Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rivanna Trail - Updated Turnsheet

A while ago I wrote a description of the sections of the Rivanna Trail. Recently, I decided to give them an update, and the result is below. It's still a work in progress, as I'd like to make distances more specific ("a short bit" is only so useful), and link the text to the map with some key points and such. But that's all coming (slowly). If you spot any need for corrections (besides my poor grammar, and lack of imagination with adjectives and sentence structure), please let me know!

I'll start at Riverview, and generally go around counter-clockwise, finishing back up at Riverview.

Riverview - River Rd: At Riverview Park, there are two trailheads out of the parking lot, both heading out on paved footpaths. One would be if you continue straight, the way you came in to the parking lot, the other goes off to the right, heading toward the playground area and Rivanna River. You can take either, they both meet up after a short while, and there are some un-paved cut-throughs between them. The trail will be a paved walkway for a few miles, and basically follows the river (which'll be on your right), passing under route 250 at one point. Eventually you'll pop out at a field with some soccer goals set up. You can continue following the trail, or you'll see a parking lot off to your left - you can head up there and turn right on the road that's there (River Rd). If you stay on the trail, it'll go just a short bit through an area with some small trees, close to the river bank, and then there will be signs pointing you to the left. That trail heads up a hill, then runs along a fence at a VFW building until you get to the road (River, same road), on which you'll turn right.

River and Locust: Head up the hill on River, and at the stop sign at the end of River (at the top of the hill), turn right on Locust Ave. That'll head downhill a little bit, and come to a T-intersection. Turn left at the intersection, onto Locust Lane, and then take your first little road to your right, Megan Ct. At the end of that short little road is a sign for the RTF, on the right.

Locust - Holmes: From there, the trail heads downhill for a short bit, to get down to Meadow Creek. Once you get there, you'll continue along with the creek on your right, eventually popping out of the woods into a clearing with the creek on your right but curving left in front of you, and houses up the hill on your left. Follow that clearing, staying between the houses and the creek, with a few hops across some drainage areas as you go. In this section, keep to the right side of the clearing. Shortly before getting to Holmes (the first and only road crossing), the trail and clearing generally veer right, and once they do you'll be able to see Holmes ahead of you.

Holmes - Melbourne: After crossing Holmes Ave, pick up the trail in the gap in the guardrail. This trail follows the Meadow Creek (on your right), with a cleared strip of land on our left. The single track eventually dumps out onto the cleared stretch, and you continue on, keeping the creek on your right. Once the creek turns left, the clearing ends and you go left into the woods, back on single track. This continues for a short bit, eventually crossing under Park St at its intersection with Melbourne. Just after crossing under the road, the single track is closed, and you must go left, up to Melbourne Rd.

Melbourne - Meadowcreek Parkway: Once you get to Melbourne road, looking left you'll see the intersection with Park. However, you want to go the other way, heading instead to the light at the Meadowcreek Parkway. You'll make a right at the parkway to get on the paved footpath following the parkway.

[[McIntire spur: Instead of turning right at the parkway, you can continue straight on Melbourne. You'll go up a hill, and over a bridge across the train tracks. Just after that bridge, there's a Rivanna Trail sign on your left, leading down some stairs, and you'll see Charlottesville High School in front of you (with the baseball diamond the closest thing to you). If you head down those stairs, and stay generally left, there's a patch of trees between the railway and the baseball diamond. You can either hop on a short bit of singletrack in that clump of trees (which quickly comes back out into the grass), or just stay between the trees and the baseball field on a trail that heads down the hill. This trail shortly crosses into the woods, followed at the bottom of the hill by a creek crossing (where there's concrete pillars, so you wouldn't expect your feet to get wet). Continuing to follow this singletrack, you'll eventually get to a spilt where you can go left past a bench, or stay right. If you go left, you'll go up slightly to a paved footpath, which you can take left to get into McIntire park, or take right to cross the creek and get to Charlottesville High (or stay straight to reconnect with the singletrack). If, instead, you stay right on the singletrack, you'll cross under this bridge, and when the two trails reconnect you go right, and cross another creek (where you might, actually, get your feet wet). After that crossing, stay right for the singletrack (or go left, and shortly come to the new paved trail, which will reconnect with the single track after a short distance), and continue following the singletrack through the woods. You'll cross a few small wooden bridges, and eventually get to a cement pad, right near where the paved trail comes back in. Continue on, and the trail will narrow slightly, and head up a little hill, with 250 above you on the left. This trail comes out where 250 and Meadowbrook Heights intersect, with the "Whale Tail" installation of the Art In Place in the clearing. If you continue on, following 250 (with it on your left), you could cross Hydraulic Rd, and then pick up the Rivanna Trail again there.]]

Meadowcreek Parkway - Railroad: Continue on the paved pathway, with an eye to your right to hop back on singletrack. If you end up going uphill on the paved pathway, you've gone too far (but the two meet up again, so it's ok). The trail here stays basically along the Meadow Creek (on your right), and there's a short steep hill to get you back up to the paved pathway when the two meet again. The singletrack and paved path meet at a large bridge for the parkway (above the trail) with a smaller footbridge for the paved path off to the right. If you were to go right on the paved path, it would wind its way uphill, eventually ending at the intersection of the Parkway with Rio Rd. However, to continue on the Rivanna Trail you do not want to do this. Unfortunately, at the intersection of the paved path with the singletrack, under the bridge for the parkway, what you do want to do is somehow find your way to the other side of the railroad tracks. Standing on the paved path, with your back to the singletrack, you'll be looking at the bridge for the parkway. Just past that is the train tracks, at the top of a quick hill, and the creek is on your right. The creek passes under the train tracks through a culvert, and generally the water is not more than 2-3 inches deep, and the creak bed is even. Alternatively, steep trail can be found which goes up the steep embankment to the railroad tracks and back down the other side. Unfortunately, neither of these options is condoned.

Railroad - Brandywine: If you should happen to find yourself on the west side of the railroad, north of the creek (looking away from the railroad, the creek is on your left), the trail follows another cleared strip of land, which has a few bushes and things planted. After a little wooden footbridge (the second), you find yourself on the creek bank of the newly completed creek restoration project. The trail is not well defined here, and the footing is a bit uneven and over a netting, but you just want to follow the creek. It'll cross a paved pathway, running perpendicular to the creek at one point - going right would take you to Greenbrier Dr, going left would take you across the creek and to Jamestown Dr (where you could follow brown RTF blazes back to Charlottesville High, if you wanted (quickly: Jamestown becomes Lester Dr, which T's at Kenwood. Turn right on Kenwood, follow it around to the right, up a hill, then turn left on Melbourne Rd)). However, to follow the RTF loop, continue straight, with the creek on your left. Before long, you'll get to the three-way intersection of Brandywine Dr (going left, or straight-right-ish) and Greenbrier Dr (going right, sorta back the way you just came).

Brandywine - Hydraulic: At the Brandywine/Greenbrier intersection, the trail continues in the cleared strip of land, sort of like where Greenbrier Rd would continue, if it didn't end at that intersection, with the creek still on your left. A few hundred yards down that strip, look for a rock-hop creek crossing on your left, which has a cable strung up between the trees to aid your balance. You want to cross the creek here, and then veer right (so that the creek is now on your right). The trail moves a little bit away from the creek at this point, with woods on both sides of you (and houses up your hill on the left). There are no real trail intersections here, although some re-routing as the creek restoration project was in progress has provided some options at one point. As long as you're continuing on with the creek on your right, houses up the hill on your left (and aren't getting in people's yards), you're still on the right track. Just before the trail gets to Hydraulic, you can either go left, and up a quick hill to get to the road, or stay right, pass over a short rocky section, and then walk through a tunnel underneath Hydraulic Rd.

Hydraulic - Morton: After crossing under Hydraulic Rd, continue on the singletrack (creek on your right), coming to a set of stairs which take you up to near the intersection of Hydraulic Rd and 250. At the top of the stairs, go right, following the concrete sidewalk, until just after crossing the bridge, where the trail turns left and heads down to the creek where it passes under 250. Underneath 250, you'll be walking on some cement blocks which are starting to deteriorate, so watch your footing. After coming out of the tunnel, the primary (green) trail basically follows the creek (now on your left), eventually coming to the RTF tool shed (which will be on your right) near the Meadowcreek gardens. An alternate (brown) trail will branch off to your right, but reconnects with the main trail before the RTF shed. The trail is close to the creek after the shed, and parallels a gravel driveway. The two come together at Morton Dr.

Morton - Barracks: Turn right on Morton, and continue to the light at Emmet St (the intersection where Bodo's Bagels is). Cross Emmet, and continue straight on Earheart (Cavalier Diner on your left, Asian market on your right). Near the end of that little road you'll see a sign on your left for the RTF, at a wooden bridge. Crossing the bridge, the trail continues for a few yards and then crosses a chain link fence at a gate. The gate is rarely locked (though it is, occasionally). Once in the fenced area (if the gate wasn't locked), turn right and follow the gravel path. While you're still in the boundary defined by the chain link fence, there will be a right hand turn leading you out of the fenced in area, which you should take. Just after coming out of the fenced area, you'll cross a little wooden bridge, and will see a road ahead of you (or to your right, depending on how quickly you look for it after you get off the bridge). Go out to the road (Cedars Ct), turn left, and follow it to its intersection with Barracks Rd. The trail continue straight across Barracks Rd from this intersection.

Barracks - Leonard Sandridge: At the trail head off Barracks, you'll go up a short flight of stone stairs, and then the trail goes to the right. It veers left shortly after that, then right across a wooden bridge (which can be fairly slick in wet conditions), and left again. It then follows the creek (on your left), for a little while. When you get to another wooden bridge (with "monkey bars" overhead), you can cross it and go left to hop off the trail at UVA's "The Park" at North Grounds. Alternatively, you can cross the bridge and go right to follow a spur trail, which connects with the main trail again in about a tenth of a mile. The main trail, however, doesn't cross this bridge (the monkey bars bridge), and simply continues on with the creek on your left. After curving to the right, it then does cross a different wooden bridge, this one with some flower pots built in. The trail then continues on a sort of gravel access road, eventually going up a short hill at a land bridge over the creek. The primary trail, at this point, continues straight. [[However, you could cross the land bridge. If you did, you'd come to the intersection with the trail from the monkey bar bridge (coming in from the left), and would also have the option of going right, to follow the trail up the hill. This trail is marked with green RTF blazes, and is parallel to the primary trail, which stays lower, and closer to the creek. If you decide to take this trail up the hill, the trail is easy to follow, and staying right at all the trail intersections will keep you on track.]] The primary trail and the alternate (hilly) route meet back up after a few tenths of a mile, and then continue on until a short steep climb up to Leonard Sandridge Rd.

Leonard Sandridge - Old Ivy: Cross Leonard Sandridge, and cross the wooden footbridge to continue on the trail. There are no trail intersections in this next section to worry about, just continue on until you get to the next road crossing, which is Old Ivy Rd. The final hill before Old Ivy can get quite muddy.

Old Ivy Rd - Ivy Rd: Unfortunately, there's another train track in the way of what you want to do to follow the trail. If you were to cross Old Ivy and then turn into the second driveway (for Ivy Stacks, not UVAs Printing and Copying Services), and then follow that driveway straight/right, then just before it went left behind the building, you'd be able to look across the train tracks at the light which is the intersection of Ivy Rd and 29. Just next to the fire station, across Ivy from where you're standing, is where the trail picks up. You might even see a little trail leading you across the tracks and down to the road. The shortest road detour at this point is to turn right on Old Ivy, cross over 29, left at the stop sign, under the train tracks, and then a left at the light onto Ivy Rd.

Ivy - Fontaine (O-Hill): If you find your way to the fire station, on the south side of Ivy at its intersection with 29, the trailhead will be on your right (looking at the fire station, from the road), ducking immediately into the woods. From here to the next road is one of the longest uninterrupted sections of trail, if not the longest. Largely the trail is well marked, but there are numerous side trails to distract you (and you're certainly welcome to wander). If you are following the trail (which parallels 29 (in a windy manner), generally off to your right) and come to an intersection and see no trail blazes, turn right, and you'll be set. You may end up on a side trail briefly, but will connect with the RTF loop in short order. Eventually the trail comes out to Fontaine Ave, with the research park across the street (entrance at the light up the road to your left), and route 29 to your right (over Fontaine Ave).

Fontaine - Stribling: The trail picks back up directly opposite Fontaine Ave, in a patch of woods. It winds up a hill, and then back down, in an area with lots of evergreens, and a nice soft surface. Owing to the lack of undergrowth, the trail may seem ill-defined at times, as it meanders through the trees, but it's usually pretty easy to follow. On its way back down the hill, you'll end up crossing a fence on a wooden ladder. The trail then climbs back up to the road, and you want to continue on the road down the hill. Just after crossing a creek on the road, look for the trail on your left. Head down the embankment, and follow the trail, which keeps the creek on your left. There's a spur to your right that will take you up the hill, and comes back in and connects with the main trail just before the trail crosses the creek. At the creek crossing, the creek will head through a tunnel under some railroad tracks, and you can either rock-hop across, or walk across the black pipe. On the other side of the creek, the trail continues through a bamboo grove, and you should watch your feet for bamboo that was cut a few inches above ground level. The trail comes out to Stribling Rd, which is a dirt road, in sort order.

Stribling - Sunset: At Stribling, turn right to go under the train tracks, then take an immediate right on what appears to be (and is) a gravel driveway. Take another immediate right onto the trail leading down into a grassy field. The trail generally follows under power lines, and then hits the gravel driveway again. When it does, turn right on the driveway, and then look for an immediate left to continue on the trail, before the driveway crosses a little wooden bridge. The trail then makes a left to follow the creek (on your right), and in short order goes right at a rock hop to cross the creek. On the other side of the creek, you go up a short little hill, and then the trail goes left (where the power lines overhead continue straight). The trail then follows the creek (now on your left), and just before coming out on Sunset Ave there's a small creek crossing with a rock hop (but the main creek will still be on your left).

Sunset - Azalea Park (all roads): At Sunset Ave, turn left and follow the road. It will eventually come to a bridge with some barriers that only permit foot traffic. Cross the bridge, and continue straight on Sunset Ave (the trail DOES NOT turn right and go into the woods again here). Continue up the hill on Sunset, eventually taking your first right on Brunswick Rd. Follow green RTF signs along Jefferson Park Circle (basically clockwise along the east half of the circle), and then onto McElroy. Continue down McElroy, and it will eventually hook around to the right, where you want to turn left on Middleton Ln. Cross Old Lynchburg Rd on Middleton Ln, and then make your first right on Mobile Ln. Then look for a narrow pathway on your left, between the first two houses (or second and third, depending on where you start counting from). The trail then turns right on the paved footpath and continues downhill. Just before the paved footpath pops out in Azalea Park, look for the trailhead on your left, where you can continue on some singletrack before entering the open fields of Azalea Park. This trail will come out near the community gardens.

Azalea Park - 5th St: At the end of the (newly) paved parking lot, with the community gardens in front of you (and Moore's Creek to your right - which you'll basically be following until it hits the Rivanna River, almost back at Riverview Park), a gravel driveway continues along the gardens. Follow this driveway, with the gardens on your left. At the far end of the gardens the driveway goes left, but the trail turns right, down an embankment to the creek. The crossing at this creek has some cement pillars and some rock hops, and a short, steep set of stairs at the far end. At the top of the stairs, turn left and follow the singletrack, with the creek on your left. This will eventually take you out to a clearing, and you want to basically aim for the far left side of the clearing. Near the end of this clearing, watch out for a bit of a pothole in the ground! At the end of the clearing, the trail continues underneath 5th St, through a culvert with loose sand footing.

5th St: After crossing under 5th St, the singletrack continues away from the road for about 10 yards, and then turns left on an old paved path. It then crosses a wooden bridge and makes a right, continuing as single track through a short section of trees, and then a bit of grass and weeds, with the creek on your right. The trail pops out behind a gas station, and crosses Bent Creek Rd, continuing to follow the creek. After crossing the road, you continue under some power lines, and at the third power line the trail heads left, up the hill to 5th street (a trail does continue straight, but this is not part of the Rivanna Trail). At 5th street, turn right, cross Harris at the light, and stay on the sidewalk along 5th. At the bottom of the first hill the road crosses a creek, and just after the creek crossing the trail turns right, taking you away from the road.

5th - Jordan Park: The trail away from 5th street follows the cleared strip of land, with the creek on your right (at the moment there's construction vehicles at this trailhead). There's a little wooden bridge over a drainage creek at one point, and the trail (and clearing) goes to the right from there, with houses up the hill on your left. Shortly after this, the clearing goes around to the left, but the trail veers off to the right down a little incline, and then turns left to follow the creek (still on your right). After a little bit the trail meets back up with the cleared strip of land, but then in about 100 yards there will be a wooden footbridge to your right, and the trail will hop back into the woods. Eventually you'll come to another rock-hop creek crossing, and then pop out at Jordan Park.

Jordan Park - Avon: The trail stays on the edge of the clearing of Jordan Park, keeping the park on your left. As you get closer to the road (6th St SE), look for the trailhead ahead of you, a bit on the right. Singletrack takes you between the creek and a collection of mobile homes. Just before coming to another road (Avon), go left to go up to the road. There, turn right and take the road as it crosses the creek, then cross the road. There's a trailhead just a few yards up the hill, shortly after the metal guard rail ends.

Avon - Riverview Park: Follow the trail away from Avon, back down towards the creek, and then along the creek (now on your left). At one point the trail makes a sharp right, away from the creek, and then a slight hairpin to the left, heading up a hill. Toward the top of the hill you may find some trail intersections, but following the green blazes will keep you on track. Taking trails which head left, down the hill, will take you to a bridge, which you can cross to get into Quarry Park (this bridge is being replaced, so this crossing may not be available at the moment). Following the green blazes, and skipping Quarry Park, the next road you come to is Rt 20. The trail crosses under Rt 20 at this point. After this, you just continue following the creek (on your left), eventually crossing under Moore's Creek Ln (for the water treatment plant - you may notice a smell in this section), and then coming to an apparent dead-end at the train tracks. This is the wet part. Cross the creek, going through the water, under the train tracks high overhead. On the far side, the trail goes up the hill slightly, and then around to the right. In about a hundred yards the trail goes left up a little hill to put you on E. Market St. Turn right on Market, then take your first right on Riverside Ave. After going down the hill and through the road narrowing, the entrance to Riverview Park is on your right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I'm on Board!

Being a runner, specifically with a trail inclination, in the Charlottesville area, I've spent many an hour on the Rivanna Trail in the past few years. Charlottesville's got plenty going for it, but the RT is probably my favorite part. A month ago I attended a monthly trail work day (embarrassingly, only my second), and ended up sort of inviting myself to monthly board meetings for the Rivanna Trail Foundation. The first was last week, and I'm happy to say that not only did they not mind my attendance, they welcomed me friendly and have let me join the board! I'm not entirely sure what that entails, if anything specific, but I love the trail, and am always trying to get people out there on it, so I'm very much looking forward to helping out however I can.

My first task was, sadly, to modify the existing trail map to mark a previously-open section as closed (Sunset to McElroy, down by Azalea Park). At the same time, I was allowed to re-open another section (along the Meadowcreek Parkway), and I think overall there's a bit less red on the map than there used to be - definitely a good thing. This work is a little bit of a stop-gap, as there's plenty of other changes and updates that need to be committed to the map and trail descriptions (old link, but still has some use), but it's a start. It sounds like the board will be happy to let me have a crack at some of the technical aspects of maintaining a correct trail map, with trail conditions and pictures and descriptions and... all sorts of great stuff! Honestly, this is a project I've been tempted to just work on for fun a few times anyway, so I'm delighted to be encouraged to take a crack at it.

Anyway, I'm excited, and thought I'd share. If you're in the cville area and have never checked out the trail before, do me a favor and give it a try!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Rambling

My dad died on Valentine's Day, 1991. He'd had lung cancer for some time before-hand, and had been at home in a hospice program for a while, so it wasn't exactly unexpected. I was in third grade, and on the day my bus driver didn't notice that I was on the bus until after we passed our driveway. She ended up stopping at the corner of our property, and on my short walk through our front yard, my mom met me outside and told me the news. At least, that's how I remember it.

Valentine's day is one of the days every year my mom can expect a call from me, though my father's death rarely gets an overt mention. She's never re-married, or, as far as I know, been at all involved with anybody since. I guess my sister and I kept her fairly occupied as we were growing up. She's got some sort of shared plot and headstone already arranged where my father is buried, and I've always wonder if that sort of commitment was why she never found (looked for?) anybody else. Probably I could ask.

It's easy to wonder what affects my father's death has had on my life since - how being that close to death at that age has impacted my view of life and death. An article that's come up a few times recently in my news feed is How Doctors Die (mirror, which I guess is why it showed up multiple times for me). I want to be allowed to die, if I'm in a bad way. Of course, it's easy to say that when you're something like young and healthy. But hey, accidents happen. If I end up a mess in the hospital tomorrow, it'd be totally ok to let me go. Seriously. It's not like I'm doing much particularly useful anyway.

My mother and sister would, naturally, be the most affected if I died, and I hope I don't put them through that any time soon. My cats might go hungry for a day or two until somebody sorted them out, but I'm sure somebody'd take them, and probably do a better job with them than I do. Folks at work would notice I was gone, and I humor myself that there'd be a notable productivity hit in the project I'm on, at least until they hired somebody else. But it's a great place to work, and I don't think they'd have a hard time finding another person who thought so. A friend or two might think about me occasionally, but they'll be fine. Like damn near everybody else, my death would go practically unnoticed in the wider world. The world 10 or 100 or 1000 years from now probably looks pretty similar whether I was in it for a while longer or not. Ok, whatever, butterfly affects and all that crap, I have no way to justify that claim, but it sure is easy to believe. But why should it matter if my life or death goes unnoticed? What's the point of any of it?

I think, maybe, I've always sort of figured there wasn't any real point to any of it. People come and go, the world keeps spinning, the universe goes on. I think this didn't use to bother me. Just enjoy what you're given, and when it's up, goodbye. Lately, I seem to be having a harder time accepting this, and I don't really know why (getting old!). There seems little point to working more hours or less, eating healthier or having pizza and beer all the time, running a bit or just sitting on my ass the whole time, find something more productive to do than reading my news or not, ...

Perhaps it's a growing sense of indebtedness. I've been given more than I deserve - a loving family, health, wealth, leisure, a life of comfort and ease, ... - and I've done f* all with any of it. I subjected some students to lectures, homework, and exams taught some folks formal symbol manipulation (algebra) which happened to have d/dx or ∫-symbols in it calculus for a few years, but that doesn't make up for anything at all (in fact, I feel I owe them an apology). I suppose you could find people at work who would say that what we're doing saves lives, but it never really feels like that. And why should we save those lives instead of those ones over there? I don't know what it is I should be doing. What could I do that would seem worthwhile? What gives your life purpose?

Unless I'm missing something, I guess a lot of people get their sense of purpose from their religion - I don't have that. I didn't grow up going to church, and, honestly, am glad for it. I figure I'm a bit like Laplace, seeing no need for those sorts of assumptions about how the world works. Mostly I see people's religions as accidents of their birth and the fact that they were, like their parents before them, taken to church before they knew much about critical thinking. And if your understanding about how the universe works is an accident of which country your grew up in, or your parents before you, it can only hold so much truth. Besides, most of the major religions are thousands of years old, and it just doesn't seem like we should be trusting people from that long ago to tell us how things work. We've learned some things since then. But I digress (from my rambling? Is that possible?).

Sometimes I wonder if people find a purpose in life through a relationship. I could let myself die and nobody would notice, but if I were married, well, there's her to think about - or "In my nothing, you meant everything to me". Actually, I sort of thought I might be heading in to a relationship recently (I was wrong, in case you were wondering (if you've read this far into my neurosis, you'll agree she's better off)), and something like this very thought occurred to me. But, then, it doesn't really seem fair to put that sort of pressure on somebody else. Perhaps a relationship doesn't give you a sense of purpose, it just makes it easier to forget the purposelessness. Find somebody that distracts you and you're set.

Or maybe you find some purpose once you've got kids. Hell of a gamble, and, damn, why should I have kids? I hardly know what to do with my own self, let alone anybody else. Even having cats has made me wonder if I should be allowed to have that sort of responsibility. And, damn, the purpose of your life is to make some more people? Aren't there enough people around? I remember, even in high school, thinking this sort of thing. My mom always says how much she loves seeing my sister and I, how there's little she'd rather do. It sort of makes me sad, that I'm what she has to look forward to, or whatever. A few times recently I've seen my grandmother at family gatherings, and it always seems like she's just waiting to die (she honestly may have said as much herself). Why the crap would I want that? What am I supposed to do instead?

It seems to me, when talking about death and not seeing a point, one's probably gotta get around to thinking about suicide before too long. Not necessarily your own, just the subject itself. Of course, it also seems a difficult topic to talk about. Like maybe if you do people will assume you are suicidal, and will try to "help" you out of it. To be honest, I'm not sure I really see the problem with suicide, why there's such a fuss, or stigma. I've got no plans for it for myself any time soon - like I said, I've got the responsibility of my cats, and don't want to cause a hassle for my family. But suppose, 10, 20 years from now, my family's dead and I have no responsibilities to anybody in particular, and haven't found a point. Why shouldn't I just wander off into the middle of nowhere and disappear?

Maybe I just want there to be no point. It hurts less to fail to achieve whatever goals you've got if you think they're pointless anyway. There's less pressure to make good decisions when it doesn't matter. Want pizza and beer for dinner, cake for breakfast? Go for it! Don't want to do some errand you're supposed to do this weekend? Screw it! Procrastinate! Maybe you'll die in a car crash on your way to work tomorrow anyway. Of course, if you weren't depressed enough about the lack of a point, start making some mildly bad decisions for yourself. Adopt some bad habits. Watch the broken window theory at work in your own life.

So, that's me. Welcome to my world.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Feed Weeding

I currently have just over 900 feeds going in to my Google Reader account, which looks to average out to nearly 400 posts per day on weekdays, and about half as many on weekends. Factor in work, eating, sleeping, and running, and it may not come as surprise that I don't get anything else done. I don't read the full content of every single article, and a handful of the feeds (and some of the more frequently updating ones) are comics. All the same, I spend a fair amount of time in Reader, and I honestly think a decent amount is worthwhile. I've said before that Reader and running were the two best things I got out of grad school.

As I added feeds, from the beginning of my time with Reader, I tried to put them in folders, and I think that's proved useful. I then have basically two aggregate folders, one ("start") for the articles and a small handful of comics, and another for some of the less-worthwhile comics (I've got an ichc habit, I'll admit it - sometimes, at the end of a long day, the laughs I get are totally worth it). I 'j' through the start items, reading headlines and maybe quickly scanning articles that catch my eye, and star the ones I'd like to actually read. After making it through the "start" items, if I've got time/energy, I buzz through the remaining comics, and then move on with my otherwise incredibly exciting life. I don't have a good feel for how long I spend in Reader in a day, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that it was around an hour. Typically I check in the morning while I'm having my coffee, and then sometime in the evening.

Recently, I found that the odd hours I wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep make some decent time to actually read some of the starred articles, but mostly that gets saved for the weekend. I love a slow morning with a mug of coffee and a few good hours reading my starred articles. Of course, some of the running I do interferes with this, but that's mostly good too.

All the same, I've been sort of trying to cut back. I buzz through my headlines and on a good week end up with maybe 20-30 items I still want to read. That's somewhere on the order of one article in one hundred. Now, maybe, for some of the articles I appreciate having the ambient awareness of having seen the headline, but I still figure there's a fair amount of cruft.

I claim to want to work on a software project that'll attempt to learn the articles I'd star, but I've been claiming that for a few years, and have yet to do anything about it. I almost made a New Year's resolution to not look at Reader, forcing myself to write my own, but that didn't happen. So, instead, I recently decided to try trimming down my feed list in Reader a bit more manually. Having quit the math and education scene, I decided to start with those two folders. Every feed in each of them is also put in my "start" feed, so what I did was remove them all from that feed, but left them in their respective folders. I let the unread count in those folders go up for a few weeks, and then read through what had accumulated to see if I'd found anything I would have missed. I moved a couple feeds into "start" and out of their respective folder (I've got a growing "misc" folder they ended up in, still a subset of "start"), and am back at 0 unread. I figure I can do this again a few more times in the next month or two, and, at some point, I just mass unsubscribe from anybody remaining in those two folders. Though I recognize optimism as the first step to disappointment, I'm optimistic this'll help me trim down my feeds.

For what it's worth (nothing), I did, indeed, manually go through each feed in my "ed" and "math" folders, clicked the little drop down for each one, and clicked to remove it from "start". Reader doesn't do much about making bulk subscription changes easy, besides being able to upload an OPML file. I actually have, in the past, downloaded my subscription list, changed the xml to accommodate some bulk changes I wanted, deleted all my feeds, and then re-uploaded my modified list. Probably would have been quicker this time too. Alas. Not my only mistake so far this year. Certainly not my last.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


My boss described me as having "that ambivalent Nick look" the other day. This was a little bit of a new one for me, sort of like the time one of my students wrote that I was "aloof" on their end of semester evaluations. I don't know that I'd ever heard myself described in either of those ways, prior, though both are probably apt descriptions.

While I have some vague sense of both words, I wouldn't have been able to particularly correctly define either, if you'd asked me to (luckily, you didn't). I tried to piece together "ambivalent" for myself before looking it up. "ambi"... Well, ambidextrous... so... some sort of plural. "valent"... The valence of a node in a graph is the number of edges hitting it (or so). So... I'm going in many directions? Hit from all sides? Nope. According to, which I enjoy, ambi means both and valent is along the lines of valor, strength, for thoughts in this context (I guess the "strength" of a node in the graph makes sense). So, I'm of a divided mind. Somewhat along the lines of cognitive dissonance, though not exactly, I suppose. Glad I looked it up, because I'd have guessed it meant something more like uncaring. It's not that I don't care, I just can't make up my mind, then. I see many options, but have no way to distinguish them by rank.

Aloof's an interesting one, too. Coming from "windward direction" or "the weather side of a ship" to mean "at a distance." Just as a combination of letters, it's also reminiscent of alot.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Write More

A friend recently told me I should write more. I had just used the phrase "peddle my wares" reasonably naturally in conversation, and I think it caught her off guard. Of course, I wouldn't be particularly surprised to find that she's stopped talking to me, so perhaps I shouldn't use her comment as any sort of motivation... But that's a story for another day, perhaps.

I've sorta been thinking about writing more here anyway. I mean, I've got this space, I'd like to try to use it. Since I basically don't have anything worth saying, though, I've refrained. Apparently some sort of bridge has been crossed, and I'm prepared to babble to you, internet (at least this once, we'll see if I actually keep it up). Lucky you. I think it may be that I think writing helps me organize my thoughts or something (I'm so unique!). While I could certainly just write on localhost and leave you all alone, apparently I'm not going to do that. Maybe the public-ness will help motivate me to keep writing, or to work on my arguments. Or maybe it's a desperate plea for attention. Maybe I don't want to talk directly to any of the people I personally know (due to lack of comfort (why? so I don't have to continue this/a conversation?)), but want to talk anyway.

What will I write about? "They" say to write what you know. Unfortunately, I think that puts me at writing about being confused, with fluctuating levels of depression, and generally not feeling like you know anything or will contribute much. I don't understand much about the world or my place in it. Some online comics, if nothing else, I've seen suggest that maybe this is something that basically everybody goes through, and that maybe I'm just "at that age" (or does it spans ages?).

I suppose an argument could be made that I know about running. Of the last few posts I've had here, several were about running. However, I seem to have found some sort of a place among the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (thanks, all), and might use space there for whatever running-related things I have to say. (On a side note, if you're in the Charlottesville Area, and looking for a Trail Run, you really should check us out).

Aside from running, I hold a paying job as a computer programmer (technically my title is "Systems Engineer", but most of the best parts of that, which I'm fortunate to spend most of my time doing, are programming). So perhaps I know something which could usefully be shared about... R, or Javascript, or the practice of programming in general. Except I've already got a (also pretty quiet) blog I'd rather use for technical things and, really, I don't even know that much about any of this. I've only got a little experience at this point, and rarely feel that anything I do know isn't already online.

It doesn't seem that that leaves much for me to talk about here. I'm in a mood, at the moment anyway, where I'm maybe inclined to try to talk through some of my general confusion (probably to myself in the open, though you're certainly welcome to comment) (it occurs to me that if I were saying all of these things to myself on a bus, say, people would be giving me all sorts of funny looks). So probably if I actually do end up continuing to write more, here, it'll be very... well, confused. Incomplete. Self-contradictory. Personal? Self-centered. Rambling and pointless.

A wiser fella than myself once said that the unexamined life is not worth living, or so. Of course, other wiser-than-myself fellas have said that life's a piece of s*, when you look at it (this reminds me of the disparity between "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" and "it's the thought that counts"). I guess I'm looking. I may try sharing. Forgive me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tough Mudder

This morning I ran the Tough Mudder event out at Wintergreen (site of the recent UROC). It really was quite fun, and I'd honestly be tempted to run another (probably not tomorrow, even if they did offer us 50% off).

Originally, I decided to do the run because some folks from work were putting a team together (there's been a fair amount of joking about the electrocution obstacle for the past few months at work). However, it didn't quite work out as a team event for me... by yesterday, one of the guys had bailed, and I had created a scheduling conflict for myself, so couldn't make our designated wave start. The remaining team members had afternoon commitments, so couldn't really wait for me. I figured I'd just go down anyway and see what happened.

What happened was that nobody cared at all about assigned start times, which was nice. You show up, check in, drop your bags, and start whenever you want, basically (I think they really wouldn't stop you from running it multiple times on the day, if you were so inclined). So that was good. I started with the noon group, which I quickly moved toward the front of, on account of starting off basically going up a ski slope. I was surprised (perhaps because I'm not too bright) by all the people walking so much throughout the day. Ok, sure, I can understand not trying to run up a ski slope (though I've recently decided I sort of like testing my going up-ability), but... 10 minutes in I had already caught up to some folks from the wave ahead of me, and I think waves were separated by about 20 minutes. Anyway, I rarely mind passing people, especially on hills, so I'm not complaining.

I was fairly nervous about some of the obstacles (beyond electrocution). I don't have much in the way of upper body strength, so things like 'Get over a 12 foot wall', 'Carry a log up a ski slope', 'Cross monkey bars over a water pool' (the temperature was in the 50s today) had me a bit anxious. I surprised myself with the monkey bars (namely, I made it), and the logs weren't just cut to size assuming people would be in groups (probably I could have picked up a solo from another group, if I'd needed to, but they had individual-sized logs too).

The 12 foot wall I only made it over because there was a great amount of camaraderie among the runner participants, especially at the obstacles. At one of the first obstacles, it looked like some volunteers were there holding up some cargo net to help us sort of get started/finished. What confused me was they had bib numbers on. It took until a later obstacle for me to realize that it was just other participants, helping out (not just helping out their teammates). So at the next cargo net I tried to do my part as an anchor (like I had any idea how to do that, but I tried to do what other folks seemed to be doing), and at various walls I tried to offer what I could to get a few people up-and-over before moving on.

There was always the possibility of simply skipping an obstacle, but there were always lots of folks around the harder ones, which helps the motivation. It does lead to a fair amount of down time, waiting for your turn to try to run up a half-pipe, or get over that 12 foot wall, or crawl under the cargo wire. My overall time was 2:45 (which was probably reasonably ahead of the average - I heard several folks talking about 4+ hour times, and I don't think many people passed me), but I wouldn't be surprised if 20-30 minutes were just waiting around at obstacles. I definitely didn't mind the break, though. Even without the obstacles, that was a tough 10 mile run, with so much vertical gain and loss.

I got a little banged up, but nothing too bad. Mostly just my knees and shins picked up some scratches and light bruising from the crawling around at various obstacles (elbows were probably only spared because I wore long sleeves). I think I picked up a bruise on my hip at the slip and slide (did I mention it was in the 50s?), from the rocks underneath, but honestly that part was smoother than I expected. I'm guessing this is a reasonably typical Mudder experience (plus some additional knee pains on this course - ski slopes, people). My teammates who ran earlier than me, and I ran in to at the finish area, said they heard a guy behind them required medical attention for a broken leg (like, bone coming out of the skin broken). I heard some folks behind me requesting attention on one of the downhills, but I don't really know what the issues was.

The obstacles we actually had didn't exactly agree with the obstacles on the course map, though certainly the most memorable ones are on there, and it doesn't much matter. Mostly they weren't particularly scary, though there was certainly some scattered moments of concern on my part ('that looks like a big drop'). Interspersed between obstacles were a few aid stations. Mostly they seemed pretty simple (coming out of ultras which have had lots of tasty options) - bananas and water (I think there were occasionally some clif products). The water was mostly distributed in bottles (12 oz?), which sort of struck me. It was too much water to drink passing through the aid station, but more than I wanted to carry. I downed what I could, but generally ended up with at least a little left in the bottle before tossing it (ah, waste).

I didn't actually get electrocuted (and my teammate who said he did get hit said it wasn't really too bad), so, for me, the worst obstacle was the 'Chernobyl Jacuzzi' (I think I'm not alone in this assessment). Per the course description:
Jump in and out of an icy mixture of assorted carcinogens. The additional limbs you'll grow will surely help you on later obstacles.
The key word here is 'icy' (carcinogens maybe meant food coloring... I think my pool was purple). I mentioned it was in the 50s, right? So, this was one of the obstacles with a slight backup. We're standing there in line and see an earth mover sort of vehicle off to the side, coming up to the side of the shipping containers we're about to hop in. We notice the bucket it's about to dump is full of ice, and start yelling at the people ahead of us to hurry up. Alas. Ice was dumped, and then I got my chance to jump in. Damn that's cold. Oh, and there's barbed wire over a wooden divider in the shipping container, which you have to go under. Head fully under in icy water. Brrrr. I got out and took off in a run, trying to keep moving, and not thinking about the cold. One of the nice things at the event was that the cold (in general, not just from this obstacle) was anticipated, so they had lots of those metallic space blankets around (I don't envy the clean-up crew). I was able to mostly keep up a jog, so on the next up-hill in the sun, I didn't feel too bad. For folks taking things at more of a walking pace, the space blankets were (presumably) basically a necessity.

Tough Mudder bills itself as 'Probably the toughest event on the planet'. I'm honored to consider among my friends people who cover 100 miles on their own two feet in one go (up and down mountains, through deserts, ...) so I can't really say I agree with the Mudder's self-assessment. All the same, it's a fun, festive, generally well-organized event. There was some issue with drop bags today... though drop bags had numbers on them, and tables listed ranges of numbers for drop bags to expect there, the obvious system of putting bags where they should be didn't seem to be in affect today. I don't know how long I spent looking for my bag, and the bag of my teammate, but it was probably on the order of 20-30 minutes. That said, the organizers seem to be on their game, and sent out an apology in the afternoon (before I'd made it back to the parking lot), with a 20% discount if we register for another Tough Mudder in the next few weeks. Parking was well handled, the volunteers were all approachable and helpful.

So, there's that. And now I'm going to bed. Fear not the obstacles.