The Maze 2023 – Day 0 – Moab and The Arches

This is the first post in a series of our recent Mountain Biking and Hiking trip to Utah :

Day 0 (May 18th, 2023) was our acclimation day before heading off into the Canyon Lands on our 5-day MTB tour of the Maze organized through Rimtours. We started with Breakfast at the Jailhouse – a bit of a Moab institution. Then some last-minute shopping for gear and food/drink. In the afternoon – we crammed a lot more into our last day of civilization for a while – Arches NP Hike, more shopping, dinner, and Slickrock Sunset.

(from left to right – David, Rich (author), Bryan, Tim, and Iain)

Please be advised that if you intend to hike at Arches National Park, a highly popular destination, it is important to book in advance. Otherwise, you may face disappointment and be turned away at the gate. As most of us have already explored the more popular sights at Arches, we ventured deeper into the park towards Devil’s Garden. We followed the regular trail to Double O Arch and Fallen Angel and returned via the more interesting primitive trail. Hiking at Arches never disappoints though it can get pretty crowded. Strava map here.

A great spot to catch the sunset in Moab is located outside town on the rocks overlooking the Slickrock trails. Although it may not have been considered a spectacular sunset by some, it’s a lovely spot to relax with a beer, enjoy the sunset, and chat about our upcoming plans for the morning.

“putting the can back in Canyonlands” – Photo by Rich, slogan by Bryan !

A Eulogy to my Mother

This is the eulogy I gave at the church service after my mother’s funeral – I’m posting it here to ensure there’s a digital copy for her children and grandchildren. The funeral was held on Friday, 11th November 2022, at Margam Crematorium, and the church service was at Skewen Methodist Church – the church that was a big part of her life for the last ten years.

Brenda Ford, formerly Sharples, nee Hawkridge

May 25th 1942 – October 19th 2022

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about who my mother was. While that may sound strange, as I’ve known her all my life, we only get to reflect on the full life of someone at a time like this. I’m sure we all have stories, memories, and ideas of who Brenda Ford, formerly Sharples, née Hawkridge, was, and I would love to hear yours, but first, let me take a few moments to share mine.

My mother was born in the small town of Elland in West Yorkshire in 1942 – right bang in the middle of the second world war. Her father (Ernie) was in the Royal Engineers and absent for much of her early life repairing bridges in Holland.  She was a proud Yorkshire lass from the day she was born until the day she died. She liked her tea strong, was very down to earth, and would never shy away from sharing her honest opinion, and despite her diminutive frame, she could more than hold her own. Working the Friday night shift in Manchester Royal Infirmary was good preparation for dealing with a couple of unruly teenagers like me and my brother Rob. And I’m speaking from personal experience here – she would not hesitate to give us a good “clattering” if we stepped too far out of line.

In 1963 at the age of 21, my mother married my father, James Sharples, and a year later, she became a registered nurse and, a year after that – a mother for the first time. Over the next 40  years, she worked in large busy hospitals in Manchester, Oldham, and Lincoln and small family practices all over the country – wherever my Father’s Royal Air Force postings took us. 

As well as working full-time – she was often a single mother of two young kids, as my Father’s work frequently took him away from home for long periods. Then, every four years or so, we would get uprooted and redeployed – we lived all over the country and overseas several times. Despite that constant upheaval and disruption – my mother’s resilience, genuine warmth, and easy-going nature always meant friends surrounded us. Engaging with people came easily, and she quickly turned strangers into friends.

At the end of the 1970s, after living in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Berkshire, Malta, Cyprus, Berkshire again, and then Norfolk – my parents finally settled in Wiltshire. This move was an opportunity to be close to my mother’s family – brother Graham, his wife Beryl, their kids Pip and Anthony and my mother’s parents. We even lived in the same street for several years – demonstrating how important family was to my mother. I still remember the 1977 Queen’s Jubilee – like many of you, we had a street party, and all 3 generations of my entire family were there – we were very fortunate kids.

My other endearing memory from my childhood was the family holidays and day trips – camping in the lake district during the hottest summer on record and arranging family lunch in Cardiff on the same day as an international rugby game. The intent was good – the planning, not so much. She also made it out to California twice and North Carolina to visit my family and me. She was never one to shy away from an adventure.

As well as a long career as a professional nurse – my mother was always willing to care for those around her. She nursed my brother and me through countless illnesses, bumps, bruises, and breakages. Later in life – she looked after my paternal grandfather (Thomas)  and maternal grandparents (Ernie and Ivy), then later – my father when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and more recently, her second husband, John Ford, when he succumbed to dementia.

My mother married John Ford in 2013, having moved to Skewen in 2012. They both enjoyed being part of this community and church and gave up some of their time to make it the welcoming place it is today. I would try and call my mother once a week – though admittedly, I didn’t always manage that,  but when I did, she would, no doubt, mention her various church groups and friends, so it was clearly a huge part of her life.

So, in the coming days, weeks, and months when you remember my mother, Brenda, don’t be sad. Instead, remember the young girl from a small town in West Yorkshire who never could have imagined the long life before her. The places she’d live and visit, the things she would do, the adventures she’d embark on, and the friends she would make along the way. Remember the woman who lived an honest and long life of service to others as a nurse, carer, wife, mother, grandmother, and church member. A long life with no regrets and countless fond memories spent with friends and family is probably the most any of us could hope for. 

Finally, I would like to thank you all, on behalf of our family,  for being here today and for being an essential part of her life.

The Metaverse: the importance of interop

Avatar created in ReadyPlayerMe and imported into Somnium Space

Without interoperability, there is no #metaverse. Without open standards and open source and the resulting interoperability – there would be no Web or Internet as we know them today. It is no accident that the characters comprising this post are readable in any browser on any device and have been transported across the global network through various switches, routers, and proxies manufactured by different vendors. The reader doesn’t have to care or know which tool I used to create this post, nor which character encoding or font I prefer – that is all transparent to the user because of open standards like HTML, CSS, HTTP, and TCP/IP.

As the web evolves – standardization and interoperability will play an increasingly important role. The Metaverse is more ambitious than the current web regarding the sheer amount of technology involved. The Metaverse is an amalgamation of technologies from gaming, film, AR/VR, AI/ML, commerce, etc. Some of these areas have established standards; others are still nascent.

One of the critical areas of interop (according to a poll at the Metaverse Standards Forum) is the exchange of assets. This is required for seamless commerce, moving digital goods between assets, and choosing different tools at the design stage. Designers also need the ability to import assets into a virtual world from a film or game studio or real world without losing fidelity. 

There are already two major standards in this area – USD (Universal Scene Description) – first developed by Pixar and open-sourced in 2016. Today it enjoys strong support from AutodeskAppleNVIDIA, and the open source blender 3D graphics application. NVIDIA goes as far as claiming that USD is the HTML of the Metaverse – more here.

If USD is the HTML for the Metaverse, then maybe the other standard – glTF (GL Transmission Format) is what JPEG is for the Web and Mobile today. glTF is a lightweight file format for describing 3D scenes and models and is widely supported by @Microsoft, Meta/Occulus, and Unreal Engine.

Each standard has its benefits and supporting ecosystem, and it may not be possible or necessary to arrive at a single standard to meet all needs. Queue joke about the need for a  3rd standard to rule them all!

What this illustrates is that for something as central as being able to describe a 3D scene or object – the Metaverse will likely have to support (at least) two significant standards along with the overhead and complexity of versioning, converters, extensions, importers, and translators to ensure assets can be moved between ecosystems without exposing the problem to end users.

The efficient and seamless interchange of 3D assets is just the tip of the iceberg, and interoperability in many other areas (security, identity, money, reputation) will have to be addressed before the Metaverse becomes a reality.

Sleep. Part 1.

An aggressive cancer diagnosis in May 2018 got me thinking about my health more generally and specifically the importance of sleep in maintaining a healthy mind and body. I’m on my 3rd re-read (listen actually) of Matthew Walker’s, Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams in which the author makes a pretty convincing case that sleep is everything and that with good sleep habits you will live longer, smarter and happier. If you haven’t read it and are interested in health you should check it out.

My cancer was deemed aggressive and so in consultation with a surgeon, two oncologists, a radiation oncologist and my wife – we decided to treat it aggressively. Over the last six months I’ve had surgery (prostate and lymph nodes removed), a two month course of radiotherapy and currently 4 months into 24 months of hormone therapy. Cut, burn, poison – they’re the current options when it comes to cancer treatment. That said, I believe a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep will have a big impact on my recovery and longevity. Hence the current interest in sleep.

Like most people – I’ve never really thought too much about sleep. You just sort of get on with it and battle on with what sleep you manage to get – your body lets you know when you don’t get enough and compensates to make it up . But travel, stress, illness, environment, diet can all have a short or long-term impact on your sleep and it’s more likely you just fall further into sleep debt.

After trying a few apps. on the Apple Watch (more on this in another post) I came to the conclusion that the poor battery life and form factor just weren’t working. While I love the Apple Watch for many reasons- the battery life sucks and I just can’t get used to sleeping with it on.

So prompted by a friend I took a look at the Oura Ring sleep / health / wellness tracker. The Oura ring is on it’s second generation and the first thing you notice is what a remarkable job they’ve done jamming a lot of technology into a small space – 3d accelerometer and gyroscope, body temperature sensor, infrared LEDs, battery and BLE radio.


As you can see in the picture – It’s only slightly thicker than my platinum wedding band and a little bit lighter (titanium and plastic). I ordered size 10 but I’m probably a 9.5 so it’s a little loose but I erred on the bigger size assuming my fingers will swell in the summer. Oura have done a good job with the design – quite a few different finishes and styles – I chose the Heritage Stealth (matt-black). It’s waterproof and fairly scratch resistant so you can put it on a forget about it. The battery lasts about a week and only takes 20 mins to charge and uses a wireless charger (included). There is an airplane mode which turns off the BTE radio and that pushes battery life to about 11 days – but you have to remember to put it on the charger to re-enable it and upload data – so sorta defeats the purpose IMO.

The ring tracks a number of sleep metrics :

  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
  • Body Temperature
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Activity

The first four of these are used to determine how much time you spend in different parts of the sleep cycle and gives you an overall  Readiness Score. Activity track, as you might expect – activity – it’s not really a dedicated activity tracker and from my experience the step and calorie tracking is pretty inaccurate compared to my Apple Watch.

Right now I’m really just interested in the overall score and duration of my sleep but will likely at some point dig a bit deeper into things like HRV and body temperature – especially when I get back to cycling.

The ring comes with a pretty decent app (I’ve only tried the iOS version) that basically derives the readiness score and presents last nights sleep as well as overall trends.

The key part for me is the duration of each element of the sleep cycle. REM and Deep sleep are the most important to overall health and recovery. Resting Heart Rate is a good indicator of general aerobic health. Everyone is different and it’s key to focus on the trends and not the absolutes.

At this point (now you can see the charts) – it’s worth pointing out that my sleep right now is really poor  – these are the effects of my aforementioned cancer treatment – I wake up 2-3 times a night for a bio break. But already I can see some improvements and I’m able to experiment with different sleep aids, bedtime routines and eventually impact of exercise (when I’m recovered enough).

So far – after about a month – I’m pretty impressed with Oura – I certainly have some suggestions for improvements in the app – more on that when I get time to write about my comparisons with other Apple Watch sleep trackers. Until then :


If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

– Peter Drucker



The Legendary HyMasa and Captain Ahab

After 5 days of riding, Jack and I still had a bit more ride left in us – our fellow explorers decided to try something different for the day but we were determined to make the most of what Moab has to offer in the shredding department. Our RimTours guides recommended a couple of local rides. The HyMasa / Captain Ahab  and the Mag 7 seemed like the best options and we chose Captain Ahab because Jack thought we really needed to do a double black diamond after five hard days of riding and I’m an irresponsible father.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 10.51.42 PM

We re-rented the same bikes we’d been using for the last four days and were dropped at the start of HyMasa by David – one of our Raleigh compadres. It was around 10am and already fairly busy (probably due to OuterBike).

HyMasa is a slow 3 mile grind  on a mixture of rock and dirt and is mostly pretty straight forward but you have to keep moving to ascend the numerous rock steps that take you up to the start of Captain Ahab. This really is some of the best mountain biking I’ve ever experienced – slow going but fulfilling.

On the way up my son and I passed a pivotal moment in our father son relationship – given his superior fitness going uphill and fearlessness going downhill – he became the leader; and me the follower. Of course he didn’t notice – he was too busy racing some of the local hammerheads to the top of the mountain.

After you’ve enjoyed the amazing view you start the Capt. Ahab descent – it’s all very technical though most of the big drops have an alternative line so you can make the ride as hard or easy as you want – there were only a couple of places we had to dismount and walk. But this really is a very technical and unforgiving trail – if you take a fall you’re going to get hurt and you’re a long way from anywhere – I never ride in knee or elbow pads but would definitely do that next time. Jack came off twice and was lucky to only loose some skin – we slowed our pace after the second tumble.

When we got back to the parking lot (after a short traffic jam due to 4 wheelers) the mountain rescue team were heading into HyMasa with a stretcher – a rider had fallen and broken his arm (compound fracture) – a good reminder that while this is some of the best MTBing on the planet – it’s not without it’s risks.

This is a trail I would definitely ride again – with fresh legs and some armor it would be a blast !




Day 4 – White Rim Road : Potato Bottom to Horsethief

Read day 1 – White Rim Road : Shafer to Airport

Read day 2 – White Rim Road : Airport to Murphy

Read day 3 – White Rim Road : Murphy to Potato Bottom


After the evening’s star, satellite and ISS spotting we woke to a beautiful calm and clear morning. Being next to the Green River where there’s a little more moisture – we got a mild frost and the Sun took a little longer to rise over the surrounding mesas but once it did we had coffee and a decent last day breakfast in the (relatively) warm morning sun.

First task of the day was to reclaim all the height we lost tearing down Murphy’s with a tough couple of climbs straight out of the camp (Hardscrabble) – no chance to warm up the legs or lungs.

The next 7 or 8 miles along the Green River were mostly flat and fast with some interesting stops on the way to view some old Anasazi Indian ruins and artifacts the guides had discovered over the years.


Between us a lunch was our final and toughest climb of the week – Horsethief Bottom up to the Island in The Sky – it’s not technically hard – just soul crushing as the alpine-style switchbacks seem to go on forever. The kids practically sprinted up leaving many of the adults in the dust. My plan was to start last and attack from the back – I didn’t quite pull off the second part of that strategy ;(

Our ride finished with another great lunch in the parking lot at the top of the climb – more stunning views and a great place for some group pictures. But there’s more


Day 3 – White Rim Road : Murphy to Potato Bottom

Read day 1 – White Rim Road : Shafer to Airport

Read day 2 – White Rim Road : Airport to Murphy

It was great to wake to a warm sun rising and no wind and a good opportunity to dry and air our gear before packing it away.  Day 3 mileage is about 22 miles but it’s either downhill or flat and pretty fast.

After we’d eaten breakfast, caffeinated and decamped we hit the trail which starts with a fast and long down hill section giving up about 900ft of altitude. At about mile 6 we stopped take take in the views of the Green River and White Crack – a long fissure on the White Rim which is a few hundred feet deep and 6″-12″ wide. At some point a huge section of the White Rim will sheer along this fissure and a couple of millions of tons of rock will crash into the valley below. Fortunately not this day.



At about mile 13 we stopped for lunch and a quick detour to  explore Holeman Canyon – an interesting and fairly accessible slot canyon that ultimately drops into the Green River.

How far you can explore really depends on the level of the floor which rises and falls depending on what storm wash-off leaves behind. Pro-tip for exploring slot canyons – wear regular shoes – climbing in cycling shoes is a little tricky.

I left my phone in my pack so didn’t get any pictures but this Google Image search will give you a good idea of what to expect.

The last few miles roll fast and slightly down hill to Potato Bottom campsite. It was a cold and clear night – perfect for some star gazing after dinner.


Day 1 : White Rim Road : Shafer to Airport

If you’re not already awake by the time you start the decent down Shafer (about 7 miles in); you soon will be. It’s a pretty exhilarating 1500ft descent through alpine switchbacks – if you take it easy on the dusty / gravely corners you will probably make it down in one piece.

The rest of the first day’s ride was fairly flat, fast  and easy – following the natural contour that is the White Rim. We made decent progress despite frequent stops to enjoy the stunning views.

My trusty Garmin 800 had few issues in some of the more sheltered canyons but we clocked up a fairly easy 19 or so miles on the first day.


We arrived at the Airport campground mid-afternoon – which left plenty of time set up camp, play some Petanque / Boules, eat dinner and explore  a little and get to know our fellow riders. But mostly we were trying to get out of the wind, which, by dusk had picked up enough to threaten my trusty antique tent (note RimTours provide much nicer, much newer tents). This is the same tent that my wife and I used to back-pack around Greece and Turkey about 25 years ago.



The camping gear we bought was :

  • 2 x inflatable roll mats
  • 2 x inflatable pillows
  • 2 x 4-season (ie .very warm) sleeping bags
  • 1 very old – 2-person, 3-season tent
  • 2x headlamps
  • 2x solar chargers

In hindsight – I should have bought a newer tent or rented one from RimTours and a large beech blanket or something to throw on the floor of the tent would have added to the comfort. Aside from the first night – we were warm and dry and slept pretty well.

Read Day 2 – Airport to Murphy


Goodbye UP3


My most recent Jawbone UP3 replacement finally gave up the ghost. It lasted 17 weeks – better than the previous 3 but failed with the same issue as the other 3. I’m not even going to waste time trying to get a replacement or refund – Jawbone have wasted too much of my time already. Great software; good tech support but shitty hardware.

I’ll probably take a look at the new Apple watch when it comes out later this year but any recommendations for fitness trackers are welcome. Must have heart rate and sleep tracking.

Gone Tubeless

The cold weather this weekend had me looking for a bike related activity that didn’t involve grinding through semi-frozen piedmont clay. I’ve been thinking of turning my 2014 Specialized Epic Carbon Comp tubeless and spending 30 very cold mins. yesterday fixing a pinch puncture on the trail sealed the deal.

The Epic’s tires are Specialized Fask Trak 2Bliss Ready so all that was required was to find the tubeless valves that came with the bike and to buy some sealant and actually make the transition.

I started with the front. Fitted the valve (there’s an obvious right an wrong orientation), put the tire back on, unscrewed the valve and then added sealant via the valve stem with a Stan’s syringe kits. Rolled the sealant around by rotating the wheel through a couple of different axes, fitted he valve back on then tried to inflate the tire using a track pump. Lots of pumping but no seal. Used a 20g CO2 canister  and instantly the tire popped onto the rim and sealed – nice sound. But there was still little air (and a little sealant) coming out of the valve so I had to wiggle and rock it while tightening the nut until it stopped.
The rear went on much quicker – fitted the tubeless valve tight by applying some sealant to the area and rocking it and wiggling it while tightening the nut. Didn’t bother using the syringe to add sealant – just poured some into the bottom of the tire before popping the tire on. Another  C02 canister instantly inflated the tire and popped the tire onto the bead. Just like a pro !


I inflated both tires to 60 psi using a track pump and witnessed the magical sealant doing it’s job on an old, decent sized hole in the front tire. I rode the bike to the end of the street and back just to circulate the sealant and left it in the sun for an hour or so. Checked the pressure when I came back and everything looked good so deflated both tires to my usual 40psi.


I did a quick trail ride but didn’t notice any immediate difference – I suspect that’s more to do with the current conditions (ice, mud, clay); looking forward to a longer ride later in the week. Will still be packing a spare tube until I’m confident of the sealant’s ability to fix small punctures. I did notice that my usual 40psi feels rock solid so will likely have to experiment with pressure a bit. I’ll post an update when I’ve ridden some more.

Also what should I carry on the trails for repairs now ? Just sealant and C02 ?