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…


The Impossible Journey

January 29, 2015

So we woke this morning to two inches of snow and everything looking extremely pretty – the perfect day for a wintry walk followed by an afternoon of hibernating by the woodburner. Sadly, what I had actually planned for today was a trip to Edinburgh for a couple of important plotting meetings and, as one of them was already twice postponed I thought I should at least show willing, ‘blizzard’ or no blizzard. As this involved a 25 minute rural bus journey with a 15 minute connection to the only train for two hours, I was fairly certain that the attempt was doomed, but the internet suggested that the trains were running and the buses not cancelled, so I set off all the same.

I did at least have the sense this time not to attempt the eight miles to Bigtown by bike but this meant fossicking the other half out of bed to give me a lift to the bus stop. Having dug out the car, we abandoned all thought of the back roads and ended up in nose to tail traffic on Big A Road, and then total gridlock as we came through the outskirts of the town. It was a forlorn hope that I could still catch my bus but I hopped out of the car and hoofed it, overtaking everything on the road, and was startled to get to the bus stance to discover the bus waiting for me, just as the snow began again in earnest. The bus then crawled through actual proper white-out conditions, shedding great drifts of snow from its roof at every bend, with me running through various contingency plans for what I’d do when I, as I inevitably would, missed the train – only for our destination to appear unexpectedly through the murk, merely five minutes later than we were due to arrive. ‘I’d be surprised if there’s any trains running,’ the bus driver said cheerily as he let me off but not only were they running, they were only a few minutes delayed ‘I know, I’m astounded!’ said the ticket collector. ‘And isn’t it just gorgeous.’

snowy hills from the train

And indeed it was.

I’m still sorry that I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the beauties of the freshly fallen snow, beyond a snatched glimpse from a train window, but then again I did experience something much rarer: the UK public transport system mysteriously not collapsing despite an amber wintry weather warning. Let others tackle Alpe d’Huez on a Boris Bike or cross the Gobi on a Brompton – I have made it from Bigtown to Embra and back on public transport in the snow.


Going Ill-Equipped

January 28, 2015

Note: Mum, if you’re reading this, obviously what follows is a fictional imagining of what might have happened had I been completely intrepid enough to cycle to Bigtown for the evening in the middle of an amber weather warning for snow. Which, obviously, I’m not.

‘I’ll be along unless there’s a blizzard,*’ I said to my friend and literary co-conspirator about his planned book launch this evening. Sure, the forecast looked pretty dreadful, but the forecasts have been so wrong recently and you tend to get a bit blase about weather warnings when there’s been one pretty much every day this year so far. And in fairness to me, it wasn’t a blizzard when I set off on my bike, although it had started to snow a bit. When I was half a mile down the road it started snowing harder and, realising I had forgotten my lock, I began to reconsider the whole enterprise as being on the wrong side of intrepid. But as always happens when you decide to bail out, the snow lightened up, so I retrieved my lock and set off again a little faster, relieved to note that the snow had almost stopped.

I was a good three miles in when I realised that the worst thing that could happen was for the snow to stop completely because it might then freeze hard and I’d be riding back on black ice. ‘But what’s the problem?’ I hear you cry, ‘don’t you have magical ice tyres?’ Well, yes I do, and they were magically on my spare wheels which were sitting in the shed at home, not on my bike, because I had got the other half to swap them out on Monday and I had been too embarrassed to ask him to switch them back again – I really must get the hang of changing my wheels myself. And besides, I had wanted to keep my new wheel with its magical hub dynamo so that I would have a decent light to ride back by. So all I could hope for was that it would keep snowing enough to provide a surface I could ride on, but not so much that I might end up in a snow drift, and so I pedalled on.

I arrived to cries of amazement that I had come on a bike, peeled off a mountain of kit, heard some excellent poems, had some gingerbread** and a warming cup of tea, learned how to do a monoprint, heard more excellent poems, had a go at monoprinting myself, and then headed back out into the resumed snow – fortunately just the right amount of snow – to brush off my bike and pedal home. This was slightly complicated by the fact that my rear light, which has long needed a new battery, was now giving off the feeblest of flashes.

Snowy high street

Just the right amount of snow

I rang the other half to let him know I was on my way, and set off feeling uneasily as if I was in the opening credits of an episode of Casualty. The snow was settling by now, and getting heavier, and also blowing directly into my face and I realised that sacrificing grip for lighting was a bit of a false economy because once the snow has started to accumulate on your glasses, you can’t see a damn thing anyway. Once out of Bigtown and onto the road home, I ended up following the wheel marks of the few cars that had passed – mercifully clear black tarmac standing out against the white of the snow. And I amused myself as I plugged on into the wind and the swirling flakes by enumerating my many failings on this potentially doomed expedition: no overshoes, no working rear light, didn’t stop off at the last shop before I left Bigtown for new batteries, no dynamo rear light, a rear reflector which would me more effective if it wasn’t dangling sideways off my rack, no magical ice tyres, and now that I came to think of it, I was missing a couple of pedal reflectors too. Oh and no defogging spray on my glasses, and following wheel tracks is all very well but what do you do when the wheel tracks turn off into a farm yard (that’s funny, I thought, I didn’t think there was a bend in the road like that…) and you’re left with the last mile to cover on unbroken snow…

Reader, I survived. In fact, I probably wasn’t even in mild peril, realistically. The three whole vehicles I encountered gave me ‘dangerous lunatic’ amounts of space as they passed – in fact I had to wave the white van driver to overtake. The road stayed mostly unfrozen, the bike stayed rubber side down, and my back light was still giving off a last firefly glimmer as I wheeled it into the shed. I was greeted by a glowing woodburner and the smell of the other half’s pot roast and never have either seemed quite so marvellous as they did tonight.

Still, I think that next time there’s an amber weather warning, I shall pay a little more attention.

 

monoprint

My attempt at a monoprint.

Well, unless there’s art to be done.

* Note to North American readers: the word ‘blizzard’ is being used here in its British English sense of ‘snowing a bit’, not the sort of white-out conditions that you might imagine. The other half, who is Minnesotan, still hasn’t quite recovered from his encounter with the English headline ‘Blizzard dumps centimetre of snow on Kent’ during his first winter here.

** Technically not cake


Eyes Wide Shut

January 16, 2015

falling snow

Hello and welcome to the blog that gets results, as clearly my recent rant has had the Met Office scurrying down to their server room to administer the three-fingered salute to their supercomputer: today’s forecast was spot on, with the snow starting more or less to schedule as we got up this morning, breaking for some sunny intervals and then getting back to business just before lunch. Unfortunately, I have become so used to totally ignoring the forecast, that meant I didn’t take advantage of the said sunny intervals to go and get the paper (and besides the other half was putting my ice tyres back on my bike. Mental note to self: stop being so feeble about your bike maintenance) so I set off just as the snow was getting going again. Not that cycling in snow is really a problem – even without the ice tyres, fresh snow isn’t too bad and of all the forms of precipitation we get around here it’s actually the most pleasant to ride in, although I could have done without it blowing directly into my eyeballs (at one point I was freewheeling down a hill with my eyes screwed shut* thinking ‘this probably isn’t a brilliant idea’).

In fact the only real worry about cycling in the snow is that I get the distinct impression that the few drivers I do encounter think I’m a dangerous lunatic, especially if they’ve seen me cycling along with my eyes shut. Normally on our narrow roads, drivers coming up from behind will hesitate for a few seconds and then (if I haven’t pulled out to take the lane if there’s a bend coming up or some potholes) pass me reasonably promptly. Today I ended up having to pull over to let a couple of them by. Which is better than them just squeezing past me, obviously, but as I’m a nice person it also means I have to cycle a lot faster than I like, while they wait behind me going, ‘Oh my god there’s a nutter out here on a PUSHBIKE! They’re going to fall over! It’s all icy and snowy! What will I do?’, especially as these are mostly my neighbours. Perhaps every set of Marathon Winters should come with a sign for the back of the bike going ‘Panic not, drivers: this bike has magical spiky tyres and can probably stop more safely than you can! Don’t make the poor cyclist hurry up the hill but pass with care! Thank you for your concern.’

snowy hills

Once the drivers had passed, and the snow had stopped and the sun had resumed its sunny intervals, it was all rather lovely.

snowy road

If you’d like to join the ranks of dangerous two-wheeled lunatics (and frankly, who wouldn’t?), our American friends have this fine site where you can pledge to ride to work, whatever the weather, on a day in February. On Friday the 13th to be exact. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh and for those wondering, both Growly Dog AND her sister had a go at me today.

*I do open them at frequent intervals, I’m not completely intrepid


101 Uses for a Brompton: Wimping Out

December 7, 2014

The only thing worse than a weather warning when you’re suppose to be holding a fun Christmas bike ride and outdoor crafting event aimed at children, is three weather warnings. Over the past three days the Met Office has excelled itself: the forecast for today gradually deteriorating from overcast to light rain to heavy rain, to this morning’s three horsemen of the apocalypse: yellow warnings for ice, snow and gales. It might have been bright sunshine at 10 o’clock when I was busy packing the Brompton basket with all the things we needed for the event, but by 10:30 as I was getting ready to set off, the skies had darkened and it was already raining hard. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a lift in?’ the other half asked as I dug out my rain skirt and packed a spare pair of gloves so I wouldn’t have to cycle back home in the sleet in wet ones. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure. At least I could arrive dry, if nothing else.

With a little bit of time to spare due to not having to cycle eight miles into town through the rain, I finished my coffee and watch the weather change from miserable to comically grim. First the hills disappeared behind a veil of rain, then it started hailing, then snowing. Then the phone rang – common sense had prevailed, and Christmas fun in the park had been cancelled.

I can’t say I was disappointed, although we are now stuck with rather a lot of home baking.*

Oh, and no sooner had the decision been taken and communicated to all concerned? The sun came out. It’s the first time I’ve ever spent an afternoon looking out of the window, willing it to start sleeting again…

cows in sunshine

* This was intended to be a fund raiser, although having examined the economics of it, next year I will spend the minimum three hours involved working and donate my professional fee instead…


Rider on the Storm

January 31, 2014

I knew the forecast wasn’t looking too clever this morning, so I thought I’d better just quickly check the rain radar before settling down to see whether I had time to get some work done before setting off. A quick glance showed an enormous scary mass of rain marching rapidly towards us with no end in sight so I didn’t hesitate and was out on my bike to get down to the paper shop and back while I still could. In fact, I probably could have done without the rain radar as a glance to the west revealed nothing but increasing murkiness. I abandoned my normal contemplative pedalling style and concentrated on making progress, egged on by the chilly bite in the headwind: it wasn’t just rain that those dark clouds promised. The sky over papershop village was looking apocalyptic and all the east-bound cars headlights were on, never a good sign, but at least on the way home I had the wind behind me. Focusing on the lighter skies to the east, I put my head down and let it push me home and, very satisfyingly, was wheeling my bike into the shed just as the first drops fell.

Since then we’ve had rain, ice, sleet, snow, and back to rain again. Pleasant as it is to be safe at home throughout it all, it’s the village Burns supper tonight so out I must go again, and in all my Burns night finery,* because the other half has the car and won’t be back in time to ferry me down. I wonder just how easy it will be to do the Dashing White Sergeant in wellies…

* In my case, ‘clothes I haven’t gardened in recently


Melting…

March 29, 2013

Both the bike and I were a tad overdressed on our run down to the papershop this morning – it with its ice tyres rattling over bone-dry tarmac, and me having to discard buff and unzip my jacket, at least until I turned for home and back into the biting east wind. It’s nice to remember what it’s like to be too warm, but a bit bizarre as I’m still cycling down through a narrow carved canyon of snow in places

snow melting

The hillsides have taken on a rather piebald aspect, depending on where the snow was blown away or where it gathered behind sheltered walls. Or was just piled up in dirty great piles, dirty being the operative word…

snow piles

And somewhere under these waves of snow our bluebells lurk. Maybe in a month or two, we’ll see them…

snow in waves under the trees

Meanwhile, we’re just happy to have glimpsed the sun.

snow on the hills


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