Why I’m sticking with Garmin

This past week was not a good one for Garmin. Their ransomware attack was one of the worst that I’ve ever seen. I’ve spent over 20 years in IT and I’ve never seen a company become so paralyzed for so long. Everything seems to be back up and running now, but a lot of people in the fitness communities are asking if it’s time to move away from Garmin. I considered it briefly, but I have one very strong reason for sticking with them, and it’s actually what saved their bacon in this outage.

Direct file access.

Unlike most fitness watches on the market place, you can still plug your Garmin in to your computer and grab your .fit activity files, and do whatever you want with them. It’s why most people were able to continue to upload to sites like Strava just fine during the outage. You can still use the watch, and access your data, without the intervention of an online site. Granted, it’s not as slick and cool as the full interface, but it works, and I know my data is safe. That’s the key.

My wife used to own a Suunto, and their MovesCount platform seemed to have issues periodically. When that happened, she was S.O.L. The Suunto watches don’t have any way for you to get into their file system, leaving your only gateway, the app and online service. Coros appears to be the same as well.

So despite having one of the worst cybersecurity breaches in history, I’m going to stick with the tried and true, that gives me the most flexibility at getting access to my data. Thanks Garmin for that, even if you need to work on your cybersecurity infrastructure.

BikeWing trailer hitch bike rack

For a while now, I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to transport two bikes in addition to my camper. One of the first things I tried was a hitch attached bike rack from Curt that used a spring loaded mechanism to hold it to the hitch post. As I stated in my review, it was somewhat lacking, and I haven’t really used it much since my initial outings.

We’ve also tried just putting the bikes inside the trailer, but that involves laying the bikes on top of each other, and if we wanted to access the bikes on a long trip, it would mean having to jack up the trailer and open it back up again. Also, laying the bikes on top of each other isn’t really something I like doing often. So it was back to the drawing board.

Then I came across the BikeWing bike rack which looks like it solved all of my problems. It’s a large v-shaped piece of metal that attaches to the hitch post, and you attach the bikes to the hooks on the V. I decided to order one up and check it out. I arrived I got it all set up.

First off, installation was dirt simple. Just some simple tools (that you probably own if you own a trailer) so secure the mounting post to the hitch. The four bolts that hold it down are very secure, and it feels incredibly solid. It was then time to assemble the V portion of the rack. This took a bit more fiddling, but once you understood what each part does, it wasn’t difficult at all. The nice thing is that many of the components just use lock pins, meaning that you can take the entire thing apart really easily for storage.

Once I had it assembled I grabbed my bikes, and came across my first problem. I had mounted the rack towards the back of the hitch, and it meant that the bikes bumped into the battery that is stored there. Thankfully, the product comes with an extender that lifts the rack higher, and angles it in one direction or another. However, it still wasn’t tall enough to get over the battery, so I reversed it and directed the rack the other way, moving it closer to the end of the hitch where it attaches to the car.

The next issue is that it’s apparent that this rack was designed for bikes that have a flat-bar design. Trying to get the drop bar handlebars on our two gravel bikes to line up appropriately was an exercise in frustration. I managed to get them on, but it wasn’t pretty or easy. Feeling frustrated I put the whole thing away for a while and decided to come back at it the next day.

In thinking about the problem overnight I decided to try something different. First, I moved the mount point from the back of the hitch to closer up front. That meant I could use the extender to push the rack closer to the trailer, but not so close that it interfered with the battery.

Second, I loosened the handlebar bolts and rotated the handlebars to the side. This got them out of the way of interfering with each other, and it’s a simple process to lock them down again when you take the bikes off. It’s an additional step I was hoping not to have to take, but the solution is simple enough.

Once I had done this I got both bikes mounted with minimal difficulty and the rack appeared to be far enough away from the car to not interfere with cornering. The real test will be an actual trip.

This past weekend we headed to Kilen Woods State Park, and even though we were only planning a short trip, we brought the bikes along anyway. I loosened the handlebars and rotated them to the side, and mounted each bike on the frame. It took a bit of fiddling to get all of the attachment points in just the right spot, but once I did, everything locked down secure. The only issue I ran in to was that things were a bit tight with the racks on our bikes. It still all fit, but it was snug.

Once loaded we headed out for a 3 hour trip. Although there appeared to be a fair amount of sway in the arms of the “V”, the actual rack components stayed put, and were solid the entire time. The bars that the bikes are attached to comes with padding that helps ensure your bike don’t bang around too much. When we arrived to our destination, it appeared that everything worked as advertised.

On Saturday I pulled the bikes off the rack and we did a short ride. It didn’t take very long at all to get them set back up, just tightening a couple of bolts. Putting them back on the race was also pretty simple. The entire process only took 5-10 minutes total.

Even though it’s only been one trip, I’m feeling pretty good about the Bikewing. It does what it’s advertised to do, and aside from dealing with the drop bars, it was simple and easy to work with. We got our bikes to and from our campsite with no issues, however, I do think a future purchase will be a cover for each bike for during travel. A lot of dirt and grit gets kicked up from behind the car, and some protection would be good.

It’s taken quite a while, but I think I’ve finally found something that will work well for our needs. Additionally, if we every upgrade our trailer, there’s a different mounting system that works with A-frame style hitches, so I’d just need to swap out that one part, and could continue to use the wing. If you’ve got a trailer and are struggling with how to transport your bikes, this is certainly something to check out.

Camping in the rain

This weekend we hit Kilen Woods State Park. It’s a small little park south of Windom that was recommended to us by a friend. It’s surrounded by farm fields and the Des Moines river, existing in a strange place that is neither deep woods, nor open prairie.

On Saturday morning I work up and checked the weather to discover that the storm predicted for later in the day was going to be arriving early. In fact I only had a half an hour or so to move about before it was time to dodge raindrops. Thankfully, we come prepared with a canopy that we set up as soon as we make camp. I was able to grab the cooking gear and make my oatmeal without more than a couple drips of rain on me.

Our camper keeps us dry for sleeping and one of the most relaxing things is lying in the bed listening to the sound of raindrops hitting the roof. Being made of fiberglass and plywood, the sound is unique. It’s not the dull thud of a typical roof, or the ‘pwang’ of a metal overhang. It’s sharp and quick, as if the rain has somewhere else to be and only has time for a brief “Hello.”

Having the morning rained out isn’t a disappointment. It forces us to simply ‘be’ and decompress. We’re pushed into a moment of pause and reflection. The sharp pebble-y sound on the roof, the cool breeze pouring through the small openings in the windows. It’s peace. It’s the point of being here. It’s why we do this.

Garmin woes

So for folks wondering about the Garmin outage, here’s my two decades of Enterprise IT experience “guess” at what’s going on. Just my speculation, but I’d put money on some of my predictions being right.

The report is that they got hit with ransomware. That most likely means that someone got socially engineered and downloaded something to their computer that they shouldn’t have. If much of Garmin’s staff is working remote this could have been someone using a personal computer to do work, when they should have been given a dedicated, and hardened corporate device. Many organizations were NOT ready for a massive shift to remote working and got caught with their pants down, and Garmin may have been lax with security in the interest of getting work done.

Lesson #1: Disaster recovery is not just a side hustle for your infrastructure manager. You need a top to bottom plan on how you’ll run your business when people can’t be in the building.

The latest scuttlebutt is that it also took down their phone system and email. If they’re running an internal email system that means that this thing was probably running rampant for far longer than it should have. It means it got into nooks and crannies of their storage systems that it never should have. The fact that it took down their phones means it probably got into some incredibly critical network systems as well. This is a huge breach of security, and means that the initial infection may have been someone with really high level access to systems.

Lesson #2: Don’t let people log in to secure systems with day-to-day user accounts. Force people to use specialized, highly secured, network accounts to get access to sensitive systems. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to deal with multiple layers of access, but it can prevent things like ransomware from spreading.

Finally, the news is saying that they may be down until the 25th. That’s two days from now. If that’s the case, then they’re probably looking at doing some form of mass data restoration from archive backup. Dear god I hope they’re still not depending on tape. If it takes 36 hours (which is where we’ll be by then) to restore your critical systems, your backup strategy has some serious flaws. In my organization we dealt with this type of thing often, and we would use vendor specific snapshots to allow for rapid recovery.

Lesson #3: Your backup system needs to be able to deal with rapid recovery of massive systems. You can’t just archive stuff through Commvault and expect speedy recovery times.

So that’s my quick and dirty assessment. This is ugly, and there’s probably a lot more to the story that will come out in the next few days. There’s a lot more lessons here than the three I mentioned, and I’m sure that Garmin will be spending a lot of time improving themselves after this event.

Unless this was some kind of state-sponsored, targeted, attack, there’s a lot that Garmin could have done to prevent this. Let this be a lesson for other companies. Think ahead and don’t brush off the recommendations of your cybersecurity and infrastructure people. We know what we’re talking about.

Back to running

It’s been a couple months since I was able to really run, thanks to a broken toe. I finally passed the 6 week point and decided it was time to get back at it. I had tried to do some hiking at Afton a couple weeks ago, but the rough terrain was just too much on the toe, and I had to bail out of the traditional loop and find flatter, more stable terrain.

This past Saturday though was my chance at redemption. My friend Mike B. and I met up at 6:30 in the Afton parking lot, and we headed out on my first real trail run in months. I told Mike right up front that it’s been so long that this might be a pretty slow loop. Last year I had worked myself up to a 3 hour 15 minute PR pace around the 25K loop, and could pretty easily bang out a 3:20. I knew that today 3:30-3:45 was closer to reality.

As we headed out, we had something else to deal with beyond my injury recovery and de-conditioning… the humidity. Our first descent into the valley was met with fog and mist. It was at that point we knew that this was going to be a pretty oppressive run. Our one saving grace was that there was still a thick cloud cover from the overnight storms. It kept the sun at bay for quite a while, saving us from a lot more misery.

The overnight storms also resulted in some glorious mud puddles. A couple of the ones on the backside of the Trout Brook loop were way deeper than we expected, and the next thing we knew we were looking for a spot to step into the creek to get some of the mud off of our shoes. With our feet nice and wet we proceeded on the rest of the loop, and for the most part things were feeling great. I could tell I was de-conditioned, as keeping up with Mike was at times a challenge. He’s had a great summer so far, and I’ve been stuck with walking. I felt like I could go all day, but my speed was long gone.

Most of the run was uneventful. We ran into a few friends here and there, but overall it was a quiet morning in the park. I still managed to run the length of the river trail from the aid station location to the base of Meatgrinder, which is always a personal goal of mine. Once we got to Meatgrinder though my legs were really starting to feel it. We got to the top and I also started to feel my toe throb every so slightly.

As we came to Snowshoe loop, I knew this was going to be a slow slog for the final 3 miles. About a half mile in to Snowshoe the bonk hit hard and the legs started protesting dramatically. Mike was being very kind and sticking with me, but my performance was getting ugly. I had been managing somewhere in the range of 12-15 minute miles for the previous 13 miles. The final two were barely 18 minute miles. When we got to the final hill I told Mike to go on ahead and finish strong and I’d meet him in the parking lot.

I did manage a few short jogs on the final stretch, but between the legs, the toe, and the oppressive heat of the sun (now completely uncovered), it was a pretty sad sight to watch. I crossed the line at 3:41, still within the window of time I had predicted, but I was pretty spent.

I hobbled back over to the car and began the process of cleaning up and getting re-hydrated/fueled. Despite the bonk, I’m really happy with how the run went. It showed me that despite all the de-conditioning, I’m still capable of getting a rough 25K done if I need to. It feels really good to know that your fitness level isn’t gone in a moments notice, when you’ve spent over a decade getting it ramp’d up. I’m sure I’ll be back to my 3:20 loops soon enough. For now, I’m considering this a solid victory lap.