Stick in the Mud

May 31, 2015

The other half had important things to do that involved spending the morning in a darkened basement and so I, conscious that I’ll be heading home soon, decided to go for a little bike ride and birdwatching expedition on my own. I wasn’t intending to go far – just to the point where the path is flooded out – but as I was pottering along trying to identify which of the seventeen-hundred subtly different American sparrows I might be looking at, I was passed by a woman on a whizzy looking mountain bike (and as an aside, I find the American habit of shouting ‘on your left’ as they cycle up behind you extremely disconcerting. I can’t help interpreting it as an order, rather than a warning, with unintended consequences. What’s wrong with just having a bell or failing that saying hello?). Shortly afterwards, the sparrow still unidentified, I saw her coming back the other way.

‘Cycle path still closed then?’ I asked her.

‘Oh no, you can get through, it’s just a bit muddy,’ she said cheerily.

Now, I don’t know if she meant ‘you can get through if you scramble up a bank and get onto the road’ or whether Americans have got better at their deadpan humour and she was having me on, but I can report that the cycle path is still closed, as in ‘has a river running over it’ closed, and also that if you cycle through thick enough mud towards the bit where the river is running over it like a complete idiot because you’ve believed someone that the path is not closed, then your bike will come to a standstill with its wheels completely jammed solid and you will have to carry it back across several yards of mud and then scrape it down with a stick before you can so much as turn a pedal

mud jammed wheel

I suppose it should have occurred to me that if it was just a bit muddy then she wouldn’t have turned back on her fancy mountain bike, but she did look quite nicely turned out and I thought maybe she didn’t want to get her lycra all clarted up with mud. Although what then is the point of having a fancy mountain bike, I wasn’t entirely sure…

barrier across path

Nothing daunted, we headed out again this afternoon and did the scrambling up a bank thing, and then attempted to get back onto the river path on the other side of town. After a bit of hunting about for the way down – obviously the only bridge which has bike lanes on it only has steps down to the river – we encountered this path which seemed to lead down quite nicely. OK, so it had a barrier across it, but we’re used to cycling in the UK where the National Cycling Network is full of barriers apparently designed to stop you cycling on it, so we dodged round that and realised that perhaps the barrier was there because when we turned the corner the path ended like this:

path ends

No wonder Americans like their mountain bikes so much: they’re the only way on and off the cycle path… Or, you know, you could load your bikes onto the back of your pickup truck like normal people.

However. There’s no such thing as a bad bike ride… and after riding out to the Nature Center and doing a bit of birdwatching and being disappointed in a park where the cafe does not serve cake or even donuts, and diverting around another bit of flooding (where some teenagers were happily ‘fishing’ enormous carp out of what was effectively a puddle, and a rapidly drying puddle at that) and tackling another scary road (the other half’s idea of subjective safety is different from mine) we finally managed to make it to Nick’s Dairy Creme, which must surely be a contender for the most American thing ever:

Nick's Dairy Creme Drive Thru

And I had a hot fudge brownie sundae. With extra nuts. Because cycling may be its own reward but sometimes you need a little bonus

Hot fudge brownie sundae

And no, I couldn’t eat it all…


Riders on the Storm

May 29, 2015
river walkway

For information, Escondido, *this* is how you do a river path…

We have returned to Pueblo, Colorado, which is currently on course for record rainfall levels in May.* Unlike Southwest Scotland, though, the rain seems to be concentrated in intense bursts rather than the sort of pacing-itself drizzle we’re used to. So today, although the clouds were building ominously over the mountains, we felt the need to burn off our lunch at Papa Jose’s by cycling to the secondhand bookshop to stave off the danger of running out of things to read.

Flooded bike path

Yup, definitely still closed

We were hopeful that the absence of a path closed sign on the river path meant that the flooding had receded but it quickly turned out that it just meant someone had stolen the sign.

bike path continues

It did look as if we could scramble along the bank some way and rejoin the path downstream, thereby avoiding the Enormous Scary Junction but after I spotted a snake in the undergrowth we decided that tangling with the traffic would be preferable, although in the end we managed to scramble up a bank and avoid the worst bit of the road. We then misread the signs (and by ‘misread the sign’ I mean ‘believed the sign helpfully directing bikes to the river path didn’t involve going over an enormous scary bridge’) and did enough riding in traffic to make tangling with snakes look like the better option. But we arrived at the book shop unscathed by either pickup trucks or snakes, and then found the slightly less scary route back to the coffee shop that gives you 10% if you come by bike where we sat in the welcome shade and had a giant coffee (the ‘small’) and watched the clouds get slightly more ominous as time passed.

Solar Roast coffee

10% off if you come by bike…

Then it was a simple matter of racing the rain home – arriving, very satisfyingly, just as the first drops began to fall.

storm approaching

* If any other drought-struck region would like us to come and visit and bring the weather gods with us to sort out their water table, our rates are very reasonable…

It’s a Sign

May 25, 2015

One of the unexpected side effects of a decade of blogging and cycle campaigning, particularly online, is the ability to rock up at a city almost at random and ‘know’ someone there who would be up for meeting up and even better, a guided bike tour …


Sam OllingerThis is how Sam Ollinger – who once wrote the magnificently ranty Brown Girl in the Lane bike blog and now runs the slightly less ranty San Diego cycle campaign BikeSD – found herself roped into giving the other half and me our own private infrastructure safari of San Diego. We rented a couple of bike share bikes and then had a lovely time testing the patience of the local drivers by being *those people* on bike hire bikes, you know the ones that ride along oblivious three abreast talking nineteen to the dozen about cycle campaigning, wobbling around the potholes and generally cycling in the wrong lane.* Sorry about that, drivers of South California, we were impressed by your forbearance.

Unlike most bike hire schemes, they make you specify in advance how long you want to rent them for so we paid upfront for a couple of hours which was probably an hour too long given that SD basically doesn’t have any bike infrastructure. But we’re from Scotland so we made Sam give us the full tour anyway to make sure we got our money’s worth on the bikes. Bike SD certainly has its hands full making this into anything but a massively car-dominated city but there are loads of lovely sharrows, which work to increase the apparent cycling mode share by painting some pictures of bicycles on the roads and hoping that fools people (at least, I think that’s how they work because I can’t see any other point to them).


But it’s okay, because they also have the world’s biggest #signmakeitbetter sign which – brilliantly – isn’t even on the road where the drivers can see it. Clearly, just having it there outside city hall is enough. Such is the magic of a ‘share the road’ sign.

share the plaza

Share the … er, pedestrian plaza, guys

Still, as we discovered at lunch, what San Diego does have is an incredible number of craft breweries, which – if the tourists we saw on the rented cruiser bikes were anything to go by – can supply some visitors with sufficient Dutch courage to enable this sort of road look bikeable.

Downtown San Diego road

You don’t have to be drunk to ride here, but it helps.

In all seriousness, good things *are* happening in San Diego – like a parking lot turned into a park – but it’s taking time and Sam and BikeSD have their work cut out helping the city turn commitments of cash into decent infrastructure. They’ll need it, because outside of the downtown area, it would take more than a picture of a squashed bicycle – or, indeed, a giant ‘share the road’ sign – to make me want to cycle there.

The beer, now, that might do it. Although cycling authorities take note: this is not what we mean by ‘going Dutch’

* At least we weren’t on a Segway tour though. Which is an actual thing.

Committing Pedestrianism

May 24, 2015
Flight of pelicans

Blue skies (and scattered showers), palm trees and pelicans

So we made it to Southern California, bringing the rain with us, which I am told is a good thing, but also enough sunshine for it to have been unwise to visit the beach yesterday morning without any sunscreen. We’re not staying right on the coast (which is amazing if you look up – or out towards the ocean, but a bit depressing if you like your towns to be separated from each other by something other than a sign indicating the city limits) – but further in inland where, it turns out, despite the fact that our hotel is nestled in the bosom of the freeway, that right behind it is a bike path that runs along the creek, and would actually take us to the Historic Downtown (historic in that if there ever was a downtown, it’s now history).

The only problem is getting onto it

fenced off path

Top tip for bike path designers, fencing it off from most places (you can get on and off the freeway more frequently than you can this path) doesn’t exactly make for social safety, although at least this means that closing it at dusk is less of an inconvenience than it would otherwise be because there’s no way I’d use a path that’s fenced in like that after dark, especially given the very friendly but ever-so-slightly-sketchy looking people getting stoned under the bridge.

bike path closes at dusk sign

Still, it had its moments. And though the creek was no more than a concrete channel, also fenced off from the path, for some reason, there still was enough bird life* to make me wish I’d brought along my bird book and my binoculars for my post-breakfast constitutional. Or, indeed a bike.

flowers on the fence

And then we got into the car, and onto the freeway and went out to the park for a proper hike, like normal people.

hiking trail

Actually, that was pretty good too…

* Stilts, ibises, egrets, swallows, ducks, kildeer, and a couple of raptors, if you’re interested.

For the Birds

May 21, 2015

Spring in Pueblo may actually be proving to be colder (during the day at least) than it is at Christmas, but at least there are a greater variety of birds at this time of year. In fact, one of the coolest things we’ve seen are the flocks of swallows swooping low between the cars at even the hugest intersection, intent on scooping up bugs and – so far as I have seen, anyway – miraculously avoiding getting splatted by the traffic (it’s lucky I’m not driving because I find watching them far more interesting than noticing the light has gone green). So this afternoon, the rain having stopped we set off with binoculars and bird book on the bikes to head down to the river path and see what we could see.

It all started off so well – lots of not particularly rare birds, but cool ones all the same, like a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree, and a broad-tailed hummingbird hanging out at a bird feeder (and how amazing would it be to have a hummingbird among the birds that visit your back garden?). And there are flowers blooming along the trail and everything is fresh and green. The river trail gives us the freedom of Pueblo, basically – if you’re prepared to take a huge detour, then you can use it to get to within striking distance most of the places we want to go by bike, and although there are bits of it I wouldn’t want to use after dark, in daylight it’s fine. So all was going well until we got to this sign:

trail closed sign

Obviously, being cyclists, we just ignored it and pressed on, hoping it was exaggerating, but after skating through some muddy bits and some just a bit flooded bits, we came around a bend and the river was basically flowing over the path and we decided to back up and try and work our way past the flooding on the roads.

Unfortunately, although the roads alongside the river path are generally pretty quiet, they have to cross the main highways and that meant tackling a junction that looked like this:


This isn’t even a large intersection, by Pueblo standards. But it was plenty big enough for me


A swallow might be able to survive flitting through this little lot, but on a borrowed bike – a bike with a front brake that is merely advisory, and a back hub brake that effectively locks up the wheel – well I didn’t fancy my chances. The other half manned up and took the lane but I’m not that brave so I got off and walked along the sidewalk* until we found some quiet roads again. And even then, crossing every highway meant a dash across traffic, not helped by the fact that I’m still instinctively looking the wrong way when crossing the road.

It was only after we’d given up and were making our way back that I noticed that this was, in fact, a bike route. That little tiny yellow sign you can see across six lanes of traffic? It says ‘share the road’.

share the road sign

So that’s all right then.

We’re off to Southern California tomorrow for a few days. Hopefully by the time we return, the flooding will have receded and we’ll be able to potter along the river trail as we have been used to. Because otherwise, I don’t thinke we’re going to be doing much cycling while we’re here.

* Apparently Colorado law lets you cycle on the sidewalk ‘except where prohibited’ which isn’t particularly helpful.

Come Fly the Friendly Skies

May 19, 2015

So we made it to Colorado, despite the best efforts of our airline which should really remain nameless although alert readers may just be able to take a guess at which one from the title. It didn’t help that we were booked to fly from Glasgow to Colorado Springs via Newark (sensible enough) and Houston (geographically senseless) – and when we got to Newark, we discovered our flight to Houston was delayed for three hours making catching our connection impossible. The airline-which-shall-remain-nameless was on top of the situation, though, and had booked us through on the next available flight from Houston to Colorado Springs, which was at 9am the next day.

‘So will the airline be putting us up in a hotel?’ we asked. The Customer Service woman looked at us as if we’d asked for the moon on a stick, dipped in chocolate and sprinkles. ‘No, we wouldn’t do that,’ she said.* Could we claim a refund? ‘Well, you can go to our website and click on our feedback form,’ she suggested, to a hollow laugh from the other half. Could she suggest anywhere we would be able to stay near Houston airport? ‘No I don’t know anything about the Houston area’ (Unfortunately she was not adjusted for sarcasm so this one went straight over her head). Could we phone our relatives who would otherwise be setting out to meet us? Well yes, we did at least get a phone call – after all, suspected murderers get nothing less – so while the other half was phoning up his parents to let them know the bad news, I went over to the departures board to have a look.

Back to the customer services desk. Could we get on that flight to Denver that was departing in an hour or so? She looked at her computer. Why, yes we could. And there was a connecting flight to Colorado Springs that would only get us in an hour later than planned – and with no need to go via Texas. Result. No guarantees that our luggage would go with us, but at this point we didn’t care (and it is, as we speak, being delivered by someone called Richard, having had an impromptu overnight stay in Houston; the luggage, that is, not Richard**). As to why the airline-that-shall-remain-nameless hadn’t thought of this itself, I have no idea. I suspect it just doesn’t have the sort of finely-tuned seek-out-an-alternative instinct that years commuting in London instils in you… Or maybe it just didn’t give a toss.

So after only 20 hours travelling we finally arrived in the lashing rain, to discover that the weather gods had preceded us by some days, presumably not having had to travel via US carriers, and the desert is looking a whole lot greener than it normally does. Indeed, the weather has been rather more Southwest Scotland than the Southwest. But the in-laws’ bikes have been brought out of the garage and patched up enough for another couple of weeks’ use … and checking the height of the water in the Fountain Creek is now the new checking the level of the ford.

*You know all that burdensome red tape that company bosses are always complaining the EU weighs them down with? Things like ‘if you strand your airline passengers in Texas overnight because reasons, you have to actually make sure they have somewhere to stay’? These are exactly the sort of regulations that those dastardly Eurocrats in Brussels are strangling red-blooded businesses with. The bastards.

** Update: just as I was about to post this, it arrived.

Ground Force

May 16, 2015

Time will tell whether I look back at this spring as the year of ‘just in time’ gardening – or just ‘just too late’ gardening. Either way, today was the day when I basically had to plant out everything in one go, or come back from holiday to some sadly overcrowded, if not actually dead, veg seedlings.

plot before

Fortunately, the other half had nobly spent the last two days clearing and preparing the last of the vegetable beds, in return for Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers,* so all I had to do was dash around with my trays of seedlings, getting them in the ground as quickly as I could, ideally root-side down, although by the end I wasn’t being all that particular about it.

plot after planting

One back-breaking afternoon later and my spring onions, dwarf beans, climbing beans, three kinds of kale (I know, but it is very handy to have over the winter and it likes the climate so it basically grows like a weed), purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot and second row of broad beans were in. The neighbour has been briefed to water the greenhouse and sent away with the last lettuce and two of the random perennials, and there may still be time to plant out some pumpkins, basil and the last of the chillies before we go tomorrow.

kale red winter

Kale. It’s tough, right?

Whether any of it will survive is anyone’s guess.

* Much superior to the teacakes, especially since they brought out dark chocolate and (rumour has it) coconut versions.


May 15, 2015

We’re off on our holidays on Monday – two weeks of sunshine* in Colorado with a side trip to Southern California.

I had thought that the last few weeks would be a time of catching up with various tasks that had been neglected in the run up to PoP, getting my garden ready, and generally enjoying the delights of spring. I don’t know WHY I thought this, because it seems to be an iron law that you never get less busy, only more so, and besides, a gardener’s work is never done, even if the gardener in question hasn’t ended up with two big freelance work deadlines on top of each other.

I did manage to escape for a run down to the papershop on the bike today, and caught the woods just at the point before the bluebells burst properly into flower.

bluebells not quite in flower

I’ll be quite sad to miss them in their pomp, but I am looking forward to the break… And only another million things to finish before I can go and enjoy it.

* Having said that, I was informed with some satisfaction the other day that Colorado was suffering heavy snow last week (and there’s been heavy rain washing out roads in Pueblo), while I heard on the radio recently that it’s supposed to be an El Nino year this year, which can mean flooding in California. So I’ll be packing the apocalypse-proof jacket just in case…

Battle of the Skies

May 13, 2015

One of the nice things about using a bike to get around is the amount of bird-watching you can do while travelling – at least on the back roads, where pedalling along looking up at a displaying curlew isn’t as dangerous as it might be if there were any actual traffic to contend with. It’s a nice challenge to identify bird when both they and you are in mid flight, as it were: my best spot this morning was a wheatear vanishing into a hedge, displaying its white tail, appropriately enough (the name means, crudely, white-arse, a fact that brought me no end of amusement as a child. And indeed now as an adult).

And then, as I started the climb up to ASBO Buzzard’s domain I spotted a corvid of some description giving a bigger bird some grief, and wondered if that was my nemesis back for another season of cyclist-bothering. It was only when I got closer that I realised it wasn’t a buzzard but a red kite. We’ve had the odd red kite incursion in the past, visiting from the west where they were reintroduced, but they’ve never really settled, so it’s encouraging to see one twice in the same area in the space of a week (we saw another on my Anniversaire). I’m not sure which one would win in a fight: a red kite or an extremely stroppy buzzard, but that’s one battle I’d be delighted to watch. As long as they don’t end up uniting against a common enemy and carry me off altogether…

Time, Gentlemen, Please

May 11, 2015

After a spectacularly dry spring, normal weather service has resumed which means only one thing: slugs, and the re-opening of my ever popular slug pubs.

Somewhat too popular, perhaps. Nobody likes a pub where you can barely cram yourself in, especially if the other clientele have already drunk themselves into oblivion.

slug pub

Kicking out time at the Slug and Lettuce

Still it didn’t seem to be putting the slugs off. I have to admit I watched with a mixture of guilty fascination and unholy glee as a total of four slugs approached the edge of just one of the traps and proceeded to slowly immerse themselves. I just have to tell myself they die happy.

I couldn’t count the number of slugs I empted out of the traps – I did think about taking a photo of the colander-full that resulted but it was too revolting even for me (again). Certainly a satisfyingly large amount, albeit not enough to save some of the lettuce seedlings which have already gone missing. There won’t be a slug shortage around here any time soon.