Sibley State Park camping

A couple of weekends ago the wife and I took the camper out for our first weekend of the summer. I had read a news article about how it was the 100th birthday of Sibley State Park, out near New London, MN, so we picked it as our destination. We decided a simple one night trip would be a fun way to kick off the year. Especially, since I had a very long run (20 miles) scheduled for Saturday morning, it was easier to plan to be at more familiar parks for that.

As with many of our trips, I try to find new and unique breweries along the way to sample. In this case, there were two before we hit the park. The first was in Willmar, MN called Foxhole brewing. This brewery is right in downtown, next to a theater, and had a typical taproom vibe to it. We found a table and I ordered up a flight. As I worked my way through the variety of beers I was struck with how none of them appeared to have any brewing flaws. Even the sour ale was spot on. When you’re dealing with small out-state breweries, the quality of the brewing process can sometimes leave something to be desired. However, in Foxhole’s case, they put out a solid line up of beers. Needless to say I was impressed.

After our visit to Foxhole we headed up the road to New London for a stop at Goat Ridge Brewing. Goat Ridge is built right on the banks of the Middle Fork Crow River, and their back patio sat right along the shore. I ordered up a flight and we picked a table outside, listening to the sounds of the river. The beer was adequate, and not quite as good as Foxhole, but it also didn’t exhibit any particular brewing flaws. I think that if I had done these breweries in the reverse order, I wouldn’t have dinged Goat Ridge at all. For a brewery in a town of 1200 people, it exceeded the expectations.

After Goat Ridge, we finally arrived at the park. Thanks to the late setting sun we were able to sit outside and enjoy a bit of the evening before turning in. Unfortunately, the camp site next to us was very close and the people decided to stay up until the wee hours of the morning talking. They weren’t being loud or obnoxious, but their campsite was so close to ours that it was impossible not to hear them. It meant that we got a more restless and disturbed night that we would normally want, but eventually I did manage to get some sleep.

Come morning it was time for an 8 mile run. It was drizzly and a bit chilly, but I knew once I got started that it would be just fine. My goal was to hit a loop called the Mt. Tom trail, and then partway through the loop, head over to the west side of the park and do some of the horse trails. Once I finished with the horse trails I would follow Mt. Tom back around to Lake Andrew and then back to the campground.

One of the first things that struck my about the Mt. Tom loop was how relentless the ups and downs were. The park’s website said that Mt. Tom was 220ft high, which isn’t that big outside of central Minnesota. However, the trail that goes around the mount was a constant journey up and down. There was almost no part of the trail that was flat. Thankfully, the trail was really nice, and it was easy to run on the runnable portions, but by the time I got to the horse trails I was ready for a change.

The horse trails were pretty standard, and they went around a few hills and prairies. I got to see a giant snapping turtle at one point which was fun. They were wetter than the Mt. Tom loop, but since I was already soaked from the drizzle, it didn’t matter that much. I got back to the main loop and continued on my way to the lake. I thought about cutting it short, but knew I’d probably regret that. I did take an alternate path back from the lake that was paved, but it was a nature interpretive trail with placards describing all the trees. It was a fun way to end the run.

As luck would have it my wife was finishing her run at the same time, and we met up a quarter mile from the campsite. She had a blast on the Mt. Tom trail as well, and commented on how unexpected it was to get so many little hills. We also both really enjoyed the Mt. Tom overlook, which is squat little tower on top of the hill. From the second story you can get a beautiful view of the entire area, and it’s actually quite breathtaking.

Once we finished our run it was time to start showering and packing up. Even though it was mid-morning, I still felt a tiny bit bad running my drill to crank up the camper jacks. The poor people in the site next to us probably were unceremoniously woken up earlier than they wanted.

Since it was only an hour and a half drive back we decided to hit a couple more breweries along the way. First we hit Nordic Brewing, a new one in Monticello, MN. We arrived just as they were opening, and got to park ourselves at a nice set of comfy chairs by the windows. Their beer was pretty solid, and I particularly enjoyed their imperial oatmeal stout.

Once we were done there we headed over to Big Lake and one final stop at Lupulin, which is an old favorite that I hadn’t been to in a while. I had a couple beers there and then we headed back to the car for the final part of the trip home. Overall, this was an incredibly fun weekend, and even though we were only gone a single night, it was really easy. Having the camper, and all of our stuff just set up in a box, makes setup phenomenally easy. Most of the time when we get to a campsite, we’re ready to start relaxing within 15 minutes. It sure beats fighting with an air mattress in a tent.

This is the first of a bunch of trips this summer, and I feel like we started off the season right. Sibley State Park was a lot of fun, and the Mt. Tom loop was a great route for a shorter distance run. It was well worth the drive from the cities.

Quick Review: Chums Surfshorts Wallet

For many years I’ve used a standard trifold wallet as my main way of carrying my “stuff”. It’s served me well over the years, but something that’s always been a problem is the overall thickness of a trifold. Even with minimal items in the wallet, the amount of material alone, creates a package that is quite “bulgy”.

Additionally, as someone who is more active, having all that extra weight on me when running or biking isn’t ideal. Many times I would find myself grabbing a sandwich baggie and just putting a couple cards in there to bring with me when I work out. Plus, I want to keep my stuff from getting too wet and sweaty when working out. A couple weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and get something totally different. 

The Chums Surfshorts wallet is a small pouch style wallet with two zippered areas. One of them has a see-through window for your ID, and the other side is completely closed. Although it does not claim to be waterproof, the closed compartments do keep my stuff dry when sweating or in my pocket when it’s raining. The nylon material is durable, but not abrasive, and feels like it will live up to a bit of abuse.

The biggest change for me though is in the size department. I’m able to put a fair amount of items into this wallet, and it does not feel bulgy or thick at all. I can stuff it into my bike shorts, or my running vest, and I don’t even notice it’s there. I still can’t fit every last thing that I used to carry in my trifold, but it’s made me stop and consider what I actually NEED to be carrying around with me all the time. Most loyalty cards can be loaded into an Apple Wallet, or allow you to use your phone number, and many other cards are used so infrequently that leaving them at home isn’t a big deal.

I’m very happy with the change, and I’m happy I made it. I feel like I have a better handle on what I use my wallet for, and I feel more comfortable keeping my valuables close to me when exercising.

Thinking about my tech ecosystem again

This past week was the WWDC conference, held every year by Apple to tout its newest features that will be making their way into their operating systems. This year, for the first time in a while, it felt like Apple had its ‘mojo’ back.

A couple of the announcements have me thinking about my ecosystem again. A few years ago I started moving all of my things into the Google ecosystem. Google Docs and Gmail were taking the world by storm and jumping on board seemed like the place to be. I was able to access my documents from any web browser, and I didn’t think twice about what it meant to participate in this new world that Google was creating.

I also jumped on board with a Chromebook, and for a reasonable price had a portable computing device that could easily access this new world. I eventually retired my Chromebook, due to age, and went back to a MacBook. Before I had gotten my Chomebook I had made my first attempt to make my iPad a fully fledged computing device. I tried to weave together a bunch of different apps to create a desktop-like experience, but it just wasn’t there yet.

Over time a lot of different apps have come to the iPad, including dedicated apps for Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and Apple’s iWork suite. These have helped to fill a huge gap in the productivity arena, and this past week Apple showed off their newest creation, a dedicated iPadOS. This operating system takes iOS and expands it to create a more robust, laptop like experience on the iPad. It was a bold move by Apple, if for no other reason than they had been resisting it in the past. This recent keynote showed that they’re finally acknowledging that people need a bit more power that allows them to go beyond the Apple paradigm of how to get work done.

With the inclusion of real file access, better text manipulation, and a much needed boost to Safari, I feel like I could actually use an iPad as my main mobile working device. Especially since there are now iPads in the $329 range that I could pop a ruggedized bluetooth keyboard and case on, and feel comfortable biking and camping with.

The next thing that’s got me thinking more and more about getting out of the Google ecosystem is the continued drumbeat of the past couple of years around the technology society that we’re living in. For so many products on the market, the actual “thing” for sale is not the device, but the user of that device. From Google’s “free” services, to Roku streaming services, everyone seems interested in knowing everything about me so that they can convince me to buy whatever they want. Apple drove this point home with its announcement of their new login service, “Sign in with Apple” that allows you to sign in to websites using your Apple ID instead of Google or Facebook. Apple has stepped up to promise that they won’t sell your data, and are even taking steps to help you obfuscate your email address from apps.

People sometimes complain that Apple devices are just too dang expensive, especially compared to other devices. There is certainly some truth to this, and they opt to go for the premium side of the market, but at the same time, Apple has chosen to make their business more about the hardware that you buy up front (along with the services direct cost), and less about selling the data around who is using the device. That means that they can’t subsidize their hardware through advertising revenue, and hopefully it stays that way. My wife and I had a conversation just the other day about this, and she commented that perhaps Apple should lean more into this in their messaging to consumers. It might draw in more people who are simply done with the way that companies have been using their users.

All of this is to say that I’m thinking of going back more deeply into the Apple ecosystem, and moving more away from Google. It might spur the purchase of a new device or two, and most certainly would influence the choices I make around the services that I use. I’m not decided on anything yet, but its quite a bit of food for thought.

Review: Good Omens (Amazon Mini-series)

This weekend the wife and I finished up watching the new Amazon Prime mini-series Good Omens. This is a series based on a book written by (the late) Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Due to Pratchett’s passing, Gaiman took the helm in writing this adaptation of the book. In doing so, he created a work that very closely aligns with the book, which is a rare thing in entertainment.

I’ll keep this review spoiler free, but the basic premise of the series is that armageddon is coming soon, and an angel and a demon, who have been stationed on Earth for 6000 years, decide they don’t like the idea of humanity getting wiped out. The pair end up in the middle of a cosmic fight that is bigger than the two of them, yet seems to completely center on their unlikely (and unsanctioned) friendship.

One of the absolute biggest strengths of the series is David Tennant and Michael Sheen who pay the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale respectively. Whenever these two are on screen the chemistry is magic, and the banter is as witty as it gets from authors like Pratchett and Gaiman. Between Tennant’s swagger, as he channel’s his inner Bill Nighy, and Sheen’s soft-spoken demeanor, we get an odd couple pairing for the ages. The series thankfully delves into the backstory of their relationship, and you get to see how they became truly great friends.

This strength is also the one weakness that I found with the series. Other reviews have noted that the supporting cast wasn’t as good as it could be, and I would tend to agree. In general, the secondary characters are just that… secondary. They are brought in to the story to fulfill a specific purpose, but we get very little beyond their caricature. This should be a familiar paradigm for fans of this genre of books. Characters are often introduced in the pages of these comedies, given an important role to play, and then disappear. Many of the supporting cast simply are there to do one or two things, and they’re not really meant to have depth. That’s not typical for most modern TV, and so it can throw people off who aren’t expecting it.

Beyond this little nitpick, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. It’s a wonderful story, and Tennant and Sheen tell is beautifully. The fact that it’s only 6 episodes long is great as well. It makes it easily digest-able for folks who have a lot of other TV vying for their eyes. It’s well work the investment in Good Omens.

Some bike musings

Back in 2011 I decided to invest in a decent bike, and got myself a Trek FX 7.2. This is a hybrid or fitness style bike that has flat handlebars, a 3x front chainring, and decent but basic components. In the past 8 years I’ve put almost 3,700 miles on that bike. I’ve been increasing the yearly total a lot over the past couple years, and it started to get me thinking about if it’s time to invest in something new.

IMG_0249.JPGI did purchase a used fat bike this winter, but that’s a very specific purpose, and I don’t use it as a daily rider most of the time. What I’m considering is if it’s time to move up to something more akin to a road or gravel bike. I know that a little bit of what holds back my power output is the general design of a hybrid bike. They’re meant to be all-purpose, which means that they don’t excel at any single use. For the most part that works when I’m doing general riding around to breweries, or running errands, but for any longer rides that get upwards of 30 miles, I feel like I could be doing better.

My friend Abe asked why I don’t just modify my hybrid into something else, but there are a few key things that I want to change that would just be too cost prohibitive on this bike. Also, at the end of the day, my Trek FX 7.2 is a $600 bicycle, and trying to ask it to be something more, just doesn’t seem fair given it’s price point. So what am I looking for? A few key things.

  1. I’d like to move over to a drop bar style bike, that puts my hands in a better position for longer rides. It’s more natural for your hands to sit in the relaxed position on a drop bar handle than typical flat bar style.
  2. Moving over to a 2x chainring and drive set seems like something that would fit my riding style better. I tend to hang out in one gear on the front all the time anyway. In fact, my fat bike has only 1 chainring, and I can still manage to climb most hills with it just fine. A 2x would give be some chainring sizes that might be better for power transfer, especially over longer distances.
  3. Curiosity about a different style of geometry, and it can affect my riding. I need to do more research into frame geometry, but I know that moving from a hybrid to a road or gravel is going to give me a different riding experience.
  4. A upgraded experience. Most gravel bikes start in the $1,200-1,500 price range, which is a big step up from where I’m at, and often includes nice disc brakes.

I did do some test riding a few weeks ago at one bike shop, and started getting a feel for what the different bikes ride like, but I wanted to put the question out to the internet at large.

What’s your go-to bike style? Why did you choose it? Did you move away from one style to another? What else should I be thinking about in all of this?