Sunday, June 05, 2011

20 miler with the Scouts

Yesterday was a good day... if you're a masochist!

After a couple of months of working on the Hiking merit badge with Etho, 30 intrepid souls marched out along the Mule Hill Trail in Rancho Bernardo through San Pasqual Valley up to Raptor Ridge.  This was the first 10-mile leg of the crowning point of the merit badge.  Really pretty walking through the strawberry fields and finally into the coastal desert foothills up to the Ridge.

After a quick lunch and a Nestle's Crunch Bar from the nearby Chevron station, we set out on the second leg around the South side of Lake Hodges.  Highlights included walking over the new pedestrian bridge that spans the lake and a sparsely flowing waterfall, but more significantly seeing the memorial to Chelsea King who was murdered last year on the shores of the lake by a madman.

All in all, the boys and men held up well over the course of a long day. As I write this I remain a little achy despite the beer and Ibuprofen (!), but Ethan's none the worse for the wear.  We'll finish up the book work for the merit badge next weekend at the upcoming Flag Ceremony on June 12, 2011.  I couldn't be more proud of my son - a strong and cool young man.

Hiking through San Pasqual Valley

Strawberry Farmer
Heading up Raptor Ridge
Obligatory picture of Dads taking pictures

Hikemaster Dave (AKA Merit Badge Counselor)
Hiking up from the Waterfall
Dads on the move!

Desolate location on the trail

Surprising amount of growth (foliage AND boys)
Tres Amigos
Behold — Lizard Man! (mile 17)
Asst. Scoutmaster M. Powers
Taking a short break before the final push

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day 2011 with the Boy Scouts

This morning a posse of Boy Scouts from Troop 648 went on their annual mission to honor our country's service men and women who have lost their lives defending America.

Honoring their memories by planting flags at the graves of our veterans around the country is a time-honored tradition of the Scouts and of our Troop.  Ethan and I have done it nearly every year since he was a Tiger in the Cub Scouts (1st grade).

Here are some photos from the experience today.


 I thought this was a cool shot - Ryan Forbes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tour de Murrieta MotoPhoto

Bicycle racing has never been high on my list of spectator sports, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was that it seemed you stand in one place to watch a group of riders blast by one time and everything's done. How spectator-friendly could that be?

Friends Rod and Alex are going to beat me when they read this. I'm grossly oversimplifying, I know. At the same time, they'll heartily acknowledge what I'm about to tell you is absolutely true: the ONLY place to watch a bike race is ON THE RACETRACK!

Fortunately Rod gave me that opportunity recently without all the pain, training, and expense of taking up the über-sport of cycling. He was in charge of volunteers at the recent Tour de Murrieta and thus was privvy to some inside knowledge of the race preparation.

One of the pro photographers that was covering the race had asked if they knew anyone with a motorcycle willing to ride with a passenger on back shooting pics. Sounded fun to me and after determining the guy wasn't a 300lb sloth, I was ALL IN.

The ride up from Rancho Peñasquitos on Sunday morning was quite chilly and I was in a pea-soup fog until past Fallbrook. Since I arrived about an hour before I was to hook up with the photographer, coffee was on my mind and the donut shop down the street from the Start/Finish line fit the bill perfectly.

Brian Hodes of Velo Images couldn't have been cooler. A wiry fellow, Brian was a former cyclist himself and LA wedding shooter who'd finally snapped to his senses to marry his passion for photography with that of cycling. He talked the talk, walked the walk and when I saw him "high-fiving" some of the Pros, I knew he was the real deal. Plus, he was a Nik user and fan!

His gear was simple and oh-so functional: a sweet D3 Nikon, a couple of big lenses (his fav being an 80-200 as I recall), a wide angle, and a battery pack to fire up his speedlight reliably. To top it all off, he had a GoPro Hero HD camcorder that fit into a special hot-shoe attachment so he could videotape everything he was also shooting (for a documentary film he's working on). This was all carried very efficiently in a utility belt supported by a cross-over-the-shoulder strap system.

With his primary targets the Men's and Women's Pro races, Brian worked the starts, then hopped on the F800GS. The course design was roughly rectangular, winding through some of the ranch land and high end housing areas outside old town Murrieta. A lap around was only about 3.5 mi., but the race length of 46 and 56 miles (Women/Men respectively) gave us plenty of opportunities to work the course from all angles.

Each race was led end-to-end by one of the CHP's finest R1200RT riders, while the refs rode alongside or behind the riders depending on the part of the course everyone was on. It was kind of cool that the two referee bikes were a dual-sport KTM and a BMW R/60 from the 70's.  In some parts of the track, the racers were permitted to span the width of the road - this allowed riders to "break-away" and pass their competitors. Usually when the riders had the whole width, Brian and I would try to ride in front of the pack, or if we were behind would find a spot to set up for the next lap.

In other parts of the course, the racers were confined to the right lane - called the "yellow-line" rule - and here we could easily pull alongside the peloton (group of riders) and snap some great close-up action shots. Coming down one of the hills, the racers could easily be doing 40-45mph and so it was pretty thrilling to be pacing them.

Between both the Men's and Women's races, we probably spent at least 4.5 hours on the motorcycle jockeying for position, speeding ahead or slowing down, finding some clever ways to show the cyclists in action, and more. A series of my favorite shots that Brian was able to capture were the ones taken in the apex of the corners. He would focus on one rider and pan the camera on the rider as he slashed by - anything in the background would be blurry and so give a strong impression of speed.

The winners of each race instinctively knew whom to face when lifting their arms up in victory - Brian was right there at the finish, camera and big lens cocked and loaded to get that "Sports Illustrated" cover shot.

It was great to catch up with Roderick again too - he and his family are only 45 minutes up the road, but it seems a lifetime away sometimes. He was in fine form, radio in hand, astride his single-speed mountain bike orchestrating myriad volunteers like a band conductor. The camaraderie he has with the Temecula/Murrieta cycling community is tight.

With the race day ended, Brian thanked me for the good piloting work and said he'd send me some pics. I promised to hook him up with Nik's new Silver Efex Pro 2. He was off to shoot an 8-stage bike race in Turkey the following week, but I hope our paths cross again soon.

As for me, I flew home on Hwy 15 sunburned, muscles tired but stoked that I'd experienced seeing these amazing competitors up close and personal. Here are some pics Brian shot of the racers in action:

I was a little bushed by this point in the afternoon, but took solace
that the racers were MORE tired!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Evader XTS2 - First Drive

My son Ethan turned 12 this past weekend and a couple of great things happened besides the passing of time:  he played Paintball for the first time (which will be the subject of another post) and he got a really sweet, very fast radio-controlled (R/C) "stadium" truck called an Evader XTS2.

It was easy to set-up and oh so fun to drive. Plus, spectacular in the dirt down at Canyonside Comm. Park!

The next day we cruised out with our next-door neighbor to share the joy of speed.

Action Filmstrip!
Minor jump. Processed with Nik Software filters Bleach Bypass & Tonal Contrast.
Now it's time for dad to save his shekels for one!

UPDATE - 2/6/11:  Took the Evader out with a new 7-cell battery (it came stock with a 6-cell).  Oh Jeez - way faster.  ;-)
Double Rooster-tail!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Joy and Tragedy

It had been a balmy week for us folks here in SoCal, and today was no exception. For our Sunday ride, Mark and I chose to start out with the BMW of Escondido ride group for a "cruising" tour to Borrego Springs. We were planning on diverging from the group at some point when the time was right. There was a mixture of road BMWs and a couple of GSs like ours, a few two-up. It left later than our normal "zero dark thirty", about 9am, on a pretty conventional track through Escondido and Valley Center through the Rincon Indian reservation to link up the Hwy 76. From there, we moved out smartly past Lake Henshaw and past Scout Camp Mataguay, turning on S-2 then to Montezuma Grade through Ranchita.

The pace had been leisurely as advertised and both Mark and I were looking for mile marker 6 "Old Wilson Road" in Ranchita. We motioned the group by and waved as they rode into the distance towards Borrego while we stopped and chatted briefly before turning off ABS and heading on to the dirt road.

Our maps showed that Old Wilson would connect up to a road called "Grapevine" that would lead us down the mountains and through Grapevine Canyon to exit near Yacqui Pass on Hwy 78. There was a bit more sand than I would have liked, but the new Scott's Steering Damper gave me some confidence (that I quickly used up!). I think that when I aired up my tires getting ready for the ride I made them *less useful* for this kind of sand riding!

We were motoring pretty steadily downhill and there were jeep tracks that had created sand berms around sharp corners. Luckily it had rained a week ago and the sand was a little hard packed. We passed a few remote ranches and I found myself wondering if that life was simple in its "basic-ness," or difficult.

We were making pretty good time and finally came to dead-end turn-around that was actually a trail head for "Angelina Spring." We met some South Africans there who confirmed that we needed to take a left at the last fork rather than the right turn we did. Heading out, the very next [blind] turn had us climbing through a fairly technical bit of hard pack, replete with boulders, smaller rocks and ruts caused by the recent rains. Mark had already plowed through this, but I wasn't ready for it at all. Fortunately I was in 2nd gear and hit the gas for a low-torque roll-through the rocks. Sheesh - I better start paying attention!

As usual, the more I stood up on the pegs, the better control I had in the sand and jeep tracks. There were a few times the bike got a little squirrely and I did stall it once trying to keep it upright. I found myself riding in one jeep track or the other, but that also subjected me to the whips of creosote bushes and other nefarious branches!

Mark had the foresight to make a couple of ham sandwiches, one of which I joyfully macked on as we relaxed in the middle of *nowhere.* Man, life was great: sweet street curves, challenging dirt trails, and homemade food for energy! He needed some gas, so Julian, CA and a coffee were our next stop. After a bit of rest and "manly talk" we climbed back on the iron horses. Hwy 78 and an unfortunate tragedy lay just ahead.

After waiting for a some motor homes and pick-ups & trailers returning from Ocotillo Wells, we entered the highway about 2 miles south of the twisty part that winds through the rocky pass just south and east of Scissor Crossing. Moving swiftly through the curves all was right with the world until we passed over San Felipe Bridge to find all traffic stopped.  We immediately hugged the center line and rode slowly past the vehicles.  I asked a couple of people what was going on and the answer was "motorcycle accident."  Uh-oh.

As we neared the accident scene, predictably it was a mess.  A cyclist was on his back by a crashed Moto Guzzi with onlookers uncomfortably looking on; one woman was leaning over his head. A side-car that used to be attached to the Guzzi was off the road against the cliff.  But without a doubt, the thing that captivated attention like a laser beam was the motorcycle crushed underneath a large trailer, fluids leaking out and free-flowing across the road.  Being on bikes, we picked our way through the wreckage.  There was no way the 4-wheel cages were going to do that anytime soon.  I stopped briefly to ask one of the people that looked like they had their wits about them whether we could cruise ahead to get help, or if there was anything we could do, but the emergency teams had already been contacted.  One guy on his mobile phone was reading the GPS coordinates of the accident into his receiver.

It was a corner Mark and I knew well - a blind corner that dove in tighter than one expected.  I could easily imagine a long truck/trailer combo cutting the corner and the bikes running wide and close to the double-yellow.  Trouble.

It was a sobering scene to be sure, but there was nothing we could do that wouldn't otherwise have gotten in the way. We drifted off at a sobering pace to Julian on a pre-planned gas and coffee stop, the latter at the Julian Coffee Shop. On the way home, we cranked it up a little bit and took the side route of Old Julian Highway off of the 78.  The good news is that they'd paved a bit of it and it was a LOT nicer road heading into Ramona.  Highly recommended, esp. if the smell of chicken crap doesn't phase you.  ;-)

At one of the stoplights in Ramona, Mark suggested taking Highland Valley east-to-west on the way home and I'm really glad he did.  This road has it all, from high-speed straights to the tightest of corners; smells of orchards and dust and the sights of "gentlemen" farms dotting the landscape.  We separated when the road "T-bones" into Pomerado, me going right towards the 15 and Mark heading Southward towards home.  It was a fast, uneventful commute for me after the drama of the day, but oh so sweet as I rolled back into Buckwheat Manor.  Next door neighbor Julie Hunter and Emily were selling lemonade outside the house - and doing a land-office business!  A cold glass of lemonade poured at home never tasted so good.

Gas, Coffee and tortilla soup, Old Julian Hwy, home to the girls selling lemonade.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Single Image HDR with HDR Efex Pro

HDR Efex Pro, the latest software creation from my employer Nik Software, continues to amaze me! I especially like re-working previously shot images using "Single Image" tonemapping. Here is a short video by my colleague Tony Corbell that shows the range of things you can do with single image HDR. Enjoy!