Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness

date October 06, 2019 location Upper Peninsula, MI

Last weekend, my brother-in-law and I spent four days exploring the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Having never visited before, we planned an ambitious trip, booking our campsites such that we would end up covering more than 25 miles in our four days, hoping to see as much of the park as possible.

We arrived in the early afternoon on Thursday and briefly explored the Lake of the Clouds scenic area where we would leave our car for the duration of the trip, and headed to our campsite for the night.

We woke up early Friday and after the quick hike back to the Lake of the Clouds scenic area, we hiked about two miles each way on the Escarpment trail, enjoying north-facing views of Lake of the Clouds and Lake Superior. We continued north down the Big Carp Trail to our second campsite, BC-1. This was probably the best campsite we saw during our entire trip as it occupied plenty of space including flat ground, as well as breathtaking views facing back south to Lake of the Clouds and north to Lake Superior. Looking at the map, we figured our campsite had easy river access both as a water source and for fishing. Unfortunately, our campsite was on a cliff a good 300' above the river with no obvious way down. We hiked off-trail trying to find the best path to the river, and after more than an hour we finally reached the river only to find that it was mostly dried up. We were able to filter enough water before heading back to the campsite for the night.

Saturday's hike followed the Big Carp trail all the way to Lake Superior. After some unsuccessful attempts at fishing the river, we took the Lake Superior trail to our next campsite along the lake. As I was gathering firewood near the campsite, I broke the branch of a fallen tree. The loud snap of the branch spooked a nearby bear and I felt the entire earth shake as I watched the butt of a black bear sprint off into the woods. The rest of the night was uneventful, we woke up early Sunday and hiked the remainder of the Lake Superior Trail only by the light of our headlamps, making it back to the car before sunrise.

A map of our hike and campsites

Flying High Above the City

date September 15, 2019 location Chicago, IL

Went for a cross-training ride this evening and grabbed a shot from high above.

The Chicago Skyline and Lake Shore Drive.View Exif InformationView on Map

The Chicago Skyline and Lake Shore Drive.

Last Chance BQ.2 Grand Rapids Marathon Recap

date September 08, 2019 location Grand Rapids, MI

Following last November's Richmond Marathon, I planned on running the Green Bay marathon in the Spring. My knees had different plans. I spent December and January trying to get some mileage in, but I couldn't get past a few miles on any given day before my left knee would flare up. Before accepting that perhaps my marathoning days were over, I went through an 8 week physical therapy cycle, and eventually started building my mileage back up slowly and without pain. By April, I was running more miles than I ever had before and I was ready to start a marathon training plan, I just needed to find a new race. After some research, I settled on the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon in Grand Rapids, MI. The race day was the week before Boston Marathon registration, giving runners a "Last Chance" to improve their chances of getting in. With my 3:01:10 in Richmond, I was a full 3:50 faster than the 3:05:00 required to qualify for Boston in my age group, however, the Boston Athletic Association applies an additional cutoff after all applicants have applied depending on the demand for that particular year, making it possible (though very unlikely) that I could be left without an actual spot in the race. Knowing this, the timing of the Last Chance BQ.2 would give me an opportunity to lock my spot in Boston, and still enough time to recover after the race and start training for the Boston Marathon itself in April 2020.

I followed Pete Pfitzinger's 18/70 training plan, and outside of a 3 day backpacking trip to Yosemite, I stayed true to the plan.

The Race
The race itself had a small field of about 300 runners. Furthermore, since everyone was trying to get into Boston, there was a sense of teamwork that you don't typically get at most races with people forming packs based on the time they need to qualify for Boston. The course consists of 6 loops around Grand Rapids' Millenium Park which meant I would see my cheering section 5 times (they headed for the finished line on the last lap). I had a goal in mind of 2 hours and 55 minutes, but my tune up races indicated I had a shot at 2:53. I planned on trying to stay between a 6:30 and 6:40 per mile pace and ended up on the faster side of that almost the whole day for a final time of 2:51:12 (6:32/mile)!

Race Notes
-The race let all runners keep water bottles at the aid stations. I filled one with water and the other with sports drink. On the first pass by, I dropped the water bottle. The second pass I struggled to get much from the bottle. I settled on the standard water cups for the remainder of the race. Never Again.
-Stomach cramps slowed me down late in the race. This could be from a number of different causes, but I’m wondering if I overdid the pre-race and actual race nutrition.
-This was the first full marathon I'vee run in a long time without a pace group and my pacing was excellent.
-More vaseline on the nipples!
-Running several tune up races throughout the training cycle really helped get me ready for race day.

Post race shot with me and my biggest fan.

Rock n Roll Half Marathon Recap

date July 21, 2019 location Chicago, IL

The weather was a big concern going into the 2019 Chicago Rock n Roll Half Marathon. The previous couple of days the temperature nearly hit 100 degrees F, and the race organizers pulled out several stops to make sure the race would go off smoothly, including cancelling the 5K, adding additional water stops, and sending out a running-in-the-heat email, imploring runners not to push it too much. The weather gods decided to spare us, however, and we were blessed with a 70 degree temperature at the race start with minimal wind and no rain.

My goal going into the race was 1:23:00 and I hit it dead on (6:20/mi)!

Some notes from the race:
* I have a really solid understanding of my fitness, and I went out at a pace that I maintained well throughout the race
* Pre-race planning went without a hitch, nutrition went well, race time arrival, and race-week runs had me well-prepared
* I had one hiccup: a shoelace came untied which has never happened to me in either a race or training
* Notice to other runners: Don’t stop in the middle of a water station (there may be people behind you trying to run through it)
* The race was one of the most organized I have ever run: There were several well-marked corrals, a plethora of water stations, and the course was clearly marked
* I made a last second decision to bring along my heart rate monitor and I'm glad I did (there isn't a consensus on whether one should or should not during a race). The GPS was iffy (see below) and I used the HRM to inform my pace throughout the race. I was also surprised to see my heart rate go down a few bpm after dousing myself with water at one of the stations.

Attention Chicago Race Organizers: Why does every race have to start by sending us through Lower Wacker, a GPS wasteland, making it impossible to set the right pace during the first mile of the race

Teddy sporting the finish medal.

Backpacking Yosemite

date June 08, 2019 location Yosemite, California

Pre trip
For my 35th birthday this year, I decided to scratch an itch that I've had for quite some time, and try my hand at a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains. As I am admittedly a novice in backpacking, and fearing the worst possible outcomes, I decided it would be best to find a backpacking guided tour group. After discovering Wildland Trekking, a well-reviewed company offering both domestic and international guided hiking trips (they don't sponsor this site), I researched their offerings. I was looking for a trip that would be both physically demanding enough to take the place of some marathon training runs, and would offer good photo opportunities, preferably in a location I haven't previously been. After some research, I decided on the Half Dome Backpacking trip offered in the first week of June, which would fit in nicely with my marathon training schedule and take place during the new moon phase allowing the best possible conditions for astrography. The ascent to the summit of Half Dome includes a final 400 or so feet of a near vertical climb made possible by the presence of a cable system drilled into the face of the mountain. The cables are removed and repaired before being re-affixed to the mountain each year in early summer, and as Yosemite endured a heavy snow season this year, we were informed a few days before the trip that the cables may not be applied in time for our visit. While it would be a little disappointing to make the trek to Yosemite and to the near top of Half Dome without officially completing the mountain, making the climb on the cables would be a nice-to-have cherry on top of the sundae, and not something that would ruin my trip if we weren't able to do.

Day 1
I flew into Fresno the previous night and stayed at a nearby airport hotel. After getting in a quick 5 mile run (my training would not suffer for this trip), I enjoyed the $5 hot breakfast and was on my way to Yosemite. I had a few hours to spare before meeting the tour group which I spent photographing Yosemite Valley which is the most accessible part of the park and also among the most photogenic so long as you're able to keep all the tourists out of your photos. One of the very first pullover points from the south entrance on Highway 41 is Tunnel View, a magnificent vista made famous by Ansel Adams, showcasing the valley and its famous landmarks including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls.

The famous "Tunnel View" of Yosemite.

Upon entering the valley I stopped at the Visitor Center, gift shops, Ansel Adams Gallery, and even had time to watch a short film about the park at the Yosemite Theater. There I learned that Yosemite is truly a one of a kind place on earth having been formed by a unique combination of sedimentary rock, volcanic eruption, tectonic plates, and glacial formations. The resulting output results in a huge lush valley surrounded by massive bald mountains with steep, polished drop-offs.

Yosemite Falls from the road into the valley.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley.

After the movie, I captured a few more photos before meeting up with my tour group. The group met at the pizza parlor in what is known as Half Dome Village, what is essentially the Half Dome trailhead located in the valley. I took a risk when booking the trip that I might be paired with a group that I didn't get along with, and have to spend the next 4 days doing my best to keep to myself. It didn't take long after meeting the other hikers, a bachelor party of 4, to realize that we not only had similar goals for the trip but we also had a lot in common, making for a great group dynamic. The group was led by Kevin, a chill Californian with a natural appreciation of the outdoors and an easy going demeanor that would set the proper tone for the rest of us. We signed our waiver forms and took care of a few formalities before finally grabbing our bags and heading into our night 1 campsite in Yosemite Valley. The sunlight was now almost completely gone as we took the nearby trail just a few hundred feet into the campsite. The camp was flooded in a few areas and we were forced to take our boots and socks off and walk through ankle high freezing cold water in darkness to our tents. What did I get myself into?

Day 2:
Total Steps: 18,040
Total Calories Burned: 3,412
Hiking Distance: 5mi

After a 7am wake up, we grabbed a quick breakfast of yogurt and oats and started the daunting task of packing our backpacks. Our packs consisted of a mattress pad, sleeping bag, tent, large bear canister filled with food, clothes, cookware, clothing, and personal items. On top of this, I packed my camera, two lenses and travel tripod.

The heavy pack I trekked several miles from campground to campground.

Though I never measured it, the pack had to weigh about 50lbs, and while I was confident in my cardio fitness, the new dynamic of carrying this heavy pack up a mountain was a challenge that I had no idea whether or not I was prepared for. We began our hike towards our campsite in Little Yosemite valley along the Mist trail. Though the trail was steep and our packs were heavy, we were rewarded with a rainbow at the base of Vernal Falls, and spectacular light at Nevada Falls.

Vernal Falls

Nevada Falls

We took a few stops along the way before reaching our campground in Little Yosemite Valley after a hike of about 5 miles and an elevation gain of about 2000 ft. While the distance we covered was relatively short, the heavy packs and elevation gain made the hike seem rather strenuous. Our campground was near the Merced River which was absolutely freezing cold, and though I am sensitive to cold temperatures, I barely hesitated joining the rest of the hikers in a quick submersion in the icy stream. The dunk was bittersweet, on one hand extremely refreshing to my sore legs, shoulders and back while simultaneously causing cold shock and the inability to think for several seconds. We set up camp, and had a delicious dinner of pesto pasta before making a campfire and heading to bed just before 10pm. The stars weren't quite out yet so I figured if I woke up and had the motivation to get out of my tent in the middle of the night and try for some photos of the stars, I would, but I didn't set an alarm. As I was still getting used to sleeping in a tent, sure enough,I woke up at about 12:30 and after some internal debate, I grabbed the camera and tripod and headed for a nearby clearing to see what the stars looked like.

The Milky Way from Little Yosemite Campground

Day 3:
Total Steps: 29,537
Total Calories: 4,388
Hiking Distance: 10mi

We woke up at 7am once again as Kevin was preparing breakfast burritos with chorizo and some local coffee. In the original itinerary, today would be the day that we hiked to the top of Half Dome, but since the cables were still down, we opted for a hike to another nearby peak, Cloud's Rest, and saved the ascent up Half Dome until our last day. The summit of Cloud's Rest sits at 9,931', more than 1,000' higher than Half Dome, and although the round-trip hike would be several more miles than we had hiked the day before, I was comforted by the fact that we could leave our heavy packs at camp, carrying a day pack with a few snacks and my camera gear.

A group photo at the Cloud's Rest Trailhead

The hike began rather easily with a mild ascent along a well-maintained trail. The trail wasn't clearly marked, and Kevin saved a few other hikers from making a wrong turn as they mistakenly headed towards Half Dome instead of Cloud's Rest at the crossroads of the two trailheads. About four miles into the five mile hike to the peak, the trail went from a little sketchy to near treacherous as snow got heavier along the trail with each foot of elevation gain. After several wrong turns corrected by consulting the GPS, a few missteps into knee deep snow, and multiple falls turned into baseball style slides, we finally reached the top of Cloud's Rest where the 360 degree views made up for the tough terrain along the way.

Yosemite is huge

Amazing Views in every direction from Cloud's Rest

Even the birds come to view Yosemite from this perspective

A view of Half Dome in the distance from the top of Cloud's Rest

A better view of Half Dome in the distance from the top of Cloud's Rest

A curious marmot trying to get our food.

I conquered the mountain!

The hike back to camp was much easier with several calculated slides in the snow getting us down to the dry trail quickly where we enjoyed lunch (Tuna wraps with black olives, mayonnaise, and Cheez Its, yum!). I grabbed a couple more photos on the way down.

A bent tree framing Half Dome on the way to Cloud's Rest

A view of Half Dome on the way to Cloud's Rest

Before we were back at camp, we stumbled on a rattlesnake just off the trail and uncomfortably close to where we were sleeping. Despite their reputation, rattlesnakes don't want much to do with humans and most reported bites occur due to unknowingly stepping on or near them, or overconfident outdoorsmen purposefully getting too close, approaching or even handling the serpents.

A rattlesnake on the trail

After another dip in the river, we cooked up some chicken curry which really hit the spot after what would be our longest hike of the trip. As we were finishing up dinner, we heard a loud scream, Bear, Bear!. Camera in hand, we ran towards where we heard the screams, and saw the four legged beast before he left the area. The bear was tagged which means this wasn't his first appearance near a campsite and was probably interested to see if any campers left some goods out for him. While bears are mostly harmless to humans, we pose a big threat to them, as any food scraps left out risk luring them near humans. After a number of encounters near humans, the bears have to be moved or eventually euthanized if they don't break their habit of seeking human food.

A bear near our campground

A bear butt

After dinner, Kevin went out to the ranger station to check on the status of Half Dome's cables. To our misfortune, we then learned that the cables were up, but still required some repair which would not be completed by morning. While we all would have loved to make the trek all the way to the top of Yosemite's most iconic peak, we were enjoying our trip so much that settling with a morning hike to Sub Dome, a flat summit where the cables to the actual mountain peak are, would suffice. After playing some dice, we headed to our tents around 9pm ready for an early start in the morning.

Day 4
Total Steps: 35,595
Total Calories: 3,760
Hiking Distance: 12mi

After a 4am wake up, I ate a Clif Bar and some coffee and we headed for Sub Dome. The trail towards Sub Dome was similar to that of Cloud's Rest, sharing the first mile of path upwards. As we approached the top, with the sun peaking over the horizon, I let the group go on as I captured a few photos.

I caught up with the group as we summited Sub Dome taking in more amazing views as Kevin cooked up some killer blueberry pancakes. Though we weren't able to climb the cables to the top, the silver lining was that due to the repairs we had the mountain to ourselves which is a rarity for this time of year.

On top of Sub Dome

A candid shot of the rest of the crew atop Sub Dome. Would make a good album cover.

The cables to the summit of Half Dome

We headed back down the mountain towards camp and on the way bumped into a worker that was about to make final repairs to the cables which would be ready just two days after our summit.

A selfie on the way down the mountain.

Once we made it back to camp, we tore down our tents, filled our packs, which would be slightly lighter on the way down due to having eaten most of the food that we brought up, and headed for the valley. We took a slightly different path on the way down, opting for the John Muir Trail instead of the Mist trail once we reached Nevada Falls. The JMT offered a perfectly framed view of Liberty Cap and Nevada falls.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls

The last couple of miles back to Yosemite Valley had a much different feel to them than the first miles up. As we approached the bottom, where we started to once again see more tourists, having trekked nearly 30 miles and acquiring a gnarly stench that can only be obtained after a few days of hard work without showering, I felt much more comfortable and confident, and had a swagger to my gait for the final steps back to the parking lot. After a quick beer, charcuterie plate, and goodbyes to Kevin and the rest of the group, I was on my way to the airport.

My trip to Yosemite was an amazing experience that I will never forget. The trip blew my expectations out of the water, providing a challenging physical experience, beautiful sites, and a welcomed break from technology. While a four day backpacking trip isn't for everyone, this intensity level isn't required for Yosemite, and one can have an equally rewarding experience staying at a hotel in the valley and casually wandering the nearby trails. Yosemite is a place that can be enjoyed in a day, a few days, weeks or even months. Even though I checked off a lot of the most famous attractions in just a few days, I feel like I only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. I'm not sure what my next adventure entails, but whatever it is I'll have more confidence going into it.

Cathedral Rock

date May 07, 2019 location Sedona, Arizona

Today's shot is the famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. While I was just passing through on my way to the Grand Canyon, Sedona seems like a great spot to spend a few days. The terrain is quite surreal, and it seems like there are an endless amount of hikes and outdoor activities in addition to having a nice downtown.

The famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.View Exif InformationView on Map

The famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

Engagement: Emma and Stacee

date March 22, 2019 location Chicago, IL

My cousin Emma asked me to shoot her engagement, and as these two are currently living up in Minnesota, they had no problem toughing out a very cold day of shooting during a frigid Chicago morning.

Emma and Stacee's engagement shoot in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.View Exif Information

Emma and Stacee's engagement shoot in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.View Exif Information

Emma and Stacee's engagement shoot in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.View Exif Information

Emma and Stacee's engagement shoot in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.View Exif Information

Engagement: Annie and Mike

date March 22, 2019 location Chicago, IL

I had a blast taking engagement photos for Annie and Mike. In about 45 minutes we were able to cover the Lake front, North Ave Bridge, Ulysses S Grant Monument, and the Zoo!

Annie and Mike's engagement shoot in Lincoln ParkView Exif Information

Annie and Mike's engagement shoot in Lincoln ParkView Exif Information

Annie and Mike's engagement shoot in Lincoln ParkView Exif Information

Annie and Mike's engagement shoot in Lincoln ParkView Exif Information

Annie and Mike's engagement shoot in Lincoln ParkView Exif Information

Baby Shoot: Logan

date January 23, 2019 location Chicago, IL

My cousin Erin and her Husband, Chris, welcomed Logan to the world on January 15, 2019. I had the wonderful opportunity to take photos for them - what a cutie!

Newborn Logan checking out the world.View Exif Information

Newborn Logan checking out the world.View Exif Information

Newborn Logan checking out the world.View Exif Information

Newborn Logan checking out the world.View Exif Information

Newborn Logan checking out the world.View Exif Information

Athletico Running Video Gait Analysis Review

date December 15, 2018 location

As I have started taking my running habit more seriously over the last couple of years, I have been trying to improve in every way possible. While the formula for improving as a runner is simple: "run more", the challenge of scaling weekly mileages and run difficulties without injury is very complex. In addition to strength training, proper nutrition, post-run massages, and careful mileage increases, another way to improve as a runner is to optimize running form. Improved running form offers two advantages: 1)it lowers injury risk by ensuring that improper form isn't putting too much stress on any part of the body, and 2)it improves running economy allowing for longer distances with reduced effort. As I am currently between marathon training cycles, I decided that now would be a good time to go in for a video gait analysis.

There aren't a lot of options for video gait analysis in Chicago, and I ended up deciding on Athletico simply because it is the closest to where I live. The video gait analysis cost $150 and consisted of two one hour sessions with a Physical Therapist. During the first appointment, the PT asked questions about my running history, how I warm up and cool down, and did some basic strength and range of motion tests. We then moved to the treadmill where he filmed me running from multiple angles for about 10 minutes at a pace consistent with what I would do for a moderate run. During the second appointment, the PT walked me through the results and what I can do to correct the findings. Many of the corrections involved various exercises which I then performed under the PT's supervision, ensuring I was doing the exercise properly along the way. Below is a summary of the findings from my report, and here is the full report. The report is broken up by the angles that were filmed, with annotated photos showing form deficiencies.

Posterior View Findings

Fault: Left Hip Drop 7°
Explanation: My hip/pelvis is dropping below the ideal range of 4-6° potentially putting more stress on my hips and knees. While I am just above the desired range here, this finding is particularly interesting since I have struggled with knee soreness over the last several years of my running career.
Prescribed Exercises:
Monster Walks

Foam Roll vs Wall

My PT emphasized a series of drills from Christopher Johnson, including:
Metronome Marching

Side Step to Lateral Hop Progression

Four Square Hopping Basic

Quick Tap Variation

Lateral Skipping Over Hurdles

Lateral Toe Taps

Lower Posterior View Findings

Fault: Over Pronation 11° right, 12° left
Explanation: My feet tend to roll inwards on landing beyond the desirable amount of less than 10 degrees.
Prescribed Exercises:
Arch Doming Progression

Single Leg Heel Raises

Eccentric Lower Leg Strengthening

Marching Drills

Mountain Climbers

High Knees on Wall

Calf Stretches
Proximal Stabilization

Lateral View Findings

Fault: Heel Strike, Low Cadence
Explanation: My cadence (steps per minute) is 164 and below the desired range of 170-190. This means that my feet are reaching with every step resulting in an increased impact with the ground that can result in pain particularly in the knees. I question the result of the cadence as my watch also tracks this and a quick look at my strava profile suggests that my cadence was about 179 during my last race, and about 169 during my easy runs. That being said, while I've worked hard to increase my cadence and put an emphasis on landing mid-foot, there is at least room for slight improvement here.

Anterior View Findings

Fault: Landing on outside of feet 14° right, 10° left
Explanation: Due to a weakness in my hips, I am landing on the outside of my feet. This finding is particulary interesting given that I've struggled through all sorts of pains in my right ankle, foot, and particularly my fifth metatarsal (pinky toe bone).
Prescribed Exercises: Hip strengthening (see above).

Overall I was happy with the analysis and while there were no earth-shattering revelations about my running form, the analysis reinforced some areas where I already knew I needed work, and added several new exercises for me to improve some of my weaker muscles.