What are the Chances of That?

May 3, 2018

Since we’ve moved to the new house, I’ve often wondered just where our bus service goes. There’s definitely a bus that serves New Nearest Village, because I’ve seen it and it’s got a timetable that’s available in various formats including online. The problem is, I’ve seen it in a number of places which seem to make no sense as far as any route to New Nearest Village goes. Occasionally I’ve seen it running sensibly down the B road to and from the village (indeed, once I came across it on the B road twice in one day and both times the driver got my very best wave* for their extremely patient overtake), but other times I’ve seen it wandering far and wide on back country roads, often heading in precisely the wrong direction.

A look at the online timetable left us none the wiser – as far as we can tell (and it doesn’t help that there are no actual physical bus stops on the road and the bus timetable itself refers to places that even Google hasn’t heard of) it has a number of different and wildly circuitous routes and it would seem that it only goes past our own road end once a day on the way into Bigtown, and never on the way back, which makes it even less useful as a regular bus service than your average rural bus.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s less a bus service and more a magical mystery – a bus that appears when you least expect it, going in a random direction, possibly with a handful of enchanted passengers who have been travelling the rural back roads of Bigtownshire for decades now. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised this afternoon when – pulling out around an apparently parked-up lorry whose driver suddenly decided to pull away from the kerb without either looking (I could see him not looking in his wing mirrors which is why I’d assumed he wasn’t going to pull out) or indicating, just as I was committed to my manoeuvre – the bus appeared out of nowhere coming the other way.

Fortunately, bus driver and I were both sufficiently on the ball that I didn’t end up as the filling in a lorry-bus sandwich, and I was free to cycle home in one piece, arguing furiously with the lorry driver in my head. Even so, it was just the sort of incident that might encourage a more nervous cyclist to resort to taking the bus instead.

If only she could work out where it went …

* I have a carefully calibrated set of acknowledgements to drivers who pass or overtake me ranging from a cheery salute for extra-considerate driving all the way down to the ‘what the actual F was that?’ theatrical shrug (or occasionally the ‘you have a very small endowment’ pinky waggle when needs must).


Cabin Fever

March 3, 2018

So, today should have been spent in Glasgow, in the company of approximately 50 active travel campaigners, variously networking, sharing ideas, putting the world to rights and (most likely) worrying that none of our speakers were running to time. But with the ongoing weather chaos (there are still no trains running out of Bigtown station even now) we had to reluctantly cancel. So what with that, and being ill and my Viking biking failure on Wednesday, I’ve not actually been anywhere since Sunday except out for a daily walk.

drifted snow

Today, feeling that this was getting out of hand, I decided I would either attempt to cycle down for the paper or we would dig the car out and drive down to do some recreational panic buying. No sooner had I made this decision than it began to snow again, so we dug out the car while we still could, made liberal use of the contents of the coonsil grit bin which is helpfully left right by our gate (and smells deliciously of treacle – do they mix it with molasses to make it stick or has the salted caramel fad finally jumped the shark?) and successfully made it to the main road.

It was slightly sobering to then come across an upside-down 4×4 a mile or two further down – it wasn’t exactly where I would have been cycling, but it did illustrate the fact that some people are still struggling to drive to the conditions. But, hey, apparently I’m the nutter, attempting to tackle these conditions on a bike …

Capsized vehicles aside, Bigtown was almost disappointingly back to normal – even the KFC is open again – and the supermarket’s shelves looked fairly fully stocked although we did almost end up with half a Guardian (apparently the middle bits fall out too easily and they seem to be dealing with this by bringing them out one magazine insert at a time when customers complain, rather than just sorting them all out in one go).

By the time we were heading home the snow was more or less stopped, the overturned car was being carted away and there was a sense that – the odd yellow weather warning notwithstanding – life might be returning to its normal rhythms soon. It’s been nice to have a bit of enforced downtime, I suppose, especially after a busy start to the year. But I think I’ll be ready to get out on the bike pretty soon. I just hope all the drivers out there concentrate as hard on keeping the rubber side down as I do …

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.

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.

N Plus Marathon Plus

November 24, 2017

Regular readers will probably be aware that if anyone’s keeping the UK retail economy afloat, it’s not me. The combination of a fairly frugal nature, a desire not to throw things away when they’re still usable, and (if I’m really honest) the ability to put off until tomorrow what really needed to be done today makes me a reluctant shopper. So you won’t be surprised to discover that, two and a half years since I was told that the Brompton back tyre needed replacing, and about six months since it developed a regular slow puncture, and approximately three months since I arranged with the bike shop that if I sorted out ordering a Brompton tyre, they would happily replace it for me (look, it’s a hub gear, it’s the rear wheel, and anything to do with a Brompton is extra fiddly) I have done nothing except look online at Brompton tyres, realised that I had to decide between various different types, gone ‘how much?!’ at the price of any of them and decided to sort it out another day.

hedgecuttings on road

So when our road was looking like this,* I have absolutely nobody but myself to blame when I got precisely 100 yards down the road yesterday before my Brompton’s back tyre went completely flat (it’s never a good sign when you try pumping it up and you can see the air bubbling out of the tyre in multiple places). This was unfortunate as I was on my way to catch the bus to catch the train to get to Embra for two different meetings which were more than two miles apart and for which a Brompton would have been very handy. Having had to route march a combined distance of almost 4 miles to make it to a meeting and then catch the last train home, I was pretty weary when the train finally pulled in.

Still, at least this has made my mind up to get the Marathon Pluses for the Brompton. They may not be entirely thorn proof, but they have proved a lot better than anything else. Especially if you can get someone else to fit them. Although that said, it was snowing last night and our drive looked like this this morning so it might actually be time for the winter spikes …

icy puddle

There’s a joke among cyclists that the ideal number of bikes is N+1, where N is the number of bikes the cyclist already owns. On the whole, I’ve resisted this tendency and have stuck with my two – the big bike and the Brompton – without too many envious glances at other people’s steeds. This is partly because I don’t do that many different kinds of riding, so I don’t need multiple bikes, combined with the aforementioned frugality and sheer idleness. But it’s also because I know that if I started multiplying the number of bikes I had then the ideal number would indeed be N+1, where N was the number of bikes I had sitting unrideable in the garage while awaiting some minor but fiddly repair …

* As I set out gingerly on the big bike (with the ice and snow mostly melted) to brave the Bastard Big Thorns on the way to get the paper today, I was greeted by the sight of the two farmers from down the road, carefully sweeping all the hedgecuttings up by hand. This actually made me feel quite bad (I had had a bit of a moan yesterday after the Brompton puncture even though it was largely my fault) although not so bad that I didn’t let them get on with it.

Slime vs Bastard Big Thorn: no contest

November 22, 2017

I was a little disappointed in my Slime inner tube when it failed me yesterday, but having investigated a bit more closely I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You know how frustrating it can be, trying to track down the source of a puncture with nothing visible to the naked eye, and no sign of what might have caused the problem? That definitely wasn’t the case with this flat.

second thorn

First thorn

I think Slime works by centrifugal force – as you rotate the tyre, it is forced out of the hole under pressure and then sets to form a seal. That assumes that the hole is on the outside of the inner tube, and that the Bastard Big Thorn(s) didn’t end up going all the way through the inner tube and out the other side.

extracted thorn

This wasn’t even the one that caused the worst damage …

As it is, my backup innertube was a normal one, so it’s going to have to battle through the thorns unassisted.

mud under mudguard

At least this shows my mudguards are doing their job

As you can see from the state of my bike when I took the wheel off, the local farmers have not been very assiduous at sweeping either the mud or assorted hedgerow debris off our road. I have now cleaned my bike, but that’s going to last until the next time I cycle out of our front gate.

Our neighbour up the hill actually has his own petrol-powered mini road sweeper (it’s like a giant carpet sweeper) because he was sick of his car getting punctures. I have to admit, I was amused by this at the time, but I might have to borrow it if today’s rain hasn’t swept the worst of the hedgecuttings away.