Turning Left in June

June 16, 2017

As regular readers of this blog know I’ve been trying to get out at least once a month and do a ride which takes me somewhat out of my comfort zone. As I hinted in my last blog, I had plans yesterday to do a cycle ride which I’d been contemplating for a while but always finding an excuse not to do. Not because it was a particularly difficult route or even that long. But I knew I was a bit worried about my plans for my latest adventure when I awoke from an anxiety dream in which I’d left my Brompton on a plane…

Normally, when I go to Edinburgh by train, I go from Lockerbie because it’s the nearest mainline station. It’s about 19 miles from the house, and we always allow an hour in the car because there’s a chance of getting caught up in traffic and the trains only go every two hours. If I can’t get a lift, I cycle down to Bigtown and get the bus from there, allowing two hours because of not wanting to miss the bus. This can be a little anxiety making when you’re trying to catch a train and I try and not spend *all* of the time when I’m waiting for the bus making elaborate contingency plans for what happens if the bus doesn’t turn up, and mostly fail, but so far I haven’t actually needed to implement any of them and I’m getting almost sanguine about the process. I could cycle the whole distance in about the same time as I allow for the bike+bus, but most of it would be on a hideous road – busy with lorries, fast, largely uphill, and only just wide enough so that there’s no space at all for a person on a bike, particularly a person on a Brompton laden with cake, who isn’t particularly speedy at the best of times. Trying to take primary on a road like that holding up streams of traffic trying to catch the train doesn’t really bear thinking about.

But then someone posted an alternative route that was ‘only’ five miles longer and only included a tiny stretch of A road and looped round through new cycling territory for me. It was worth exploring as an option for people who wanted to get a full size bike to the station and couldn’t use the bus. The problem was managing to navigate it (all of the directions on Google were of the ‘turn left on unknown road then turn right onto unknown road’ variety), and doing so under pressure of time, plus did I mention I was on the Brompton? A couple of times I had the option of doing it, but then bottled it, and yesterday, when the opportunity arose, the weather forecast wasn’t too bad, and I generally had enough time, I knew I would have to do it or I would never attempt it at all.

I tried to keep my contingency planning, while elaborate, on the sane side of the line. I don’t have turn by turn navigation on my phone (or the relevant OS map, unfortunately) but I printed out the Cycle Streets route and step-by-step directions (which were extremely comforting en route). I allowed an extra half an hour on top of the 2.5 hours I calculated it would take me. I made sure I had taxi money and the number of the station cab firm in case of a mechanical issue. And I’d identified a number of bail-out points where, if I decided half way through that the whole idea was insane, I could cut across and catch the bus after all. I also, during some of the longer uphill stretches, worked out what I would do if I missed the train. I sometimes wonder just what I could achieve if half of my mental cycles weren’t habitually taken up with lining up not just a plan B but plans C, D and E as well.

At Bigtown, with plenty of time in hand, I realised that my contingency planning hadn’t involved what I would eat, or the fact that the Brompton doesn’t have a water bottle, so I stopped for emergency supplies (pork pies, Snickers bars and water – the lunch of champions) and set off, passing my normal bus stop with only a small pang of anxiety. I had time. It would be fine.

millhousebridge house

A signpost! A rare sight on the back roads

And, to cut a long story short, it was fine. There was one stretch of A road where I had the option of either sticking on the road for an extra mile, or taking a triangular detour that involved a nasty hill, and after the first car had passed me at speed, I had no hesitation in taking the detour (so little hesitation, in fact, that I received some words of advice from the gentleman in the white van behind me, although as the only word I could decipher was ‘cyclists!’ I was unable to take it) even though it meant walking up the hill. Once past the three crossings of the A road, I was then safely onto the back roads and although I had a few anxieties about taking the wrong road and could really really have done with a nice reassuring map, actually the navigation was quite straightforward. I had been pushing myself to keep up the pace for the first 15 miles, which left me gasping for breath at one point, but as the miles ticked down I realised that I did actually have plenty of time, and I could relax, even take a few photos.

road ahead

Smooth tarmac, and empty road and a tail wind. How often does that happen?

And then there was one point where the wind was at my back, the sun had come out, I had time in hand, and I was on a road that rolled out ahead of me with mile after mile of beautifully smooth empty tarmac, and I was just flying. I must have looked quite a sight on my “clown bike”, Brompton basket laden in front of me, backpack on my back, caning it down the road with a big grin on my face, but who cares. I had done it. Oh, and I got to the station with half an hour to spare. Never have two snack-sized pork pies tasted sweeter than they did on the platform waiting for the train.

Brompton at the station

It would probably have been more aero without the two laminated POP posters on the back (I could hear them flapping in the wind) but I’m never taking them off …

The irony of it all is that I was on my way to an evening listening to women who think nothing of riding across Canada or Kyrgystan or even the length of the UK with about the same level of preparation that I put into cycling to the station.

On the other hand it is ridiculous that what should be a straightforward 12 mile journey between two key towns in the region – not exactly ‘everyday cycling’ territory, but an easily doable occasional trip – turns into a 17 mile odyssey through unsigned rural back roads for those who prefer not to fear for a their lives on their bikes (and we’ll draw a veil over the stretch of ‘Notional Cycling Network’ that runs alongside the motorway on the run in to Lockerbie).

Imagine what levels of cycling might be unleashed if we built actual decent direct safe cycling routes that meant cycling to the station didn’t have to feel like an epic ride across Canada, albeit without the bears.

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I’m on the Road to … Aieeeeee!

November 16, 2013

Being part two of my cycling adventures in Glasgow

Having got to outer Glasgow on Thursday night in the dark along who knows what roads while following Magnatom, yesterday’s cycling challenge seemed a lot easier: get myself to Bishopbriggs and from there back to Glasgow Central station, all in daylight in time to catch my train. It’s generally easier to find a route to a city centre because that’s generally where all the roads go, and so it was in this case as once I’d got to Bishopbriggs, all I had to do was follow the big yellow road on the map and it would take me more or less straight there. Easy peasy. Even I could do that. Even when the big yellow road got bigger and faster and turned into a dual carriageway and stopped having pavements and started having slip roads instead of junctions with traffic lights. After all (as someone was reminding me at the Cycling Scotland Conference last week) I had a perfect right to be there on my bike in among the big buses and cars, and had some spoiler put a wussy cycle track alongside it the traffic would all be beeping at me to get onto it, instead of, as they were now, beeping at me in joyful recognition of my rightful presence amongst them in the brotherhood of the open road.* So I persisted, having anyway little option as there was nowhere else but the road to go, until I looked up and saw the sign that was helpfully informing me that now would be a good time to pull out across two lanes of traffic into the third lane if I wasn’t planning on joining the M8. At that point, spotting a bus stop and (glory be) a shared-use pavement sign miraculously appeared alongside me, I bailed out and decided to find an option that was less likely to kill me.

Once on the pavement, I even saw a tiny blue sign directing me to the city centre. Praising the far-sighted Glasgow city fathers for providing me with just such a piece of cycling provision when I needed it most, I followed it up and over a bridge, tempering my praise a teeny bit as I passed through not one but four chicanes, tempering it further as the ‘bike route’ suddenly developed steps, and settling for roundly cursing them as I found myself entering an underpass so choked with leaves and mud that someone (I’m guessing not the city fathers) had built a neat set of stepping stones out of broken paving slabs to cross it. After that, I discovered, I was on my own, surrounded on all sides (not to mention above and below) by slip roads and motorways and A-roads and who knows what other classes of road, all roaring busily with traffic. At points I could see a network of footpaths that seemed to wind through this tangled mess of motorway knitting but I was pretty sure that even if I could find my way onto them, the chance of actually following them where I wanted to go as opposed to, say, back at the muddy underpass for the seventeenth time, was effectively nil. So I wheeled my bike across pedestrian crossing after pedestrian crossing until I had left the motorway junction behind and I was back on a road that had gone from utterly terrifying to just averagely scary and got back on and went on my way. I even made it to the station on time, which as I’d allowed myself two hours to ride about 3 miles wasn’t all that surprising.

Suddenly, the reason why otherwise sane Glasgow cyclists seem so keen to use roads that most people on bikes would consider actively hostile was a lot clearer – when you’ve a choice between being killed, and spending the rest of eternity roaming a shared use path on a moebius strip encircling a motorway junction, merely being crushed to death begins to look the kinder option. Now I realise that there is undoubtedly a perfectly pleasant route between Bishopbriggs and Glasgow city centre which you’re all going to tell me about in the comments, but the fact is, unless it’s properly signposted and obvious from the main road and doesn’t lead you into an underpass and leave you there to die, then it might as well not exist. And while not everyone is as spatially challenged as I am, that means more than one tiny blue sign, people.

There’s lots of expensive things that Glasgow could – and should – do to sort out its city scape (and getting rid of its urban motorways and turning them into linear parks would be a fantastic start in my opinion). There are also some slightly less expensive things it could do now, like signpost the routes it does have, for instance, and properly drain its underpasses for another instance. And until it does either of those things, I shall stick to my tried and tested system of appealing on the internet for native guides for all bike-borne travel that doesn’t involve going from one bit of the Clyde to another in daylight…

*probably