Thursday, October 21, 2010

New camera!

I walked into Costco Monday evening with a simple list: Strawberries, lettuce, cottage cheese, AAA batteries, cereal. I wheeled my cart into the glaring florescent lights and it was the first thing I saw: A big display of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6. My eyes widened with a compelling mixture of lust and necessity. It wasn't particularly glamorous or excessive — it was a $270 point-and-shoot camera. But it represented dissatisfaction that had been simmering for a long time. My camera, an Olympus Stylus Tough, was more than two years old — ancient for a digital camera that's been used nearly daily. It's fallen off boulders, been flung off a moving bicycle, carried through drenching rain and minus-25 deep freezes, buried in snow, dropped in puddles and coated in ice. The viewing screen was so scuffed that I could no longer frame any of my shots properly. The lens was so scratched that I could no longer take a photo that wasn't either blurry, misfocused or covered in white blotches. I was complaining about my camera to my friend Larry a couple weeks ago, and he let me play with his Panasonic Lumix. Wide-angle lens, 12x optical zoom, crisp color and a screen I could actually view. Pure luxury! "They have them at Costco," Larry said.

I felt absolutely justified in my impulse buy. I use my camera more often than I use all of my bicycles put together. And yes, someday I will purchase a proper DSLR, but I'm not yet to the point as a hobbyist where I take pictures for the purpose of taking pictures. I take pictures to document my life, so my priorities include a camera that's portable, easy to use, and at least somewhat durable. Here's the first picture I took with my new camera: My cat getting into a bowl of cereal. Oh, Cady.

On Tuesday Bill and I headed out for an evening ride. He suggested a good ride for "clearing out the cobwebs," and a completely new route to me: Mount Dean Stone. Because of the wonders of Bill's GPS, I know the beta for this ride included 26.72 miles of mountain biking with 3,822 feet of climbing, a maximum elevation of 6,203 feet, an average temperature of 47 degrees and 1,103 calories burned (Bill's calories. He's taller than me, but also has a resting heart rate that's down around 30 beats a minute. So I'm guessing I went through even more Bridge Pizza Points.)

In this photo, I think Bill is saying, "I'm so blissfully happy to be climbing 3,000 feet of loose gravel fireroads that are still covered in ice from the night before." I'm so glad to have found a cycling friend who thinks like me. :-)

I immediately put the Lumix to the ultimate test: Using it in its automatic setting, handheld whilst pedaling a bicycle on a rough road, in low flat bad evening light, zoomed in. I'd say it didn't do wholly bad. It managed to choose a fast shutter speed and grab some nice color and somewhat sharp — if grainy — clarity.

Even though we missed the best side of sunset while we were still buried in the canyon, the pink light up high still stopped us in our tracks.

Dean Stone is one of the higher peaks just outside the city, and thus is covered in all manner of towers. We sat on the razed and graded summit for more than 20 minutes, soaking up the startlingly mild, windless air, and sloughing off the cobwebs. I feel very fortunate to have found so many good people in Missoula in such a small amount of time, especially people like Bill, who really is a kindred spirit. The kind of friend who thinks so similarly to me that it's sometimes eerie. We find that we always have a lot to talk about, as long as we ride long enough and climb high enough to really open up.

So we went out again on Wednesday, back into the jaw-dropping beautiful evening, for a more singletrack-heavy ride that was 19.6 miles with 2,641 feet of climbing, an average temperature of 49 degrees and 746 calories burned.

At the top of the Sam Braxton trail, Bill asked me why I wasn't playing with my new camera. "It's completely dark," I said.

"Not completely," he said. I sat on the ground, dug through my pack until I found the Lumix, and took a picture of Bill applying his last warm layers.

"Now I guess we have to go back," he said with a sigh.

"Yeah," I said. "I'm not really ready to just ride all night." I turned on my headlight and headlamp and launched after Bill down the winding trail. A generous slice of the moon cast silver shadows in front of us, but as we cut deeper into the forest, the shadows disappeared. I forgot to charge my headlight, and it flickered to a pale orange glow and died. It made me realize my headlamp was fading as well — that's what I had forgotten to pick up at Costco in all of my camera excitement: batteries. The dim LED cast a circle of soft, flat light on the ground, until it was difficult to discern trail from sky. I saw the shadowy shapes of trees, and I saw Bill, 10 yards in front of me, a blur of bright light in the blackness. I tucked in and strained to keep up with him so I could mimic every movement. When he veered right, I veered right. When he pulled sharp left, I did the same. When he shot into the sky, I knew it was time to drop the gears and lay into the pedals. I felt a pacifying sense of trust for Bill, that he wouldn't lead me astray, and also for my bicycle, that it had the ability to hold me afloat over all of the roots and rocks and loose sandy switchbacks that I could not really see. It reminded me of a book written by Rachel Scodoris, the legally blind musher who raced the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. She described the dark shadows along the trail, the flashes of bright light, and her complete and unbending trust in her dogs. I felt that way about my bike, and about Bill — that I had no real reason to fear. It was both peaceful and liberating, but at the same time, I couldn't really tell anyone how I felt because I have already received many well-deserved lectures about my inadequate lighting and urgent need to acquire a real mountain bike light before I do any more night rides.

But then I saw my photograph of Bill, cast in the darkness by a tiny sliver of fading daylight, and decided the experience was worth all the lectures I deserve.


  1. Two things:
    1) LCD protector.
    2) Get the DMC-ZS7 instead. It has a GPS so you can geotag your photos. :)

  2. You can get a good and relatively inexpensive set of Magicshine lights from They have a combo package of headlight and headlamp for a combined 2300 lumens for ~$225. I picked up a set and have been very happy with them except for a screw in the base of the mount that came loose during a ride. It was easily fixed in a few minutes and has not come loose since. They are also much brighter than my Nightrider Minewt for the same price.

  3. The images look nice; good range and color. I've noticed that recent compacts also do low light shots better.

    The stuff changes so quickly, I almost don't mind wearing it out.

  4. Wonderful post about our ride. I was so blissfully happy to be climbing 3,000 feet of loose gravel roads. How did you know?

    I like photo #5 the most as it reminds me of why I like that climb so well. Makes me want to go back up there tonight.

    I am glad you didn't lean into the weeds and fall off the trail near the end when I did :)

  5. Jill,
    It is always fun to read your blog.I like to see you happy with how things are working out for you with new town, job, boyfriend, fun places to ride and hike.

    A personal note, I had my 16 year old daughter read your book and she enjoyed it. I think everybody out there who has a teenage daughter, your book should be required reading. It is a message of perseverence and empowerment to young women. In the world that our daughters have to negotiate, your story can inspire young women growing up that they can follow a path to realize their own "greatness".
    Thanks for sharing your life.
    Jim Bangs

  6. Jill, have you ever heard of Magicshine headlights from Geoman Co.? I bought the lights and have been pleasantly surprised by the bright white illumination. In fact,the light can be too powerful at times- but fortunately, powering down the beam is an option. Another selling point for me, these things didn't break the bank when compared to the alternatives.

  7. I could use that 12x zoom. My camera only has a 3x. Maybe I need a Lumix.

  8. Nice pics with new camera - looking forward to more.

    Another vote for the Magicshine lights. I've been using 'em as well and for the dough - a killer deal.

    If interested, my set up:

  9. Great Sunset and Sunshine photography. Inspired by riding will surely read the book of Rachel Scodoris.

  10. Some of the best photo's Ive ever taken have been with a sub $100 digital camera. And you can't really carry a heavy slr with you everywere.

    All you need for lights is a 200 lumen helmet light and then just slow down a little till your comfortable in the dark single track.

  11. I have the lumix as well, a year older though. Great little camera.
    And yet one more vote for magishine and

  12. Good stuff.

    All I know is that if I was a camera manufacturer.....I'd be mailing you one of every camera I made and beg to be a sponsor.

  13. It looks like someone is trying to fly on the right side of the second-to-last photo, great timing!

  14. I just picked up a new "everything proof" camera last week - Did a short blog about it at

    -- Jeff.

  15. Surprised to hear you mention Rachael Scdoris (she and I both from Bend, OR).... She also recently rode as stoker on a tandem road race with a locally-famous athlete, Sarah Max (multi-year winner of the Pole Pedal Paddle). Tandems... another form of utter trust.

  16. I'm consistently amazed at how unprepared you seem to be. At this point you really have to be doing it on purpose. Why? Attention? Blog fodder? I guess it's both. Jeez.

  17. Welcome to the world of Lumix :) However, make sure you keep the Olympus for rough weather and rides, or also get the little waterproof lumix, cause you are used to beating the hell outta those cameras, and your new one isn't built for it. I have the waterproof, and an older 12x zoom lumix cams. Love them, although I'm a terrible photographer.

  18. For most people, I think DSLRs are a heavy waste of money. It is the photographer not the camera. Since I hike & bike a lot, too, the idea of hauling around one of the DLSRs makes me laugh. How absurd.

    I have a Canon G6 that still serves me well. I don't drop it, though. I also have a Panasonic G1 & GH1, interchangeable lenses, DLSR-like camera, not nearly as big and heavy as a true DSLR -- but, still heavy enough to be left behind when weight matters.

    MikeS in Juneau
    PS: West Peak is a great hike, though a lot of bushwacking to get thru in the summer.



  20. Great shots Jill. I have the ZS7. The ZS6 is a Costco exclusive product. Same camera but there are some differences as outlined here -

    The GPS eats batteries as it never really turns off. I disabled mine. I've been very happy with this camera. Carry it with me on every ride. Suggest you get a screen protector, spare battery (you can get third party batts on ebay. Make sure they're compatible) and the Lowe Wrap - a very useful product. Lots of tips on DPREVIEW about this camera.

  21. Have to echo RKW! With all it's faults, the Tough was TOUGH! We use an older version of that for all our kayak and hiking stuff. Hasn't failed us yet. Except in picture quality! Can't wait to see more shots from the new one!

  22. Hey there!

    I just wanted to ask, if possible, can we share links with each other???

    I have a couple of blogs namely

    I will surely link back to your blog.

    Abeer khan

  23. Anon 6:48 -

    You do realize that it would be a lot easier to just make up blog content than it would be to purposely create "blog fodder." How important do you think you are? Jeez.

  24. Sam Braxton -- the name jumps off my screen and into memory. Ask around Missoula about Sam. He was an adventurer you could appreciate. Had a great bike shop in Missoula and traveled the most unlikely parts of the globe on two wheels. Too bad he wasn't a writer. Glad you are.

  25. hi
    i hope i enjoy my stay here

    pls be nice to me


  26. Hi

    looks cool and nice

    Where should i start reading?



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