Category Archives: steep

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?

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.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Chilly Scottish mist

Chilly Scottish mist

Only event I’ve done this year – The Tour of Tweeddale down in the Scottish Borders, which I love. Friendly, magic soup at the food stops, good organisation, well signed etc.

I’ve entered this event for the last 3 years since it started. The first year it was just over 90 miles, last year 99 and this year 80, so looked like it was going to be easier.

Left home and it was 8ºC, so not too bad, had on two cycling shirts, the leg & arm warmers for the hanging about bit. Got down to Peebles, the car registered 3º – but I had on my down ‘gilet’ so felt good. Meet up with all sorts of friends and acquaintances and good chat with new faces.

Leg warmers off and set off into the misty gloom with the Haddington/ North Berwick crews, cruising along averaging about 17 mph. Instant freeze up of hands, strangely  the rest of me OK. The Garmin if I could have seen it registered 1º for the next hour and more. Luckily with all these fit people up front, apart from my occasional leads, it helped mitigate the wind chill a wee bit. Not only was the mist down, but my glasses were just about opaque as well and with lumps of frozen sausages for fingers I was finding it awkward to change gear, let alone the thought of having to do some emergency braking. Even when the sun came out the mist hung low & the faint glow wasn’t enough to warm things up.

We came up Loch Talla, which looked absolutely amazing. The mist was swirling across the water, breaking up and reforming with the sun  casting bright patterns everywhere and the hills behind coming and going. I had meant to bring my camera, but had left it in the car by mistake – damn! At the end of the loch came ‘The Wall of Talla’. This climb out of the glen averages 20%, ramping up to 30% in places so it’s a slow grind up, but in the sun luckily. A really good warming up process with a fantastic swoop down on the other side past Meggat water. By now I had about 8 working fingers and enough confidence in braking to ‘go for it’ with the rest of the faster folk. Total exhilaration.

A stop at the food station by now with hands operating as per normal, with thick, thick delicious soup and other goodies. The Haddington crew went off while Jo & I waited for Ronnie. The rest of the trip was good with a couple of good climbs, one long and progressive (Berry Bush), and the other (The Witchie Knowe) steeper, with the summit always in view, sometimes not seeming to be any closer, then through the gap & down, down, down.

Ronnie & I - Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I – Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I were sharing the lead with Jo doing her occasional bit. But at one point I looked back & there were 8 folk on our wheels, ah well. So as in the past a great event with fabulous scenery, great company and some challenging terrain and a few new PRs. Better get in training for next year?

What Do You See?

A wet, chilly miserable day near Kinross

A wet, chilly miserable day near Kinross

My rides vary as we have such different terrain here. Keep to the coastal strip and the ground is undulating, though still with a few sharp hills. Head south and you climb up to the moorland with a lot of steep hills and ascents.

Just a wee local hill

Just a wee local hill – Lothian Edge behind

Then there’s the weather, varies daily from thick haar (smist) floating in from the North Sea, sunshine, gales, calm, clouds, rain, hail, snow – we do have a somewhat variable climate.

There’s also who you are cycling with, solo, with a bunch of friends (coffee stop mandatory), with the ‘Young Thrusters’ wheeling along at a pace that sends my heart rate into orbit.

A flock of swans in a local field with the LAmmermuir hills behind

A flock of swans in a local field with the LAmmermuir hills behind

So, do you keep your head down, do you sit up and look around or just mix and match? I’m usually the latter, my cycling aim is enjoyment, but sometimes that might be the fun of testing myself or screaming down one of our fantastic descents. Other times it’s with a bunch of cycling pals, riding beside each other & chewing the fat, gossiping or discussing the meaning of life. Some times I stop to look at a sunset, what’s scurrying in the hedge row, or watch an adder snaking across the road. Or at times I dangle the camera from my neck and go deliberately to look, photograph or film.

Riding back home, crunchty, crunchety.

Riding back home, crunchty, crunchety.

Some of the places I’ve cycled have been just amazing, especially one’s just around the corner if you don’t take them for granted.

So do you hang over the handlebars, watching the bike a few centimetres in front, do you hang loose or are you just a mixture like me?

Just a couple of miles from our village

Just a couple of miles from our village

A dramatic local castle above the sea

A dramatic local castle above the sea

Mid ride rest beside the loch

Mid ride rest beside the loch

Le Tour de Farce – 1st Edition

Brilliant!!

Brilliant!! Hope you like the not-a-go-pro hanging round my neck!

Last year was the 100th edition of Le Tour de France, so a group of localish riders decided to head out to Alpes d’Huez for this historic event + 5ish days cycling, especially as the Tour was coming up the hill twice. We named our group Le Tour de Farce, and Tour de Farce it was in some ways.

Edinburgh airport, we were all assembled for our flight, bikes at the ready, the queue kept building up, nothing was moving. Finally they came to tell us all the ticketing computers had gone down. Aghghgh, slight panic – cars to collect at the other end. After 2 1/2 hours things were sorted (manually) and we left the ground.

Arrived at Geneva, got bike off the carousel, wandered through customs & passport checks to wait for the others. No-one at first, then some came out – 2 bikes had gone astray and 1 set of luggage, complete with biking gear. Aghghghgh – more slight panic. Decision time, some of us were sent off in one car, while the rest stayed in to see if things could be retrieved.

A few hours later in Alpes d’Huez, we went for a bite, a pizza – darkness coming, so too late for that first evening cycle. Apparently after midnight the rest of the gang arrived having achieved not much.

Next day the bikes were loaned out, but I was left with mine. The gang decided to go down the hill & then pootle back up (if that’s the right word for a 3,00 foot, 21 hairpin climb averaging too many %)

So I got on my bike & climbed up to the twin lakes a mere 1,100 feet above. I had had a break in my riding as my granddaughter had come over from S Africa for a month and we spent so much time together, so I knew this trip would be a struggle – but slowly, slowly . . . . . .

Possibly the best descent of the trip.

Possibly the best descent of the trip from Le Col de Sarenne

The after noon arrived and the 2nd group set off with me in tow to climb over the Col de Sarenne & then Alpes d’Huez. Fabulous weather but hot, hot, hot. On the way up to the Col we had to take to grass riding/ pushing to bypass the folk laying down fresh tarmac for the Tour coming through in 2 days time. We paused at the top and I stayed behind to take photos & videos of the team tentatively going down, then wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!! A fantastic descent for the fools like me and with the temperature at 90 degrees + (32+C) a lovely cooling off period. I managed to overtake everyone on the descent so not bad for an old fool.

The it was into Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the big one for a well earned drink & pâtisserie. Then off to climb ‘The Hill’. I set off a tiny bit before the others, but most had passed me by about the 7th bend. Masses and masses of cyclist were toiling upwards. I then suddenly realised I was totally out of it, I was meandering all over the road & with not much between me and the drop beside me I decide recuperation was the order of the day. I later realised the temperature had reached 102 degrees (39C). So I hid under a bush for 20 mins, with a butterfly to keep me company. Once I continued I drank even more & doused myself with water under the roadside waterfalls. I’m from Scotland – we don’t do this sort of heat! But eventually made it back.

Then off for a pizza, now when in France I love to eat nice French food, in a lovely restaurant, but ‘the gang’ had other ideas. Not sure about the general Europop around the village either, but hey?

Breakfast at Boirg d'Oisans, French style

Breakfast at Boirg d’Oisans, French style

Next day the delayed bikes had arrived & it was the big one. The Col de Galibier beckoned. This time a mere 7,000 ft of ascent. At least the start was a a blast down from Huez and a lovely French breakfast in the village below.

At 13% a real sting in the tail

The team arrive up the final slope, at 13% a real sting in the tail

Several hours, 26.7 miles and 6144 feet later we were at the top, feeling fabulous.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit 1985, maybe looking ovet to Galibier?

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit, 1985, maybe looking over to Galibier on the left?

On the way up we had views of the Meije Oriental, which I had climbed nearly 30 years ago. Then it was wooshing away back down. We stopped at La Grave for a late lunch and as we finished a huge downpour started. But, it was warm, so we set off anyway splashing our way down. I wimped out of the Huez climb again having already 70 miles and a car being available, but the others were braver than I. That night pizzas (though I opted for Lasagne), beer and Europop – no comment.

Next day, the great day arrived. Whizz, down to the bottom, breakfast at the cafe then the ascent before the Tour arrived. There were probably 20,000 or so of us peddling up those hairpins and 250,00 of spectators on the slopes. With my white beard & Scottish flag flying from the back of the bike I was greeted with cries of Ah, Le Diablo Ecosse (after an eccentric Italian who follows the Tour every year nicknamed Le Diablo). Loads of bravos, cheers, europop blaring out, manic Dutch corner, wee pushes and a wee diversion near the top away from the final finish. A really great but bizarre experience.

Alpes d'Huez - the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d’Huez – the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d'Huez, arrival of le peleton

Alpes d’Huez, arrival of le peleton

A quick sandwich & the down to the village to see Le Tour come through, accompanied by Europop, cheers that drowned out the music(?) and a fantastic atmosphere.

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d'Huez 2nd time round

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d’Huez 2nd time round

Then up to our apartments to watch progress on the TV & Le Tour coming through a second time beneath out balcony.

Then later, back down to the village for more beer and? (I’m sure you can guess by now)

Next day, up too late for a final ride, bikes dismantled the night before, then smooth progress back to Scotland.

An amazing if strange experience, would I do it again? Well this year it was the Giro d’Italia starting off in Dublin & I declined, But I’m glad I experience Le Farce & I’d try to be fitter next time.

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.

Life’s illusions 2 and pet hates

Shadows on the beach

Shadows on the beach

I finally succumbed. I’ve gone totally metric.

Most of my cycling pals talk in kilometres and metres so I’ve reset my Garmin to do the same.

So do I feel faster cycling at 81.271872 kmph rather than 50.5 mph? Do I feel I’ve climbed less if I wander up the hills for 616 metres rather than 2020 feet 113132 inches? If anything the reverse. I seem to spend my time trying to convert in my head rather than just going with the new. I’m sure that this will pass and I’ll be kilometreing with the best. Gosh, it’s hell being a geek!

Another illusion is the feeling of improving. Having been improving again on the bike, suddenly yesterday it all caved in. My legs became sticks of jelly on the hills, though I was OK on the flats & downhills – as fast as ever. Most of my cycling pals all speed off up the way as I painfully rose up the ascent. And why? Haven’t a clue, maybe it’ll be better today?

Finally pet hates, I have one main one. “To die for”. Why does this irk me so? I’m not really sure. What I am sure is that there may well be things worth dying for but a hat, a pair of cycing shoes, a dress, tickets to see someone perform? The folk using this phrase would certainly not give up their lives for these. Now “To live for”, that’s a different matter altogether.

Your Inner Grandad

Near the top of the 2000 ft climb up Bealach na Ba, Scotland

Near the top of the 2000 ft climb up Bealach na Ba, Scotland

Abbey Dore & Mill Lane, England

Abbey Dore & Mill Lane, England

 

Hills is hard, there’s no denying.

Just outside the village is a 9 percenter, go the other way and it’s 15.7%, a third road out is 8.5% and just a wee bit further out the hills get steep – I think you get the message. A couple of days ago I was down in England and borrowed my nephew’s touring bike. On the ride was a hill which ramped up to just under 20% – aghghghgh it was hard.

I see all my friends & bike acquaintances (young & old) puffing & panting, grinding their way up the hills. I just think – crazy!!! Get some lower gears and start enjoying the climbs. My bike came with a Shimano 105 cassette, but I’ve modified it to with a mountain bike one which has a 34 tooth rear (for the non techies – a big yin!!). What bliss it is to potter up all but the steepest climbs with my wee feet whizzing away. I don’t really understand all this macho stuff, this suffer for your ride business. I much prefer to be able to just let the legs do the stuff and I seem to get up the hills as fast as most and certainly less puffed.

I’ve even noticed that on the steep climbing days the professionals in the Tour de France, Vuelta, Giro etc are using bigger cogs.

So – embrace your inner grandad and make life a wee bit easier, cycling up grades is bad enough sometimes for us mere mortals, so maybe look at making it a tiny bit easier for yourself. You can always aim for harder climbs if you like the suffering!