Flinging Caution to the Winds

January 29, 2016

I had rather resigned myself to not cycling for the paper today when I looked at the forecast last night and saw we had no fewer than four weather warnings in the offing, one of them an amber one. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m getting thoroughly sick of having to peel off all my wet things every time I get home and hang them in the bath so they don’t leave puddles on the kitchen floor.

So today, when we got up and discovered that it was just blowing a hooly, and not actually raining – indeed that the skies were clear and the sun was shining – I cast caution aside and not only hung out some washing to dry (very firmly pegged out), and then set off for the paper.

Unfortunately, our eco washing machine had overridden my instruction to just do a quick wash and had gone for the full three-hour laid-back stop-for-a-little-rest-between-stages wash so by the time I actually got on the bike the clear skies were gone, but it still wasn’t looking that bad, and the birds were no longer flying backwards. By the time I got to Papershop Village, into a stiff headwind, that had deteriorated to threatening skies and the odd spot of drizzle.

‘You might just make it back before you get soaked,’ Papershop Woman said cheerily as I left. More to the point, I thought as the rain started coming down, if I really hurried I might just get back in time to rescue the laundry as the skies to the east were still bright and a small patch of blue seemed to hover right over where I was heading. In fact, I realised, as I turned out of the shop and got the wind at my back I didn’t actually have a choice: Storm Gertrude was going to hurry me on my way whatever I did.

So off we raced, Gertrude and I, with the bright spot of sky always tantalisingly up ahead and the rain soaking my back. There were corners which I took a little faster than I meant to – and hills which I flew up with barely a pedal stroke. I no longer track my rides on GPS but I think I must have broken some personal land speed records – and I got home to discover the rain had arrived just a few minutes before me, and hadn’t really got down to giving the laundry that extra rinse it didn’t really need. Just a few rain spots speckling the clothes

Nothing the Rayburn can’t handle

I still had to undress in the bath though

One Dam Thing After Another

January 27, 2016

It was so wet this morning, I was actually somewhat reluctant to evict the giant spider which was in our bath (not as reluctant as the spider, though, which managed to cling on to the edge of the window frame and scuttle back in towards me, whereupon my reluctance dissolved and it got batted fairly sharpish back out into the rain). By the time I was up and dressed, the waters were rising in the front yard and threatening not just our wood supplies, but the bikes in the shed…

flooded yard

(this is not quite as alarming as it looks as the buildings you see are all outbuildings, rather than our actual house which is a crucial few inches higher)

Time to revisit the landlord’s flood defences

flooded drive

And add a few of my own.

shoring up

I’m not sure exactly how effective my efforts were but combined with some leaf clearing and stick poking, the waters soon receded in our yard, if not elsewhere – the farmer’s field bears the brunt of all the road drainage and he may have to switch to water buffalo if this goes on. Or fish farming, perhaps.

water draining into field

But what of the ford, you cry? We were hopeful of a good high score, but in the end it was rather average so by way of compensation here is the ford in action:

Then there was just time to wander up the road and try and capture the brief moments of sunshine before the rain started again.

winter trees

I may have had a little play …

leaf-based engineering

More rain warnings on Friday, hey ho

There’s a Reason they Call it a Weather Warning…

January 26, 2016

There was a moment this morning when I thought that I was about to feature in one of those infuriating ‘cyclist collides with car’ headlines – and for once it would have been accurate (under ordinary circumstances it is usually the car doing the colliding, on the whole we cyclists prefer not to hit cars because it hurts). I was just approaching Bigtown and the wind was blowing me sideways into a row of parked cars, including one that was just at the point of pulling out when (thankfully) the driver saw me and stopped long enough for me to wrest control of my bike back from the weather gods and pedal safely away.

In truth, I probably shouldn’t have been out on the bike today, at least not in traffic. It wasn’t that I was getting wet and having an unpleasant time (I was) but the wind was gusting so hard that maintaining a straight line was a problem. I made it to yoga where I was greeted with fairly uniform horror that I’d even attempted the trip. Today was definitely a day to have taken full advantage of the fact that I work from home and done my commute in my slippers from the bedroom to the dressing gown.

The problem was, I have just signed up to a new regime in my life: I’ve got myself some shared office space in Bigtown so that I have somewhere to work that isn’t the kitchen table, and can make better use of times when I have to be in town. I’m also hoping that I can impose a bit more discipline upon myself and start to create some sort of separation between working time and non-working time. I won’t be using it every day, but I had calculated that as I tend to be in town anyway on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that I should turn those into proper working days complete with an office to go to and – more importantly – leave.

That’s the theory. And, looking at the weather warnings yesterday, I probably should have postponed testing it out until Thursday but no, I was both stubborn and stupid and decided to start as I meant to go on. Which meant not only almost cycling into the side of a car and convincing my entire yoga class that I was bordering on the insane, but also spending two hours sitting in wet socks, thinking that, while my new office has lovely speedy broadband, and shops nearby, and people who pop in and ask if I want a cup of tea while they’re making one, and all the other amenities of offices, what it didn’t have was either a Rayburn or a stash of dry socks (I had actually thought of this and brought a spare pair of socks but my boots had got so epicly wet on the ride in from the flooded roads that the dry socks then got soaked in the five minutes it took me to cycle from yoga to the new office …)

Whitesands flooded

So at about 2:30 having done enough of what I wanted to do that I could call it a success, of sorts, and with the rain in temporary abeyance, I undraped all my wet kit from the radiators where I had draped it and decided to get while the getting was good, especially as the police had closed the riverfront, including the cyclepath, and who knew how much flooding there would be on the way home. By this time the wind had died down a little so that I was at least able to make more forward than sideways progress. The rain also waited until I was out of Bigtown before it started again, this time with a headwind, and so it was just a matter of putting my head down and pedalling through the storm for home…

flooded fields

I did stop to record the conditions, and even thought about making a diversion to the ford but you know what? I’m not that dedicated a blogger after all.

waterfall in spate

This is not the ford …

Remind me not to do that again if I don’t have to, would you?

Still Invisible

January 25, 2016

I think I have complained before about the relative invisibility of our typical South West Scotland pacing-itself mizzling type of rain to both the forecasters and the rain radar. Today was one of those days, where both the Met Office and the Norwegians (the other half has taken to consulting the Norwegian weather service just in case they have any better weather on offer) were claiming that it wasn’t raining at all, backed up by Rain Today, while a quick glance out of the window revealed curtains of rain moving swiftly sideways up the valley (or ‘fast-moving fog’ as the other half described it yesterday).

It did stop, however, just in time for me to head out and I cycled off hoping that perhaps the time it had taken me to put all my wet weather kit on was enough to invoke Sod’s law, although I have no idea why, after living here for so many years, I might have thought that; still, hope springs eternal, as they say.

But not as eternally as South West Scotland’s rain and I was soon cycling into an enormous headwind and experiencing some of the other half’s fast-moving fog which was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

The sad part is, that was just the warm up act – we’re under another apocalyptic weather warning for heavy rain, but it doesn’t even kick in until tomorrow. It is supposedly the same storm that just buried the Eastern Seaboard of the United States under snow, but about 10 degrees warmer, so stand by for a drenching.

Feel the Burn

January 22, 2016

I promise this isn’t about to turn into a horsey blog, but it was striking when I was out yesterday leading my friend’s pony along the road, just how slowly a tractor felt it had to pass us. I almost waved it to hurry up because the pony wasn’t bothered and I was getting a bit bored standing there waiting for it to creep past at 5mph, but I decided I’d better not in case the next animal it encountered wasn’t quite so blasé.

I remarked on the difference to my friend when I returned and we agreed that on the whole, drivers were pretty courteous but that (just like when you’re on a bike) you do get the occasional idiot.

‘There was a delivery driver the other day who came bombing over the blind crest of a hill when I was out on a horse,’ she said. ‘I gave him a very hard look until he slowed down and then I didn’t return his wave.’

I hope he realised he had just been administered the ultimate rural rebuke.

In other news – look what a difference a day (and heavy overnight rain) makes

snow gone

It made for a lovely ride down for the paper. It’s far too mild for the time of year, actually, but I’ve decided to worry about that another time. And let the record show that I have changed the tyres on my bike all by myself and in record time too…

Ride Like the Wind, Be Home for Tea*

January 20, 2016

afternoon light

Dashing back from an important coffee-and-gossip session this afternoon, trying to beat the fading light (with my winter wheels on, I no longer have my hub dynamo and I had forgotten to bring my emergency backup front light), I couldn’t help but stop to snatch a photo of the light and mist and late afternoon sky

Further on, with the sunset gathering momentum, and just as I was wondering whether I had time to stop to take another photo, I noticed a car stopped by the side of the road and a woman leaning over the gate, (proper) camera in hand, who had clearly had the same thought. A friend, in fact, and a much better photographer than I am,** so in the end I discovered I did have time to stop, if only for a brief chat.***

And then I really did have to ride like the wind – if the wind rode a rather over-laden touring bike with spiked winter tyres – if I was to be home for tea.

I made it, you’ll be relieved to know

* motto of the sadly no-longer-updated Highway Cycling Group

** I was hoping she’d have posted her photo by now so you could see the sunset in its real glory but nothing so far (updated – you can see the results here if you click through  to the ‘extras’)

*** I’d say that this was one of the pleasures of cycling, but actually round here drivers think nothing of stopping side by side for a blether if they pass someone they know, and sometimes quite a prolonged one.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

January 19, 2016

I renewed a long-dormant obsession of mine this afternoon, courtesy of a friend and neighbour. Like many girls, I was a pony mad child who used to pretend her bike was a horse, and for a long time if I’d talked about ‘riding’ it would have been four legs I meant, not two wheels.

But that was a long, long time ago, and the odd holiday trek aside I’ve not been on a horse since I left university. And it seems that things have changed since my riding school days, or maybe it’s just that my friend whose horse I was riding does things differently. It’s all about positive energy (to go forward) and breathing out and relaxing to stop, and you steer a horse exactly like you steer a bike, by looking at where you want it to go and sort of thinking it round the corner … but amazingly, it works too, or it least it does if you’re my friend – I had to resort to old fashioned techniques like pulling on the reins and squeezing my legs to reinforce all the positive energy at times.

Anyway, whether it was the positive energy or not, the horse and I managed to trot and also walk around in mainly the direction I wanted her to go in and occasionally the direction she wanted to go in (‘it’s best when that happens to just decide to go in that direction and then you’re back in charge’ my friend advised). It was nice to rekindle an old passion, but also to do something that was completely different from the sort of activities I normally do. I live very much in my head and through words and online, but horses don’t really respond to reasoned arguments (actually humans don’t much either, but that’s another story) and anyway, they’re not on Twitter. Having to not just remember all the things I was supposed to do (look up, relax, shoulders down, keep straight) but also to do it with the sort of conviction that a horse responds to (this is where the energy part comes in) was quite challenging and I was glad that I’d been to yoga beforehand as it put me in the right frame of mind (it didn’t help me get out of the saddle afterwards though – bikes are much easier to swing your leg over the back of!)

I don’t think I’ll be putting ‘a horse’ back on the top of every Christmas and birthday list the way I used to when I was twelve, or at least not quite yet. But I’ll definitely be getting back on the horse, just as soon as I’ve recovered from this afternoon’s exertions.


Thaw Point

January 18, 2016

snow on plants

I was expecting a challenging ride down to the papershop today because the forecast was for it to barely lift above freezing. Yesterday was so still and so cold that the snow didn’t melt at all, and the roads were just packed snow by the end of the day, with no sign of the tarmac underneath.

snow on trees

But this morning it was a little warmer and there was a fine misting drizzle and by the time I got out on the bike the road was more slush than anything. The thaw has already reached that nasty gloomy drippy squelchy stage, like the snotty part of a cold, and while I welcome the signs of impending improvement, I can’t say it’s all that attractive.

snowy track

So you’ll just have to vicariously enjoy our walk through the woods yesterday, which was a perfectly gorgeous winter’s day. What with the roads and the snow, we weren’t going anywhere, and neither, it seemed, was anybody else.

snow_woods snow_woods_2

We forget, sometimes, how beautiful a place it is that we live in, and how privileged we are to have it mostly to ourselves.

snow, trees and gate

In other news, I think the garlic may be getting cold enough now

garlic under snow

There are some garlic bulbs somewhere underneath all that…

Viking Biking*

January 16, 2016

As we woke to another freezing morning, the other half offered to pick up the paper as he was heading into Bigtown, but I decided against. Not only have I not had a decent bike ride since Tuesday – and not to mention gone to some effort to change my bike’s tyres – but a comment yesterday had led me to this blog, being the seriously challenging winter cycling adventures of an indomitable lass in upstate New York, who appears to think nothing of cycling to work through sub-zero (that’s sub-zero Fahrenheit) temperatures at 4:30 in the morning and who feels positively cheated if the snow plough gets there before she has had a chance to break through the virgin snow herself.* So merely avoiding going out because it was a bit nippy seemed a bit feeble, and even when I started to get ready to head out and saw that it was snowing lightly I wasn’t going to be put off by a dusting of snow.

way out

Heading out to Bigtown, with just a light accumulation of snow at that point

more snow on the way back

At the same point on the way back, there was rather more…

Fans of the Weather Gods will know what happened next: it started snowing in earnest. Still, clad in lobster gloves, scarf, fleece, boots, ear warmers and, of course, my tweed cap, (I imagine cyclists in New York would laugh to hear it was just a couple of degrees below zero) I was warm enough. I’d chosen the fleece, which is green, thinking it might make me a bit more visible than my brown waxed coat, but that was a bit of a tactical error because it (and the cap) just got immediately coated in snow so I ended up nicely camouflaged. Still, anyone cycling in this weather automatically comes with a giant sign saying ‘NUTTER’ which hovers like a fifteen foot fluorescent flag over their head, so the few cars I did encounter could see me anyway, and rather better than when it’s raining when I apparently disappear. The tyres did their job, the bike performed fine (with the odd ‘interesting’ gear change once the snow had built up on the derailleur) and I got into Bigtown and back feeling just a tiny bit pleased with myself, even if it had taken me an hour and a half to cover ten miles.

snow-covered bike

Viking bike?

Of course, some of that time might have been spent stopping to take photos…

snowy river

The snow has continued ever since and is still falling. Tomorrow might be interesting.

* Copenhagenize’s coinage for the winter cyclists of Copenhagen, who at least have the luxury of their own cycle tracks which are actually ploughed and gritted. Perhaps we need another term for those of us who plug on regardless without such luxuries. #SaxonCycling has been suggested on Twitter but I think the UK equivalent should be #StiffUpperLipCycling

** Or as the other half put it, seriously impressed, ‘there’s someone even madder than you on a bike’.

More Maintenance

January 15, 2016

bike repair tools

For someone who loves her magical ice tyres as much as I do, you might think I was curiously reluctant to actually put them on my bike because – even with yellow warnings of ice from the BBC Terror Centre and actual snow falling out of the actual sky on Wednesday, I was still holding off, thinking that things might clear up a bit in the morning. It was only when we woke to discover that not only was it a bit nippy out, but that the car door had actually frozen shut, that I decided that, maybe I did want my ice tyres on after all and did the other half have time to do it?

But that seemed a tad feeble and, the other half being in a bit of a rush, I thought I’d at least speed the process by getting as much of it done as possible myself. To make the whole thing easier, the tyres are on a pair of spare wheels so I don’t have to wrestle with the spiky things myself but that was where the easy part ends.

The thing is, I’m just not a handy person. I already had the bike turned over (we don’t have a repair stand), when I remembered that all the tools I need to take the wheel off were in the saddlebag which was still attached to the bike. And then the brakes don’t have that handy lever thing (if you’ll excuse the technical terminology) that opens them out to get the tyre past them, so I had to remove a brake pad before the front wheel would come off. And it didn’t help that the spare back wheel is wider than the regular back wheel, nor that the mudguards were full of accumulated crud – and nor indeed that every time I put a tool down it froze to the bench.

tool impressions

‘shadows’ left by the spanner which kept melting into the layer of ice on the bench and then freezing there.

In the end, the other half came out in time to tighten up the wheel nuts and then escaped, having thawed out the car, so in the end I did actually manage to do most of it myself and it only took an hour.* This might actually represent the pinnacle of my bike maintaining activities to date as it included not only working out how to adjust my brakes but also how to remedy the fact that I almost unscrewed the whole brake cable from the front brake thereby rendering the whole magical ice tyres completely pointless.

By the time I had finished, the sun was warming up (not, I was glad to note after all that work, entirely melting all the ice on the road) and I barely had time for a quick test spin to check that everything still worked and briefly enjoy the sparkly frosty weather before chaining myself back to my laptop. I would post a photo, but it was only when I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a view of the snow covered hills that I realised it had fallen out of my pocket on the way (and was at that moment being retrieved by a concerned neighbour). Truly, I sometimes wonder why I am allowed out on my own.

* not counting the half hour of remedial percussive maintenance from the other half this evening to get the mudguards properly clear of the tyres…