Sunday, December 06, 2020

Garmin Fenix 6X

 I am a sucker for fitness tracking despite the fact that it can feed into my hypochondriac tendencies.

Knowing my heart rate and stress level on a minute by minute basis is both interesting and terrifying. It is even more terrifying when I get a spurious elevated heart rate alarm. Usually, the alert is because I there is water on between the sensor and my arm or I am wearing the watch too loosely. OHR sensors are finicky buggers no matter how good they are reported to be.

Just before COVID closed down the world and stories of sudden pulse OX reading sending people into ERs never to return, Garmin released it new 6 line of the Fenix which included a built in pulse OX sensor as a standard feature. The line also has a bunch of other tweaks like a better screen, longer battery life, the new body battery metric, and a few other things.

If I am being totally honest, none of these were a good reason to upgrade from my trusty Fenix 3X. It still was getting solid battery life, had all the mapping features I needed, and did a great job at all of the basic stuff like step counting and route tracking.

It was a combination of pulse OX and a misguided sense that shopping therapy would ease the malaise of COVID spring that spurred my decision to upgrade. A large REI divided also helped.

The pulse OX feature also gave me pause. Would that information be helpful or just propel me into a spiral of fruitless doom checking and panic?

Since having the watch since April, I can say that the pulse OX feature is an interesting gimmick. I have mine set just to track it during sleep and if I want to do spot checks. It is not a medical grade pulse OX measurement and from many reviews it seems to be about 1-2% lower than a medical grade instrument. Like the OHR, the accuracy depends on a lot of factors including skin color, light conditions, movement, tightness of the watch band, movement, and sleeping positions.

What I have learned from it is that I probably don't have sleep apnea since my pulse OX reading is pretty steady over night with only a few occasional drops to the low 90s. I do occasionally check during the day, and it is reassuring to see that it is always 95% or better. I imagine that if I got reading in the 70-80% range I would worry, but I imagine I would know I was sick well before then.

Aside from the pulse OX feature, I do like the watch better than my old 3X. The UI is better designed and the bigger, brighter screen is nice on my aging eyes. Other nice, but not game changing, features are improved sleep tracking, the body battery, and the fact that I now get a VO2 max reading during walking activities.

I used to have to adjust wake and sleep times constantly with the 3X, but with the 6X I never need to bother. It is also cool to see how sleep stages, respiration rates, and pulse OX vary over the course of sleep. Again, more interesting that useful.

The body battery feature is a new composite metric that I don't fully understand. Basically, it is supposed to be a reflection of how much energy you have. It fluctuates based on stress (measured by HRV), heart rate, activity level, and a bunch of crazy math I will never understand. It seems relatively accurate in reflecting how I feel. Sometimes it seems low compared to how I feel until I try to go do something active. If the watch reading is low, I invariably bonk way sooner than I would have expected based on how I felt. Is this just me being susceptible to suggestion or a true reflection of my bodies energy reserves? I would love to believe that I am smart enough not to listed to a watch....

The VO2 max from walks is, according to Garmin, is not as reliable as the measure you would get from a run or a bike ride with power meters. Since I loathe running and refuse to spend the money on power meters, it is the reading I have. It was nice to watch the metric improve over the COVID summer when my only outlets for stress were long walks, longer bike rides, and the occasional shred through the local trails. Sadly, now that the COVID winter is settling in and opportunities for riding and walking have gone down, the metric is also trending downward.

The one really nice feature is Garmin Pay support. Being able to use the watch as a touch-less payment form has been great. Yes, I can use my phone as well. However, the watch is right on my wrist and doesn't require me to stare at the phone. Also, the watch is easier to wash and has almost no chance of being pressed against my face.

The Fenix is more expensive and way less sexy than an Apple Watch. The Fenix, unlike the Apple Watch, has multi-day battery life. With daily hour long bike rides, I was getting five days between charges. Now that I am not using the GPS as often I go more like 7 or eight days between charges.

The Fenix also connects to all the bike sensors I already own and feed all the data back into the Garmin ecosystem to which I am tied. There is also Apple Health integration, but it is not the best.

The Fenix is also, as far as I can tell, far more durable than an Apple Watch. I am not sure I would wear an Apple Watch sea kayaking or use it on a multi-day hike or expect an Apple Watch to survive a nasty mountain biking crash. The Fenix feels like it can take pretty much anything I can throw it at.

Am I happy with the purchase? I am not unhappy with the purchase. I could have stuck with my old Fenix until the battery gave out and been satisfied with it. The 6X is a nice, but not earth shattering, upgrade.

On the Water - Sea Kayaking Photographs

 A friend of mine, Jon Sharlin, who is a phenomenal photographer has just released a new book of live action photographs.

A number of shots have shown up on the RIC/KA Sea Kayaking site over the past few years.

If you are interested check it out at:

Sunday, November 08, 2020

It was so bad it was good?

 I have missed paddling.

The last few months something has always gotten in the way. Some times the thing in the way was just inertia to be honest. COVID travel restrictions and anxiety keep me close to home and the only real paddling options are flat, not so clean water. It is hard to get up the energy to pack up the kayak when you know that a good portion of your time will be tied up in getting the gear packed and unpacked and repacked and unpacked and when the most exciting thing you'll see is duck and the most challenging obstacle is going to be a frustrating wind that is blowing at just the wrong angle.

Taking one of the bikes out is an easier option.

This morning I decided I was going to get in the kayak. I packed up the truck, dug out some paddling clothes, and drove over to the local boat launch figuring that this late in the season it would pretty quiet. It was packed. I found one spot that could accommodate the truck and I almost lost it while getting the kayak off the roof. The parking space barely had enough room for me to open the doors; the kayak had to come off before I parked.

While sitting on the back of the truck putting on my water shoes, I felt a nice pain shoot from hip across my lower back. I could walk mostly straight, and bend over if I took my time. I decided that if I could pack up the kayak and get into it, I was OK to paddle on some flat water...

As I settled the kayak into the water, I spotted a sign mentioning dangerous algae blooms. The water didn't smell, there were no visible signs of algae, and a lot of other people on the water. I wasn't going in the water. I cautiously ignored the sign and set off.

My plan was to do a little warm up paddle and then practice boat control for a while. I wanted to work on figure eights, bow and stern rudders, and some lateral movement.

Once I was in the kayak, my back felt good. I could get decent rotation without pain while doing a quick forward stroke. As I loosened up and started working on the control strokes it continued to feel good.

All in all I was feeling pretty good and having a good time. The reverse figure eights took a little time to get sorted out. I needed to play around with the edges to figure out which ones worked best, but once I got it even those felt good. I know the Aires is a cheat when it comes to making maneuvering look impressive, but it does take some skill to get it to do the right things at the right time.

After playing around with the turns, I started working on latter movements with draw strokes. Things started off great. Then I started upping the ante and putting more edge on the boat during skulling draws and experimenting with which edge worked best.

Next thing I know I'm upside down in murky water and don't have my paddle in rolling position. Instead of talking the time to settle myself, get into position, and just do the roll, I panicked and pulled the loop. I'm now floating in cold water about a 50-75 yds from shore with nobody to do an assisted rescue. Without taking the time to think about what gear I have on hand (a paddle float and a pump sitting in my cockpit), I just start swimming and dragging the kayak towards land... Then I realize how cold I am and remember the toxic algae warning...

I finally got close enough to shore so I could stand, empty the cockpit, and get back in the kayak.

Fortunately, the air was warmer than the water. Once back in the kayak I started to warm back up as I made a bee line for the boat ramp.

Unfortunately, the waiting line for the ramp was three power boats and a couple of SUPs long.

I couldn't just float around waiting for the line to clear, so I went back to practicing. It was the only way to stay warm. My back had started to tighten back up, but things still went pretty well. Overall, I was pretty happy with how I did.

I only took about 20 minutes for the ramp to clear enough to allow me to get off the water. Dusk was closing in and the temperature was dropping.

I am glad that I had invested in Hullivators because it made getting the kayak loaded much faster. OK the Hullivators were the only reason I could even get the kayak on the truck. There was no way my back was going to put up with lifting a kayak much further than waist height.

I am also glad that I spent the extra money on a tree row truck. It made changing into dry, warm clothes much easier. The parking lot was way to open and busy to change outside and my back was not going to do the contortions required for changing in a normal sized car.

It was possibly one of the worst days paddling I have ever had. Nearly freezing in toxic water because I couldn't keep my wits about me was not a proud moment.

Yet, it was a day that I got to paddle. That has a magical way of making me feel better....

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The ocean, the road, and the trail

 The other day as I was slogging up one of the many hills around my house on my road bike I began pondering why I do this to myself.... I like road biking despite the monotony and the pain, but why?

My default thought pattern in these deep philosophical moments is to try to relate my question to kayaking.

I like road biking because it is like kayaking - long stretches of time time where your body is doing mostly monotonous motions without really thinking too much about it.

But that is not really true. There is plenty of thinking and presence that goes into kayaking. One must always be scanning the ocean, feeling the water move, and being ready for surprises.

For the most part road biking is pretty thoughtless. Sure you need to adjust for hills and watch out for pot holes. However, shifting becomes pretty automatic and the roads I ride are pretty good. It is really just time for zoning out while legs spin.

Then I thought kayaking was more like mountain biking. You are always reacting to the terrain; always thinking and adjusting.

But that is also not really true either. Kayaking is not quite as white knuckled as mountain biking. There is a lot more flow and space to breath.

As I crested the hill, my lungs heaving and my legs burning (I may not have shifted as smartly as I could have), I gave up trying to figure it all out.

Kayaking is the perfect combination of zen and adrenaline; you have space to breath and just feel the motion of the paddle through the water and the thrills of waves and constantly changing conditions.

Road biking gives me the zen without the adrenaline. It is all space to think and feel the burn of spinning the peddles.

Mountain biking gives me the rush and active body thinking. It is all about being aware, reacting, and feeling the bike move.

I'll take the kayak over the bikes every time, but options are always good - particularly since COVID has limited my access to the ocean but not the roads or the trails.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

One More Camping Trip

 H decided that we needed at least one more "real" vacation this summer. For H, a "real" vacation involves not being at our house. I on the other hand am perfectly happy. during a pandemic, to consider anytime I do not have to work for an extended period of time a "real" vacation. Leaving the safety of our neighborhood for an extended period of time to stay in the vicinity of a bunch of strangers who could possibly pass along a deadly pathogen just by breathing near you is not my idea of a "real" vacation.

Knowing that both H and K needed some time away from home doing something that seemed reasonably close to normal, I put aside my crazy as best I could and went along for the ride....

This particular trip was to Salisbury State Reservation and involved camping with some close friends who have a child around K's age. Both facts raised my anxiety since I rememberer Salisbury as a place of rampant partying and I knew that we were going to be eating with other people and that K would be playing, unsupervised, with another 10 year old. I had to keep my rational brain firmly in the driver's seat on this one. Our friends have been following good safety procedures all spring and summer; we were going to be outside the whole time, and K is pretty good about remembering her mask and keeping physical distance. We were not doing anything high risk.

One of the hardest things, for me, about this whole COVID thing is that it makes me question everything I do that involves other people. I have never been a huge fan of crowds and was always slightly suspicious of most other people. Now I just see everyone, even people I like, as possible threats. It is not that I worry about anyone being malicious or stupid or anything other than just plain human. I know that they could be sick and contagious without even knowing it. I, despite my neurotic avoidance of other people and any place that is not super low risk, could be patient zero.

Anyway, the forecast for the trip was pretty bleak. There was a chance of thunderstorms or rain the entire time we were scheduled to be camping. The forecast was not enough to dissuade the ladies - well not H. I think K was kept in the dark about the weather until it was too late for her to complain.

We, of course, got a late start. Partly it was me dragging my feat and partly it was H doing twenty things at once and K being ten. We did get to the campsite in time to get our tent and the screen tent secured before it started raining the first time....

We spent a good 30-40 minutes sitting in the car as is poured rain and occasionally boomed. We did take a drive around the camp area so I could keep the AC going. I was not going to sit in a hot, humid truck...

During the storm our friends developed a puddle under their tent which was seeping through the floor. It was trapped between their ground cover and the tent floor... Once the rain stopped, we surveyed our tent to discover a similar situation. While the ladies made dinner and the kids cruised about the camp ground, the men dug out trenches to redirect water away from the tents and to make sure there were not any spots where puddles would form. Fortunately their was cider to be drank...

I want to say food prep was being done to my safety standards, but I cannot control everything... Mask were mostly worn during cooking and definitely during serving. Nobody shared utensils or plates. Some people shared apps, but that was just a step outside my comfort zone. I did my best to keep 6' away from everyone without looking antisocial....

Then it started pouring again.... So, it was back to the trucks for another stretch. This time we drove over to the boat launch where we could see the lightning across the shore. The second set of showers were shorted and we let the kids get out and run around in parking lot before dragging them off to bed.

K wanted to sleep in the car because it might thunder again. She was totally freaked about getting hit by lightning. In fact, she wasn't even sure the car was safe enough.... I cannot say I wasn't considering the sleeping in the car thing myself - it would make the eventual run to the truck easier....

We made it through the night without any more thunder. It may have rained, but we were all too tired to care.

The forecast for the second day had changed for the better. It looked like it would be mostly sunny until thunder showers moved in around dinner time.... H was lucky the forecast changed because if it was going to be more rain, I was taking my toys home.... I was working very hard to keep things together and another day of making sprints to the truck was just not going to happen without me melting down like one of the ten year olds...

Not that the plan for the day was anything to write home about. We were planning on spending the day sitting on the beach... with signs posted warning against strong rip currents.

We showed the kids the eddy line near the rocks and told them to stay away. We watched as two rescue boats on the far shore dragged a couple of kids out of the currents. Then we settled into an anxious routine of chatting and checking on the kids. We had to make sure they were not drowning or getting too close to other people.

It was not a bad day. I was outside near the water chatting with friends. (I was a little sad that I did not have my kayak because the currents were ripe for playing...) The kids enjoyed themselves digging in the sand and frolicking in the water. I could almost forget that there was a risk of death lurking about in the air.

When we heard the thunder rolling in, we quickly packed up and headed back to our camp sites to begin sheltering in the cars...

Fortunately, nothing much materialized and we were able to enjoy a nice dinner and a campfire with friends. Enjoy in this case is sort of a loaded word since I was anxious about people keeping proper distance since masks are impossible when eating and drinking. A non-small number of ciders did help moderate my anxiety in the moment.

I do know that my anxiety is not rational. My rational brain, and the facts on the ground, all point to our activities being extremely low risk. We were with people we know and trust and we were outdoors. None of us have any conditions that put us at high risk for complications.

Rationality does not always win....

On the last morning I was a model of packing efficiency. I think I had the entire site down and in the truck in just around an hour.

The kids were off scouring the campground looking for painted rocks and climbing trees. They had masks on when they left and convinced myself that they would just keep them on... The park actually had painted rocks scattered around the area for kids to find and post photos with. It was the idea. We made the kids wear masks in the photos.

I just focused on getting structures down and packed into the truck. It was the nicest weather of the three days we had. There was a slight breeze and sunny skies - and a looming threat of rain that was far away. I was on a mission to get back to my safety bubble and begin my 14 day countdown....

After a quick stop at the beach to see the ocean one more time and have K suffer a post vacation, hanger meltdown... and some greasy fried seafood and ice cream which cured the meltdown.

K and H got their annual lobster - at sale price.

Both the seafood place and the ice cream place had excellent distancing protocols in place, well spaced outdoor seating and full mask compliance. I actually felt reasonably OK about eating there.

The trip was relaxing-ish. The girls enjoyed getting out of the house and seeing some friends and having a somewhat normal couple of days. Their mental health definitely improved.

I had moments of relaxation that were tainted by crushing anxiety. It was nice to see friends and do some normalish things for a change. But there was always the voice in my head....

I cannot wait for science to make this pandemic thing at least more known and manageable.

I would wish for my anxiety to magically go away, but that is like wishing oneself away.