The Hunt for more EveryTrail Alternatives Continues

About a year ago, I had written about the trouble EveryTrail users had been experiencing and was on the hunt for an alternative.

There were plenty of Wordpress alternatives, and TripTrack is beginning to come through as a solid EveryTrail replacement — but what if you don’t run Wordpress, want to pay $5 a month for TripTrack — or what if you want to do more with your GPS tracks or logs on your own terms?

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About a year ago, I had written about the trouble EveryTrail users had been experiencing and was on the hunt for an alternative.

There were plenty of WordPress alternatives, and TripTrack is beginning to come through as a solid EveryTrail replacement — but what if you don’t run WordPress, want to pay $5 a month for TripTrack — or what if you want to do more with your GPS tracks or logs on your own terms?

Here’s what I’ve come across that may be helpful to you:

GPSFly

gpsfly.org website screenshot
gpsfly.org website screenshot

gpsfly.org is a pretty straight forward website that lets you upload your GPS tracks and share or embed them elsewhere — should you wish to do so.  As much as I enjoy TripTrack‘s user interface, I find the site a little power hungry which makes gpsfly more appealing for anyone who would like their embedded map to load faster or have their page be a little more lightweight for mobile users.

Unfortunately it seems gpsfly has been left on its own to some extent.  A little out of date and a slightly basic, the map seems to run into an error or two when one attempts to interact with the map.  It is free at the moment though!

GPS Visualizer

GPS Visualizer website screenshot
GPS Visualizer website screenshot

GPS Visualizer was another great find I came across while looking for alternative ways to make use of GPS tracks or logs.  The great thing about this web-based application is its capability to leverage GPS tracks and log files in many different ways — and then output a map or a file that will allow you to share this visualized data elsewhere.  Its strengths is also its weakness.  While GPS Visualizer allows you to create files or code elsewhere, there is no way to embed your newly-created map or data elsewhere.  Instead, you need to find a way to host the file first.

custom google maps with GPX file

An example of a custom google map I created with a GPX / KML file following UrbanHikr's instructions
An example of a custom google map I created with a GPX / KML file following UrbanHikr’s instructions

The UrbanHikr has developed some excellent detailed instructions on how to use your GPX log file (often found recorded in your handheld GPS devices) and upload the file to custom Google maps or Google Earth.  There isn’t an easy way that I’ve found to embed this custom map as of yet but I figure one can at least capture a screenshot of this in the meantime and post a link to the actual custom map for interactivity.

There’s the updated round-up for now.  If you have any additions you think I should add to this or if I’ve missed anything, feel free to chime in and share the knowledge 🙂

Mount Pleasant Library #TPLFoodHunt

Lined up with boutique storefronts and relatively small offices, Mount Pleasant Road is actually quite a nice street to take a stroll and take in a bit of the diversity.  What is fascinating about Mount Pleasant Library itself is that it is wedged between storefronts and is rather a quaint little library.

This is a part of the #TPLFoodHunt exploration series.

Something a little different today as I’m preparing for my trek in Tanzania.  I mentioned a few weeks back that my friend and avid food blogger Lisa Sit would make good use of the Toronto Library Passport.  The idea is to capture a glimpse into each public library, and seek out a place to put to rest those hunger pangs when they strike in the middle of your visit to the library.

Following our trip to the Northern District library (that post will be next week!) close by to the Yonge and Eglinton area, we decided to tackle the next closest library in the vicinity on Mount Pleasant.  Compared to the noisy hustle and large volume of foot traffic on Yonge, Mount Pleasant Road was practically like walking in a park.

Lined up with boutique storefronts and relatively small offices, Mount Pleasant Road is actually quite a nice street to take a stroll and take in a bit of the diversity.  What is fascinating about Mount Pleasant Library itself is that it is wedged between storefronts and is rather a quaint little library.

Despite there being a staircase leading up to a second floor as you enter the library, the main attraction is just on ground level where the bookshelves, computers, and study areas are.  Everything appears as if it is just one large room but the bookshelves serve as dividers.

The lobby area with the staircase to the left and main part of the library to the right.
The lobby area with the staircase to the left and main part of the library to the right.

Despite being a small library, Mount Pleasant was surprisingly busy.  A lot of people were on the computers or sitting back enjoying their read.  Based on our observation of folks around us in the library, it looks like snacks and coffee or tea are permitted.  I think it may be a little harder to bring a burger in here to enjoy but fear not, there is a nice cafe Lisa found nearby for a quick fix if you don’t have time (or don’t want) to sit down at one of the nearby sushi restaurants.

Thobors Boulangerie Patisserie Café is just a quick walk north of the Mount Pleasant Library and serves a variety of sandwiches and baked goods.  Perfect for the “grab and read” too.  I grabbed a vegetarian sandwich but there was a little too much butter for me.  It may just be a personal preference.

What was Lisa’s opinion of the food though?  Take a look.

 

Bruce Trail Sketches for #inktober 2015

More than year ago, my friend and brilliant illustrator Serena Chen, encouraged me to restart my drawing and sketching.  I had stopped ever since I was a child.  I had lived across the street from an artist who had been teaching my sister and I how to draw and sketch.  She eventually moved away and other distractions in life (i.e. the other gender, video games, computers, school) took precedence and I just never thought about it again.

Serena pointed out the Inktober initiative which I thought was brilliant so I leapt at the opportunity to focus and force myself to practice sketching again.  I’m still a long way from reclaiming my sketching skills but I am enjoying putting them to use as I’ve attempted to sketch a different part of the Bruce Trail (BT) for each day of October.  This is of course based on my own hiking experiences on the BT over the past year or two.

I’ve been posting them regularly on Instagram but in case you missed them, here is a glimpse of a few of my personal favourites:

Perspective and the fence was really the toughest part of this sketch but I loved the challenge.
Perspective and the fence was really the toughest part of this sketch but I loved the challenge.
This was by far the most popular sketch during inktober.  I loved it because of the texture of the tree but I imagine a lot of people had their own nostalgic thoughts about the sketch.
This was by far the most popular sketch during inktober.  I loved it because of the texture of the tree but I imagine a lot of people had their own nostalgic thoughts about the sketch.
I just thought this was sketch was a lot of fun and just out of the ordinary for a hiker to come across.
I just thought this was sketch was a lot of fun and just out of the ordinary for a hiker to come across.

You’ll may notice that my favourites don’t exactly include a lot of subject matter around trees.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that aspect of the Bruce Trail but it gets a little bland when I’m sketching trees all the time.  These are some of the most unique aspects of the Bruce Trail that I’ve encountered and have had the opportunity so far to sketch.

Come on over to the full gallery to see all my sketches for Inktober 2015. They are all of the Bruce Trail.

Bruce Trail Part 33 – 3 Sideroad to Woodford

The day started off pretty chilly and windy but it got really warm fast as the trail had us ascending pretty quickly.  Despite there being very little reds and oranges, I really enjoyed the range of colours I was seeing.  There is something about autumn time that turns a rather homogeneous-looking green environment into an explosion of diverse colours, shades, and gradients.

After a hearty continental breakfast at the local motel, we got the cars set up and continued from where we left off yesterday.  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day for hiking and was surprisingly warm considering the chilly weather we had been experiencing for the past week — even as south as Toronto which was 3 to 4 hours away.

I felt pretty excited to be out on a great autumn day — hoping for more colours!

Starting where we left off...
Starting where we left off…
Sign says we can hike, cross-country, or walk... ?
Sign says we can hike, cross-country, or walk… ?

The day started off pretty chilly and windy but it got really warm fast as the trail had us ascending pretty quickly.  Despite there being very little reds and oranges, I really enjoyed the range of colours I was seeing.  There is something about autumn time that turns a rather homogeneous-looking green environment into an explosion of diverse colours, shades, and gradients.

A look up at the tree canopy we were passing under. Some beautiful yellows and golds.
A look up at the tree canopy we were passing under. Some beautiful yellows and golds.
The trail just got fancier ... and muddier.
The trail just got fancier … and muddier.

Along the way, we found ourselves treated to some muddy areas complemented with some really nice boardwalks.  Sometimes I wonder if there are times where there just isn’t enough treated materials to build a longer boardwalk so a guy just decides to toss some long and fallen tree trunks to fill up the gap (see above photo).

Eventually we found ourselves hiking into a really magical area.  The shadows and light in combination with the light-yellowish-greens and the deep dark evergreen pine needles made for quite a scene out of a fantasy movie.

Stepping into a magical place.
Stepping into a magical place.
It is funny how often we end up hiking next to fences or boundary lines.
It is funny how often we end up hiking next to fences or boundary lines.

I can’t even count the number of times that we have hiked next to a boundary line, barbed wire, electrical wire, plain wire, string, wooden fences, or some form or manner of indicating a property line.  One could propose dubbing the Bruce Trail as the boundary trail.  In that sense, I guess we could also think of sidewalks as such a trail too…

My day was really made when we were just a little bored of hiking on a long stretch of road and I looked over and saw what reminded me of that classic Bliss desktop wallpaper from Windows XP.  There are plenty of differences of course — I like the sole (soul) tree addition here.

This reminded me of the Bliss wallpaper from Windows XP
This reminded me of the Bliss wallpaper from Windows XP
Leisurely hiking alongside rolling hills and fields.
Leisurely hiking alongside rolling hills and fields.

As we continued strolling past field after field, we tried getting reservations at the Flying Chestnut restaurant again.  Surprisingly we were able to get a table that evening but our hope went down the drains when they told us that they were only serving their Thanksgiving dinner and that it’d cost us at least $45 per person.  We wanted to try their standard fare so we tossed that idea out the window and began contemplating other options.

Passing by what looked like a church but I didn't see any signs.  Very nice exterior though!
Passing by what looked like a church but I didn’t see any signs.  Very nice exterior though!
Taking a snack break after running across a busy country road.
Taking a snack break after running across a busy country road.
Arriving in the beautiful Bognar marsh area. My favourite part of today's hike.
Arriving in the beautiful Bognar marsh area. My favourite part of today’s hike.
Just about to have some fun crossing the floating boardwalk.  Jumping is always good fun.
Just about to have some fun crossing the floating boardwalk.  Jumping is always good fun.

One of the most pleasant surprises along this hike was the Bognar Marsh area.  It was quite busy there because of the weather and the long weekend but the marsh was more than worth the extra bit of foot traffic.

I wouldn’t want to hang around here during the spring time (hello mosquitoes!) but this was perfect.  Kids were running around trying to catch dragon flies with their nets and adults seemed to be looking for birds.  We happened to find some guppies in the marsh and a rather camera-shy preying mantis hiding in the tall grass!

A lookout point for the marsh that is tucked away next to the trail.
A lookout point for the marsh that is tucked away next to the trail.
More tall grass to wade through.
More tall grass to wade through.

The day got warmer and the trail from the Bognar marsh eventually led us into some really overgrown areas.  Of course this just led to lots of sneezing on my part.  I cursed the tall grass and just made my best effort to get by as fast as possible.

It’s odd how the forest would get significantly darker as we made our way around the marsh to begin our ascent back up the escarpment.  Along the way, we encountered a couple of rather large groups of hikers — mostly families — trudging along without carrying much.  They didn’t even have hiking boots on so their jeans and running shoes were soaked with mud.  I feel their pain as I was once just like them.  Knowing what I know now, I feel pretty silly!

There was no straight forward way to get back on to the escarpment so we had to circle around the marsh and through some dark wooded area.
There was no straight forward way to get back on to the escarpment so we had to circle around the marsh and through some dark wooded area.
Some beautifully-lit forest.
Some beautifully-lit forest.

Eventually we got out of the dark woods and into some gorgeous areas where the leaves were lit-up by the sun.  I often just want to stop, sit down, and paint scenes like these. All of this is so temporary and will be completely different in the next hour, let alone the next day or the next year.  I figure one day I’ll take on a project like that.

After some significant ascents and enjoying lunch in the middle of the woods on the escarpment — we finally encountered some lookout points.  It’s bizarre how we rarely ever stop at the lookout points for lunch or at least it’s never timed right.

Finally, a few lookout areas along the escarpment!
Finally, a few lookout areas along the escarpment!
This part of the trail contained a lot of rocky ascents and descents.
This part of the trail contained a lot of rocky ascents and descents.

Another really fun aspect of this hike was the opportunity to hike into the crevices.  The trail took us deep into some rocky sections.  We actually had a hard time finding the Bruce Trail markers and ended up climbing up and down the crevice looking for a marker.  Eventually we figured that it didn’t make sense that the trail would become that challenging and backtracked a little, which led us into an even deeper crevice that would lead us back out and into the forest.

We found ourselves descending even deeper into a crevice and getting lost...
We found ourselves descending even deeper into a crevice and getting lost…
Yes, we found our way out by walking deeper through a crevice.
Yes, we found our way out by walking deeper through a crevice.

Have you ever thought of how and why trees always fall in the most intriguing positions?  Sometimes it looks as if it was all intentional!  Of course, we humans will always find meaning in everything or anything.  That said, these are pretty much nature’s own pieces of art with recycled materials in some sense… but I digress.  We found a small milk snake.  This was actually the third or fourth snake we encountered on the trail today.  Must’ve been the warm weather.

Funny how trees sometime fall.
Funny how trees sometime fall.
One of a few bridges that take us over a crevice gap.
One of a few bridges that take us over a crevice gap.

After tackling some more challenging rocky parts along the trail and passing over a number of nifty-looking crevices, we made our way out of the woods and on to the road.  At this point, we were a bit tired and really hungry.  All set for dinner!

Stepping out of the woods and on to the road. Very little traffic at this point luckily!
Stepping out of the woods and on to the road. Very little traffic at this point luckily!
Arriving at our destination point at the Woodford Community Centre where we parked the little red rocket.
Arriving at our destination point at the Woodford Community Centre where we parked the little red rocket.

We wrapped up our long-weekend hike at the small community of Woodford.  Thanks to them, we get to park our car at their community centre.  Once we packed up, my friends had trouble deciding on what to eat for dinner so we decided to start driving to Toronto and check out whatever cool diner that popped up.  Unfortunately too many places were packed and my friends didn’t want to wait.  Funny enough we ended up stopping at the Steven’s BBQ near Superburger!  That intersection is becoming quite the popular stop-off point.

I don’t know when we’ll have the opportunity to hike the Bruce Trail some more.  I will be off to Tanzania in late December and into January of next year so stay tuned!

Want a look at this full hike?  Here’s the full gallery.

http://triptrack.org/3970/embed

Getting Lost in a Corn Maze is Awesome

Ever since I discovered the Vermont Corn Maze one autumn day many years ago, I’ve been looking around for a solid corn maze to venture into in the Toronto area.  Having experienced the poor excuse for a corn maze (i.e. too tiny) and the 5 to 10 acre ones, I sought out something really substantial and then I came across Hanes Corn Maze, which was 20 acres!

Ever since I discovered the Vermont Corn Maze one autumn day many years ago, I’ve been looking around for a solid corn maze to venture into in the Toronto area.  Having experienced the poor excuse for a corn maze (i.e. too tiny) and the 5 to 10 acre ones, I sought out something really substantial and then I came across Hanes Corn Maze, which was 20 acres!

Eventually, I rounded up enough friends who dared to step into the maze with me just before the last week of October.  They weren’t really willing to tackle it at night so it was just a day trip that started off with picking up everyone along the way.

We had arrived around 11 or so in the morning and it was exciting just to drive up to the lot.  My friends were already gushing from seeing the giant wall of corn in front of us.  To walk the corn maze and visit the farm animals cost us about $11.50 (CDN) per person which wasn’t bad at all.

Getting ready to enter the unknown...in the corn...
Getting ready to enter the unknown…in the corn…

As we paid to get into the maze, we were given a clipboard with a map.  I had not realized it but there was a scavenger hunt with a puzzle to solve.  It would make sense considering I could simply walk out of the maze pretty easily.

The gist of the scavenger hunt is this:

On the map of the corn maze, there are fields under the checkpoints where a participant has to jot down a code.  Each code is revealed if you can locate the checkpoint.  Once you collect all the codes — you exit the maze and try and solve the puzzle.

The tricky part is that not all the checkpoints are revealed on the map.  Some are hidden away!

Every so often, there'd be a lookout point amidst the maze.
Every so often, there’d be a lookout point amidst the maze.
Just when you think it might be possible to cheat, here's the view from the lookout point. [photo credit: Lisa Sit]
Just when you think it might be possible to cheat, here’s the view from the lookout point. [photo credit: Lisa Sit]

I have to say that the scavenger hunt was a lot tougher than I anticipated. A couple of my friends were beginning to give up because we were circling around trying to find the right checkpoints butkept encountering the ones we had already found.  Using the map was actually making it confusing at times because of where we thought we were in the corn maze.

Eventually we began using the very edge of the corn maze as reference points and made it out — to some degree.  There were a lot of families, teenagers, and kids who approached us about trading checkpoint codes, some were in the maze for 2 or 3 hours!  I’ll leave that to your discretion. We only spent 1 and 1/2 hours thanks to our willingness to exchange a couple of codes.

Successfully exiting the maze! [photo credit: Lisa Sit]
Successfully exiting the maze! [photo credit: Lisa Sit]

After the maze, we were able to solve the puzzle and claim a small prize.  Nothing major but it was nevertheless fun to achieve.  Our eyes were however, trained on the bakery.  It was a very small space and there were so many people lining up to pick up a pie or some other sweet goodies.  I picked up a nice apple pie myself and a chocolate overload square (which was amazing).

Dropping by the Tiny Shop Bakery. Full of pies, cookies, and squares of all sorts. Way too many choices!
Dropping by the Tiny Shop Bakery. Full of pies, cookies, and squares of all sorts. Way too many choices!

This was only part of the day’s adventure!  Hanes Corn Maze is quite close to the Spencer Gorge Wilderness area where there are a couple of nice waterfalls and we eventually satisfied our hunger at the Thirsty Cactus, a local pub and grill in the town of Dundas.