Here I Come, Busy or Not

May 12, 2020

It seems we’re allowed unlimited amounts of exercise now in Scotland, which would be more exciting to me if I had even a limited time to exercise this newfound freedom. But no doubt by the time I’ve dug myself out from beneath my current stack of multiplying deadlines we’ll be back down in lockdown again, so despite not technically having the time to do it, I took the opportunity today to load up the basket of the freshly de-punctured Brompton with another batch of chlli babies and take them down to some friends in return for them not insisting on me taking away any of their spare cucumber, courgette or brussels sprout plants.*

chilli plants

Actually, this was probably allowed under the old rules – after all, I was delivering food, albeit in a very slow way – although I suspect we’re not really supposed to exchange quite so much chat (at a safe distance) in the course of such deliveries.

Either way, it gave me an opportunity to check out the state of the ford, which is bone dry; unsurprising given that the Weather Gods seem to have gone into self-isolation themselves. I don’t remember ever seeing the river so low.

dry ford

In truth, it was good to get out on the bike, whatever the reason. Running twice a week might be keeping me fit and walks in the woods are lovely and all, but they’re not the same as the couple of hours of moderate exercise that I’ve grown used to getting almost every day just in the course of running my regular errands. It might feel like it takes up time I don’t have, but at the end of the day I’m probably more productive (and certainly feel much cheerier) if I’ve been out either on the bike or in the garden.

dry waterfall

I’ll still be following the Scottish Government’s advice to stay at home rather than the UK government’s stay alert message (probably fortunately as I slept terribly last night). But, busy or not, I might have to make more time to ride my bike while stocks last. Or at least until the Weather Gods come out to play again …

bluebell wood

* They also offered a home brewed bottle of beer, but with the Brompton’s tyres at bike shop pressure, and the roads increasingly potholed, I declined the opportunity to cycle back home with what would effectively be a glass fragmentation grenade in my basket.

Flattening the Tyres…

May 3, 2020

So today’s excitement was the chance to ride down to my pal with the hens to deliver some of our empty egg boxes and surplus chilli and tomato plants, in exchange for some eggs.

plants in Brompton basket

When it comes to transporting tender young plants, the Brompton – or rather its basket – comes into its own. With six pots each wrapped up in a protective sleeve of newspaper and snugly sitting in the basket, all was well until I was half way down the road and heard the all-too-familiar bump-bump-bump of a flattened back tyre.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may be aware I’ve been plagued by punctures recently, compounded by my inability to do even the most basic bike maintenance. Over the last couple of weeks I have spent a total of two and a half hours effectively turning two fast punctures into two slow punctures, one on the front tyre of my big bike and one on the bike trailer. During the course of this effort, I have also run out of patches in my various puncture repair kits and discovered that I am now managing to fail at the one part of the puncture repair process I used to be vaguely competent at – actually patching the hole. This means every trip out on my big bike now starts with pumping the front tyre back up to a reasonably pressure and hoping it holds for long enough to get me home – a recipe for disaster, as I well know, but still preferable to spending any more time swearing at inanimate objects in the hope that that will work where brute force, cunning, and supposedly failsafe methods have all failed (actually, sometimes it does) (and before you dive into the comments, thank you but I am already using the puncture resistant tyres you are about to recommend, and have tried slime, and I’ve watched the video with the zip ties, and the problem is I’m just very bad at fixing bikes and blackthorn will go through anything).

Anyway, the good thing about puncturing the Brompton back wheel is that I have absolutely no intention of fixing it myself or even pretending that I wished I could – much to the disgust of some of the more old-school members of the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign – so I won’t be wasting another hour or more of my time wrestling with another Marathon Plus tyre (on the other hand, I will probably be waiting a week before the bike shop can get to it – one of the downsides of everyone discovering the joys of cycling during lockdown has been that the few bike shops still operating are operating a waiting list). And the other good thing is that Bromptons are easy to just throw into the car so I avoided the walk of shame and sent the other half home to get the car and pick me up – the first time I’ve actually been driven anywhere for six weeks.

scenic route

And then we took the scenic route home so we could charge up the car’s battery properly after six weeks of nothing but short weekly trips to the supermarket and back. We weren’t sure if it was entirely necessary but decided better safe than sorry, the way the last two weeks have been going … and some flats are easier to deal with than others.

Emerging (or – Exciting Shopping News)

April 28, 2020

one tree in leaf, one not
We’ve reached the point when even the trees can’t agree whether or not to come out of their lockdown and risk bursting into leaf …

As for the humans – well I’m not going to venture an opinion on what we should be doing about it, and I’m very glad I’m not responsible for deciding either, although I was very glad to hear this ministerial announcement which means that when we do start to emerge in greater numbers, there will be space for people to walk and cycle while keeping a nice safe distance from each other and the rest of the traffic.

Lockdown might not have ended yet, but I did manage a little loosening of my own isolation in that I had an unavoidable trip to the post office yesterday so at last I had a chance to do things I haven’t done in five weeks, like cycle into Bigtown and visit an actual shop (the other half has been doing the supermarket run once a week). This was quite exciting to me, adjusted for our new reality of what counts as exciting – especially as I also had a chance to buy a paper, bringing us up to a massive three this week. I mean it’s not the ford, or even a new pipeline, but you’ll just have to take what novelties you can get on this blog these days.

view from the bridge

That said, as far as cycling into town went, I’d have been hard pressed to notice any difference. The post office is just at the edge of town and traffic has never been that heavy there and if I was expecting tumbleweed rolling through the streets then I would have been disappointed. What I did get was all the fun of negotiating the new rules having not had a chance to adapt to them gradually – so yes, I was that person attempting to circumvent the one-way system in the shop (I was deeply apologetic when I was politely but firmly told to follow the rules). To be honest, the strangest thing about it all was the continuing fine weather which meant those standing outside waiting to get in were just enjoying a nice blether in the sun. Regular readers of the blog will know just how strange a phenomenon that is around here.

Anyway, with that excitement over it’s back to my round of work, local walks, and the odd outing on the bike, enjoying the emergence of spring and wondering what the future lies in store.

trees coming into leaf

How is your lockdown going?

Not Running with the Bulls

April 23, 2020

One of less widely acknowledged benefits of using your bike for transport is that however busy you get, you still end up getting in some exercise – indeed, in normal times, the busier you are, the more of a workout you will build into your day just to run errands or go to meetings.

And then along comes a virus and everyone is stuck indoors and while some of my cycling friends are enjoying the government injunction to go out and take exercise, and others are getting inventive with indoor cycling (and even skipping), I’m not spending anything like as much time on the bike as I would normally just fetching the paper.

I’m actually really enjoying our daily walks instead – even if they’ve been temporarily curtailed in one direction by some escaped bulls that took up residence in our local forest (we think they’ve been rounded up but they were quite good at disappearing into the shadows under the trees so it’s hard to be sure and we didn’t quite fancy suddenly encountering animals quite so big and with quite such pointy horns without a stout fence between us and them). But they’re not proving quite as much of a work out as I’m used to. I could go out more on the bike, but I have got very busy in the last few days and when you need to get a lot of exercise in a short period of time there’s really only one option – going for a run.

So that’s why I found myself at some silly hour of the morning, heading down the hill on my bike to a quieter back road where I could get a bit of an aerobic workout. Unfortunately the bike – perhaps sensing a rival form of exercise in my affections – had other ideas. Half way down the road and the flat front tyre had become unignorable.

early start

I briefly considered doing my run from there – but even with the lighter traffic of lockdown, our local B road is not that inviting on foot without even a comfortable verge, let alone a pavement. Just wheeling the bike back up the hill didn’t feel all that comfortable, although it did give me a chance to pick up lots of squashed cans I’ve not managed to stop for in the past – and entertain the neighbours as well.

curious cows

What is she doing?

Once home, all dressed up with nowhere to run (unless I fancied my chances with the wild beasts of the forest) I considered just heading back to bed, but that seemed a little feeble. The only other place to go was up our neighbours’ drive (if you can call a private road half a mile long a drive). Which happens to go straight up hill for the first half. I wonder how many times I can run up the hill and back down again, I asked myself, which only goes to show that this lockdown has gone on far too long.

Anyway the answer – surprisingly to me – was ‘at least four’ – with the downhill parts proving harder on the legs than the uphill. It’s reassuring I suppose that a few weeks of less frantic gadding about haven’t really put much of a dent in my fitness.

So now, on top of everything else, I will have to sort out that puncture and find another morning to head out for my original planned (and rather gentler) run. And hope that by the time the lockdown ends I’m not the sort of person who does hill repeats for fun…

Frying Visit

April 18, 2020

Say what you like about the lockdown, it’s certainly making us appreciate the little things in life. Like the fact that one of our neighbours shops on a Tuesday and has been picking up the Guardian for us, so we now get a paper two days a week instead of just on Saturday.

And the excitement of discovering that the mobile fish and chip van was back in business and coming our way …

Today was the day so, having booked our slot via Facebook Messenger (all you people who loftily tell me they’re not on Facebook … how are you surviving? As far as I can see it’s the only place for almost all local information in these pandemic times), we duly set off on a gorgeous spring evening to pick up our order.

The mobile chippy is one of those things we’ve been meaning to try out pretty much as soon as we moved up here, but have never quite got round to doing until three weeks of lockdown made any sort of meal we hadn’t cooked ourselves into an unimaginable luxury. Ordinarily, the community pub opens early for the van’s arrival and your chips can be consumed in comfort in the bar with a pint, but with pubs consigned to the distant era of, ooh, a month ago, there was nothing for it but to cycle back with our order to eat it at home. This made for a bit of a time trial home: three miles, several unnecessary hills and an unexpected headwind versus the rate of cooling of a couple of chip suppers wrapped in insulating newspaper in a bike pannier bag.

fish and chips

I have just paid for the unexpected exertion with a bout of thigh cramp – clearly all this not-cycling is beginning to get to me – but on balance it was still well worth it. The chips were still hot, the beer in the fridge was cold, and the garden was just about pleasant enough for an al fresco supper. Michelin starred restaurants, eat your heart out.

World Turned Upside Down

April 15, 2020

If mutant dandelions weren’t enough to worry about…

There’s a couple of other signs that the world is surely on its final approach towards the end times. First is that it hasn’t properly rained for weeks – yes, here, in South West Scotland. There’s been rain forecast but apart from a tiny spot of drizzle on Sunday morning it’s never materialised. And days that were forecast to be a bit meh have shaped up to be glorious. It’s wonderful, of course, but the gardener in me is trying very hard not to wish it would rain…

ruined tower and blue sky

The other thing is that I haven’t been out on my bike for a week (and I feel fine). This is probably the least cycling I’ve done (apart from a fortnight’s holiday spent on an island that consists mainly of flights of stairs) for years. It turns out that for me, riding a bike is largely an enjoyable way to get somewhere, not an obsession in itself.

caution bicycles sign

That said, when the sun shines and the wind drops and it’s another gorgeous sunny afternoon it would be churlish not to get the bike out and reassure it I haven’t forgotten it. So today’s state-sanctioned exercise was a tidy 12-mile loop around the local back roads, just because we could.

bikes on a bridge

It was good to know I could still get up and down the hills.

open road

If you’ve had enough photos of empty country roads and glorious sunshine (with the other half as a figure giving scale to the image as he disappears into the middle distance) just let me know.

bike and open road

Sunshine while Stocks Last

April 8, 2020

A few days after the southern half of the country was basking (illegally) in sunshine, the spring warmth has reached us here, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have just finished knitting an enormously warm jumper (of which more anon) and some last-minute work has arrived which ought to keep me chained to my desk.

But with mutterings about tightening lockdowns and banning outdoor exercise – and with vitamin D in short supply – we thought we’d better get out on the bikes and do a little stockpiling of our own.

sunny skies and reservoir

I’m almost reluctant to post these photos as I know how incredibly lucky we are to be able to get out and enjoy such scenery with barely a handful of cars and just a few other cyclists and walkers scattered along the route.

tree shadows across the road

This used to be one of my favourite rides when we lived down in the old cottage and it was on our doorstep. We don’t do it so often these days but perhaps we should.

climb up to the top of the hill

The route took us past the ford road but I thought you’d probably be bored of ford updates so I didn’t bother going down …

… just kidding, of course I did.

Ford almost dry

Hope you’re all staying safe and are able to get out and enjoy the spring weather.