The Curious Case Of The Malfunctioning Garmin

davis ford

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Yo, Steve, I’ve been carefully studying the above ride map and what’s up with you starting your ride at a different spot than where you ended it?  That has to be about a mile away.  You never do stuff like that, bro.”

Of course, you are right, although I’m not sure why you’re thinking in hip-hop slang.  That’s weird.

I like the positive thinking, but I'd prefer something more accurate.

I like the positive thinking, but I’d prefer something more accurate.

I didn’t actually start my ride a mile away; that’s just the spot where I got my Garmin GPS to start working.  Until that point, it was stubbornly refusing to cooperate.  After turning it on, it simply gave me the encouraging status of “working” and then spun its wheels.  After several minutes of patiently waiting, I tried to turn it off, only to be greeted with a long beep that continued until I pressed the power button again.  Then it finally shut off.  I was optimistic when I hit the power button again, but the thing simply gave me the same “working,” message (which was increasingly looking like Exhibit A in a false advertisement lawsuit I was contemplating).  I wasn’t going to sit around all day, so I started my ride and hoped the Garmin would come to its senses.

I’ve used my Garmin 494 times since I got it in 2011.  It’s simply the most reliable piece of gear I own.  I’ve dropped it, been hit by a car with it, been rained on, baked, froze, and just about every other thing that you might expect to happen to a GPS while riding or running. When something works 494 times, you kinda expect it to work on the 495th time.  When it doesn’t work, you’re somewhat at a loss for what to do next.

Convinced that the thing wasn’t going to fix itself, I decided to start fiddling.  To be honest, I probably should have moved to this stage much sooner in the process, but fiddling doesn’t come naturally for me.  I like to have a rational purpose for doing something and pressing buttons for no good reason doesn’t seem very logical to me.  Except that it was logical.  After pressing the button that causes the Garmin’s stop watch to start/stop, the device snapped out of its coma and immediately began giving me the display full of data that I’m used to seeing.  Why this solved the problem I have no idea.

With the case solved, I headed toward Davis Ford.  This is a picturesque area that is always nice to visit.  You can even take some pictures if the traffic is light or you don’t mind cars flying past you at 60mph with only a couple of feet of shoulder to separate you from them.

This is the bridge with the Occoquan River to the right.  You can see there is still quite a bit of grit on the shoulder from the winter snow plowing.

Davis Ford

Davis Ford is named after a family which owned a lot of land on both sides of the river back in the late 1700s.  Beyond that, I can’t find much else about them.  The exact crossing seems to have changed over the years.  Washington and Rochambeau moved part of their armies along this road as they traveled from NY City to Yorktown.  In the Civil War, Confederate troops from Georgia bivouacked along the river on the lookout for a Federal incursion southward.

Towards the other end of the bridge, there is a view of some sand bars that would be interesting to explore when it is less muddy and I have a boat instead of a bike.


I then climbed up some hills on Davis Ford Road and eventually made my way home.  I stopped at the less historic Lake Terrapin (created a few years ago by a home developer) for another picture.


I’m pleased my Garmin is fixed but less than excited about the snow that is currently falling outside my window.  With the official start of Spring only days away, Winter doesn’t seem ready to release its grip just yet.

Crisis Averted

The horrible, unending saga (four days) of my disabled Garmin has mercifully come to a close.  The hero of our story is loyal reader and frequent contributor Folksnake, who provided a link to another blog which was also discussing the issue.  One of the several possible solutions mentioned in that blog involved simultaneously pressing three of the four buttons on the Garmin and watching it reset.  This worked for me, the only additional nuisance being I needed to reenter all the settings that make the computer work (age, weight, time zone, etc…).

For his contribution, Folksnake has been awarded a Lifetime Membership to There And Back Again’s Premium Content Area, when and if such a section should ever be added to this blog.  To be perfectly honest, there are no plans to make a section like this or to charge anything whatsoever for any part of the site, but if this service ever does exist, Folksnake will get it for free!

Crystal Ride Preview.  Sunday’s USAF Crystal Ride is the closest thing to a race that I’ll enter this year (or ever, most likely).  Although the event takes great pains to point out it is a ride, not a race, they do time riders using cool magnetic chips and publish ride results which include overall finishing position.  While I was on the course last year, it definitely felt like a race.  Roads were closed and people were hammering through a criterium-style route in the mean streets of Crystal City and around the Pentagon.  At times, it felt like the chariot race scene in Ben Hur.  Bikes were breaking down all over the place and I saw two nasty crashes.  It was a great time!

Loyal readers will know that the 3.5 hour time standard to ride 100km pushed me to the limit last year, and I sheepishly collected by gold medal despite falling short of the standard by 2:32.  I was looking forward to breaking that barrier this year, but that will no longer be a challenge for me as the race organizers shortened the course.

Instead of eight 12.5km laps (all cool cycling events must measure their distances using the metric system), we will ride six 15km laps.  This trims the length of the course by 10km, and thus the finishing time of 3.5 hours is extremely achievable to me.  To motivate myself, I have switched my goals from simply getting the gold medal to bettering my average pace of 17.9 mph (the race may be metric, but I am not) and/0r my overall finishing position of 245th place.  Last year there were about 1,600 riders and I understand this year’s field will be larger.

The course looks similar to last year’s, but there are subtle differences that should make it run faster.  There are fewer hairpin turns and longer straightaways.  This should allow riders to build up speed and form pacelines for longer periods.  The straighter course may mean fewer crashes, which will take some of the adventure out of things.  As with last year, I will get the opportunity to climb the hill leading to the USAF Memorial, but there will only be six ascents this year instead of eight – another “lightening of the load,” in my view.

I believe I am all set.  I am well into my “taper phase” (I have found that I am extraordinarily good at tapering), I’ve cleaned up the Madone, bought my energy food, and fixed my Garmin.  Check back in on Monday evening for my exciting race report!

Garmin Trouble

“I don’t like going in without Pickett. It’s like going in with one boot off.”

~Lieutenant General James Longstreet, July 2, 1863

Longstreet’s sentiments were uttered before the attack of his corps on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  He made the attack with only two of his three divisions.  The division commanded by Major General George Pickett was too far from the battlefield and had yet to arrive.  Longstreet’s attack failed and Pickett would get his turn on the next day.

More about Longstreet later.

It was with the most profound shock and horror that I discovered my Garmin was not working today.  I turned it on as I have done on every ride for the past two years and the thing wouldn’t turn on.  The Garmin logo appeared and then nothing else happened.  After a few minutes, it shut itself off.  I couldn’t imagine what I had done to my Garmin, when suddenly, I remembered – I had installed an update two days ago.

Oh dear.

I hopped on my computer and made my way to the Garmin forums and quickly discovered that approximately one trillion people are having problems with the most recent update to the Edge 500.  There are a host of problems, some identical to my own.  It appears my Garmin has been destroyed (or at least disabled) by its creator.  No word on what the remedy is.  I tried to call customer support at 6:02 PM, only to discover they closed at 6:00 PM.  I then emailed customer support and they promptly sent me a machine-generated email which informed me that they would answer my question within three days.

The USAF Crystal Ride is in five days.

Using my best Captain Kirk  Wrath of Khan impersonation, I looked up at the ceiling and shouted, “Garmin!”

I have used a bicycle computer on every single ride I have been on since March, 2010.  That’s 256 rides, for those keeping track.  I have been on rides without a cell phone.  I have been on rides without a helmet.  I have been on rides without water, ID, sunglasses, or bicycle shorts.  I have even been on rides without every single piece of cycling equipment I own, save one.  My bike computer.  Now, five days from the event where I need a computer more than any other time, I am computerless.

So I went on a ride tonight, just a short 15.5 miler which I have done many times before (at least this way I could keep my distance logs accurate).  As I left, I felt much like James Longstreet must have felt, except I didn’t have 25,000 soldiers at my command or an imposing hill to take.  Other than that, it was pretty much the same thing, and by that I mean I was missing my most important item, just as Longstreet was missing a key component of his unit.

It is at this part of the post that I am supposed to tell you what a liberating experience it was to be free of my computer, how I could immerse myself in the sights and sounds of the world around me and truly enjoy my cycling experience in a way I failed to appreciate while focused on my bike computer.  I am sorry to report, Dear Reader, this did not happen.  Instead of enjoying these elements, I found myself…  wondering.

How fast was I going?  What was my heart rate?  What is my average pace?  How long have I been out there?  What is my calorie count?  What is the temperature?  All these things are usually at my finger tips.  Now, I had no idea, and it bugged me to no end.

Let us hope that the good people at Garmin Customer Support deliver me from this perdition prior to this Sunday’s sportif.  In the meanwhile, I shall attempt to find my inner calm by sharing with you some pics of an interesting vintage truck display I saw this evening.  Tracy over at Springfield Cyclist often posts on Things I See While Riding.  It’s a neat concept and it is in this spirit I submit the following:

The trucks are the private collection of one Jerry Cooper, or so the sign next to the display states.  No further information is provided, leaving a visitor wondering who Mr. Cooper is and why would he pick this spot to display his collection.  There were about 15 different trucks, sedans, and tractors and it is a very nice collection.  It did nothing for my average pace or my heart rate.  I wish I could tell you the precise impact it had, but I don’t know – my Garmin is broken.

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Another Pleasant Day

The calendar insists that it is late January, but the weather begs to differ.  I was able to zip about the area in shorts yesterday, which was a big boost to morale.  I’ve also cycled 50 miles more than last January with a few days left to go – a testament to the improved weather rather any improved dedication on my part.

I know you are desperate to learn my first impressions of the iPhone while cycling, so let me delay you no further:

The first thing I noticed is that full-fingered gloves won’t operate the phone, meaning I need to take my glove off every time I want to use it.  Bummer.  My wife (the runner) has a nifty set of running gloves which feature a silver-tipped index finger which enables iPhone use.  If there is such a thing for cycling gloves, I haven’t seen it yet.

I brought my digital camera with me and took two pictures of the same scene, which I now present for your consideration:

Casio Exilim Camera


There is some loss in clarity with the iPhone, but nothing terrible.  The biggest disadvantage is the lack of a zoom lens, meaning I’d better be pretty close to the things I want to take pictures of.  It was also a bit of a hassle taking off my glove and getting the iPhone out of the plastic bag I was carrying it in to prevent water damage.  The camera does not require such protection and can be operated while fully gloved.  Advantage: camera.

I fired up the Strava app, which acts as a cycling computer and allows me to post my ride online for others to see and chat about.  Strava also creates stretches of road known as “segments” where people can compare times against each other.  This was a disappointment.  The app said my ride was a half mile longer than my Garmin reported, which was extremely disconcerting to a guy who is particular about his ride stats.  I double-checked the distance with MapMyRide and it agreed with the Garmin.  Additionally, I didn’t get credit for doing any segments, despite there being two on my route.  The only possible explanation is that I was riding on the road while the segments appear to be on the mixed-use pathway on the other side of the road.  Sigh.

Finally, running the app for a two-hour ride almost drained my battery.  The phone was not fully charged at the beginning of the ride, but it does reinforce in my mind the necessity of being mindful of your battery life when running apps.  I suspect a full charge would last only six or seven hours when being used continuously by a cycling app.  This makes its use on centuries questionable.

So it was a less than steller beginning for the iPhone, but it wasn’t a disaster either.  I’m fully committed to getting the most out of it as I have no other choice.  I’m sure it will only improve as I figure out all the many benefits I can gleen from it.