Monday, August 30, 2010

Riding Season Ending?

Motorcycle parking at my building is still busy even though mornings are starting to get pretty cool. According to the "Motorcycle Parking only" signs, the reserved parking will only be in place for a couple more days, then the spaces will be available for anyone to use. I think folks are trying to get in a bit more riding before summer ends. Classes start up later this week and traffic has really picked up around campus. Student housing has been available as general hotel space for the summer and it was advertised on both the BMWMOA and ADVrider forums since the housing director is an active participant on both. Throughout the summer, there were always a number of riders staying in housing. I think the final number was about 350 riders taking advantage of the bargain priced housing. It seemed to be an especially popular choice with riders heading up or returning from Prudhoe Bay.

In my email I found a message from the local BMW riders list of a "End of The Year Chena Hot Springs Ride" scheduled for September 19th. Last year, there must have been four or five of these "Last Ride of the Season" scheduled due to the lack of snow or ice on the road until November. Hopefully this year will be a repeat of that. Several of the riders have sidecar rigs and continue through most of the winter only stopping when the temperatures are significantly below zero. I think it's significant that all of these year-round rigs are either BMW airheads or Royal Enfields. Nothing modern...

After spending some time during the rally in Redmond at the Airheads tent, a couple of us decided to look into starting an Alaska chapter. There used to be one in Anchorage but it sort of faded away. After some announcements went out on a couple of email lists, the first meeting was held last week at a local microbrewery. About fifteen people showed up and that seemed more than sufficient to process the paperwork to get a new chapter set up. The purpose of the chapters seems to be a place to share maintenance and repair information for these old BMW "R" bikes with air-cooled heads and cylinders like my R100RT.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A walk around NARL

Barrow Whalers football field
This evening, I went for a walk around NARL as it was a beautiful evening. Temperatures were in the mid-50s, a nice breeze blowing and not a cloud in the sky. In case you haven't heard, Barrow has a high school football team, the Barrow Whalers. They have a wonderful field complete with artificial turf, electronic scoreboard and a great view. The Ocean is behind me and a lake is in on the other side of the field. The facility in the distance is a radar facility that also houses some scientific instrumentation. I guess there was a game last Saturday but since I was busy playing with video, I didn't stop by to watch the game. The field is located just past the NARL campus.

Just a little west of the football field is the area where they are unloading the barges. This is THE way for the majority of heavy stuff gets into Barrow. There are rows of these containers as they come off the barge and the empty ones get loaded back on. There isn't a dock but it looks like they offload from the large, sea going barges to smaller versions that they bring all the way up to the beach. Then forklifts unload the containers and stack them on the beach. Fuel and gasoline come in the same way so the price in the end of the summer determines the local gas price for the entire year. Bringing stuff in by air is expensive, especially gas. This morning, in the cafeteria, I met someone from Fairbanks. She is up here teaching or tutoring at Ilisagvik College. It's always a surprise to meet someone up here that you know.

I believe I've taken a picture of this "Welcome to Barrow" sign before but never on so nice of an evening. The days are still pretty long even though Fall is just around the corner. It is after 9 pm when these pictures were taken and the sun was just a bit to the left out of frame. I've included some additional shots that appealed to me. I've had pictures of the theatre before but they were taken in the winter. The overhead utilidors currently carry natural gas to many of the buildings for heat.

This used to be the Theatre

NARL Quonset Huts

Overhead Utilidor
Tuesday Morning - I'll end with a panorama I took this morning from the platform on top of the BARC. It is almost 360 degrees. But having a hard time getting a picture to upload. That may be a limitation of the Blogger platform as the original is 11.3 MB. The scaled down version is 6.5 MB and that won't upload either. The next option is 40K. What happened to everything in between. Maybe I need to find something other than Blogger. Oh well, here it is...

I tried using Photobucket, as Bobskoot recommended, and it will accept the full size file but the link it provides always returns a low resolution copy as would be most suitable for a blog post. I need to keep playing around with this.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Barrow Video Podcast

The fog finally rolled out by evening and it turned out to be a pretty nice day. I was out walking around noon and it was starting to feel like winter. No snow but overcast, foggy and a strong, cold wind. In the picture on the right, I was told that all of the pallets of building material are headed for the new hospital here in Barrow. Last year they got the foundation in but no other work has been done until the barges could bring in more material. There has been a string of barges waiting to unload since I got here on Thursday. Things are really hopping around here. Not that it has anything to do with the BARC (Barrow Arctic Science Center), but some of the construction workers for are staying in the NARL hotel. I spent most of today in the BARC getting ready to test out the video system I have set up.

Barrow Arctic Research Center
There was another Saturday Schoolyard presentation today and the presenter was Josh Dugat, a science teacher from New Orleans who works with disadvantaged high school kids. He gave a great presentation not only explaining the research he has been involved with up here but also how he was incorporating this into his lessons back home. The scientists participate from around the country with his class throughout the year including when they are out in the field. The video equipment worked fine with the exception of a weird error from the Mac Mini running Podcast Capture. Fortunately, I also recorded the presentation on the Tricaster so I just replayed it and captured the video on the Mac using QuickTime Player then uploaded the file using Podcast Capture. That may end up being the more reliable method. I also streamed the presentation to the Internet using and we had a handful of people join and watch. So far, the feedback is completely positive. It looked great. The OS X server is still chunking away at the video encoding. Theoretically, the file could be uploaded directly but I haven't come out with a simple way to get the huge (>2 GB) file from the Tricaster (Windows XP) to the Mac. Standard methods such as USB drives use FAT32 as the file system format and the maximum file size is 2 GB.

I still have to figure out how to get the site working with the iTunes store so podcasts would be available through iTunes or iTunesU. Haven't decided which would be the more appropriate path.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Location, How Public Should One Be?

After seeing the "Current Location" widget on Chris Luhmans blog Everyday Riding, I gave it a little thought and decided to give it a try. It uses Google Latitude and you have only a little bit of control as to how much information you want to give away. No information, city only or full location information. I.e. as accurate as the gps in your phone. I chose the middle option of naming the city only. I also loaded a small program on my phone called Longitude that updates Google every 90 minutes or so based on the phones location. The 90 minute interval is sort of a compromise of location and battery life. Since I was headed up to Barrow, it seemed like an opportune time to try out the service. One of the side benefits, supposedly, is you could know where your phone is. In order for this to be of real use, you have to have more accurate location information fed from the phone. I tried it and you could tell which side of the street I was walking. Maybe a little too much information...

As I mentioned, I'm in Barrow for a while to try and get as much done on the video podcast, webcast solution as possible. There are so many small pieces, it's hard to figure out all of them before you actually plug things together. And since there isn't anyplace up here to get small pieces like cables or adaptors, all I can do is make lists, order more pieces and come back again. I now have two Sony cameras mounted to the ceiling with serial cables for remote pan/tilt/zoom and video feeding back to the Tricaster Studio. The video output from the Tricaster feeds, via s-video, to a Dac-10 which is Firewire connected to a Mac Mini. The Dac-10 is a wonderful unit that allows you to convert any video source to something else. Unfortunately, it isn't made anymore. I just brought up the unit from my office to get things going. The Mac Mini runs Podcast Capture which uploads the captured video to a OSX Server running Podcast Producer. Last night, I configured Podcast Producer (along with the associated XGrid, NFS and OpenDirectory) and it runs beautifully. This is a dual Xeon server with 12 GB of memory and it really does a great job with the encoding. Over three times as fast as the older server I had set up last December. It took a while figuring out how to get the content moved off the system volume but now it just cruises! I like it when things just work. The Tricaster optionally runs a service that you can configure to connect into. Your content will then be available from them. The obvious benefit is bandwidth. This site has two satellite T1 connections so bandwidth is limited and there is a lot of latency.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Camping at Chena Hot Springs - Part II

This morning (Saturday), I headed up to the Aurorium, which is a simple building made from three-sided logs up on one of the hills away from the resort. It's used primarily in the winter to view the aurora so it has floor to ceiling windows looking towards the north and, since there is little darkness, definitely not enough to see the aurora, it was getting little use. The squirrels seem to have taken over the area and they seemed pretty agressive. They must rely heavily on goodies from the tourists coming up to the building. This is an example of the improvements to the property that the current owners have made in recent years.

After a long soak in the rock lake, I took a short hike up the Chena River to the eastern boundary of the property then back near the power generation facility. The rock lake is an 18+ part of the facility making it a generally quiet and relaxing place. In case you get too warm, the sprinkler in the middle of the lake will cool you off pretty quickly. You can wander around and find somewhere where the temperature suits you. This water, unlike the pool and the hot tubs is left in its natural state so there is algae growing on the rocks around the edge of the pond. This is another improvement that was put in by the current owners. I think they took over the property around 1998.

There are three of these generators, two of them homebuilt using scavenged parts and one commercial now being manufactured by their partner United Technologies. The hot water from the ground boils the R134. The vapor spins a turbine which turns a generator making 280 KW per unit. During their peak season (winter), they need about 400 KW. The newly acquired third unit should make them not have to use their diesel genset except in a real emergency. The hot water is then re-injected to maintain the water table. I think the cooling water also comes from a well and is also re-injected. I wonder what the effect is from warming the water table....

The greenhouse is heated using hot water and the geothermal generated electricity powers the grow lights. The delicious tomatoes and lettuce are being grown hydroponically and are served in restaurant year around. A variety of other vegetable gardens scattered around the property produce almost all of the vegetables used within the facility.

It is starting to get really crowded around here probably due to tomorrows energy fair. There are numerous white tents set up for the presentations and vendors. There is a large tent for their keynote speakers which include a bunch of politicians all saying how wonderful the efforts of Chena Power are for the state. I may not hang around for the keynote speeches I spent the afternoon relaxing, hiking some of the trails, wandering around in the sunshine, laying around the hot springs, and waiting around in the activity center for my phone to recharge. I guess I should have picked up one of those solar chargers I saw in Portland.

So far, all I've forgotten is a towel, mosquito repellant, and a can opener. And maybe a mallet for the tent stakes but I'm thinking of simply getting better stakes such as the SS spikes I saw advertised at REI.

Dinner was at the restaurant (since I couldn't open the can) was duck confit salad with a sesame wasabi dressing. Much better than the tuna, canned vegetables and ramen that I had brought with me. The salad was not just much better but fabulous. I don't remember ever having anything mediocre at the restaurant here at the resort and, after our recent trip through Canada, the prices seem pretty reasonable. By the time we arrived in the Yukon Territory, we were pretty used to higher prices for everything. The only thing missing is free wireless Internet. It is available but $10 per day for shared satellite Internet seems a bit excessive. Especially since it was free the last time we were here. I not addicted to the Internet that much. So even though I wrote this and the last post over the weekend, They won't get posted until I get back home.

Monday morning - The trip home was interesting. It was really windy with strong gusts coming from behind me at about 45°. The bike handling was interesting to say the least. I've ridden in many times in similar conditions many times before never really noticed much difference in the way the bike feels. It could be due to the additional weight on the rear of the bike or the additional cross section from the gear. I did figure a better way to pack, I put my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and clothes in the H2W dry-duffle and didn't use the top loading dry bag at all. The tent, chair and duffle were tied on the back and the hard bags were almost empty. The rearrangement was necessary as I noticed that the rear mounting screw for the hard bags was missing. A zip tie held things together enough for the trip home. I should use some blue Loktite on the mounting hardware. All I had in the bags for the trip home was the stove, fuel and a bit of leftover food in one and spare gloves, running shoes and liners in the other. Maybe contributing to the handling change was the somewhat higher center of gravity with much of the heavier stuff moved to the duffle. Anyway the handling was different enough that I stopped after a few miles to check my tire pressures and to see if the load had shifted. After riding into my campsite with the bike fully loaded, I chose to ride the empty bike to the parking lot and just carry my stuff the 100 yards and load it there. The road through the campground circled way around and was still soft, muddy with lots of ruts, loose gravel and potholes. After going through the mud and the loose dirt, the Metzeler Lasetecs almost looked and handled like they were bald as all of the groves were packed with dirt.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Camping at Chena Hot Springs - Part I

My bike just went past 60,000 miles today while I was on my way out of town. Only about 8,000 of those miles are mine but I plan to get plenty more. There is an renewable energy fair at Chena Hot Springs this coming Sunday, so I thought it may be a good opportunity to go early and get in a camping trip with my bike. I came home at 3:00, threw a bunch of gear and food together, loaded the bike and was on the road by 3:30. Not much planning. We'll see how much stuff I've forgotten. Since it is a resort, some services are available such as a restaurant but no supplies. It is only around 70 miles to the end of Chena Hot Springs Road but the brush isn't cut back very far so moose are a real threat. I only saw one on the way but it was in a pond. Chena Hot Springs is one of my favorite destinations in Alaska.

This is the first time I've gone camping on the bike. I have a top-loading dry bag from canoe trips, a H2W (Helen-Twowheels) dry-duffle and a camping chair tied on the back using Rok Straps. One pannier has clothes and the liners for my riding gear and the other has shoes, stove, cooking stuff and food. The dry-duffle has my tent, sleeping pad, ground cloth and rain gear. I don't think this is a good way to distribute stuff since the dry-duffle has things that could get or be wet. The panniers are only about half full, the tank bag only has water, some canned drinks and my medicine. The front glove boxes only have the normal paperwork and some tools. Need to give this packing some more thought.

The tent campground is almost empty while the RV one is packed just as most of the other campgrounds we stayed at during our road trip. The ground was really soft at my campsite and it took a bit of looking (and a nice flat rock) to find ground solid enough that the sidestand didn't sink in. Plus, since this camping area is new, the roads either deep gravel or soft dirt. The round buildings scattered throughout the campground in the picture are yurts that are available for rent. Kind of like dry cabins.

I've been looking for an opportunity to camp with the bike and have been accumulating stuff over the last year. The Kelty Teton 2 tent got plenty of use during our road trip this summer, and I used the H2W dry-duffle as my suitcase. I was planning on picking up the camp chair that recommended at the REI in Bend last month but forgot. The Rok Straps come highly recommended by many and they do seem to work really well. Much of the rest I've had from my camping, bicycle touring, backpacking and climbing days. The bike came with Kathy's Journey Designs pannier liners that looked brand new. My old MSR GK multi-fuel expedition stove still works great and the REI thermorest clone is still very comfy. Even the 30 year old Camp7 sleeping bag is still in decent shape after having been used on literally hundreds of trips. I couldn't find my cooking stuff so I took a small pot from our car-camping stash. One of my meds is kind of a hassle since it needs to be kept cold (but not frozen) so I'm using a 0.5 liter thermos with 3 ice cubes. That is sufficient for about 24 hours.

Avon Distanzia
Thinking about the soft dirt and gravel reminded me of my search for more appropriate tires for my R100RT airhead. I am looking for a dual sport type of tire maybe 70/30 street/dirt since we have a lot of gravel roads up here worth exploring. I know that the RT is far from the ideal for dirt and gravel roads. Last month while in Ross River, I talked to a gentleman from northeastern Canada on on old G/S, and he mentioned that he has riden up to Prudhoe and Inuvik on his 84 R100RT several times in the past 20 years without any problems. Shawn at Adventure Cycleworks did some digging and found that Avon Distanzia come in the correct size but then discovered that they don't import that size into the U.S. any more. The front is no problem since it is the same size as the F650GS but the rear is an uncommon size for dual sport tires. (4.00-18) Both Avon and Heidenau have 110/80-18 but he said that the diameter may be around 11mm smaller. Maybe that's not enough to worry about. But then again, the bike sits pretty vertical when on the side stand. If anyone has some thoughts, let me know.

Rock Lake at CHSR
Chena Hot Springs Resort now runs completely on geothermal power using a system that the resort engineered themselves. They not only produce all of the electricity for the resort but also for greenhouses and an ice hotel. The greenhouse supplies fresh vegetables for the restaurant year around and they can keep their ice hotel frozen throughout the summer. Tomorrow, I signed up for a geothermal tour. Should be interesting.

Ice Skating Pond
This is the ice skating pond located just outside of the pool building. It has been taken over by a bunch of ducks. There is a nice herb garden planted along one side of the pond and nice seating along the other side.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back in Alaska - Part II

Klondike Motors in Dawson City, YT
The unfortunate part of a vacation is having it end. I throughly enjoyed our trip last month and not just the destinations but the trip itself. I've always enjoyed travelling around not just to see new people and places but also re-visiting the old places. The Alaska Highway trip should be starting to get old by now but I enjoy each trip and marvel at the views and the little towns we pass through as if it were my first trip. I had been to Dawson City several times in the past but seeing and photographing the old buildings again was enjoyable. In fact, as soon as I framed this shot, I remembered taking this one before though it would've been on Ektachrome. I didn't feel like looking through all my old slides but I remember that photo well. Back then, I didn't take many color pictures as film and developing was expensive. One of the huge advantages of digital.

On the trip north, we ventured a bit to the east towards Jasper just to take a new road. I've taken the route from Hope, BC, north to Prince George, BC, many times and it is a beautiful road especially following the Fraser River up through the canyon. I don't remember the name of this river but I do want to spend some additional time around Jasper on the next trip. The mountains were spectacular. Unfortunately, I took few pictures through this magnificent area. Even though we weren't in a big hurry, we still needed to get in 400-500 miles per day so not too many stops.

Brown Sidestand on my BMW R100RT
With all of the vendors at the BMWMOA Rally in Redond, OR, this is the only farkle that I picked up at the rally. A Brown Sidestand. The original equipment sidestand is more forward of this and it has a few issues. My issue with it is when it is down, it is completely hidden by the left cylinder so unless you are looking for it, you won't see it. Until my ride last June to Delta,  I had always remembered to raise the sidestand as part of my "procedure" before starting the engine. In June, I took off with it down and almost dumped the bike. The other issue some have with it is the "auto retract" feature. When pressure is removed from the stand it is supposed to flip up automatically. The problem is, depending on how your bike is loaded, it will occasionally retract at other times when you least expect it. The Brown Sidestand fastens to the an engine mounting bolt near the footpeg and is easily visible while seated on the bike. It also doesn't have the auto-retract feature. The bike seems much more stable and, from what I've been told, way more stable when loaded with camping gear. It is also much, much easier to deploy while still seated. The owners manual for my Beemer says you are to get off of the bike before putting down the sidestand and similarly, put the sidestand up before getting on the bike. I, for one, can't do either. Those German engineers must be huge and have a much better sense of balance than I. BTW, I did leave the stock sidestand installed for those times when its larger foot would be an advantage such as softer surfaces or hot asphalt...

400# Pumpkin
The Tanana Valley Fair was a pleasant diversion and it, as expected, rained on and off the day we went. Judging was still going on but I think this 400# pumpkin has a good chance of winning something. The fair is pretty much like any small town country fair with a bunch of vendors, a midway (with the same rides every year) and "fair food". There are more healthy options but the ones that seem to attract the most attention are the fried options. Elephant ears, fried candy bars, huge blocks of french fries, corn fritters, fried halibut, etc. In the past, I've volunteered to booth-sit sometime during the fair but since I wasn't around prior to the fair starting, I didn't get an opportunity to put my name in. Some people really enjoy the entertainment or the rides in the midway but I think I go to visit the vendor booths and wander around watching people.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Back in Alaska

After spending a very relaxing day in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada, we crossed the Yukon River on the free ferry and headed out on the Top of the World Highway. This road climbed out of the valley and pretty much ran along the ridge line all the way to the U.S./Canada border. The Taylor Highway, which runs from the border south to the Alaska Highway near Tok, was washed out due to some recent rainstorms but was reopened on Thursday morning. What timing. Personally, I didn't have a problem with going back through Whitehorse and staying an extra day in Canada but I think others in the truck really wanted to get home.

The border sign was just about deserted save for a couple riding two-up on a Harley Sportster heading out of the turnout as we pulled in. They had stopped to take their picture with their bike in front of the sign. The iPhone Autostitch shot was taken from the turnout facing roughly north. As you can see, we are well above tree line at around 3800 ft or so. This road, while kind of rough, only sees a fraction of the traffic of the Alaska Highway. We stopped at a gas station just a few miles past the border, and the owner mentioned that he didn't have much food to sell or fuel (including fuel for his own generator) due to the road closure. But he did have some fresh baked goodies that attracted my son's attention almost immediately and hot coffee which got my attention.

"Top of the World"
The Top of the World Highway turns into the Taylor Highway in Alaska and was pretty narrow and rough, still wider and smoother than the eastern half of the Campbell Highway, but was way too narrow for the tour buses and 40' fifth wheel RVs that were coming through the just repaired road (IMHO). You can really tell the difference from the Alaska and the Yukon roads. After a brief stops in Chicken, AK, and Tok we made our way back home by late afternoon.

Here are some shots of Dawson City that appealed to me.
St. Marys Church

Riverboat Keno
Frost Heave Damage "Kissing Buildings"

On Sunday afternoon, a small group of us rode out to the Monderosa for lunch again (sorry bobskoot and Conchscooter, no pictures). There were several other riders out there and they commented on our rather mixed group. Kawasaki Concours, three Harleys, two BMWs and a Yamaha. It was a fun trip with great company.