Pure Mountains

Seriously, the best pic of a bike I have ever taken.

Today was a sampler of some of the best of the high parts of Colorado. Pure mountain biking, pure Colorado “highways” and Aspen, a pure (albeit touristy) mountain ski town. First, the mountain biking. Herein follows a review of the Turquoise (LINK) lake single track just out of Leadville. MTB project touts that the reviews and rating are submitted by local riders. I do not doubt this is the case for the blue rated out-and-back 6 mile (so 12 mile if you do it out-and-back) trail along the north shore of Turquoise lake but it shows a rider who considers themselves to be “blue” (intermediate) based out of Leadville are far more skilled than us flatlanders from the midwest.

The trail starts very easy, some rocks to navigate but plenty of space to prepare and recovery from the feature. I say this is mountain biking (specifically XC MTB) at its purest as, even though the trail is maintained (no erosion etc) zero attempt has been made to make the trail “flow”. Totally un-artificial and I rode it to see the amazing landscape unfold as it can only do on a loop. Some parts were a joy to ride, and some parts were technical, some other parts got gnarly where you did not have a clean run at a feature and you had rock gardens followed by rock gardens so you could never really get back on balance and some part were hike-a-bike for all but living legends. If you take at the MTB project link above you will see the peak in the middle, that is where most of the hike a bike is. The rest is ridable by any solid intermediate rider who is used to the trail and elevation. This intermediate rider is NOT used to the elevation and was riding it blind so more than a few flubs of a run up to a rock garden forcing a walk to get started. Louise will be happy to learn that there were no spills today. So, to answer the question: Was it worth it? Do you like technical rocky sections? This is for you.

Clouds forming over the ranges on either side of the Arkansas headwaters valley near Leadville.
Pure mountain driving.

Do you prefer flow but are willing to suck it up for world class views? It’s worth it but judge your risk tolerance carefully. Good news, the whole trail has cell service for your significant other to send the authorities your way, as always set a “no contact panic time”. Are you familiar with the world class views Leadville has to offer and love the flow and think pushing your bike is for chumps? I would say avoid. Let me put it this way: I chose not to do the out and back again, opting to take part of the Leadville 100 route and then turn off for a mad descent to the dam wall and where I parked. Strava file here: Link .

Best pizza! Worth the steep bill.

Arriving back at the cabin we discussed priorities. The weather was forecast to close in so we opted that this afternoon would be Aspen. We climbed the Independence Pass again (discovering it was named for the, now ghost, town of Independence. This time, instead of stopping and turning around we descended the other side. The road down on the Aspen side is very different. It starts a lot mellower than the Twin Lakes side but quickly narrows, a lot! The story on the Twin Lakes side was avalanche scars. On the Aspen side it is rock falls. This means the road narrows in several spots to a one lane road with some unwritten rule making it work. Crazy there are not more issues (perhaps there are but we witnessed none today). Aspen sits at around 7,900 feet, the air felt so thick! First impressions: Wow, parking is a challenge. Asking a local he directed us to a road on the edge of town which connects to Aspen’s wonderful walking trail system. The forecasted weather was arriving so we hot-footed it to our destination: Aspen brewing and tap. Great beer, amazing pizza, phenomenal WIFI and pretty steep prices. Yes, Aspen is not Leadville.

It caters to the well-to-do. However very nice for a treat. And it was great watching the storm rage outside over the mountains enjoying the best pizza I have had in ages. All that was left to do was wait out the storm, head back to the car and enjoy a spectacular drive over Independence pass watching the clouds roll off the pine-covered slopes back to the cabin. We asked and the mountains derived pure majesty today.

Campfire Curry and High Alpine

For our third full day in the high country the main goal was outdoor cooking. We love cooking on open fires. In the Rockies this comes with special responsibilities as the area is very prone to wildfires. Dry air, a preponderance of downed timbers, landscape and winds all mean it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent fires.

Campfire naan at 10,000 feet!

This meant always having water on hand, dousing the area around the fire pit with water and always keeping an eye on the fire danger (high) and attending the fire. The preponderance of timber also was a fun opportunity: making our favorite butter chicken on a fire made entirely of scavenged downed timber (added benefit of, even if insignificantly, reducing the fuel load. I use the New York Times recipe with some twists, and I also greatly increase the cooking times in the Dutch oven. This means the chicken thighs start to fall apart.

Soon highway 82 was replete with aromas of turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin etc… To top it off Louise prepared dough for naan which we threw in a cast iron pan on the coals. They were perfect. And while lunch (plus dinner, plus what will be snacks the next day_ was cooking I wandered around and snapped macros of the amazing wildflowers on Lois and Bob’s property.

Tummies full and the fire well and truly out (and hands washed after touching the coals to make sure it was truly out) we jumped in the car and headed for today’s outing: Independence Pass! When we were in Breckenridge a few years ago we discovered Louise is particularly prone to altitude sickness and her “line” is around 12,000 feet. So heading up to the pass at 12,112 feet, 3692 meters for the metrically inclined, we took it easy. This meant stopping at many of the turnouts to enjoy the view. It was worth it!

The view from the pass is spectacular. On the way back down, we stopped at a trail head and did a very short (~2km) hike enjoying alpine flowers and bubbling streams. I find it amusing that a quick trip to 12,000 feet somehow makes the air at 10,000 feet seem that much more breathable!

Food For The Soul (And The Body)

First let’s talk about last night… As we played Trivial Pursuit the day turned into night and just before bed, we went outside to see what the sky had to show. We were not disappointed! I grabbed my camera and headed outside. After learning more of the Nikon Z7-II’s settings I finally had it set to bulb and grabbed a very nice long exposure. The blurring is from the earth (or sky, depending on your perspective) rotating. Hoping to get a longer shot with star trails before the end of the trip.

Space. We have a lot of it and see a lot of it!

Wednesday dawned bright and clear and it was time to test the red blood cell count and go mountain biking. Bob told me where to park. He also warned the single track on the southern side of the lake got challenging with rocks.. It did! But it was fun. All but a hike a bike section I could have and really should have taken the short cut around. Really testing the skills, heels down weight back letting the Yeti SB100 soak up the impacts.. Loving it. Oh and the views! Doing a loop meant you had views that were constantly training. Now those red blood cells, still need more of them until I am fully acclimatized.  Started out of breath, got into a good rhythm then got tired and sloppy so took a few breaks to collect myself. Ride finished with some short sections on highway 82 (uphill slogs) and some nice flowy sandy single track to the car. Click HERE for Strava.

Soul fed it was time for the tummy. Gathered up Louise and River and headed to Leadville. First priority: Coffee. Destination: City on a hill. Good coffee, awesome vibe (lightning fast internet!). Second priority: Calories, protein and taste. Destination: Casa Sanchez. Arm sized burrito comes out (the Chipotle one for those who know) I think “no way I am going to finish that”. 20 minutes late my plate is mysteriously empty of said burrito. After a provisioning for tomorrow’s slow cooked butter chicken it was time to head home via Twin Lakes. We stopped in at the general store, a classic example of never judge a book by its cover. It looks a little rough from the outside but is a paradise for nature seekers inside. Home now, winding down and getting a bit more organized (ie finally organizing all the stuff we just dumped when we arrived). What will we do tomorrow? We will decide then!  

The Air Is Rare Up Here

The views just kept getting better!

Today was the day. Time to stop being a mile high and become two miles high, the drive from Boulder to Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville. But first I decided I wanted to ride the Yeti up Boulder Canyon. It was meant to be an easy ride to acclimatize to a reduction in oxygen.

For the Aussies Boulder sits at around 1,600m, so bottom of Thredbo. Rode easy up the canyon enjoying the river and unfolding vistas until I got to the end to the path and was checking the map when a local Boulderite came past (fit and as beautiful as they all are) and told me about some of the local trails. He failed to notice my considerable girth and directed me to a local dirt road (mainly closed, not the realm of hikers and bikers).

Looking back on from where we came.

Well, present me is sending some huge gratitude to past me for starting my training months ago. The road was lovely, starting in dense pine forests and tight switchbacks which allowed me to look up the hill and see the climbing to come. Initially I said “lets ride until 7:15am and make a judgement call then” then it was 7:30, then 7:45.. Views just keep getting better and better so the ride ended up much more epic than intended. Ended up climbing 460 meters to spectacular views at the peak of flagstaff mountain. And then there was the descent.

Locked, loaded and ready to roll..

The features on the road to divert water flow, when hit at 20+mph ended up being super fun little kickers allowing some great jumps. Rolling back into the hotel it was time to pack and say “see ya later Boulder” and we hit the road for Leadville. Raced along the front range and hit E470, ripping through tunnels and seeing vistas at every turn. Our Subaru Outback, Ollie, took it all like a champ even when packed to the gills with stuff.

The air is rare up here.

I could write pages and pages describing the drive. From the awesomeness of the avalanche scars to the monumental if somewhat of a crime against nature sight of the Climax molybdenum mine. We rolled into Leadville at just after 1:30pm, grabbing phenomenal sandwiches at Buchi Cafe Cubano. After that all that was left to do was provision at safeway and drive across the alluvial plain of the Arkansas river headwaters, through Twin Lakes to Bob’s (Bob the living legend Graham) cabin. Bob met us and gave us the tour.

I could myself as blessed beyond belief to have made to many friends since moving to the United States 11 years ago. Quality friends. Genuine friends. And I am grateful to Bob for sharing his slice of heaven with us. I will talk more about the cabin in coming days but, suffice to say, this is rarefied land. And, yes, the altitude is hitting us all very hard. More to come soon, including our mimo antenna set up to get internet, the slowest internet on the planet but enough to keep things ticking over. Greetings from two miles high.

In the right place

Great coffee and cringe worthy T-Shirt

Greetings from North Platte Nebraska! Today was the big day for us (keep in mind we don’t do big road trips). 7.5 hours across Iowa and Nebraska. We broke it down into four blocks with three rests. Iowa city to Des Moines. Des Moines to a rest stop. Rest stop to Kearney. And Kearney to North Platte. Kind of felt like we took a good luck potion as, well, we kept having good luck. First, the breakfast place we found in Des Moines; St Kilda café was awesome. Yes, it was Aussie themed, but it was not kitschy, it was good. Fantastic coffee and great food. I had salmon, poached eggs (amazing) and lentils. Rest stop was clean and has some lovely grounds for a quick walk to refresh the mind and legs. The arch at Kearney was 100% random, and very nice. Designed as a museum to Nebraska, Buffalo etc it had great amenities and River loved the gemstones they picked up there (highlight for them which was amazing given how random it was. For me, I had two highlights.

Run around the car to wake up

Our dinner spot, Pals brewing in North Platte and the 7+ crop dusters that entertained us along the plains. Oh and the changing landscape from hilly in Iowa to sandy and flat across Nebraska. Gives me a newfound awe for our chose home we will soon be citizens of. A very timely road trip! Ok, the crop dusters first. These planes were just amazing. I am an aviation geek. I used to forecast for Australia’s aviation center which sparked this interest. These planes were slow, low and agile. I swear they flew lower than the trucks driving along I80 and weaved between them. Like a Star Wars trench run! Pals brewing, good food, beer (REALLY GOOD BEER. And I know good beer) and super friendly service. Geographically speaking, if this was Australia there would be literally nothing. And in the middle of Nebraska there is not much. So it was amazing to find such quality in the corn fields outside of North Platte.

Great day traveling across the plains, really hits home the impact of national infrastructure and national security. It’s no longer about rifles and cannons, it is food security and highways. Seeing the wind farms in Iowa really tickled me! Energy from the wind, amazing engineering and farmers getting $$$$ for a small footprint on their land.

The Arch!

On a final note, I had an epiphany on the road. I did not realize how poor my mental health was.  About 2 hours out of Iowa City I had a deep exhale as my eyes fixed on the distance, I realized I felt trapped in Chicago without knowing it. The vacation that seemed like a good idea was, in fact, a necessity. Our family likes distant horizons, it is what inspired us to uproot to a whole new country. Is the USA better than Australia? Not necessarily…

If rocks could talk!

Is Australia better than the USA? Also, not necessarily… Are they different and better and worse in different ways. Absolutely. Right now, seeing the industrious plains of the Midwest it is driven home to me like better before that, for us, the USA is a land of massive opportunity and is the right place to be. Bring on the Mountains tomorrow!!!

Go West

Loaded!

Greetings readers. I have been slack. and not like salesforce slack.. Slack at updating this blog. News is we are undertaking our longest roadtrip ever in the USA. Actually, I thought it was the second longest as I drove with a friend from Gladstone QLD to Canberra way back in in the early 2000’s … But some googling tells me I was wrong and this will be my LONGEST roadtrip ever (yes I will tell you what it is soon). Difference is, as a stupid 20 year old I (with my friend… Can’t remember his name to save my life, straight shot it, 18 hours, 3 hour shifts, sleeping, running around the car… Good/bad times 🙂 )…

So, we are heading out on a long earned two week vacation to Colorado. Unlike the 20 year old me I now have responsibility for two other humans, Louise and River. So we are taking three days to trek across the great U.S.A. Staying in Iowa City, Iowa the first night, North Platte, Nebraska the second and, a place I have frequented often, Boulder Colorado (sorry friends there, no time to catch up on the way there, hopefully on the way home) on the third.

Lunch on the Mississippi.

This post is being written from the lobby bar (YES Lobby bar! It’s been a long time thanks to COVID-19) from the Courtyard Marriott in Iowa City. Drive from Chicago could not have been smoother. Great stop Leclair, IA on the Mississippi river at a very nice German pub (AC was out and they were suffering bad from the “Big Quit”).

I’ll get to more details of our trip and plans later. In a nutshell: Mountains, stars, mountain biking and the kindness of strangers (Thank you thank you Bob Graham).. 90% vacation, 10% work on the road.

Fun note, call from WTTW Chicago to appear on Chicago Tonight as we went through Dekalb.. First time in over 10 appearances I turned them down.. Sorry folks.

We rolled into Iowa City, a college town, at around 4pm. Checked in and headed out on foot for grub and beer. Wow, so much development in the middle of the corn and soy of Iowa! Lovely town. Headed to a local, Sanctuary, on a very sweaty, Friday for a Pint.. Quaint… They headed by Vue, a rooftop bar at the new Hilton in the middle of town.. Vue had a view! Chatted with the staff and some very nice locals. Iowa city, thanks to the University is in the middle of a development boom, that’s why we are saving like mad for River’s college… We loved this place. Tomorrow is the big day. 7 hours, 24 minutes, to North Platte Nebraska. Lots more corn to come!

Software Defined Radio Reading of a Personal Weather Station

I am very lucky to be involved in the Sage Cyberinfrastructure project where I am kind of acting as “Chief Science Evangelist”. Basically I help motivate the hardware and software engineering with real world science use cases. Discussions with friends like Profs.

Pi4 with the RTL-SDR reading 915MHz data. Pi3 syncing via scp and displaying on UnicornHat-HD

Eric Brunning and Tim Logan have led me to Lightning detection as an interesting problem and several folks in the team are big fans of Software Defined Radios. So I purchased one (and then three more!) and started playing. Several months ago I purchased ($169) an Ambient W2902B personal weather station. It sends signals to a base station via PCM @ 915MHz. The base station then sends data to ambient you can download via an API. Issue is you can only download 1 minute data and the head unit transmits every 16s. I was ok with that for the price. Well, enter the software defined radio! I knew the RTL-SDR 2832U unit I have can tune into 915MHz.. And looking on gqrx I cold see the pulses so I thought I could write some code to decode the data..

Output from rtl_433. Note my Ambient 2903B tags itself as BOTH fineoffset-WH24 and 65B

Well cool thing is I did not have to! As I always say to my students: Google that! I did and found this excellent blog. It was as simple as a apt-get rtl-433 or, on the Raspberry Pi4 compiling from source and you have a pulse code decoder that can read everything from a weather station to a tire pressure gauge in your car. I then simply set it to run with a nohup on my Raspberry Pi4 and save JSONs to a file. I wrote some simple code in Python using ACT (a module that builds on xarray) to visualize.. You can see so much more in the 16s data! Like the turbulence reflected in dewpoint and temperature data when the boundary layer builds. Now I want to include a Software Defined Radio in every Sage node so we can connect instruments wirelessly using the 915 and 433MHz standards. More on lightning detection later!

Bingo! My own weather data saved and plotted without using a 3rd party API.

Char Kway Teow – For Eric

Back in Australia we had this great place in Canberra called the Dickson Noodle House.. It was a noodle house, in Dickson, about as unpretentious as you can get.. Well I loved two things from there… Laksa and the Char Kway Teow.. I have been trying to perfect my home cooking of both since moving here to the USA.. here is my VERY ROUGH recipe for Char Kway Teow. For those in the western burbs you can get most ingredients at Wholegrain market.

Shopping list:

  • Bunch of kale, shredded
  • Garlic
  • sesame oil
  • BBQ pork Char Siu, sliced
  • ~1lb chicken thighs chopped (sorry, don’t substitute breast.. needs to be the naughty cut)
  • dark soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • sugar
  • flat fresh rice noodles cut into ~1cm wide strips
  • your favourite hot sauce
  • two eggs

Cooking:

First, lay all ingredients out.. This will be action cooking. Prepare the sauce by mixing ~2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tsp of fish sauce, 2 tsp of sugar and ~1tsp of dark soy sauce.

The rest of the cooking will be done in two batches in a HOT wok.. Heat the wok with oil in it.. Add 1/2 the garlic crushed, 1/2 the chicken and 1/2 the pork.. Once the chicken browns add 1/2 the noodles and stir fry until the noodles begin to brown a little. Move mix to one side of the wok and add an egg.. scramble the egg, thow in 1/2 the kale and a tsp of the hot sauce.. Continue to stir fry everything together! Once the kale is good and wilty/cooked splash in 1/2 the sauce mix and stir thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat for the second batch… Once that batch is cooked add the first batch back to the wok and heat.

A few tips: First thing to hit the oil should be the garlic.. Keep it hot! there will be some charring but when you do the second batch this gets “absorbed” into the mix.. Do not cook for long once you add the sauce.. you do not want to reduce the sauce or the meal will become very salty..

Perhaps later I will add pictures 🙂 And here is hoping I did not forget anything 🙂 Happy quarantine-eating!

 

Riding My Age

I need to update this blog more often… I have not even talked about training for the 2020 Barry Roubaix. I nailed last years edition and plan to do even better this year despite some health issues.

IMG_5139
A clean bike is a fast bike!

Training is going very well, Zwift has been a godsend and has really allowed be to ramp up my Chronic Training Load (more on that later). But the trainer can only do so much. With Louise starting a new job she has a near zero vacation balance. I, on the other hand, have been working hard and have plenty of time saved up.. So when the forecast for my Birthday looked… ok… I took the day off and decided to ride the number of miles I just turned (inspired by my friend Jeff Bolam). Route was a simple on out here in the Western Chicago Suburbs, wind my way down to centennial, enjoy the westerly push from Romeoville to Willow Springs and the struggle back against the wind home.

IMG_5155
Mile 25! I was 25 years old when I married Louise. A good year and a good mile!

The challenge with winter (well early spring) riding is picking the time to head out. To early you freeze, to late, well let’s say school pick up time is a death zone. I took my first rest day yesterday in a long time. Legs were still pretty fatigued but managed to hold up well. Recent training meant 180 to around 200W was a very comfortable power output and at times the legs got happy and I was able to lift to 220+W for sustained intervals (mainly when I had a nice tail wind and felt the

IMG_5158
New bridge at the eastern end of Centennial allowing linking up to Willow Springs.

speed!  Centennial trail was so much fun, the ice has only just recently thawed on the trail so it was my first time there in a while. It is 19.6km of uninterrupted cycling goodness. No lights, very limited to no stopping. A great work out and a gem in the ‘burbs. Following the Des Plaines river and the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal you get a mix of lovely forest and interesting look at the mechanisms that keep Chicago running. After finishing on Centennial I had a lot of miles to make up after the nice tail wind assist. Rode back along German Church to Clarendon Hills road both climbing and pushing the wind.. It was slooooooow.  After heading north up Clarendon Hills road I still needed ~8 miles so a quick loop along Burlington had me round out at 68.32km or 42.46 miles.. Strava entry is here.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 3.42.47 PM
Route courtesy of Strava.

More updates… Coming soon.

Whenever I have the best things to share I am at my busiest.. And I don’t post.. Life has been good and busy. Some very exciting things are happening like NSF giving us 9M for Sage. And a chance I can get into active storm tracking (it’s so cool when you hear folks are as excited about a subject as you..). More updates coming soon.. Open source, radar, science, cycling and.. A SKI TRIP TO WHISTLER! Bring it. IMG_4503