Sunday, October 16, 2016

Biking the Cowboy Trail across Nebraska

flickr/Ken Ratcliff

The above photo hit my Facebook newsfeed and I was entranced. Memories of summers on the farm in central Nebraska flooded back into my awareness. I followed the supplied link to a story about a wonderful rails-to-trails project, which converted an abandoned rail line into a biking and hiking trail. As of this writing, the so-called Cowboy Trail is the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the country, covering 321 miles between Chadron and Norfolk.

My initial Facebook reaction:

"This would be a great 5 or 6 day ride, culminating in my hometown of Norfolk, NE. I think I'll check out the tent and hostel accommodations along the route, and see if an end-to-end ride feasible."

As it happens, I already have plans to be near Chadron State Park in August, 2017, to observe the great solar eclipse. So naturally, I am thinking about taking a slightly longer route home, eastbound via the Cowboy Trail, with a stop in my hometown of Norfolk.

First thing I did was search for detailed maps of the trail. I found this helpful website called Bike Cowboy Trail which covers the paved portion of the trail between Valentine and Norfolk. The section between Chadron and Valentine is gravel and has fewer services and amenities at this point. The western half of the trail is suitable for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, but not for touring bikes.

The next thing I did was put the Cowboy Trail into context. The 321-mile trail cuts through the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, generally tracking Highway 20 between Chadron and Inman. Just south of Inman, Highway 20 splits off to Sioux City. At that juncture, the Cowboy Trail then follows along Highway 275 to Norfolk.
Map showing the locations of Chadron and Norfolk in context of Nebraska and surrounding states

Next I discovered an interesting tidbit about Highway 20--in particular, the portion from just east of Valentine and west past Chadron all the way to the Wyoming border. That stretch of road is known as the Buttes to Bridges Byway

Extending from east of Valentine (junction of Highways 83 & 20) to the Wyoming border, the Bridges to Buttes Byway journeys through diverse topography and distinctive landscapes. From rolling Sandhills through the Pine Ridge and the Nebraska National Forest onto plateaus from which you can see the Black Hills and into neighboring states, you will experience the sites, solitude and vastness that early travelers and settlers felt as they first saw this region.
That description and the photos accompanying it are compelling! So now I am looking forward to some more detailed planning, focusing on the logistics of this proposed adventure. And as I always do when I start a new project, I opened MS Excel. I copied table data from into Excel. I added rows for the towns west of Valentine. Then I used Google Maps to plot the distances between those towns. I noticed that if I selected the bicycle mode of travel in Google Maps, the elevation was provided--so I recorded elevations at all 31 towns on the trail between and including Chadron and Norfolk. The results are in the table below.

Table of Mileage and Elevation for Eastbound

There is still much more to do! I'd like to get locations and descriptions of the 221 bridges along the Cowboy Trail. I'd also like to catalog the other points of interest along the way. For example, I know that there are archaeological sites, Army outposts, pioneer homesteads, Native American sites, and of course old towns that dotted the prairie in the railroad's heyday.

This will be a grand adventure! More to follow!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Army Ten-Miler T-Shirt Collection

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Finisher! Army 10-Miler 2016

The Army Ten-Miler (ATM) is an annual event hosted by the Association of the United Stated Army (AUSA) in conjunction with that organization's yearly symposium and exposition. Organizers say the race is the third largest ten-mile race in the world but it's certainly the largest race I've ever participated in. The field of 35,000 included at least one runner from every American state. 

I love the ATM. I always see people I know, the entrance fee supports military charities, the statue- and monument- and museum-lined route is inspiring, the event attracts world-class competition, and the after-party is a blast. 

Officially, this was my 8th year participating in the big race. If we count 2001 when I ran a shadow event because the main race was cancelled due to post-9/11 security concerns, then this was my 9th ATM. Either way, with all that experience, I certainly ought to know better than to do what I did this year....  

For a variety of reasons, this was my slowest outing--by far. In fact, I was plodding along, listening to TED Talks, when I noticed a man with a stop watch and a clip board writing down my bib number. I thought that was odd, so I removed my earbuds and looked around. Someone else was sliding a barrier across the route right behind me. Turns out I was the last person allowed to remain on the course, and everyone behind me was diverted to a shortcut route back to the Pentagon. 

I knew I was moving slowly. My pre-race exercise and diet had not been optimal and I was suffering the effects of those choices. I could feel the blisters on my feet--confirmed when I got home, removed my shoes, and saw my bloody socks. To avoid getting shin splints, I was exaggerating my ankle rotations and pausing frequently to stretch and flex my ankles and calves. At one point I had to wait in line for a porta-john. So yes, I was aware that I was way off my target pace, but I had no idea that I was so close to the maximum allowable pace of 15 minutes per mile. I crossed the 5-mile mark blissfully oblivious to the fact that I was just about to barely pass the pace count cut-off!  

Seeing that barrier slide behind me at the pace check point bolted me into a heightened sense of awareness. Naturally, I had to pick up the pace for the remainder of the race, because the course closes at 11:30. or 2.5 hours after the last  heat starts at 9 AM. The only thing worse than getting shin splints and blisters is getting shin splints and blisters and having nothing to show for it! I did manage to complete the second half faster than the first half of the race, and I lived to tell the tale! 

For me, "running" ten miles is a matter of falling slightly forward and just barely catching myself, 20,000 times. Having run the darn ATM a time or two, I certainly knew how to train and prepare--yet this year I seem to have relied on luck. Luck alone got me past the pace-count check-point with seconds to spare. I saved all my brilliance and wisdom for a little poem, which I have titled, "But If You Do." I composed most of it in my head as a distraction from the burning sensation in my feet, ankles, and shins. 

But if you do...

Don't get old, but if you do
Don't slide yourself out of shape, but if you do
Don't sign up for the Army Ten-Miler, but if you do
Don't wait too late to train.

But if you do, don't train all at once
But if you do, don't give yourself blisters
But if you do, don't rely on Epsom salts,
But if you do, remember

Only starters finish
Only movers blister or chafe
Only those who risk falling advance and
Only the lucky get old

Links to previous post-run photos:
2012 did not run and I don't know why not
2013 ran, but did not take a photo and I don't know why not
2015 ran, but did not take a photo and I don't know why not

And, for a post containing my ATM shirt collection, n = 10 (including the shirt we made for the 2001 shadow run fund-raiser for the ODCSPER Family Support Group), see HERE.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

DC Beer Week 2016

DC Beer Week 2016

September 24th - October 1st  


DC Beer Week is a collection of events throughout the DC-metro area highlighting the local beer scene in the nation's capital. See what's happening by checking out our Event Calendar updated daily.

Looking for Beer in DC? Try the Good Beer Map.

Here's my review of The Good Beer Map, from the good folks at DC I love beer! I love DC! I love maps! I am generally fond of DC certainly have a lot of common interests! So how come I don't love DC's Good Beer Map?

The Good Beer Map covers DC and a little bit of Northern Virginia. It uses BatchGeo maps and geospatial data to show various venues where thirsty searchers can find good beer. The data can also be read in Google Maps, which is nice if you navigate using an Android phone, or if you, like me, navigate with an Apple phone but use Google Maps anyway because Apple's Maps just really don't get the job done.

There are six color-coded categories to identify venues by type.

Beer Store
DCBeer Favorites
Homebrew Shop

I guess The Good Beer Map is better than nothing, but there are a few reasons why it's not getting tons of views, certainly not from me.

  1. It's simply not comprehensive. Within the area of interest, there are probably three times more venues than those shown. Even though BatchGeo supports multiple users changing data, there is no attempt to crowd-source the data. Why not?
  2. Anyone who lives in or near DC would be interested in Maryland venues as well. If I am willing to drive to Leesburg, I am probably willing to drive to Ellicot City.
  3. You can't simply hover over a venue and see the name of it. You have to click the icon and then a third of the screen fills up with more data than you want if you're already familiar with the region.
  4. There is no mention of venues that are coming soon, or of those that have recently departed.  It would be easy enough to track that information and store it in layers.
  5. You cannot click, say, Brewpubs on the legend and have only Brewpubs displayed on the map. Such a feature would reduce a lot of clutter when you are on a mission.
  6. I am somewhat interested in those venues DCBeer has "favorited," but I can't tell which of the light blue DC Beer favorites is a bar and which is a brewery. Why not just circle the color coded icons?
  7. I find the lack of linked details disturbing. Once I bother to click on the icon and a third of my screen is consumed by boilerplate, I would like to see some links to Twitter or Facebook feeds so I can see menus and tap lists and calendars of events.     

I try not to raise an issue without also bringing a suggestion. My suggestions are embedded in the constructive criticism above. In addition, I recommend the organizational structure I've touted elsewhere on the pages of PhilosFX. I would like to see beer venues of all types within 100 miles of the Capitol Building.

See for yourself HERE, and if you disagree with my review, let me know in the comments.

The Washington Beer Trail

Dan Henebery has done all beer lovers in the DC area a huge favor. He's created what he's calling the Washington Beer Trail, DC's version of the Connecticut Beer Trail, the Valley Beer Trail, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, the Delaware Beer, Wine, and Spirits Trail, and--well, you get the point!

You can read more about beer trails HERE.

Please follow this LINK to see Dan's full article.

What is your favorite Beer Trail?

Do you like the idea of using genetic algorithms to map out the most efficient route for your cultural heritage or agricultural touring adventures?

How would you like to try a bicycle tour of Washington's breweries?