How Far North?

Upon landing at the first leg of a multi-country tour of Asia, a friend boasted:

I’ll send you something better later, but: we got up to 84.5 degrees N today 🙂 By my jetlagged head math, that’s only about 333 miles from Santa Claus.

I would have liked to have been able to respond with the farthest north I’ve been, but I didn’t know. My wife and I flew to Italy several years ago, and somewhere along that flight path contains the farthest north I’ve been. I didn’t have a GPS with me like my friend on his Asia trip, so I’ll have to make a reasonable approximation.

The flight segment that holds my northernmost point would have been along our return route, from Amsterdam to Detroit. Why the return route in particular? Eastbound flights tend to follow the jet stream to take advantage of tailwinds, provided they’re at appropriate latitudes. Westbound flights follow great circle paths, and in the northern hemisphere, that  means they will go farther north on a westbound route.

Armed with the knowledge that straight lines on a polar map are great circles, I made an attempt to dust off my trigonometry. I came up with an answer of xxx degrees north. That equates to xxx miles from the North Pole.

Later in the day I remembered that the rule about polar maps is that the route must cross the center of the map in order to be a great circle. So my answer derived from longhand trig was invalid. I searched around the internet for a way to find the northernmost point on a great circle arc, and did not come up with a method that I could comprehend in a reasonable amount of time. R has a package (geosphere) available, however, that can easily give me exactly the answer I was looking for.

> library(geosphere)
> # World map data
> data(wrld)
> # Detroit
> dtw <- c(-83.353388, 42.212444)
> # Amsterdam
> ams <- c(4.763889, 52.308613)
> # Compute great circle
> gci <- gcIntermediate(dtw, ams)
> # More accurate method for determining point of maximum latitude
> f <- function(lon){gcLat(dtw, ams, lon)}
> opt <- optimize(f, interval=c(-180, 180), maximum=TRUE)
> maxLat <- c(opt$maximum, opt$objective)
> print(maxLat)
[1] -28.99516 57.28472

So, I have been as far north as 57.28 degrees. What does that look like on a map, and how far from the North Pole is that in miles?

> # North Pole. Keep the longitude from the point of maximum latitude
> np <- c(maxLat[1], 90)
> print(np)
[1] -28.99516 90.00000
> npdist <- gcIntermediate(maxLat, np)
> png('gc.png')

> plot(wrld, type = 'l', xlim = c(-150, 50), ylim = c(30, 90))
> grid()
> lines(gci, lwd = 2, col = 'blue')
> points(rbind(dtw, ams), col = 'red', pch = 20, cex = 2)
> points(rbind(np), pch=20, cex=2, col='dark blue')
> lines(npdist, lty=2)

> # distance in meters
> dist <- dist2gc(dtw, ams, np)
> # distance in miles
> print(dist / 1609.344)

So, there we have it. I’ve been to within 2263 miles or so of Santa Claus.


GPS mowing

Mowing the lawn with a GPS is an easy way to make a big messy blob of a map!

Air Force Marathon 2009

Saturday was a beautiful day for a marathon! The weather was ideal: cool at the start, with a light breeze.

As with most major running events, this one was well organized, well staffed, and well supplied. I only have one minor complaint about the race expo, and that is the selection of the halls of the Nutter Center as the location. We probably went to packet pickup at the peak time, but we had little other choice, because of our arrival schedule in Dayton. 10,000 people do not fit well in the concourse of a basketball arena, especially when the flow of people is choked by vendors filling up the walkway with their merchandise.

Given our experience with the absurdly long 2+ hour waits for buses at last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, I also was hoping for more detail in the printed literature about the parking shuttle schedules for race day. (The last thing you want is to be on the far side of the Pentagon’s 67 acre parking lot when the starting gun goes off!) I tried to just trust that this race would be better, and indeed it was. (The volunteer who was staffing our pickup point on race morning was having frazzled exchanges on her radio because we had to wait almost five whole minutes!) We followed the suggestion to arrive an hour before the start, and we were just fine.

5.  The finish lineWe were treated to an impressive flyover (“the sound of freedom,” as those in the Air Force apparently like to call it), paratroopers unfurling enormous POW and American flags; and the woman who sang the national anthem did a truly beautiful job. I was struck by the respect of the crowd. Every single individual who was present was absolutely silent and attentive during the anthem.

I cannot think of the last time I had so much room at the start of a race. Participants, at least the ones who started near me, did a good job observing the pace lineup, so there was no shuffling and tripping over feet as runners jockeyed for their chosen pace. This made for an unusually pleasant start.

The first couple of miles seemed like one very long and continuous, but relatively gentle uphill climb. While the wheeled athletes were given a few minutes’ head start, the initial hills caused several of them to get a slow start, and I passed some early in the race. I chuckled to myself, because I knew that in just a few minutes, they would be screaming past me again. remainsI enjoyed making mental notes of the things I would have pointed out to my son, had I been pushing him in the jogging stroller: lots of geese, two fire stations, a flock of starlings trying to intimidate a hawk, construction equipment, police cars, rusting remains of old aircraft, and more. Most of the participants were silent, so the early part of the race had a meditative feel, just the sounds of birds and feet interrupted the quiet morning. Perfect!

There was a great turnout of folks in the Fairborn section, with people lining both sides of Main, Grand, and Broad streets. I called out to some diners enjoying a delicious looking breakfast at their the sidewalk table that they were being pretty unfair. Residents had lots of patriotic decorations that boosted the festive environment, as well.

I always enjoy the lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Mini, so I expected to enjoy running down a stretch of real USAF taxiway during this race. However, this segment came in the second half of the race, so the long, straight slog with no shade and no breeze was not very enjoyable. pylonsI tried to make it fun by crossing over the pylons onto the taxiway itself, rather than the shoulder, but it was hard to get very excited. (See my track line at right: the other side of the yellow paint line wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.) While I was running this stretch, there was what appeared to be a replica of a Wright Flyer flying overhead. While it was neat to see, it buzzed around so slowly that it reminded me of how slowly I felt I was going.

In contrast, the volunteers staffing the aid stations in this stretch did a wonderful job combating the monotony of the second half of the course. They were amazingly friendly and enthusiastic. After the taxiway, the route along the tree-lined Bayou Road and Patrol Roads was a most welcome change. Four of the last six miles retraced an earlier portion of the route, following a downhill and steeply banked Highway 444. This caused more eccentric motion in my quads and stressed my ankles more than I was accustomed to, so this is definitely an area that I will need to focus on in training for other long races. (The only problem: where to find hills and banked curves in Fishers?)

Dayton area race spectators should be made aware that there was not enough cowbell. We need our cowbell! I had the unexpected treat of seeing my family near the 22 mile marker. David could have been ringing his cowbell, but he had been too busy using it as a digger. Still, what a welcome boost to see them!

This course had a ton of aid stations. I never wanted for more fluids or gel packets. There must have been more than one per mile on average. I could have handled a less offensive flavor than chocolate gel packets, but I certainly would rather have that than nothing, or to fuss with carrying my own with me.

finishWhat a welcome sight the finish line was! As with the Marine Corps Marathon, the finish line was in sight long before we actually reached it, but this year there were no cruel tricks like a steep uphill climb to the finish. Instead, the last tenth of a mile passed under the wings of several of the aircraft at the Air Force Museum, which I found to be a fun way to finish. As expected, the finish area was congested, but not the worst I have seen. After milling around and picking up lots of goodies, I started to look for my family. Because I finished earlier than I thought (yay new PR), I was looking for a while. The slow shuffling wasn’t the wisest thing I could have done, and the price I paid for not stretching better was the sudden onset of the worst muscle cramps I have ever experienced. I was instantly and completely immobilized. Watching the knots form visibly as my calf muscles seized up completely solid and rock hard, combined with the shooting pain, was impressive if not exactly comfortable. I didn’t know that muscles could even do that. Two anonymous good samaritans came to my rescue and helped loosen my legs, and their beating and kneading hurt even worse, but they quickly worked it out. They were yet another example of the great people who make up the running community.

All told, the USAF put on a great event. It was great to be there with my supportive family. We’ll see if Emily plans to write about her experience also.

kmlAir Force Marathon in Google Earth (157 kB)

Strollerblading the Westfield Monon extension

We hadn’t yet been on the northern extension of the Monon Trail in Westfield yet, so yesterday we decided to check it out. The trail has been extended another 1.25 miles from 146th to a little past 156th. There is gravel beyond that (probably to 161st), but we couldn’t continue because my wheels wouldn’t have been very successful. David rode like a champ and was quite talkative, as usual. The bridges and tunnels built in Carmel in the past couple of years really exposed how heavy David is! We saw some deer, a new Ritter’s under construction, and we promised each other that we’d visit the water slide in Carmel’s Central Park before the end of the summer. 

Unfortunately, my GPS watch seems like it’s starting to flake out. It no longer beeps, and I’m convinced that it was incorrectly displaying our mileage yesterday. The non-beeping has been intermittent for about two years, but it always came back on the next morning’s run. However, it hasn’t beeped at all this week. The piezo speaker is on the bottom of the unit, against the user’s wrist, and there are pinholes that sweat can get into. It probably got its final dose of sweat earlier this week and isn’t going to be able to resolve itself.

View Strollerblading on the Westfield Monon extension in a larger map

Best Buddies 2009

We really like being able to support Best Buddies Indiana. They held a race last weekend along the Canal Walk in downtown Indianapolis last weekend. Beautiful weather and nice people!

View 2009-04-26 Best Buddies in a larger map

Zilker Zephyr

Monday afternoon during our visit with Grandma and Papa, we took a nice miniature train ride on the Zilker Zephyr with Grandma and Papa. The weather was beautiful in Texas. We rode past Barton Creek, Town Lake, and Zilker Park, whose soccer fields were under intensive rehabilitation. David pointed out the purple porta-potty, which was even more exciting than the huge digger next to it. There’s also an archaeology effort under way because a number of artifacts were found previously.

View 2009-04-06 Zilker Zephyr in a larger map

Family bike & skate

Another beautiful Sunday spent biking and skating just over 14 miles on the Monon Trail. Nearly complete, the northern extension in Westfield brings the trail almost all the way to 161st street, 15 miles north of the downtown end. Further, Westfield has published plans to make additional extensions by the end of 2009. Carmel has made some improvements over the last season, as well, making more reasons why this is such a nice trail.

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First family bike ride of 2009

We took our first official family bike ride of 2009 on Sunday, a 14 mile trip up and down 116th Street in Fishers. We made a slight detour on the way home to stop by a construction site so David could check out the diggers. David definitely grew heavier over the winter! It was wonderful to enjoy the sun for a day. Emerging from hibernation is one of the best events of the year.

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America’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods

Walk Score ranked the largest 40 U.S. cities by walkability. Guess where Indianapolis ranked? 37th. Several factors increase the walkability of a neighborhood, according to their algorithm:

  • a discernable center
  • compact enough to support public transportation
  • mixed income levels, and a mix of businesses and residences
  • parks and public space
  • schools near workplaces

Google Earth update

The free version of Google Earth 5.0 now imports GPS tracks from Garmin and Magellan units!

Via Google LatLong.