Always Winter, Never Snowing

February 13, 2021

As the rest of my social media feed fills up with photos of fun in the snow across Scotland, we seem to have had the worst of the deal: all the bone-chilling cold you can shake a stick at and none of the white stuff (it is forecast to snow overnight tonight – and then rain all day tomorrow so we might at least get to enjoy the slushy melting stage …)

This means that the chief pleasure of our daily constitutional has become the way it makes the house feel warm when we get back in out of the east wind. And today I got double the pleasure because I’d spotted some cool looking ice forming in the burn, and had to dash back for my camera (it is an iron law that leaving it behind means we’ll see something worth photographing).

floating ice blob

Of course, it turned out to be harder to photograph than I had hoped, especially after I had climbed over a fence, scrambled down a steep bank, and crunch-squelched my way through a not-really-frozen-enough bog to reach it. A tree branch had fallen into the water and just where the tip was sticking out, a ball of ice had formed and was bobbing up and down in the water as though it were floating. None of this comes across in a photograph and once fetched out of the water it was just an ice blob.

blob of ice

In fact, everywhere that touched the water was busy freezing up in ways that turned out to be quite difficult to photograph without risking an icy dip. And it felt cold enough out that I didn’t want to end up turning into an icicle myself.

icicles at the fringes of the burn

So I went home and ordered this year’s veg seed in the warm instead. This feels like even more of an act of faith that spring is on its way than it usually does.


Re-Viking Biking

January 9, 2021
icy road and winter sun

One of the unanticipated side effects of moving from a dark, rather cold house when it was usually warmer to be outside, to a much better insulated sunnier one is that I have much less desire to get out on the bike when it’s cold. On cold bright days I can enjoy the sunshine from inside, and on cold miserable ones I can see the weather coming from a long way off and it tends to put me off. Add in lockdown, and the lack of an enforced bike ride for the paper every day, and with the weather we’ve been having (-7C this morning, apparently, thank you Weather Gods) it’s not surprising that I haven’t been out on the bike since Monday, when the First Minister announced we were going back into lockdown.

field covered in snowy vehicle tracks

Still, today I had a couple of errands to run, which seemed justification enough to get back on the bike. I had intended to go to the post office but with Bigtownshire going from one of the regions with the lowest number of coronavirus cases in Scotland to the second highest in less than two weeks (and 90% of cases being the new, more transmissible, version) the risk of having to queue for the post office seemed like a white-knuckle ride too far, so I confined my shopping to the (almost deserted) garage instead.

River starting to freeze over

The roads weren’t too slippy, fortunately, so, COVID aside, the chief danger to life and limb was the risk of frostbite while taking photos (did I mention it got down to minus 7 at all?) and my fellow road users. I noticed during the last lockdown that while 90% of the traffic might have disappeared, the 10% that remained were almost 100% the sort of drivers who think it’s fine to pass a cyclist on a blind bend or a single track road 50 yards before they get to a passing place and it turns out during this new lockdown the same thing holds, but with slightly more traffic and added icy verges. I don’t think it helps that without my hub dynamo I no longer have a rear light on all the time – anecdotally I have noticed far more of the sort of close passes where the driver just acts as if the bicycle isn’t there, or has zero width. I realise logically that ascribing reason to the average UK driver around bicycles makes as much sense as blaming the weather on the actions of some made up minor deities, but I wonder if a massively bright rear light just makes me look like a ‘proper’ road user – maybe a motorbike – until they get close enough to realise it’s just the local madwoman on a pushbike by which time they’ve already started to pass me sensibly.

bike with ice tyres

However, despite their best efforts, I survived both hazards and got some much-needed exercise (I don’t think our state-sanctioned stroll down the road end to inspect the rubbish bag status and/or grit bin really counts). And given that we seem to be coping with this lockdown by eating our way through it, it may not have been a moment too soon. We’ve a thaw coming in the forecast, so I might have to drag myself out again just for the exercise – which may just involve swinging by to check out the ford.


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 …


Cat-Ice

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.

cat-ice

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.


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.

 


Not Single Spies

February 18, 2016

frosty vegetation

While my more optimistic commenters might believe that after two bike maintenance disasters in a row I was due for a break, I know that the iron law of narrative tripartism determines that all things happen in threes, whether in fiction or in real life.

ice on puddle

So I was encouraged to wake this morning to a sparkly frosty day and an icy ungritted road, with a meeting* to get to long before the sun would have a chance of thawing the worst of it

ice on road

Of course, I thought, here comes the third thing! I have to change to my ice tyres, and my bike maintenance triple will be complete. I set to work and was pleased to discover I had got my wheel-swapping time down to just 15 minutes, not counting the time taken for the other half to further tighten the wheel nuts, explain why I’d used the wrong spanner and generally fail to be impressed at my bike maintenance prowess.

winter spiked tyre

Nothing daunted, I raced off for my meeting, enjoying all the gnarly ice, certain that I’d made the right decision in swapping out my tyres, and arriving at my meeting bang on time.

I suppose none of you will be surprised to learn that when I emerged an hour later, my back tyre was completely flat.

And nor were there any doughnuts.

* And by ‘meeting’, I mean heading to a local coffee shop for bike-related plotting on the promise that Thursday was ‘doughnut day’** and that the doughnuts in question were particularly delicious.

** we cyclists laugh in the face of hidden sugar***

*** Although frankly, if you’re going to hide sugar, a doughnut is a terrible place to do it.


Frozen Out

February 3, 2015

frozen pond

It’s cooooold at the moment. I knew this cycling home from the Community Council meeting last night when it felt like my cheeks were freezing in the wind, and I knew it when we woke to ice on the inside of the windows … and I knew it this morning when I set off before the sun had properly got up to go and be photographed for the paper about icy cycle paths.*

winter dawn

But if I had wanted confirmation, I would have got it when it took five minutes for the teacher to defrost the door lock so we could get into our yoga class this morning. ‘What’s the opposite of hot yoga?’ someone asked. That’ll be Scottish yoga, I guess.

For those awaiting with bated breath for updates on the Yoga Wars front, Yoga Bunny has proved herself a fair weather bunny and hasn’t appeared for the last two weeks, along with almost all of the newbies. But I’m too cowardly to demur when the teacher tells me where to go, and besides, I’m getting to like my new mat neighbour. So I am practising my zen mindset and remaining in my alloted temporary slot until its owner comes back from her computer course. And then I shall strike, and the corner space will be MINE.

snowdrops in snow

In other news, the snowdrops are out. Their timing is terrible, but I suppose they’re tougher than they look…

* for a minute when I got to the newspaper offices I thought we’d been foiled by the council actually clearing the path because the icy rutted mess that I’d originally complained about was suddenly beautifully clear. But fortunately their zeal or their salt had run out about ten yards further on so there was plenty of ice for me to be photographed on doing my Angry People in Local Newspapers face


Priorities Please

February 2, 2015

Well, I might regret saying that sunny snowy winter days never get old, as it seems to have ushered in days of sub-zero weather and the snow, the ice – and definitely the wind – are beginning to feel like house guests that have begun to outstay their welcome.

bike and snow

We haven’t had any more snow, but it appears that the wind has been doing more than just freeze our ears off – when I went down for the paper this morning I discovered that the few inches we had on Thursday had been helpfully swept off the surrounding hills and gathered neatly along some stretches of the road instead.

wind blown snow

The rest had been sculpted into some attractive shapes.

wind blown snow

Fortunately for us there seems to be a new policy of clearing rural roads of snow (or perhaps the local farmers have just gone out and done it themselves – I will find out tonight at the community council meeting) unlike our last big freeze. This is nice for me, because even with the ice tyres, rutted icy compacted snow can be a bit tricky. As it was, the place where I nearly came off my bike was our own driveway. I had shovelled myself a nice path out of the shed and onto the drive but had neglected to do the bit right by the road where I need to turn right just as all the ruts are trying to send me left. Oops.

This is slightly embarrassing given that a little rant I unleashed about the state of Bigtown’s pavements has been picked up by the local paper. I’m due in town tomorrow early for a traditional sadface shot next to the icy path right by the paper’s offices (unless the coonsil get wind of it and get the grit down overnight) – hopefully not with injuries from where I came off the bike on my own ice.

Still it does seem bizarre that the back road to Papershop Village, a road used by myself and about three farmers, has had more snow clearing than the pavements in most part of Bigtown. In fact, the pavements in Nearest Village have had more snow clearing than the ones in Bigtown, thanks to the community resilience scheme whereby they just give community councils a big bin full of grit and a hopper and tell them to have at it, which they do. There was more salt down than the Dead Sea when I cycled past this morning. It seemed to have done the trick, though. Perhaps the coonsil could take note.


Snow Day

January 30, 2015

sun and snow

Well, I needn’t have worried about missing out on all the snow – there was plenty left today, and it was a gloriously sparkling day to boot.

chain oil on hands

I really must remember to moisturise with something other than bike grease…

But first I had to get my hands dirty – and at least try and get the hang of swapping my wheels around to put my ice tyres back on the bike. It’s not that I don’t know what to do – it’s the actual doing I struggle with, from making sure the wheels are on straight, to doing the bolts up tight enough that they’ll stay that way, to adjusting the brakes (annoyingly, the ice-tyre wheels are a different width), to translating ‘lefty loosey, righty tighty’ into actually turning the spanner in the correct direction. Even turning my bike upside down is a bit of a struggle, but I managed about two-thirds of the wheel changing process, and then let the other half finish off the tricky bit of getting the wheels on straight. What I probably need is more practice … and if the weather continues the way it’s been recently, I’ll be getting plenty of that.

It was worth it in the end, though.

sun and snow and road

Sunny, snowy, winter days never get old…


Toasty

January 19, 2015

wintry skies

Oh, okay, not really. I have to admit it was a bit of a wrench to leave the Rayburn and head out on my bike for the paper this morning in minus whatever temperatures but I did have the bright idea of trying the overshoes again and it was a revelation – no more frozen toes, which is a bonus for a chilblain sufferer like me (at least I think that was down to the overshoes – but the only way to know for sure would be to wear one on one foot, and my usual boot on the other foot and even in the interests of the blog I’m not doing that). So now all I need is a pair of overshoes that has been printed so they look like a pair of normal* shoes so I can still have warm toes without going around looking as if I have absent-mindedly put my socks on after my shoes.

The bike was also decently shod – despite stretches of road that were decidedly dodgy, the ice tyres meant it continued to handle most of it with aplomb. On black ice, they’re brilliant – your only worry being that any car behind you isn’t going to be able to stop half as well as you are if the driver hasn’t noticed how slippy it is. On sheet ice the main problem was the glare of the sun bouncing straight into my eyes, although at the steepest part of a climb up a shaded bit of road I did get that uneasy ‘up a down escalator’ feeling as the back tyre began to slip downwards even as I pedalled upwards. The only stretch where I actually had to slow down and concentrate hard was a gnarly stretch of rutted ice on a bend. There are even more magical ice tyres that allow you to climb out of an ice rut but I don’t have those so I just had to pick a rut that was going the way I wanted to go and stay in it – and remember not to try and steer, just let the bike go the way it was going to go. Other than that, I had to stop myself from actually seeking out the icy bits of road to ride on just because I could…

We did hope that the freeze might be be deep enough to make the path up through the woods behind us less of a quagmire but that wasn’t an unqualified success.

frozen path

There’s really nothing that beats the sensation of breaking through a thin sheet of ice into the ankle-deep mud beneath to make you wish you were safely on a bike instead.

* or indeed abnormal ones – why not a pair of leopardprint kitten heels?