Garmin and GPS stuff
We took a weekend trip down to the Alsea Falls area, west of Corvallis. We camped in the federal campground there, and spent Saturday hiking up Marys Peak.
This is the second season we’ve had our Garmin inReach Mini, a small GPS device that offers basic tracking plus emergency satellite communications (SOS and texting) and live weather. We got it after a small scare on our trip to the Redwoods last spring.
I’m a hardware GPS holdout. I’ve used a number of iPhone apps including Gaia GPS and AllTrails, but my issues with using an iPhone in the backcountry amount to the unpredictability of the devices: I’d like better guarantees about the stability of the data I keep on them, I don’t trust their power management over the course of a day on the trail, and I live in a biome that makes fussing with a touch screen in the field a nightmare six months out of the year.
Before we got the Mini we already had a Garmin GPSMAP 64sx. Even when I’ve been experimenting with iPhone apps on the trail I’ve preferred to download my routes to the 64sx, even if I’m leaving it off and buried in my pack. It’s a good insurance policy that paid off a few years ago when we were hiking through burned out areas in Central Oregon and lost the trail thanks to massive deadfalls: the extra topo layers I had loaded into it made it easy to look up the trail on the spot and figure out where to rejoin it.
I’d like to shed the 64sx and I’ve eyed the inReach-enabled handhelds Garmin’s got on the market. They offer rechargeable or AA batteries, do all the handheld GPS stuff, and include the same emergency comms options. The Mini is so small, though, that it’s not a huge burden to have two hardware devices. The Mini has a ‘biner I clip to whatever pack strap is handy up near my shoulders and mostly stays out of the way. I just make sure to plug it into the car to recharge it whenever we set out on a trip. So I don’t think a whole new device is necessary and I’ll just live with the extra hardware.
This weekend convinced me I could probably loosen up a little on using an iPhone on hikes, though. Marys Peak isn’t that remote, and there’s even 5G cell coverage at the top, so the stakes were lower and made it easier to experiment.
People dis the company for limiting the connectivity of its devices to preserve a focus on hardware, but Garmin’s Explore app does a decent job of turning your smartphone into an expensive dongle that offers better ergonomics if you’re mostly sticking to easier dayhiking situations. Once paired, the Bluetooth sync between phone and GPS device is solid and fast, and Explore includes topo maps and the ability to add tracks and waypoints to your Garmin account. So you can download a GPX file before heading out, import it into Explore, and it will both sync to your Garmin account and — once paired up — your dedicated GPS devices. Any tracks you record on your hardware sync to Explore, where it’s much easier to use the phone UI to rename, relabel, and organize once you’re off the trail. It also offers a map on a larger, big screen you can consult in a pinch. It’d still suck in the rain, but it’s there for quick use.
This weekend I addressed a few of my hangups about how little I trust iPhones to behave when my back is turned by making a pair of shortcuts that alternately power down all the radios and put the phone in low power mode or bring the radios back up, and saved them to my homescreen. When we got to a point on the trail where we weren’t sure what it would mean to take one route or the other, Explore’s topo map made it easy to do a quick consult and make a decision. Having a bigger, brighter, faster screen to explore with was better than the slower, smaller, harder to read 64sx. Then the phone got put away and off we went. For the kind of hiking we usually do, that seems like a workable use case. So I expect the 64sx will be spending more time at the bottom of a pack.
I did spend some time imagining an iPhone Ultra during the more boring part of the trail, though.
Another iPhone GPS challenge involves downloading GPX files. Some apps make it pretty hard to do from mobile even if they do offer the option via a desktop interface, and you’re sort of swimming upstream when you do anything on iOS that involves a data file. I found Wikiloc, which has a reasonable $9.99/year subscription and a 14-day trial, so I’m going to give it a try on our trips over the next few weeks. The subscription includes a simple interface to save GPX files to your phone’s storage, send them to your Apple Watch, or share them to Garmin devices. I learned I can just use the share sheet to send them to the Explore app, where they sync to my Garmin account. That’s a big improvement over AllTrails’ mobile app.
Wikiloc is crowdsourced, so you’re better off using it when you have time to vet the trails at home, or the connectivity to do so in camp. The ones I’ve looked up so far seem fine based on past experience, you just have to choose between several for a few locations, and people don’t always clean up the ten minutes they spent walking around the trailhead, visiting the toilet, and walking back and forth from car to picnic table from their GPX files.
We have a few guidebooks to Oregon trails we use to get ideas for hikes, then compare and contrast with the online tracks. It can make for some amusing triangulation: The books are a little dated and fusty, preferring trail names that don’t always line up with the names the forest or park services use on the signage. The crowdsourced online trail resources sometimes feel like they were annotated by someone who thinks “walk a mile or two and turn left where someone left a Snickers wrapper in the weeds” counts as expert guidance.
Anyhow, we’re headed to the Diamond Lake area in a few weeks and there are some trails to try it out on. I don’t know if we’ll make another run at Mt. Bailey this year, though.
Anchoring on The Denote Way
I’m a month into “Obsidian but with Denote file naming and frontmatter conventions” and it’s surprisingly calming.
I’ve settled on 12 plugins, several of which are discretionary or just around to be used for the API they provide to another plugin, and I’ve discarded the things in my setup that were sort of nice but unreliable for syncing. It’s smooth, syncing is reliable, and 30+ days into a new job I’m finding search works well.
I felt a little itchiness about the setup a few days ago, and the thing that kept me from doing anything about it was the sense that settling on the Denote formatting conventions for file names and frontmatter means the option’s there to move between Obsidian and Emacs whenever, so why bother now? They’re just Markdown notes. I will probably not revisit north of 75 percent of them ever for anything more than digging out a fact here or there. I can type them into anything. If I ever get to a point where org-mode’s better syntax is called for, I’ll just slip over to Emacs and carry on. Both formats work in Denote.
Def curious about Bear 2 tho. It keeps the content in some sort of db though, right?
I had a chat with a senior executive in my foodchain today. I found myself saying, “there’s some stuff that’s a little messed up I have to deal with, but I belong here and I’m the kind of person you need handling this stuff.”
Little moments like that have been happening here and there, when I feel a little frustrated that something is just sorta dumb and dysfunctional or broken, then I pause for a moment and think “Good. I’m the right person to fix this. It’s why I’m here.”
I love my Puppet friends dearly, wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, and had the good fortune to go out with a great person to report to who did a lot to help me get back a sense of what I could do, but on balance the last few years of that place did me no favors, and I let a lot of self doubt seep in. It feels good to begin recovering a little more sense of what I’m supposed to be about. I’m so glad I got to take a break before I jumped back in.