Category Archives: birds

My Nemesis and The Walk of Shame

It started with my nephew’s bike. It’s a touring bike with a good selection of gears, straight bars, slightly heavy and upright and also a bit too big.

We were all staying at his aunt’s in the wilds of Herefordshire. The house is up on a ridge in a countryside full of narrow  back lanes, muddy, damp and pot holed. But, a bike is a bike and I was grateful for the loan of it.

I discovered that starting near the top of a hill is a drawback as there’s always that climb up at the end of the day. Also, the area is fully of steep hills, often ramping up to well over 15%, often with a wee section of 20%+. So it is all quite challenging.

On one of my rides I discovered Mill Lane. Aghghghghghghgh – and I’ll tell you why later. 2/3rds of the way up I was struggling and staggered off and started walking, slowly, very slowly. But the challenge had been set. Next day, a short ride and I was back. This time, heart pounding, lungs gasping, legs aching I was up without a dismount. Yippee.

When I got home and uploaded my stats I discovered, much to my amazement, I had become King of that particular mountain.

So, 8 months later, I was back, relegated to a lowly 2nd place on my nemesis.

What every cyclist should wear?

What every cyclist should wear?

This time I was with my trusty steed ready for “That Hill” This time we were cat and house sitting.

The cat being sat

The cat being sat

By this time you might be thinking, “What is it with this guy and this hill?” or maybe not.

Well now, the hill starts right after you’ve passed what looks like an old mill house, then cycled down the stream to emerge at the slope ahead. You then know you’ve only got half a mile to the top.

First you cycle down the stream!!

First you cycle down the stream!! The hill rises up to the top right.

Straight away it ramps up to over 20%, take it easy, take it slow, take it easy take it slow, then a wee rest at 15%. Oh no off again, another 22%+ ramp, then another ‘flat’ bit at only 10%. Onward and upward, wheel spin on the gravel as the next 20% section is underneath the bike, then a turn round the bend at a mere 17% before the final kick up at over 22% till it eases off with an almost downhill feeling 3% (OK well not quite, but it certainly feels easier).

So, take it slow at first, up out the saddle by the third ramp and gasping and spluttering as I reach the top of the fourth steepest ramp. Then ahead of me a car looking abandoned across the road with its passenger door wide open, almost blocking the path ahead. I manage to crawl past the driver’s door, gasping something to the woman putting up a notice beside me. I recover enough to get to the top. Done it!!!

Later, when I look at the result I see I’ve just exactly equaled the time on my last attempt. See that car!!

So next day I know that !@£$%^&?|>!! hill has still got my name on it.

So, three days later, after being penned in by the weather, rested and recuperated, I’m ready. A quick 5 mile warm up and I’m at the bottom again, cycling down the stream. Scooting up the first bit – easy, then it bites back. I’ve gone too fast. By the fourth steep section I’m puggled. I’m sure I can taste blood in my mouth, I’ve just overdone it my breathing and heart rate seem to have gone ballistic, should I do this to myself? It’s the walk of shame again. I push the bike up that last steep section, hop on and try to cycle quickly up the last section. Ah well, not to worry, won’t be down this way for a while so maybe next time and it’s off for another 20 miles of ups and downs.

An amazing collection of old items

An amazing collection of old items

The ride is excellent, though clarty, passing buzzards, ducks, cows, tractors, the amazing house shown above and the army base where the SAS are rumoured to train. We watched a dismantled Boeing 747 swathed in white plastic on three huge trailers negotiating the narrow lanes on its way to the base the day before. Presumably to be used for training.

Got home and loaded up the stats much later. Wow! Even with walking it was my fastest time up that hill, well I never!

And who was the person with the KOM? It turned out to be a pro rider from Texas on a 100 mile jaunt, so a different league altogether.

But if I’m back later in the year . . . . . . .

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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

“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,1ºC 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" @£$%$&^%)?!!!!

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

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!!!!

What do you hear?

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Think this could be a theme coming on, wandering around the senses?

I was very conscious of the sound of my tyres on the road the other day. It was quite windy & I was freewheeling down hill with the wind behind. The tarmac was fairly smooth and a delightful hum came from the front wheel, with no other sound. It set me thinking.

Normal bike sounds, the usual sound of the freewheel, usually fairly quiet on my Shimano set up. The clunk of the gear change or horrendous crunch if, as I occasionally do, get it wrong. The rasp of the tyres in an occasional skid to stop or over-egging it, the squelch through a puddle or ford, the crunch through gravel, the click over the local train level crossing (which is far from level) or the thud over lumps of tractor mud.  The different noises from the brakes – a gentle rub of pads on the rim, a short squeal if there is dust around or a foul crunching if a wet day has thrown gravel onto the rim. The chatter of cycling companions around or beside you usually entertains you. Then there is the explosion of an inner-tube blowing or the hiss of it leaking.

Then there’s the traffic. The quiet hum of cars, or noisier deep throated rumble of a diesel vehicle, coming up behind. The click of a bike gear change that lets you know a fellow cyclist has teamed up. The roar of a boy racer’s car (not usually women) as it violently accelerates past you. The disturbing hoot of a horn sounding from an impatient motorist behind. There’s also the shout of an irate motorist from beside you, often for no reason, ah the joys of pathetic road rage. The sounds of trains running on nearby railway tracks or tractors working in the fields.

Then there are nature’s sounds surrounding you. The different wind noises is almost always a variable constant, sometimes the patter of rain, the crunch of hail or the crack of thunder. There is also the cries of birds and the flurry of wings as they fly towards or away from you. The sparking of the hooves of deer or sheep as they scamper out of your way, hopefully.  Dogs often bark, or sometimes growl as you ride past, sometimes giving you a doppler effect. Horses in fields or ridden along the road give a whole variety of snorts, whimpers coughs etc, with riders often shouting out a cheery greeting, or a quick ‘thanks’.

Also the welcome salutations of friends, other pedestrians or cyclists are an ever welcome part of the soundscape.

But, the worst is the sound of a fall or crash and the groans of the one who has come to grief, such a compendium of grating noises – hopefully hardly ever heard.

And the strangest thing of all, the fact that for those of us lucky enough to have hearing, we mostly just take all of this for granted.

So . . . . . . . . what do you hear?

Sometimes it’s just not . . . . . . . .

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

. . . . . got your number.

It’s been a funny autumn so far. The wildlife seems to be going a bit nuts. Drivers seem to be a bit less courteous or maybe less thoughtful, birds seem to have their minds on other things.

So – what’s the upshot of all of this.

The Lucky Times

Crossing the hills, the sheep take it into their minds to dash out in front of you, but decide to change course and head back to the edge of the road.

At the edge of the woods the deer skitter in front of you but head off into the trees.

The mad pheasants whizz across just before you, without getting that bit too close.

The flies & bugs that batter your face when your mouth is closed.

And as for humans, we manage to scrape past a big car belting round the blind bend towards us, with our wheels teasing the verges of the road and my back wheel skidding as I brake while angled over. Or the other one, when I was coming up the High Street in our village, she reversed out in front of me, I just managed to scrape round the rear of the ‘Chelsea Tractor’ without making contact. Went back and asked her politely to make sure she looked more carefully next time she pulled out and she said “But I did see you”. I was too flabbergasted to say or think of anything & just rode on shaking my head.

The Bad

Not to me, luckily, but to a cycling buddy.

On a Sunday we go out with a local group. I go out on at 9 am with the slower crew, a coffee stop is almost compulsory. He went out with the 8 am fast crew. I’ve been with them a couple of times, but just feel I’m holding them back when it gets to the hills, plus I feel knackered. Anyways, they were in a group speeding down one of our local hills at 35+ mph when a pheasant flew out into his front wheel. He went from fast to zero in a fraction of time and was thrown right off the bike. He was knocked out for a bit, but recovered consciousness but had a cracked shoulder blade, road rash & skid burns. After a hospital visit he was later back home to recover. The bike’s front fork was broken.

So sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it, fate seems to have its eye on you. So be thankful for the other times when it’s just not your day.

A 1/2 Naked Lady . . . .

Getting to know the cheetahs with my granddaughter at Nambiti, S Africa

Getting to know the cheetahs with my granddaughter at Nambiti, S Africa

I had been thinking of writing about some my strange meetings on my bike when I read Jean writing about her encounter with storks (http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/behold-a-stork-sightings-during-cycling-trip/).

This has nudged me into looking back a bit at some of my wildlife encounters.

I’ve always worked in the outdoors, canoeing, mountaineering, climbing, skiing, sailing, travelling so have had some pretty amazing happenings, including bears in USA, wild boar, monkeys & huge lammergeier in Nepal, foxes high up in the Alps, a field full of hedgehogs sniffing round my bivvy bag in Norway, stroking cheetahs in S Africa, deer, eagles, capercaillie & a shrew running around the snow in Scotland, being ‘buzzed’ by an owl while riding my motorbike at night and more. But I was thinking more of stuff I’ve come across in my bike wanderings.

Some have been sweet & unthreatening – a shrew dashing across the road in front of my wheels, a weasel running across and diving into the hedge beside me, a hare skelping up the road ahead at a vast rate of knots before wheeling into a gap somewhere.

Others have been a bit more hairy, going along at speed then a couple of deer suddenly clattering on to the road in front & very, very close, their hoofs raising sparks on the tarmac as they tried, successfully to wheel round & scamper off, just missing me. Another deer careering through the woods beside me at over 25 mph for 1/2 mile before turning away. What looked like a piece of wood rolling across the road in front of me, till I realised there was no wind and it was an adder, the only poisonous snake we have her in Britain. Bites or stings or just bruises from insects of various sizes pinging in to me.

But what is probably the most memorable and exciting?

One sunset ride I was down in 1st gear slowly climbing up one of our little steep climbs at about 15%, The road was a narrow with steep banks, trees and bushes above. Suddenly a large animal popped out on the way ahead a few metres away. It was a large male badger. I thought ‘Ah, it’s seen me, it’ll just turn away’. I couldn’t stop anyway or turn round – not wide enough. I was also aware that badgers have very powerful teeth. So – committed. The badger turned a bit more & started trundling down the hill towards me. Oh !@£$%&(@!!. What could I do, just carry on, no other real option really. Just a metre in front the brox decided enough was enough, or I just wasn’t very interesting. It wandered up the bank and off into the undergrowth. I grunted past it with a bit of relief and wonder at the magic of it all.

So what about the 1/2 naked lady?

 

I’ll just have to leave it for another time I suppose.

It’s life’s illusions I recall . . . . . .

With the B-Spokes

With the B-Spokes

It’s a funny thing being out on the bike. While keeping an eye on the road I also like to have a wee neb around me. As it’s usually a quickish glance, sometimes things just aren’t what they seem.

There is a narrow road I normally whizz down  at well in excess of 40 mph from the wind turbines standing at the top, like the Day of the Triffids. It suddenly becomes completely different. Happed in mist, the turbines disappear and even the sound is so muffled I don’t hear them over the slight noise of the bike & road surface. Visibility is so bad I can hardly see the guy in front and we are reduced to crawling down with brakes full on. Suddenly a monster rears up ahead, becomes a huge car with lights full on, going too fast and just missing us. Once beside us, it just appears ordinary again and our heartbeats subside. Then a hundred feet down everything clears and the road becomes normal again.

Another spot I go past, this time climbing up, appears to show an ancient standing stone. I once stopped to have a look – it turned out to be a broken tree stump, though quite high. I still often give it a nod when I pass.

One winter I was just finishing a ride, cold but pleasant and dry. As I turned the corner going slow the road was looking quite wet, almost flooded. I suddenly was on a road width skating rink. Previous snow had solidified to thick ice for about 50 feet along the road with a skim of water on top. I slid to the ground, it was hardly falling, and came gently to a stop no worse for wear but had to skate across with my bike to where the road started.

And then there’s the wildlife, huge birds swooping down to transform into crows, a massive rustling in the undergrowth that becomes a rabbit, a giant dog in a field that is really a hare. Not cycling but ski touring – coming over the top of the hills and wondering how trees could grow this high when the ‘branches’ started to move and a big herd of deer moved off.

Then there’s the illusion of speed or lack of it, sometimes I feel fast and am really pathetic when I see the stats, other times seemingly cruising along and astonished at what I’ve done.

(Added this a day or so later after cycling & thinking: The other thing is the phantom cyclist(s). You spot someone up ahead & start to twitch, ready for action, then you get closer and a fencepost with a sign attached, or a piece of something else suddenly has been morphed from that cyclist you definitely saw.)

So it’s cycling, this strange perception of time, space, weather, fauna, flora, environment etc. that changes every time I click my shoes into my pedals and go.

So, what happens to you?