Category Archives: bicycle

Englandshire & Welsh ups & doons

Well then, a visit doon sooth to cat and house sit in an 11th century Grange (a farm run by monks from the nearby Abbey).
Stopped at my nephew’s overnight to perform my role as a gruncle as well. Unfortunately when I arrived at the Grange Rob messaged me to say I had left my cycle shoes at his đŸ˜±, but that they’d posted them off 😃.
So two days later, the cat stopped clawing me enough, in that tender way cats do, to allow me to thank the postie & get out on the bike.
There wasn’t too much time before sunset, so I thought a wee 15 to 20 mile spin would do the trick.
But . . . I’d forgotten a couple of things or more. First of all there’s a lot of steep hills in Herefordshire, at least four on the ride had sections over 18%. Then there’s all these little twisty turny lanes all over the place – more of this later. And it was getting chilly, luckily I had a laminated OS map section tucked down my front (lucky in more senses than keeping me warm).
So carefully down the steep, gravelly, pot holed, narrow road, up the steep road opposite, a lovely descent till the fences and defences round the base where the SAS are rumoured to train. The next day we were stopped in the car here as two huge plane bodies made their slow, slow way round the tiny lanes.
Then down the main road and off up and down, up and down, up and down the dodgy wee lanes (you get the idea?). Suddenly, despite the map, I decided I was somewhat mislaid. After a sweeping whooshing descent, through an icy shower, map time again and I realised that I’d gone a bit too far.
Decision time, back over different ups & downs or try to whizz back along the flatter valley, trying to race against the fading light.
So, the valley it was. I raced along and made it to the bottom of the steep initial hill and crawled up it before turning down the lane home in the gloom.
It was brilliant! I love those times when you get it all slightly wrong and haul yourself out.
So 30 miles instead of 20, and over 2,500 feet of climbing, so much for a quick wee trip!
😈

IMG_2207
The Cat being looked after.

The Cyclists’ Ephemera? plus Community

Snow on the Lammermuirs, Central Scotland

Snow on the Lammermuirs, Central Scotland my local stomping ground

There are a series of events known as The Photographer’s Ephemeris. These are when the sun or moon line up in a particular way briefly to light up a landscape or scene. There are apps to show the direction of the light at times of the day at a particular location. I have one photograph I have tried to get of the moonlight reflecting off a bay towards a local hill. So far, no joy, too cloudy or the moon was not quite right, I’ve seen it a couple of times, but didn’t have a camera with me that would do it justice.

Anyways, I think there is also an ephemeris for cyclists. Those moments with elements which come together fleetingly to bring delight or joy.

Recent ones have been turning a corner on a cold sunlight winter morning to see a fresh white ribbon of frost stretching away from me. Oh oh!! But on regardless – and that frost was so new it was full of grip, even on my road bike. I crunched up that road with a broad smile delighting in the unexpected pleasure.

Another was passing 3 buzzards within a mile of each other on the wall or fence beside the road. They each gazed at me unconcerned without even ruffling their feathers. Then just a wee bit further a hare raced along the road in front of me for a while to be followed by an iridescent pheasant strutting it’s stuff.

This morning, going to meet the Sunday group I sometimes ride with, I found myself pushing up the hills easily once again with a real grin of pleasure. In the village I had been unaware of the wind, but it was gently giving me a wee push from the rear.

So these little bursts of good feeling are sometimes the highlight of a ride.

Another of the highlights in my life are the communal activities of the area. I am part of a drama group for which I’ve acted, directed, produced plus plenty of backstage or technical stuff. I also help with the local community cinema. We put on a couple of films every month, often doing special things to go with the film. The latest film was ‘The Lunchbox’, a delightful Indian film. So we dressed the Community Hall with exotic stuff (exotic to us that is), served Bombay Mix, spicy popcorn and onion bhajis. It went down well with the beer! There’s loads of other stuff happening as well.

The other activity for our community is a cycling group originally started by a bunch of retired folk but it seems to be growing. We meet every Tuesday do between 30 and 40 miles and a coffee stop is usually obligatory. This is a very social ride with plenty of chat en route and occasional forays to further afield. This year it is going to be Mallorca. As well as this group there are a couple of others on a Sunday I alternate between. Once again, there is usually some good chat, though only one stops for a brew. The other has a fast & slow group, splitting half way through the ride. If the split is at a point where it is mainly downhill or flattish I’ll try & hang onto the fast group if I’m feeling good, otherwise it’s the slower bunch (still no slouches) for me.

So plenty of variety and lots of the spice of life.

The Photographer's Ephemeris

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Ringing the Changes?

Too icy for cycling?

Too icy for cycling?

Like a lot of the time recently it’s been hovering around 0ÂșC, so off for a walk together. I think the road up proved it.

Hi coos

Hi coos

Passed the Highland Coos on the way, they didn’t respond much to my cheery hello though. Good coats for this time of year too.

The Distant Hills

The Distant Hills

After a stroll round the wee partially frozen lake it was off to the delightful cafe for lunch, on the way back I spotted the snow on the nearby hills – so the afternoon was decided on. A wee ski trip beckoned.

Looking back

Looking back

A bit later on I had skinned up the hills, a bit dubious how the descent would be as the snow cover seemed quite thin. So . . . . .

About to strip the skins

About to strip the skins

Stopped to take the skins off for the descent and aimed for the whiter bits.

Just enough snow

Just enough snow

Despite misgivings the ski down proved delightful, with a soft powder on a harder base. It was great for doing my first telemark turns of the season. Not a long ski, but a great way to end the afternoon as it got dark.

A Quick Ski

A Quick Ski

The next day it was on the bike again, then I planned a rest. However a pal emailed so it was out again on the bike. A beautiful day with views way up to the snowy Southern Cairngorms. Then a day off and a trip to the cinema. And tomorrow – looks like the snow may be calling again?

What Do You Taste?

A bit of ice to keep me warm!

A bit of ice to keep me warm!

Another in my self imposed series of the senses.
Taste is closely allied to smell, take way your sense of smell and it will diminish the taste of food or drink. If you can normally smell everything OK and get a bad cold it can take away the taste of food and diminish your appetite.
So what about taste and the bike? It is certainly varied according to the seasons, the terrain, the atmosphere etc.
So it probably starts before you’re even on the bike. Maybe that breakfast taste of marmalade and toast, that hot butter and coffee all still weaving their spell on you taste buds?
Eventually it fades away and the taste becomes a background consciousness of saliva or mucus working away in your mouth. In winter maybe this will be all, though following the peloton could alter this, for better or worse. In summer other tastes will float in with things like the pollens from the fields or forests, such as the sweet sickly taste of oil seed rape, sticking in the throat once your long past the bright yellow field. Or the salt in your mouth as you past the sea front on a windy day, with a faint spray making contact. Or that dry dust thrown up by the wind.
Then there’s the winter with the others in front of you, especially those without mudguards. Yuch, that mud thrown up, that earthy taste. Double Yuch, you pass a field of cows recently herded in, just keep that mouth shut otherwise this just isn’t going to be the sensation you want in your throat. Sometimes though it’s just snow flakes melting on your tongue.
Then bliss, a stop for coffee and scones. That quenching taste of the hot liquid heading down the tongue, lingering again when you’re on your way once more.
But there’s one I hope doesn’t happen too often, that familiar taste. You hit a bad pothole or a bump in the road hard, the blood is in your mouth from biting down suddenly. So much for trying to be alert for 100% of the time, it just won’t happen.
Your water bottle can provide a bit of variety, the slightly metallic taste of some energy compound mix, or sometimes, in my case, sometimes a faint sense of that tiny, tiny bit of red wine I mix in before I go. Also the gels or snacks for energy may give you another thing to savour.
And then there’s that delight when a great smell from a gorgeous field, or pine wood translates itself into a taste that just lingers gently in the background as you cycle on.
So, what do you taste when you are out?

Snow, ice, rain, cold – no probs – but wind and thorns!!!!

A Standing stone on the hill above the village

A Standing stone on the hill above the village

Well, Scottish winters are strange beasts. You get just about everything that weather can throw at you, or beguile you with.

Recently it has been no exception. It has been yo-yoing from -3ÂșC to 13ÂșC, from gloriously sunny days to cloud and murk, from total calm to wild winds, from dry delightful roads to torrents streaming down the street or ice & snow patches.

Most of this I don’t mind. Just put on a few more layers or discard them. Wear a wind/ waterproof jacket. Go slow for dodgy conditions, or climb to warm up.

But, recently, the winds have been ferocious. I can hear it clattering against the pan-tiles on the roof, I can see the rain being battered against the windows, we even had one blow in. And as for thoughts of riding in it – just forget it.

If my ride was all downwind, maybe, just maybe I’d venture a tiny weeny thought about it. But, upward into the teeth of a gale just ain’t my idea of fun. Done it too many times mountaineering or sailing. And as for side winds, those gaps in the hedges and fences are scary places to be if a gust hits at the wrong time, especially if there are other vehicles around.

Today the wind dropped about, so I was out with the gang. Just icy patches to contend with, wee snow flurries with sun shining through so taking it very easy and the warm delights of the cafe beckoned. Mostly stayed just above zero as well. But, we came back along my bĂȘte noire – a local road that had its hedges cut over a month ago. I think I’ve now had 4 punctures on that road from thorns within that time and that’s on puncture resistant tyres. Ah well, nature will have its way – I just wish it wouldn’t. It’s so wretched replacing inner tubes this weather, and the the cadence thingy decided to get tangled up in the spokes a bit – hurrumph!

But at least I got out, good company, sunny day and some good roads in places.

Now it’s time to batten down the hatches again, the next storm is coming through soonish.

My boat was in there somewhere!

My boat was in there somewhere!

A Wee Seasonal Vid

On Tuesdays I usually go out with a bunch of mature folk such as myself. A couple of years back (or more) we were riding in the snow on our mountain bikes & I was filming. One of the guys shouted out something like ‘I bet you’ll put this on Youtube with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies’. So how could I resist?

I filmed it with a Panasonic FZ18 hanging round my neck – interesting one handed shots and all done real time as it were.

A special for you all on this festive season.

Adventure – Thoughts on a Talk.

Soloing Mont Blanc a few years ago

Soloing Mont Blanc quite a few years ago

For the last couple of years I’ve been giving occasional talks to various groups and I’ve committed myself to another soon.
To me I’ve led what seemed to be a fairly normal life, but seeing things through the eyes of others it seems less so.
Previous offerings for talks have been a trip to Nepal, climbing & trekking, and another on ‘Hidden East Lothian’, showing all the odd places, objects, and wildlife in the area that folk normally don’t see or notice.
I was asked to do another one which is coming up soon. So what to talk about – I decided on ‘Adventures’

So, first look up Adventure, how is it defined?
1a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
b : the encountering of risks
2: an exciting or remarkable experience
Origin of ADVENTURE
Middle English aventure, chance, risk, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come — more at come
First Known Use: 14th century

Ah yes, done a bit of this!

Looking into Tibet from Yala Peak, Nepal

Looking into Tibet from Yala Peak, Nepal

Started early, with my Ma & Pa, trekking over the hills & Youth Hostelling before we were 10. Staying in odd locations around Britain and so on. By the age of 16, I’d been on a few multi day canoe/ camping trips with pals, including a canal trip with a total gale which blew canal boats out of the water, we managed to keep our tent down somehow. I’d also started climbing & mountaineering so used to hitchhike off to the hills. Me and my pals also from an earlier age used to go off on our bikes for the day & set up off road courses on old bomb sites in the city.

So when it came to a career, Outdoor Education was the thing, first as a schoolteacher, then into local authority centres. So adventure just became a normal part of life.

So now, retired I look back and realise that life has been a real adventure,

Singing & playing for the seals after a force 10 gale at sea, just below Loch Coruisk, Skye

Singing & playing for the seals after a force 10 gale at sea, just below Loch Coruisk, Skye

Square Rigger, Inca - The Clipper Challange 1982

Square Rigger, Inca – The Clipper Challange 1982

sailing in gales,

Canoeing the Falls on the River Tummel - I'm there somewhere.

Kayaking the Falls on the River Tummel – I’m in there somewhere.

The Grade III falls at Gradtully

The Grade III falls at Gradtully

white water, sea and loch canoeing trips,

Wandering up the Concordia Glacier in the Alps, this was a rock bridge over a deep crevasse

Wandering up the Concordia Glacier in the Alps, this was a rock bridge over a deep crevasse

Ski Mountaineering Scottish Highlands

Ski Mountaineering Scottish Highlands

Winter solo canoe camping & mountaineering

Winter solo canoe camping & mountaineering

mountaineering (summer, winter, on ski & foot), climbing, glacier wanders, bivvying on the ice,

Cyclist's road hazard on Mull, Scotland - a highland 'coo'

Cyclist’s road hazard on Mull, Scotland – a highland ‘coo’

cycle trips,

Cheatah

stroking cheatahs and so on. All not at a super high level, but generally just getting out into the wilds.

Now, as I get a wee bitty older, I maybe should slow down, but to hell with that. For my 60th I did a solo road trip round California and Nevada, sleeping in the car or woods,

Climbing in Yosemite, a few hundred feet up

Climbing in Yosemite, a few hundred feet up

climbing and rafting at Yosemite, skiing down the Palisades at Lake Tahoe & meeting many interesting folk.
Six years later, I’ve cycled more than ever over the last year and am hoping to do a few ski trips into the Scottish hills this winter and the rivers are up and calling.

So where did all this thirst for adventure come from? Well both grandads were in the Merchant Navy wandering all over the world. One of them was part of an Arctic expedition to the then relatively unknown Kara Sea.

My Grandad on the Kara Sea expedition, very early 1920s

My Grandad on the Kara Sea expedition, very early 1920s

As I said my mum & dad were into cycling & youth hostelling in a big way in their youth, so some of this has rubbed off too I reckon.
So for the next 66 years – well, life’s just an adventure isn’t it?

“And I would ride 8,000 km” – not quite the same ring as . . . . . . .

Looking across Belhaven Bay towards Traprain Law, next to the cycle path

Looking across Belhaven Bay towards Traprain Law, Scotland next to the cycle path

to paraphrase The Proclaimers famous song – ‘And I would ride 5,000 miles’ – it sounds so much better, even though it is less impressive, maybe?

Being a maths graduate (seems another lifetime away with the flares & tie die shirts), I love statistics, numbers & spreadsheets etc. So I accumulate masses of stats (thank you Garmin).

Just recently I reached the 8,000 km mark on the bike this year, which included 86,00 metres of ascent, over 350 hours of cycling and endless amounts of fun, happiness, companionship and enjoyment. My biggest ride so far was 147 km (92 miles) with 1,478 metres ascent (4877) – this was done on a blisteringly hot Scottish day, ending up fairly dehydrated. Was going for the century ride, but enough was enough. So, call me a geek if you wish, but, that’s your problem not mine.

There was also some angst, pain and frustration mixed in.

So what does it all mean? Not too much I suppose to most, but recollections of some excellent times for me & my pals. I usually annotate rides with weird titles & descriptions, but they mean something to me. So looking over my rides what churns away in the memory banks?

“Wott!! No coffee, scones or sprinkles?” – I have been out with one Sunday crew for a while now, but was requested to join another so popped along to see. The group is around 25, so we cycled along sort of together for a while, then split into fast & slow. Knowing there was a lot of downhill & flat I went for the fast and we flew, managed to stay with them for a long while till we hit the sea front and woosh, off they went, clung on for a few miles & then finally acted my age, and I wasn’t alone. But – no coffee stop as is usual for me. So – nowadays I alternate between the two groups, both of them good in their own ways.

“Tour of Tweedale,1ÂșC at the start, 30+ miles to warm up – then glorious”  – a Sportive in the Scottish Borders, 82 miles and 1,270 metres (4,000 ft) of ascent with a few tough climbs (one ramps up to over 20% – the Wall of Talla!) It was great, with a couple of pals, a magical food stop with wonderful home made soup and goodies plus plenty of good craic & meetings with pals and groups to follow (and lead) – just perfect despite the initial cold. I’ve done this for the last 3 years and the distance has varied from 80 to 99 miles – definitely the best Sportive I’ve taken part in.

“No Day of the Triffids” – a ride over the hills on the Sunday, the Triffids were the huge wind turbines which usually suddenly loomed close by as we crested the top of the hills.  Because of the thick, thick mist we couldn’t see them this time so had to creep down the hill slowly, slowly dodging gravel, potholes each other and one daft, mad car – so no daft 45+ mph descent for me this time!

And then there was South Africa – a whole different experience in oh so many ways.

Out in the bush, South Africa on "that bike" @ÂŁ$%$&^%)?!!!!

Out in the bush, South Africa on “that bike” @ÂŁ$%$&^%)?!!!!

And then there’s the wildlife met en route. Deer, badgers, swans, hares, rabbits, stoats, weasels, skeins of geese, rabbits, dogs, heron, eider ducks, fish, sheep, skylarks, pheasant etc. etc. Wow. are we cyclists sometimes so lucky to be involved in biking?

And looking forward already to next year, I’ve booked a week in Mallorca with the Tuesday bunch I cycle with – yippee!!!!

The ephemera of achievement

Does this mean me?

Does this mean me?

I should be past being affected by this?

Strava – that demon of the computer age, that beguiler, that drawer in of thoughts and actions, at least a bit of the time – it’s there.

But, if you are a fan (or taken in by it all) it can compel you to try, justify outrageous effort occasionally or just add a wee bit of excitement to an everyday ride.

So, if you’re slightly addicted (or worse), it’s a joy, especially on a calm day, to get home, load up your ride and see a PR pop up.

But occasionally, just occasionally, or in my case very, very, very occasionally that little crown appears. Yes KOM, or for the uninitiated King of the Mountain, though sometimes those mountains can go down as well as up, just like the stock market.

So the wind is blowing, it’s in your favour on a particular segment, you go like crazy, knowing there’s loads of young, fast thrusters cycled this stretch before you. But, you don’t give up – it may be long or it may be steep but you go for it, legs aching, heart beating, maybe a bit faster than it should, breath rasping but enjoying this all out feeling despite the hardship. You get home, upload again and there it is – you’ve done it – that magic crown appears on the achievements. A glow of satisfaction, even though you know in your heart that nature has really been on your side, or just sometimes not. Then the wait for the inevitable.

A wee while ago the wait wasn’t long. There was a segment locally that I went over, I worked on it diligently every time I went that way and then one day – yes – into the wind – it was mine. But next day a gale raged and with it was blown away my crown by an enterprising yoof.

Two weeks ago, it was blowing a hoolie, I was with another companion who was slightly faster on the 3.6 mile segment, but he’d forgotten his Garmin. We were both giving it the works, dropped down low, joyously giving it the bizz. Made it home – YES, I’d got it not just one, but two KOMs, Andy must’ve been a bit fed up? These ones lasted a week, then, while I was out with another group, some pals went out together on a real blasting day and a real gale and boof, I dropped into 4th & 5th place, ah well – them’s the breaks.

So is it worth it, definitely yes, some days I just like cruising, but on others I’ll take up the challenge and just try to go over the top one more time.

Happy hunting.

The Calm During the Storm

In the village, before the storm

In the village, before the storm

It was all because of Gonzalo, who crossed the Atlantic to say hello to us all over here – hurricane Gonzalo.

There have been some gales and wild winds recently, but they bring bonuses.

There’s the decisions do I go out? Upwind first, then turn and have a glorious return? Downwind and start with the delight? Across the wind – will the crosswinds be too much as they swirl through the spaces between the houses or gaps in the hedges? Can I make a route that winds its way between sheltering hedgerows or walls, that will creep up hills that hide the wind, or tack to and fro on a course diagonal to the wind?

So decision made – upwind first & head for the windward mark, tacking as we go (one for the sailors amongst you). After 10-15 miles, enough is enough. The roaring in my ears, either full on or from one side then the other has gone on for long enough, time to turn and head downwind.

Now is the time to choose the exposed bits, the wild upland roads with few walls, fences, trees or hedges. Fly, fly, fly – chasing my own tail.

The suddenly it’s there. That eerie calm when you’re going the same speed as the wind.

. . . .

Quiet.

. . . .

But not still, speeding along at 25 – 40 miles an hour with no sound except the whirr of the pedals, the faint whine of the chain and the sound of tyres quietly moving on the tarmac.

. . . .

Delight.

 . . . .

So – I stop peddling, even calmer, no chain noise on the sprockets, no feet spinning easily round,  just more delight. Then after a mile, 2 miles if I’m lucky, it’s time to work again, or sometimes the meditation is broken by the surface being disrupted, gravel crunching, potholes to be dodged, ruts in the road to be avoided, animals to dodge.

But sometimes, just sometimes I hit that sweet spot. I’ve had it occasionally in other sports, that totally windless day on the top of some peak, with a broken spectre reflected below on a bank of valley cloud, the lake with the perfect reflection and the canoe gliding silently across the surface by an ‘Indian’ stroke without a splash. But somehow it’s not the same. You haven’t tussled & worked so hard against the elements to get to where it can all happen.

Bliss