January 8, 2018

(I am grateful to Robert Macfarlane’s Word of the day for the description (and the new word) for the contoured-looking ice you see on puddles by the side of the road)

There’s certainly plenty of cat-ice around at the moment as we’ve had a stretch of bright but baltic days – I don’t think today that it really rose above freezing at all

Despite that, and a brewing cold (or indeed, in an attempt to shake it off) I headed out anyway, to get the paper, and take a little detour on the way back to investigate the gritting of the cycle path to the new flagship hospital where nobody can apparently find room in the brand new car park but it’s obviously not a priority to actually make it safe for people to cycle there because oh I give up, when you work out the reasons why, can you let me know …

cycle path with frost

Anyway, as it happens, the cycle path wasn’t too bad – ungritted but dry enough that that didn’t matter. Lulled by this, and the sunny day, and the fact that I had one spiked ice tyre on (albeit the wrong one – if you only put one on it should really be the front wheel but the front wheel has my hub dynamo and so I’d need to actually change the tyre and I’m not sure I can face doing battle with a spiky marathon plus), I pressed on to take the scenic route home rather than sensibly retracing my steps.

I expect you can work out what happened next.

To be fair, I did not technically fall off my bike. I have not come off my bike while riding it since I was in my 20s. I have, once, actually managed to fall off my bike while at a complete standstill at a traffic light in Glasgow, which was as embarassing as it sounds. Today wasn’t quite so embarassing mainly because there was nobody about but me but it was still pretty stupid. I was taking a little back road and as it dipped down into a valley, I came across a gnarly stretch of ice where the road had flooded and then frozen. Even with both ice tyres on, it would have been unrideable because it was rutted and muddy and the ice had broken and then refrozen in great lumps so that the whole road was a mess of ice and running water and great clumps of frozen mud. Instead of getting off I thought I’d get away with scooting along with one foot on the verge, steering through the worst of it. Fine, until you find a patch of, if not cat-ice, at least ice that was not going to support the weight of the boot of a cyclist. My foot went down into the void beneath, the bike tipped, and in that slow-motion yet utterly unstoppable way that these things happen, took me partially down with it.

No harm was done, beyond a skinned knee (the bike was fine, thanks for asking) and some dented pride (that’s why there’s no photo of the wretched ice, because I had passed a walker a minute or so before and I was keen to get away before she came upon me and witnessed my idiocy). And it’s a salutary reminder that doing things by halves never really works – if it’s too icy to cycle it’s not really any safer sculling along with one foot. I should just learn to get off and push the damn thing. Or remember that rural back roads don’t get any more love and attention from the coonsil than the cycle paths.


Still, I* have managed to adjust my kick stand so that my bike now stays upright 50% more of the time than it did before. At least as long as I’m not around to interfere.

Did I ever mention I was an award-winning cycle campaigner at all?

* and by ‘I’ I mean ‘with the help of the other half’ because it turns out even ‘lefty loosey righty tighty’ is too tricky for the spatially challenged to use to work out which way to turn an allen key to loosen a bolt. Interestingly, my fingers sort of knew and wanted to turn it in the correct direction but my brain confidently overrode them. I really should know by know that when I’ve got a 50% chance of getting something like this wrong I will actually manage it 100% of the time.



January 5, 2018

We woke this morning to a hard frost and fog which gradually lifted – or perhaps sank, for I discovered when I set out to Bigtown this afternoon that we were above the clouds, which is one of the unexpected bonuses of living on the side of a hill.

clouds below

It did give the road that leads down to the river valley an unusually apocalyptic feel.

heading into the mist

I was heading for Bigtown to, among other things, see* whether the library had a book on sourdough bread which it, amazingly, did

Setting off, I began to reconsider my plan of waiting until the warmer weather before getting to grips with bike maintenance. Not only is my rear brake not centring, which means I have to lean back and straighten it up every time I come to a hard stop (fortunately I have designed my ride in so I don’t normally need to do too many of those), but there’s a slow puncture in one of my winter tyres, which means I need to pump the tyre up every morning, something I invariably forget until I’ve already set off and am wondering why the handling is a bit weird. I’m not sure I can handle either learning how to sort out my brakes or working out how to change a spikey tyre without loss of life or limb, but I could at least work out how to adjust the kickstand on my bike – something I have been meaning to do for ooh, approximately three years now, so that I don’t have to find the one bit of the drive where the slope is at exactly the right angle for the bike not to fall over just as I start pumping up the flat tyre.

In other news, the first sourdough loaf is proving as we speak. I haven’t actually read the book yet, apart from dipping into it for amusingly acerbic asides but from the bits I’ve read so far, I think it’s going to be right up my street. Now, who’s written an amusing, no-nonsense guide to being a bit less crap about maintaining one’s bike?

* the entire coonsil library management system has been titsup for over a year now so the only way of finding out is to go and look…

There’s No Real Cure for Jetlag …

January 1, 2018

… but you can help the process along by getting outdoors and into the daylight.

setting off in the morning

Having arrived back after 9pm on Saturday, after 24 hours of very little sleep and a 7 hour time difference, we didn’t exactly see in the New Year, but I did have the small matter of a New Year’s Day ride to lead today. So at 10 am, still feeling a little bleary, I was back in the familiar embrace of my Brooks saddle, rattling down the road on my (as it turned out unnecessary) ice tyres.

We’d been threatened with all sorts – snow, ice, Storm Dylan – but what we got was light winds, sunlight, and scattered showers that miraculously confined themselves to scattering while we were in the cafe for lunch.

afternoon light

35 odd miles was perhaps a bit more than my legs were up for after a week off the bike and not much more than pootling beforehand, but it was absolutely what my body clock needed.

afternoon light

And while these are not Colorado’s blue skies, there’s something about our soft slanting winter sun that’s very pleasing to the eye.

last of the afternoon light

Especially when it’s a bit unexpected.

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.


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

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.

Daylight Savings

December 1, 2017

Sunlight is precious at this time of the year, and for the last three days we’ve been blessed with chilly but bright weather – perfect, you’d think, for getting out on the bike. Unfortunately it’s also been accompanied by a window-rattling north wind, the lazy kind (that goes through you, rather than around you) and as I haven’t actually needed to go anywhere, I haven’t.

Digging in the greenhouse

Fortunately the greenhouse has provided an alternative means of getting outdoors and soaking up the sunshine while it lasts without actually having your fillings blown out – but yesterday even that wasn’t too appealing as the wind was howling round every corner and drowning out the radio as I was digging out the second bed. Even the robin that was stalking me in the hope of worms was looking a bit sorry for itself with its feathers blown sideways.

Fortunately we now have an alternative: a trip to my parents netted a small drop-leaf table which was surplus* to requirements. This happened to be exactly the right size of table to fit in our sunny entrance way and provide a sunny space for basking, drinking coffee, writing shopping lists and doing crossword puzzles. I suspect in time that, being a horizontal surface, it will also find a role in holding up the post, keys, change, small gardening tools, phone chargers and random bits of plastic that look as if they might be part of something important and probably shouldn’t be thrown away – maybe even surplus Wisdens – but so far we are being reasonably disciplined about not burying it under a mound of stuff (that’s mainly because all of that stuff is currently on the dining table instead, but never mind).

entrance hall table

I have long wondered whether at some point I would manage to live ‘like a grown up’. I’m not even sure what I meant by that – possibly putting things away occasionally even if there wasn’t someone coming round. But given that my parents have long driven me mad by insisting in sitting in their own porch despite its manifold inconveniences, perhaps sitting in the porch to have my coffee will have to do.

* I say surplus – that at least was Mum’s verdict. Dad wasn’t quite so sure as he was using it to hold up the overspill of his collection of Wisdens…