Life En Route

Getting ready for the season

With spring/summer coming quickly, I’ve been working to get the truck, RV and boat ready to go. The RV has leaking hydraulics that are probably covered under warranty, so I’m opting to have them take care of it. Someone is supposed to take a look at it on Thursday.

The RV itself has sat pretty nose-high since we added the sidewinder pinbox and 35″ tires to the truck, so I picked up a new hitch. The old was a B&W Patriot 16K:

I bought the BW Patriot due to its reputation and compatibility with the Sidewinder. In most ways, it has not lived up to the hype. Minimal vertical adjustment, the ride isn’t anything to write home about, the jaws and head don’t come anywhere near the quality of the BD3 it replaced, an incredibly wide swing for the handle that happens to interfere with my toolbox and keep me from getting the jaws completely open half the time, and the fact that it likes to stick if you don’t have the trailer perfect for unhitching, leaves me unimpressed.

When looking for a replacement, I wanted to return to a Binkley style hitch head with automatic latching, a short throw handle, and a much lower minimum height. The Curt A16 hitch meets all the requirements, and is notably less expensive than the Patriot when purchased through Amazon. I ordered it and had it to my door in two days, and listed the Patriot on Craigslist for more than I paid for the Curt (OBO, so hoping to break even).

All the fluid changes are due on the truck – so this weekend I might go invest a couple hundred bucks in fluids and swap them out. I already purchased all of the applicable filters. And my cracked windshield is supposed to be replaced today or tomorrow by a local glass company that is going to come out – for only $279+tax.

We listed the boat for sell on Craigslist, just as a feeler, and will play that by ear. In the mean time we’re going to take it out and enjoy it a few times. Maybe we’ll keep it, maybe we won’t.

Progress Reports

Projects

We don’t have much going on right now – we ordered a bunch of seeds for the garden and greenhouse and are working to get everything planted in the next week or two. We’re a bit behind schedule, but there is plenty of growing season left in zone 8. The greenhouse was completely infested with ants, and I’m struggling to get them out of there without killing any of the plants.

We’re still trying to make a decision on whether to keep or sell the boat. I fixed the trailer, got it inspected, and renewed the registration on it. We’ll launch it a few times and see how we feel about it – but it runs a few thousand dollars a year to store and maintain, and is worth a lot — so I figure if we’re not taking it out 30 days a year, then it isn’t worth keeping.

The RV has a leaking hydraulic ram, so I’m a little hesitant to take out on vacation. It is covered under warranty so I’ve been trying to get someone out to take a look at it, but all the RV shops are backed up for spring. If I can’t get someone out in the next week or so, I’m going to pull the ram myself and take it to a hydraulic shop so that hopefully someone can match up the proper seals. Lippert doesn’t sell reseal kits, and replacing the whole ram is both unnecessary and expensive.

Speaking of, a lot of maintenance on my truck is coming due. I don’t put enough miles on my truck to hit the scheduled intervals before a year runs out, but change most filters and fluids annually in April. It’s relatively expensive to do that on a modern diesel, especially if you buy quality components and synthetic fluids. It’ll run $200+ to do this.

We just replaced all the rotted soffits around the house and hired painters to cover the whole exterior with fresh paint. We chose a nice green-grey for the main body and a dark green for the trim, which contrasts nicely with the red-orange brick. We’re happy with the results. Whether we put this house on the market, or stay in it for another five years, it adds value either way.

Regarding other projects, it’s strange to have moved on to where I’m not looking for things to do. Running takes up a lot of my time and has changed my priorities – I’m not constantly wanting to tinker with new things, build project cars, boats, and various contraptions anymore. If anything, I’m looking to get rid of a lot of those things so I can travel and run new places, with less responsibility.

Hosting/ Consulting

We’ve been working on rebuilding all the colocation and getting contractors up to speed. Everything is up and online in the new facility, and we’re paying two facility bills for the time being – ouch. In the next few months we’re going to phase out the old one, and in the end, we’ll save quite a bit of money in our monthly expenditures for the business. At the same time, we’ll have gained a lot of fault tolerance – which is what we were wanting to accomplish with this move. Having a capable contractor, and actual documentation to give them, is working out great and has made this a lot easier.

Fitness/ Food

I’m averaging around 36 miles per week now, with a long run on Saturday that accounts for nearly half of the total volume. A typical week might be six miles on Sunday, rest on Monday, four miles on Tuesday, seven higher intensity miles on Wednesday, walk or cycle on Thursday, four miles on Friday, and 15 miles on Saturday. That means I’m burning over four thousand calories a week in addition my BMR and daily activity. I picked up a new pair of running shoes a few weeks ago, Altra Escalante 1.5s, and just passed 110 miles on them. Shoes are good for 300-500 miles, so I’m currently looking at a couple months per pair if they begin to show much wear on the low side of that. At my goal mileage, I’ll go through a pair almost every month on the same metric – but it will take a while longer to get there. A local guy on Strava consistently covers a hundred miles a week, but I’m realistically only reaching for 60.

We discovered an electrolyte supplement you add to water called Nuun while at the running store (I actually bought the shoes in person). I planned to use it when on my long runs, but found that it’s effervescent and flavorful, and as such it’s become a staple in our daily diet – replacing soda. That is not what it is marketed for, but if you ever see it in stores, you should try it. My favorite flavor is the tropical. We buy it in bulk on Amazon – it’s a bit cheaper than on Nuun’s website.

Kelly has been doing structured training on Zwift, following their 13-week Build Me Up program. She also manages to work in runs with me on Tuesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday if she can without overextending herself. She ran her first 10K recently, and is going to begin working on distance with me. A little while back, we upgraded her trainer to a Tacx Neo, which was quite an expense but seemingly worth it since she spends several hours a week on it. She says it is a humongous improvement over her CycleOps Magnus M2.

With all the extra calories burned, we continue to track our calories in Cronometer to make sure we’re getting the right amount of calories and the appropriate vitamins, minerals, and macro/micronutrients. Most of our staple meals come from NoMeatAthlete – though we have a lot of our own recipes, some from other websites and cookbooks mixed in, and we occasionally eat customized Taco Bell menu items and takeout Chinese food (sesame tofu is amazing – think Sesame chicken, but without the gristle and questionable sourcing).

Most of our food is made from fresh fruits and vegetables, various breads, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and even algaes. It’s amazing how much variety you have when you stop looking at the same three main ingredients for your meals, and draw culinary inspiration from other cultures. Our grocery budget for two adults in Austin runs around $75/week, not including a dinner or two that might be takeout. To save time, we use HEB’s shopping service (a $5 fee) and pick up at the store – they bring the items out to your car. They used to call or text to confirm that we really want six or seven bunches of bananas, and not just a bunch of six or seven, but I guess finally made a note for us.

One of my friends ordered a cheeseless pizza today from Dominos, according to my recommendation. We have started making pizza at home when we want it, but for a while were ordering modified Pacific Veggie pizzas without cheese and extra vegetables. He sent me this photo with the caption, “this is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had and SO many veggies”. Try it some time – Pacific Veggie, remove all the cheese, add all or most of the veggies. I might have to order one or two this weekend. I’ve had a bad experience with their spinach, so usually leave that off.

As a bonus, if you’re looking for a lower calorie pizza, removing the cheese removes a lot of the calories and if you’re looking for a healthier option, a lot of the health concerns. The downside is if I order them on a Saturday, I need two medium thin crusts just to cover the calories I burn on my long runs.

While we spend a lot of time running and cycling, neither of us have been that great about recovery. Especially with running, my muscles and joints tend to take a beating and are still adapting. Foam rolling is the recommended solution – but it’s almost a workout in itself. I’m lazy when it comes to recovery. To address this, we purchased a Roll Recovery R8 which has been wonderful, but when I found my HSA (which is corporate funded annually to offset my insurance deductibles), covers devices like the Air Relax Recovery System, I decided to order a set of those as well. The downside to using the HSA is if we do incur deductibles later in the year, we’ll actually have to pay them out of pocket.

The Air Relax system is basically an inflatable pair of pants, and an inflatable pair of shorts (optional, but we ordered both – the shorts cover your hips and lower back) that selectively pressurize and release compartments as you wear them. The air pressure essentially acts as a sports massage, and can help work the lactic acid out of your muscles and increase bloodflow. I’ve noticed a fairly big difference using them, and am making a habit of it. There are a few different modes and intensities to choose from, and I vary through them quite a bit but tend to use mode C, which is constant compression of all chambers, at the third intensity level, the most. From what I’ve read, a lot of local running stores carry and allow you to demo them, so if you think you could use such a thing, you should stop by one and see if you can try them out.

Entertainment

We recently started rewatching HBO’s The Wire. We very rarely rewatch anything, but there are three series – coincidentally all starting with TheThe Wire, The Killing (American version), and The Bridge (Swedish/Danish version) — that we consider worth (several) rewatches. I highly suggest seeking these out if you haven’t seen them.

Running: things I actually use

When I started getting into running, I went through all sorts of gear. Shoes are the big things you think about – and I went though several pairs to find the right fit. Then you have clothing – it should keep you cool, keep you warm, and keep you dry – while you are generating a ton of heat and sweat, running through highly variable conditions. Sure, you can wear a cotton shirt and shorts, and will make it some distance, but it’ll result in discomfort. I’ll occasionally throw on an old shirt and hit the pavement barefoot for a few miles, but that’s about as far as I want to go that way. Beyond that, the difference of modern textiles really starts to become apparent.

Aside from clothing, you have gear. For longer runs, you need to carry water and food. Sometimes, you’ll need to carry additional layers or places to stuff layers you remove. Whatever you use for storage, it shouldn’t encumber your movement in any way or add a significant amount of weight. Runners tend to measure things in grams, and the lighter the better. I’m not that peculiar about my gear, but still don’t want to run with my GR1 backpack that weighs nearly 4lbs when completely empty unless I’m doing so for a specific strength workout (the GR1, for example, has a compartment for weighted plates during Goruck sponsored races).

After running for several months, I’ve found a rotation of gear that I actually use and a pile of gear that I rarely take with me. First, shoes.

Shoes are probably, by far, the most personal choice of all running gear. What works for me may not work for you – feet are highly variable. That being said, I love my Salomon Ultra Pros and have 276 miles on them at the time of this writing. Somehow, if I clean the mud off of them, they look almost like new despite being beat, dragged, and scraped through all sorts of terrain and a couple hundred miles of asphalt/ concrete. I first bought Salomon shoes because they’re a big name in trail running, but it took a few different pairs for me to find the right fit. My Sense rides are nice but a little tight in the toe box, my Ride GTX shoes have a different midsole that gives me hotspots, and they don’t breathe as well. Neither seem to be wearing as well as these do.

Socks are interesting one. I was skeptical about buying $15/pair running socks, and instead bought Saucony running socks that were a six pack for that price. At some point I started having issues with blisters on longer runs and bought a couple pairs of Darn Tough Vertex socks to try out. I now have six pairs of those and a pair of Injinji toe socks in my rotation – the difference is apparent once you start pushing past five or six miles at a time. I haven’t had blisters since the change, except for the occasions where I’ve grabbed the cheap Sauconys or other old socks from my drawer on laundry day.

I have quite a few fancy water bottles and a very fancy hydration pack that includes a hydration bladder, but don’t really use them. If I’m running for less than 10 miles, I’ll use a Flip Belt (zipper model) instead. If running under 7 or 8 miles, I often won’t even take water. The Flip Belt is an elastic, tight fitting belt that has “pockets” you can stuff things into. I’ll use it to carry my phone, a couple gels, a Larabar, and sometimes the 10oz water bottle the company makes. On runs longer than ten miles, I’ll grab my hydration pack but pull the bladder out of it. I’ve found that the 10oz FlipBelt water bottle fits perfectly in the strap pocket, stays out of the way, is big enough for unsupported half marathons, and is more convenient than having to deal with the bladder. I’ll probably use the bladder on longer trail runs, though.

For clothing, I rotate out three pairs of Nike HyperCool and three pairs of Nike HyperWarm (depending on the weather) running tights, under Nike Breathe 2.0 running shorts. Similarly, I rotate four Nike DryFit short-sleeve tops and three long-sleeve that I choose based on the weather. I layer on a Arc’teryx Incendo shell on damp runs in the 40s to mid 60s, a Nike hoodie on dry runs in the high 30s to low 50s, and a Arc’teryx Argus for damp runs in the 30s to 40s, and definitely anything below 30. I either choose Buffs (I have real ones, but also a ton of knockoffs from Amazon that are 90% as good for 10% of the price) or a Salomon running hat – and I do find value in that hat over others, even my Nike one. It’s vented just right and the material is really nice. On cold runs I’ll stock up on Buffs – I might wear one around each wrist, one on my neck, and a couple on top of my head. They’re incredibly versatile. On those colder runs, I’ll often throw in a pair of thin gloves to keep my fingers warm. Actually – I’ll do that in the mid 40s and below.

At some point I switched back from wireless to wired headphones. They are cheap, far smaller and lighter, and don’t hurt my ears as much when bouncing around for a few hours at a time. My ears were getting sore with my beloved Sony WS625s, but I’ll still use them on runs 10K or less. I have a few headlamps, and I choose the lighter/simpler ones for shorter runs and my Nao+ for longer ones. But really, if I can run by moonlight alone, I usually will just do that. Running at night with the trails all to myself is beautiful.

I use my Roll R3 and Roll R8 far more than any foam rollers and fancy massagers, though not nearly enough. That being said, I wouldn’t want to be without them. The R3 is amazingly able to eliminate PF symptoms overnight, and the R8 is far more convenient than a foam roller.

That’s really about it – all I use (aside from my Garmin HRM-Tri and Fenix 5X+) on a regular basis. YMMV, but that should be all you really need.

Edit on Feb 22, 2019: after a few days, I realized that I should have covered a couple more things. Summer is coming quickly here in Austin, and I don’t want to contend with sunburn or heat while running. I usually wear Nike HyperCool compression tights under my shorts, and will continue to do so through the summer – but the ones I own are all 3/4 length, leaving my calves and ankles exposed. In the future I will buy full length, so I don’t have to deal with applying sunscreen to my lower legs. On a similar note, I want to find a nice, thin, cool, moisture wicking and sun protecting long-sleeve shirt to buy several of for summer. I’m not a fan of sunscreen and want to minimize use. I’ve tried a ton of different sunscreens, and the one I like the best is called Thinksport SPF50 Plus – but it’s expensive, and takes time to apply, so I’d rather just save it for my face and hands.

Lots of work, and fitness

Since my last post that covered a little about how I have a lot of work obligations, those obligations (and projects) blew up and I’ve been working what seems around the clock. Fortunately there is a significant reduction in sight.

Because of the workload, my schedule for running became a lot tighter. I’m managing to knock out a little over 30 miles a week (31.5 miles for Jan 28-Feb 3) and increasing that distance a little each one. I ran a couple of those sessions at night – my favorite time to run – on the empty, moonlit trail system that runs behind our house. I should do that more often, but usually try to get my runs in over lunch or earlier in the day so that I can have lazier evenings.

A couple weeks ago I did a treadmill HR test, and now my coach has me running based on HR. That means slowing down – a lot – but the trade off is running further. This article explains a little of the method behind the madness. It is madness, because for me, the Z1 and Z2 are excruciatingly slow and I’m going to need to see massive improvements soon to keep tolerating it (and he says to expect them, so here is to hoping 🍻).

Kelly, on the other hand, has really been struggling with her bike trainer lately. It’s a tire-on model, which is designed for ease of use but perhaps not the best road feel. I haven’t ridden on it, but she says it has been holding hill climb simulations when there are no hills and generally has felt “off”. Rather than messing with it, we’re going to replace it with the one we should have bought to begin with. An open box/ discounted Tacx Neo is on its way, and I’m excited to see how different it rides.

We’ve been taking the camera out for all of our walks – a few times a week – but the majority of the photos we have captured are of the dogs. And we love photos of our dogs, for sure – we take plenty of them. But I don’t think most of them are worth posting here. We need to get out, and see some new sights, so we’re going to plan a RV trip really soon and get some trails in.

On-Call Risk

I’m spending an hour or more running on most days now, with a couple hours and steadily increasing each Saturday. I’m wanting to get back to spending time in nature — backpacking, hiking, and other activities that take us away from civilization. The issue with that, is that I’m always on call.

Kelly and I make our living two ways. First, I have a work from home position as a Network Security Engineer for a large corporation, that provides our base salary. It’s flexible, but demands 40+ hours a week of my attention just like any other full-time job. I love the company and the team I work for – there have been some rough patches, but the only way I’ll give up this position is if it’s forcefully taken from me.

Second, we have our own consulting and hosting company. Between the two, we have enough income to live comfortably — but if we lost one or the other, we’d eventually have to find a replacement.

For my day job, a coworker and I have arranged a rotating series of on-call shifts. The on-call load is relatively light, and it’s usually pretty easy for me to arrange to not be on call if I’m going to be busy, by just giving him a heads up. He tends to stay close to home and works in the UK, where he gets paid extra for being on call, so he is usually happy to soak up these hours.

On the flip side, for the consulting company, all the on-call work is on me. I have a friend who will jump in and take care of things from time to time, but he’s not a full time employee – rather an occasional contractor – and I can’t pay him to sit around waiting on things to break. Not to mention, he has other things that demand his time.

We have two racks of equipment for our hosting services. The majority of that equipment is several years old – architected on a strict budget, with many ad-hoc changes made over the years, and too many single points of failure for me to feel comfortable taking an extended leave of absence. We have some customers who rely on our hosted services for their daily workflow and income, pay us accordingly, and demand continuous uptime. We moved into the first rack back into 2011, and the contract is coming up for renewal again this June.

Since we’re negotiating a new contract, or a possible move to a new facility, I decided to take a fresh look at our architecture to alleviate all single points of failure. My new goal is to make it so that if failures occur, I don’t have to be around to immediately address them.

There are a few things in the racks that belong to customers – we don’t necessarily take responsibility for them, and if the hardware has issues, then those issues are theirs to repair. I’ll disregard those in this design, if I can’t convince the customers to move them on-premesis or to move to high-availability solutions.

First is addressing the switching infrastructure. We currently have a single switch in each rack. I’ve spent the last few years working with HPE Comware equipment for my primary employer, and have been really impressed with the hardware. Because we have a mix of 1G and 10G equipment, I ended up buying two 5900AF-48G-10XG-4QSFP+ and two 5820AF-24XG switches. That’s moving from one 48-port switch per rack, to four switches (hoping to condense both racks to a single one, to reduce monthly expenditures).

These HPE switches support IRF, Intelligent Resilient Framework, a type of stacking that allows for advanced configurations such as LACP bonding across chassis. The switches themselves have redundant fans and power, and if in pairs, you can connect servers to both switches with bonding, to survive complete switch failure, cable failure, optic failure, and a few other usually catastrophic scenarios. I have one IRF stack containing the 1G switches, another consisting of the 10G switches, and a 4x10G bond between them. These switches also support BGP and advanced hardware ACL processing, which allows me to alleviate the redundant routers we’re currently running. I’ll be replacing the services the switches can’t do with virtual routers. All of the described infrastructure below will be exclusively 10G, except for management and out of band.

Next, I wanted to replace the aged VMware infrastructure that consists of several individual servers with some cross-server replication, with a true HA cluster. I ended up ordering three servers that contain dual 8-core CPUs, 384GB RAM, and 4x 10Gb NICs each to start with. They’re running Proxmox, which has been configured for high availability. Networking consists of two bonds that stagger between both NICs (each bond consists of a port from each of the two cards) and switches. The first bond is for data, and the second dedicated solely to storage. This arrangement gives me N-1 RAM capacity, or 768GB to start with, to maintain full ability to sustain a node failure. I currently have about 500GB in mind to migrate, so it will give me a moderate amount of room to grow. One of the great things about this solution is that I can add additional hosts at any time – and even re-task some of the existing hardware in the rack to serve as hosts in this cluster once I have the guests migrated to the new infrastructure. Doing so would be a free or low-cost way to add another half terabyte of RAM, or more.

Last, and the thing I am most excited about, is the storage solution. I would have rebuilt the hypervisor solution a long time ago if I had a centralized commodity storage solution I was comfortable with, or the ability to invest in an off the shelf one that would meet all my requirements (they start in the tens of thousands and skyrocket from there). Ultimately, was able to engineer a solution that checks off all the boxes, using technologies I’m already familiar with, by accepting that a couple key technologies I rejected a long time ago have since become viable. The end result physically consists of two storage heads running Debian and dual-controller SAS expanders (which we can easily add at any time to increase capacity) that hold the drives.

Nearly 1GB/s (8Gbps) writes over NFS during a 96GB write test while simulating a storage switch failure.

Without getting in a ton of detail that is beyond the scope of this blog, these are a few of the failure scenarios I’ve simulated while running intensive stress tests and/or benchmarks, without issue:

  • Cutting power to each 5900AF-48G-4XG-2QSFP+ switch (one at a time)
  • Cutting power to each 5820AF-24XG switch (one at a time)
  • Bulk live migration of VMs
  • Cutting power to a host with active VMs (they die, but automatically boot up on other hosts)
  • Cutting power to the active storage head
  • Cutting power to the standby storage head
  • Pulling the active SAS controller out of the expander
  • Pulling the standby SAS controller out of the expander
  • Randomly disconnecting network cables for A or B side connections
  • Cutting A or B side PDUs

For all these solutions – switches, hypervisors, and storage – another upside is that we can perform upgrades and maintenance without impacting customers.

I’ve spent a week building this – the last three or four days of which consisted of extensive load/stress testing, and failure simulation. I have tested several failure scenarios, under heavy load, with excellent results. The new stack will hopefully be racked in the next month, if early contract negotiations with our datacenter pan out as I hope.

Once this solution is in place, VMs migrated over, and the old gear retired, I’ll be a lot more comfortable being out of reach and away from the computer. I’m sure at least a few of our customers will be happier being on true HA solutions. Performance looks like it will increase nicely. It’s a win-win, really, even though it did cost a pretty penny in new hardware. I’ve been avoiding this for a long time – not wanting to invest, not believing that the technologies needed for the storage solution were mature enough (ZFS on Linux, primarily) – but technology is always changing, as are customer requirements, as are our own needs and wants. This is going to be an awesome upgrade both in technology, and though it might seem unrelated to the uninformed, quality of life for the two of us.


Daily Breakfast

I don’t really consider myself a breakfast person. A lot of people tout it as the most important meal of the day, but historically it is one that I’ve skipped far more than I’ve consumed. Since starting to be more active, I’ve started making smoothies when I wake up, unless I’m substituting pancakes or another special dish in their place.

My recipe is more or less a basic guideline, based loosely on a No Meat Athlete blog post, that I sub ingredients into for variety. The basic outline, which serves two people, is:

  • 3 frozen bananas (we buy them fresh, allow them to ripen, peel, quarter, and vacuum seal them three per bag)
  • 2 cups of unsweetened frozen fruit (usually two varieties)
  • 2 tbsp Flax Seed
  • 1/4 cup fresh walnuts OR 4 scoops Orgain Vanilla Bean Protein Powder
  • 2 or 3 large handfuls of spinach

My favorite combination is peach, pineapple, and Orgain. Other fruit we keep in the house and mix-n-match are blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, mango, cherries, and oranges. We usually reserve the Orgain for use on Saturday, which is our long workout day.

One final thing to note is that several years ago we went through several cheap blenders making smoothies, dips, and creams, burning up the motors or just not being satisfied with the results. Eventually we invested in a Vitamix 5200. That was seven years ago – and it still works flawlessly. We recently upgraded to a refurbished 5300 with the newer pitcher design, and delegated the 5200 to the RV. I highly recommend investing in a Vitamix – they are amazing machines and are built to last a lifetime of heavy use.

Foam Rolling & Roll Recovery

We haven’t had much to post about lately, as we’ve been getting through the holidays and getting back into the groove of normal life. Things have been both dull and busy – a lot of monotonous catching up to do, mainly, with a few short memories sprinkled in, like spending new years with some great friends of ours from out of town.

Kelly’s ankle is healing up nicely and she’s back to riding regularly and starting to jog again, and I’m still working to tick off at least 24 miles per week.

My running coach has been after me to start foam rolling and focusing on recovery for a while. We have all the gear required for foam rolling, which consists of a few foam cylinders in different sizes and some lacrosse balls. Despite my best attempts, I can’t seem to make a routine of it. You have to get on the floor, or maybe a mat or blanket, and roll around while supporting yourself and manipulating your body to put pressure on sore areas – something that can be a substantial and time consuming, not to mention painful, workout itself.

Roll Recovery makes an alternative solution that accomplishes the same thing. Touted as a “self-massage tool [that] takes the extra effort out of an intense foam rolling session“, it basically is a vice that you clamp your limbs into move along the length of them. It doesn’t address the last complaint I made about foam rolling – the pain, possibly even being worse – but does a great job of reducing the effort and time required.

The R8 seems to have a cult following and a lot of obsessed users, so I figured I’d try it for myself. So far, I’ve found I pick it up when idle throughout the day and use it while watching TV or even listening to phone calls (meetings). That sure beats blocking out a 45min window to toss around on the floor while being able to concentrate on nothing else. Kelly is making similar habits with it.

We also picked up the R3 and their stretch mat. The R3 is a foot roller, specifically designed to address plantar fasciitis, something I’ve recently began to experience, and the mat is a gimmicky number that gives you a platform you can stretch on without falling off of – something that may work for Kelly, but doesn’t seem to work for my 6’0″ frame. Despite that it may be a tad too small for me, and that I don’t mind sitting on the ground most of the time, it seems perfect for throwing in the truck and taking to the lake or trailhead with me.

To date, as you probably assume, I haven’t been great about massage or rolling or recovery. I don’t have enough previous recovery experience to compare with, but what I can say is that my run yesterday (after two days of using the R8) was one of the best ones I’ve experienced in a while.


Sample Photos

We took the new camera out and took some test photos today. It’s a pretty complicated piece of equipment, so we have a lot of learning and improvement ahead of us.

We hoped to see some birds, or something we could use the 70-300mm lens for, but nothing interesting came up.

Photography Gear

We planned to take and post lots of photos (something we never do – we have DSLRs and drones we always plan to use, but we fall back to easy-access cell phones all too often if we remember to take photos at all) of the nature we witness and how places vary as you travel throughout the country.

Fresh Start

As stated in that post, we tend to lose track of time and not take them at all, or just use cell phones to snap quick photos or videos. And while I don’t want this site to be pages and pages of talking about gear, I want to visit some changes we decided to make this Christmas season.

We’ve been using a Pentax K-30 DSLR camera since October 2012. It’s a pretty nice camera – kind of bulky, and a bit out of date, but there is nothing really wrong with it for taking photos. With the kit 18-55mm F3.5-5.6, a 50mm F1.8 prime, and a 28-300mm F3.5-6.3 lens we were able to get some pretty good shots over the years. It doesn’t shoot 4K video, and probably doesn’t shoot video well at all – we never tried – and is too big and cumbersome to toss in a backpack and run for hours with. Nor would I feel safe doing so, or would it even fit in my Osprey Duro 15 with adequate protection.

At some point in the last few years, cell phone cameras got to the point where they were “good enough” for most shots we wanted. Instead of lugging out the DSLR, taking the photo, and finding the memory card reader so I could upload the photos to my PC – where further work needs to be done – we just used the cameras on our phones and uploaded them directly to the Internet. The problems are – looking back – I can’t find many of the original, full-size images for the most important shots. A lot of the shots we wanted ended up blurry, or washed out – or the details were missing. They were okay for posting online, but not good enough for desktop wallpapers on 4K monitors, and certainly not good enough to print.

Notably, I really wanted to capture the trails I was running on last week, and my iPhone 8 just couldn’t grab the results I wanted. That put a bug in my head to look at some better gear I could take on the trail with me.

Though an extreme example, this photo shows grain and distortion that is fairly common in iPhone 8 photos. This was only cropped to size by resizing the width to 1920px and cropping the upper/lower portions to a height of 1080px. Issues were present before JPEG compression.

Though cell phone cameras don’t provide everything I’m looking for, I don’t think something like the extremely popular Sony RX100 VI is a big enough improvement over one to justify the massive cost for a point and shoot. We’re going to need a larger camera for the photos we really want, and a cell phone for the photos we don’t have time for.

I stumbled upon some photos a couple years ago taken with a Sony A7ii. I almost rushed out to buy one – inspired by the amazing photos (also very much to the credit of the photographer), the size of the camera, and the fact that it has wireless/NFC transfer to your phone and computer – until I saw the price. The kit was $2,000, with a single 28-70mm lens, and by the time I added the other lenses and accessories it was going to be the price of a presentable used car. That idea was quickly disregarded and, though I occasionally checked for a used one, entirely abandoned.

Since we’re getting a lot more serious about touring, and I’m spending a whole lot more time outdoors, I wanted to revisit some higher end photography gear that meets our current needs and will actually be used. Since I’m worried about size and weight of the camera, as well as the longevity with the numerous impacts it’ll incur with running, I looked online to see what other trail runners are using. I found quite a few write-ups, but this one is the one that sold me on the Sony a6500.

It is the smaller, less expensive, APS-C counterpart to the A7 series that I wanted so badly a couple years ago. It’s about the size of a point and shoot camera, when you don’t consider the lens. I read countless reviews on it, and lenses, and watched numerous videos before making the decision to order it. It addresses all the shortcomings of the Pentax, records amazing 4K video (we don’t really take video, but may start at some point), and will allow us to wirelessly transfer images off (a huge convenience factor).

Since we cleaned out the RV storage, and the garage, I sold a lot of stuff on Craigslist and Ebay; enough, actually, to cover the cost of the a6500 and a few lenses and accessories. I had earmarked the money to add to our “rainy day fund”, and this doesn’t meet “rainy day” criteria, but decided to move forward regardless.

I started with ordering the a6500 kit that includes the 18-135mm lens. While the camera has been on the market since 2016, the lens is actually new for 2018, but has gotten a lot of rave reviews for its flexibility and sharpness. At the low end, 18mm should make for some pretty nice landscape shots, and 135mm is enough for some mid-range wildlife photography. I’d love to have a bag full of lenses with me on the trail, but if I have to use one lens for all, it seems like a safe bet. I found a post on DPReview where someone went to several national parks with the lens on an a6000 (older version of the a6500), and they took many amazing shots with it.

Don’t neglect to check out this Sony a6000/ 18-135mm gallery on DPReview

Since we’re going to be running with it and using it outdoors, I opted for a three year extended warranty that includes accidental damage protection. Who knows if it’ll need to be used, but I’d rather spend a little on some insurance instead of a lot on replacement.

Adding to the 18-135mm, the big craze for landscape photography on APS-C cameras seems to be a Sigma branded 16mm f1.4 lens. With the Pentax camera, I purchased a third party lens – a Tamron – which worked great and took wonderful photos. But it didn’t have auto-focus, which caused me to lose some shots or have them turn out blurred. I was skeptical to consider third party lenses, but this particular one is natively designed to work with the a6500’s AF so that isn’t a concern. It takes some absolutely amazing images, and really does well at night/long exposure images due to the aperture.

Don’t neglect to check out this Flickr search for Sigma 16mm f1.4 photos

I’d really like to be able to take photos in heavy rain, under water, or especially something like this. That requires a special watertight enclosure that only works with a select few lenses (actually, you can buy domes to fit larger lenses, but they add to the cost), so I ordered the basic enclosure with the inexpensive 16-50mm kit lens this camera is also sold with (found the lens used on Ebay for dirt cheap).

For carrying it in my pack while running, I’ll likely only take one lens. Depending on the terrain, it may be the 18-135mm or the 16mm prime, or I may find a way to carry them both. Regardless, GoScope makes a hardshell case specifically designed for this camera and one lens that is form-fitted to the camera and takes up the smallest possible amount of space while offering maximum protection. I also ordered padded barrel cases for the other lenses instead of a large, multi-lens case. That way I can pick and choose the additional lenses to throw in my bag, without fear of damaging them. If we’re running together, we can safely split up the components among our packs and carry more.

With everything so far, 135mm and above are off the table. Though I hated that it didn’t have AF, the Tamron 28-300mm lens for the Pentax was something I pulled out regularly, and several of my favorite shots at Canyon of the Eagles – photos of actual eagles, of boars, deer, and other wildlife – were within its reach. A lot of them I never published because they turned out blurry due to motion/lack of AF. I could cheap out and use a lens adapter and a less expensive lens, like I did with the Pentax/Tamron, but a big part of this upgrade is not having to make sacrifices on it. The adapters sometimes retain AF (depending on the adapter and lens), but they are slower and tracking not as good as native lenses. They are reviewed with mixed results.

Taken with the Pentax K-30/ Tamron 28-300mm lens combo. No editing. Though I wish this were a bit sharper, we were pretty far away and this turned out rather well.

Sony makes a 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 lens for this camera – and purchasing it means that we’re spending more than the sum of the stuff we sold to finance this. A 300mm lens is roughly 17X zoom, so allows for shots like these. We’re not upgrading this to miss out on wildlife – one of the biggest treasures to photograph. So despite the fact that it pushes this project out of budget, we ordered it.

Don’t neglect to check out this Flickr search for Sony SEL70300G photos

Because we all hate to run out of batteries, we bought four well-reviewed third-party batteries (RavPower brand) and a dual battery charger for about the same price Sony wants to charge for a single spare battery. And a very small, lightweight tripod for long exposure shots.

In summary, we discovered the benefits of prosumer and better cameras years ago, when we bought our first DSLR, a Nikon D5000 back in 2009. Then when we upgraded to a Pentax K-30 in 2012. For various reasons, the K-30 has fallen out of favor with us, and we’ve been using our cell phones and/or losing out on the photos we want altogether. That could possibly be addressed with second-hand lenses, wireless SD cards, and other things, or we could upgrade to a late model camera and check off all the boxes on our wishlist from the start. We opted to do the latter. We ended up ordering:

  • Sony Alpha a6500 camera body
  • Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens (used)
  • Sony 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens
  • Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS lens
  • Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens (found used on Ebay, after writing this post)
  • Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens
  • Seafrogs SY-23 underwater housing
  • GoScope Alpha case
  • JJC lens cases (1 small, 1 large)
  • RavPower dual-charger and 4 spare batteries
  • Pedco UltraPod II mini tripod

We’re transitioning from collecting things to collecting memories – and capturing those memories is something we prioritize

This is a significant investment in new camera gear, and we’re hoping that the results justify themselves as we travel more. We’re transitioning from collecting things to collecting memories – and capturing those memories is something we prioritize. We aren’t professional photographers or videographers but having the right equipment allows us to do a better job of it. We’re really excited to get everything and see what we can do, and will be posting a bunch of sample shots once we have the gear in hand.

We’re packing up the Pentax kit to send to a friend – it has a lot of life left, and will be great for someone with different priorities than us. Merry Christmas, Ben.

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