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Buying Your First Bike

For whatever reason you’ve decided to take the plunge and buy your first bicycle. Congratulations! Now you probably have a lot of questions (or at least you should) because there are many different styles of bikes that all have different purposes. You need to find a bike that will fit the specific purpose that you […]

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Long Term Travel is Good for You

I can’t recommend long term travel to anyone enough. It’s one of the greatest decisions I have made with my life. I left on a 6 month trip through Europe and the Middle East and I learned so much about myself, and the world around me that I think it should be a requirement for […]

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How to Ride Safely

They say there are two types of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who haven’t crashed yet. It’s inevitable, the longer you cycle the more you risk getting in an accident. Now, you can either crash on your own accord or because of someone else making a mistake. This is a post to help […]

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Buying Your First Bike

For whatever reason you’ve decided to take the plunge and buy your first bicycle. Congratulations!

Now you probably have a lot of questions (or at least you should) because there are many different styles of bikes that all have different purposes. You need to find a bike that will fit the specific purpose that you will be using it for and you need to make sure that it fits you so that it can be a comfortable and efficient piece of equipment. That is the purpose of this post. To help you learn what you need to know when buying your first bike, whether it’s new or used.

Budget

How much do you want to spend on your new machine? This is a personal preference and will vary from person to person. When it comes to bikes, assuming the seller is asking a fair price, you will be getting what you pay for. And just to let you know the price range for bikes ranges from hundreds of dollars into the tens of thousands of dollars. The nice thing about bikes is that the quality ones will hold their value over time, so you don’t have to worry too much about your bike losing half of it’s value when you ride it off the lot like you have to worry about when you’re buying a new car. Make sure to add accessories into your budget like: a helmet, lock, riding apparel, shoes, etc.

Fit

This is one of the most important aspects to buying a bike. Most people can ride a wide range of bikes, but if you find a great deal on price, but if it doesn’t fit you then you really shouldn’t buy it for yourself, because it will make riding very miserable.

There are three factors to look at when it comes to finding the right fit for you: frame size, top tube height, and seat height. The frame size is based on your pants inseam size. When you’re selecting a top tube height your crotch shouldn’t be significantly over or under the top tube. You should be able to stand over the top tube comfortably. Seat height is also important. Often your seat isn’t high enough. If you’re experiencing pain in your knees, it could be because your seat isn’t the right height.

You can take these measurements on your own but the easiest way to do it is to go into your local bike shop to look at bikes and have an employee take your measurements. Once you know them you can either buy a bike in a store or use the measurements to help you find a used bike that will fit you.

Styles of Bike

There are many different styles of bikes that all have different uses. Are you going to be riding mostly off road or on road? How long will you be riding the bike on your average rides? Will you need to be able to carry cargo? There’s a lot to consider. Here’s a helpful flowchart to guide you to a bike that will fit your needs.

New or Used

It’s pretty common to be able to find a bike of better quality that is used for the same price you’d spend on a new bike. However, buying new is helpful when you don’t know much about bikes, general mechanics or simply don’t want to spend the time finding the best deal.

Buying new from a local shop is a great idea because they usually do a good job with their customer service. If you purchase a bike from them they will usually make adjustments and do minor maintenance for free for a period of time. If you don’t want to do your own upkeep they will gladly do it for you for a fee and answer any questions you might have.

Buying used is often time cheaper for higher quality bikes but it takes a lot more knowledge to know if you’re getting a good deal or not. You need to know about bike maintenance, the bike itself and the right questions to ask the seller. You need to know how much you’re willing to spend, what size you need and the type of bike that you want.

Basic bicycle maintenance is pretty easy and there’s a YouTube video explaining every aspect of whatever you need. The one problem you might run into is tools. Bikes have very specialty tools, and often times these tools only have one function. Acquiring all these tools can be expensive, so take that into consideration.

 

How to Ride Safely

They say there are two types of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who haven’t crashed yet. It’s inevitable, the longer you cycle the more you risk getting in an accident. Now, you can either crash on your own accord or because of someone else making a mistake. This is a post to help you minimize the chances of you getting in a crash.

First and foremost, you should ALWAYS ride with a helmet on!

Be Loud

What I mean by this is that you should try to be as visible as possible at all times. This means wearing bright colored clothing, having reflectors on your bike and having front and rear bike lights when you’re riding at night. This might seem obvious, but so is wearing a helmet and you see people riding without a helmet all the time. When you make yourself as visible as possible then you increase the chance that other motorists will see you. You can’t rely on them to see you but you can make it as easy for them as possible.

Minimize your Distractions

All of your focus should be on scanning the scene around you to prevent yourself from getting in an accident. You can do this by making sure the scene around you is manageable, which means riding on less busy and crowded streets. You should also never wear headphones, be listening to music or talking on the phone. This not only distracts you but it also cuts off your hearing, which is an extremely helpful sense to have on a bike. It allows you to hear cars approaching you  from behind and other noises that clue you in to your environment. Avoid texting at all costs! It takes one of your hands off the handle bars and takes your eyes off the road: extremely dangerous!

Avoid Busy Streets

When you start out biking you don’t have to take the same exact route you took in your car. Often times the route you took with your car are on the main roads. These roads have many more cars and that greatly increases your risk of getting hurt. If you plan out your route well you can usually make the entire trip on back roads or through neighborhoods. Now you have much more room to ride, and you don’t have to worry as much about getting hit by the quickly passing cars.

Ride as if you were Invisible

It is often to your benefit as a bicyclist riding in traffic to ride as if the cars can’t see you. In other words, ride your bike very defensively. Don’t misunderstand this, I’m not advocating trying to be invisible, you should take every opportunity to make yourself as visible as possible. But, just don’t assume that motorists are going to see you so you. Ride in a way that even if they don’t see you, you will be ok. The more you ride in a fashion where you are relying on cars to see you to avoid hitting you the more opportunities they will have to hit you. The more defensively you ride, the better, in my opinion.

Use Hand Signals

This goes back to riding defensively: you’re more likely to get hit when your movements take other motorists by surprise. Use your hands to signal to those around you that you’re about to do something. That something is pretty much turning or moving left or right. Assume the majority of motorists don’t know the proper hand signals so keep it simple. Use your right hand to indicate that you are moving or turning right and use your left hand to indicate that you are moving or turning left.

Take Up The Entire Lane

Only do this where it’s applicable and there’s not a designated bike lane. If you take up the whole lane and you are getting lots of cars backed up behind you or they are constantly having to pass you then you shouldn’t be taking up the lane and should probably be riding on a less busy street if it’s at all possible. What you shouldn’t do is hug the curb on the right because it’s harder for the cars at the intersections ahead to see you, you’ll have cars passing you very closely on narrow roads which can be dangerous and if you ride far to the right you increase the risk that someone might open their car door into you.

Long Term Travel is Good for You

I can’t recommend long term travel to anyone enough. It’s one of the greatest decisions I have made with my life. I left on a 6 month trip through Europe and the Middle East and I learned so much about myself, and the world around me that I think it should be a requirement for young adults. Here are some of the amazing things I learned from my trip:

Create meaningful relationships

You will be amazed at the amount and quality of people that you meet while you’re traveling. Both other travelers and locals in the country you’re in. You will share meals, stories, personal goals and fears with these people all while you’re in an unfamiliar place. There’s something about these experiences that form a stronger bond than meeting someone in your classroom or at work. These relationships conquer distance even after the adventure are over and many will become friendships for life.

Skill development

When you’re traveling you will find yourself in situations you’ve never been in before and you have to figure out a way to get out of that situation. You won’t always have wi-fi, or speak the local language, yet if you don’t figure out how to get back to your hostel, you’ll be sleeping in the street. You find a map, use hand gestures to get a local to understand your situation and boom, you’re back at your hostel.

Learn a language

They say the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. If you’re in a country long enough you will no doubt pick up the language so you can get around better. You’ll also see the immense value in being able to speak multiple languages and envy the peers around you that have taken the plunge.

Adventure

To quote one of my favorite movies, “adventure is out there!” Different people have different ideas of what they categorize as adventurous, but you’ll never know if you never leave your home and office. Make it a goal to get out of your comfort zone. In doing so you will meet great people and have great once in a lifetime experiences that you’ll never get tired of sharing. Get out there and adventure!

Finding perspective

It’s amazing what we take for granted in our home. Getting out in the world you will see people living without all the creature comforts that you’re used to at home, and they aren’t miserable. In fact, they will probably be some of the happiest people you see. It really puts it all in perspective when you get angry at the Starbuck’s barista for putting an extra pump of vanilla in your coffee and then encounter someone who has never had a decent pair of shoes. It’s humbling and you really realize how lucky you are and the little things stop bothering you as much. You realize that life is too short to get caught up on the small stuff and instead start enjoying life in the moment.

The Food

Mmmmmm nom nom nom. Just thinking back to all the delicious food I ate on my travels makes my mouth water. I used to be the pickiest of eaters but when you’re traveling you’re forced out of your comfort zone to eat things that you’ve never seen before and have no idea of what it’s going to taste like. In the end, I tried so much delicious food I was disappointed with myself at how picky I had been all my life.

The Stories

The stories are everything my friend. Everything that I have discussed before this can be summed up into a fun or interesting story. A story that not many people in the world will have back home. These are memories that you will have for the rest of your life and they will definitely be inspiring to your friends around you to get out there and make some amazing stories of their own.

 

Early Trip Planning

You made the leap! You have decided to travel and now you’re looking for some advice on what to do next. Answering that next big questions. What do I need to do to prepare myself for a trip? Hopefully after you read this guide you’ll have a better idea of where you are and what steps to take next.

There are many different facets that you need to examine and coordinate all at once and I’ll list and explain two of the major decisions below…

Where to?

The world is filled with hundreds of countries and each of those countries are filled with hundreds of cities and towns. When you sit down and look at it all it can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to break it down into what you’re looking for in your trip, which will help you narrow down your locations significantly.

Are you looking to relax on a beach, hike some mountains, ski/snowboard, scuba dive, eat good food, go shopping, visit world heritage sites etc. The parameters could be endless so it’s smart for you to sit down and decide what’s important to you.

Another thing you need to be aware of are visas. Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going traveling there could be as easy as showing up at your destination with a passport or as difficult as applying for a visa in advance, sending in your passport and having to pay an entrance fee.

Once you’ve decided on a few possible destinations you should check the visa requirements for your country as soon as possible. If you’re a US citizen use the US Department of State Travel Website to learn all about the country you will be visiting as well as their visa requirements for US citizens.

How much money will I need?

The answer to this question depends on what type of traveler you are, how long your trip is and what country you’re visiting. If you’ve never really traveled before then you might not know where on the spectrum of luxury to budget that you fall. The best way to figure this out is to travel, which will help you figure out what is important to you and what you don’t mind skimping on.

The length of your trip will change your budget considerably because if you’re only traveling for a week you are most likely going to jam pack that week full of activities and experiences which will shoot up your budget, but you’re only there for 7 days so splurging isn’t that big of a deal.

On the other hand, if you’re traveling for a year, splurging everyday will add up quickly. The nice thing about longer trips is that you can have “relaxing days” where you barely spend any money, which allows you to save up for a big adventure in the future.

What country you’re visiting matters because of the different exchange rates as well as the normal pricing of goods. For example, if you’re in Bali, Indonesia you can a full meal with a drink at a sit down restaurant for $1USD, but, if you’re in Norway, a hamburger and fries from McDonalds will cost you $15USD.

What I usually suggest to younger backpackers who don’t have much experience are these metrics:

  • If your trip is less than 3 weeks budget $100-$200 per day
  • If your trip is between 3 weeks and 2 months budget $75-$100 per day
  • If your trip is greater than 2 months budget $50 per day

You should prepare for these two questions as soon as possible because after you decide on what country you want to visit you can do a bit of research to help you decide what kind of daily budget you are going to need for your trip. After you have your magic dollar number you can start saving up and planning for  your big day!

Introduction to the Artistic Side of Photography

To be a decent photographer you need to understand both the technical aspect of how to use the camera settings to take a well adjusted photo as well as the artistic aspects of what makes a photo look good to the viewers eye.

After learning about ISO, aperture and shutter speed you should play around with them to see how they affect your photo and what you can do with them artistically. For example, if you’re taking a photo of a waterfall if you have a very fast shutter speed you will see the waterfall frozen in time and every bit of water will be clearly visible. However, if you take the same picture with a slow shutter speed (tri-pod recommended) the falling water will be blurry and it makes the water look like it’s flowing, almost silky smooth. It’s all about balance with these three metrics and your job as a photographer is to use the best balance to achieve the photo look that you desire.

Another good rule of thumb that will immediately improve your photo is the rule of thirds. Imagine breaking your photo into nine different squares like a tic-tac-toe board, now, when you get ready to take a picture make sure the area of interest isn’t in the center square. You also want to mentally frame your photo before you snap the shutter, think about it, what do you want in the frame and what can be left out. Make sure there aren’t trees growing out of people’s heads or stray power lines running through your shot. Take your photos from different vantage points and levels or by changing the angle of your camera. The point here is to play and experiment by taking LOTS of photos. Then go back through them and decide what you like and what you don’t like.

Get outside more often and constantly be framing different pictures in your mind from your surroundings and what you think would make a good photo. Then, take your camera with you everywhere. This allows you to not only think about what would be a good photo, but it also allows you to then capture that moment to review later. Some of my most favorite photos have come because I had my camera with me and then was able to take advantage of the candid situation.

Minimize using your flash as often as possible. The flash causes unnatural lighting effects,ugly reflections, red-eye, and can cause subjects to look washed out. Either adjust your ISO settings and capture that low-light look or just shoot in better lighting.

Finally, be organized and practice, practice, practice by taking lots and lots of photos. Keep a notebook with you while you shoot so you can make notes to yourself about what was working and what wasn’t in the moment. Then, go through these photos while you have the notes that you took out so you can objectively review them and find what you like and what you don’t as  you start to develop your own personal style. Look through national geographic magazines, newspapers and other media to get a sense of how professional photographers frame their shots. What makes their photos look good to the eye? As with any skill you’re trying to acquire it will take time to develop so be patient and keep practicing.

An Introduction to the Technical Side of Photography

I took a photography class when I was younger. This was before digital cameras were prevalent so this class was shot with old school film cameras. I learned how to process a roll of film in complete darkness and then take the processed roll of film and use it in the darkroom to print out black and white photos using all the proper chemicals. It was an amazing experience and I’m glad I was able to do it but I’m also so glad that digital cameras came along. They make learning and making adjustments so much easier, you get instant feedback as opposed to having to wait a week as well as spending lots of money to see photos, not even really remembering what your settings were or what the light was like.

It was many, many years before I picked up a camera again and when I did I had long forgotten the knowledge I acquired back in my photography class. Luckily for me I have a few photography literate friends and they took me under their wing to teach me how to use a digital camera. I found it incredibly helpful so I decided to put together this little guide. It will help cement the lessons in my mind as well as help out others who were in my position.

There’s the artistic aspect of photography as well as the technical side and if you want to be a good photographer you need to understand both. Photography is just the practice of capturing light and a camera gives you three ways to do this: ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

ISO

ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor in your camera is to light. This came from the old days of film cameras where there wasn’t a sensor so you had to buy specific film depending on what type of light you would be shooting in. Another reason why digital cameras are so much more convenient. You can change the ISO for each picture as opposed to having to shoot an entire roll at one ISO setting. Depending on the quality of your camera, ISO can range from 100 all the way up into the thousands.

  • ISO 100-400 is best for when it is sunny and you are outdoors
  • ISO 400-1200 is best for indoor shooting
  • ISO 1200 and up is for extremely low light conditions

The issue that you need to be aware of with ISO is that as you turn up the ISO your pictures will get more and more grainy because as you decrease the light your camera begins to have a hard time distinguishing objects.

Aperture

Aperture refers to the size of the hole in the lens that lets light in. Aperture is measured in units called “F stops.” The smaller the F stop number the larger the hole is. For example F/2 is a large hole while F/22 is pinhole sized. What effect does aperture have on a photo. Well, a larger hole shortens the depth of field, so if your aperture is set at F/2 most of the photo will be out of focus except what’s in the foreground, whereas if it was set on F/22, everything would be in focus.

When you start looking at lens’ this is where the big price tag comes in. It’s quite easy to make a small hole but very hard to make a large hole, which is why lens’ that can get to F/2 are very expensive.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how quickly or slowly the sensor is exposed to light. Assuming you are keeping the ISO constant, aperture and shutter speed are variables that trade off with each other. This means that if the aperture is large, then you need to have a quick shutter speed to avoid over-exposing your photo and, conversely, if the aperture is tiny, the shutter speed needs to be open longer to make sure the photo isn’t underexposed.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second and can be used to change the amount of blur you see in the photo. If you’re holding your camera in your hand you need the speed to be at least 1/60th of a second or faster or your shaky hands will cause unwanted blur in your photos.

Those are the three basics of the technical side of photography. Take your camera out and start experimenting with them all and learn how they all interact with each other to make the photo, and adjust your settings as necessary. With time you will become more and more adept and be able to change the settings on the fly without having to think about it very much.

Homophobia

Many times you will hear that homosexuality is a disease, when in reality the issue is one of homophobia. Homophobia is an irrational fear of homosexuality and results in the desire to suppress or eliminate homosexuality. Although it’s easy to read and say out loud, it took me a long time to accept that this was the case in my heart. You hear so much hatred and as a person raised in a Catholic household it was easy to believe that I was the problem, when in fact, I was just fine, it was the people spewing the hate that had the actual problem.

Homophobia like other kids of prejudice like racism and sexism can manifest itself in many different ways. In the past you have seen murder of homosexuals and though it’s not as bad as it was during the Nazi regime, the gay community still has to deal with queer-bashing, attempts to “cure” the “disease,” discrimination in laws and employment as well as other things.

All of these practices help to push a homosexual to internalize all the homophobia to the point where self-acceptance is very difficult. They see themselves as the problem instead of the other way around. This is what I dealt with for a long time, even though I never really had to deal with any outright hate crimes, just the religions aspect was enough to cause a lot of doubt in my mind. I found myself questioning myself all the time, why did I have these “impure” thoughts and there must be something wrong with me for not being able to control them. It was a terrible place to be in and I was never happy with myself because I constantly had to hide my true-self from those around me in fear that I would be ridiculed and ostracized. For those of you out there who are currently struggling with self-acceptance I wish there was a magic bullet cure all that I could tell you right now but there isn’t. You need to just sit down and have a conversation with yourself and constantly realize that you’re just fine the way you are. Use the gay community and other resources to get to this point but just keep at it and it will get better!

So, if homosexuality isn’t the disease, is homophobia curable? I believe to an extent that it is. In the gay community we are always concerned with combating homophobia between ourselves and our community. One of the best ways to combat the problem is to foster a positive self-image by not being ashamed of being gay. After we have worked ourselves to make sure we have accepted ourselves for who we are can we turn to the community to educate and encourage people to recognize their own homophobia and to take the responsibility to combat the anti-gay bias that runs through our culture. Self education on the part of these individuals through proper education and knowledge sharing will take us leaps and bounds in the journey from becoming homophobic to more understanding and accepting of those around us. It’s not going to be easy. Change is hard and just because you wanted to change doesn’t mean that everyone else does. But just because it’s going to be an uphill battle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be in the battle at all.

As a gay community we must continue to push forward. The ultimate goal is to be seen as equals by the majority of the population. Tolerance is a step in the right direction but we should not be satisfied with this because just tolerating someones lifestyle still means they are the inferior. Don’t get me wrong, tolerance is much better than violence but I just see it as a stepping stone to getting to the ultimate goal of being accepted as equals.

Coming Out to Parents

It took me much self reflection before I finally decided it was time to tell my parents about my homosexuality. So many thoughts about what could happen and how they could react. I even looked up online what to expect so I could be prepared for any and all outcomes. Every parent is different but some stages that your parents might experience are: shock, denial, guilt, expression and true acceptance. Even though all parents are different you know them best and probably already have a pretty good idea of how they will take the news.

Always remember that you don’t HAVE to come out to your parents if you don’t want to or if you think that one of them might not be understanding, even after given adequate time to process it all.

My best advice for anyone reading this is to be clear with yourself and make sure you have already processed your own thoughts and subjects on your sexuality before addressing the issue with your parents. If you can’t answer the question: “are you sure?” with an unwavering and confident answer then you might not be ready. Any confusion on your part will definitely transfer over to your parents.

This piggybacks with being comfortable with your own sexuality. If you’re still struggling with personal issues that still need to be addressed then you probably aren’t ready to tell your parents. If it goes sour then this could put tremendous additional pressure on you, which you don’t need.

Next, you should make sure you are knowledgeable about the subject and have other outside support. You can’t be sure how  your parents are going to respond but you should be prepared for anything. You should consider as many variables as possible. If everything goes great then that’s fantastic but what’s the worst possible scenario? Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Be able to answer any questions they might have as well as making sure you have a group you can turn to for emotional support/strength to keep up your sense of self-worth.

Remember, this is a huge event for you in your life but also in the life’s of your parents. Be there for them if they need it, monitor the climate of your home and be patient with everything. Come out to your parents from a position of love and let them know that. Keeping a secret like this only puts distance between you.

Finally, make sure coming out to your parents is ultimately your decision. There is no reason to be pressured into doing it until you are ready. When you are ready, if that time ever comes, be prepared, take a deep breath and know that everything will be good in the end.

I didn’t come out to my parents until my early twenties. I was still dealing with my own personal struggles so I wanted to wait into I was comfortable with myself first, before I shared the news with my parents. At that age I was already financially independent from my parents so there wasn’t much I had to worry about except for loosing their emotional support if they could never learn to accept me for who I was and am. Ultimately, the coming out experience was very positive. They weren’t surprised and I think they had suspected it for quite some time. After the conversation it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could finally get rid of that distance I had been accumulating between us from keeping my true identity a secret from them for so long.

I hope this helps someone, anyone out there who is struggling with the decision to tell their parents and what might happen in the process. Stay positive, stay true to yourself and keep smiling!