Climbing the Continental Divide

This weekend I was in Colorado with some friends, and it occurred to me that we were staying very close to the Continental Divide. I couldn’t resist renting a mountain bike and setting out to go find it. New friend Jono came with.

After reaching the end of the local singletrack network, we took a forrest road – Corona Pass – all the way up.

In all, 39 miles and 3,574 ft of climbing.

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Bikepacking the Great Allegheny Passage

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Last week I was in D.C. to visit a client, and to lead a workshop at the Smithsonian Institution. Having recently discovered and ridden a section of the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath and Great Allegheny Passage, I couldn’t resist the urge to bring my bike with me and set out on a weekend bikepacking adventure.

The plan was to ride the 320 mile trail in just over two days, self supported. This goal was pretty ambitious – that’s a lot of miles on tarmac, let alone dirt and gravel trails. That was part of the adventure – would I be able to do it?

Let’s review what I brought along for the ride…


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Clothing: (not pictured: cycling cap, handkerchief), puffer, black technical t-shirt, non-bib bike shorts, and hiking shoes. The shoes are new to the mix, and are great for riding on flat pedals, protecting my toes on rocky sections, and being good for hike-a-bike sections (which the GAP usually doesn’t have, but there is currently a detour). I spent most of the days riding shirtless, but would don the shirt as evening came, and would wear the puffer around camp, and getting started on the bike in the morning.


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My shelter was a Tarptent Moment DW, a lightweight one-person tent that I’ve been using for about a year now. My only complaint about the tent is that it has these small built-in rigid pieces that prevent you from packing it down to anything shorter than what you see pictured here. The sleeping pad and pillow are new as I’m trying to improve the quality of my sleep on the trail. They definitely help. The sleeping bag is a basic three season lightweight model – I packed it in a water proof compression sack.


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For an high-milage ride like this I would not be stopping during the day for lunch. On the bike I would be eating standard endurance fare – various carb-heavy bars, the occasional gel when I really needed a boost, and two tubes of my home-made sweet potato paste.. Breakfast in the morning would be a hot cuppa coffee and a bar, and dinner for both nights would be dehydrated backpacker food (chicken stirfry!).

On the bike I carried three 26 ounce water bottles as well as two 64 ounce Kleen Kanteens for backup reserves. I also brought water purification tablets – I didn’t anticipate needing them, due to the clear marking of potable water sources on the trail maps, but better safe than sorry.


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My kitchen consisted of a stove, French Press, and spork. All I really needed to cook was water for my coffee, and water to rehydrate my meals.

Although the trail occasionally passes near by and through towns, there are several long stretches the travel through backcountry and so I needed to be prepared for any typical malfunctions. I brought a spare tire, multitool, CO2 cartridges, tire irons, and spare tubes. I also brought along a very small lock just in case I needed to leave the bike somewhere unattended where there’re people around.




I relied heavily on printed maps from the GAP website – they’re a great at-a-glance source for campsites, towns, water sources, bike shops, etc. You could definitely do this ride without turn-by-turn directions, but since I would be using my Garmin for tracking speed, mileage, etc, I figured why not also throw a TCX file on there. I drew my own.

My phone was packed in a water proof case that also provides a bit of extra battery. I also carried two water dust and shock resistant battery backups rated at 6,000 mAh each. These could be used for the Garmin or phone. I didn’t intend on doing any riding at night but I brought a bike light and headlamp just in case.

Other odds and ends included: a first aid kit, soap, bug repellent, a flask, and toilet paper.


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Everything described above was fit into two bags from Swift Industries: a size large Fabio’s Chest and a size medium Hinterland Ozette Randonneur Bag. Now, about the bike…


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I rode my Specialized AWOL Comp. The wheelset, Group set, handle bars, and brakes are all stock. For tires I usually run Compass Snoqualmie Passes, but I wasn’t able to replace my worn out set in time for the ride, so I opted to experiment with Specialized Sawtooth tires. Anything cages were used on the fork for hauling my water reserves. The AWOL only has one mid-fork boss, but the I wrapped the straps around behind the fork and this worked out just fine throughout the ride. Next time I would prefer a strap with a buckle so that I total piece of mind about it loosening (even though it wasn’t an issue). The rando bag was supported by a Velo Orange Pass Hunter with integrated decaleur, and in the rear, I was using Ocean Air Cycles’s Erlen bag support.




To get my bike from NYC to D.C. I took Amtrak’s Vermonter line from Penn Station – this line has bike racks. Bike reservations are only an additional $20. This was relatively painless but Penn station and Amtrak staff weren’t very knowledgeable about how the process works – it almost seemed like the first time they had dealt with it. The guy checking tickets hassled me because my ticket didn’t say “BIYCYCLE” anywhere on it, so I showed him my receipt, which was the only thing that showed my bike reservation.




The conductors where also not very helpful – they shrugged when I asked them where the bike racks were. I eventually found one in the first passenger car. I removed the front wheel, hung the bike, and secured it down with some straps. I arrived in D.C., checked into my hotel, and proceeded to stare longingly at my rig for the next three days as I attended to the work I was in D.C. to do.


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The adventure began at 5:55 AM on Saturday morning. My goal for the day was to ride around 130 or or 150 miles. As the sun rose and the street lights dimmed I checked out of my hotel and rode the mile and a half to the trailhead. It only took about an hour from the door my hotel to reach the first part of the trail with a gorgeous view.


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Considering the fact that it had rained torrentially all the previous day and night travel conditions were not that bad at first – just some puddles here and there on the gravel surface, and the occasional downed tree.


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You can really see the impact of the storm from the water levels of the canal to the right, which was at least an entire foot deeper than the last time I saw it only a few weeks ago.


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I managed to get in about 75 miles by noon, so my goal of 130-150 miles was looking good for the day. I anticipated to make it about 140 miles by sunset, which would place me at the Indigo Neck campsite. The trail conditions had transitioned mainly from gravel double track, to mostly dirt doubletrack. The bike began to accumulate what would become quite the mud treatment.


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I arrived at camp at 7 PM.


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I unsaddled the bike, and began to set up camp for the evening. I had the site all to myself – alone in the peaceful forrest – there’s nothing like it. As evidenced by the extra 2lbs of mud I wound up carrying on my bags (and on my back), it is definitely time to add fenders to my rig.


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After dinner, I called it a night just after sundown. I stashed my bags about 50 ft from my tent so that any curious critters wouldn’t bother me. In the morning I found out that bag bags hadn’t been disturbed by any large critters, but had attracted quite the fan club of smaller little fellas.


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The forest was covered in a thick layer of  morning mist. As I took in the view, I brewed up a french press of hot coffee, got camp all packed up, and topped off my water supplies.


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Leave no trace!


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Rolling away from camp that morning, with the goal of riding another 140 miles to the Roundbottom campsite, my body was in some serious pain. I still haven’t done a fitting on my AWOL, and 140 miles of trail riding really put some hurt on. As I made my way through the misty forrest however, I experienced that ever so elusive moment of cycling euphoria – the stoke. As the mist cleared away and the forrest awoke, I could feel my body doing the same – as I warmed up, my pain subsided. I was totally overwhelmed by the beauty of the forrest, and how lucky I was to be there alone to take in it’s perfection.


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The Paw Paw tunnel was closed, which I knew from the last time I rode the trail, so I knew I had a long hike-a-bike with a few hundred feet of elevation gain ahead of me.


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A pretty steep grade – especially loaded down with bags. The reward was the view…


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After a ~45 mile slog through some incredibly muddy conditions, I eventually made it to the first civilization I’d seen in 30+ hours: Cumberland.


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This is where the C&O trail ends, and the Great Allegheny Passage begins. The trail turns into a paved bike path and takes you right past a bike shop, cafe, and other such luxuries. I stopped to restock on bars, gels, etc, and was greeted by this furry fella at the bike shop


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I chatted a bit with a nice guy who was also riding the trail, and in the utmost display of bike nerd-dom revealed to me that his directions were generated by a Perl script he wrote that converts Google Maps directions into a cue-sheet. Not sure why you’d need to go to such lengths considering the number of mapping tools out there, but more power to him!


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From here, the paved path winds out of Cumberland, and eventually turns into hard packed gravel. The trail kicks up, and follows a rail line through the mountains, on an engineered 2% grade for 25 miles. The highlights of this section are the views, and the various tunnels that cut through the mountains – most of them are un-lit, and are at least 10-15°F cooler in the middle.


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It was a hot day, and there were no water sources for the first 15 miles of the long climb, so I was glad to have my reserves.


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The highest elevation point of the GAP is right around the Eastern Continental Divide. From there, the trail rolls back downhill -1-2% for about 25 miles, and eventually flattens back out.


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I tucked in and time-trailed it hard for about 25 miles, more than making up the time I lost on the long climb. Before I knew it I was starting to see signs for Pittsburgh!


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The sun was starting to sink low, and looking at my average speed, and the time left before sunset I knew that I wouldn’t make it to Roundbottom until after dark. I opted to camp in Connellsville instead, which was 10 miles closer. As I approached I realized, Connellsville wasn’t a primitive campsite – it was a bustling civilization!


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That right there folks, is a pizza parlor. I threw my ambitions of rustic seclusion to the wind and threw a pizza party for one. After a hard two days of battle in the saddle, I kinda felt like I had earned it.


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Don’t worry, I washed up before dinner. The camp site was in a park right off the trail – there were some leantos, a couple guys in bivvy sacks, one in a hamock, and me in my tent. I rose the next morning at 5 to make sure I had time for coffee, packing up, so that I would be back on the road the second it was light enough to ride. I spotted three early morning bunnies just hanging out on the grass…


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Back on the trail… the light was so beautiful this last morning.


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I really savored the final miles of the trail – it was so bittersweet. My body was finished, the ride had been hard, but the morning was so beautiful and the idea of having to return to the reality of deadlines, rules, and responsibilities just didn’t seem too appealing. I listened Neil Young’s Thrasher at one point in the morning while riding, and the words really resonated. On to Pittsburgh!


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The trail terminates in Point Park.


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I was incredibly pleased with how the bike and portage configuration held up – it really was ideal for this kind of ride. The only thing I would add are fenders. I rode on to Thick Bikes – a really phenomenal shop that let me borrow tools, a stand, and gave me a spare box so that I could disassemble my bike and have it shipped back home.


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Thanks to Chris and his team for being so helpful! If you ride the trail, Thick is absolutely worth checking out – they have tons of bikepacking paraphernalia in stock that most shops don’t carry.




Road Rash, Abandoned Barns, and Nocturnal Visitations

There are two fundamental tenets I keep in mind while on my bike:

  1. Any ride worth riding will include a non-trivial amount of suckiness
  2. Plan carefully, but also be prepared to change plans on the spot

Last weekend’s out and back ride to the Delaware Water Gap was a perfect meditation on these tenets. The ride laid before us intense trials and tribulations both mental and physical, and some seriously amazing bike riding.

Friday morning I commuted to work on my AWOL with gear and supplies for the weekend. After work I met up with new riding buddy Matt, on the west side.  We proceeded to the evening’s destination: Beaver Pond in Harriman State Park.


Just a quick little jaunt to get out of the city, and into the woods. The ride up went smoothly. Just as we started climbing the summit in the final two miles, I hear  grinding gears behind me and Matt tells me (while trying not to fall off his bike) that he has a mechanical. When shifting to the end of his cassette for the climb, his chain jumped the spoke side and had become firmly lodged between the cassette and the spokes. We must have spent at least five minutes tugging at the chain with all our strength, trying to dislodge it, to no avail. We just couldn’t get enough leverage on it, and I thought to myself… “if only we had some kind of tool that would interlock with the chain and allow us to get a better grip”… and then I laughed out loud as I realized the chainring was just that tool. We were able to easily dislodge the chain by getting the wheel into position, holding it in place, and then mashing down the pedal as hard as we could. Problem solved. We suffer through the climb, arrive at Beaver Pond, and set up camp.

Matt brought a rad lightweight hammock and rain fly setup. I had my usual Tarptent. After establishing camp we feast on the dinner we brought with us: baked sweet potato, turkey sandwich, and some beers (carb loading, naturally). Beaver Pond was pretty packed. I think it may be the last time I stay at there, as it tends to be full of glampers and their cars, loud music, and other accoutrement. It’ll be back country or stealth camping next time for sure, or maybe one of the leantos around the lake. 

Day 1
Start: midtown Manhattan
End: Beaver Pond
Distance: 41.7 miles
Elevation gain: 3,272 ftscreenshot-2016-09-24-21-03-58
GPX file

The next morning while Matt was getting some water I snapped some photos of his ride: a totally gorgeous and very photogenic All City Space Horse. Up front: a Surly rack carrying two Ortlieb frontrollers, and a basket for an old old camera bag held down by a bungee mesh. 32mm Panaracer Gravel King tires, and gearing that will make your skin crawl: 52-42 up front, 28-11 in the back. Not remotely built for climbing, but Matt was able to hang.


With a chill in the air, we set out on our way through Harriman State Park for our date with destiny. 

Destiny it seems had plans we were not made privy to. Only two miles into the ride, blissfully carving through the rolling and curving descents, doing a comfortable 25 Mph, I go over a bump and suddenly see my right pannier become partially detached and swing away from my front wheel. Time slows down as I see my pannier swing back towards my wheel. I think about how I haven’t crashed in two years. I think about how much it hurts to be hurled against pavement at full speed. I think:  “well this is going to suck, but here we go”.

The pannier swings back and takes out my front wheel. A tumbling mess of bike and body goes down the hill. I skid across the pavement. I come to a stop and the rush of adrenaline makes me feel like I am going to throw up. Everything hurts. I try and lift myself up and find I can’t stand up. All I can do is crawl to the side of the road, out harm’s way. As I hear Matt approach, I yell “I’m OK! I’m OK!”.

Matt wisely collects my bike and gets everything out of the road. I feel a sharp pinch and realize that in my adrenaline and shock fueled haze, I crawled right into the one and only briar by the side of the road. Great. After a minute or two, enough shock and adrenaline has drained from my body that I am able to stand up very carefully and slowly. I feel like a newborn deer trying to walk for the first time.

Although I lost a fair amount of skin on my knee, elsewhere I have very little road rash. My lower back however is screaming. I take off my helmet and find a crack. A rider we passed a mile back comes along and helps out with the bike. He points out that my right brake lever is way off kilter, and holds the bike steady as I pull up the hood, loosen, and straighten it out. Matt then points out the derailleur. The hanger is bent to all hell. The derailleur is nearly stuck in the spokes, and if I were to shift to an easier gear, it certainly will be. While Matt holds the bike steady, I manage to bend the hanger back enough that I regain use of the smallest five gears of the cassette. So, the bike is rideable, but limited to in the five hardest gears.

No crash is going to deter me from our planned adventure, however, we have nearly 7,000 feet of climbing ahead of us, most of which will be impossible with my newly limited gear range. Thus we set course for a bike shop in Oakland, NJ, only an hour off course. Hopefully they will be able to replace my trashed hanger. Onward.

Nothing lifts the spirits quite like a mountain bike trail.

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Unfortunately most of the riding to Oakland was on busy roads.

At least the view was pretty. An hour later we hit Oakland, and make our way to Pedal Sports bike shop. Can’t say enough nice things about this shop – they immediately worked on the bike and had it ready in less than fifteen minutes.

We take lunch at Oakland Pizzeria – reeeeeeeeally good pizza.

We get back on the road, meeting back up with our route, which eventually took us up Bearfort Mountain ridge. This climb was a good measure of how much fitness I had gained over this season. I had done the climb earlier in the season, and today it felt just about the same as it did then – despite the fact that I was riding a heavier bike, hauling 32 lbs of dead weight.


Utopia deli is at the very top of the climb – good place to re-up on liquids and snacks. We proceeded to take a meandering path through some little lake-side communities, and Wawayanda State Park.


At first, Wawayanda State Park narrowed down to single lane paved road through the woods – no cars.

This eventually gave way to a raaaaad trail: Laurel Pond Trail, and Cherry Lane rd. What began as a simple dirt road, quickly turned into full-on MTB trail – technical steep climbs and descents with lots of baby heads, loose gravel, ruts in the trail, etc.

I was having too much fun ripping the trail to get a photo of the parts that were the most challenging. I was very glad to be running my 29ers. Even with 32s, Matt had to walk a few sections.

Happy and exhausted – nothing like some technical trails to make 2 miles seem as hard as 20 on the road. The very end of the trail spilled out into a residential area.

We proceeded on, making our way to High Point State Park. A descent down Breakneck Rd absolutely lives up to its name: about 1 mile of steady -12%. The turns are gradual – no switchbacks – you could easily do 50-60 Mph. Considering my crash earlier in the morning, I opted for a cautious and pokey 30 mph. We continued on our way, with about 15 miles until our next milestone: High Point State Park. On the way, sprinkle in a few more climbs, and conversation with some goats…

Eventually were greeted with this view:

A perfect scan of all of the hills we had left to climb. High Point State Park was great respite, offering 4 miles of car-free single lane paved road through the woods, the latter half of which was downhill.

We made our way to Montague, which was the last “town” before entering the Delaware Water Gap. On the way we saw a herd of at least 20 deer running across a field – something I’ve never seen, despite having grown up in the country. That was pretty special.

Needing to re-up on food supplies, and seeing that Montague had no stores, so we trekked across the Delaware River to Milford, PA (first time crossing the Pennsylvania border by bike!) and high-tailed it to a luxurious Key Foods.


We backtracked to Montague, entered the Delaware Water Gap, and found a suitable spot to set up camp.

Home sweet home! Not long after setting up camp we were greeted by a stranger named Jim. It just so happens that we set up camp at the exact spot that he comes to almost nightly to have a cigarette and watch the stars. We chatted with Jim for a bit, and he gave us some tips (i.e. there are definitely bears in the area), and then just as quickly as he appeared he disappeared. We both cleaned up a bit, changed into civilian clothes, and feasted on our key foods bounty, while discussing the day’s adventures.

Blood, sweat, and dirt. It was a tough but awesome day of riding. I slept great with one big exception. That night for maybe the 4th or 5th time in my life I experienced sleep paralysis. If you aren’t familiar with the condition, it is essentially the experience of waking up, finding one’s self completely paralyzed, and is usually associated with some kind of frightening hallucination – usually involving a visit from some kind of demon or creature.


I woke up to the sound of someone opening my tent, and found that I was completely paralyzed. The person, or thing/creature came in the tent and sat on my chest. As is the usual experience, I couldn’t scream or move.


Eventually I was able to slowly force my arm up and try to push them off. That snapped me out of it, and I realized that it was just a sleep paralysis hallucination. What a day.

Day 2
Start: Beaver Pond
End: Somewhere in the Delaware Water Gap
Distance: 98.2 mi
Elevation gain: 6,192 ft
GPX file

In the morning I donned some clean kit, and we prepared a breakfast of coffee and oats.

I was ready for the day with a wide variety of snacks.

Onward! We began the day by riding 25 miles through the Delaware Water Gap. If you have never explored this area, man, you are missing out. For 25 miles we saw maybe two cars, and were treated to a mixture of road, gravel, and dirt. Scattered throughout the DWG are all kinds of abandoned barns and houses. Later in the day we met a park ranger who explained that in the mid 60’s there was a plan to build a dam and flood the entire area in order to create a lake. It was deemed a national park, and homes in the flood zone were taken through eminent domain. Some particularly historic structures were relocated, many of them to Millbrook Village, a small area at the intersection of Old Mine Rd and Millbrook – Flatbrook rd, founded in 1832.


It just so happened that we stumbled upon this little village on “Millbrook Day” – a festival where once a year locals dress in period clothing, and do things rad things like churning butter. Unfortunately we had so many miles to cover that we couldn’t afford to dilly dally with the butter churning.

Getting out of the river valley was serious work. There were two difficult climbs we would have to tackle just to leave the Delaware Water Gap. If the first climb was brutal, the second climb was purely sadistic.


If you look carefully you’ll see that Matt is pushing his bike up the hill. At this point I had also dismounted and was pushing my bike — even with my 38/42 gearing – the climb was simply too long and consistently steep for me to haul all that weight up the hill. We’re talking 1 mile of steady 12% gradient.

As usual though, our suffering was rewarded with gorgeous views of the bucolic New Jersey countryside. Miles later we stopped at a horse farm for a leisurely (read: not on the bike, sitting down at a table) lunch of sandwiches we had made the night before.

Cool tip: horses don’t like bikes. It was a good thing we had stocked up on water the night before, as the first refuel opportunity we found wasn’t until after lunch, 40 miles into the ride. Between the two brutal climbs at the start, and the constant up and down of the rollers, Matt wasn’t feeling too good and was starting to wonder if he would need to bail out once we got to parts of Jersey serviced by New Jersey Transit.

We stocked up on liquids, and soldiered on.

I have had great luck with simply allowing RWGPS to sort out the finer points of my planned routes — for example here it gave us a little shortcut down two miles of single track in the woods. Yes! It wasn’t too long though before we encountered a total fail on the route. We had just left Lake Hopatcong, and were 55 miles in. We start up a climb, and when we get to the top were greeted with a closed road, a huge gate, and a sign that read Picatinny Aresenal. The route had tried to send us into a military base. We consulted the map and found that the only way around it would be 20 miles of what was essentially highway riding.

Luckily though, the shoulder was enormous, and we reaped the benefits of riding on what is of course a more carefully engineered road – one that craves through a far amount of the topography so as to be more efficient for cars. On the highway we were able to maintain a 22mph average. The view wasn’t too bad either.

As we were leaving Glen Rock, we cut through a park and took the Saddle River Pathway for a few miles. We met some super tame deer who we had to ask to move.

Night began to fall as we left this bike path and entered Hackensack. We made our way to Ft Lee where we weaseled through the traffic trying to get to the bridge, and finally, finally, saw the light at the end of the tunnel as our shimmering city greeted us on our way across the George Washington Bridge. Holy hell did it feel good to see New York.

We hammered it home to Brooklyn where we said our fond farewells.

Day 3
Start: Delaware Water Gap
End: Brooklyn
Distance: 124.6 mi
Elevation gain: 5,719 ft
GPX file

Until next time… may your wheels stay rubber side down, and your slumber be free of paralysis or hallucinations.


I tend to get a lot of questions about my weekend bike adventures. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike ask about my routes, what I eat on the ride, what I pack, how long the ride takes, if I bike in the rain, etc. I’m going to start doing a better job of documenting all of this, starting with this post about a little trip I took up to the Catskills.

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First: the bike. I’ve been riding a Specialized Tarmac for two years for both recreational and competitive road riding. This summer though I’ve become increasingly obsessed with adventure cycling and bikepacking. I love long endurance rides, I really really love the fun and challenge of riding less traveled dirt and gravel roads, and I’ve been wanting to get out camping more — so bikepacking really is the perfect combination. While there is a trend in ultra-endurance racing to fit out race bikes with frame and saddle bags, I wanted something that I knew I could thoroughly abuse, without worrying about carbon, or without being afraid to lock it up or leave it unattended at my campsite. I found myself desiring something real… something steel.

Specialized’s AWOL fit the bill perfectly, and I had been drooling over the Comp pretty much all summer, so recently I went for it and had my favorite local bike shop build one up for me. This thing is the ultimate zombie-apocalypse ready tank; stable as hell when loaded up with full camping gear, even when bombing a descent at 50 mph, when ripping up a trail over rocks, tree roots, and rail ties, or when dropping the hammer on the road. Simply put – it’s a f***ing sick bike. It likes to go fast, and it likes to go everywhere.

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I set the bike up for covert adventure deployments with a Tubus low rider front rack, as that’s where the AWOL likes its weight. So far I’ve been using classic Ortlieb back rollers (but on front), but am kinda considering going with a rackless setup. I also threw three King Cage titanium bottle cages on, as well as a randonneur bag up front. That’s really all the cargo space I need – even once I start doing trips longer than five days – I firmly believe in packing light and packing smart.

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I was invited recently to spend a few days in the Catskill Mountains with a bunch of far out futurists, tech nerds, and generally awesome people. When I learned I would be camping for three days in the mountains, 150+ miles from home, naturally I decided to leverage this as an opportunity for a bike adventure. I got my rig all packed up on a Tuesday night. Here’s what I brought:


Two spare tubes, one spare tire, five cO2 cartridges, small frame pump, multitool, Garmin, small lightweight bike lock, four tubes of electrolytes, four shot blok sleeves, four energy gels, titanium french press, coffee, lightweight mug, flask full of Kings County bourbon (I may pack light, but I’m not a monster), small backpacking stove and gas, headlamp, small bike lights, auxilary battery for charging USB devices, 100% waterproof phone case with extra battery life, tent, sleeping bag, two shirts, one pair of shorts, extra pair of cycling kit, first aid kit, camp shoes, two USB wall chargers. That’s it! It all adds up to roughly 35 Lbs.

Wednesday morning I commuted in to work on the AWOL with all my gear, and at the end of the day I just hopped on the bike, escaped the city, and embarked on the short first leg of the trip. Destination: a campsite in Harriman State Park, roughly 45 miles from the office.

The name of the game was to try and get to camp before sundown, but I just missed the mark, and rode the final 6 miles in the dark. Turn on the headlamp.
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To polish off the ride, it ended with a nice little 1.7 mile category 3 climb. This was a good warm-up for the suffering that awaited me in the Catskill Mountains the next day.

I set up camp, scarfed down my dinner (I grabbed a burger and fries at The Market on the way out – not the smartest nutrition for the night before a 100 mile ride, should have planned smarter on this point) texted the fam, took a couple swigs from my flask and was off to bed. The tent in case you are wondering is a Tarptent Moment DW.

Made coffee in the morning and then it was off to the mountains.

Starting a ride in the wilderness, rather than fighting through city traffic is pretty magical. This was the view that I started with.

It was about 8 miles through Harriman, and then cutting across route 87, over to Sterling Forrest State Park, at which point I passed this derelict building.

Up through Blooming Grove, up through Walden (where I stopped for lunch and had some KILLER pizza), and on to Wallkill. Just on the outskirts of Wallkill, 40 miles in, the route sent me to continue onto this portion of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which much to my delight was a pretty rough around the edges trail of dirt, gravel, and tennis ball size stones.

The AWOL ate this all up and wanted more. The only issue with this trail is the brush gets pretty overgrown in sections and I had to stop three times to remove and branches from my drivetrain. More than once on the road I’ve had a surprise stick in the derailleur, causing it to rip from the hanger, but not today. Lucky. This definitely left me ruminating on the virtues of a belt drive paired with an internal hub.

Sadly, this portion of the trail only lasted about a mile. The trailhead on the other end was pretty ridiculous – it narrows to singletrack, and you’re sent down an extremely steep embankment, and into a ditch. Upon exiting the trail I started to see signs along the lines of “State Correctional Facility Land – No Stopping”. Well then. The route directed me  down a road that was clearly marked *DO NOT ENTER*, which had it not been a prison, I would have considered disregarding. Being the law abiding cyclist I am, I rerouted up to State Highway 208, which I would have wound up on eventually anyway. I noticed Garmin’s battery was below 50% at this point so I decided to try out the backup battery. It worked like a charm, and made me really glad I had recently added the rando bag to my setup.


Moments later, the sky opened up, and I was soaked by what would be the first of at least five thunderstorms that day. It was then 20 miles of flat terrain to hammer through to Rosendale, where I would meet up again with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail – this section even more epic than the last.

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By now it was steadily pouring rain, and I had a grin on my face as I ripped down the dirt and gravel trail found on the other end of the footbridge. I found myself surrounded by tall trees, splashing through mud puddles, with a steep embankment on the left, and Joppenbergh Mountain on my right. At one point I felt a blast of freezing cold air, and looking to the right realized that it was coming from a huge cave in the side of the mountain – cold air and fog was billowing out of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture – the waterproof case for my phone allows for it to be used in the rain, but once there is a bit of water on the screen, the phone struggles to register swipes, rendering it difficult to unlock and activate the camera. In any case, pedal on. Don’t want to wait around for the bears.

4 miles later, in Marbletown, after being sent down a gravel private drive, I found my way to Fording Place Rd. The irony of this name was not lost on me as I found myself riding through a 6 inch deep 30ft long puddle that was the entire width of this dirt road. That puddle however was just the warm-up. After turning a corner on the trail I found myself facing the Esopus Creek. So what do you do when you’re faced with fording a 1.5 ft deep creek? You thank yourself for having 100% waterproof paniers, and keep on trucking.

My panniers were about 2/3 submerged but I’m happy to say they held their own and kept my gear totally dry. On the other side of the stream, there is a big corn farm with a nice flat gravel road. On through Lomontville, and Pacama, and before you know it, I found myself at the Ashokan Reservoir – rolling hills  surrounded by seriously beautiful forrest, and occasionally a cute little cabin, or decrepit barn.

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The Forrest eventually gives way to this view from a small bridge.

Shortly thereafter, the road leads to the Ashokan Reservoir itself. Not a bad view here either.

From here it was essentially one grueling 20 mile false flat all the way to the tiny little town of Fleishmans, which was the last civilization I would see until reaching my destination. What came after that 20 mile slog through the false flat, you ask?

Pure. Mountain. Death.

Over the course of the final 10 miles, there were four back to back brutal climbs, as I entered the real mountains. I love climbing, and I enjoy the suffering, but man, when you are hauling 32 lbs of gear – it’s a whole new level of pain. By my calculations, that last 10 miles had around 2,800 feet of climbing. 100% suffering. Here’s the upshot though – one of the climbs had a perfectly straight, incredibly steep descent, with a clear line of sight. I hit it full gas, and broke my own speed PR – 49.45 MPH.

All of this climbing was rewarded by the sudden arrival at my destination – where I was greeted not only by the smiling faces of friends, but the most incredible mountaintop modernist home I’ve ever set foot in.

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And so ensued a weekend of discussions, presentations, debates, and fireside chats on the future of technology and it’s role in society. The weather up in the mountains was incredible – giant thunderstorms would come and go with a moment’s notice.

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… and when Sunday came, I was back on the road. I took the same route most of the way back, but eventually cut over east of the Hudson River so that I could take the train from Beacon. I would have preferred to have ridden the whole way and split it again over the course of two days, but I had to get back to the office on Monday. Here are some photos from the much sunnier (and hotter) return trip.

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Until next time – get out there and ride!

It Takes a Village to Save a Hard Drive

Doron in utter disbelief

In the final days of  the XFR STN exhibition at the New Museum, we encountered what was hands-down the most challenging born-digital recovery to have occured during the run of the exhibition. On August 30th, artist Phil Sanders arrived at the New Museum with an amalgam floppy disks, and two external hard disk drives. XFR STN technician Kristin MacDonough went into production mode with recovering the floppy disks. In just a few hours Kristin was able to recover 146 of Phil’s floppy disks. Prolific!

Kristin MacDonough rescuing floppy disks

Kristin MacDonough, Phil Sanders, and family

While Kristin tended to the sea of floppy disks, I investigated the hard drive situation. The first external disk drive was a peripheral used with an Amiga. The enclosure’s external interface was nothing we could use with our variety of adapters and forensic bridges, so I opened it up to take a look at the internal interface.

Phil Sanders' Amiga external hard disk drive

Phil Sanders' Amiga external hard disk drive

Luckily the drive inside was just a standard 3.5″ SCSI hard disk. Using a Tableau SCSI bridge (or “write-blocker”) and FTK Imager we made a raw (dd) disk image of the drive. Having worked previously with Amiga hard disk images I knew this wasn’t the end of the story. This raw image of the entire disk would only really be useful if it was a system disk, and if Phil wanted to emulate his old Amiga system. If all that Phil really wanted was the files on the disk, the image would be useless to him for a few reasons: 1) the Amiga Fast File System (AFFS) is not supported in FTK Imager, so we would be unable to browse the file system or dump the files for him there, as was the workflow for most disk images at XFR STN. 2) AFFS is fortunately supported in Linux, but the partitioning scheme used on Amiga disks is not, meaning this raw image we’ve produced of Phil’s disk can not be mounted as-is. Michael Kohn made a brilliant tool that provides a solution to this – not only can you view partitions on the disk image, and browse around the file system, you can use his tool to dump a raw image of just one partition. This “dumped” raw image can then be mounted natively in Linux, allowing you to get the files and do whatever it is you please. We used this process to provide Phil with the full raw image of the disk, the raw image devoid of partitioning scheme, and a dump of all of the files. Start-to-finish this does not take much time at all… if you’ve used the tools before, maybe one hour tops.

Phil Sanders' "Sider" external hard disk drive

The next external hard disk drive, originally used with an Apple //e, was a wholly different scenario. The external interface appeared at first glance to be SCSI, but after counting the pins it became apparent that we were dealing with something else. I posted pictures of the drive to the Digital Curation list, and Mark Matienzo was able to find the manual for the drive, confirming that the connection was in fact SASI, an interface that was precursor to SCSI.

The Sider's external SASI interface

I opened up the enclosure, hoping that the internal interface was something that we could easily work with, only to find that not only was the internal interface equally obscure, but that the disk was a whopping 5.25″ form factor, as opposed to the standard 3.5″ encountered in most personal computer hard disk drives.

Pictured right: The Sider's hard disk. Left: 3.5" hard disk for scale

Phil’s hard drive is pictured above on the right. On the left is a 3.5″ SCSI hard disk for scale. As we had no simple way of interfacing with the Sider, either through its external or internal interface, we knew that given our limited time and expertise, the easiest way to work with the drive would be with the original computer it was used with. Luckily, Phil had held on to his Apple //e. Knowing that our lab setup at XFR STN could easily recover 5.25″ floppy disks, my plan was to essentially migrate files from the 10MB hard drive, to 5.25″ floppies, which we could then recover and extract the files from. The following week, on September 6th, Phil brought in his Apple //e and all of its peripherals. By some crazy stroke of fate, Apple ][ expert and friend Jason Scott,  happened to stop by to visit XFR STN just as we were setting up Phil’s computer. This was a life saver, as my knowledge of Apple DOS leaves a bit to be desired. Phil informed us that The Sider contained the bulk of his artistic output from the 80’s, including much material that he produced while artist-in-residence at NYU. He also informed us that the Sider was in fact the boot disk for the //e. All of the hardware was plugged in and waiting. It was with great anticipation we proceeded to power on Phil’s Apple //e, and listened to a 10lb, 10MB hard disk attempt to spin up for the first time in over two decades.

Jason Scott powering on The Sider, Doron and Phil looking on

Initially, nothing happened. The drive sounded horrible, and the //e informed us that there was an IO error. The drive sounded like it was spinning, but it just sounded bad. It sounded like a mechanical device that had not been properly exercised in two decades. Slowly though, it began to spin faster. After some coaxing, powering the //e on and off a few times, and perhaps a few prayers to the god of dead media, we heard some head activity coming from the drive, and miraculously, the CRT monitor offered up a menu.

Booting the Apple //e

Phil’s memory had been accurate. Not only was the Sider the //e’s boot disk, but it had multiple operating systems available, and this boot menu that allowed us to choose what OS to use. We booted into DOS and proceeded to take a look at what was on the disk.

Jason Scott, hard drive whisperer.

The disk was mainly cooperative, and we only had to reboot a few times due to IO errors. There was one area of the disk that appeared to be corrupt or, unreadable. We found a lot of content on the healthy areas of the disk, but what we saw were mostly system files and software. No art, but we copied the files we found to 5.25″ floppy disk anyway just to be on the safe side. Phil then informed us that he hardly used Apple DOS, and primarily worked in ProDOS. We restarted the machine and booted into ProDOS. We then found the mother lode. What had appeared to be a corrupt part of the disk was in fact the area of the disk that only ProDOS could read – and it contained massive amounts of artwork made by Phil during the 80’s.

We had to act fast – there was no telling how long the Sider would spin before finally buying the farm. While in DOS we had simply copied files in batches to floppy disk, we found that in ProDOS we could use the Copy II Plus program to actually produce a backup of the entire Sider hard disk. Jason initiated the process.

L to R: Jason Scott, Doron Ben-Avraham, Walter Forsberg, Phil Sanders

We only happened to have seven 5.25″ floppy disks on hand,  yet after indexing the entire hard disk, Copy II Plus told us that we would need 24 floppies in all. This was not initially any cause for alarm, as we realized that we would recover the floppies immediately as Copy II Plus produced them, and that once a floppy was imaged, it could be re-used. As Matthew Kirschenbaum so eloquently put it at the next day’s symposium, we were operating a veritable “bucket brigade” between the Apple //e and our floppy recovery station, bits sloshing over the side as we rescued Phil’s artwork from certain oblivion.

Copy II Plus backup on 5.25" Floppy disk

The post-it note pictured above was an indicator that this particular floppy was a backup of Slot 7, Volume 1, disk 1 of 24. Slot 7 was the Sider, and on the Sider there were in fact two volumes. After seven disks, we attempted to re-use the first one we created, only to come to the terrible discovery that Copy II Plus refuses to overwrite what it detects as a backup disk. We ran back to our Kryoflux, as I recalled that one can use the device not only for recovery, but for writing back to disk. Unfortunately DOS 3.3 is not yet one of the supported writing formats. We wrote an Amiga format disk image back to disk, hoping that the Apple //e would see that it was not in DOS 3.3 format, and attempt to reformat the floppy before backing up to it. Unfortunately it simply refused to acknowledge this disk, rather than offer to reformat. It was then, that New Museum director of IT, Doron Ben-Avraham posed the idea of erasing the floppy disks with a magnet. I was completely skeptical, figuring that if the //e refused to reformat an Amiga disk, why would it react differently to a disk whose geometry had been obliterated? Doron managed to find a tiny magnet in the office.

Pure ingenuity

Amazingly… it worked! Doron assumed floppy erasing duties, and our bucket brigade was back in action, writing to floppy with the //e, recovering, and then erasing and reusing the disk. We managed to back up the first volume of the disk. The day had come to an end, and we needed to call it quits, but there was a whole other volume remaining to be backed up. This was on a Friday, and the soonest we would be able to pick up where we left off would be the following Sunday. Not wanting to risk spinning down the Sider hard disk drive, we left the whole system set up and running for two days in the resource center.

Restoration in progress

On Sunday, Phil and I took a close look at the contents of the two volumes, and found that Volume 2 was simply a direct mirror of Volume 1. Our backup was complete! We took this as an opportunity to run and document Phil’s work. Walter Forsberg had the brilliant idea to do direct video capture from the //e, so we moved to one of the video preservation stations, and proceeded to do just that. I asked Phil questions about the fidelity of the image quality we were seeing.

Phil Sanders demoing his work during live capture

It is rather incredible that likely none of this recovery process would have been available or accessible to Phil without a resource like XFR STN. Nearly a decade of Phil’s born-digital artwork now lives on the Internet Archive in the form of Floppy disk images, hard drive dumps, and  an hour of 10-bit uncompressed direct video capture. It sets the stage for further work in restoring an operational emulation of Phil’s //e. This really drives home what was the core and fundamental principle of the XFR STN project. This is a level of care and preservation commonly only available to artists that have already been written into the cannon. It is not simply rehetoric or an overstatement to say that this project did indeed turn the capitalist meritocracy of institutional preservation on its head. It is incredibly rewarding to know that we set the stage for allowing some lesser known artists to have the opportunity to be discovered decades from now. More important and more rewarding than seeing these all of these fundamental ideals in action though, was getting the opportunity to witness Phil and his wife see his work for the first time in decades, and to share it with their daughter for the first time ever. Thanks Phil.

Phil Sanders and family

Authenticity is Relative


For those interested in video game preservation, I highly recommend giving the following article a careful read: “In Search of Scanlines: The Best CRT Monitor for Retro Gaming.” Considering the wave of acquisitions at MoMA my colleagues and I have been spending a whole lot of time thinking about how display hardware shapes the visual experience of a game, and in each case, what should be considered the ideal rendering by which to judge any sort of emulation. Needless to say, I’ve been chatting a bit with Nick Montfort.

I found the article interesting not for its discussion of CRTs, but because Fudoh’s approach is a bit different than most I have encountered. He doesn’t care about CRTs out of concern for historically accurate hardware, and thus image quality. Rather, his desire is to achieve the best possible image. He is obsessed with the signal to the extent that he will modify a console that originally output composite, so that it offers RGB. The quality he is achieving is one that game designers and players would never have seen when designing and playing these games. This is the antithesis of the CRT emulation camp, whose concern is accurate reproduction of an image quality that bears fidelity to consumer grade CRTs of a given game’s period.

Fudoh’s work is impressive to be sure, but is he barking up the wrong tree? On the other hand, does CRT emulation preserve the wrong thing? Is there a hybrid approach that combines these two apparently opposing schools of thought? What do you think?

How to backup your Tumblr

By now you’ve likely heard that Yahoo! intends on acquiring Tumblr. While, the acquisition is not (at time of writing) confirmed and even if it goes down, it does not mean death to Tumblr, you are likely wondering how to take your stuff and run. Today. Here’s how.

Bad news: there is no official Tumblr backup tool. Some people have cooked up well intentioned tools, but none of them preserve the look and feel of your Tumblr. For those that have spent countless hours perfecting their own theme, this will simply not do. If you want a backup of your Tumblr that looks right, and that you can easily upload to your own server I’d recommend using HTTrack.

Head over to the official HTTrack site and download the distribution you need. If you’re on a Mac and use Homebrew, you can just do that instead. The Windows build provides a GUI, but the others do not. The command line interface is cross-platform however. If you’ve installed correctly, you can copy and paste the below, replacing the URL with the URL of your Tumblr, and let er rip.

httrack -w -n -c8 -N0 -s0 -q -v -I0 -p3

This can take quite a while depending on the the size of your Tumblr. If you use infinite scroll, this should work regardless, so long as you’ve maintained the “next” and “previous” pagination hyperlink markup in your template. If you haven’t (this would certainly be an edge case, but I’ve seen it with some artist’s themes), I’m sorry, but your site just isn’t crawlable. When all is said and done you’ll be left with flat HTML files, css, js, images, videos, audio, etc with all hyperlinks to crawled content modified to relative paths – meaning it is a backup you can toss on any server. If you’re curious about the options I’ve used in the line above, here are their full descriptions from the documentation. Enjoy.

w *mirror web sites (--mirror)
n get non-html files 'near' an html file (ex: an image located outside) (--near)
cN number of multiple connections (*c8) (--sockets[=N])
NN structure type (0 *original structure, 1+: see below) (--structure[=N])
  or user defined structure (-N "%h%p/%n%q.%t")
q no questions - quiet mode (--quiet)
%v display on screen filenames downloaded (in realtime) (--display)
I *make an index (I0 don't make) (--index)
pN priority mode: (* p3) (--priority[=N])
  0 just scan, don't save anything (for checking links)
  1 save only html files
  2 save only non html files
 *3 save all files
  7 get html files before, then treat other files

An overdue update

Dear internet: over the course of the past week, a few people have mentioned that they have heard I was leaving Rhizome. This is not the case. There have, however, been some some wonderful changes in my professional life that I have not quite shared publicly. I’d like to update you, dear reader, on the particulars of these changes – lest misinformation befall you.

As of two weeks ago, I am officially splitting my time between Rhizome and the conservation department of the Museum of Modern Art. I have joined the fantastic team at MoMA to lead on the development of the Digital Repository for Museum Collections – a suite of tools and services that will together form an infrastructure for the effective preservation and conservation management of born-digital materials in the museum’s permanent collection. It is an incredibly exciting project, and I am glad to have the opportunity to help shape its future, and to work with the brilliant team at MoMA.

This is a half-time appointment – I have not left Rhizome. I’m fortunate enough to have colleagues that are open to a little institutional polyamory. I am grateful for this, as things have never been more exciting in Rhizome’s conservation department. We have been hard at work on restoring The Thing BBS – one of the earliest online communities of contemporary artists, and I am pleased to say that a small portion of what we’ve dug up will be on display as part of the New Museum’s next exhibition, “1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.” The exhibition is already partially on view, but opens fully next Thursday, Feb 14th. In conjunction with the exhibition, we are hosting an event in March titled “The Internet Before the Web: Preserving Early Networked Cultures.” I will be in conversation with Wolfgang Staehle (artist and founder of The Thing BBS), and none other than Jason Scott. Needless to say, you might want to reserve your tickets asap.

So – that’s it. Lots of new things… more to come.

Analyzing Browser History

I recently participated in First Five – a Tumblr where guests list the first five websites they visit daily (my five here). Similar to recent contributor Luke Robert Mason, the concept seems foreign to me. As a poster child for consumption via aggregation, apps, and streams, I do not pull up my bookmarks in the morning as though unfolding the daily newspaper. Rather than opting to compensate for this by providing (as many contributors seem to) my favorite five, I decided to provide a strict, data driven answer to the question – of a sample of the first five URLs I type into my browser every morning, which are the most common? Although my content consumption is divided heavily between apps on my mobile device, desktop and browser based apps on my laptop, I chose, for time and feasibility’s sake to focus on my browser history. I hypothesized that the data would show a few major content sources, mostly browser based channels (such as Twitter and Prismatic), followed by a long tail of heterogeneous content they directed me to.

I use Chrome, so the clear route was to analyze the SQLite database where Chrome stores it’s history. On a Mac, this is located at ~/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome/Default/History  | Had I prior experience analyzing SQLite with Python, I could have written something that worked with this file directly. This not being the case, I exported a CSV of results from the following query:


SELECT datetime(((visits.visit_time/1000000)-11644473600), "unixepoch"), urls.url,
FROM urls, visits WHERE = visits.url;


I cleared my history near the end of May, so this yielded about three months (a pithy 7.9MB) of data in the following format:


"2012-09-01 20:03:15",""


I wrote a few lines of Python that look at each row of the CSV and add each day’s first five unique hostnames to a dictionary. At the end, each hostname is counted, and the results are printed to stdout.
The resultant data needed to be tidied up a bit – there were analogous hostnames such as and, which could be consolidated. As well, I use Twitter via a desktop client, not, the hostname of Twitter’s url shortener scored very highly, but rather than trace these back to their original URLs, I opted to count these as visits. Interestingly, Netflix ranked highly with a 15% share. I don’t watch Netflix in the morning, rather this registered due to the fact that Netflix is often the last website in my browser at night. In the morning, when waking my computer, the open tab refreshes thus gaining a post 6am, pre 11am entry in the database. I chose to remove this from the results.

browser data

The data seems to at least somewhat reflect my hypothesis: Twitter, email (mainly listservs and, and Prismatic all being aggregators, followed by a long tail of diverse content sources. A clear next step would be to analyze the from_visit field of visits in the long tail, to see if indeed the referring visits trace back to the top aggregators. All in all, the exercise does seem to illustrate stream-based browsing habits, and the idea that more and more content is fluid – less and less tied to specific websites as vessels.