To ring in 2019, I’m changing this blog’s theme to Twenty Nineteen, the new default WordPress theme, designed and primarily created by my excellent colleague, Allan Cole (check out his music, published as The Stuyvesants, they’re groovy).
Apart from being pretty similar to, but a nice upgrade from the previous theme here, Twenty Nineteen also harnesses the full power of Gutenberg, the new WordPress Block Editor. I’m going to convert some posts to blocks so that I can use some of the better gallery options and whatnot, and will be using Gutenberg for everything going forward. It also reminds me a bit of the styling used throughout Instapaper, which I’ve spent a lot of time in lately 🙂
After our wedding, and cleaning everything up, we had just another day or two at home before heading off on our honeymoon. We decided to go to Japan, since neither of us had ever been there, and we both really wanted to go. It was a really amazing trip, even though it was brutally hot and humid at the time of year we went. We managed to do most of it on award points/miles as well, so that made it all even sweeter 🙂
Flew from Denver to Los Angeles, and then LA to Narita (Tokyo). When we landed, we caught a train to our hotel near Shinjuku, got settled, and then explored Tokyo for a few days. Highlights were ramen (duh), soba, hotel room views, Tsukiji fish market (and buying our own knives from there), catching up with Moser, and deliciously strange little mushroom chocolate snack things.
From Tokyo, we caught a train up to Matsumoto where we stayed for one night before heading to the Alpen Route. We had delicious soba noodles, visited the amazing Matsumoto Castle, dropped in to a local craft brewery, then got some sleep before a long day ahead of us.
The Alpen Route is an interesting series of “public transit” systems, connected to provide passage through the Japanese Alps. It includes electric buses, a couple of funiculars, some walking (across the top of a dam), and a gondola. It’s really beautiful up there, and it was a nice way to break up our city visits, see some of Japan’s amazing nature, and also get from one part of the island to another.
The end of the Alpen Route for us was Toyama. We stayed there a night and had probably the best sushi meal I’ve had in my life. It was amazing, and a very unique experience. No one spoke english, we just took what they ordered, and there were signs talking about purity and no smoking and no drinking. We also went to a strange rockabilly bar, drank beers outside a Seven Eleven, visited a trendy little coffee shop, had black ramen and strolled through another castle grounds.
From Toyama, we got a bullet train down to Kyoto where we stayed for a few days. Kyoto is the city of temples, but we only actually visited two of them. We also went to some cool tiny whiskey bars in alleys, went shopping, had more great coffee, more great food, watched a Maiko (Geisha apprentice) show, and visited another awesome market (Nishiki).
From Kyoto we were off into the mountains again, this time to Hakone for a relaxing retreat and special experience at a very fancy ryokan. It was more of a 5-star hotel than a traditional guesthouse, but it was a really unique experience. We had a private suite with our own hot-springs-fed bath tub on the deck with a view. It was amazing. We stayed 2 nights and were treated to absolutely mind-bending food in our own private dining room. During the day we visited the Hakone Open Air Museum which was also a highlight.
After all that relaxing, it was time for a couple more nights in Tokyo before heading home. We stayed in the Godzilla hotel in Shinjuku, and then a capsule hotel for the final night (super weird, but pretty cool!). We got a chance to catch up with my friend Adam, from high school (hadn’t seen him in about 18 years!). We went to “Golden Gai“, an area where there a tons of tiny bars all stacked in next to each other, and we also went to all you can eat + drink with Moser, which was amazing. On the last day I went to the Samurai museum, and then we were headed home on a direct flight from Narita to Denver. We managed to get first class thanks to all the points I’ve collected from work travel, so we flew in style 😎
Japan was really amazing, and I’d love to go back. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of anywhere we went, let alone all the rest of the country that we didn’t even touch on. It’s such a unique place in so many ways, and I really feel like I just got the tiniest taste, even though we managed to fit so much in. One day, I shall return!
Erika and I finally made it official and got married this year. We were legally married on July 5th (at the courthouse), and then we celebrated with friends and family properly on July 7th. Here are some pics from the week.
Thursday Courtroom Wedding + Photos
We invited people from out of town over to our house for a casual BBQ on Friday the 6th. Since a huge portion of the people attending the wedding were from out of town, it ended up being a pretty big affair, but it was fun. I was running around like a madman, so I mostly forgot to take photos. Here are a couple though.
Before our main reception, Erika and I spent some time with our photographer in our neighborhood to get some pictures. The neighborhood is Five Points, and this particular area is referred to as River North, or RiNo. There’s a bunch of really cool street art, and we wanted to feature that in our photos. I think they turned out pretty excellent.
Saturday Big Party/Reception
On Saturday we held “the main event”. We rented to rooftop of the coworking office where I work from sometimes, which has a great view over Denver and the Rockies. We had some drama between gale force winds, sudden and heavy rain, lightning, a 911 call when the band got stuck in the elevator, and having to rescue the photo booth tent out of a tree… but we stuck it out and once things calmed down it all turned out great. We had a great time, people ate, drank, danced and chatted, and generally it was a good night.
It was stressful, it was exhausting, and hey, it was pretty expensive, but it was worth it. We had a really good time, it was excellent to see everyone, and now we’re married. We’ve got some stories to tell.
As with previous years, this was a 3 day, 2 night backpacking trip in the Colorado backcountry, hosted by Fjällräven and their sister brands. This year felt like they are really hitting their groove with organization, distance, and difficulty, and I think it was overall the “best” one yet.
Erika came along this year as well, and we did a lot fewer training hikes because we knew the course was significantly shorter, had both been really active all year, and were generally just pretty confident. We were also busy getting organized to get married (which happened the week after the Classic!), and I was breaking in a new mountain bike, so we had some other things on our schedules 🙂 Nonetheless, we got in a few training hikes (or rides) at Table Mountain and Aldefer/Three Sisters.
This year’s course was significantly shorter than last year’s (thank god). I think the first day was probably too short to be honest, and it left a lot of time at the end of the day to just sit around and… drink too much. That’s partially because we had to start earlier than last year (apparently a requirement of the Forest Service), so the day was just over really early. Day 2 was pretty long, and pretty hard, but there was a lot of variability (compared to last year’s long, hot, exposed slog), so I quite enjoyed it by comparison. I was definitely tired by the end of it though. Day 3 was “all downhill” and quite easy, although it went on a lot longer than expected based on looking at the map quickly.
Here’s the entire course, again created on the wonderful Caltopo. Note that these paths are based on trail information stored in their database, so it’s not necessarily exactly where we hiked. One of my friends on the trail said Day 2 in particular was quite different, and actually came out at more like 14 miles. I’m looking forward to tracking this myself using my Garmin watch next year.
Day 1, June 27
We were heading up from Denver with my friend Michael, so we had to get a really early start. We arrived at Copper Mountain Resort by about 7am, so that we could get the last bus to the trailhead at 7:30. Once at Tennessee Pass, we got prepped, hit the trail, and made good time for the first day. From memory we got to Camp 1 by about 2pm. The last section (through Camp Hale) was pretty flat, dry, and exposed, plus we were just trudging along gravel roads, so not that great. The rest of the day was nice single-trail through forest though, which was beautiful. Camp was on the grounds of Nova Guides, a snowmobile/ATV rental company based out of Camp Hale. They had a nice (fishing) pond, green grass, and plenty of space for us to all set up camp (either together on the grass, or a bit more dispersed up the hillside, which is what we chose). Our friends Rene and Michelle even had an amazing surprise for us, having lugged in a small bottle of champagne to pre-celebrate our wedding!
9.4 mile hike (total of 15.66 miles for the day, per Fitbit)
+352′, -1,559′ elevation
Day 2, June 28
This was the long one, with all the elevation gain. Out of Camp Hale (early – we left at about 6:30am from memory), we wanted to try to clear the exposed valley floor before the sun got too high and hot. From there it was up, up, up, over Kokomo and Searle Passes, past Janet’s Cabin, and to Camp 2. We stopped for multiple lunches, had a photo shoot with one of the official photographers (it’s very awkward getting close-up video of each cheese and elk sausage), stopped to use the Grayl to get clean water, snapped a bunch of pictures from the amazing views, and trudged into Camp 2 pretty weary, but pretty happy.
12.8 mile hike (apparently more like 14.5 mile, total of 19.42 miles for the day)
+3,542′, -1,133′ elevation
Day 3, June 29
The last day was a bit of a sleep in, break camp, then head mostly-downhill to the Trekker’s Inn, finish line, and closing party. We managed to intercept an ATV taking some supplies up the trail and snag a beer on the way down, and there were even llamas at the closing party!
5.9 mile hike (total of 9.65 miles for the day)
+399′, -2,019′ elevation
We carried a small “passport” with us throughout the hike, which was used to keep track of us (stamped at each checkpoint/campsite), and also included a map. It had some details from Leave No Trace and info about sponsors as well.
As I mentioned earlier, I think this was the best organized/executed iteration of the USA Classic yet. Before going, I had sort of decided that it’d probably be my last for now, and that I’d go on my own backpacking adventures rather than do this again next year. After going again though, I’m reminded of the fun I have, the great people, and the sense of accomplishment that I think is different in a group setting than it would be on my own (or even with just a few close friends). If the timing works out again, I think you’ll probably see another of these posts from me again next year :).
3 days, 2 nights
28.1 mile hike (apparently probably closer to 30)
+4,275, -4,711 elevation
Note on numbers: distances and elevation are from Caltopo, so they’re based on the trail data they have available, for the specific trail that I’ve marked out (which is I think pretty accurate). Steps, calories, and “total distance” per day are from Fitbit, using a Fitbit Blaze throughout the hike.
Back in Australia, back in the day, I had a Specialized P3 which I used for some downhill riding. I sold that eventually in San Francisco, after years of not really using it (it’s not a practical city-bike, and I didn’t have easy access to get out and mountain bike with it). When I moved to New York I bought a Cannondale Bad Boy 9, which was a much better choice for in the city. Fast forward a few years, and living in Denver means I’m close to mountains and a bunch of world-class downhill riding. In 2016 I picked up a Motobecane Boris X9 fatbike, which was fun, but pretty impractical.
Ever since getting the Boris, I’ve been itching to get a “real” bike and get back out there. With a fat tax return coming my way, I was feeling cashed up and spendy, so last weekend I jumped on Craigslist (again), and found myself a sweet bike. I managed to get around and see it the next day, and bought it on the spot.
The bike is a Specialized Enduro Comp29/6 Fattie, with a bunch of modifications. I bought it from a guy who works in a bike shop, so he’d built it up, but never actually ridden it on a trail, so it’s brand new. Here’s an attempt at a breakdown of the modifications.
I’ve already had it out for a couple of rides, and am getting used to bigger wheels, lots of suspension, a dropper post (love it!), and a long wheelbase (awesome for bridging gaps, less awesome for tight turns). Overall I’m stoked to be able to get out there and ride the beautiful Colorado countryside.
Looking for a simple daypack for quick adventures? Me too. I’ve been using a Geigerrig Rig 1210 (looks something like this one) for a while, but found it to be a little too small, awkwardly configured, and generally just not really what I wanted. After weighing some options, I ended up with a decision between 2 packs: the Arc’teryx Brize 25, and the Patagonia Nine Trails 28L.
In getting there, I worked out a rough list of things I cared about:
Approximately 25 liters. Based on my current bag, and looking at some options, somewhere around this amount felt right. I specifically didn’t want something too big, because it’d just encourage me to carry more stuff in there.
External pockets. I wanted a few spots accessible without having to dig into the main compartment. That being said, I don’t want the whole bag divided up into a million small pockets (as the Geigerrig is), because that never ends up being useful for me.
Hydration compatible. I mostly want something for day hiking, snowshoeing, and mountain biking, so something with hydration space is important.
Sleek/minimal. I don’t want this bag to be overbuilt, heavy, or trying to be a full-on hiking pack. It’s not going to carry that much weight, but it does need to be reasonably sturdy in its own right.
Decent structure. I didn’t want one of those fold-into-its-own-pocket type bags that’s just a loose sack of material.
So I narrowed things down to the Brize and Nine Trails. Both were the same price (at least when I was looking at them — $160), roughly the same weight, and seemed to meet most of the above requirements.
Patagonia Nine Trails 28L
I liked that this came in a “L/XL” sizing, which was quite a bit taller/longer, and fit my body well. The main reason that was relevant though, was because it was trying to be more of a hiking pack than I was really looking for. It has a much more substantial hip-belt than the Brize, including some small hip-belt pockets. I found those pockets hard to access while wearing the pack though, and they were really small, making them feel a bit useless. There was also a defect in the manufacturing in one of them where the padding was stitched in folded over. The pack had load-lifters on the shoulder-straps, which felt like overkill. The fabric on the should-straps was also strangely loose and bunched up in places, which made things feel poorly constructed.
There’s a large external stuff-pocket which is nice conceptually, but I don’t like that type of fabric much as I’ve had it tear and stretch on other packs previous. There’s also a long, asymmetrical zipper to get access to the main part of the pack, although it’s constrained somewhat by the compression strap on one side. I was not really a fan of the long zipper combined with the “light” fabric used on the pack, which meant the zippers didn’t really run freely.
Up top you have a top pocket which faces away from your back when wearing the pack (good for other people to get things out for you, probably not great if you’re wearing it the city or somewhere else that crime is a concern). Down the bottom is a semi-hard bottom, with corner lashing points for attaching a sleeping roll/tent externally. They’re pretty minimal, but an interesting touch.
Arc’teryx Brize 25
Overall, the Brize just felt much better constructed. The main fabric is a heavier/denser weave, everything seemed to be stitched more accurately, zippers felt more solid etc. There are daisy-chains down both sides of the front, although they’re really unobtrusive, which I liked. The main opening, and the top pocket, both face in towards your back when you’re wearing it. This is an interesting departure compared to most packs, but provides a little more security if wearing the bag in the city, since it’s hard to get into them.
The shoulder pads are really comfortable and well-padded. The waist-belt is minimal (just webbing, no padding), and really just provides some stability. You definitely wouldn’t want to try taking any weight on it. There’s an ice-pick/hardware loop at the bottom, as well as what I assume is intended to be a loop of attaching a bike light or similar.
My biggest complaint with the Brize is how the hydration routing works. It makes no sense. You put a bladder in the internal pocket, then you have to route the hose over the internal pocket to get to the exit port. From there, it comes out right in the middle of the top handle. It’s really awkward, and not only makes it difficult to get to the internal pocket, but means the hose gets in the way when you use the top handle as well. I think they should have just put an exit port on each top corner and been done with it.
There were a couple of things that I thought were interestingly similar between the 2 packs. In both cases, the back was made of a thermoformed mesh style material which provides structure and airflow against your back, but is super light:
Both packs also had incredibly similar buckles on the sternum straps (which I noticed because it was a “new” design that I haven’t seen before):
Both packs also had decent side pockets on each side, which can fit a 1L Nalgene bottom. The Nine Trails uses the same super stretchy fabric as the front stuck-pocket, while the Brize uses a combination of the same heavy fabric used elsewhere, with a portion of heavy stretch fabric that feels more substantial than the Nine Trails.
I ended up going with the Brize. It felt like a better fit for my needs, and felt more versatile especially for using while riding (whereas the Nine Trails felt like overkill for that in particular). I really like the build quality, the sleekness of the pack, and I’m honestly just a bit of a sucker for Arc’teryx’s gear in general. I can live with the weird hydration routing issue highlighted above. So far I’ve taken it on a bike ride (loaded up with hydration, pump, layers, and the Nine Trails itself, since I was returning it), and on a snowshoeing/snow-hiking trip and it worked nicely. Plenty of room to drop my Jetboil in there, along with gloves/hat/sweater at different times. I also have a small kit of emergency items (med kit, small knife, lighter, etc) that now lives at the bottom of the pack, just in case.
In 7072886 I added a first swing at a YouTube Service definition to Keyring. It’s based heavily on the Google Analytics one that was recently submitted via PR. It’s not part of an official release yet. I’m curious about enabling people to import the videos they publish on YouTube into a WordPress install though, as that feels like something that folks who use it heavily would want as part of their web presence.
Next step will be adding an importer for YouTube, which I'll probably aim to do over the coming weeks.
This version includes a few pretty cool updates and additions, as described in the changelog:
Added a Google Analytics Service definition.
Added a Strava Service definition.
Added a “Settings” link to the plugin listing if you’re using the bundled Admin UI.
Fitbit tokens now refresh properly.
Tumblr now requires HTTPS, so updated all request URLs to use HTTPS.
My favorite part of this release is that I didn’t personally do most of the things in there. Two of my colleagues did some of it (Strava service and Tumblr fixes), while a generous and otherwise unknown contributor on Github added the Google Analytics service.