Diary of a Mountain Biker
Saturday, 26 January 2008
Popped out for a ride this afternoon in the low winter sunlight. Only 20 miles, but it was a lovely gentle spin along the quiet lanes of Hertfordshire with a little bit of exploring thrown in – a few lanes and tracks that I’d never been down, just to see where they come out and which bits of bridleway they could link together.
Trail spotting mode was on maximum scan, with a huge amount of potential around for the next time I get Surly out. Home, tea and cake on the sofa and as I stood up to close the curtains the stunning sunset actually made me stand at the window and look out on the world whilst uttering:
“And the sun sets on another magnificent Hemel Hempstead day!”
I wonder just how many people in the world have ever said that?
Sunset pic for reference by the way, just so you don’t think I’m completely mad:
Labels: hemel hempstead, sunset, surly, unlikely phrases
Thursday, 17 January 2008
Karma v Red Ken
I get the train to work most days and use a Giant Halfway folding bike to get to and from the stations. After a late shift the trains are few and far between, one every half an hour, and to get home at a reasonable hour means I have exactly 24 minutes between my shift finishing and the 22:54 leaving the station.
The equation for this little task goes thus: L = d/(t-2f) x 12K. Where L is the likelihood of me making it, d is distance, t is time, f is the faff time it takes me to get my coat on, run down the stairs, into the underground car park, unlock the bike, turn my lights on and be let out of the security gates; and also the time it takes walking on the pavement to get into the station, across the concourse, find my ticket, down the ramp, wait for the lazy, jobsworth ticket collector to stop chatting to his mate and open up the gate, along the platform and onto the train, all -30secs because “doors will be closed 30seconds before departure time to guarantee a prompt departure”.
And then we get to the 12K part, and as anybody who lives in London will know, this stands for Red Ken, the good old Mayor of London himself; whose loves of traffic lights is second to none! His traffic calming measures, one way systems, bendy buses and random 1lane-2lane-3lane-1lane policies are so radical that no-one else in the world seems to be able to understand them enough to implement them, any of them…
So here stands my problem: 12 sets of Red Kens finest traffic lights between me and my destination, making L = about 0.33. But, to fight the red hand of Ken I have employed a much older philosophical approach, that of Karma. Tonight, at the second set of traffic lights, desperate to make the train, the lights were red and pedestrians were waiting to cross. The little man turned green and they stood there looking at me.
“Little man green, people move feet, walk across road…” I barked patronisingly. Not a good move, the next 2 sets of lights were red for ages!! I wasn’t going to make it. Damn him!
Set 5 and again the lights were red. A pedestrian was waiting to cross so I pulled up slowly. He saw me and before stepping out bowed his head slightly and waved me through (like a proper gent).
“No, no, I insist” I replied with the same gesturing wave of my hand.
“Why thank you very much” he said politely, smiling as he crossed the road.
“My pleasure!” And I was on my way once more. Hallelujah! It was as if Moses himself was riding ET style on my handlebars – every single set of traffic lights turned green just as I approached and I sailed on up the road to reach the train with time to spare! Karma 1, Red Ken 0.
Labels: giant halfway, karma, london, red ken, traffic lights
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Old Friends, New Aches
So with a hectic and exhausting Christmas and New Year behind me it was time to go and relax and do those things I enjoy. Sadly Friday was a total wash out with torrential rain all day, ruining my plans for any kind of ride in Herefordshire. I hoped the weather would improve on Saturday ready for my annual walk with an old friend.
Many years ago in Ludlow my running partner introduced me to one of his work colleagues, Tony Collier. Days later the three of us were on the summit of Mont Blanc – an event which kick started what we all consider to be one of the best three weeks of our lives. Then I went off to university and didn’t see much of them. Life changed for everybody, a lot!
But I somehow managed to stay in touch with Tony and once a year we combine our busy lives and pop out for a mountain walk. I use the phrase ‘pop out’ at its most ironic. These are rarely walks in the park and usually turn into epics; Saturday was no different.
A beautiful crisp morning with a dusting of snow on the hills greeted us. The plan was to walk a 15 mile stretch of the Offa’s Dyke Trail from Knighton to Kington (a practice for something even more epic Tony has planned for next year. Eek!) Straight up the hill out of the valley and onto the tops. Progress was slow with endless styles to cross – made all the more difficult due to Tony still recovering from a severe arm injury last September.
Now, on a bike, I wouldn’t even blink at the thought of a 15 mile ride, everything changes on foot though! 7 hours later, darkness drawing in, a few spots of rain in the air, concentration waning and senses-of-humour failed (if anybody finds a sense of humour up on the totally pointless mile long dog leg round the field on the Path just outside Kington, could they return it to Jim please?) we were faced with Tony’s minor miscalculation – it was indeed 15 miles from Knighton to Kington. However, Tony lives 4 miles outside of Kington…
TONY’S PLAN A: Walk up and down the really, really steep hill and down the other side, in the slippy mud, in the dark, with no map, the 1.5miles to Tony’s house.
JIM’S PLAN B: Walk the 4 miles along the very dangerous, fast stretch of main road, wearing all black clothing.
Obviously, being the hardy outdoor adventurous types that we are – Tony and Jim are ex-army – we cunningly came up with another plan.
PLAN C: Phone Tony’s daughter Beth to come and pick us up from Kington in the car. Problem solved! Minutes later, cup of tea and cake in hand, we were regaling Beth with the tales and photos of the last 7 hours and already planning the next, longer walk.
Some photos to follow soon; I’m still recovering, I mean, er, I’m too busy, tending my blisters… Hardcore me, hardcore!
Labels: mountain walk, story
Tuesday, 1 January 2008
The Meaning of Life
So on the train into work this evening I was feeling a bit old – it was packed with young girls in little skirts and tight black tops, and boys trying to look older than they were rehearsing their birth date in case they were asked. All of them had carrier bags full of ‘tinnies’, large bottles of Magners or the timeless bottle of Coca-Cola or Sprite (which as we all know has been half emptied of its original contents and topped up with vodka). Still, I can hardly pass judgement, that was me not so long ago. And just as I did all those years ago, I bet they sat there thinking how cool they looked and I was just a stuffy older person who’d never done any of that stuff.
It was only the other week I was reminded of what great times I had as a teenager. I met up with 3 uni friends in Essex for our annual ‘my birthday/Xmas/annual/we-really-don’t-see-each-other-enough’ night out. These were the 3 guys I spent a couple of amazing New Year’s Eves with in Edinburgh – including Millenium New Year, and I don’t think any of us will ever remember exactly what happened THAT night (apart from the kissing competition obviously, 250 to beat boys!)
At that point, I smiled at the young pups on the train. Whatever they thought they were doing and however cool they thought they were, it had all been done before – and it was old news when I did it…
I finally made it to work. Believe it or not New Year’s Eve is by far one of the best nights to work. We have, without doubt, the best view in London. I fought my way through the crowds of thousands on Waterloo bridge into the building and up to the roof. More pictures posted tomorrow, but there’s really no place I’d rather be. It’s the only perk left in my job.
When that had all finished I went back to work and while we all sat there discussing what may happen in the year ahead, I was reminded of this:
“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving,
Revolving at 900 miles an hour.
That’s orbiting at 19 miles a second so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day!
In an outer spiral arm at 40,000 miles an hour,
In a galaxy we call the Milky Way.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars,
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side,
It bulges in the middle 16,000 light years thick,
But out by us it’s just 3,000 light years wide.
We’re 30,000 light years from galactic central point,
We go round every 200 million years!
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions in this amazing and expanding universe!
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whizz.
As fast as it can go, the speed of light ya know,
12 million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth?
And prey that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
Cos there’s bugger all down here on earth!
Thanks to Frank for that one, and Monty Python obviously. 2008 is going to be a good year, I can feel it…
Happy New Year everybody!
Labels: non-cycling, story