Saturday, August 15, 2009

Minnesota Zoo

I always try to go to the zoo when I travel. I love to see the animals, although I'm conflicted because I also hate to see them caged up. In the balance I think zoos are good because they make people more sympathetic to the plight of animals, but not everyone agrees.

The Minnesota Zoo (in Minneapolis / St. Paul) is quite a nice zoo. It's not huge in terms of numbers of animals, but it's in quite a large park-like area with lots of trees and ponds. And the animal enclosures are quite large and natural - not too many overt bars and cages. They also had a good butterfly exhibit (as you can tell by the photos!).

2009-08 Minnesota Zoo

The only negative was when I came out the main gate to find these signs:

The zoo may not have done this themselves, they may contract out the grounds maintenance. Maybe it wasn't even zoo property, although it was immediately outside the gate. Even so, for a place like this, that makes a big deal out of conservation and protecting the environment, it seems a little contradictory to be spraying poison around within 100 yards of animal enclosures. Not to mention all the kids and babies passing by going in and out of the zoo.

I emailed the zoo about this, but got no response. (I know they received it because they had problems receiving the photo.) This seems to be the norm when you report issues to most organizations. I can't understand it - it seems so totally "wrong" to me. How hard is it to reply? Even if it's just to say "we received your message". It wouldn't even cost them anything to say they'll look into it. To me, the worst possible response is to ignore it, or at least to appear to be ignoring it. I can't imagine that my software business would have survived if we had ignored customers reporting problems.

I even told them I'd be blogging about it and that I'd be happy to include their response. I thought that might help elicit a reply, but I guess that was wishful thinking.

Of course, I got home to find similar signs on the park half a block from my house, only this time they were poisoning the gophers. Even if you have no qualms about poisoning gophers, do you really want poison that kills small mammals being sprayed all over where your kids play? I'm sure the chemical company says it's safe, but given their track records I wouldn't put a lot of faith in that. Personally, I enjoy seeing the gophers and their antics and I'm not sure what they're hurting. Obviously they offend some people. Some of those people offend me, but I'm not allowed to poison them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gear for Superior Trip

In case there are other gear junkies out there (and for my own records) here's what I used on my recent 9 day backpacking trip on the Superior Trail.

My pack was a Marmot Eiger 48 that I bought recently, partly with this trip in mind. It's about the right size and it's fairly light (just over 3 lbs). I wouldn't say it's the most comfortable pack I've carried. At the beginning of the trip, with about 40 lbs in it, I had sore hips and shoulders by the end of the day. By the end of the trip I was no longer sore, but after eating all my food, it only weighed about 25 lbs. I wouldn't want to carry much more weight in it, but then again, it isn't big enough to carry much more. Despite the initial comfort issues I'm pretty happy with the pack.

My tent was a Mountain Hardwear Spire 2. This is the lightest two person, four season tent I've had. The Spire 2 is just over 4 lbs - the newer Spire 2.1 is slightly heavier for some reason. At first I wasn't sure about the side doors and vestibules - I'm used to vestibules at the ends. But I've grown to like it a lot. They have a three season version, the Skyledge 2.1, but it's only a few ounces lighter. For this trip it would have been fine, but in the mountains I tend to prefer a four season tent, since it can snow and storm even in the summer. I considered taking our Black Diamond Firstlight tent since it's a pound lighter, but I'm glad I didn't because it rained quite a lot at night and the Firstlight is not great for lengthy downpours.

It wasn't that cold at night so I took my North Face Kilobag. I tend to avoid down bags because they're useless if they get wet, but with a good tent, and enough good weather to dry it out, it was a good choice for this trip. Of course, the nice part of a down bag is that it's light and packs small. Under the bag I used a 3/4 length ProLite 3 Thermorest.

On my feet I wore Salomon Fastpacker goretex boots. I've had quite a few pairs of Salomon trail shoes that I really like and these boots have a similar fit. I considered wearing trail shoes, but for carrying a pack over a rough trail in possibly wet conditions I figured I was better off with the boots. They worked well, keeping my feet dry and providing some ankle support, but not weighing much more than a trail shoe.

I only took cold food - granola for breakfast, trail mix for lunch, and homemade energy bars for dinner. I had originally planned to take my Jet Boil stove to make tea and coffee but in the end it didn't seem worth the hassle. Especially since you can't take fuel on the plane so you have to track it down when you arrive. And hot drinks aren't as important in the summer as they are in colder weather. It did mean no coffee for 9 days - yikes! - but I survived :-)

I used an MSR HyperFlow Microfilter water filter. Unfortunately, it lived up to its reviews - very fast and easy to pump when it's new, not so good after it's been used for a while. At least I knew what to expect, and it was still usable. As a backup I had taken Aquatabs water purification tablets. Since I had them and they're so easy to use, I ended up using them in addition to filtering the water. Better to be safe than sick.

That's about it for gear. It all worked well and if I was doing it again I don't think I'd change anything.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hiking the Superior Trail

It all started when I picked up a copy of Thru Hiker's Guide to America: 25 Incredible Trails You Can Hike in One to Eight Weeks. One of the trails it praised, the Superior Trail, also happened to be one of the closest to Saskatchewan. I've been wanting to do a backpacking trip and this seemed like a good choice.

Lake Superior forms the north-east corner of Minnesota and the Superior Trail runs for 280 miles parallel to the shore. I did about 180 km (110 miles) of the trail over 9 days at the end of July. Although the biggest hills are only about 300 feet, some sections of the trail go up and down a lot, so it takes some effort. But the trail is very well maintained and marked and only foot traffic is allowed so it's very pleasant. And the trail guide available from the Superior Trail Office is excellent, giving details of each stage and all the campsites.

It turned out to be a little awkward to get to the start of the trail. I flew to Minneapolis, took an airport shuttle to Duluth, and then a taxi to Two Harbors (no other public transportation that I could find). I could have rented a car, but it would just have sat the whole time I was hiking so that didn't make much sense. From Two Harbors there is a trail shuttle that offers transportation to various points along the trail. Most people park their car at one end of the section they're hiking and then use the shuttle to get to/from the other end. I used it to get to the beginning of the trail, and then again to get back from my end point.

The weather was mixed, it rained every day, but not a lot, and I only ended up hiking in a downpour for one hour out of 9 days so I can't complain. And as you can see from my pictures, I got lots of sun too.

The bugs can be bad in this area, but they weren't for me. A couple of mornings they irritated me enough to put on insect repellent. They were out in the evenings as well but I could hide in the tent then.

I didn't see a lot of people on the trail, usually only 2 or 3 per day. (Other than where the trail went by roadside tourist attractions like waterfalls.) The back-country campsites were small, usually only a handful of tent sites at each. I only shared a campsite with other people one night.

The trail goes through a lot of forest, but it regularly tops out on ridges and high-points with great views. And there were lots of streams and rivers and waterfalls. I didn't see a lot of big animals - a few deer and a moose. But the plants and birds and insects and frogs etc. gave me more than enough to enjoy.

If you like backpacking, I'd give this trail two thumbs up. I think it would be awesome when the fall colors were out.

Of course, I took lots of photos.

2009-07 Superior Trail

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Pentax K7 Camera

I recently traded in my Pentax K10D camera body for a new Pentax K7. I kept the same Tamron 18 - 250 mm zoom lens (equivalent to 27 - 375 mm on this body). Despite the camera shop salesman telling me its quality isn't really up to the new camera, I love the huge range from mild wide angle to decent zoom. As I've mentioned before, I'm just not ready to carry around several lenses and switch back and forth. Besides, my main quality issue isn't the lens, its hand-held shots without a tripod!

The first four shots were from a batch taken in the backyard as soon as the battery was charged enough to use. The next four were from a kayaking trip to Redberry Lake the next day. And the last four were from walking to work the following day. They're drawn from a limited number of shots with the new camera, but so far I'm pretty happy with it. It seems to focus faster, expose better, and have better low light capabilities - all things I was looking for. And it's slightly smaller and lighter than the K10D which is a nice bonus.

2009-08 new Pentax K7
The other big new feature is that it can shoot video. It always seemed funny that almost every little point and shoot camera does video, but dSLR's didn't. Now that's changing, with most of the new models supporting video. But it's first generation technology and there are limitations - for example, on the K7 there's no auto-focus while shooting video. But unlike some point-and-shoot camera, you can zoom the lens while shooting.

Although you can shoot 1536 x 1024 video it's hard to find anywhere to post video at this resolution. The example here was stabilized with iMovie (to remove the jitter from my usual hand-holding) and then exported at HD resolution (1280×720).

To see it in HD, click on "Vimeo" to go to the video on their web site, then view full-screen. Depending on your screen resolution it'll probably look better if you turn off scaling.

The content of the video is nothing special, it was mostly just a test. It's too bad there's no easy way to post the full resolution version since it's quite a bit nicer.

Walking Across China

A time-lapse video made by Christoph Rehage as he walked 4646km across China.

I recently read Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. about another walker.

I find the idea of long distance walks strangely appealing, but I can't see myself ever walking these kinds of distances.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dams Go Down

Explorer - As Dams Go Down, Kayaking Rises -

I recently read Derrick Jensen's Endgame and he talks a lot about taking down dams, mostly about how it isn't happening. So it's great to hear that it actually is happening to some extent.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cheap Food

We seem to have an expectation that food should be cheap, that it's somehow "wrong" for good food to be more expensive.

But that seems strange to me. Don't we normally expect "better" to be more expensive? You expect "better" cars to be more expensive, better tv's, better cameras, better holidays. So why is food different?

Over recent history, the percentage of income we spend on food has declined drastically. People in many other countries expect to pay a much bigger percentage of their income on food

Maybe we've gotten so used to this dropping cost that when we encounter more expensive food it somehow seems "wrong". Then again, maybe it's corporations like MacDonalds that have brainwashed us into thinking that cheap is the only choice.

When you consider that we're talking about our bodies and our health, our life itself, you'd think we'd place more importance on food. But no, MacDonalds is cheaper so we'll eat there, even though in most other things we wouldn't be caught dead going for the "cheapest" choice.

I'm not talking about people that are starving or can't afford to buy food. I'm talking about us privileged people who spend all kinds of money on consumer goods, but still resent having to pay for good food.

It seems to me, that when I buy an apple and it's coming all the way from New Zealand, that it ought to be expensive!

Personally, I'm lucky to be able to afford good food, local food when & where I can get it, organic food where possible. And I don't mind one bit paying a premium for it. My only frustration is that it shouldn't only be people that are well off that can afford to eat well.

Where's the happiest, greenest country?

Nature Canada Blog: Happy Planet Index 2.0 - Where's the happiest, greenest country?

Canada is 89th on the list. :-(

Nine of the top ten are in Latin America.