside, there's nothing like a good ride to lead to a good sleep.

Rocheport to Hartsburg

We'd planned a short day because we wanted to stay in the Oasis Hotel. It's a vintage 1918 hotel right close to the old train tracks, and a unique spot. A short twenty-five miles, easy roll, and in before lunch.

Not really.

First it rained a little. No problem. we put on our Frogg Togg rain suits, and continued on. The rain got harder, cutting visibility down to less than ten feet. We passed a shivering roadie going the other way and shouted the encouraging news that Rocheport was about ten miles away and had a shelter. He thanked us and pedaled faster.

We slogged on. The narrow tires on my bike were becoming a problem. As more rain poured down, the chat turned to soup, and I was sinking in. Before long I was down in second and pedaling furiously. Clown Bike mode. I settled in to slogging at low speed, thinking I could just get though it with no problem. Then it started to hail. Marble size hail smarts when you are out in it. Helmets help, though.
Crew shelter along the old roadbed. It had a wet weather spring inside
and wasn't much drier than outside

When the lightening looked like strobe lights, we pulled under some trees and sat tight for a minute. After a while we moved on. We encountered another couple on and off, as they were toying with finding a spot and just calling it a day. Pitching a tent and trying again in the morning. We eventually got to Hartsburg.

The roadies from the day before had called their SAG wagon, and were packing it in, calling their ride on the trail off. We sat in the shelter and waited for the weather to break and check in time with the younger couple and a couple on a tandem. Once the rain slacked off, I took a tour of the town. It didn't take long.

Hartsburg has no store, a one room post office, some abandoned store fronts, a cafe that was closed for the duration while we were there, the hotel, and two bars. My girlfriend opined the second bar was opened when enough folks got thrown out of the first bar and needed someplace to drink together, The Big Muddy does have some good eats, though. We had a late lunch, and then dinner there as well. The hotel was beautiful, with period furnishings to complement the buildings.
It was a restful night on the somewhat creaky bed. I think it still had rope in it instead of box springs. As long as you didn't toss and turn, it was just fine.

The lesion of the day was to wait out weather in shelters. Hail makes any ride less fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sedalia to Rocheport

Up early and back to the trail. Part of the old railroad roadbed is still active in Sedalia. Amtrak still runs through. So there was a little street riding involved. It was early, and a little chilly, and we made good time.

Outside of town, there's a grade. Grades on the trail are made for trains to negotiate. They rise at a very light rate, but they tend to be eight miles or so long. It seems flat, but you have to pedal a little harder, so I spent most of every uphill wondering if I had a flat.

At this abandoned building in Clifton City, there used to be a fridge full of cold drinks, with a pay on your honor system. The elderly gentleman who set this up had reported that people were stealing the money, though. The bike shop next door was long closed, and the lot across the road was littered with rusty bikes still chained to trees and poles. It made an interesting display of decay, and made me think the gentleman had probably passed on.

Just outside of the city we came up on some road bikes, and one was down. We stopped and asked if they needed any help, and they said no. One scoffed we should go on, they'd blow us off the trail when they passed in a little while. If you have a hammer, every thing's a nail. If you have a road bike, every thing's a race, I guess.
Obligatory bike next to the signal shot

In Pilot Grove on a sunday morning, absolutely nothing is open. We ate Clif Bars and began to wish for something a bit more substantial.

By the time we hit Boonville, we were officially starving. Clif Bars only go so far.

The Chamber had a person waiting to answer questions, and I told her I had a mighty need for a cheeseburger. She directed us uphill to a bar called the Blind Ref. We washed up a little in their bathroom, and enjoyed huge half pound burgers and fries until we couldn't eat any more.  There's nothing like a good sized meal after exercise has made you hungry. Although, these were good burgers, so hunger wasn't driving our sense of taste like it did for my girlfriend and that pizza.

Stopped in the lobby of the Hotel Fredrick to ask about some directions and was impressed by the place. Next time through, if there is a next time, I think we'll stay there. It genuinely looked as if it was still 1925 inside.

We crossed the Missouri on a nice bike lane on the state highway bridge. the river was hugely swollen. All barge traffic was halted so that towboats wouldn't get hung up under bridges.  It lapped up against the trail in a few spots, but we didn't have any flooding to deal with at all.

In New Franklin, just across the river, is a campground on the site of a former railroad yard. the buildings were all originally part of the complex, and this abandoned turntable used to be the center of a roundhouse. Steam locomotives don't like to run backwards, and need to be turned around, and this machine allowed it to be done in a small space.

The campground wasn't the only railroad remnant we came across. The signal, a couple of hangers for mail bags, switch stands, and the tunnel just outside of Rocheport were others.

We rode through the tunnel, listening to the hoots of an owl, somewhere up above us in the rocks in the tunnel, and rode right in to Rocheport. We realized we were too early to check in to the Katy Trail Bed and Bikefest, so we wandered down the trail a short ways to a combination bike shop and diner to eat some blackberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream. A good ending to the day.

When we came back to the B&B, there was the group of roadies again, looking a bit done in. They were not happy to see us. I think the fact they couldn't catch a middle aged fat guy on a old school bike and a woman on a Schwinn kind of chafed on them.

We approach  things more like long distance hikers do. Hikers live by the mantra "Hike Your Own Hike."  They don't really care how fast other folks move, how they're doing things, or about much other than their own experience. It's a much lower stress option.

After the shower, we walked about a little, and met up with Andrew the Scot again. We hadn't thought to see him again, but he was having a little tire trouble, and told us he was headed to Columbia to find a replacement. We all wondered why there weren't more bike shops on the trail. The mosquitos drove us indoors and to bed shortly after.
Andrew Dickson

Andrew's blog

As I finally get around to transcribing this trip, I find Andrew has finished his ride across the USA. He's raised money for Alzheimer's awareness, and made a fantastic trip. He was an interesting man to meet on the trail, and my girlfriend and I still talk about him from time to time. We're both glad he made it, and envious of his trip. We'll make our own coast to coast ride someday. And if we ever make it to Scotland, Andrew, we'd love to ride a bit in your country as well.

Clinton to Sedalia

We checked out of our hotel, and drove to find the trailhead in Clinton MO. We were puzzling over a map, looking for the exact location of the trailhead, when a road bike covered in yellow Ortlieb panniers went past and we just decided to follow. There was, at least for me, a bit of excitement when I saw the trailhead.

We left the 4Runner in the parking lot of the Community Center. Best way to do the trail. They signed us in, and kept an eye on my vehicle for the whole time. All for free, even when I asked to pay. Good people.

We assembled our bikes, and rode to the trail head to find the Ortlieb covered bike up on it's kickstand the the owner off of  it looking over a map. We stopped and chatted for a bit, and he told us his story. He was Andrew Dickson, from Scotland, and he was using the Katy as part of his ride across country raising money and awareness for Alzheimer's.  I was envious enough to chat with him for a while. He'd done laundry and was waiting for the drying cycle to complete before starting further on the trail. I would have talked a bit more, but my girlfriend was past ready to go ride.

I was amazed to see all the green. Living at altitude, you forget how lush it is down low. I stopped to snap a few shots.
That's my girlfriends "will you put that away so we can ride now" face.
We rolled through Calhoun and Windsor, soaking it all in and having fun.

We stopped in Green Ridge, under a picnic shelter to eat bad cheese pizza from the local store and replenish water.(My girlfriend still insists it's the best pizza she's ever eaten- she was starving.)

I refilled the Nalgenes at every chance I had. It's a Colorado habit. Living where the water supplies are a bit less frequent and reliable teach you to not take such things for granted. We never ran dry once on our trip.

We got in to Sedalia  sooner than expected, which was ok. We left the trail at the equestrian trailhead, pedaling to our hotel for the evening. Oddest thing when we were coasting down the hill a few blocks from the hotel. I smelled the odor of plastic flowers, very strongly. I asked my girlfriend if she smelled them, just to make sure it wasn't some flashback or something. We were puzzled by it, until we passed the cemetery. The Best Western wasn't fancy, but it had a shower and a bed, and that's all I wanted.

At Windsor, we took pictures at the highest point on the Katy Trail:

Only 4,325 feet lower than a speed bump in Denver!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prologue: goats, giant prairie dogs, hard times in Wilson

I made a promise to my girlfriend some time ago. I promised her I would take her on a bike tour. And I had a good first ride for bicycle touring in mind: the Katy Trail across Missouri. I wanted to ride the Katy badly, so it wasn't much of a sacrifice on my part.

The Katy Trail is a state park- ten feet wide and 237 miles long. It's the former railroad roadbed of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. After the trains stopped running, the Katy became the longest Rails to Trails project to date. The Cowboy Line in Nebraska will be longer, but it's not finished yet.

Here's some information:
Katy Trail State Park website
Bike Katy Trail
(I planned the whole ride off of the Bike Katy Trail website. Painless, and a never ending wealth of information.)

So, on the 10th of June, buoyed by the news my girlfriend got straight As in her last semester of grad school, we loaded our bikes in the back of the 4Runner with our panniers, and some clothes to wear during a side trip to St. Louis, and we went east.

First, we stopped at Oakley Kansas. Why, you ask? What could possibly be interesting in a little podunk town in Kansas?

Why, the "Largest Prairie Dog in the World" at Prairie Dog Town!

It towered over us, like some horrifying monster from a B movie.

They have signs advertising this place fifty miles in advance- in traditional roadside attraction/tourist trap/freak show fashion. It has animal freaks like six legged cows, a box of rattlesnakes, and goats to feed.

I'd always wanted to stop, but never had. It was just as weird as I imagined.

Worth the visit, if you like the surreal:
Prairie Dog Town

We also stopped at Wilson, Kansas. One of my favorite small towns. But things there had taken a turn for the worse. Not an open business on Main Street. The restaurant and bar that were booming when I visited last were shuttered. It was quiet, not a soul on the street. I stopped and took a shot similar to the first time I had visited the place:

It was so different. Last time the place was bustling. The granaries to the back and right full and busy, the grocery store full of folks, the town felt alive. This time, the wind blew through the empty buildings, the grocery had no customers, only two people talking quietly about the inability to pay a bill. The Opera House had burned, leaving only a partial shell. The gas station had pumps shut down and couldn't process my credit card. It felt as if the town was breathing its last. I was happy to leave the place, knowing better times and places were ahead.
Thirteen total hours in the 4Runner and we were in Clinton Missouri. In the morning, we would go and find the trail head, and start the ride.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Geared hubs

This is the first new bike I've had since I was 12 or so. A Globe Daily 3. I commute on a bike, so it was a natural choice. And I admit, it's a clean design, and sexy in black.

Photo taken with a late 50's Yashica Mat TLR on Ilford HP5+ film, developed in HC110 in my bathroom.

I have a bicycle because I go places on it. I don't own a recreational bike. No spandex zippy suits with the built in water bottle pockets for me. No alien head aerodynamic helmet. No pretending my saturday ride is the Tour de France. I'm firmly in the elastic-band-to-keep-the-pant-leg-out-of-the-chain camp.

Bicycles do two things in my world. They make me smile, and they get me from point A to point B. And as such, I prefer low maintenance machinery. I don't really like wrenching on bikes. There are pros that do that. I prefer to be riding.  I know enough to get my bike to limp to a shop, and that's about it.

Which leads me to an admission:

I'm not a fan of derailleurs.

I know, puts me smack dab in the middle of geek territory. Sheldon Brown world.

But the first bike I built had a three speed Shimano hub on it that was bulletproof. So the new one has a Shimano Redline 7 speed. It was a selling point. It gets me to work, and home, to farmer's markets, to other towns close by, and down every bike path I have found. I'll probably put mustache handlebars on it soon, maybe a front rack to enhance the touring range.

Like I said- I'd rather be making pedals go around and tripping shutters than anything else.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I put up a little explanation of the title of this page. just click "What's in a name" above.

I'm going to start transcribing my travelogue from the little Moleskine it was written in soon, marrying it with the pictures I took on the Katy Trail across Missouri.

I always hate finishing travelogues. that means the trip is really over, and I never want any of them to end.

This time, though, it feels more like an intermission than an ending.

Monday, July 4, 2011


The first thing to start me in the direction of this blog was an urge to be moving. I sit all day, some days. Like most, I inhabit a cube, staring at a computer screen. Which leads to the Great American Tradition: Office Weenie Syndrome. Inability to focus, weight gain, high cholesterol, feelings of helplessness and desperation. Clearly a change was in order.

This was the start of the changes:

A $50 Frankenbike off of Craigslist. The frame was a 1964 Murray LeMans. By the time I had taken this shot, the nearly useless hand brakes, the original wheels (complete with the original Shimano 3 speed hub), and the bent up short hipster handlebars were all gone. A new set of wheels, including a custom built rear from my local bike shop, new saddle, new bars, and a coaster brake (old school!) were all on. I took this shot with my mid-90s vintage Polaroid One Step, using the then brand-new Impossible Project black and white film. Rebirth was an ongoing theme at that time.

The bike got changed a few times over the years, and recently I gave it away to a friend. It re-introduced me to the joy of cycling, and maybe it will do the same to her.

And we're off!

So here's a lame purpose statement of sorts.

I like to go places on my bicycle. I also hike, offroad, and ramble. And I take photos while doing all of these. I have company on these outings, a beautiful woman who for some reason has decided to spend time with me, and certain friends with similar interests.

So follow along, while some adventures are had.