Monday, January 19, 2015

Gear Talk: Dell 8" Windows tablet and Fintie keyboard

Pictured above is my new Dell 8" Windows tablet and Fintie keyboard and case.  As some of you may know, I was pretty disappointed in the Samsung tablet we purchased for the big Rocky Mtn. tour in 2012.  It was a chore to compose on, didn't download photographs easily, didn't have spell check, had a habit of spontaneously disconnecting from the internet, and on and on and on.  It was okay for checking email and watching stuff on Netflix, and that's about it.  After seeing one of these Dell units, I knew the reign of the Samsung was limited.

After only a couple years, it's now possible to get a very compact tablet that is also a fully functional computer.  I'm composing this post on the machine and doing just fine, thank you very much.  I was able to get this 32 GB version for about $250, and the case/keyboard combo was only about $30.  Bigger memory means a bigger price, but not by a lot, about $290 for 64GB.  With both units, it's possible to easily bump memory by sliding in a mini SD card--slick.

The screen is sharp, and the functions are plenty fast enough.  It even has a 5MP camera.  You will, however, want a few accessories.  Pictured is a mini USB adapter cable and SD card connector.  I've also ordered a USB hub so that I can use a mini mouse, too, although a stylus is handy and can function in a pinch or to save a little weight/bulk.  As pictured, the unit clocks in at around 1.75 lbs.--not bad for all that it does.

I experimented with charging off a small USB adapted solar charger, and it worked perfectly.  As per specs, the keyboard has about 100 hrs. of use per charge, and the tablet, I think, about 10 hrs.  Both units can be charged easily via the solar unit. 

I think my only issue so far is getting used to the tiny keyboard.  The touch and function are flawless, but there is a little learning curve to get used to the tight keys.  Truly fat fingered folks might find it a challenging.  I have a bigger Blue Tooth keyboard I can take for more comfort on motorized trips, although the Fintie attaches with powerful magnets, so the whole unit stays together nicely.  Here's a pic with my hand to show relative size.  This baby is compact!

So, overall, I don't think I could be happier with this tablet.  It's got full computing power--at least all that I need--and is light and compact enough for all our human powered adventures--although I probably wouldn't take it backpacking where every ounce counts.

Thanks, Dell!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Desert Tour 2014: Day one

Dec. 16th

Cool, grey, cloudy, we dropped off the UHaul in Lone Pine and got to spinning by 10:30AM.  The first 20 miles unfurled smooth and fast, a few gentle rollers to spark the quads.  Django was in a virtual panic to get out and run, whining like crazy when he had to ride in the trailer, which was a lot for the first half of the ride.  Quickly, the Sierras and the greater metropolis of Lone Pine fell into our rear view mirrors as Jodi and I settled into a quick cadence, eating up scenery and miles.  We rounded the mostly dry Owens Lake, ate lunch at the base of the climb, and finally got down to business.

Slow and steady wins the day in this loaded touring game.  It felt good to climb, gear down and watch the mountains in their grim winter cloak.  Django's enthusiasm never waned.  He trotted firm against the tether, gunning for glory, bug-eyed, panting, on point, his mission clear: Hike this mountain!

Not long before camp, two women in a small sedan coming down the hill slowed to give us a look.  The driver gave us such an expression that Jodi and I laughed for the next ten minutes.  It was as if the driver had seen creatures with three heads and tentacles--priceless.

We could have pushed for Panamint Springs, but these winter days start to wane by 3PM.  We spotted a good dirt road and took our opportunity.  A little slipping and sliding and scouting, we had our camp, a cold heavy sky pressing down.  Down jackets on, pitch camp, refuge in the tent.  We wondered if the rain would come as forecast, the cloudy day never climbing out of the 40's.  We chowed down on leftovers and a good red wine.  Tomorrow, Panamint Springs.

Miles: 28
Climb: 1450 ft.

Desert Tour 2014: Day two

Dec. 17th

Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit.  Grey, damp, nasty--but it wasn't raining, so after 12 hours in the tent, I crawled out into a 6:30AM.  Ugh.  After numb-fingered fumbling, the Optimus was purring, and before long, a hot cup of happiness was taking the edge off the doom pressing down.  To the south, snow-plastered mountains buried their heads in the glum soup.  But it wasn't raining.  A lace trim of frosting cracked stiffly from the pannier lids as I pulled them open to root around for supplies.  Jodi packed sleeping bags and pads.  Django sniffed about and peed on creosote bushes.

Shortly after 8AM, we crunched and rolled down the dirt track to begin the day's climbing, straight into the damp hanging belly of the beast.  We summited at just over 5,000 ft., the highest of the tour.  Dour granite outcrops and a few forlorn Joshua trees bore silent witness to the event.  We layered up, strapped helmets, loaded Django and set off for the 18 mile drop to Panamint Springs.

The road became wetter and wetter as we zipped through slick sheets across the pavement.  A short climb meant soggy doggy paws slapping happily.  Then we pushed through clouds and fog totally obscuring the way ahead.  Finally, the main event--miles and miles of 6--7%.  Black wet road, tires spinning streamers, my fingers retreated to some other place as I worked the brakes and cornered gingerly through sometimes zero visibility.  Jodi pitched in with the big rear disc, and we easily controlled our speed through hairpins with drop offs into solemn rocky canyons.  Finally, we broke out of the clouds, a dim glow radiating from a distant dry lake bed.  Panamint Springs wasn't far below.

Lunch and water at the Panamint Springs store.  I picked up a couple of brews for camp--$5, each, thank you--and we pulled out into the heart of the Panamint Valley, now officially part of Death Valley National Park.  At the far end of a long straightaway, the Panamint Mountains ascended thousands of feet in a fearsome wall, our punishment for daring to pedal into Death Valley.  Towne Pass taunted in the dark afternoon light, whispering promises of lactic acid and sweat.

We pulled off onto a dirt track to camp beneath the brooding giants.  In the late afternoon, we lounged in the tent as a light rain fell and fighter jets occasionally tore the silence with thunderous engines. 

Miles: 28; Total: 56
Climb: 620 ft.


Desert Tour 2014: Day three

Dec. 18th

The night was warm, still, and dark, a thick heavy lid of cloud settled tight over the valley, a huge sandy cul de sac ringed by peaks rising over 5,000 ft. above.  By morning, large breaks into the blue told us the storm was moving on.  Before first light we were out doing chores, easy at 47 deg. F.  By 8AM we'd retraced our path down the dirt road and regained Hwy 190, staring straight into the mist-shrouded wall of the Panamints, 11,000 ft. Telescope Peak to the south back-lit by the rising sun, draped in bands of fog like a Japanese ink painting of Mt. Fuji.

What followed was a brutal climb that tested us deeply, long stretches of 9, 10, even 13%.  When the grade backed off to 7%, it felt like a holiday, delightfully "flat" after the crux pitches.  Confined to our lowest gears, we ground it out, thrilled to occasionally break 2.5 mph.  Django sometimes looked bored.  Only Lord Schlumpf, the inventor of our super-low gearing packed into the bottom bracket, allowed us progress, saving our knees.  Slow moving banks of cloud drifted across the mountain's rugged face and ridges, gullies, huge boulders held to the wall by nothing more than a politician's promise.  We inched along only too aware of our prolonged exposure to these Boulders of Damocles.

Fountains of sweat poured off our straining frames.  Legs and butt muscles ached.  Every 500 ft. or so of altitude gain we took a break, the day in the 40's too quickly cooling us as we jammed down calories and jumped back into the fight.  Calves and quads, hamstrings and ankles, backs pressed into the seats, we lay into the job hour after hour.  Near the top, my glutes began to complain most of all.  Chained together, Django panting on the still-damp pavement off my right shoulder, we winched our bloated rig into the sky...2,000 ft., 3,000 ft.  the summit just shy of 5,000 ft. somewhere out of sight above.

In a car we'd close the distance in seconds to that next elevation sign.  On a fully loaded Greenspeed tandem trike, ages passed in quiet desperation.  For all the grinding effort, however, we were happy in our way and exactly where we needed to be.  We were a team, working hard, the summit within reach.

And then, and then, and then...the angle released its iron grip.  Degree by blessed degree we left the cliff face below us and rounded toward the top.  In fits of wild optimism, I up-shifted.  And we could hold the gears.  Hallelujah and pass the chain lube, Zeke.  This climb was gonna end.  Finally, Towne Pass was ours.

I stood unsteadily and released my aching buns from the cage of ascent and stretched in victory.  We snacked and suited up for the virtual space shot down to Stovepipe Wells, 18 miles and 5,000 ft. of continuous descent below.  Django wore Jodi's Goretex; she pulled on fleece and down hoodie; we both put three layers over our legs.  I slipped into fleece and Goretex on top, neoprene booties and double gloves, windproof headband under the helmet.  Gun for sea level, fools, and Devil take the hindmost.

Mile upon glorious mile we flew on Greenspeed wings into the incredible basin of light and distance.  We plunged out of the clouds and at long last into the sun.  We feathered the disc brakes, keeping our speed between 30--35 mph.  My fingers froze into barely useable claws, stiff but sufficient to the task of pulling levers.  My upper-body armor proved inadequate, and deep shivers wracked my arms and shoulders--but great God!  The beauty!  The wild crazy beauty of the storm-scrubbed sky, clouds fringing the peaks, sun bathing the deep stark sink.  I shivered and shook but held the line true as we plummeted into Death Valley.

At Stovepipe Wells, at last in the warmth, we stood weak and dizzy from the trike and peeled off layers, although it would be some time before I would reclaim my fingers or Jodi her toes, the ungrateful little piggies having gone walkabout in the chill.  I grabbed a celebratory brew from the store and we ambled over to the tenting area, reveling in the warmth, swimming in the thick atmosphere.  A big pasta dinner tonight and Furnace Creek tomorrow and a much needed rest day.  Damn, is this the life, or what?

Miles: 27.5; Total: 83
Climb: 3,400 ft.

Desert Tour 2014: Day four

Dec. 19th

Disaster!  Almost.  Well, sort of.  Okay, a comedy of errors.  We looked high and low, in and out, up and down, around and around for my camera and could not find it.  Conclusion?  Thief.  Raven or human?  Bulky in a black case, the camera seemed an unlikely choice for the avian pranksters lurking about.  But a human thief seemed unlikely, too.  Whatever.  The camera was gone.  Depressed and angry, I went about packing and tried to shake it off.  What else could we do?

The morning warmed nicely, and we set off for Furnace Creek, about 25 miles away.  Much of the way is flat and rolling, so we could build up a comfortable head of steam, Django sitting pretty.  For miles we flew along on pavement of supernatural smoothness--pavement of the gods!.

We ate lunch on the shore of Lake Manly, long drained of its prehistoric wetness.  Arriving at Furnace Creek early in the afternoon, we hit the P.O. to get our drop shipment of supplies--depressingly heavy.  Oh well.  We live to suffer.

In camp--the generator-free zone of Texas Springs--we found our spot up against a shaggy tamarisk, also called "salt cedar" (taste the needles), and began off-loading all the gear.  As Jodi talked to another camper, I pitched the tent, and there, hanging somehow from a cord, was the "stolen" camera.  We had found the perp, and he was us.  With huge relief I spent the next 30 minutes ribbing Jodi about how well she'd checked the tent before packing it.  The point-and-shoot had somehow been absorbed into the folds of the tent even as she stuffed it into the sack.

A happy, dark, chilly dinner at the picnic table consisted of too-expensive salmon and salad from the cafe.  John, a hiker/camper across the road, allowed me to use his car to go pick it up, saving me a trip on the trike.  Thanks, John.

Miles: 28; Total: 111
Climb: 700 ft.

Desert Tour 2014: Day five

Dec. 20th

The natives were mostly friendly, John loaning his car, for example.  But, according to the rules of American kamping, some morons have to sour the soup:  A gang of four drunken Asians pulled into the sight next to us--well, they were soon to be drunk.  They piloted a beautiful but noisy diesel 4X4 with an Alaskan pop-up camper.  They idled for long minutes getting everything set up.  Then they got down to drinking.  The only thing that saved us were silicone earplugs jammed deep.  A fellow tenting nearby said he almost lost it when the merry revelers cranked Celine Dion.  Since the party went down inside the camper, the earplugs mostly saved us.  But, joy of joys, the idiots decided to leave at 5:45AM, the growling diesel engine idling for way too long.  Compounding their complete lack of respect of others was the fact that we were in a tenting-only area.  Finally Jodi couldn't take it anymore and jumped out to give them a piece of her mind right before they pulled away.  "Are you guys staying here another night?" she yelled over the roar of the engine.  The fellow she confronted was deeply red-faced and sweating, hungover hard from the drunk fest only a few ours done.  "No, no, we leaving!" he groaned in deeply accented English.  At last the obnoxious rig and its bleary-eyed occupants grumbled off into the predawn gloom, clattering valves and pistons audible for hundreds of yards in the early stillness.  What's not to love about kamping?

Awake beyond redemption, Jodi took Django and marched off into the dark for a short walk.  I collected my few remaining wits and staggered out of the tent to make brew.  Eleven hours in the nylon cave was enough.

So began our rest day--showers (bliss!), laundry, a few minutes cleaning up emails.  The only mishap of the day was getting back to camp and realizing I'd left Jodi's Kindle charging back at the laundromat.  Lovely.  Unload the trike, unhook the trailer, and Scotty was off to the races to retrieve the goods.  I was worried, of course, that the device would be gone, but the ride on the unloaded tandem was wonderful, zipping around corners and generally having a blast.  And the Kindle was where I'd left it--totally charged for good measure.  Back to camp for a good feed.

Miles: Meh; Total: Not much more
Climb: Double meh.  It was a rest day, ya know?