Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Deal on The Panasonic LX7

I wrote not too long ago about the Panasonic Lumix LX7, and I've been waiting to buy mine.  Well, it looks like now is the best time to get one.  For whatever reason, the price has taken a huge drop.  Perhaps the market has decided that it prefers the larger sensor of the Sony RX100 and the LX7s are overstocked.  Whatever the reason is, I'm taking advantage and getting one now.

Get your Panasonic LUMIX LX7 at US$299 from Amazon now!

* If you're in Singapore (like me), street price for the LX7 is S$599.  There's a rebate offer for a free battery and a SG$50 NTUC voucher from authorized Lumix dealers until January 13th.  Not quite as good as the US deal, but it works for me ;)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not Just Another Fatbike

Milton Ramos leading the pack with his Sandman Hoggar Ti in the Titan Desert. Photo courtesy of Sandman Bikes.

Fatbikes have always been interesting to me.  Originally designed to be ridden on snow, Fatbikes have evolved to be simple, rugged bikes that you can ride just about anywhere (well, more rideable that a skinny-tired bike anyway).  The fat, 4" wide tires eat up roots, loose ground, rocks, sand and snow.  As a bonus, the wider tires apparently do less trail damage than skinnier tires.  Fat tires offer unmatched grip for steep climbs and descents and have some 'suspension' benefits as well.

The major down side with fat bikes is the weight.  Fatbikes weighing well over 30 lbs is the norm.  The fat tires can be draggy as hell, and the bikes can have sluggish steering characteristics.

At least one Fatbike manufacturer has taken a taken a different approach.  Sandman Bikes were designed from the ground up to be trail bikes, not snow bikes.  How's it different?  Other than the top models being specced with front suspension, I can't really say.  There is scant information available on their website, only just enough to find your size and order a bike. 

Milton Ramos and his Sandman Hoggar Ti.  Image courtesy of Sandman Bikes.
The proof is in the riding, and if I can't get to ride it, I'd like to hear from someone who has, or better yet, have some performance results.  What's encouraging is that the Belgium based Sandman has a sponsored rider, Milton Ramos, who has done quite well riding the company's top-end Hoggar Ti model, albeit using a combination of fat tires and 29er wheels.  Milton Ramos has managed to get the weight of his Hoggar Ti down to 12.5kg with fat tires, and under 10kg with 29er wheels.  Quite a respectable weight, plus the fact that he is riding the bike well says a lot about its handling qualities.

Quite frankly, I'm unlikely to give up my S-Works Epic to race the Hoggar, but it's a different kind of ride, and I'd really like to get my hands on one!

To give you an idea on what this bike is for, here are a couple of excellent videos by Martin Campoy, riding his Hoggar Ti in Nepal:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Adventure Starts Now!

Climbing Mt. Chola, Sichuan, China
What is adventure?  I define adventure as a physically and mentally challenging undertaking, with risk for physical danger and an uncertain outcome. 

Why do it?  For me, I enjoy the preparation, build-up and anticipation of a great adventure to come. I relish the physical challenge.  I like the sharp mental focus I feel as the world melts away until there is nothing left except me, and the task.  I like being able to weigh the risks, stare down my fear and taking an uncertain outcome to a successful conclusion.

Running an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert
First Steps to Adventure: Making Time
Well what stops a person from making an adventure happen?  Lack of time is the number excuse.  Ok, I hear you.  Find an adventure suitable to your geographic region and close to home.  Not everyone has Mt. Everest in his backyard, so for your first steps, you'll have to make do: sign up for something you like, perhaps sport climbing, kayaking, or maybe mountain biking.

Second Step: Finding Energy
The quickest way to getting more energy is to boost your muscle mass.  Crossfit is the fastest way I know to build functional athletic competency.  These days, functional strength is a buzzword and you'll probably be on the right track if you choose a gym with medicine balls, kettlebells, and lots of free weights.  If you are really tight on time, you can do Crossfit at home.  Go to for guidance on how to start.  Once you've stripped away excess fat and put on some muscle, your confidence will take a huge boost as well, and you'll be ready for Step Three.

Step Three: Building Skills and Experience
After taking the first two steps, you'll have a pretty good idea about your strengths and abilities.  This is the time to gain experience and build skills.  Sign up for courses, or join a club of like-minded people.   While the sky may not be the limit yet, there are plenty of good adventures out there waiting to be had! 

Step Four:  Look Further Afield
Now's the time to start making grand plans and turn those dreams into reality!  Make it real: Pen it into your calendar, Facebook it, and tell all your friends about it.  Stretch your abilities and push the limits.  It's all up to you. 

In memory of Ngima Grimen Sherpa, 1982-2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Langkawi Mountain Bike Race

Langkawi MTB Race 2012. Olympus OMD EM5, 45mm f/1.8.
I'm back from the Langkawi MTB Race where I learned a few things:

One: The Maxxis Ikon sucks in deep mud;
Two: Mud and 2.2" tires don't mix on the Specialized Epic's rear;
Three: Don't race when sick.

As a result of points One and Two (above), I got a few tire tips from the pros and I'll be switching the Ikon 2.2 (front/rear) to the Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1 on the rear, and the Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.25 on the front for the coming wet months.

Me on the urban xc section on Day 1. Photo courtesy Cycling Malaysia.
As a result of point Three (above), I had to pull out after day 3, but at least I got Bury Stander and Todd Wells to sign my bike, so the trip wasn't a total washout!

Bury Stander signing my bike.  Olympus OMD EM5, 20mm f/1.7.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Learn Mountain Biking Skills

MTBSkills Instructor Sandy Maxwell demonstrating a turn
When MTBSkills Instructor, Wilson Low, invited me to join him and two other instructors, Liz Mulconry and Sandy Maxwell, for a couple of days riding at Drak Bike Park in Batam, Indonesia, I gamely joined in.  I'm pretty fit, and was confident of being able to keep up with the group.  I did not expect to be blown away, but that's exactly what happened.  I could keep up on the straights, but as soon as the trail began weave it's way into the jungle... ZOOM.  They were gone.  I tried pedaling hard to catch up, jamming my brakes into each corner, then sprinting out of it, while all they seemed to do was flow effortlessly around each corner, so fast that there was was nothing I could do to keep up, and the only time I saw them again was when they stopped for a break.  It was apparent that I lacked some critical skills.

A couple of days later, we were back in Singapore.  The three MTBSkills instructors were giving a course in basic skills and asked if my wife and I would like to join in.  Laura, who had heard all about my experience on Drak definitely wanted in.
Step One: Get those elbow up!
Vision.  Position.  Momentum.  Technique.  That's their mantra.  It's about looking up the trail, getting your body in the correct posture, and controlling your speed.  It was like a light bulb going off in my head. Yes!  This is the way I should be riding, and no, it's not that easy, because for the past 15 years of mountain biking, I've been doing it wrong.  And that's the problem with getting lessons for biking skills.  We don't know we need them.  As MTBSkills likes to say "you don't know what you don't know".
Walking through the turn that Sandy demonstrated in the top image
Smooth is fast.  On my basic course, I learned to corner (there's a whole lot that goes into making a smooth turn, and yup, I had it all wrong).  And I learned to unweight the front wheel (yup, I got that wrong too), not only useful for clearing obstacles, but also for riding drops more smoothly.    Lessons are typically half-day, cost S$140, and run at a maximum instructor: student ratio of 1: 5.  For MTBSkills courses in Singapore, contact Wilson Low by phone at (65) 98784113 or by email at

Friday, September 28, 2012

Olympus TG-1

The Olympus TG-1
The Olympus TG-1 rugged compact camera has caught my eye.  While I'm still more likely to use the Panasonic LX-7 when I need a compact camera, the Olympus TG-1 has the best specifications I've seen in a rugged compact camera:
  • 25mm-100mm focal length range (full frame equivalent)
  • f/2.0-f/4.9 f-stop 
  • waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, GPS, etc...
  • effective image stabilization 
The lens covers a useful 25mm to 100mm range, which translate into a moderate wide angle to moderate telephoto range.  This covers a range useful for scenic outdoor shots to portraits.

It starts of with a relatively bright aperture of f/2.0 at the 25mm end.  Great for maintaining the higher shutter speeds needed to freeze motion, and in low light.  At the 100mm end, it slows down to a rather "ho hum" f/4.9.

The full specifications are available here.

There are some genuinely useful accessories that you can buy for the TG-1 which include a 19mm waterproof wide angle lens, a 170mm waterproof telephoto lens, and a waterproof dive housing.
Conversion Lens Accessories for the TG-1
The TG-1 does not shoot RAW images and initial reports suggest that the out-of-camera JPEG image colors are a bit muted.  That's not necessarily bad thing.  I would rather have the colors toned down a bit rather than have them overcooked, that way, I can still boost the colors in a post production program on my home computer.  If the colors come out overcooked from the camera, detail will be lost that you cannot recover.

The Olympus TG-1 is available below from

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ride for Peace

I've just returned from the 4th edition of The Tour de Timor.  The country has had a checkered past.  It was invaded and occupied by Indonesia in 1975, and after a long struggle, became independent in 2002.  It's troubles were not over.  In 2008, an assassination attempt on the life of it's president and prime minister was made, leaving both wounded.  This year, most of the UN peacekeeping force will be leaving, and the task of safeguarding the country will lie in the hands of the new president and the fledgling Timor Leste Armed Forces.

The 2012 Tour de Timor was the first time the race crossed into Indonesia, the land of its invaders, and was aptly nicknamed 'The Ride for Peace'.  Our team from Singapore was sponsored by Air Timor.  We finished 10th in our category and our teammate, Alvin, won the Mens Masters Division.  Here's a quick look at the race from a rider's (my) perspective:

I shot the video with 2 Gopro Heros: An HD, and an HD2.  Here's what I learned:
  • I don't like riding on road
  • The Gopro HD2 is much better than the older HD
  • I really needed my OMD (or GH2) for more lens options 
  • I rode one hard day without the Gopro and missed it
  • It would have been nice to have been able to review some shots
I keep learning more and more about making video, and although I had a clear idea of the video I wanted to make, the task of racing and making a cohesive vid were at occasionally at odds.  There was one long hard day where I elected not to carry the Gopro and focus on the task of racing, and of course, I regretted it.  I should have just carried the Gopro using the handlebar mount, which although is probably the worst possible place to mount the Gopro on a bike, is also the least obstructive position.

Incidentally, I think the best place to mount the Gopro is actually on top of the helmet.  From a single mount on top of the helmet, you actually have 2 positions: facing forward, and facing backwards.  In addition, you can quickly set your helmet on the ground and have a stable platform to shoot from.  I also find that the position on top of the helmet is more isolated from shock than the handlebar mount.  It also picks up less dust and water from splashes.

Some essential shots went missing.  I'll be packing at least the LCD screen so I can review shots and re-shoot any essential sequences.

The Gopro, compact and rugged, is great for race footage, but is really is not enough to round out and tell a full story.  I really needed more options like a longer lens and a faster lens, for low light, and for stills.  I felt my Olympus OMD was too precious to be stuffed into my duffle, thrown around, sat on or have other luggage piled on top of, and left in the sun and rain.  I'll find a way to bring it next time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Return to Timor

Bacau Kids at the 2009 Tour de Timor
On Saturday, I'll be heading back to Timor Leste for the 2012 Tour de Timor mountain bike race.  My team has a free slot (Whoopee!) courtesy of Air Timor and the Singapore Cycling Federation; with race entry, airfare and hotel fully sponsored by Air Timor (Thank you Air Timor!).

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you might have noticed the fewer number of posts lately.  One of the reasons is because I've been learning to shoot and edit video.  My video work sucks, and I've been embarrassed to post them.  I'm challenged by the fact that I suck at it, and so I am determined to make my videos 'unsuck' ;o) 
Biking the Flume Trail, Lake Tahoe, California.  HDR with the Olympus OMD EM5.
My adventure and travel photography equipment has morphed into a video/stills kit, comprising of an Olympus OMD EM5 with four lenses (although mainly just the 7-14mm and 45mm f/1.8 lenses), a Gopro HD Hero2 and a few Gorillapods.  The OMD isn't the best for video.  Some of the issues I experienced were my fault as I left the OMD in Vibrant color mode with the sharpening and contrast maxed out to try and get better AF performance (see The Whole Enchilada).  I'm sorry I sold my GH2 which was better for video, but I'm NOT sorry I bought the OMD as the 5-axis image stabilization is fantastic, and overall, suits my shooting style better.  However, the major issue I have to work around with the OMD is that the continuous autofocus just doesn't work for me.
    The Gopro has found a place in my kit as it not only shoots video, but also makes an awesome timelapse camera.  Check out the timelapse sequence at 3:15 on The Whole Enchilada.  As you can see, it rained during the sequence, but with the waterproof housing, I can leave it outdoors without fear. 
    Geyser Pass Hut where we spent our final night during our 7-day, hut-to-hut ride from Durango to Moab. HDR with the Olympus OMD EM5.
    Anyhow, I'm committed to improving my video work, and I hope to have something to show you when I get back.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    Welcome Panasonic LX7

    Panasonic LX7
    It's been a while since I've updated my compact Panasonic LX3.  When the LX5 was released, I didn't think the upgrades made the cost worthwhile, and in fact, bought another LX3.  The result of which both Panasonic LX3s made it up to the summit of Mt. Everest with me.  One of them came home with me, and I presented the other to my trusty Sherpa.  Both are still in use today.

    However, my LX3 is showing it's age, and is long overdue for retirement.  What to replace it with?  I'll be frank, I'm biased.  I loved the combination of Panasonic technology married to the Leica lens on the LX3.  I don't think I can go wrong with the LX7 which brings an even faster (bigger aperture f/1.4 compared to f/2) lens compared to the LX3 and LX5.  Cleverly, they have included a built-in ND (Neutral Density) filter in case you want to use a big aperture combined with a slow shutter speed in bright light.  The ND filter is even more useful in video mode when you might want to use a big aperture for creative effect, but are limited to using a certain shutter speed.  I also like what they have done with the control layout.  The ergonomics look pretty good, better than the LX5, much better than the LX3.

    Should you buy an LX7?  This comes down to a few factors.  Do you need a camera with interchangeable lenses?  If so, one of the mirrorless M4/3 cameras like the Olympus Pens or Panasonic GX1 might be right for you.  This would increase your creative choices with different lenses, but also increase the size, cost, and weight of your set-up.

    If you don't need or want interchangeable lenses, then the LX7 looks pretty good.  It's not the smallest premium compact.  If you are really looking for the smallest premium compact, that honor might belong to the Canon S100.  The small size comes with certain tradeoffs though.  A slower (smaller maximum aperture) lens, possibly harder to grip and not feel as secure in the hand.

    If I were undertaking some extreme adventure today, like climbing Mt. Everest (Err... no thank you.  Once was enough!) where keeping it lightweight is of key importance, the LX7 would be at the top of my list.  I'd wait for some pro reviews though, just to be sure that Panasonic haven't dropped the ball. 

    Just my 2 cents...

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    The Whole Enchilada

    Just got back from a mountain biking trip to Durango and Moab.  Although I now live in Singapore, and it's a long journey to get there, I've been to both those places before, and know there's plenty of good biking.  This time around, we had a diverse group of friends with a wide range in  ability and fitness come ride with us.  Ilya, was a former downhill pro rider and Felix, was nearly an absolute rookie who hauled his mountain bike out of cold storage a month before the trip.  Nevertheless, we all had a blast.

    The riding was varied and the weather was good for the most part - a little bit hot, a little bit cold, a little bit wet.  All in all, the weather held out for us and could hardly be better.  There was a lot of dirt road, but there were also a lot of scenic bits, and some sweet singletrack.  Of course, the ride included the awesome 'The Whole Enchilada' singletrack Trail, which dropped us into Moab for the finish.

    I used my newish Olympus OMD EM5 with mainly a 7-14mm lens, and an old GoPro HD for the POV and timelapse sequences. 

    Thursday, May 31, 2012

    Just Another Day On Everest

    Jetstream Winds Rip the North side of Mt. Everest
     2012 has been a tough Everest season, with overcrowding contributing to four deaths on a single day on the South Col route.  All three climbers, that I know of, from Singapore; Kumaran Rasappan, Grant Rawlinson and Valerie Boffy, were successful in their bids to climb the highest mountain on earth, and I'm very proud of their achievements.  I know that training to climb Mt. Everest is especially challenging for those living on the tiny island nation of Singapore, where the highest hill is only 105m tall.
    Chores at Everest Basecamp
    It was just a year ago that I stood on the North Ridge, on my way up to the summit after a night of battling horrendous wind and difficult snow conditions.  We had been moving for 10 hours straight, unable to eat, drink or stop because of the intense cold from the wind.  I plonked myself down, trying to find some shelter, but there was none.  I was parched and hungry, but my water bottles and energy bars had frozen solid inside my downsuit.  Jamling, my Sherpa, checked in with Jaime, our expedition leader.  It turns out that Jaime had earlier recalled all climbers back down because of the weather, but now allowed us to continue, given how close we were to the summit.
    Crossing a Crevasse on the way up to North Col 7000m
     We were alone on the mountain.  It was just my team mate Esther, myself and our sherpas.  I was tired beyond belief, but we were so close, just an hour and a half to the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth.  I asked Jamling who had been to the summit of Everest 6 times previously if he thought we should continue.  He replied, "Ken, for a Sherpa, this is no problem.  It is just another day on Everest."
    Jugging up the fixed line to North Col at 7000m
     Those were just the right words.  We pushed on, but Esther would go no further.  Unknown to us at the time, Esther's Sherpa had, for whatever reason, not carried her extra oxygen.  Given the conditions, it had would take us more time than was normal to reach the summit, and I would need all the bottles I had been allocated.
    Camp 3 at 8300m the evening before our summit push
    There was nothing heroic about my final steps to the top of the world.  I was effectively blind, I had stupidly removed my goggles to see better, and during the final tricky traverse, had my corneas burned by the intensely cold wind.  I confessed my condition to Jamling, but as it was only 15 minutes to the top, he hooked me up to a short-rope, and I stumbled up, giddy from the altitude and short of breath as I struggled to keep pace with the powerful Sherpa.
    Traversing the North Ridge of Everest at about 8700m
    Through my frosted vision, the summit appeared.  First, a ring of pray flags, then the actual summit, about the size of two large dining tables, decorated with more pray flags, and littered with discarded oxygen bottles.  It seemed we were alone on the mountain.  There were no other climbers, either from the South, or the North.  I sat on the summit for about 20 minutes, worried about how I was going to descend, while Jamling excitedly took video and photographs to capture the moment.
    Jamling, me and Pujung very near the summit
    I can only describe my feelings as relief.  Relief that I would not have to come back next year: I had seen death close-up on the mountain and was repulsed by the callous manner in which I had to ignore them; repulsed by the amount of trash left on the hill; repulsed by my own selfish attitude in my drive to reach the top of the highest mountain on earth.  Nope, I would not be back.
    Top of the world:  8848m on the summit of Mt. Everest
    Fixed ropes exist on both the normal North and South routes, which lures climbers into thinking that the climbing is easy, but Everest has not been beaten into submission.  Everest is still Everest, the highest, most inhospitable, isolated place on earth.  No one conquers Everest.  For a short period each year when the jetstream winds die down, a few lucky climbers will reach the top, stay for a few minutes, and escape with their lives.
    Looking shit-faced near the Exit Cracks on decent back to Camp 3

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

    Return to Drak

    We made a short trip back to Drak Bike Park on Batam, Indonesia, a couple of weeks ago and made this short video.  Given the limited riding space in Singapore, and the close proximity of Batam to Singapore, Drak has a lot to offer.  Here's a sampling of what a day's ride could look like:

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    The Next Adventure Bike

    About three and a half years ago, I wrote a piece on the Surly Long Haul Trucker titled The Ideal Adventure Bike.
    The Surly Troll.  Image from the Surly website.
    We'll, my wife Laura, and I have decided that long distance road touring really isn't our thing.  We'll ride road, but prefer it leads out to some dirt.  She prefers a mountain bike setup as well.  This means we could tour on our mountain bikes (Giant Anthem X), or outfit her LHT with front suspension, flat bars, V or disc brakes, and rapid-fire shifters.  Touring with our Anthems is possible, however, since we've built up the Anthems to race, and they are somewhat precious (not to mention fussy).  Rebuilding the LHT into a mountain bike will cost us more than the stock bike, and so we began the search for our next adventure bike.
    Take a few moments to get your head round this mind-boggling slot dropout, and you’ll see how clever it is. I love a bike with versatility. The Troll can run derailleurs, a Rohloff Speedhub – a third bolt anchors the OEM2 plate in place - or slim down to singlespeed. The position of the disc brake tab allows a conventional rack to be teamed with Avid’s mechanical BB7s.  Image and caption © Cass Gilbert
    The search lead us back to one of Surly's strong, low cost, steel frames: The Troll.  In short, the Troll is a 26" steel mountain bike that is disc and rack compatible.  But that's not why it's cool.  The Troll can take any brake setup - disc, V or cantis; it's clever dropout design can take a Rohloff, derailleur, or single speed; build it up rigid or front suspension; and fit up to 2.7" fat tires, or big wheels like 650b (or even 29er?).
    Unleash the Troll. Take it across a continent… Image and Caption © Cass Gilbert
    I've never ridden a Troll, so I set out to find out more information from others who have.

    Troll vs. LHT
    Cass Gilbert ( has allowed me to reprint some of his thoughts on the Troll:

    'So which is best for what? If paved roads and good quality gravel tracks are your staple diet on tour, you’re probably better off with a Trucker. It’s built for the heaviest of loads and from what I’ve seen, has become to go-to bike for those tackling the Panamerican Highway. But if you hanker after more challenging trails, envisage battling through muck and mud, and ride singletrack on your days off before visiting the local museum, then Troll is where it’s at. The fact that it isn’t designed to handle as much cargo shouldn’t be an issue, as by default, those heading offroad tend to pare down their kitlist.'

    Read the rest of Cass Gilbert's extensive review on the Troll here.

    Joe Cruz, my bike guru from the original LHT Ideal Adventure Bike post, adds the following to the Troll vs. LHT discussion:

    "Where there's a mix of asphalt and dirt roads with the occasional mountain bikey singletrack (but not weeks of it), I stand by everything I've ever thought about the LHT. In a different sense, it can do anything, too. If you told me I had 600k of asphalt to cover in three days, great, can do on LHT. If you said I then had to ride 40k of mountain bike trail, yeah, LHT can do that, too. When both of those are going to show up on a single tour, that's the bike I'd bring."

    Both the LHT and Troll are valid choices, and the bike you choose will very much depend on the type of riding you want to do (dirt or tarmac), and how long you will be out for (will you need racks/panniers).

    Oddly enough, what we've taken back from this discussion is that all we really need is just a hardtail mountain bike.  We don't need eyelets for a rack/pannier setup as we travel really light, and although steel is nice, we would rather have a lighter frame that we may also race with.  So we are now looking at getting a 29er aluminum hardtail, build it up with some rugged parts, strap on some bags (like the bags from Revelate Designs) and just go ride.

    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    It's Not All About Flipping Tires

    There's a lot of Crossfit bashing going on, most of it directed at the elitist cult that Crossfit is perceived to have grown into.  I'm not going into that.  For me, it's about the training method and principles.  Forgive me, I'm a Crossfit Zealot.  Nevertheless, I shall do my best to break it down into what I see as the good and the bad, and how I've adapted it to enhance the enjoyment and competitiveness of my sport, activities and life.

    Crossfit is a community developed, empirically driven, clinically tested strength and conditioning program.  I've been using Crossfit as my primary strength and conditioning training for more than two years, training both with an affiliate (that would be a gym with instructors), as well as on my own.  Prior to that, I used a conventional bodybuilding-based gym training approach.
    Mmm... Prowlers... My favorite workout!  Photo © Laura Liong
    Constantly Varied
    You don't get to choose your workout.  In essence, your Crossfit workout is 'randomly' selected out of a hopper and could range from heavy weightlifting, to fast sprints with gymnastic movements, and could last from a few minutes to over an hour. 

    The Good:
    We tend to choose to do what we like to do and avoid doing what we don't like to do.  This leads us down the dangerous path of training our strengths and avoiding our weaknesses.  A varied, randomized workout avoids this.  It's training for any and all contingencies, the unknown and unknowable.  This type of training works well for the person who needs to be a generalist: Soldiers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and some athletes (like mountain climbers, rugby players, mixed martial arts fighters). 

    The Bad:
    If you are a specialist, for example an athlete involved in a sport requiring high skill, in a known environment for a fixed time (like an indoor track cyclist), then you may need more than the generalized training that a pure Crossfit program provides.  If you have a coach who can identify your strengths and weaknesses, you would benefit more by targeting your specific weaknesses, than from a generalized program.

    My Take:
    These days, I train Crossfit on my own, usually twice a week.  I choose my workouts based on the longer term goals of my training program, a race or event.  I'm at risk of falling into the trap of training my strengths, but it's a compromise given the time I have.
    A broken foot is no reason not to workout.
    Functional Movements
    This is the current buzz word at fitness centers worldwide.  What does it mean?  Functional movements are how your body naturally does real-life work, like lifting things.  Your body knows to move that way because the movements are naturally efficient, powerful and safe.  For example, lifting a heavy sack of potatoes efficiently to your shoulder would be a movement called a 'Clean'.  The clean is naturally the most powerful, and hence efficient, way to lift a load from the ground up to shoulders.  Executed at a high skill level, it is part of an Olympic lifting movement. Examples of other functional movements are squats, running, and pull ups.  Functional movements are proven to illicit a high neuroendocrine response which in turn does a whole lot of good things to your body, like increasing bone density and human growth hormone.

    The Good:
    Form follows function, and unlike some other workout programs that focus purely on cosmetics, Crossfit uses functional movements almost exclusively because their goal is making you stronger, faster and more durable.  Most workouts can be done with simple equipment: a barbell with weights, medicine ball, kettlebell, jump rope, pull-up bar and some space to run. 

    The Bad:
    Although natural, some complex functional movement patterns need to be taught, because our bodies haven't learned the coordination and sequencing needed to do those movements.  For example, the Clean.  Crossfit is one of the few training programs that still teaches the Olympic lifts - The Snatch and The Clean and Jerk.  Both of which are excellent power builders that induce a profound neuroendocrine response.

    My Take:
    I haven't stepped into a conventional gym in years.  Years of spending time on machines doing isolation movements like leg extensions and leg curls haven't done much for me.  The proof is not in looking at yourself in the mirror, it's in living your life, now and in the future.  If you lose the ability to squat (a functional movement), you lose the ability to walk up stairs or lift yourself up off the ground.  In short, you lose the ability to live life independently.  No amount of leg extensions or leg curls will give it back to you. 
    Someone to Watch Over Me.  Supervision plus motivation: another reason to workout at an affiliate.
    High Intensity
    The heart of the Crossfit program is that the workout, ie. the constantly varied, functional movements, is executed at a high intensity.  Why?
    To answer that question, we have to get scientific:

    (force x distance / time) = Power

    That is the definition of power.  The less time it takes to do a given amount of work, the more power.  In simple terms, Power = Intensity.  The more intense the workout, the more power you are putting out.  Training for more power will improve just about any sport.

    The Good:
    There is increasing evidence that shorter, high intensity workouts are far more beneficial than long, slow workouts.  They are also very time efficient.

    The Bad:
    High intensity workouts hurt.  A lot of beginners are turned off by this sort of training.  The loss of form as fatigue sets in is one of the bones of contention that Crossfit objectors raise.  Functional movements are inherently safe, however, it's best to work out at an affiliate where others can watch and correct your form.

    My Take:
    High intensity training works. However, it is strong medicine and I have to be careful about doing too much, which can quickly lead to overtraining.  I scale down both the load (weight) and number of sets as required.  If I feel the need, I'll even substitute a functional strength training session instead of Crossfit by removing the intensity.

    Bottom Line:
    It's not for everyone.  Check it out and decide for yourself.  Learn more at

    If you are in Singapore, try one of the affiliates:
    Crossfit Singapore; or
    Reebok Crossfit Enduro

    Saturday, April 21, 2012

    A Black Hole

    The past six months of my life have been something of a black hole, sucked up by a mountain bike race in South Africa called the Cape Epic.  During the three months leading up to the race, I biked an average of 1000km a month, climbing over 37,000m... and it still wasn't enough.  I failed to complete the race with my teammate.

    It wasn't a total loss.  I learned a lot too.  Still photography is difficult to do on a bike, and even more difficult to involve a viewer in the action.  But strapping on a small video camera to capture moving footage on a bike is relatively easy to do and easy to involve the viewer, and I so began the  process of learning how to shoot video.

    GoPro HD Hero
    I bought myself a GoPro HD Hero camera with various clips and attachments, and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 with 14-140mm kit lens, a Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 wide angle zoom, and a Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Pancake Lens.  I also bought Final Cut Pro X, and along the way, learned that the iPhone 4s makes a pretty good video camera ;o)

    Since my Cape Epic race was a bust, I thought I'd show you a couple of my training trips, and share a little of what I've learned about shooting video on a bike.   Keep in mind I'm still learning this stuff, so if you've got some feedback for me, I'd love to hear it.
    Olloclip Quick-Connect Lens with Glif Tripod Mount

    Here's an early trip in December last year.  I shot this entirely on my iPhone 4s and edited the footage on FCP X.  Since then, I learned that the iPhone makes an excellent bike touring camera.  With IOS 5.0, you can turn on the camera and shoot one handed.  It's not really wide enough when shooting video as the iPhone crops down a bit, perhaps because of the image stabilizer.  I'll probably buy the Olloclip Quick-Connect Lens Solution,  which gives you 3 lenses in one - fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.  I probably also pick up the Glif Tripod Mount which I can use with a small Joby Gorillapod.

    This second video is from a trip to Northern Thailand in March this year.  I had learned a little more.  Compare this video to another from an earlier trip to Thailand in February Here.  In this one, I've incorporated a greater variety of shots and blended them better into the action.

    There are many places you can mount a GoPro.  I tried to incorporate a variety into the final production.  In this video, I shot from my helmet, forwards and backwards, used the Chest Harness, shot from under the down tube and from the handlebars.  If I have a preference, it is to shoot mainly from the helmet.  It collects less dust and water that way, and can be slightly more stable than from the handlebars, and can be changed quickly to face either forwards or backwards.  Also, If you need to handhold the camera, it is easier to remove your helmet and shoot holding your helmet with the camera on top than it is to unscrew the GoPro from the handlebar mount.  Putting your helmet with camera on top also makes a good impromptu tripod.  Because I can't see what I'm shooting, I generally shoot in 4:3 mode (960p Tall Mode r4) and then crop to 16:9 if possible during post-processing.

    Here's what I would do more of in future:
    1. More pre-planning;
    2. Use copyright free music;
    3. Steadier shots with a tripod;
    4. Clean the camera lens more often;
    5. Risk more - attach the camera lower on the bike to show wheels, or derailleur.

    Sunday, April 8, 2012

    Nikon D800: Hey, Who Moved My Cheese?

    Nikon D800
     Wow! 36MP and one of the best performing sensors we have ever seen, the Nikon D800 is a game changer.  Some are saying it's too much camera.  It's not.  In a few years, 36MP won't seem like a lot, and if you buy the D800 now, it 's likely you won't need an upgrade for a few years.  The question I'm asking myself is: Do I need this camera NOW? 

    Like many others, I'd been waiting anxiously for the D700 replacement for a LONG time.  It never came.  Instead of taking Canon's approach of making smaller, evolutionary changes to their product lineup, Nikon has chosen to take a revolutionary step up.  The thing is, when I examine my needs (how I shoot, and what I shoot for) I don't really need the D800 now.   

    To me, the D800 is more like a medium format camera in a smaller, lighter sized body.  I would have to employ medium format techniques and the best lenses to maximize the potential of the D800.  That means I would have to slow everything down, maybe use a tripod, and use heavier, 'professional' lenses.  It's also a touch slow at 4 frames-per-second out of the box.  There's a DX mode, which looks useful for someone transitioning out of their cropped Nikon bodies, but it's not a reason why someone buys this camera.

    The D800 would really suit a variety of commercial photographers: like wedding, portrait, product or nature; where the subject isn't very active, and the end result requires very high resolution with a very high dynamic range.  For travel and adventure, I need a camera that is more versatile.  My D7000 is lighter, shoots at a higher frame rate out of the box, and gives me more than enough resolution for stock photography and magazine prints. 

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    So, you want to climb Mt. Everest...

    Sunrise at 8500m on the North Ridge of Everest. Photo by Jamling Bhote.
    So you've got it in your head that you want to climb the big 'E'.  It's coming up to a year since I climbed Everest, and I still get asked a lot how to go about doing it.  I'm not an expert, but I did do a lot of work researching, planning, and training for the climb.  So for what it's worth, here are 10 tips that I'd like to share:

    1. Weigh The Risks
    Climbing Everest is not that difficult technically, but it is one of the more risky climbs you can do.  Despite improvements in equipment and weather forecasting, someone dies on Everest every year.  Last year,  there were 131 summits from Tibet (where I also summitted) with 1 death, and 277 summits from Nepal with 2 deaths.  You need to think this over, and maybe talk it over with your family.
    At 8700m on the way to the summit. Photo by Jamling Bhote.
    2. Build Experience
    Climb everything: rock, snow, ice.  Learn to move efficiently over different terrain and conditions with a heavy pack, boots and crampons.  Get used to clipping into and out of anchors and ropes.  Learn to work a jumar ascender until it becomes second nature: on summit day, you will be doing this with very little oxygen, little sleep, and with bulky gloves or mittens on.

    3. Find Sponsors
    Climbing Everest is an expensive venture.  Today, it will cost about USD$40,000 - $60,000 (excluding equipment and training), depending on the logistics provider you choose and whether you decide to climb via the North (Tibet) or South (Nepal).  Ideally, you can pay for this yourself.  If not, the search for sponsors can take some time, and it would be best to start this process early.
    Our little group (Jamling, me and Pujung) 30 minutes from the summit. Photo by Kaji Sherpa.
    4. Personal Sherpa
    Get advice from other summiteers on who the best personal sherpas are, find one, and book him early.  A good personal sherpa will ensure that the hundred and one things to take care of on your summit bid (oxygen, food, etc) are taken care of, and be a reassuring pillar of strength as you climb above and beyond your previous limit.  I used Jamling Bhote (, a 7-time Everest summiteer, and booked him a year in advance.  During my summit bid, I had some reservations as we were climbing in brutally cold and windy conditions.  I didn't have 8000m experience, or a guide, and so I looked to Jamling for guidance.  Jamling confidently told me that it was just a normal day on Everest.  We pushed on and made the summit an hour and half later in improving conditions.

    4. Specific 8000m Experience
    Beyond building general climbing experience, you should also test yourself and your equipment on an 8000m peak.  You also get to become familiar with using oxygen systems.  Cho Oyu is a great mountain to build 8000m experience, and the main climbing season is in Autumn, about six months prior to the typical Spring season on Everest. 

    6. Equipment
    Buy the best best and the warmest gear you can afford.  In good conditions, you can summit in almost anything, but when conditions aren't ideal, you may still be able to summit in warmer gear.  For example, use a one-piece down suit and not a two-piece.  The one-piece will be lighter and warmer.  Similarly, buy and use the best and warmest boots, preferably relatively new, and not some 5-year old borrowed boots.  I used the Millet Everest boot, which are supposed to be the warmest of the high altitude boots.  My toes were freezing, and if not for the chemical toe warmers inside, I doubt that I would have summited.

    7. Training
    There's a difference between building experience and training.  Think of building experience as an ongoing process of accumulating knowledge which can take many years, and training as physical preparation which covers several months leading up to an expedition.

    There are 2 main types of training you need to do: Sport Specific and General Physical Preparedness (GPP).  Sport specific training should form the bulk of your training, and for mountaineering, it is simply doing a lot of mountaineering, or if you can't get out to the mountains, it can be done by carrying a heavy pack plus ankle weights (to simulate the weight of boots and crampons) and walking up and down hills or stairs.  GPP is training for any and all contingencies.  For example, walking up and down stairs won't necessarily give you the ability to jump over crevasses, sprint for cover, or move heavy loads of expedition gear.  You'll need to do some other type of training, and the best I've come across for this sort of thing is CrossFit.  If you're not familiar with CrossFit, think of it as gym work on crack.  It combines Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and cardio into a short, intense session. 
    CrossFit at Photo by Laura Liong.
    8. Hypoxic Training
    I bought a used hypoxic generator which removes oxygen from the air you breathe.  There are several different ways to train with this device, and I used them all.  One of the ways is to sleep in it.  I spent the six months leading up to my Everest expedition sleeping inside an oxygen deprived tent (on the floor with a thermarest and sleeping bag).  It aids acclimatization during the early stages of the expedition, keeping nausea and headaches at bay and allowing you to eat and sleep better, giving you a head start in staying healthy.
    Hypoxic training at '4,800m'.  Doggies on the bed, I sleep in the tent on the floor.  Photo by Laura Liong.
    9. Stay Healthy
    Everest is a two-month long expedition, but it all boils down to the seven-days of your summit bid.  If you fall sick (catch an infection or get a stomach bug), you risk losing your chance for the summit.  You need to eat well, ensuring adequate protein intake, which could be difficult.  I brought a Meal Replacement Powder (MRP), and it was useful at the higher camps for the times when I couldn't eat solid food.  Fresh produce may not be readily available, and I chose to supplement my diet with fish oil, probiotics and a multi-vitamin.  Jamling and I also used Silver Sol, a broad spectrum microbial (kills bacteria, viruses, and fungus) throughout the expedition.  I also used a Totobobo Anti-Pollution Face Mask during the drive in to basecamp.  Some links below if you want to buy any of this stuff.

    10. Actively Seek Advice
    There are not that many people that have climbed Everest (By being the last to summit in Spring '11,  I became the 3436th person to summit).  Still, you can find useful information online.  Alan Arnette and Project Himalaya are a couple of good websites to start with, and eventually, I climbed Everest with Project Himalaya.  I'm also lucky that a few of my friends have also summited Everest.  They were my inspiration to climb Everest, and also an unlimited source of information.

    There you have it.  Best of luck!
    The Summit... Yay!  Image taken off video captured by Jamling Bhote.
    Here are the Supplements I use:
    Now Foods Super EPA Fish Oil
    Now Foods GR8 Dophilus Probiotics
    Now Foods Adam Multi Tablet
    Silver Biotics (Silver Sol)
    BSN Syntha-6 Vanilla Ice Cream MRP
    If you order any of the above from iHerb, please use discount code KOH756 to get $5 off your first order (I get 2% of the sale too - Woohoo!)

    Totobobo Anti-Polution Facemask - Use discount code adventurenomad at checkout to get a discount.

    Saturday, January 21, 2012

    Nikon 1 System... eh?

    The Nikon 1 System is Nikon's version of the mirrorless cameras that have been so popular these past few years and created a sort of revival for the business.  There are two bodies in the system.  The J1 (smaller, lighter, cheaper), and the V1 which comes with a built-in electronic viewfinder, dust reduction system, better battery life but loses the built-in pop-up flash of the J1.  For outdoor use, an electronic viewfinder is almost mandatory, hence the V1 will be of more interest for adventure and travel use.
    Nikon V1 (White).  Image courtesy
    The system has a total of 4 native lenses:

    10mm f/2.8
    10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
    10-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR
    10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR PD-Zoom 

    The '1' system has a crop factor of 2.7, which means that a 10mm lens has the 35mm or full-frame equivalent of 27mm, which is a moderately wide angle lens.
    White Nikon J1 with assorted white '1' lenses

    My take:  I don't have a great depth of knowledge about the '1' System, but it seems pretty expensive for what you get, but then again, the micro four third cameras are all pretty expensive too.  But micro four third sensors is bigger than the Nikon 1, and should theoretically anyway, give them an edge over the Nikon 1.  In this respect, Sony's NEX-7 looks very interesting, as it uses an even bigger sensor, about the same size as APS-C or cropped sensor DSLRs.

    The Nikon 1 does have promise though.  I'll need to see a native ultra-wide lens before I'll take another look, as well as better video performance.  For now though, I'll pass.