Warm Showers 2016, Part 1

Despite our absence on our own shortened “Beyond 70” tour mid-March through mid-May, 2016 brought a steady stream of Warm Showers guests. We had to turn down a few while we participated in the NorthWest Tandem Rally in Klamath Falls, Oregon over the July 4th week, and plan to take a short break at the end of July to get in some more cycling and camping before heading east at the end of August for an early September tour of Door County, Wisconsin. This entry covers the 39 guests we have had through 22 July (including Toph, the dog).

Cara came through in early March, headed south. With El Nino, the bicycle touring season in the Pacific Northwest is nearly year-around.
Carina and Mat, from the U.K., arrived in mid-May, traveling from south to north on the Pacific Coast.
Nico, from Iowa, traveling down the Pacific Coast at a more leisurely pace than most. As of this writing, he was in Los Angeles.
Mark and Seth also traveled down the Pacific Coast.
Simon, from Switzerland, was a “drop-in,” guided to our house from downtown by our neighbor after finding there were no campgrounds nearby. He was already a Warm Showers member, but hadn’t made firm plans for daily distance, counting on finding campgrounds near the end of the day. Simon was touring south on the Pacific Coast route.
Justin was riding north to British Columbia and points east, to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, having cycled from his home in mid-Texas to California and up the Sierra Crest route.
Betty and Robert, AirBnB hosts and new Warm Showers members from Vancouver, BC, were touring to San Francisco.
Lisa, headed north from Portland to tour the Canadian Rockies, crossing paths with Tony and his dog Toph, below.

During the busy part of the summer, we often get multiple requests for the same night. Sometimes the travelers are headed the same direction and may meet on the road, but sometimes they are headed in opposite directions, as were Lisa and Tony. Tony had rescheduled because of the medical emergency with Toph. We have plenty of room, with three guest rooms, large open porch, and large format leather furniture in the living room, having hosted seven once.

Tony, from southern California, was traveling the Pacific Coast route with his small dog, Toph. Our cat insists that dogs camp outside, so Tony and Toph pitched their tent on the porch.
Toph cut her feet on shells on a beach a few days before and the cuts got infected, so she got the dreaded cone the day before she and Tony arrived.
Brian and Heather, finishing a loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

Shelton is a nexus for several popular routes: The most used is the Pacific Coast Route, with riders chosing the ACA route between Bremerton and Elma, or riding down U.S. 101 from either Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Some choose to take a short cut to Centralia via Olympia (or around Olympia on Delphi Road, skirting the Capitol Forest), and some head west from Elma for a more direct route via U.S. 101 and the 6800-meter-long Megler-Astoria Bridge across the Columbia River. Some extend to the Washington coast at Westport. The Olympic Peninsula Loop is also popular, but most riders continue south along the coast from Aberdeen, so bypass us entirely. Some riders starting or ending in Seattle also choose to follow the route of the Seattle-To-Portland ride, east of Puget Sound, and also bypass Shelton. This year, we’ve gotten riders who have ridden the Sierra Crest Trail through California and Oregon and continue on the Pacific Coast Route to Vancouver. We also have gotten, from time to time, Trans-Am riders who head up the coast from Newport, Oregon to Seattle to fly home.

And, there are some riders who are in the middle of a Grand Tour, either from Alaska or the Yukon Territory to South America or a loop tour of the U.S., via the Southern Tier, Pacific Coast or Sierra Crest, and Northern Tier. And, of course, riders to and from Portland, Oregon, the undisputed bicycle capital of the West Coast. Not everyone stops in Shelton: we see a lot of riders throughout the day, passing through, and some who stop at motels, the other Warm Showers host on the north side of town, or Couch Surfing hosts.

Glenn and Bobbie had ridden across the Southern Tier from Florida to California and up the Sierra Crest Route, headed for the San Juan islands.

Another night with two groups: Veteran tourists Glenn and Bobbie, finishing their tour at Anacortes, while Jason and Amy, below, first-time tourists, were just starting a cross-country tour. Conversation is interesting when comparing notes. From our own experience touring the Canadian Rockies 28 years ago, much of the fun is meeting and sharing stories with other tourists on the road.

Jason and Amy were headed north from Portland to Anacortes to join friends on the Northern Tier route to the East Coast.
Ana, a graduate student at UBC in Vancouver, BC, was taking a summer break from her studies to ride the northern half of the Pacific Coast route.
Mark finished the Trans-Am route from Virginia to Oregon and intended to take a break from cycling to hike in Colorado before heading back east on the Northern Tier route. He stayed a couple of days to recover from a bout of food poisoning, a risk when food stops are sometimes limited to convenience stores.

After Mark headed north toward Seattle, we clamped our Bike Friday tandem on top of the car and headed down the Oregon Coast, following the route of many of our guests. We spent the night at an AirB&B near Seal Rock, a nice couple who recommended a gastrobpub nearby and fed us a nice breakfast. We then drove to Eugene to augment our Bike Friday accessories and ride the wonderful trails, staying at an AirB&B downtown across from a brewery and pub. After another stop in Rogue River to visit relatives, we spent several days at Klamath Falls, along with 650 other tandem riders, for the 30th Anniversary Northwest Tandem Rally. Then, we headed north, following the Sierra Crest Route to Bend, then over the Cascades to camp at the beautiful Silver Falls State Park, hiking to several of the breathtaking waterfalls.

Judy with Julia, Christina, and Dana, friends from Ottawa, Canada cycling from Vancouver to San Francisco.

While camping in Oregon, we got several Warm Showers requests, which we regretfully had to decline. But we would be home in time to receive Christina and her friends. Knowing we were arriving from our own trip at about the same time, they graciously offered to bring and cook dinner. What a fun evening, and it gave us time to unpack before they arrived.

Hugh (right) and Liam, a father-son team cycling the Pacific Coast route from their home in North Vancouver, BC.
Chris, from southern California, cycling back home from Vancouver, BC. Chris’ arrival got delayed a day to ship his front rack and panniers home to lighten the load on the hills ahead, on his first self-supported tour.
Jamine, Taylor, Mia, and Nicole, housemates from Portland on a tour to Bellingham.
Jacy and Tom, on the last day of their tour from New York to Virginia to Oregon to Seattle.
Ryan, from Philadelphia, on tour on the Pacific Coast, starting from Vancouver.

Jacy, Tom, and Ryan arrived about the same time, from different directions, and at different ends of their tours. It was interesting to see the contrast between seasoned tourists about to finish a long tour and someone just starting out. Many of our travelers start in Vancouver or Seattle, on their first long tour, and are just finding their limits, so they arrive in that period of doubt about the feasibility of continuing on, whether the destination is 200, 2,000 or 20,000 kilometers away. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Trans-Am tour and founding of the Adventure Cycling Association, has seen more riders finishing that tour with a final week-long dash from Newport, Oregon to Seattle, as well as riders following the warm weather north on the relatively new Sierra Crest route.

Ludo, Pierre, and Phillip, friends from Montreal, cycling from the Pacific Coast. They intended to start in Seattle, but had to switch plans to start in Vancouver, so rescheduled to arrive three days later than planned.

Seasoned tourists Pierre and Ludo, knowing how hard it is to fill up hungry cyclists, supplemented our pizza and salad offering with a pound of spaghetti, with pesto sauce, and also broke out packets of oatmeal in the morning to supplement our bagel/cold cereal/fruit. buffet

Genie and Lydia, a mother-daughter team on the last day of their tour. Lydia started her tour in Paraguay 19 months ago, and Genie joined her in Los Angeles for the trip north, riding the Sierra Crest to Yosemite, and the Pacific Coast the rest of the way, ending in Seattle.

Genie and Lydia had arranged to meet Brad, a cycle tourist they met in the Sierras, who lives in Puyallup, for dinner, so invited us along as well. A fun evening, at a local BBQ restaurant we hadn’t been to before, being vegetarian. However, we found lots of good items on the menu with meat optional.

As has been our custom, we publish two lists of Warm Showers guests, divided at mid-summer or before and after our own tour, typically in late summer. This year, we changed tour plans in mid-tour, breaking up what was to be a four-month expedition into a series of short tours and weekend cycle/camping outings. We’re probably going to be unavailable most of the rest of the summer now, with our own travel schedules, but will, no doubt, take in tourists when we are home for more than a few days.

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor…

The new, $9 CHIP computer, which comes complete with WiFi and installed Linux OS (mouse, keyboard, power supply, and monitor not included, of course): running “headless” as just another network appliance, along with the five nearly as small Raspberry Pi computers and numerous virtual machines.

The last few months, our articles have focused on our bicycle adventures, notably, the preparation for, launch of, and, ultimately, termination of our planned four-month expedition from Florida up the east coast.  We arrived home just less than two months after departing, and just in time to perform some much-needed maintenance on the Chaos Central computer network.

As the title of this blog indicates, we have, for the last 25 years or so, depended on Unix, Solaris, and Linux for both our livelihood and, of course, to operate our in-house network.  The majority of our systems run GNU/Linux, in various distributions: Ubuntu and Mint Linux on desktops and laptops, CentOS on the server and virtual machines, and Raspian on the collection of Raspberry Pi micro-machines (and the above CHIP nano-computer) that are rapidly becoming the backbone of the home network.

GNU/Linux is very stable: we have, in the past, run systems for up to two years without a reboot–and then only because we suffered a major power outage.  But, with a collection of systems, something is bound to go wrong.  First, less than a month after we left on our trip, a power surge that made it through the power conditioner/battery on the server took out the virtual machine that renders the timelapse videos from our driveway surveillance system.  We actually didn’t notice this until I went to review the current day’s timelapse progress and found the video was an hour out of date.  Ah, this was because I had programmed a failover plan into the system: the videos were now being rendered by the Raspberry Pi cluster in the basement, much, much more slowly on a 32-bit ARM single-core processor with 512 MB RAM than on the Intel Xeon quad-core processor with 8GB RAM in the virtual machine host.

The server rebooted without incident when we got home: it actually didn’t reboot when the power hit came, but had an error that locked up the processor, an unusual condition.  Had we not been headed for home at the time we discovered it, we could have instructed our house-sitter in how to cycle power and bring up the system.

Then, a couple of weeks after we returned, the surveillance system, which is also the remote login gateway, simply stopped, which would have been a show-stopper had we not been at home.0  We happened to have a spare Raspberry Pi, one that had seen duty as a print server and scanner server before we got a new WiFi-enabled printer/scanner.  It took a couple of hours to add the necessary software packages to run the camera and web server and configure the machine to perform all of the necessary duties of the old one, including limiting access to specific machines and login accounts, and we were back in business–for a while.  A few days later, the external disk drive that we use to store the camera output had an unrecoverable error.  The files affected could not be erased due to the error, but renaming the folder and creating a new one kept the system running until we could get a new disk and copy the rest of the files onto it.  The old disk had been re-purposed from use as a portable backup for travel, and is about six years old, so it’s time to replace it, anyway.

After taking care of the disk issues, I revisited the Raspberry Pi failure: it turned out that the SD card that the Pi uses as the internal system drive had simply expired of  natural causes.  SD flash memory chips have a finite lifetime, and can be rewritten only so many times before becoming useless.  The culprit here was the surveillance system software (which I wrote, so I only have myself to blame)–even though the camera photos, taken every 10 seconds, are written to the external hard drive, my program copied the latest one to the system disk, in the web space.  Every 10 seconds, 8 to 18 hours a day, for a year and a half. That’s about 2 million writes, all in the same location, in addition to logging system activity.   So, a simple fix to preserve the new system: put the web file on the external drive.

The discovery of the worn-out SD card meant that the old Raspberry Pi was still OK, it just needed a new system drive.  About this time, I replaced my 3-year-old Android phone with an iPhone.  I had installed an SD card in the old phone for photos, so I removed that, backed up the files, reformatted it, and built a new Raspian “Jessie” operating system on it (the rest run the older “Wheezy” version), and booted up the once-dead Pi.  Yeah!

This uses up nearly the last of the 8GB cards around the house, though I still have a 2GB card in an old Kodak camera that I use to document our Warm Showers bicycle visits.  We have a few 16GB cards yet:  the smallest cards on the general market (Costco, Best Buy, etc) are 32GB.  I have one 64GB card, installed in a GoPro camera, which required installing an additional set of packages to handle the exFAT (no, not skinny: it’s an acronym for EXtended File Allocation Table) file system when copying files to Linux systems.  New purchases tend to be the micro-SD footprint, since most new devices, plus phones and POV cameras, take those, and the older devices use adapters that are supplied (for now) in the package.  Speed is important for high-resolution cameras and video devices.  But, when cost is a factor, we still look for the lowest capacity and speed, as older devices have a size limit, and won’t operate with the new cards.  In the age of mass-production, the devices themselves become obsolete while still functional because the supply of suitable storage media dries up.

So it goes–it has been said that Linux is free, but only if your time is worth nothing.  It takes a lot of time to build a custom system, but the flexibility is enormous.  Each machine takes on a personality of its own, as it develops different capabilities, selecting from among the many different distributions available and the thousands of software packages downloadable for free in addition to the basic system.  Plus, the machines acquire a collection of custom scripts over time, that don’t exist anywhere else.  As a software and web developer, having instant and free access to database engines, web servers, and many different programming systems is priceless.

When I need to run several different software systems or distributions, I can use virtual machines, running all versions at the same time, on the same physical machine.  And, there are choices, with no buyer’s remorse penalties with free software. I’ve tried three different non-linear video editors, and stick with an older version of one (the new version isn’t compatible with the old project files…).  The stock desktop systems come with web browsers and office productivity software, and several different graphical desktop systems, which can be chosen at login time.

The latest addition to our Linux/Unix obsession is the CHIP computer, by Next Thing, which I pre-ordered for $8 back in January and which arrived direct from the factory (in China) a couple of days ago.  The CHIP is a bit smaller than the Rpi, with no HDMI (TV output), only one USB port, but a built-in 4GB flash drive, WiFi, and Bluetooth, which are all not included in the Rpi.  The CHIP is low-power, has a battery connector (3.7v rechargeable battery not included), and can be  programmed via the micro-USB power cable if connected to a laptop.  This device is more suitable to mobile (read: robotic) applications, as, like the Pi, also includes a number of digital/analog input/output circuits.  And, being a full-featured Linux computer, is more versatile than the Arduino micro-controller popular for hobby embedded applications.   Unlike tablets and phones, which are powerful miniature computers in their own right, and microcontroller-based devices like thermostats and security systems, these small experimenter’s devices are completely programmable and physically extensible, becoming whatever tool your imagination can envision.

So it goes: in our 21st-century cottage (built in the early 20th), computing devices are as ubiquitous as light bulbs, with Windows becoming as irrelevant and obsolete as incandescent lights.  But, “some assembly required” becomes “a lot of assembly, some compiling, and a bit of fabrication essential.”  And, you may have to write your own documentation, operations manual, and maintenance plan, as well as some software.