Life En Route

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.

Tyler State Park

Both of us have family in the Tyler area, so we go back to visit from time to time. A couple years ago we stayed at Tyler State Park, but have avoided going back there because it was really tight to get our rig in and out of the campground. When recently looking at the map, I realized that was due to the camping area we stayed in – Cedar Point. So when it came time to book a trip to East Texas for Thanksgiving, we gave Tyler State Park another chance and reserved a site in the Big Pine area.

The park itself is beautiful woodlands, and this year was exceptional – the trees turned bright colors like they do up north, and leaves fell to the ground. The camping area we chose had plenty of room, all pull-through sites with full hookups, and ran $24/night. We consider that a good deal.

What led me to looking at the Tyler State Park map in the first place was an ultramarathon called Running the Rose. I’m not ready for an Ultramarathon yet – in my training, I might be able to complete – but not be competitive – a half marathon at the moment. But Running the Rose follows an eleven mile course through the park, allowing you to exit at one, two, three, or six loops depending on your fitness level and dedication. I wanted to run the course, once, just to see if I could make it.

I mapped out the course in GAIA GPS, and uploaded it to my watch. The course looks like this:

Upon arriving, we found our spot and set up camp. Since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, we had most of the park to ourselves. The site was spacious, though not at all level, and had full hookups. Fortunately we just about have setup down to a T, and I was able to head out for my first trail attempt within an hour of arrival.

I hit the trail around 4:30PM, and shortly after five it was so dark under the tree cover that I couldn’t see the ground. I pushed through about 8 miles before my headlamp died, and after tripping over a bunch of tree roots, pulled out my phone for enough light to get back to the campsite. I clocked just over 9 miles, and kicked myself for getting so close to my goal and not reaching it. We had a friendly little visitor come that night, as well as a opossum and some squirrels.

We spent the next few days hiking the park and visiting family. We grabbed a few good photos, and had my parents out for a campfire. Kelly brought out her bike for a few rides. The weather stayed really nice.

On Thursday, I made another attempt at the 11mi run. I was able to complete it, but it took longer than I had hoped, clocking in at 2h32m and an average pace of 13:45/mi. I didn’t really feel up to running that day, and think if I were feeling better I could have knocked a couple minutes off that time. C’est la vie.

On Friday, Kelly and I went on a run on the trail around the lake and she caught her foot under a tree root and pulled. It caused her a pretty nasty sprain that will take a few weeks to recover from. We got her back to the site and settled in, then I resumed my run. Overall, I was able to clock 32.5 trail running miles on the trip, plus several miles of hiking.

I tried to get some drone footage, but ended up wasting all the battery getting out of a tree. Successful, but the battery was dead and we had other things to do.

Tyler state park is definitely a place we’ll be returning to. I’m contemplating an actual attempt at Running the Rose, when it takes place on January 26, but due to how soon that is, probably won’t commit to it. We have family there, so there are always reasons to go – but there are other places in Texas we want to check out before the next time to visit.

Fresh Start

Since starting this blog back in May 2016, we’ve accumulated some 206 posts. That comes to average one post every 4.5 days, which seems impossible – we must have gone through a few periods of heavy posting to offset the periods I remember more clearly… the periods of not posting at all.

Over those two and a half years, which were kicked off by the purchase of our new fifth wheel RV, and the beginning of the process to modify our tow vehicle to meet our expectations, a lot has changed.

We briefly got into crypto, made bit of money, and cashed out just in time to beat the market crash. We bought and restored a boat, only to find we’re not comfortable using it (too large to launch with one person, too unwieldy for small, usually low, lakes we like to visit) and are contemplating selling it to cash out and possibly downsize.

We went through numerous phases that eventually faded to an end, such as trying to turn our suburban lot into a sort of homestead (not practical with HOA regulations and less than a quarter acre), fairly extensive DIY home renovations and updates (enough is enough), ham radio (still using VHF, but have sold our HF gear because we gave up on antennas here), and many more.

In the last six months or so, we’ve discovered new fitness activities, and they’ve moved to the forefront of our lives. Kelly has really fallen in love with endurance cycling, which is big change from the years that she’s spent embracing and evangelizing ToneItUp. I’ve gotten off the couch and found endurance trail running and aspire to at least cross the finish line of a fifty mile or longer ultramarathon one day. We cross train in each other’s sports to spend time together and better grasp our own. My health has improved to the point where I feel like spending extensive time outside the house – doing things I love, like backpacking – are on the table again. These things take focus, dedication, time, and yes – changes to almost every aspect of your every day life.

Going back through old posts, we saw a lot of fruitless endeavors, and very few posts about the things we created this blog for. We wanted to document our RV adventures, to record where we went, what we thought, how we’d change things and spend time differently; what sites we might request — if we visit those places again. 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. That is why we called this LifeEnRoute – it’s to document our life traveling in the RV, not the life of gadgets and gizmos and gear that really seem to fill all the posts we’ve made.

So moving forward, we decided to archive them. They’re hidden, but still available for us to pull occasional content from if we so choose. We are, at some level, gear heads – and I mean that in both the conventional ways that phrase  is used. We love all sorts of vehicles, all sorts of technology, all sorts of modifications — pretty obvious if you look at my truck –, and we love a lot of the latest and greatest gear and technology  — pretty obvious if you look at our running and cycling gear (for example). But we’re chipping away at the contents of our closets and garage and finding the things that don’t matter so much now that we’ve had them, and unloading them to new homes via Craigslist, Offerup, and Ebay.

Some time in 2019, we may do something a bit drastic. We may sell our house, store our furniture, unload our clutter, and embark on the journey we dreamed about back in May 2016. In our early 30s, and able to work 100% remotely, we have the rare opportunity to tour the country and take in all it has to offer. It’s something that a lot of people aspire to do, but most have to wait to retire to experience. With our new fitness aspirations, came new motivations and goals – as a trail runner, for instance, I know of tons of trails I would love to run and places I would like to train, that are scattered all over the country. We can target our travels to tick them off, one by one.

It’s not a permanent lifestyle for us, but it seems like we can fit it between our starter home and forever home, which is a jump we will inevitably make. 1350 square foot and a a fifth of an acre aren’t what we’re looking for anymore. And we think if we do it, despite our few remaining reservations about it, we’ll find it to be great.

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