Breakneck Ridge in Summer

I wrote about hiking Breakneck in Fall, and about venturing down the blue trail:        The Secrets of the Blue Trail      

I went back this summer! The trails are overflowing with green, but sadly there are also a lot more people hiking. Luckily, they all sort of disappear after the first mile, with many turning back.

Oh how lovely the trail is in summer. Trees filled with leaves, lizards scurrying about, and snakes resting on warm rocks.

Remember that swimming hole and waterfall I discovered during the fall/winter? We swam in it after our long hike! The water is chillingly refreshing, and a lifesaver on a hot summer day.

Off the Paved Path

The other day I was aching for some outdoor adventure. I had been inside working, coding, designing, all week and my body was yearning for some adrenaline and sun. So, together with a friend I headed to bike the Bethpage Bikeway.

From what I had heard, the Bikeway was pretty straightforward. Flat paved asphalt stretching out about 8 miles in one direction. I came expecting a pretty boring ride, akin to just riding on the street. And it was exactly that, a straight boring ride on asphalt… for about five minutes.Immediately after you cross over the highway, and head into the state park, there are dozens and dozens of dirt paths winding away from the main asphalt.

Take those dirt paths! The singletrack weaves through the forest, under a ceiling of trees and branches. These trails have excellent sharp turns with few steep slopes. Best of all, while the bikeway has a nice number of people riding and running, these side trails are empty! Most of the trails meet up back with the bikeway, but a bunch of them lead you to the middle of the woods. Be sure to keep track of your orientation, or at least bring a compass, because you’ll very likely get lost when you offroad it. Additionally, while a lot of these trails are in good shape, a bunch of others aren’t maintained too well and make for a messy ride ( think thorns sticking out).

An hour or two into the trip, we found ourselves very lost in the woods on an overgrown trail that looked like it hadn’t been maintained in years. A single realization struck me: this is adventure. Being completely lost and using my own personal knowledge, patience, and skills to navigate in the right direction. And , I thought, this is why people stick to the main bikeway, why many people go with the flow and don’t explore where the side path may lead. They’re terrified of the unknown and of relying on themselves.

Explore, try new things, don’t be afraid of the temporary setbacks. A quote I read a few months ago on Alaistar Humphreys blog:

“Make your choice, adventurous stranger; ring the bell and bide the danger. Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had… ”

PCB Tip: Check Your Footprints!

Its exciting, getting your PCB in the mail. Your design, which previously only existed on your computer screen, now is in your hands. The hundreds of little circuit traces rushing along the board, routing just the right amount of electricity to each component – wow!

But then comes assembly of the PCB. You pray to the circuit board gods that your design will work. If the gods are in your favor, the board works flawlessly, but on occasion you spot a mistake. A dumb , silly , amateur mistake that you can’t believe you made. Ugh. Sometimes you can rig a quick fix, but many times the situation is hopeless. Your dumb mistake killed an entire section of your board.

I had one of those moments today. A perfectly good board, but I put the wrong footprint for one component. I’m a big AVR user, so I’m constantly using SMD AVRs and they always have a QFP footprint with a pitch of 1mm. So naturally, almost as a force of habit, when I had an A2D chip in a QFP package, I threw down a 1mm pitch QFP without a second thought.  Damn what a mistake. The A2D chip was QFP all right, but it had a pitch of 0.5mm, half of what I laid out!

I spent 5 minutes devising a quick fix, planning to use thin wire to connect the pads, but realized how easily it would fall apart. Blah, another week down the drain, time to order another PCB.

Lesson Learned: After designing your PCB, but before sending it out to be fabricated, have all your components in your hand. Then print out your PCB on regular paper (from a regular printer) to-scale. Stick on your components on top of this paper PCB and make sure the footprints match up. If you do this, you’ll never make the footprint mistake.

The Secrets of the Blue Trail

After hiking Breakneck in March, I went up again with two other friends a week later. I was hooked! Breakneck Ridge has more than a dozen combinations of trails one can take,  and I was set on exploring them all.

We began the hike with the good old White Trail, which has a pretty steep climb towards the beginning. If you look at the trail map  you can see how close the elevation lines are together. They’re so absolutely close it looks like that area is simply shaded in. This time we decided to take the Blue Trail. We decided that this time we would try the Blue Trail, so after a 2 mile hike North along White, we turned left down Blue.

The Blue Trail is by far my most favorite trail in the area, because its filled with hidden things that you have to keep an eye out for. If you just jog the trail or even walk it in a rush, you’re bound to miss some very cool things.

At one point along the trail, you can make out a tinge of blue in the forest. A quarter mile off trail, down an extremely steep decline(you will slip!), you can find a retro blue station wagon from an old crash. We went down to check it out, it seems like the driver made a turn down the mountain and crashed into a nearby tree. The car itself is a bit beat up, missing lots of parts, and is nearly completely rusted. In the summer and spring, watch out for snakes and animals making the car their home.

At another section of the trail, keep an ear out. If you’re lucky you’ll be hiking during the frog mating season(around March), you can follow the sounds of their calls to a frog pond. Theres a tremendous number of frogs there, all calling out trying to find a mate. A frog mating call sort of sounds like that of a duck’s.

Lastly, but certainly not least, towards the very end of the trail, you can visit the swimming hole! Its a little bit off trail, and I was lucky to hear the water rushing through. To get to the little spring, just look for a side trail (on the left side) and climb your away towards it. The water is deep enough to swim in and if you’re feeling crazy, deep enough to jump into from the top of the rock. During the winter the water level is a little low, and the water is absolutely freezing! But during the warmer months, the swimming hole is a welcome refreshment after a long hike. The water also is home for small fish, so be careful if you swallow the mountain water.

Hiking Breakneck Ridge in Fall 2012

Something from March I never posted:

March 2012, New York City, the worst of Winter has passed by. The trees are still bare and the freezing, cutting wind has been replaced by a cool, comfortable breeze.

Together with my good friend Yakov, I set out to hike Breakneck Ridge, one of the trails in Hudson Hylands Park in the Taconic Region in New York. I had heard about the place from friends, it was recommended as the nearest hike from New York City. It’s adjacent to the Hudson, a stones throw away from Clarence Fahnestock State Park (where we both have camped before), and a long swim from Bear Mountain Park (where Yakov regularly trail runs).

After a mere hour and a half drive, we arrived at Breakneck Ridge. Before starting the hike, we drove up to town to get some breakfast. Sitting outside the local shop, I met a local resident of Beacon ( the town nearby) having a smoke with his morning cup of coffee. He was an 87 year old man, a former Marine, and a big hunter. I spoke to him for just ten minutes, but he left a tremendous impression on me. Such fire in his words, such resolve in his eyes. 87 years old and still hiking trails, still being active, still fighting against life’s attempts to knock him down. One reply of his sticks with me till today- “The only meat I eat is deer meat. That I hunt. Myself. With my bow.” I sincerely hope I’ll be as proactive as that man is when I’m in my late 80s.

After heading back down, we easily found parking on the side of the road, just a 30 seconds walk from the trailhead. We started off on the White trail of Breakneck Ridge and climbed and climbed. The first section is very interesting, it starts off as a gradual climb and then all of a sudden you’re hit with steep slopes(relatively for a hike) and a rock scramble. You’re forced to use all your limbs, your feet for support and your hands to find a grip. Branches become useful railings, and you slowly make your way up the mountain.

Yakov and I, both in pretty good shape, quickly broke a sweat on our steady climb up. Immediately, the sweatshirts came off and we continued up in short sleeves. We reached the lower peak of Breakneck Ridge in about 20 minutes, and admired the view. We continued the hike for a few more hours, taking the Red trail back to the road (Route 9D).

All in all the hike was great. There’s quite a few eagles soaring above, but not much wildlife scampering about in Fall. The trail itself was devoid of people, leaving a quiet atmosphere for internal thought and meditation. This isn’t the case later on during the summer, when hordes of New York City residents flock up to Breakneck to attempt the hike.

To someone wishing to make the trip, I’d recommend purchasing a trail map of the region and bringing a compass. Some parts of the trail aren’t marked very well and it’s easy to veer off trail and get a little lost. Definitely start off on the White Trail. Do not attempt this trail after heavy rainfall, it’s extremely easy to slip on wet rocks and mud.

Introducing The Wild Inventor Blog

Hello All!

After borrowing some inspiration from an amazing and fascinating blogger, Michelle Lara Lin and her blog www.TheStrangerBlog.com, I’ve decided to create a new blog – The Wild Inventor Blog.

It’ll be very similar to my old blog, www.blog.narobo.com, in that it’ll be chock full of engineering information and design tutorials. Additionally, it’ll be splashed with stories of outdoor adventure from some of my trips, hikes, and runs.

This blog will serve as a host for my thoughts, journal entries, and tutorials.

I have a lot of content from the backburner to upload, so keep an eye out for updates. Hope you enjoy the show!

Need Me to Design and Create Projects?

Lately I’ve been wanting to take on another project or two.

So I’m available for hire to design or create any project or product.  I usually charge fair rates, sometimes don’t even charge at all. Its usually just a matter of how interesting the project is to me ;)
I live and breathe electronics and microcontrollers, especially PCB design and microcontroller firmware coding. 
Email eric at narobo dot com if you have a project or idea in mind.

Final Project – Knock Lock

Heres my final project for digital logic design. Video after the schematic. Notice how little chips were used, not a single microcontroller, all logic design. And if you’re experienced with electronics you’ll pick up on the little tricks I used to save chips – using a XOR as an inverter, using slower chips so that I could keep a single MRST signal, some other tricks hidden on the page.

Final Project – Knock Lock

Heres my final project for digital logic design. Video after the schematic. Notice how little chips were used, not a single microcontroller, all logic design. And if you’re experienced with electronics you’ll pick up on the little tricks I used to save chips – using a XOR as an inverter, using slower chips so that I could keep a single MRST signal, some other tricks hidden on the page.

Potentially new product?

Maybe my next product, assuming there’s some interest. This system gives you wireless control of stuff, and gives you the option to control those “stuff” via USB or audio. Thats right, control stuff using