LeConte Lodge

The only way to get to LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is to hike up a mountain. To stay the night, you need to make reservations far in advance. We sent in our reservation request in August last year and then waited till the October 1 drawing of names. We did not get our first choice of dates (mid-October for the fall colors) but got our second choice of April 5.

When the date got near, it was still cold and snowy at the top near the lodge. So we bought Stabilicers and IceTrekkers. We also had to pack layers since the weather at the bottom trailhead was fairly warm, but it was freezing at the summit.

We started on the Rainbow Falls trail in the morning with the weather a little cold and foggy. As you can see on the elevation chart below, the trail goes up and up almost constantly. Due to rain and snow in recent days, the trail was quite muddy.

It was good that we brought the ice cleats as the last 1.5 miles of the trail was covered with snow and ice.

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Rainbow_to_LeConte.gpx” mtype=”TERRAIN”]

We got to the LeConte Lodge in the afternoon and enjoyed some amazing views.

After dinner, I went to Myrtle Point for a nice view of the sunset.

There was no electricity in our cabin, but it was warm due to a propane heater.

The next morning, weather was a little warmer. We had planned to go down the Bullhead trail, but it had not been cleared after the winter storms, so we headed back the same way we had come. Here’s the map for our return hike.

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On our way back from the smokies, we drove on the Foothills Parkway and Deals Gap, which was a lot of fun.

Skiing in Colorado

In February, we headed out to Colorado for our first ski trip out west. It was a different and much more fun experience than skiing here in the East.

I had my Garmin Oregon 450 with me along with Snowranger maps and I recorded my tracks.

The first day we were at Copper Mountain. Here’s my tracklog at Copper, analyzed by the Mountain Dynamics website.

Next day, we went to Keystone resort. You can see my adventures there.

Our second day at Keystone was more fun.

Then it snowed 10 inches at Breckenridge, so we headed there for Friday. You can follow my GPS track if you like.

Saturday was a day of rest, from skiing. We went to Vail, where we did snowtubing, walked along the ridge and relaxed.

Finally, our last day was here. We headed back to Keystone for some skiing.

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/17-FEB-13 04_52_52 PM.gpx” download=”FALSE”]
Zoom in and you can see the lifts, gondolas and ski runs on Google Maps.

Italy Trip: Technical Note

Free maps from Open Street Maps in Garmin format as well as points of interest were really useful during our vacation in Italy.

We returned from a fun vacation to Italy a couple of days ago. I’ll have an account of the vacation along with photographs soon but first some technical notes.

I checked air fares on Expedia and Orbitz but in the end booked on the Delta website since they were marginally cheaper. Also I was using frequent flier miles to get one ticket for free. The only way I found to book one award ticket (bought with frequent flier miles) and other regular fares was to first reserve the award ticket (since they are less common), then buy the regular fares on the same flights and finally book the award flight.

For hotels, I checked reviews and prices on Trip Advisor to shortlist a few and then used the hotel websites to make reservations.

For planning all the sightseeing and for making a shortlist of restaurants, I used Fodor’s Italy Gold Guide and Lonely Planet’s Italy Guide.

I took my Garmin 60CSx GPSr with me. I found that Open Street Maps had maps available in Garmin format. The ones I liked the best were OpenMTBMap since they were routable and could route for hiking or mountain biking instead of cars. That was a huge success for us in Italy. We never got lost and we used the maps to go everywhere and find restaurants etc. near our location. It made life much easier and even when we wanted to walk around in the back alleys in Venice we could do so without any fear of really getting lost since whenever we wanted to go back we could use the GPS.

The maps came with lots of POIs(Points of Interest), but I wanted some specific ones too: the hotels we were staying in, train stations for travel between Rome and Venice, restaurants, Cafes and Gelaterias that I wanted to go to specially and some important sightseeing. So I used Google Maps to locate these places and saved them to My Maps there. Google Maps’ My Maps allows you to export the list of placemarks in Google Earth (KML) format. Then I used GPS Visualizer to convert the list to GPX format and used Garmin POI Loader to transfer the locations to my GPSr.

I plan our vacations in detail and these maps and list of locations on the GPS were very useful everyday as we went about sightseeing and enjoying Italian food. In fact, while walking around, I would notice that there’s a nice gelateria nearby and we would go enjoy some gelato.

I read almost three books on the Kindle during the trip, even though I read only on planes and trains. While it was a fun experience, I found one some hitch: Flight attendants want you to turn the Kindle off during takeoff and landing.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot. I tried to reserve train tickets between Rome and Venice on the Italian Rail website but it just kept denying my credit card. Apparently, it’s a common problem for credit cards with non-European addresses. However, I didn’t really need to buy the tickets before going there. There was enough space when I made reservations three days before the train travel at the Rome Termini station.

iPhone 3G

I bought an iPhone 3G a few months ago and have been in love with it.

When the original iPhone came out in 2007, I really wanted one but I decided to wait for a while because I had my Treo 650 and had a cell service contract with AT&T as well.

I am glad I waited because I got the iPhone 3G last year and fell in love with it. It really is a revolutionary phone. Even Michelle loves it and found the touchscreen interface very intuitive. She loves to watch YouTube videos, take pictures (she has even figured out how to take screenshots), play games (Touch Hockey is her favorite), draw (Doodle Kids is the app she uses), and look at Google Maps.

There are a couple of things I do miss:

  • Lack of copy and paste is the most annoying and I hope Apple adds it as soon as possible.
  • Push notification support for applications and Gmail.

I have setup the iPhone to use my wireless network at home and also the AT&T wifi network at Starbucks and McDonald’s, etc. However, 3G data speeds are also very good.

iPhone wifi speediPhone 3G speediPhone EDGE speed

Download (kbps) Upload (kbps) Latency (ms)
Wifi 1863 242 86
3G 1201 249 169
EDGE 96 36 887

In accessories, I bought a Jawbone 2 bluetooth headset which reduces noise quite a lot better than any headset I have seen.

Since I use the iPhone a lot, I have to charge it every night regularly. The iPhone battery cannot be changed by the consumer, so once the battery’s gone through enough cycles, I’ll have to get Apple to install a new battery.

The applications I use the most are the following:

iPhone Apps 1iPhone Apps 2iPhone Apps 3iPhone Apps 4iPhone Apps 5iPhone Apps 6iPhone Apps 7iPhone Apps 8

I recently switched my ZackVision email accounts from being hosted by my webhost to Gmail using Google Apps. It should not change anything for those sending me emails, but I like the Gmail interface and their spam filter is also much better than the one I was using at my webhost. One problem with the email switch was transferring the tens of thousands of emails I had in my different mailboxes. Google has an Email Uploader for the purpose but it was not transferring a significant number of my emails. So I just had to set up IMAP accounts in Mozilla Thunderbird for my old and new (gmail) accounts and move the emails folder by folder. This took some time.

In addition to email, Google Apps also provides me with my own calendar and documents. So I uploaded all my Outlook contacts to Gmail and decided to switch completely away from Outlook. Instead of syncing my contacts and calendar between Outlook and iPhone via iTunes, now I am using “Google Mobile Sync”http://www.google.com/mobile/apple/sync.html to sync over the air between my iPhone and my Google calendars and contacts at my own domain. So the only real thing I need the iTunes sync for is podcast subscriptions.

And now I am salivating over the Kindle 2.

Geocaching

It’s a fun treasure hunt game using a GPS.

Geocaching is:

an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches” or “caches”) anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook and “treasure,” usually toys or trinkets of little value.

Geocaching started when selective availability of the GPS system was turned off in May 2000, increasing the accuracy of consumer GPS units by ten-fold. You can read more about its history here.

My friend Wayfarer got me into geocaching in April 2006. I became a member of the Geocaching.com and was off finding caches. My first find was one my daughter and I found together in a park that we visited often.

My best day was when Wayfarer and I found 14 geocaches together in April last year. May 2007 was my best month when I found 22 caches.

At times, geocaching has been a lot of fun. It’s especially fun to hunt for them in the wilderness. However, sometimes geocachers hide microcaches (those that are very small) in parks etc, and those can be difficult to find. In the city, some hiding places are so crowded that one arouses suspicion during the search. At times, the bomb squad is called.

The houses were evacuated, the bomb squad called to disarm the suspicious device that was found in a quiet Tustin neighborhood. A member of the bomb squad placed an explosive device to detonate the offending object and BAM!

The lid blew off the rectangular ammunition box and revealed … some notes and a few pieces of candy.

Bounty from what turned out to be nothing but a high-tech scavenger hunt.

On the other hand, some tourist destinations, like Jekyll Island or Callaway Gardens, have hidden geocaches all over the place as a way to attract visitors with another activity.

So why write about it more than two years later? Because I passed a milestone: On July 9, I finally got to 100 geocache finds.

I use the GPS receiver Garmin GPS60CSx for navigation/finding the cache and Treo 650 smartphone for storing all the info about the caches from the Geocaching website. GSAK is the software on my PC which keeps a database of caches I might be interested in and Cachemate runs on the Treo for the same purpose. I also use Garmin MapSource (I have the Topo maps, Google Earth (on the PC) and Google Maps (on the Treo) for mapping.

Why GPS is Better Than a Wife

While a GPS receiver doesn’t compare to a wife, it’s probably better for navigation purposes.

Here are some reasons:

  1. A GPS does not act all grumpy when asked to navigate.
  2. A GPS receiver does not take 30 minutes to tell you where you were half an hour ago.
  3. A GPS does not get directionally confused by the highway loop around the city.
  4. A GPS does not skip one page in the directions you printed out from Mapquest.
  5. A GPS does not refuse to navigate when you don’t take the route it recommended.
  6. A wife does not cheerfully recalculate a new route to your destination when you don’t take a turn.
  7. On the other hand, a wife will not suggest you cross a river. Instead, she’ll force you to stop.

Got any more?

Las Vegas

Last Christmas, we visited Las Vegas after eight years. With a kid in tow, there was no gambling or shows, but we had a lot of outdoor fun.

Recently, we visited Las Vegas. OK, so it wasn’t recently, it was last Christmas.

We had fun there. With a 2 year old who was fascinated with the colors and sounds of the slot machines, it was difficult to stay in casinos. Add the fact that neither of us is into any gambling. So we went to lots of places in and around Las Vegas.

Here are a few photographs from Madame Tussaud’s there.

At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
 

We walked up and down the Strip quite a few times. Here are the photos of the strip.

Continue reading “Las Vegas”