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.