Not long ago, I got an email via OpenStreetMap telling me about a forthcoming mapping party in Bigtown. Obviously they’d noticed that having just me doing the mapping, at my current rate of do-a-few-side-streets-on-my-bike-when-I’m-in-town-if-I-have-time, it was going to be a while before Bigtown’s coverage reached saturation, and they’d decided to come up and give me a hand. Which is cool, but it did make me realise I had better get a move on and with today being the last fine day predicted on the weather forecast I decided to get out and put one of Bigtown’s two big cycleways on the map. This proved a bit of an adventure. The routes themselves aren’t bad – well signposted, beautifully surfaced, lit, reasonably well used and – miracle of miracles – not carpeted in broken glass. But – and how did you know there would be a but? – there are a few minor flaws. There was the ‘cyclists dismount sign’ at the entrance to one section, but then that’s usually how you know you’re on a really serious cycle route in the UK. And then every time it got to a road there would be a chicane, although I’m better at cycling through those than I used to be. And, worst of all, there was the slight sneaking sensation of boredom I got as I bowled along a flat, straight, untrafficked path with nothing to think about but pedalling – but that’s just me, and hardly the path’s fault. On the whole it was pretty good, and if I lived or worked round there I’d certainly use it in preference to the road.
But there are cycle tracks, and there are cycle tracks. On the way back, I noticed a sign pointing me off to the right, indicating a short cut home. I had a quick look at the map and couldn’t see how it crossed the river, but in the spirit of mapping, and exploration, I decided to follow it to see where it went. Lulled into a false sense of security by the wonderful facility I’d been on before, I didn’t smell a rat when I ended up diving through underpasses beneath a big roundabout. Nor did the roar of lorries tip me off as I rounded a corner, until I found myself right on the edge of the major A-road, the wind in my face, on a narrow pavement, heading against the traffic, with what seemed like every lorry in Scotland bearing down at 60mph towards me. True, I was off-road, technically, and therefore ‘safe’, except where the bushes were overgrown and I had the choice between ploughing through branches or going head to head with an articulated lorry. But it was deeply unpleasant and scary and there was no way off, and nothing to do about it but grit my teeth and put my head down and cycle for the longest mile of my life.
It was a relief to get off and onto the roads once more, albeit the quiet back streets. After a quick stop off for much needed fuel at the garage – a Yorkie bar, as it happens – I was happy to thread my way through the cars queueing for their fuel (rather pricier and much less tasty I’ll bet), and head for home.