Underneath the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.
I didn't mean to turn a walk around the lake into an expedition yesterday but that's the way it ended up. Over the course of the last few weeks I'd been concentrating on getting comfortable with retro technology in the form of the Pentax K1 and I was ready to take a "vacation day" from the arduous rigors of shooting and composing with an optical viewfinder camera. I pulled an X-H1 out of the equipment locker and thought about the manner in which I would like to use it. The unmotivated idea of trying for optical perfection didn't appeal (please, let's take a break from modern "super" lenses) and I wasn't in the mood for the wishy-washy-ness of tromboning around with a zoom lens. I looked around the "vintage" lens drawer until I came upon the Olympus Pen FT 70mm f2.0 lens and decided to make that lens the focus of my photography. I used it with an adapter on the Fuji camera....
I must confess at this point that my ardor for walking is not principally motivated by a desire to look for photographs, rather, the walking is the goal and the camera is just along for the ride. Bouncing along on my shoulder just in case I see something I want to capture in the moment. When I write about walking with a camera it sometimes "reads" to me that the whole point is about the photography but about 90% of the point of most walks, for me, is to burn off nervous energy and to augment my other exercise practices. That, and a real practice of walking meditation.
At any rate, the X-H1 is very familiar to me now and I thought it would a nice walking companion. The Olympus lens is small and relatively light so that's a bonus too. As a result of a few reader comments bitching about seeing downtown Austin over and over again in my photographs I've started to branch out and walk more on the ex-urban trails around Austin. I've moved from shooting buildings and shop fronts, etc. to concentrating on the one part of photography at which I am least proficient ....landscapes and cityscapes. You might as well lean into your challenges; you never know what will emerge and how it might augment your usual practice...or, if nothing good comes out of it at least it doesn't cost much to try...
Once the camera and lens were squared away there were only the questions of: which route to take? and, what supplies I would need? I decided to park at Zach Theatre (which is adjacent to the lake and the trail) and do the usual five mile loop which would include Congress Ave. and the Mopac Expressway pedestrian bridge. I lathered myself with reef safe, zinc oxide sunscreen, put on my wide brimmed hat and stuck a big bandana in my pocket which I could use to wipe the sweat from my hands or for those times when I wanted to operate my camera, or to use protectively, hanging down from the back of my hat, to shield my neck from too much sun. I also stuck three dollars in my pocket in the event I found myself in desperate need of coffee; or, more prosaically, needing to buy a bottle of water.
It was blisteringly hot this past week and today seems even more of a scorcher. When I headed out for my walk yesterday it had just hit 100 degrees but I didn't care much since I've done a good job of acclimating myself to the heat this Summer (which should come in handy on Monday afternoon when I photograph a golf event out on a central Texas golf course....).
The first part of my walk took me along the south shore heading east. The 70mm lens is fully manual and, being 50 years old, has no ability to communicate in any way with a modern, AF camera. The combo of the 70mm f2.0 and the X-H1 does seem to work quite well in the aperture preferred mode and a bit less well in the focus peaking mode. In truth, I don't think the lens is optimized for sharp focus and good rendering at infinity --- or it could be that the adapter I'm using just doesn't allow accurate infinity focusing. I discovered that foible near the end of my walk when I stopped for water and to review a few of the shots.
In the familiar part of the trail; the part I use most often...
While the sun was a bit oppressive it was a beautiful day and when I got to the Congress Ave. bridge I decided to keep heading East instead of crossing over to the north and returning along the North side of the lake trail. There's a lot of shade on the part of the trail that goes from Congress Ave. bridge until one gets near IH-35 and these were parts of the trail I hadn't been on for a number of years. They've been kept up well. About half way between the bridges the city of Austin has built a series of austere but extremely functional boardwalks that extend the hike and bike trail up over the water and around areas that are either private property or environmentally sensitive. I hadn't walked on these before and found my discovery of them downright joyous.
One of the things that makes the walks even more enjoyable to me is seeing the large number of normal ly configured people and thin people out engaged in activity and exercising in the middle of the day. Not dozens, but over the course of the walk, hundreds. And that doesn't begin to count the people all across the lake on paddle boards, kayaks and canoes. It's great to see an emphasis on fitness in our city; even on a less than comfortable day, weather-wise.
Of all the gear I brought along (not much) I think I'd give the nod to the hat and especially the bandana as being most useful. After an hour in the heat my hands were dripping with sweat and operating the camera would have been less pleasant if I had not had the bandana with which to wipe my hands before I pulled it up to my eye and used the focusing ring on the (not weather sealed) lens. The hat just kept me from frying my brains...
A small, city office at the beginning of the trail.
For the most part the south side of the trail is quiet, treelined and a nice immersion into nature in spite of running (along with the river) through the very center of downtown. But when you get to the IH-35 bridge you are re-introduced into the manic pulsation of modern, urban life. IH-35 is a relentlessly busy highway that is packed with cars and trucks of all kinds. Fortunately, there is a small, separate walkway from runners and bikers that takes one over the river and delivers one to the North shores.
I ended up walking the entire IH-35 to Mopac loop and I checked on one of the park maps to see that it's about 8.2 miles in all. There is a longer loop on the trail, heading further east, but that's there for another time when the temperature is 10-20 degrees cooler, at least. I thought I was making good progress but it ended up taking me the better part of two full hours to complete the loop. I guess I lost time stopping to take photographs here and there. The nice thing about this loop is that at no time do you need to cross any roads. None at all. The walk ways either go under roadways or there are separate pedestrian portions of the North/South bridges you can use.
If you are going to walk the 8.2 mile loop in the hottest part of the year I'll suggest a shirt that breathes very well (and wicks away moisture efficiently) as well as a broad brimmed hat, sunglasses and a bandana to use either as a towel or as an adjunct to your hat when the sun's angle is just so. You'll want to leave waterproof shoes at home and select footwear with good padding and a loose weave on top that breathes well too.
It's nice to take a break from some parts of our pervasive technology and nothing seems more aggravating than watching a slow, fat executive in expensive running shoes walking sloppily down the middle of the trail (oblivious) and talking at the top of his voice into his cellphone. Do everyone a favor and leave yours at home. Or at least in the car. Believe me, if you get into an emergency situation while out on the trail someone within 100 feet will have a cellphone you can use to call 911. Best not to be burdened by the tech or subject one's precious phone to all the sweat and wear. Even if you don't give a shit about making everyone around you uncomfortable...
When I got back to the house I rinsed myself off with a garden hose, just to cool down, and then headed into the house to greet Studio Dog, tell her about my adventures, and let her sniff my dusty shoes. I took a shower, made lunch and then dropped the camera onto my desk in the studio. A quick glance at my watch let me know I needed to hustle if I was going to get to a TV commercial, pre-production meeting in time.
Later, looking at the images, I was impressed with how well such an old and battered lens did in most picture taking situations. As I said before, the only place where I was not 100% happy was with images that were taken at infinity. But I'll get that figured out too.
There are so many reasons why people go out on long walks but I find the best reason for me is that it clarifies my thoughts about things I'm working on or things I'm worried about. As many of you know from reading the blog over time, I've been dealing as the executor with both of my parent's estates. We lost my mom a year and a half ago and my dad about three months ago and I've been doing un-fun things like clearing out and selling houses, pulling together all of their investments and accounts, going through the process of probate and, in general, making sure to do everything right so I could both honor their legacies and not drop the ball on passing inheritances to family members.
I took the walk yesterday in part to celebrate my completion of the final probate and my having distributed the bulk of my parents' estates to myself and my siblings. I don't do a lot of high finance. You probably guessed that when you found out that I do professional photography as my sole source of income... So I had a lot of anxiety and trepidation about wiring big sums of money to my siblings' accounts. I just didn't want to screw anything up. I had no idea I was as emotionally wound up as I was until I was mid-walk and, for the first time in a year and a half, my mind wasn't half filled with planning, scheduling or trying to understand the "next steps" I needed to take, or the contracts I needed to be ultimately responsible for.
For the first time in a long time it felt like I was just out for an unencumbered walk with a good friend (my camera) and time that belonged only to me. Not to anyone else. And not to a legal process.
Belinda, who has steadfastly guided me through all the trauma and drama of losing parents and gaining more responsibility than I ever wanted, has ordered (and she rarely makes emphatic commands!!!) that I go somewhere fun and far away from Austin and take a week or two for myself. Her idea is that I need to get back in touch with my photography in a way that I haven't been able to in several years. To be able to shoot just what I want and just where I want with no restrictions and no other obligations. Nothing to worry about...
I think I'll take her up on this but the question now is, "Where would you go to shoot for ten+ days if schedule, money and access were not limiting factors?" How would you choose?" "When would you go?"
A favorite interview by Paul Perton: