The Wrong Kind of Leaves on the Path

January 10, 2020

This January is shaping up to be a month for slipping out in between weather warnings; today’s adventure involved heading down to Bigtown with a shovel for a cross bar because the coonsil are apparently incapable of getting some leaves off a cycle path.

shovel on a bike

Have shovel, will travel

This has been a long-running saga: two months ago, noting that the leaves were falling off the trees – again! in autumn! just like last year! – I reported several stretches of cycle path that were getting dangerously choked. I did this through the official channel, plus two separate coonsil officers, who both assured me that something would be done. Time passed, more leaves fell, armies of coonsil employees spend hours with leaf blowers tidying other leaves into nice piles in the parks, and nothing was done about the leaves on the cycle paths. I chased again (every time I do this I get an automatic email saying that my email will be responded to within 20 days and then … silence). I emailed my councillors. I emailed our climate champion (‘every council policy will be looked at through a climate emergency lens’). More silence. Christmas came and went and new year and when everyone was back at their desks, I chased again. This time I got a reply telling me that it was difficult because they didn’t have a machine that was capable of cleaning up the resulting leaf mulch. The leaf mulch that would have been nice leaf-blowable leaves had they actually tackled them when they were first reported.

path covered in leaves

At this point, we cracked and just did it ourselves, using that bleeding edge piece of technology, the shovel. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a busy woman at the other end of it (we had one camera shy man) but some level of willingness to get out of your wee machine and put your back into it does seem to help. Four volunteers, two hours, and several slices of gingerbread later, we had cleared one of the paths entirely (just another half dozen trouble spots to go).

working on the cycle path

Riding home, I pondered on the way that every interaction with the coonsil – at least when it comes to any form of transport that isn’t in a car – ultimately leaves me questioning either their sanity or my own.* Especially after the coonsil responded to our tweet about the whole thing by helpfully asking if we wanted any bags of leaves uplifted (I’m still now undecided if this represents extreme cluelessness or extremely clever trolling). I know that when I speak to individual officers and politicians that they often seem to get it and are simply trying their best to get things done in difficult circumstances. But somehow the end result is often still indistinguishable to what an evil genius would come up with if they wanted to discourage cycling without actively banning it.

Even so, while it would be nice if if we didn’t have to do the coonsil’s job for them, we still got the better end of the bargain. We were the ones who had a morning in the fresh air and the winter sunshine getting some healthy exercise in good company – and the satisfaction of a job well done, something I suspect is rare if you work for Bigtownshire Coonsil.

And I got home while it was still dry. With 24 hours of rain forecast, that counts as a win these days.

* It’s not just me – I’d stopped to chat with a friend who is attempting to get some sort of traffic calming on her rat-run road so she can safely take her autistic son to school, and has been told that nothing can be done because not enough people have been knocked down there yet.

Never Mind Self-Care …

January 6, 2020

dirty bike
… time for some bike care.

I had absolutely no plans to go anywhere by bike today but I did have some bike-related business to take care of. It’s been a wet and muddy autumn and winter so far and in recent weeks my bike had crossed the border from ‘showing that I’m not a fair weather cyclist’ to ‘active bike neglect’. This is not just the superficial matter of surface muck – I’m not that fussed whether you can tell what colour my bike is or not, but I do know that a little bit of attention to the drive train would undoubtedly make the bike work better and probably reduce my maintenance bills to boot.* I did go through a phase of at least running a wet wipe round the chain and re-oiling it every so often (and yes, I know about wet wipes but I put them in the bin, not down the drain) but somehow that has fallen by the wayside as I come home wet and tired and decide that the bike can probably wait. I know, it’s a terrible way to treat the one you love …

Anyway, yesterday my comeuppance came as I realised that not only was my chain looking a bit neglected, but that it had actively started to seize up making it almost impossible to oil the damn thing without three hands – it wouldn’t let me turn the cranks backwards to run the chain around the mechanism so I was reduced to holding the bike saddle with one hand, pressing down the pedal with the other, and wheeling the bike round in a big circle to get the chain back onto the ring. Naturally, having got enough oil on to get the bike going again, I took it out in the rain and the muck and then chucked it back in the garage unwashed. So today, I made amends, and in a gap in the rain, gave it a good wash and properly cleaned and oiled the chain.

cleaned bike

A quick test run suggests it’s still long overdue for its annual service but at least it won’t be embarrassing to take it into the shop. Although given the continuing state of the roads and the forecast, I expect it won’t stay looking respectable for long.

How often do you clean your bikes?

* In another life, I’d be regularly measuring the chain wear – probably during its weekly cleaning and oiling, haha – and replacing the chain so as to avoid wearing out the chainset quite as frequently as I do now but I’m not in that life now and if I’m honest I’m not sure I ever will be.

Hitching Up Again

December 31, 2019

After a Christmas week with just the one token cycle ride, I’m not entirely sure that a 20 mile round trip towing a trailer was exactly what either my bike or its rider were after, but that’s by the by.

Bike and trailer

Did I ever mention that we live at the top of a large hill?

The fact is, we’re home, and there was bartering to be done – I continue to be unnaturally fascinated by the local barter site. My old yoga mat was surplus to requirements (I have a fancy new cork one, and very nice it is too; I think the other half has worked out that if things don’t come in merino then I would like them in cork, seventies child that I am) so on it went and a swap was quickly arranged for a couple of miniature roses.

The only problems were that a) my barteree lives in one of the more cycle-unfriendly parts of Bigtown and b) my non-rolling yoga mat did not fit in my saddle bags and could not be usefully bungeed onto my rack.

Fortunately, the two problems cancelled each other out – it turns out that if you have to tackle the more car-centric roads around here on a bike, then towing a trailer is the way to do it. As I’ve remarked before, despite the fact that it’s actually no wider than my handlebars it seems to give me far more presence on the road and only one driver (because the rule is that there’s always one) felt the need to squeeeeeeze past and that was the one who always seem to do it when I encounter them on our B-road on the way home (well, it’s the same car – I assume it’s the same driver).

I did wonder – as I took a pot of plants off a stranger’s doorstep and thrust a bin-bag containing an old yoga mat under their car – whether someone would stop and ask me what the hell I was doing, but if anyone noticed they didn’t challenge me at all. Either this sort of bartering behaviour has become commonplace in Bigtown (the site has taken off in a big way, and some of the most implausible swaps seem to be arranged in matters of hours), or they were still too flabbergasted at the sight of someone at that end of town On A Bike let alone Towing A Trailer to take note of what I was up to. Clearly a career as the world’s most brazen potplant burglar looms, if I can manage to pedal my ill-gotten gains up our hill.

miniature rose

I wish you all a happy Hogmanay and a fulfilling year to come. Who knows what the next decade will bring, but as long as it includes plenty of cycling, gardening and even combining the two, then I shall have some measure of content.

Superhuman Me

December 15, 2019

‘You cycled three miles in this weather?!’

It’s fair to say I didn’t get any of the results I was hoping for in Thursday’s election – but I did at least get to bask in the awed disbelief of the presiding officer and the polling clerk* at the polling station that I had cycled a whole three miles in the rain in order to cast my vote (and more importantly ensure my bike made it into #BikesAtPollingStations on Twitter).

bike at polling station

Actually a bike at a polling place, because Scotland does have to be different

I decided not to blow their minds by informing them that I regularly cycle eight miles into Bigtown (and back), but we’ve had a fair few workmen at the house in recent months and they’ve all been flabbergasted when I mention I’m going to town and wave away their offers to move their vans on the grounds that I can easily get past on my bike. The scaffolder was all ready to throw my bike in the back of his lorry to save me the trip (this might have been more welcome on the way back up the hill) while the bathroom fitter wanted to know what power the motor put out, and was mightily impressed to discover that the sole motive power was me (putting out considerably less than one horsepower, I imagine). Even at parkrun, which is full of scarily fit people who’ve run marathons and got the t-shirts to prove it, I was asked what event I was training for after I mentioned I’d ridden 10 miles to get there which made me feel – just for a moment – like the sort of person who does events you have to train for, the kind you get t-shirts for completing, instead of just being someone who’d like to fit into her newest jeans. I was never the athletic type at school, pouring more energy into ever-more elaborate excuses why I couldn’t attend swimming lessons than I ever did into actual sporting activity of any kind, so this is a pleasant novelty for me.

The thing is, I hang out with people who think nothing of cycling 100 miles in a day just for the heck of it, so my little jaunts into town and back, hill or no, don’t usually get considered particularly impressive. And yet there are times when I’m heading home and looking at the hill ahead and steeling myself for the next 10 minutes or so of climbing and I can tell you that it does feel like an achievement to stick with the bike. So frankly, I’m going to take any kudos where I find them, even if it’s just for nipping out for a paper a few times a week…

* I now know what both these officials are called thanks to this excellent thread on Twitter which, among other things introduced me to the Shaw’s Ballot Box Compactor, pretty much the only shaft of light in an otherwise grim election. I do love a nice piece of specialist stationery.

Cry Me a River

December 10, 2019

Regular readers of this blog will know that there’s almost no weather I will not (albeit sometimes with a certain amount of whingeing) cycle in. However, almost a year ago, I finally started to learned how to let discretion be the better part of valour. This year, it didn’t take me being blown into a hedge sideways to give up the my planned social engagement this afternoon – one look at the weather forecast was enough to have me cancel and spend the day largely watching the weather gods do their worst from the cosy vantage of my study.

I did venture out once to pick up a parcel from the UPS man (and watching him battle with his van door was confirmation enough that I’d made the right decision) and then to quickly harvest some kale from the garden. Back in the old place, I’d have been spending much of the time trying to clear the drains with sticks and watching the flood waters rise in the yard, but one advantage of living on a massive hill is that the water doesn’t hang around and we’re no longer at threat of flooding if we don’t keep on top of the drainage. On the downside, we’re also no longer within walking distance of the ford (and my local correspondent declined to flood out her car just to go and check for me) so I can’t report whether it recorded a new high score. I feel a little sad about this, though not so sad that I was willing to go and check it out myself, by any means. And besides, what use is a ford when your entire road has become a river?

water pouring down the road

Here’s hoping it will at least wash away the worst of the thorns. Every cloud, and all that…

The Definition of Insanity …

December 8, 2019

… Is supposedly doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. However, I have found that this doesn’t really apply with sufficiently complex computer software and politicians, who can ignore something for ages and then suddenly decide it’s their own idea. I can’t do anything about the computer software, and I’ve already confessed I’m about ready to give up with the politicians – but I did exempt cycle campaigning …

And so I’m preparing to step once more into the breach and am winding up for next year’s Pedal on Parliament which will be (breaking with tradition a tiny bit, just to keep them guessing) on the first weekend in May.

We’ll also once more be going local, meaning lots of little events to fret about instead of one or two big ones. The jury is still out as to which is more stressful to organise, but at least with the pop-ups the load is easier to share, always assuming we can find some people to share it with.

In fact, we’ve already had a few ideas popping up with plans underway in Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow (and Bigtown, of course). I’m looking forward to finding out what will be popping up elsewhere …

cow on a bike

Getting Some Sparkle Back…

December 1, 2019

So, was I moaning about the wet winter weather? That has definitely passed in recent days, to be replaced with blue skies but some very heavy frosts. Last night, as we returned from a social engagement, the car was registering a chilly 18F (F cold, or -8 in Celsius) and I don’t think the temperature got appreciably over freezing out of the sun at all yesterday.

So it was something of a wrench to head out this morning for a planned work party keeping one of Bigtown’s better cycle paths clear, into a world turned almost white. Frost is very beautiful to contemplate from the warmth of the house, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go and cycle in it …

frosty start

But not for long. Once I’d negotiated the worst of the ice on our road, I could relax and enjoy the brief glory of a sunny winter’s day- all ghostly pastels, except where the sun had touched the colour back into the world.

winter sun

I’m not 100% convinced that sparkly winter mornings like this entirely compensate for the freezing temperatures, but that could just be chilblain-induced grumpiness (and if the Victorian era calls and would like its disorder back, it would be very welcome). They certainly go a long way.

river and trees

So too does discovering that a good dozen people, many complete strangers,* are willing to come out on a frozen morning to help cut back vegetation, even though much of it was frozen solidly to the ground.

frosty afternoon

* Adjusted for this being Bigtown; I have not doubt that had we chatted a bit more we would have discovered all the connections we have in common