12 Bright Days*

December 29, 2017

fishing in the river

It’s been colder than we’re used to these last few days – in fact we woke up on Boxing Day to discover it had snowed (and all credit to the little girl with the scooter who was scooting up and down the pavement with a snow shovel clearing the sidewalks her neighbours had neglected to shovel themselves), followed by overnight lows of -15C (that’s F cold in Fahrenheit) and days that didn’t ever get above freezing.

pawprints on ice

It’s curtailed our cycling somewhat – I’m fond of my fingers – but we’ve still been getting out and about even if it’s felt like a bit more of an ordeal than I really like.

throwing stones

If you get the right rock, and the right kind of ice, it sings

Tomorrow afternoon we will be flying home, so naturally the weather has started to warm up again. We still didn’t get out on the bikes but we did get a final stop for tacos and a walk round the State Park where it seems the beavers have been busy

beaver chewings

Back to normal Scottish weather service soon, you will be glad to hear. We’ll miss the sunshine. We probably won’t miss the sight of people walking in to restaurants to order tacos with a sidearm (not waving it about – they paid like a normal person – but still, a gun, in a holster, at their hip. I hope the food was served exactly how they liked it. America, I love you but you have no idea how strange this feels to a sheltered European).

seed heads

* I don’t normally do these things, but Findra’s 12 Bright Days of Christmas campaign seems as good an aspiration for Christmas as any.


Drove the Chevy to the Levee

December 23, 2017

Bikes are all very well, but it’s even better when you can ride your bike under a train pulling a load of trucks …

train pulling trucks

Or stop and watch a humungous digger ripping apart the levee as if it were made of gingerbread.

levee repairs

Actually it’s kind of sad to see the art works that have adorned the levee for the last forty years disappear into dust but apparently it needs repairing. I thought I had taken more photographs of them before they got ripped down but I can’t find them. Some of them were quite … special and suggest that the local commitment to recreational marijuana long predates the recent legalisation.

Anyway I imagine they’ll be back. Indeed it looks like they’ve already started …

new graffiti

Edited to add: just realised I missed an opportunity to call this ‘exciting flood defences news’

Turning Left on Two Feet: A bonus adventure

December 21, 2017

view from the lookout point

Today was forecast to be the last of the really warm and sunny days, so we took the opportunity to get out into the mountains for a hike instead of a bike ride.

Lookout point

We’ve climbed up to the lookout point before, but on the way back down we noticed a sign for the Devil’s Canyon trail which offered a new route back to the car (and made the walk nicely circular, which is always somehow important). In fact, we had tried the Devil’s Canyon trail before, but from the other end, and had failed because it appeared to lead you into a dead end. This seemed like a good opportunity to work out where the trail went.

Devil's Canyon

We had forgotten that places don’t get names like ‘Devil’s Canyon’ just on a whim. All was going well, despite some iffy bits on the trail where the snow had lingered and been compacted into ice, when the other half said ‘that bit where it turns into an icy waterfall is going to be interesting’

sheet of ice

He wasn’t wrong. We realised why we had always thought that trail ended in a dead end: it basically involves you clambering up through the same narrow gorge that any running water will be flowing down. Or not flowing, in this case, because it had frozen solid.

ice chute

Fortunately the drop was only about 10 feet or so, and the tree trunks caught up in it (whether by accident or design) formed enough of a ladder that we could get down with a mixture of descending and undignified-but-ultimately-controlled bottom sliding and only a few moments which felt like the opening sequences of an episode of Casualty.

Anyway, we made it unscathed, although I did wish I’d worn a proper pair of boots rather than my sneakers – and next time we might stick to the routes with nice welcoming names like the Tower Trail, and leave anything Satan’s had a hand in well alone.

Turning Left in December: A Taco Safari

December 19, 2017

Shortness of time prevented me from attempting a microadventure before we left for the US, so clearly I was going to have to do a bit of exploring in Pueblo instead. We’ve pretty much been to all the places where the river path will easily take us so we decided to go off piste a bit, and add in something for the other half to enjoy and the #tacosafari was born

The other half tracked down some likely taco places (not hard in Pueblo) that would be nice to cycle to (slightly harder) and with a sunny and warmish day forecast, we set off for a rolling lunch …

Stop 1 was Vazquez Taco Shop, which was just off the river path, so didn’t really count as turning left. It did serve up a mean taco though.*

Vazquez Taco Shop

To be honest, that would have done me for lunch (my normal lunch is two slices of marmite toast and an orange) but we had many more taco shops to try. Having negotiated the other half down from his planned six to three, we set off back along the river path to our next destination.

river path

This meant properly turning left, and onto some less than inviting looking roads. I remembered too late that ‘turning left’ is the hard one in the US. The other half made it through the intersection on two wheels but I wimped out and reverted to two legs to get across, although given I’m still not reliably looking the right way when crossing the road I’m not sure that was really any safer.

scary intersection


Once through that bit and up the hill we found ourselves at Tacos Navarro, home of the street taco, apparently.

Tacos Navarro

Well, it would be churlish not to …

street tacos

This was also extremely delicious although we quickly lost track of which taco was which. At this point I decided that I wasn’t going to repeat the experience of getting there on a bike again, so if the other half wanted to try the tamale shop we’d passed on the way, now was the moment.

Tamale shop

The less-than-promising exterior of the tamale shop

I was feeling pretty full, plus it was a tamale, so after one bite, which reminded me that I wasn’t that keen on tamales, I left it to the other half to enjoy.


Back down the road, through the scary intersection, blessing the light traffic and the extremely chilled Colorado drivers, we regained the river path and pedalled off our second lunch for a bit until we reached our final taco shopriver path

(this was actually about a block from the first one, but we needed a bit of time in between for digestion)

Taqueria Marquez

The Taqueria Marquez was also jolly good although we blew the chance to practise our Spanish by answering in English when we were greeted with a cheery ‘buenas tardes’.

half-eaten tacos

Mental note to self: food photographs better if you haven’t started to tear into it before you remember to take a picture

(This place also intriguingly had three red ‘hotline’ telephones that were something to do with transferring money to Mexico. I was dying to find out more, but didn’t quite fancy asking (or taking a photo – it was bad enough that I was photographing the food as these really aren’t the sort of places where everyone instagrams their meal) and my Spanish wasn’t up to deciphering the instructions.)

Anyway, our third – or fourth – lunch finished, and having picked up an extra plate of tacos (with extra hot sauce) for my father in law, who has contracted the other half’s cold, we got back on our bikes and – like pythons digesting a goat apiece (if pythons had legs so they could ride a bike) pedalled very slowly home…

* I had thought we might review the taco places we tried but I don’t really know much about what makes a good taco, and the other half wouldn’t comment much beyond ‘oh yeah that’s good’ at pretty much everything he ate.

Hello Deer

December 16, 2017

So after our brief interlude in a very wintry Minnesota we made it down to Colorado yesterday. Today there was only one order of business:

garage bikes

Winter in Minnesota is definitely pretty hardcore – we did get out for one walk in the snow the day after we arrived but it feels like the sort of thing that might kill you if you’re not careful so it wasn’t a very long one – so we were pretty keen to enjoy Pueblo’s much more appealing December climate. Today did not disappoint – it might have been -9C when we woke up, but once the sun got going it soon warmed up and it was 18C by the time we’d had lunch and got the bikes out.

winter trees

The other half was suffering from a cold (bloody aeroplanes are worse than a classroom of nursery children when it comes to germ spreading) so we didn’t do more than the gentlest of pootles along the river – the cycling equivalent of a stroll. And we weren’t the only ones taking it easy: a couple of very chilled deer didn’t seem all that fazed by our presence.

deer crossing

It was warm enough that we could sit down by the water and bask in the sun and watch the birds go by. In fact, it was warm enough to take off my gloves and that doesn’t even happen in July at home…

bikes waiting

Confess, you’re a Gazelle

December 13, 2017

You know, we complain a lot about the horrors of modern air travel but you have to admit that it’s an amazing achievement that you can wake up in a city in one continent and go to bed six time zones and a third of a planet away in another. And it’s even more of an amazing achievement to do it the day after the odd flake of snow has hit Heathrow and the resulting chaos is still working its way through the system. I will spare you the gory details (nobody wants to read about someone else’s air travel nightmare any more than they want to read about someone else’s actual nightmares) but suffice it to say I now understand why sleep deprivation is such an effective interrogation tool. After 24 straight hours of being awake I would have pretty much confessed to anything if I could have managed to string a coherent sentence together. Fortunately our long suffering brother in law was willing to pick us up from the airport at midnight – by that point, even if the car rental desk had still been open, I don’t think we could have found our way out of the parking lot let alone across the city.

Still, we are here, we have had some sleep and we are about to have more, it is snowing (although nobody in Minnesota is excited about snow, it would be like us getting excited about rain), and we’ve already been out to eat twice in less than one day. It is also very, very cold, but I gather we could be getting that at home…

upside down Christmas lights

Oh, and when Americans put up Christmas lights, they don’t muck about. I didn’t get the photo of the house whose front garden was crammed with giant inflatable figures (and I mean giant – some of the Santas were towering over the house in a way) but I suspect it will be haunting me in my dreams.

Dead Cat Bounce

December 9, 2017

So it turns out, the only thing worse than having a dead cat slowly getting deader by the side of the road just at one of the steepest and hence slowest parts of your ride home – is when the dead cat gets moved off the side of the road and right into the middle of it, presumably by an ambitious buzzard, and then everyone proceeds to run over it. The result is even more avert-your-eyes horrific than the half badger of a couple of years ago, although at least the cold (and, having had the gritting lorry pass me with a cheery toot of the horn this afternoon, presumably liberal applications of salt) has at least kept it from getting too whiffy.

One of the joys of cycling is that you’re able to see and experience so much more than you can from inside a car – from night-time encounters with barn owls to being overtaken by sparrowhawks. But it also means you get to experience the grim reality of the animal carnage on our roads, up close and personal.

pigeon feathers

Some roadkill is more pleasant than others – pigeon feathers left by a snacking sparrowhawk

Still, at least I won’t have to witness the poor cat’s further decay. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Glasgow, and on Monday we fly to Minnesota and then Colorado where we hope some winter sunshine awaits. My father-in-law assures us the bikes are still there and in working order. Stand by for more adventures under blue Colorado skies.

Put a Lid on it

December 7, 2017

While nobody would describe me as a dedicated follower of fashion, I do notice the odd trend as it whooshes past, mostly with bafflement (and seriously, what was it with the slits in the shoulders of tops this summer? Any future period drama set in this will leave the poor wardrobe mistress frantically taking the scissors to slash through the sleeves of every top, while people scratch their heads and wonder – not for the first time – just what we were thinking in 2017). But I was heartened to note that otherwise clearly fashionable and soignee young women had suddenly started sporting practical bobble hats everywhere, even indoors (indeed, even paired with tops that left their clavicles out in the cold). Not that I had any need for a bobble hat, having my magical tweed cap to keep my head warm and dry, but it was nice to know that if I did, I’d be able to just go out and purchase one, in an actual fashion outlet, and wear it safe in the knowledge that I was in with the in crowd. And also that young women were at least keeping their heads warm, if not their shoulders

And then, the other half came home from work with just such a bobble hat, knitted by a colleague (he has such lovely workmates) who had brought in her handiwork to share. I tried it on, and it was so cosy and comfy that it was quite hard to take it off, even though wearing a hat indoors seems like a step down a slippery slope that ends with never taking your fleece off ever, even in August. Feeling a little chilly at my desk the next day, I couldn’t resist sticking the hat back on, and was surprised at how effective it was at keeping all of me warm, not just my head (more results from the Centre for the Study of the Bleeding Obvious as they come in). I fear that a line may have been crossed here, and that fingerless gloves, scarves, and the dreaded fleece will not be far behind. It is perhaps fortunate that we will be off to America, a place where they heat their houses properly, before the habit can get out of hand.


No photo of the hat – it might be fashionable but that doesn’t mean I don’t look ridiculous in it – but this was the weather on my ride home

Still, having got caught in an icy rainshower on my way back from fetching the paper, I can not only confirm that the new jacket is (so far) Waterproof in Scotland, but that a woolly bobble hat was a very welcome thing to come home to, especially as there is now snow on the ground. Here’s hoping that the fickle finger of fashion does not move on too fast and spares me my hat, at least until the weather starts to warm up again, in, ooh, about May.

Ready to Launch

December 5, 2017

So, for much of the past year I have, on and off, been helping a group of adults with learning disabilities get cycling. They’ve been learning how to ride a bike, and I’ve been learning a fair bit too. I’ve learned that there are many ways to get a bike into motion and everybody has to find the one that works for them, and I’ve also learned that people with learning difficulties get very quickly put in boxes and the one marked ‘will never be able to ride a bike’ appears to be a particularly common one, often on the flimsiest of evidence.

Some of them – including those who, we were told, ‘simply didn’t have the balance’ to ride a bike – have taken to it like ducks to water, needing little more than a bit of scooting along on a bike with its pedals removed before they were off and away with huge grins on their faces. Others, it’s fair to say have needed a bit more time before they could make the transition from scooting to pedalling, but have got there in the end. We’ve even managed a few group rides along the cycle paths and parks (and pavements – there’s no way they’re ready to tackle even the quietest road) and it’s been great fun.

And then there’s Stephen

I’ve been teaching Stephen to ride a bike now practically all year. We have inched forward. He can balance a bike and scoot it along. He can scoot with one foot on the pedal. He can get the pedal up to the prescribed position and press down to set the bike in motion. He can do this without looking at his feet (fatal for a bike’s balance). He can even find the second pedal with his foot ready for that crucial second pedal stroke. And then, the problem is he’s so tentative, that when he does actually pedal with his second foot, he generally does so backwards. And this is where we have got stuck.

Yesterday, I was beginning to despair. We could not get past that second pedal stroke. There’s no way to break down riding a bike any more than we had already done, practising each individual bit. We had reached the point where either he would get the hang of it, or I would destroy what precious little confidence he had built up. I really didn’t know what to do.

Finally, randomly, I found myself saying ‘pedal like a boss!’ just as he launched the bike forward. I have no idea why I said it, nor why that combination of words did it (indeed it turns out he thought I was saying ‘like a box’), but as long as I said ‘like a boss!’ just at the crucial point, then his foot would find that pedal in time and press it down in the right direction. He even shot forward at one point so fast he almost collided with me (I have to walk backwards in front of him if he’s to look ahead rather down at the ground). OK, so we haven’t quite reached the point where he’s pedalling away independently, but he has definitely ridden a bike, if only for a few yards.

Unfortunately, on Monday we head off to the US, and I won’t be back with Stephen until the new year. By then, perhaps, he may have forgotten everything we’ve learned these past few months. Still, I’m hopeful that now that I know the magic words, we will eventually see him cycle off, if not into the sunset, then at least in a straight line. And then I’ll need to work out how to teach him how to stop…

Chasing Shadows

December 2, 2017

Today was one of those days when I kept getting distracted by the view and dashing out with my phone in a vain attempt to capture some feeble sense of what it was that had captivated me.

mist beneath us

The problem with views is that by their nature they are very far away, and unless you’re in the Alps or something, the interesting bit – the bit where, for the want of a more precise definition, the sky meets the ground – tends to be quite narrow. Add in a phone camera which doesn’t have a great deal of dynamic range, no zoom lens and – let’s be frank – a fairly rubbish photographer, and I end up with a lot of photographs of the fields in front of our house and some clouds and no sense of the wonderful interplay of light and mist and shade over Bigtown that I was actually trying to capture.

dramatic cloudscape

Still, I keep trying.

In the end, I got on the bike and cycled down into it (well, I had to get the paper anyway) to discover that, once you’re in the thick of it, a wonderful interplay of light and mist and shade translates into mizzling rain.

in the cloud

And then I came home and dashed out again to try and capture the sunset, with similarly unsatisfying results.

winter sunset

I could probably take better photos if I had an actual camera and learned how to use it but what these views really make me want to do is learn to paint. Or maybe just learn to be content to look.