rebeccmeister: (cricket)
Figuring out how to count cricket growth rings has been an interesting endeavor. Friday morning, after I'd posted about my quandary, I brainstormed with [personal profile] slydevil and [personal profile] sytharin about further methods for cutting thin sections of cricket legs. I mentioned the slice of potato method, which really didn't work, and L came up with the idea of trying some other sort of vegetable that is firmer than a potato, like a radish, perhaps.

Armed with this notion, I headed in to work. After some further failures with the potato (I didn't happen to have radishes sitting around at work), I decided to try cutting thin slices without any extra support, but working under the dissecting scope instead.

And, success. The scope made it much easier to position the razor blade at just the right spot to get multiple beautiful sections. I know it worked well because I was then able to compare growth rings for Day 0 adult crickets (hint: zero growth rings) versus Day 6 adults. Here's a photo of the Day 6 adult:

Gryllus lineaticeps growth rings

I also did a bit more reading about methods for preserving stuff on microscope slides. Apparently I'm not the only one who has wondered about this. Our lab storeroom had little bottles of clear nail polish for sale next to the various flavors of slides and coverslips, so I figured I'd give that a try at first.

As of today, it looks like it works well! This is really good because it means I can work in batches and don't have to do each cricket one at a time. So now the rest will be fairly routine: prepare and count rings for crickets of known adult ages to make a calibration curve, then prepare and count rings from the field crickets.

I'm really enjoying the chance to play with the compound microscope we're borrowing from another lab.


Sep. 22nd, 2017 11:14 am
rebeccmeister: (1x)
I had a randonneuring dream last night, where [personal profile] scrottie and I were riding a 200k permanent, but I needed to pause and do something else in the middle for about 5 hours, and could then resume and try to complete the ride. My dream mental-math indicated that it would be possible to pull this off if we had 13 hours of time in total to complete the permanent. But we would only manage to barely squeak by. I think the dream has to do with my brain trying to track a lot of logistics and time constraints, what with job applications and beyond.

I didn't make it out to row yesterday morning, because I wound up staying up late Wednesday evening to have a late dinner with an invited speaker who studies evolutionary physiology. Water time is becoming increasingly important in the run-up to the Head of the Charles, so I decided to try and get out to row this morning. It was nice to have the water almost entirely to myself, even though I had to rush to meet up with [personal profile] sytharin and [personal profile] slydevil afterwards for our usual Bike-Friendly Fridays coffee date.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
We are finally seeing signs of improvement in our cricket stocks. I think most evidence points towards a problem with the wheat germ I picked up to tide us over until our order from our usual supplier came in. It came from SunRidge Farms, which is a bulk foods supplier used by a lot of the area grocery businesses. Poking around, I learned that it's pretty hard to find actual organic wheat germ, apparently because the process used to create wheat germ is pretty specialized and only carried out by a small handful of wheat mills. Even Bob's Red Mill doesn't sell organic wheat germ - just "natural" (which is a meaningless marketing term). In Texas, I used Bob's Red Mill wheat germ without having any problems, so I just have to suppose their supply chain is separate from the supply chain from SunRidge.

I mean, if I really wanted to demonstrate that it's the food, I could rear a separate set of crickets with more SunRidge wheat germ. But that would be yet another side project.

So now I think I have a 2-week window before I'll descend back into circadian madness again. And then I REALLY hope to be finished collecting data.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
As of yesterday, we are still getting a lot of adults with deformed wings, like so:

Crickets with deformed wings

I am reading the tea leaves pretty hard, but think I am seeing a small improvement, which means I could be up and running again in another week and a half or so, at the soonest. If my tea leaf reading skills are terrible, it will be longer than that, which would push back completion of the lab circadian experiments to sometime in late October, if I'm lucky and this disaster actually comes to an end. When I dissected the above crickets, their innards looked completely normal, and their fat body (analogous to the vertebrate liver) looked fine under the scope. My labmate has found someone who knows the relevant procedures for testing for deformed wing virus, so that's next on that agenda.

Meanwhile, time to make progress on the thousand other fronts that deserve attention. One project that has been fun has been figuring out how to estimate cricket ages for field-caught crickets. I'm trying to work out the logistics for a method from a paper published in 1987, where a famous cricket biologist would take a cricket leg, slice a thin cross-section of it, and then would view it using a phase-contrast microscope to count the daily growth layers of chitin. My mentor in Nebraska suggested setting up a simpler polarizing light microscope, but for various reasons it has taken me a while to figure out how to do that. Finally, I found this tutorial, and watched the linked video, and finally got that part sorted out. Very satisfying!

But now I'm stuck on the cross-sectioning method. The author of the 1987 paper described a process of wedging the cricket's leg in a chunk of potato (to stabilize it), then cutting thin slices with a hairdresser's razor. My attempts to replicate this method have been comically bad so far, and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. So I'm still scratching my head over how to proceed, and hoping that I don't wind up having to go through the arduous and tedious steps involved in more conventional tissue sectioning methods.


Sep. 18th, 2017 12:54 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
What with the impending change in life circumstances (the cliff at the end of the year), [personal profile] scrottie has been keen to check out some marinas in the Sacramento River Delta. The Delta as a whole is fascinating. It covers a huge area. Recognizing that a lot of the lower stretches have incredibly rich soil, people have put in an extraordinary amount of effort to claim land back from the river waters. The outcome is a reticulated network of waterways surrounding tiled islands kept (mostly) dry by levees. It's like an American equivalent of the Netherlands. The only thing is, a lot of the reclaimed land consists of peat bogs, which start to sink if they aren't periodically recharged with new nutrient and plant inputs. So occasionally, there's a watery hole in the island network.

Anyway, not too long ago, S got his boat back from Bethel Harbor, and they suggested he go and check out a place called Owl Harbor as a potential alternative to his current mooring at someone's house in Discovery Bay. Initial investigations suggested Owl Harbor was accessible by a multi-transit expedition, so we decided to go for it on Sunday. We rode over to the Richmond station and threw ourselves and our bicycles onto an Amtrak train bound for Antioch. Then we picked up our bikes and rode along the heavily industrial waterfront over to the Antioch Bridge.

Things didn't look so promising at the bridge. The southbound onramp had a sign posted saying that bicycles and pedestrians were prohibited. The OoGley-derived directions had us heading up the southbound off-ramp, which lacked any sort of promising infrastructure and sounded like the worst of all terrible ideas. It was starting to look like the trip would be a complete flop. But at least the weather was nice and we were out on our bicycles. I proposed crossing under the bridge to examine the northbound onramp, where we finally spied a promising sign that read, "PEDESTRIANS BICYCLES MOTOR-DRIVEN CYCLES PERMITTED." There was a toll booth slightly ahead, so we cautiously rode up to it and confirmed with a tool booth worker that yes, indeed, we could ride our bicycles across the bridge. No toll necessary, for bicycles.

So I paused to snap a photo, as evidence:
Yes, you can cross the Antioch Bridge by bicycle

And we proceeded across.

The bridge reminded me of a number of the bridges I drove across in Louisiana. You feel like you're going to climb forever into the sky, but then eventually you reach the crest and cruise back down on the far side. The whole thing feels impossibly narrow and ridiculously high, but I guess that's what it takes to make sure that enormous shipping vessels can fit through.

I don't think I'd ride over that bridge just for fun, but I've ridden in worse places.

I didn't take any photos at Owl Harbor, but it was indeed a very nice marina, and there were many lovely boats of different ages and character moored there. The person working in the office that day suggested we fit in a 10-mile expedition around the "Delta Loop" to learn more about the local geography, so we did.

We had lunch at another nice little marina, just down the road:
Lunch stop at a marina along the Delta Loop

And as we continued to ride along, we saw all manner of other watercraft, in all sorts of shape, ranging from well-appointed river barges to half-sunk catastrophes. I could spend all week ogling boats.

We didn't pause for more photos, however, aside from this one:

Cycling around the Delta Loop

Then it was time to head back to Antioch to catch our return train.

We couldn't stop marveling about the whole bridge experience. Here's the Antioch bridge, viewed from near the Antioch train station:
View of the Antioch Bridge

Now I'm really curious about how it came to be, that the bridge is all-access. Was that included in the original plans, or a product of bike/ped interest groups working hard to advocate for access? Why is the Antioch bridge open, while the bridge between Richmond and the Marin Headlands remains only a dream?

Anyway, it was cool to have that sort of adventure in that pocket of California. The Sacramento River Delta is a fascinating place.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently received increased attention because of an article he published in The Atlantic. I'd heard his name mentioned enough times by enough different people to decide I should pick up and read Between the World and Me. And yes, it is a thoughtful and helpful work, and one that white people especially should listen to.

Two themes resonated: the concept of life at its fullest as an ongoing struggle. And, how Coates outlines how people who need to think of themselves as white have physically built their society out of black bodies. This notion is an uncomfortable truth, but strongly reminded me of reading The Body in Pain, which more broadly posits the same idea. Never lose sight of the awareness of the role of physical human labor in generating and maintaining human societies.

I am interested in continuing to work on how to foster a tolerant, inclusive, and fair society. I would love to encourage high school students to read and discuss Between the World and Me.
rebeccmeister: (1x)
So, it finally happened. After 21 years of rowing, I finally flipped a 1x and fell in the water.

All things considered, this happened under the absolute best possible circumstances. I'd been in the middle of a set of interval pieces with the Serious Double, and Captain J had just called for us to spin our boats. I threw my oar in the water, and then the handle just kept on going, and pretty soon, I was in the water, too.

Upon discovering what had happened, the Serious Double stopped nearby to ask if I needed any help. More specifically, Iz asked, "Have you ever gotten back into a single before?" This was no time for false bravado. "No," I said. So after I got a whole bunch of random flailing out of my system, she coached me through the correct way to get back into a flipped 1x.

I decided that, at that point, it would be best if I just rowed back to the dock and wrapped up for the morning. Part of me really wanted to be the kind of person who rows to the dock, tips out the water, and keeps on rowing. But another part of me informed myself that the flip was an indicator about how I was feeling that morning, so I listened to the second voice instead.

It wasn't until I was leaving the boathouse and heading up towards work that I finally figured out why I'd flipped, and this lent some weight to the decision to call it quits for the day. I hadn't been in the Kaschper in a couple of weeks, between going up to Petaluma for practice and then the marathon, and getting to row in the 2x with Pan Am last week. So when I got the boat set up to go out on the water this morning, I had to make a guess as to where to position my footstretchers. Once I was on the water, I determined that my guess was slightly off. Not wanting to hold up the Serious Double, which had a serious practice plan (46 minutes of intervals, total), I really quickly repositioned my footstretchers. Except I wasn't fully awake, so I repositioned them in the wrong direction - moving them further towards the bow. This created extra clearance at the release, which is what made it possible for the oar handle to swing past my body when I attempted to spin the boat.

So, now I have gotten that out of the way. Better to have it happen during warm weather and during practice, rather than during a race. I'm also relieved that I didn't go in in one of the weird smelly, murky patches that have appeared recently on the BAP. That would have been tremendously disgusting.

So anyway - if you need any lessons on how to get back in small watercraft, come have a chat with me and I can now give you a few pointers.

Falling in

Sep. 11th, 2017 09:55 am
rebeccmeister: (1x)
[personal profile] scrottie and I took an Introduction to Sea Kayaking class yesterday. When the instructor had us go around and say why we were there, S said it was because he has taken up sailing and I'm not interested in sailing.

We spent the morning going over the same paddle strokes as in the first class, but the review was useful. We also learned about the high brace and the low brace. I think I need to watch some videos to get a better understanding of the "hip-snap" and how to move my body to rebalance a kayak. Along with that, I learned that secondary stability is often more important than primary stability. Primary stability is how things feel when you're trying to sit level, while secondary stability can be experienced while the kayak is more up on edge and on the verge of tipping over. There are lots of interesting details to kayak hull shape. And it turns out that the deck lines on top of a kayak aren't simply decorative. Good to know for the sake of future kayak shopping.

Then we spent the afternoon learning how to self-rescue and partner rescue. That was awesome. It wound up being a somewhat warm day, so flipping the kayaks to go in the water felt great and relaxing. Climbing back in wasn't all that hard, either. We learned about these things called "paddle floats," which you slip onto the end of a paddle, and then you can use the paddle as an outrigger/brace to stabilize the kayak while you climb back in.

So now we're certified to go kayaking in calm coastal waters. The instructor suggests that we next look into a tides and currents class, and it looks like there are a couple more classes that would be useful for the sake of longer-term safety and comfort in more interesting water conditions.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
This may be all over the place, given life at the moment.

I got into an email conversation with my father not too long ago, where he noted that he finds it challenging to figure out how to initiate and hold difficult conversations. Pondering this, I discovered that the authors who wrote Getting to Yes have also written a book called Difficult Conversations. Given that I want to approach life bravely, I think I'll add it to my list of books to read.

Meanwhile: I am trying to cope with the anxiety that arrives with needing to apply for academic jobs. I encountered some "quickie job application advice" the other day that reiterated that whole, "It's a marathon, not a sprint" perspective, which is a notion I need to retain.

After some reflection, I realized that my current anxiety probably largely stems from not having a concrete plan in place for all of the various things I want to do and should do over the course of the fall. I tend to experience a greater sense of peace when I have a plan in place. There are a lot of competing interests that need to be balanced with each other.

There's also, of course, the general sense of anxiety and dread that accompany the end of employment here. I am thinking that for dealing with that piece, I need to work on creating a list of wants, needs, and concerns. For example, what to do about things like health insurance? What to do with my possessions? How do I ensure that Emma is comfortable and as happy as an emo kitty can be? How do I balance [personal profile] scrottie's needs and desires with my desire to spend quality time with my parents, and to spend time exploring career options in the greater Seattle area? (heck, greater Washington?). I know that, for one thing, it would probably be really helpful to build in scheduled time to work on all of this.


Sep. 5th, 2017 10:24 am
rebeccmeister: (1x)
It was not easy to get up and out to the boathouse this morning. But yesterday I e-mailed the usual suspects to tell them I'd be there, so I couldn't exactly weasel my way out.

When I got to the boathouse, I was relieved to find I wasn't the only one who was dragging a bit. On top of that, the other woman 1x sculler was happy to make good on her promise to row in the 2x with me. I'm going to nickname her Pan Am because she raced in the lightweight 1x in the Pan Am Games a while back.

Anyway, what a wonderful opportunity, to get to row with a phenomenally skilled rower. Pan Am was gracious, and we had a pretty good time, all things considered. She also told me a story about getting to row with Chris Ernst, her hero. Eventually Chris had to tell her to relax because one's nerves do start to affect the boat feel and keep the boat from flowing along. I could relate, but PA also said she was very grateful that at least I had good boat feel.

She and the Serious Double are hitting the stage where training for the Head of the Charles starts to get pretty hardcore, although at least this week is a taper week. So we did 27 minutes of interval work at stroke ratings ranging from a 26 to 32. Not bad for a post-marathon recovery row.

My upcoming rowing homework assignments:

Core work: I haven't been keeping up with core fitness in the gym, and that really started to show towards the end of the marathon. Time to get back on that horse. Good core posture is essential for good body control on the recovery. (Further evidence: see my posture in one of the photos accompanying this article. That was clearly towards the very end, when my butt really hurt, but I'd like to be able to maintain good posture all the way through a marathon).

Staying relaxed + efficient as I start to get tired. PA noted that I can often stay ahead of her in the 1x during the early interval pieces, but she can catch me during the later ones because when I get tired I start to just hammer away and my efficiency drops. It's that whole "finesse" aspect of sculling.

Slide control: When she pointed it out, I could manage to smooth out and control that last top inch of the slide, but whenever the going gets tough my slide control tends to go out the window. PA was way better than M in terms of supporting the correction (M and I seem to just get in a bad feedback loop), but I still have to take the lead on smoothing it out.

After the interval pieces, we worked our way through a series of 10-10-10's, where she would row for 10 strokes, then I'd row for 10 strokes, then we'd row together to get a feel for how to match up our power application. Those drills made it clear that there's even more potential speed to be gained if we can work on better coordination. There, again, I think I need to keep thinking about finesse and not hammering the drive. Old habits from sweep rowing can take a long time to die.

Overall, fun times, and it was fantastic to break from the routine of the 1x. Rowing in the 1x is fine, but it's easy to fall into a very deep rut, especially because we don't have any coaching.

*Apparently J nicknamed PA's 2x "The Loveboat" because PA got it so she could start rowing a mixed 2x with one of the older master's men. Ha!
rebeccmeister: (1x)
After our pre-race meeting wrapped up at around 6:30 am, all the marathoners trooped down to the docks to launch our boats and get underway. We tried to start out in order from fastest to slowest to minimize the hassle of trying to pass. That meant I should start at the very back, behind the quad, doubles, pair, and men's singles. But just as the quad was about to get underway, one of its rowers declared, "I forgot my water bottle!" The quad members consulted with each other and decided to delay their start because hydration was going to be a big factor for the marathon.

So off we all went. I felt fairly nervous in the first 3k or so because I know that it's easy to start out way too fast in a marathon, but I haven't been getting in quite enough training so as to have a sense as to an appropriate pace. In addition, the water conditions mean that it isn't always possible to judge one's effort based on one's splits. I had to settle for rowing for a bit and keeping an eye on my stroke rate and splits and then just figure I was proceeding fine.

It didn't take too long before I caught up with the pair. As I was working on gradually overtaking the pair, the quad started to charge up, so we had three boats across for a bit.

The heat, air pollution, and scattering of thin clouds made for an absolutely gorgeous sunrise.

I'm hoping to download footage from the cheap Chinese GoPro knockoff this evening. Its battery didn't even last all the way to the halfway point, but there should still be some cool Slow Television footage on it.

The scenery along the Petaluma Estuary is entirely different from the scenery along the Cane River in Louisiana, the other place where I've completed a winding river marathon. Almost all of the banks along the Estuary are mud, leading up to flat, grassy habitat, which is probably great for birds. There are a bunch of gentle curves, but only a couple of sharp corners at the very beginning of the row. So for the most part, steering is very easy. The main obstacle to watch out for is other boats.

After I got underway, I realized I hadn't set up my SpeedCoach to display the elapsed time - only my split (time it takes to cover 500m), stroke rating, meters to go, and meters completed. I made mental note of my starting time and then did a few mental calculations for what kind of speed would be necessary to make it to the turnaround point ahead of the two-hour cutoff time.

After I had been rowing for about an hour, I passed another boat, this time a men's 1x. At about that time, I also started to notice my split times creeping up. I didn't feel like I'd changed much in terms of effort, so I had to figure the difference was due to changing tides. Still, I became slightly more nervous about making the cutoff because my ongoing mental calculations suggested I'd now be cutting things close. But there was nothing to do but carry on.

At long last, I rounded a long corner and could see some sort of bridge off in the distance. It was the highway overpass shortly before the turnaround at the train bridge. I also spotted the quad, charging straight at me! The bowman in the quad shouted a warning, and we both adjusted our courses to avoid a collision.

Then, through the highway bridge, and through the train bridge. In that section I could definitely tell interesting things were going on with the tides because every couple of strokes things would feel strange due to currents and eddies. Observing the angles of the train bridge, I concluded I'd be best off weighing enough to complete my spin. And then I could tell that yes, the tide was most definitely coming in. I'd have a chance to cruise along for a bit on my way back to Petaluma.

The first of our safety launches was parked back on the return side of the highway bridge, so I decided to head over towards it before stopping for my first slugs of water and energy gel. When I reached the launch, I observed that they were helping another 1x rower with something. Eventually he got back in his boat and carried on. Later I learned that he was having severe hamstring pain and couldn't use his legs at all. What a slog. I also learned, at the end, that a second men's 1x rower had his footstretchers rip out of the boat while he was rowing, causing him to fly out and flip the boat. A safety launch helped him back in and found some rope to tie his footstretchers back in so he was able to complete the row.

I stopped again at the 14 km-to-go mark for another slug of water and sugar gel, figuring that dividing up the remaining effort into 7ks would give me good distances to work through without stopping too frequently. It was starting to get fairly warm. The only other boat I saw along that stretch was a pleasure boat, which chased me along at top speed until it hit a no-wake zone, then slowed down, then plowed along again and delivered a huge wake. I said a lengthy series of curse words under my breath as I stopped to ensure that I didn't flip. Ignorant jerks.

I made my last quick water stop at 7 km to go. Shortly thereafter, I started to see the familiar sights along the early stages of the route and was cheered by how the landmarks gave me a sense of forward progress.

When I crossed the finish line, my SpeedCoach said I still had about 500m to go, so I decided to finish out the full marathon distance by continuing to row down to the next bridge. Then I finally stopped, spun the boat around, and headed for the dock.

Altogether I think I should have carried one more bottle of water, given the weather conditions. If I'd needed it, I could have stopped at one of the safety launches to reprovision, but as it stood I had just enough to squeak by on fumes at the very end. As soon as I reached the dock and pitched out of the boat, I made my way over to a cooler full of Gatorade and downed a full bottle. It tasted wonderful. I also stuck my hat in the ice water and put it back on my head and it felt utterly amazing.

I managed to finish without any blisters ripping open, probably because I was rowing but not really racing. If I'd intended to really race, I would have needed to have trained more carefully in the months leading up to the marathon. That said, my finish time was only 10 minutes slower than the record finish for the women's 1x marathon distance. Something to ponder if I want to come back and row this event again. I also think I'd switch over to just drinking sugary sports drinks. That worked well for me the last time I completed an erg marathon. The gels are too concentrated and a real nuisance.

Today there are a number of butt and postural muscles that are complaining, and ligaments in my right thumb are unhappy. Still, recovery's pretty swift for an event like this, and I'll probably try to row again tomorrow morning. Altogether, in spite of the heat and the air pollution, yesterday was a wonderful day.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Did I tell you that I was going to row a marathon in the 1x at Petaluma today? Well, I did. I earned those laurels, that's for sure, and now I'm absolutely going to sit on them for a bit.

I was also the only woman foolish enough to participate in the full marathon in a 1x. Overall, it was great, other than that one powerboat that decided to wake me, twice.

Success in the women's 1x full marathon distance!

Hopefully I'll have more energy to post a more detailed write-up tomorrow. Right now, in addition to the post-marathon energy drop, I'm struggling to cope with the Bay Area heat wave and am finding that my Arizona-derived heat tolerance isn't quite as good as it used to be...

Oh Texas

Sep. 1st, 2017 06:56 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
[Howdy, College Station! Ugh, did I just say that? Yes, yes I did.]

Flying in to College Station, it was interesting to see the state of the impacts along the edge of Harvey. This looks to me like the fringe of the storm:

Tattered edge of Harvey

Apparently TAMU closed for the first two days of classes, largely because a lot of the older buildings have serious leaks and it's just too much to deal with on top of managing the hordes of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed undergraduates.

Other than that, however, College Station appears to have weathered the deluge amazingly well. All the growing fields along the Brazos River have standing water, but there aren't any houses planted in those lowlands. I am sure the Villa Maria house got thoroughly flooded, but if its current occupant managed to dry out the industrial carpet in time I bet the place is generally fine. As fine as it could possibly be, considering it's a dump anyway. Basically, anyone living in that house would just need to prop everything up on shelves or stilts that are 4 inches high and then things would be fine in the long run.

I'm still very relieved I no longer live there.

Otherwise, it's nice to be back for a visit and get to hang out with my Texas family (not really family, just wonderful friends). J and K have moved completely across town into a brand-new house they bought. The construction quality of their new house is nice enough that I approve. I hope to see a compost pile and vegetable garden in the back, eventually, heh.

Thinking things over, I commented that if I had to choose between living here versus living in California, I think I'd actually choose Texas, believe it or not. People here were also somewhat surprised about some of my commentary on life in California. It can be difficult to really grasp what it's like to live in such a crowded area until one actually experiences it firsthand. But coming back here, I'm reminded of wonderful things like the Howdy Farm, which is teaching the next generation of organic Texas farmers. I am also observing some of the impacts of the general spread of foodie culture: an old Chinese grocery store is now a gourmet donut/coffee shop, for instance.

There are still a billion pickup trucks on the road, though, and very limited/nonexistent alt-transit options.

Still - there's a lot to recommend in these small/mid-size American towns. Life can be pretty good. Produce grown by small-scale farmers and trucked directly into town, instead of the massive organic production in California fed with terrible water supplies, picked just for you by prisoners, and meant to be trucked all over the nation. [that said, if I lived in Texas or any number of other Midwestern places I would go full-bore for water-catchement systems]
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
The last two days were intense. I rowed Monday morning, then went to the lab for my usual Monday cricket care duties. From there I rolled straight into dual evening experiments, a 9 pm circadian oxidation experiment and then a 1 am hemolymph assay. The hemolymph assays are an attempt to wrap up loose ends with the Florida species. I got to sleep on C's couch at around 2:30 and slept until 7:45 Tuesday when I had to get up to set up more Florida crickets for a noon timepoint. Then I took care of L's field crickets while L is out of town (moldy!!!!). Then C appeared and we started the next bit of troubleshooting so he will have results for a poster presentation at a conference in January. Midway through I rushed to the banh mi place for food to shove in my gullet, then back to lab for the noon crickets.

Then I had to give an impromptu lab tour to a new grad student from a neighboring lab, help F get stuff set up for his feeding experiments (gut content analysis validation by feeding crickets dried lettuce, mushrooms, mealworms, and grass); get my evening experiments set up; eat some dinner, quick (cheap Mexican from La Burrita); take care of and then wash big piles of dishes from the lab lineaticeps crickets; and finally, run the evening experiments. And fire of a series of fairly important e-mails for managing various tasks while I am out of town.

I got home and got to sleep at around 11 pm. I woke up at 6 am so I'd have time to eat breakfast and pack before heading to the airport. I cut my timing a little too close for comfort, although mercifully SFO often has amazing security lines and I even had time to grab additional food before sitting on the first plane waiting for paperwork to get completed.

It was interesting flying over the Brazos River and surroundings while heading into College Station. The fields around the river all have standing water, but Bryan and College Station were basically spared all the flooding that hit Houston. I think that's due to a combination of good fortune and also being located far enough inland.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
It is a shame that so many people with so few means are caught (again) in this.

I got to know a lot of people in Texas who simply refuse to criticize the oil and gas industries there, or refuse to engage in dialogue about climate change, because they had family members working in those industries. To me that is the absolute worst sort of behavior. Institutions and industries that cannot even deal with conversation about addressing potential problems leave themselves vulnerable and get "blindsided."

You could also blame the politicians who let the city sprawl across floodplains due to the lack of zoning. You could also blame greedy developers who build on those floodplains in spite of the risks. You could also blame people for continuing to use and rely on outdated calculations for flood risks.

If you live in that part of the country for any period of time, the flood risks quickly make themselves very apparent. I am sure the Villa Maria house has had a couple inches of water in it during this storm. I can understand those strong desires to own one's own home, and how those desires cause people to take certain risks.

I deeply hope that Texans can extract themselves from this particular situation with minimal suffering and loss of life or livelihood. But I also deeply hope that Texans realize this kind of event is highly likely to happen again, and they need to work very hard to address this kind of problem on multiple, deep levels that include full understanding of the impacts of climate change. Katrina wasn't a fluke. This is going to happen again. This is not a time to fuck around.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
The expedition to Petaluma was a success. I got to test-row a mid/heavyweight Hudson, and it was comfortable enough that I wanted to keep rowing and rowing. I made myself turn around 3.5k from the dock so the people I was borrowing the boat from wouldn't get too nervous about my disappearance. So now I just have to finagle car rental for next Saturday/Sunday and things should all be in place. Phew. I still have a bajillion logistics to navigate between now and then, but having the boat situation figured out helps tremendously.

After my test-row, I took some time to walk around Petaluma. Here are a few sights.

First, from the San Rafael Transit Center, I observed a pigeon that has figured out how to take advantage of an interesting water supply: the condensation coming off of bus refrigeration units:

Urban ecology: a pigeon finds an unusual water source

It's possible to walk along sections of the Petaluma River, which is quite pleasant. Later on, I picked up a copy of a map of the river from a paddling shop that noted that the river isn't really a river, but tidal estuary. I'm not sure whether that remark is only applicable to the navigable sections, or whether it applies to the entire body of water. I have a hard time imagining much fresh water flowing in that region.

Petaluma sights

Washington was redolent with the fragrance of ripe blackberries. California is redolent with the fragrance of wild fennel. The amount of fennel everywhere is mind-boggling. All of this tall, green, bushy stuff is wild fennel:

Petaluma sights

This old bank building houses the Baker Seed Company shop. We've ridden past it on more than one occasion while in the midst of a brevet with no time to stop. This time, I did stop, and it was as fantastic as you'd expect. I may or may not have purchased a bunch of saffron crocus bulbs and some anise hyssop seeds. They gave me a free packet of carrot seeds, too. The sign behind the lightpost reads, "Save $$, invest in your garden." Great use of space.

Petaluma sights

Eventually, I needed to use the restroom, and found one in a plaza. The restroom looks designed to cater to extreme germophobes. It even had automatic toilet paper dispensers:

Petaluma sights: Automatic toilet paper dispenser

They're about as annoying as you'd expect.

Lastly, while heading towards the paddle shop to learn about kayak rentals in the area, I happened across this humble entryway:

Petaluma sights

A friend of mine has a Bruce Gordon touring bike. The bikes on display inside the shop were beautiful, but I didn't take any photos inside because of some strange social ambiguity (couldn't tell if the shop was really open, or if the door was just open to let in fresh air, and the only person I saw was in another room with his back thoroughly towards the door). Still, cool to literally stumble across the shop.


I have one beef with Petaluma. The town feels like a Stuff White People Like place, full of beer gardens, quilt shops, antiques, and ice cream parlors. I suspect white people like to visit it. In that respect, I find Petaluma utterly uninteresting. I'm still not interested in brunch. It lacks a pulse. But I really, really liked rowing along the Petaluma River, so much that I wish I had a time-lapse camera I could bring along for the marathon row next Sunday.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Ahhh, logistics. This morning I got up at 5 so I could make breakfast and then catch a bus over the Richmond Bridge to another bus that will take me up to Petaluma.

It's almost the exact same route I took a little under a year ago to visit Sonoma State to give a talk. My one-way trip time is about 2.5 hours, compared to an estimated 1-hour drive time or considerably longer bike time.

This trip is preparation for the Petaluma Marathon row next Sunday. I will probably have to rent a car and drive for that trip because marathoners are scheduled to start rowing at 6 am and the buses don't run that early. Today's trip on the earliest buses will get me there just after 9 am. The most frustrating part of having to rent a car is not being able to transport a boat on my own. Car-topping boats is not a trivial undertaking.

I was reading the other day about the addition of public bus service to popular trailheads in Washington, because apparently one of the main reasons a subset of people still have cars is just so they can escape the urban fabric to go hiking. I was really excited about the possibility of using a point-to-point car rental service here. The cars even have roof racks and can carry a bicycle, and the rates are decent. I might even be tempted to try car-topping a boat on one someday. But then I discovered that my smartphone is already too obsolete for the app. Infernal walled gardens!

I am grateful this time to already be somewhat familiar with the bus routes and stations. I am even more grateful to have discovered, this morning, that the San Rafael Transit Center has a bathroom. When I take a trip like this one I think a lot about what life would be like for the working poor. It would be hard to have a commute of this nature.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
So, happy reunion at the finish line. Eventually, we gathered our wits sufficiently so as to get bicycles loaded on the return trucks, pick up luggage, and head over to the food trucks for more food. The falafels and fries really hit the spot, although as [personal profile] scrottie noted, nobody handed him a beer and that's a grave oversight that will never be repeated.

Then off to our AirBnB. While we worked on getting oriented so as to figure out our transit options, we found ourselves within range of a gaggle of Canadian police officers, who were all too willing to make a few suggestions on how to reach our accommodations. Note that we were still sorting out our various international options with our electronics devices, so navigation wasn't a simple matter of consulting the Oogley-Googley or other such nonsense. If I'd had a few extra wits about me, I might have spent more time on preliminary navigation matters, but no such luck.

Eventually, [personal profile] sytharin took charge of matters, and we found a subway station, got tickets, and hopped aboard. Apparently the SkyTrain is automagical - it was awesome to get to watch the tunnel out of the front of the vehicle. We switched trains, rode some more, walked a bit, and arrived at a perfectly lovely spot. After dropping luggage and bathing, [personal profile] slydevil, [personal profile] scrottie, and I worked to rectify the whole lack-of-beer situation by paying a visit to Saint Augustine's. That place was great, and all three of us tried out the delicious beer paddles so we could try as many different things as possible. So satisfying.

Things got interesting in the morning. I woke up at 6 am so I could search out some coffee for [personal profile] scrottie at the coffeeshop we'd passed, JJ Bean. While their lattes were better than slugging down some Folger's, I wasn't especially impressed with the overall 6 am culinary experience. As a result, I became keen to check out another place that [personal profile] slydevil had identified in the opposite direction, Continental Coffee. We agreed to rendezvous with my dad, L, and R at 8 am back at JJ Bean for the return trek to the buses back to Seattle.

Wires got crossed in there, somewhere, because when S and I walked back past JJ Bean, admittedly a couple minutes late, nobody was there. Okay, maybe we can catch them at the train station. We proceeded to the train station, bought our tickets, and entered the gate. Since I wasn't responsible for the prior day's navigation, I wasn't sure which of the two SkyTrains we needed to catch. Once again, we caught the attention of a gaggle of Canadian police who were just standing around. Upon learning where we wanted to go, they directed us to take the 99B bus instead and hop off at Broadway and C_________ instead, then flibber a jop and higglety-pigglety to Yale. After asking them to repeat the directions, I figured we could hop on the bus to Broadway and C______, get re-oriented and ask someone else for further directions, and be on our way, mindful of the time, which was growing short for any hope of reaching the buses by the 9 am departure.

It took a good 15 minutes for the 99B to show up, and when it did, a horde of people trundled on board along with us, so it took another good period of time before we were able to get settled in place and start to track street names.

Time passed, and we didn't see any street names that sounded like C________, so eventually S requested to look at the RSVP map. When he discovered that it was nearly useless, he pulled out his GPS. As soon as it got a fix, he showed it to me and we concluded we had greatly overshot Broadway and C____________. Yikes.

I consulted with the bus driver, who confirmed our problem and happily suggested an alternative bus. Sensing that we were rapidly running out of time, I asked about catching a cab instead. Fortunately, we were getting close to the University of British Columbia, and the driver said there were almost always taxis at the upcoming corner. (remember, we're in Canada and don't have smart-o-phone apps to hail sharing-economy vehicles) Great.

We hopped off the bus, made our way across, the street, and were able to instantly hail a cab. It took me a few minutes to communicate our destination to the driver. Eventually he punched the park name into his smart phone, looked at the address, did some mental computations, nodded his head, and we were on our way.

Then he called up a friend or something and proceeded to have what sounded like a nice chat in another foreign language while he made his way over to our destination. Meanwhile, his smartphone or some other device offered up a lot of directions via English Bossy Lady voice. I was still nervously on edge because of the time, and it didn't help when I noticed that the Bossy Lady kept telling us to turn left where we were turning right, et cetera. Eventually I concluded that the driver was completely ignoring the Bossy Lady because he knew where he was going, but the Bossy Lady was trying valiantly to direct us back to somewhere close to where we'd started.

Imagine the extent of my relief when we finally made it back to the edge of David Lam Park and spied a straggly line of cyclists standing along the sidewalk. It was 9:20 am and cyclists were still waiting for one last return bus to show up. The bus pulled up right as we emerged from the cab, and we quickly hopped on board. By that point, [personal profile] scrottie was craving fresh fruit, and there was a berry stand set up on the corner by the park. We learned that the driver would wait a few more minutes for any other desperate last-minute stragglers, so S ran over for some blueberries, which we quickly gobbled up.

All in all, we were only one bus behind [personal profile] sytharin, [personal profile] slydevil and my dad, and we even spotted them on their bus while we all waited to go through US Customs at the border. Paying that visit to Continental Coffee was a stupid decision, on my part, as was trying to follow the helpful Canandian police officers' bus directions. My adrenal glands and wallet paid the price, but hopefully it's the sort of mistake I'll never, ever repeat again.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Also, from all that I got to see, Vancouver seems like an awesome city, and I hope I get to visit it again someday soon.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Saturday morning, we once again got up at the crack of dawn, then ate delicious burritos and drank delicious coffee, and convinced ourselves to plop our posteriors back onto our bicycles.

Oh, with a slight modification. The infernal squishy seat on the Opus IV had to go. On the first morning, [personal profile] scrottie had asked if we could try out an old saddle off of one of my mom's bikes, so I tried one out for the ride from my parents' house to the starting line. That one felt like someone was putting a fist into an inappropriate part of my anatomy, so it wouldn't do, at all. Back to the squishy Respiro saddle.

By the end of Day 1, S and I were both suffering the consequences of riding on a bike saddle that was too wide and too squishy. The width of the thing made it difficult to sit back far enough, which forced more of my weight onto my arms and reduced my pedaling leverage. My arms were already having a difficult time of things because the Opus IV has a 20-inch front wheel and squishy padded handlebars that function, altogether, as a big, wiggling console. It's hard to take a hand off the bars for any length of time because steering can quickly go awry. Meanwhile, squishy saddles are terrible for S's posterior, and he was feeling the consequences too. So I got the idea to ask M if he might possibly have a spare saddle lying around somewhere, figuring that the worst of M's spare saddles would be far, far better than either of our current options.

M obliged, for he is the sort who never throws anything away. Blessed, blessed relief. The saddle he gave us was worn out, but it was a vast improvement.

On we went.

We traveled along pleasant Washington country roads all the way to Lynden, where it appeared that most of the remaining riders had just descended to eat breakfast. Calories chased with even more calories were sounding really good by then, so I pushed for a stop. Eventually we found ourselves outside of a Dutch bakery that had a reasonably short line, so we resupplied with an abundance of baked goods and drank a bit more coffee. Incidentally, I appreciated all of the beautiful floral displays in Lynden, reminiscent of the flowers I've seen in many European countryside towns.

Fabulous Dutch Bakery in Lynden, WA

We carried on, and quite soon came upon the small Canadian border crossing, which went incredibly quickly and smoothly. Bravo to all who facilitated that part!

So, Canada! We were in Canada for under three minutes before [personal profile] sytharin spotted a maple tree. Somewhere in the next stretch, S and my dad mashed the tandem up the steepest hill of the ride, and we reached the North Otter Rest Stop. I'd started noticing that at least one of the tandem's three chains was making extra noise, so it was time to seek out a mechanic again for some chain lube.

View of the triple chain setup on the Opus IV
Not one, not two, but THREE chains for the Opus IV!

The North Otter Stop was bustling, and the line for the mechanic was several people deep. Eventually, I noticed a second workstand, off to the side, and found a separate operation that was willing to loan me a bottle of chain lube.

Applying the chain lube took a long time, which meant I didn't eat enough. Fearing a repeat episode with El Crampo, I insisted on a lunch stop in a small settlement along the Fraser River. While we rode from North Otter to the Fraser River, we had noticed [personal profile] slydevil falling behind, so eventually [personal profile] sytharin said she'd drop back to hang out with L and we'd regroup at the next rest stop.

My lunch stop along the Fraser River was impromptu, and in the hubbub, we failed to catch L and R as they rode past. On the other hand, my egg salad sandwich served on a croissant was HEAVENLY and I don't regret it.

Onward. I was back in the saddle on the tandem. At mile 153, we reached an incredible bridge crossing up and over a branch of the Fraser River. Bicyclists and pedestrians could access the bridge via a spiral corkscrew ramp that spiraled around and around and around, for more than three turns, altogether. It was a hilarious affair.

As we continued to zig and zag towards Vancouver, the fatigue from the ride started to really catch up with me, so I traded off the tandem and back onto the Jolly Roger for a break. Then, time for another bridge crossing. Wanting to commemorate these lovely British Columbia bridges and beautiful views, I hung back for a photo:

Bridge crossing towards Vancouver, BC

Can you blame me, with scenery like this?


But when I caught up with S and my dad at the far end, a tragedy: there were no warnings anywhere about the hairpin turn at the far end of the bridge. Coming upon it, S had attempted to take the turn slowly and smoothly, but my dad lost confidence partway through and decided to bail out, which sent enough mass in the wrong direction that the Opus IV completely spilled.

It seemed that no one was seriously injured, so they dusted themselves off and walked a short ways ahead to start up again. Here I should also note that getting the Opus IV rolling is not a simple task: we devised a starting system where my dad braces the bike on both sides while the Captain prepares for takeoff, then the Captain says, "Ready, Steady, GO!", then my dad lifts his feet while the Captain hops off the ground and onto the saddle, whilst steering and starting to pedal. Remember that this all happens while managing the jiggling handlebar console, too.

Anyway. Along this stretch of the ride, while we were all feeling the effects of pedaling the Opus IV over 140 miles already, we encountered a new sort of trouble. All through Washington, the route was very clearly marked via a series of apple-shaped pavement blazes, which provided advance notice of turns and maneuvers, and then confirmed that we were on the correct route via extra blazes on the far side of each and every intersection.

Those excellent markings lulled us into complacency, for just after the second Fraser River bridge we hit a period of extreme confusion along the Lougheed Highway, where there were no helpful blazes to confirm and guide us on extremely busy suburban highway roads. We finally had to resort to relying upon the provided map and cue sheet for directions.

Managing the map and cue sheet while attempting to spot the poor road labels and pedaling up hills became one thing too many, while riding tired on a challenging bicycle and dodging other extremely tired zombie riders. From the Jolly Roger, I could tell that things were coming to a head between my two tandem-riding companions, but there really wasn't much I could do to smooth things out for the duo on the tandem. Eventually, we ground to a halt at an intersection, and my father requested a change-out in captains.

Tired, with fatigued wrists, I acquiesced. We were all tired, I could tell, and the only other thing I could tell was that I was probably the only person at that moment with enough extra cope to keep us all going. Also, have I mentioned that riding through suburbs is the worst?

We carried on. Finally, we reached the Port Moody Stop at the edge of Burrard Inlet. Everyone needed a break. S headed towards the bay for a dip in the ocean, while my father found some shade where he could rest and eat a snack. I tried to think of ways to locate L and R that didn't involve using cell phones. Eventually it occurred to me to check with the guy who was vigorously ringing the cowbell at the rest stop entrance: had he seen a rider with an octopus on her helmet?

Octopus atop basket
RAC's helmet

He had! She had just left, minutes before.

I concluded that it was too late to try and catch up with L and R. We were close enough to the end and it was still early enough in the day that I figured we'd be able to finish the ride, but it might not feel as much like a victorious conclusion as we might have liked, and we wouldn't have the extra moral support that L and R could lend.

S eventually returned from wading in the mud, we gathered up my father, and positioned the infernal Opus IV back onto the route. By this point, the only cyclists left at the stop were a small handful of battered-looking stragglers.

Riding a tandem can make a person acutely aware of certain unconscious cycling habits. Grinding up and down the hills along the Barnet Highway, I learned that when I am very tired and sore, I need to coast now and then for just a few seconds so I can shift my weight around and reposition my hands. Riding a tandem, these simple acts necessitate communication so that one's riding partner will stop the infernal pedaling already and allow the bike to coast.

Kind of like rowing a double.

At last, we survived the Barnet Highway, and at the end, started to encounter groups of stopped riders who were patiently waiting for struggling teammates. Good on you, teams. Those groups were a godsend; they helped sniff out the route ahead, and they also pushed all the beg buttons at the crossings so we could hang back and not have to go through the whole rigamarole of stopping and restarting the Opus IV.

The whole system worked well up until the very last hill. The last hill was just a little too much. My father was having a hard time reading the map to figure out how much further we needed to go. I was starting to seriously run out of gas, and on that last hill, the traffic light changed and brought us to a stop with an uphill start.

I proposed crossing the intersection on foot, so we did. Then I proposed that S dig around in the Jolly Roger's basket for a certain food item, an almond cake from the Dutch bakery in Lynden. So he did.

The almond cake wasn't quite as good as that rhubarb galette from the Sizun bakery during the Paris-Brest-Paris, but overall I'd say it came pretty darned close. I only regret that I didn't get two cakes instead of just one, so as to be able to enjoy one under at least slightly less duress. Note to self for future occasions.

Onward, along the neverending Adnac Bikeway. At least it was more pleasant than the traversal through the suburbs. Eventually, finally, we reached the upper end of False Creek, and the Waterfront Bike Path.

Can I just say that nothing is more harrowing than trying to operate an Opus IV tandem, heavily fatigued, on a bike path where small children are zooming to and fro on some sort of insane suicide mission?

Okay, maybe operating in a war zone.

At least the path designers had the foresight to separate the cyclists and the pedestrians, for the most part. The separation was successful up until the ultimate corner of the ride, where all of a sudden my mom leaped out of nowhere, ninja-Paparazzi-like, holding a tablet up in front of her, ready to capture a snap of that pivotal moment, my most supreme grumpy face.

We had made it to Vancouver. To party.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
We managed to reach the Maltby stop without further mishap, thankfully, and rolled straight over to the mechanic's tent. Upon seeing us, the mechanic said, "I haven't seen one of those [Opus IV's] in years!" He and several other cyclists were all heartily amused by the contraption.

We were relieved to have reached the mechanic, but received disheartening news: although the mechanic had a couple of 26-inch tubes, he wasn't carrying any 26-inch tires with him. You see, on rides like the RSVP, the vast, vast majority of riders aren't so foolish as to ride on mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels. It was a repeat of my experience in Arizona several years back, where on another occasion I found myself riding along with badly-worn sidewalls on a bicycle with 26-inch tires (the Jolly Roger, natch). On that adventure, which I nicknamed the BS-150 (because I was riding as a support squad for friends doing the MS-150), I'd had similar bad luck finding a new 26-inch tire, and wound up flatting 4 times on my way back to town before I encountered a bike shop.

Regardless, we soldiered on. We enjoyed the perfect morning weather and the smell of ripe blackberries as we pedaled along the Centennial Bike Path. Our next stop was in Machias, where there was also a mechanic on hand.

As soon as we arrived, I made a beeline over to the mechanic's tent. Once again, disappointment: no 26-inch tires in sight. There was nothing to do but drown our sorrows in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches garnished with chocolate sprinkles.

From Machias, S took a turn at the helm of the Opus IV. We continued along the Centennial Trail Bike Path towards the lunch stop at Arlington, where we held out hope that the brick-and-mortar bike shop would actually be open.

Given our general state of affairs, I tried to caution S against racing along at 17 miles per hour on the Opus IV, figuring lower speeds would put less stress on the ageing tire. Regardless, for one reason or another, we found ourselves suffering through a second blowout just four miles short of Arlington. Back to work I went, removing the wheel, installing a fresh tube, and repositioning the tire boot, which had somehow managed to travel away from the problem site.

Finally, Arlington at last. After brief confusion, we headed for the bike shop. Finally, luck was on our side. They had one 26-inch tire in stock.

While everyone else scouted for lunch, I set to work again, replacing the worn-out junky garbage tire.

Finally swapping off the busted tire

Amazingly, I am still smiling in this photo.*

Several minutes later, I wasn't smiling anymore. The extra exertion from pedaling the Opus IV, combined with our tire blowout delays, made us late for lunch, and my old nemesis El Crampo decided to show up. Much like "bonking," the main cure for El Crampo is time. In the meantime, the effect of El Crampo is worse, because it involves writhing around on the ground by the side of the road or in a ditch while suffering through the pain of a severe intestinal cramp. A fate best avoided.

Thankfully, a huge tray of Mexican food seems to be an adequate cure.

I don't remember much about the subsequent rest stops in Mt. Vernon or Allen Park. All I know is our various delays put us towards the back of the pack among the stragglers as the afternoon wore on. But really, there are worse places to be. Eventually we reached the final stretch of the day, along Chuckanut Drive. For me, it was glorious, because I was able to soft-pedal on the Jolly Roger while S and my dad stormed up the hills. The rolling hills, ocean views, and deep woods made my heart happy, and I could almost just reach out and grab the ripe blackberries, they were so tantalizingly close.

Finally, we arrived in Bellingham. There was a bit of confusion navigating to my friends' house, but that was more than compensated for by the amazing feast they prepared for us, and their wonderful and understanding company for this bunch of tired cyclists. We did it - we survived the first day. And it only took us 13 hours altogether, to cover that first 100 miles.

*You'll notice there aren't many photos from this ride because it was just too much to manage a camera on top of everything else. Oh well.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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