Friday, July 23, 2010

Christmas in July

I need to find an online photo workshop for "Taking Photographs with Your Limited Point-And-Shoot Camera While Trying To Keep Up With A Massive Peloton During A Group Mountain Bike Ride." It can be frustrating to watch compelling image after compelling image rip by you, only to whip out your camera and grab a blurry shot of half of somebody's butt. Faster members of Missoula's Thursday Night Riders simply blaze ahead and then wait at a strategic perch, capturing dynamic shots of a 21-rider paceline grinding up a smooth ribbon of singletrack.

The rest of us get rear shots. And a face-full of this grass that I am fairly certain I am highly allergic to. During my Friday Death Ride, I attributed my early bonk to overtraining, but now I'm wondering if part of it was allergies. John and I went whipping through a few miles of this stuff on Friday night, and shortly after that I began to feel like my entire head was slowly filling with warm ooze. Then again, on Thursday, a ride through the grass was followed by lots of sneezing, coughing and more of that disorienting "lead head" feeling. For five years in Alaska, I had nearly no problems with allergies, but now I am back in the land where summer can be mildly toxic. Time to go purchase some Claratin.

Right now, I am looking to purchase a new point-and-shoot camera. I like the Olympus Stylus, but now that I am living in a spot where rain and grit is much less prevalent, and destruction of the camera isn't imminent, I'd like to buy something with a better lens and stronger zoom. Someday I will upgrade to an SLR with the goal of shooting a few magazine images, but I still suspect I'll carry the point-and-shoot on most of my rides, so that priority comes first. Anyway, I've already received a few good recommendations, but I'd love to hear more if you have any.

Being able to shoot close-up images would also be nice. I spotted these fireweed blooms as I was walking down the loose scree of the "Huckleberry Headwall." As I moved off the trail to take a photo, Bill asked me about the famous fireweed gauge. "Doesn't the flower height mean there will be a lot of snow this winter?" he asked. "No," I replied, "When the blooms reach the top of the plant, that means summer's over. So, see, this one shows summer is half over, which makes sense, cause it's late July." Just as we were discussing this, another guy came skidding out of control around the corner and toppled over himself, landing face first in the dirt. And I totally missed it, because I was taking a dumb photo of a flower.

Spending time at higher elevation helped clear my head, but then it was time to get back into the grass on the descent.

These Thursday night groups have been great fun, but my giddiness about a month straight of near-perfect weather and excitement for my upcoming weekend hiking trip to Glacier National Park could only be eclipsed by the arrival of my first new bike in two and a half years:

It's a fixed-gear commuter! Built by Mr. Fixie himself, Dave Nice of Over The Edge Sports in Hurricane, Utah. When I first moved to Missoula, I was badly in need of a new commuting bike. My old Ibex touring bike has served that purpose well, but it recently lost a bit of its brake lever and rear brake arm (Who knows when or how. I can't even say I was 'just riding along' when this happened.) "Roadie" has served me well, but I've had it now for more than six years and who knows how many thousands of miles, and it's starting to become difficult just to keep it on the road. When I considered my needs - a simple bike for commuting in a flat city, where the weather can be icy and wet during the winter, and a bike that doesn't have pieces regularly falling off of it - the fixie made perfect sense. Enter Dave, who had a vision, and an extra Fuji Obey frame lying around. He built it up and shipped it via UPS - i.e. "Brown Santa" - and it just arrived today.

The funny thing about purchasing a fixie is that I've never ridden one; not even once. I knew it would take some getting used to, so I took it out for a spin around the neighborhood, sticking to side streets and cautiously approaching intersections like a teenager in driver's ed. I learned that the fixie is a strict interpreter of Sir Issac Newton's First Law of Motion - a fixie in motion wants to stay in motion, and a fixie at rest is difficult to coax forward again. The pedals fight a lot when you're trying to achieve a quasi-stop. I can finally understand why some fixie riders don't bother with brakes, because your legs pretty much serve as your stopping force. The front brake just makes you feel a bit better. Anyway, it was a fun experiment. I can't wait to start commuting with it next week!

Dave asked me color of chain I wanted, and I said "pink." I thought he was kidding, but I guess chains really do come in colors. I love the look of this bike - it's so sleek and stylish. I am thinking about naming her "Contessa." Contessa is the word for an Italian countess, which seems fitting for a skinny (only 21-22 pounds!) rigid, fixed-in-her-ways bicycle with the model name Obey. But really, I came up with the name from a song that popped into my head earlier today, "Streets of Fire" by the New Pornographers:

Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, fire in the street,
Let's sully every stage.
Lick my lips, twist my hips,
But Contessa ... I already did.


  1. I'm not sure there is such a thing as good zoom on a p&s. What quality the lens has is generally lost - I think they just crop closer, it's not actual zoom the way you have on a dslr lens. I could be wrong - the best place to get the detailed review is dpreview, imo.

    I've been looking at the Lumix LX3 - Leica lens with a Panasonic price. I have heard great reviews of it, pros like it as their pocket backup camera.

    I'm not sure if it has a macro function, but for a p&s, you're probably better off putting it on aperture priority, and the widest aperture available.

  2. Jill: Deb mentioned the LX3 - I have it and it's a great camera...but, Panasonic just upgraded it and are comming out with the LX5 (checkout the pre-review at - the LX5 has a 24-90mm lens - longer than the LX3. Also, the Canon s90 is supposed to be super...thanks. Patrick

  3. Jill, I have enjoyed your blog for a few years now. You are a very skilled writer but you also have a great eye for photography imo! Not many can do both well. The photos range from visually stunning to emotionally very moving/charming and I have truly enjoyed them! But what has always disappointed is that they were obviously taken with a P&S camera. Had they been on a quality digital DSLR or Rangefinder camera you could now publish one heck of a fine coffee table book! Of course I do also understand that on most of your exploits you cannot justify hauling around a bulky DSLR. And a quality digital rangefinder like a Leica is huge $$. So I suggest for your next camera you consider one of the Sony NEX 3 or Nex 5 cameras that are just now coming onto market. You get DSLR quality and a host of neat features in a camera that will still fit in a pocket or small belt case. Shold improve your pic quality immensely! Anyway, love your blog and best wishes for the new locale, job, etc 8-)

  4. So I've been following your blog since the White Mountains race and this is my first post. I have a camera recommendation for you :
    Canon SX 110is or 120is (I have the 110, but the new 120 is the one out now). It's got a 10x optical zoom and an image stabilizer, which focuses really jumpy shots. I usually take my blurry shots from a car, but it would work well from a bike too I'm sure.

    I've been thinking about an SLR for years now, but they are too big for all my Alaskan adventures. I have used a lot of friends' point-and-shoot cameras, and have always been frustrated with them compared to my camera. It has a lot of options and a great lens. For it's relatively small size, it takes FANTASTIC photos. All photos on my blog have been taken with the Canon SX 110.

  5. Definitely get a panasonic lumix lx-3 or whatever the new version is. I have an lx-3 myself and it is BY FAR the best point and shoot there is. They have a 4/3rd's out too -- an slr that is between the size of a point and shoot and a regular slr. Either way, the leica lens is fantastic. And your pictures are already fantastic. So that will only make them drool-quality 100% of the time.

  6. Good, glad brown didn't munch it transit!

    enjoy the new wheels!

  7. And the brake goes on the left side of the bike I think you may have instilled the handle bar upside down =)

  8. Hey Jill,

    I just bought a new camera I think you might be interested in. It's a Canon SX210 IS Power Shot P&S camera. I researched it and other cameras extensively and here are some of the features for the price I liked about this camera. Not to mention how reliable Canon products are, knock on wood. Anyways some features I liked were Image Stabilization, 14x Zoom Lens, Timer that lets you wait 30 seconds and will take multiple shots as you program the camera. I found this to be a really cool for taking self portraits riding / family portraits. Also, it has all manual features in the camera like a SLR. You can set the Aperture, Shutter and ISO/ASA. Oh, and it also has a macro. It does go for around $300, but it hard to find a P&S camera with all these features. Anyways, good luck with your decision.

    John S.

  9. Contessa looks like lots of fun -- but I think her bars may be upside-down!

    Totally agree that you have a great photographic "eye," and another vote for the Canon SX210. Only drawback is no viewfinder for really bright (i.e., bright sun and snow) conditions.

    The allergy index for Anchorage was "good" today :o)

  10. Right-rear; Left-front. Glad to see you have a fixed gear! I've been riding one in Juneau for years. Perfect commuting bike. Put clipless pedals on and your pedal stroke will become round and smooth.

  11. I have always been a Ricoh camera fan since the GR-1 35mm days and have used a GRD (v1, think they are on v3 now) for my magazine shots of India (Singletrack Magazine Issue 42) and now I have the CX-1 which has a brighter screen, a zoom and CMOS sensor and gives amazing pics!

    For the money the GRD III has many of the SLR functions in a compact sized package and the fixed 28mm lens is not as much of a drawback as you would think.

    Just my $0.02


  12. Love the news wheels, I love riding fixie. Maybe some pink mustache handlebars?

  13. I came across your blog a couple of months ago and look forward too read about your next adventures, and thank your for motivating me to get back on my mountain bike and start riding. Keep up the good work!
    Since your a fixed gear rider now check out two of my favorite fixed gear blogs by Juliet Elliot.

  14. When you find that photography course - let me know. I also need some instruction in taking photographs with my limited p&s camera while trying to keep up with a massive peloton during a group mountain bike ride. One of Sierra's bikes is Contessa von Awesome :)

  15. SWEET Jill. I say we need a in town ride to hit all the zootown favs. Bayern, Kettlehouse, The Bridge, and Big Dipper. That should do it.

    Remind me to give you my camera to test run. I think you will like some of its features. Not to mention its so small.

  16. How dare you buy a new camera...I just got my Stylus Tough today!

    Just kidding of course, and hope you like the "fixie"..

  17. Cool bike.

    Be sure to post on whatever camera you wind up with. Like most, I'd dig a SLR, but they're too big to carry on rides. So, point and shoot it is.

    Great blog you have here.

  18. Avoid Nikon CoolPix'd think with the Nikon name they'd be good, but the lenses are poor. Canon PowerShot series much higher image quality, although the trade-off is they tend to be thicker, not so easy to fit into the standard strap-to-your chest camera or cell phone carriers.

  19. Love the Jones bar on the bike. You should post Contessa on 'fixed gear gallery'.

    Some unsolicited advice for you to take or leave: I've found fast descents on a fixie far less hairy when my feet are attached to the pedals. Power grips, or even half-clips are good if you don't want to go clipless. Having a foot slip off a pedal at speed is no fun at all.

  20. *Wow, Big Dipper followed up with your Christmas in July theme with the same. Cool.

    *Ok, so I had two bike goals this summer. Never fall too far behind Julie and find my way into Jill Homer's blog...had to be a photo. I achieved both so far and got in Bill's the same day (bonus). Sometimes being slow and at the end is an asset. Too bad to all you fast dudes at the front!

  21. jill,
    Only one thing to change on your pics...more of you would be nice.

    btw are you getting enough riding in to keep the pounds off?
    I'm sure we will see soon enough!

  22. Love the pink. Maybe I should give my little one-geared beach cruiser a name. I'll have to think about that. Happy riding sister!

  23. Jill, the fix looks great Enjoy!
    As far as a point n shoot the Canon G11 rocks
    Shoots in Raw for near DSL performance when you it.

  24. So Metro! Is that a missing chainring bolt?

  25. Riding a Fixie with flats may well end in tears. Clips, straps or clipless pedals make it so much safer.

  26. Keep an eye on your chain tension. You may need to shorten and/or add a half link once your chain stretches a little. It looks like you have the wheel as far rearward as it will go.
    Great Picture and love reading your blog.

  27. I now know what to do with my old Specialized road bike :) Thank you Jill and Dave.

  28. Cool new bike! Congrats! Also, the view on that trail looks amazing. I am so jealous.

  29. Put the brake on any side you like. Moto riders ride Left Rear, Right Front. And fixed? As a resident of MPLS, (aka. City #1 for cycling and thousands of fixies) kiss your knees good bye. Honestly, toss another brake on it, and put a single speed freewheel on. Your knees will thank you later.

  30. Thanks for all of the good camera tips! I really do appreciate it.

    And noted about the handlebar. I really just threw the bike together in the 20 minutes I had before I needed to leave for my weekend trip to Kalispell, just because I was so excited. I already see how ridiculously upside down it is.

    As for riding the fixie with flat pedals/riding a fixie at all, my plan for this bike right now is literally just commuting around Missoula, which is located in a wide river valley and is pancake flat in town. I'll have to really try to ride this thing on hills (and even then only if I choose to ride it up a canyon.) So right now I'm not too worried about losing control of the pedals or spinning out my knees.

  31. Jill, the description of the camera you need fits the Canon G11 perfectly. lets say its the last step before stepping into the chunky world of SLR. its tough as nails, I know that cause I dropped mine on a single track ride and got away with it. Luis - Portugal

  32. With all the CANON G11 talk I did forget to ask one thing, how is the writing ? Or maybe I should not ask... but after all you did bash us for not pushing you on this particular area. How's the "Divide" book coming along ? Besides needing some winter reading, the New York Times needs a bestseller for Christmas. Luis

  33. Jill, There is nothing wrong with your photo's!!
    My trick for taking "point and shoot" photos is to push the button a little slower.
    So the cam gets more time to adjust itself. Works most of the time for me.
    I Love the Tough cam


  34. HI Jill, I have been reading your blog and enjoying your pictures for several years. It seems that when you changed the format recently, It no longer displays in a readable fassion on my blackberry. The side bars overlap the central text and pictures. Please look into fixing this, as I offten read your blog on my blackberry when I have some free time.
    Thanks again, for your great blog, Jennifer

  35. Jennifer, I would suggest subscribing to my blog through Google Reader. I think that site will flow the text properly without all the weird formatting you see on your screen. I use a super small laptop and sometimes my friends' blogs are squished in the way you mention. I'm not really certain how to fix this problem on the site itself.

  36. Hi Jill,
    nice fixie, but in the last photo it looks like you are missing a bolt on your big gear. maybe it was just in your rush to assemble it and you already caught it, but i just thought i'd mention it.

  37. The Canon G11 is too big for carrying around on a bike the way you do. The Canon S90, though, is one very cool little camera that has a lot of DSLR features and user controls in a pocket size package.

    I've been reading you for years, and I'm so happy you've landed in a good spot. The whole tone of your blogs have changed for the better. The scenery is just a picturesque and I'm sure winter will bring enough snow to make you happy.

    I just wish you'd throw some new music our (my) way! I used to find all sorts of interesting new stuff when you'd list what you were listening to, or include a track on one of your ride videos.

    Keep pedalling!

  38. Nice bike… pink and stealth at the same time! Have fun with fixed.
    - Jonah


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