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.


To Do List

March 31, 2017
sunlight and shadows on the field

No reason for including this photo, except that I do love the way the sunlight moves over the landscape and picks out the contours in this field

I was awake this morning at 2am with a list of all the things I had to remember to do today churning around in my head (I actually got up and wrote the list … it’s the only way to get back to sleep if you’re plagued by this sort of thing). And then I’ve been on the go from the moment I actually got up – one of those days that just feels a bit relentless, with every new email a new thing to do. It reminds me of when I had a proper job as a manager and often I would get into work at 8:30 and open my email then spend the time until 6:30 just reacting to stuff until it was time to go home, without having done any of the things I’d hoped to get done in the intervening ten hours (if anyone was wondering why I might quit a well-paying job in a fantastic institution, well, that’s your answer).

I’m not complaining – I have brought this on myself, and I’m doing something I feel passionate about, and it’s only for the next few weeks, and I’m working with a great group of fellow campaigners whose enthusiasm and energy is brilliant and amazing even as it generates ever more stuff that needs to be done. And it helps that, for the last three days the rain has been equally relentless so I have felt absolutely no resentment at being chained to the computer alternately answering emails and looking at lists of local authority candidates (which is more interesting than it sounds, but only slightly).

Freshly laid tarmac

But the problem is I had resolved to try a new route on the bike every month this year, and somehow it’s already the last day in March. And all I had time for this afternoon was a dash up to New Nearest Village to pick up a prescription. This might mean a new stretch of road, but only in the sense that the tarmac had been freshly laid, not a new route

But, with the sun finally putting in an appearance, I did realise that I had an opportunity to do the tiniest bit of exploring along a road that leads out of the village and through a tiny hamlet past the school. So I took it.

The road not yet taken

As new routes go, ‘detouring half a mile out of your way’ is a box-ticking exercise that the coonsil would be proud of, but what can I say, needs must when the devil drives.

sun and clouds

I shall do better in April, I hope. But don’t count on it.