Raking it in

October 31, 2016

raking up leaves

So for the last couple of days I have been amusing the cows (at least the ones that are left – the young Holsteins seem to have disappeared, hopefully to their winter quarters rather than the great burger bar in the sky) by raking up the leaves in the garden and bagging them up to make leafmould, one of the easiest gardening tricks in the world.*

Clearing leaves, especially when you have as much gravel to maintain as we do, is one of those activities that can quickly evolve into the sort of insanity that starts with buying a leaf blower (get thee behind me) and ends with declaring holy war against all trees (I discovered when I was a volunteer tree warden many moons ago that there is a section of British society that regards trees with the same fear and loathing that other sections of society – perhaps, indeed, there is some overlap – reserve for cyclists). I’m hoping that by thinking of it more as ‘gathering leaves to make leaf mould’ rather than ‘achieving a miraculously leaf free garden’ I shall escape this fate, just as weeding only ever feels like a worthwhile activity once you have let go of the idea that you might ever rid the garden of weeds and rebranded it as ‘filling the compost bin’.

leaves still to fall

Put that way, the fact that there are still many more leaves to fall and I already have three full bags feels like a bonus. Although I have missed a trick in not getting some of these

* The instructions (rake up leaves, put in bin bags, forget about them for a year or so, open up and hey presto, leafmould) exactly describes what I would do if I wasn’t making leafmould but was just tidying up and then losing interest in the project half way through. The fact that it then happens to be magic stuff for putting on your plants and improving your soil is just pure jam, really.

Lanterne Rouge

October 30, 2016

With the clocks going back this weekend our cycle campaign celebrated with an after-dark Halloween ride – a blast around the reservoir and up and over a hill to return in time for a drink in the pub. It can be a depressing time of the year – the moment for many when they put the bike away for the winter – so we decided instead to embrace the dark, get out the bike lights and celebrate riding anyway.

To be honest, we haven’t had great turnout for our winter rides in recent years, so we were pretty pleased to have seven of us gather at the start (actually two starts – we have joined forces with the local CTC member group and, knowing that nobody ever reads any instructions, ever, it was easier for each group to stick with its traditional start point and then join up than to try to convey to everyone that we were starting in a slightly different part of Bigtown from normal especially as it was already at a different time and on a different day from usual). With a slightly more experienced crowd than usual – you know it’s going to be a slightly faster ride than our regular pootles when you hear a chorus of feet clipping in as you set off – the main problem for me was keeping up while also maintaining my ability to chat, which to me is key to an enjoyable group ride.

After a pause for a spot of bat detection – it was a wonderfully mild evening for the end of October and they were still out in force, which was good because so were all the insects – and another pause for halloween cookies and a chance to admire the ‘view’ at the top, we then faced the descent. I’ve ridden in the dark before, and now that I’ve got decent lights, I find it a pleasure rather than something to avoid. I’ve even ridden in a small group at night, but I’ve never hurtled down a winding descent on a narrow road with nothing to see but the blinking back lights of my companions and the five metres of tarmac ahead of me, guessing the the twists and the turns, no idea where I was or where I was going other than around the next corner, and the next, and the next.

It was incredible. Lord knows what we would have done had we met a car, but we had the hillside to ourselves and the quiet and the dark were just amazing. It felt like we were out at midnight (it was only about half six) just because it felt as if everyone but us was sleeping and only we were up, whizzing silently through the night.

The plan was to return to Bigtown for a celebratory drink, but as this would have meant an extra 7 miles for me to get back, I peeled off early to tackle the climb up to the house. It’s starting to loom a little large in my mind, that hill, especially after two quickish hilly rides in two days. My legs, especially, have been telling me all about it ever since I got in. I’ve obviously got into a bit of a comfortable groove with my cycling, back and forth to Bigtown without really stretching myself at all. It might just be time to start doing a little bit of exploring of the slightly more challenging roads that surround us.

happy halloween

Kill or Cure

October 29, 2016

So we made it home on Thursday despite late-running flights and then hitting rush hour traffic in Glasgow (you’d think the only congestion in the area was caused by the Bearsway Cycle Route but I don’t think anyone’s built a cycle track on the M74 yet, so it must have been something else*). I was hoping that the jet lag wouldn’t be too bad having slept eight hours and waking bang on my normal time on Friday morning, but then it kicked in properly and I couldn’t get to sleep till gone midnight and I woke up groggy and late this morning

Not only that, but someone had stolen our view

Which was annoying as I had a 38 mile round trip to Notso Bigtown for a cycling meeting today which would have been nicer without that sort of mizzle that doesn’t exactly fall on you but which just hangs there in the air until you cycle through it, getting you just as wet as the other kind of rain. Something involving blue skies and sunshine and warm winds, say. Something like Colorado …

Still, here I was in Scotland and what did I expect, so I put on my jacket and hat and gloves and set off. I was meeting up with a couple of folk en route and I set off late enough that I had to ride quite hard to get to the rendezvous on time. And the route was along the Old Military Road and while I know in my head it goes up every unnecessary hill, I hadn’t really taken it on board properly until I found I was having to power up every single one of them if I wasn’t going to be late. And I realised that two weeks of pootling along largely flat river paths in the sunshine and stopping for coffee and treats at frequent intervals, even at altitude, doesn’t really prepare you for an 18 mile hilly ride into a damp mizzling headwind. Also, that I had forgotten to get anything for lunch. It’s one way to burn off all those surplus US calories, I suppose.

One meeting, several biscuits, and an emergency pork pie later I was ready to tackle the homeward route. We decided to avoid the worst hills by taking a slightly longer route, taking in my old papershop run, and all was well until my companions and I parted ways at what used to be Nearest Village. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to ride a tired horse past its stable once its ears have pricked up and it’s realised it’s almost home – but that was how my legs felt as I pedalled reluctantly past our old house. Indeed worse, because my legs knew it was another six miles, almost all uphill, before they and I made it home. Oh, and it was still raining**

autumnal road

Reader, I made it. I may have stopped to take the odd blurry photo here and there and to take a drink and generally have the opportunity to stop pedalling for a few seconds, but I didn’t get off and push even on that last little steep kick up just before our house. Eventually I will even be able to lever myself off the sofa and cook supper, although not perhaps for a while. I’m trying not to think too hard about the fact that I’m signed up to lead a 26 mile extra evening ride tomorrow (not counting the 16 mile round trip into Bigtown and back… ). And I will definitely, DEFINITELY, sleep well tonight.

* possibly – just a wild guess here – TOO MANY CARS? And yes, I’m aware of the fact that we were one of them and thus part of the problem…

** I appreciate that anyone who has spent two weeks posting sunny holiday photos gets zero sympathy here.

Heading home…

October 26, 2016

Well, that’s it – it’s been a great couple of weeks but today we’re off to the airport for the trip home. It’s safe to say we won’t be enjoying quite so many warm sunny days and deep blue skies as we have in the last fortnight. For readers of this blog, this may or may not come as a relief.

See you back in Mud Island…

Are you Sick ..

October 24, 2016

… of all the blue skies and sunny bike path shots yet? We aren’t, but you may be relieved to hear we’re heading home on Wednesday. So we’ve been getting all the vitamin D we can while we may.

Meanwhile can I interest you in some scenery?

Royal Gorge

Onion rings as big as your head?

Giant onion rings

Oh, okay, not quite as big as your head. But they were definitely scouring all the county fairs to source the winners of the ‘heaviest onion’ competition …

Not that everything in America is supersized: have a tiny little snake (it was pretty quick to get out of our way)

tiny snake

And the UK is not alone in over-engineering bike crossings – this is the lead up to what is essentially a car park.

Ahead Stop sign

It’s still a fab bike path though. And we discovered this morning that a warm dry headwind is so much more pleasant than a cold wet one.

We are so not ready to go back to Scotland…

Step Aside, Coffeeneuring…

October 22, 2016

… There’s a new challenge in town: whereby you cycle to one of Pueblo’s many fine Mexican restaurants (the other half is starved of decent Mexican food in the UK; there don’t seem to be many restaurants that haven’t gone down the comedy sombrero/tequila shots route) and then attempt to cycle off even one tenth of the calories you have consumed in 80 degree heat.

distant smoke

The original plan had been to go to the mountains, but the fire is still raging out west and the air would have been full of smoke

This is not helped by stopping off at the Dairy Creme on the way home although in end all we had was a fresh lemonade slushy. When the water in your water bottle has turned the temperature of used bathwater, this turns out to be the most incredible drink ever.

Nick's Dairy Creme

Sadly, I don’t think it qualifies under even the new laxer coffeeneuring regime as ‘coffee’. So we’ll just have to cycle off in search of qualifying beverages tomorrow instead…

The Tough Go Shopping

October 21, 2016

I had a birthday related errand to run yesterday, which meant getting myself to the mall under my own steam. Perhaps surprisingly, the Pueblo Mall is one of those places that is fairly easy to get to by bike, as it’s connected to the river cycle path.

to the mall

The route takes you under the road, and while it mightn’t be very welcoming after dark (you know you’re not in the best of neigbourhoods when you’re cycling over discarded ‘hungry and homeless’ signs) it beats the heck out of tangling with Highway 50

acres of tarmac

From there, the mall is within sight. It’s just a matter of crossing approximately an acre of tarmac to get there. This is good sprinting practice because you don’t get the green man for very long. I have to admit, there may have been jaywalking done, once I’d figured out which way the traffic was (or wasn’t) coming from

Shopping done, I decided to stop off at the Goodwill (think UK charity shop, but then scale it up to about the size of a middleweight Tesco, complete with shopping carts and checkouts) to pick up some emergency hot-weather clothes as the heat wave is scheduled to return. That meant crossing the road again – all 6 lanes of it. It wasn’t as if there were many cars, but they were spread out enough that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable judging the gap. As you may have gathered, these roads are wiiiiiide. Add in the fact that my brain kept wanting me to look the wrong way, and I might still be there, dithering, had someone not stopped for me to let me across. I do love Pueblo drivers…

Anyway, for the princely sum of four bucks I am now the proud owner of a nice pair of cream trousers which there would have been absolutely no point my buying new given their practicality on a bike. Oh, and I might have been tempted to get a new light for my bike too