Friday, October 31, 2008

Lost Phones and Pumpkins

Whilst I am busy tying up loose ends, a new loose end popped up. I was in Edinburgh last night and after a most enjoyable dinner at the University I went to my hotel in a taxi, then caught up on email, which meant sitting downstairs as the radio waves couldn't seem to make it to my room. When I then returned to my room I realised my phone was missing when I tried to find it to set a wakeup alarm. It had slipped from my pocket and was still in the taxi. Short of ringing around all of the ****** taxi firms it was lost. As it was midnight and I had to get up at 4.30am for my flight back to Stansted Airport I took the easy route and rang Vodafone to bar it. Today I have been getting a replacement phone and SIM card sorted (with my number of course). It was all very straightforward, the new phone even came ready charged for instant use. Clearly they don't want to lose any phone calls.

The sunrise was great from the air - but although I often take pictures out of the plane windows, I had no energy today, four hours sleep on top of a short night the day before meant no pictures. I also found it hard to motivate myself to go out for a cycle. In the end I did, bit did a short route round Wicken Fen. I felt all the better for getting out though- but took a while to warm up and I never really got up to a decent speed. Despite the run being around 16Km/10miles shorter than usual it took almost as long. It was a nice clear afternoon evening though with the sun lighting up the clouds as it disappeared.

Once home my daughter and I sorted out the pumpkin - she provided the artistic talent and I cut it up. The we popped it out on the front step as bunches of trick-or-treaters knocked on the door. They were all well behaved and in costume, of course we had stocked up on treats - no tricks thank you. Here is or pumpkin, slightly blurry because I took this holding my little camera by hand, but it adds to the atmosphere.


Well I have not been there, or done it, but I have ordered the T-shirt - an email came in from Chris (organiser) asking what size I was.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pigs, Ponies and Highland cattle

Loose ends are getting sorted, I got my hair cut at Toni & Guys in Newmarket today, thank you Hannah (it is much better now). I hate going to have my hair cut. Once it is underway and things are going well then I relax and I do prefer it shorter, it is also much easier under a cycle helmet. I think I must have bad memories of having my haircut as a young boy - the hairdresser, he will be nameless had only one style - pudding bowl. Quite lot must have come off because I got round my usual Wicken Fen route 10 minutes faster than usual.

The Two Tunnels project in Bath is auctioning a set of lifesize-ish pigs that had been sponsored by companies in the area. They were decorated by various local artists and placed around the city. They will shortly be auctioned so if an artistic pig takes your fancy here is the weblink: www.kingbladudspigs.org/auction/index.php

The weather was clear and there was no wind today so for me it is still shorts wearing weather, I did wear a hat to keep my newly shorn head warm though. When cycling I often listen to my MP3 player. I either listen to music or podcasts. Listening to podcasts is a great way to keep up with what is happening in the world (Science in Action, The Archers, Guardian Tech Weekly). Some would say that you need to be able to hear what is going on around you - however there is no way I could listen to my MP3 player loud enough to drown out the noise of cars and lorries. Today I was listening to music - Kaiser Chiefs, Kings of Leon and Yen Years After - all good music to listen to when keeping up a reasonable pace.


The setting sun through the clouds created a steely grey sky. You could see a weak front passing through. Although no rain was following it.

Wicken Fen has a herd of around 40 semi-wild Konik ponies and 25 highland cattle. It seems slightly incongruous - Highland cattle in the low-lying fens - I wonder what they do for exercise without mountains . They seem to be thriving though. Each years sees both herds add to their numbers with newborns. The cattle generally move out of the way, the ponies, although semi-wild can be quite inquisitive and when "parked" across the path can be reluctant to move.


Here is the last of the setting sun reflecting on the lode.

I have to pop up to Edinburgh tomorrow and back on Friday so no opportunity to cycle. The weather forecast for Edinburgh indicates a daytime temperature of 7C so it won't be too cold.





Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hail, hotels and haircuts

One week from today I will be starting my journey with a 12 hour flight to Hong Kong, it seems like no time at all and ages away at the same time. I have a bunch of loose ends to sort out, for instance tomorrow I am getting my hair cut. My daughter and I picked up some first-aid supplies yesterday to augment my growing "medicine chest".

Today I had a couple of emails from Symbiosis, the trip organisers, one listing various contact details and showing the addresses of the hotels we will be staying in en route. The other confirming what time I will be picked up from my hotel in Bangkok for the start of the trip (7am). There were three other cyclists referred to in the second email, so I am wondering if that will be the total size of the group. When I cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats (LeJoG)a few years ago there were around 18 cyclists. I hope they are not too speedy.

My brother has warned me not to expect too much from the hotels we will be staying in, based upon his experiences of working in the area (rather than stays in the same hotels). He normally starts by killing the cockroaches apparently. Most will have air conditioning so I am sure I will have stayed in worse. For the LeJoG ride I camped so having a bed will be good.

We have Arctic winds blowing in to the UK at the moment and we had a frost in the garden this morning, but I am still resisting wearing long trousers when working from home or cycling. When it is cold it makes it that little bit harder to set off for a cycle ride. Today I found myself delaying setting off and ended up leaving the house around 3.30pm. Although it was sunny in the morning dark clouds were sweeping through. I am not really a fair weather cyclist, when I am not going somewhere in a hurry it can be exhilarating cycling when it is blustery. Rain is not really a problem, if it is warm then cycling clothes dry pretty quickly and if it is cold then I wear waterproof boots, leggings and jacket.

Today when I set off there was a small amount of rain in the air, so I wore a waterproof jacket, boots and shorts. I headed away from the Fens, trying to get a little climbing in before the B2S journey. As I cycled up one of the local hills, which at 65m is not too high, I could see rain clouds to the side and darkening skies ahead, as I climbed it got darker and darker.

Unfortunately for me I the wind seemed to be blowing the clouds towards me and my route was taking me towards the rain. As you can see the cars coming down the road had their light on so I stopped and turned on both a rear and front light. At this point I could did not need the lights to see so I set both to flashing mode. I find when I am driving the bicycles are much more noticeable with flashing lights. As I reached the top if the hill it started to hail. I can cope with most types of weather, hail is trickier.

Cycling up the hill was unpleasant, cycling down the hill was terrible. Although I was wearing a hat, hail stung my legs, managed to drop down inside my sunglasses and repeatedly hit my nose. The road surface was covered in ice, I was cycling slowly to avoid problems and in the end I gave up and sheltered by some trees. (I don't do this if there is lightening though.) This next photograph shows the road surface after the hail. You can see my tyre tracks in the hail.

The rest of the journey was uneventful except for my main front light starting to blink as I had not charged it before setting off, I did have two front lights though. Also on a narrow cycle path I was sufficiently blinded by the oncoming traffic that I failed to notice the oncoming cyclist. A good thing for both of us that he noticed me. Sorry mate.

When I got home it was reported on the news that there had been some car accidents caused by the hail on the road.


Monday, October 27, 2008

With the clock change from BST/DST and the colder weather I am going to have to think about not wearing shorts when out cycling. Actually I am trying to believe it is still the end of Summer and when I am working from home I wear shorts and sandals all the time. I get some funny looks when I cycle down to shops to buy a newspaper though. This afternoon the weather was sunny, clear, still and quite cold (8C). Nice for cycling - but the evening sun can be a bit blinding as it is quite low, later on the problem is being blinded by car drivers who do not appreciate that cyclists are human too.

I took the usual route today, I passed a cyclist on a recumbent ('bent) but did not stop for a chat this time though. (It was the chap who is helping sort out cycling with the National Trust in the Fens.) The car embedded in the hedgerow had been removed it had managed to drive in quite far, the hedge was quite deep which suggests it is quite an ancient edge.

The sun casts long shadows, but does nicely light up the trees, they look good before the leaves drop.

The other day I took a photograph of this windmill from the other direction. Here it is silhouetted by the setting sun with the village sign (Wicken Fen) in the foreground. There were a few telephone wires which I edited out using Picasa's patch facility. If you look closely you can tell, but when the pictures are munged by Blogger they are reduced in size and resolution so it is difficult to see much detail. If I was going to print and frame the pictures I would either try to take the picture from a vantage point where the cables weren't visible or spend lot more time using Photoshop to edit them out.


It was then a quick cycle around the corner to Wicken Fen to catch the evening sun before it finally dropped below the horizon. I had to keep the sun behind a tree otherwise the camera wouldn't focus. It is not normally a good idea to point a camera at the sun and definitely not a good idea to look through the viewfinder at the same time.

On the way back I used front and back lights (plus yellow hat and jacket), but the front one went out, so it was necessary to stop and repack the batteries - normal service was then restored.



Sunday, October 26, 2008

GPS, Fords (river crossings), Car Accidents, DNA

Don't worry less than two weeks to go and all being well I will be reporting (with pictures) on my journey from Bangkok to Saigon. For now though it is more "training".


After struggling with even a small amount of cycle climbing when I was down in Bath I headed for some "hills" in the flatlands of East Anglia. With my new GPS I am able to track the amount of climbing I end up doing on any run. My Wicken Fen route involves around 150m of climbing, yesterday I managed to find around 500m of climbing. The amount climbed is the total of all the small hills and rises, there really aren't many hills of consequence in the area. When I head out to the Fens my GPS records some of the route as 5m below sea level, which is why there are so many drainage ditches.


Heading off in the opposite direction I pass a Polo ground, although no-one is out there when I go by. The countryside is more interesting, gently undulating, dotted with woodlands and the occasional Ford. Most now have bridges by the side so that motorists don't get their cars wet. I normally cycle through them on warm days. They tend to be a bit slippery but I have not yet fallen in whilst traversing one, there will be a first time though. I once tried to cross a flooded road near Ely, rather a flooded stretch of road, about half a Km/ (1/3rd mile) long in the middle of Winter. As I cycled along the lwater evel rose, until, when it reached halfway up my legs I decided I'd better turn around. Because I couldn't take the short route I had to cycle another 32Km/20miles, with feet that where slowly freezing solid.


Here is the Ford, the road surface has been designed to offer some traction, but with a bike the bobbles can be just as bad. The next picture shows where you end up if you turn right, useful if you are being tracked by bloodhounds.



Here is my Longstaff patiently waiting for the pictures to be taken!

On the way through Sawston , to the South of Cambridge I saw this neat way of making sure the postman knows what the house number is!

I prefer to cycle away from the noise of cars when I can. So when I am not in a hurry I usually use Sustrans routes. The route back from Sawston follows Sustrans' route 11, which apparently when completed was the 10,000th mile of Sustrans routes, well according to this sign by the side of the route.

To celebrate they stuck a representation of a part of human DNA down the middle of the path, with 10,275 coloured stripes. The structure of DNA was discovered in Cambridge, by Crick and Watson, although I gather there is some controversy about the role played by Rosalind Franklin a crystallographer who does not get so much of a mention.


I had not realised quite how large DNA was though, how these fit into cells is beyond me :-)


A guided busway is being built on the track of an old railway line from Cambridge to St Ives, the latest attempt to reduce the problems of traffic congestion in Cambridge. - it will end up at the Addenbrooke's hospital site. Although it looks as though there will quite a bump when the bus goes over this bridge.

Today I went round my usual Wicken Fen route, the clocks have changed back from Daylight Saving Time or British Summer Time as we call it, so it will be darker in the evenings. Which means it is time to get out the fluorescent yellow - I also have a yellow hat. Although the Fen roads are quite narrow you can get some fast moving cars on them - more later, so it pays to stand out a bit. I also have two lights on my handlebars although I save them for when it gets a bit darker. On a narrow lane if a car is coming the other way without dipped headlights it is impossible to see anything without really bright lights. By anything I mean that you cannot even see the sides of the road, the lights also encourage the oncoming drivers to dip their lights.



When I say that cars can be speedy here is an example I came across this afternoon, he must have been going round the bend way too fast, (I am just guessing it was a he - but not much doubt in my mind), or maybe he was looking for a convenient parking space.

Although it had rained all morning in the afternoon the sky started clearing and as it got darker there was even a bit of evening sun. A nice dramatic sky, silhouetting the trees.


Of course the "bridge" has to feature in a picture with the evening sun behind and wispy clouds in the sky.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tunnels, Two Tunnels, GPS, Flipping Computers and Autumn Leaves

Not too long to go to my B2S ride now, a little under two weeks. I even had a couple of emails from the organisers to check what bike size I need and to confirm my flight details. As the Longstaff was custom built I was not totally sure, however my Marin came from Ben Hayward's in Cambridge (www.benhaywardcycles.co.uk/) and fortunately for me they keep records of bikes sold so I was able to ring them and find out - it turned out to be a 19" inch frame. So my excitement is growing.

I've just acquired a new toy, sorry I mean serious training aid - a Garmin Edge 605 GPS unit (buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?pID=10884) . It clips onto the handlebars and can track my journey by recording: speed, calories, altitude, distance, time, position and at the same time show my location on a map. It will also behave like a conventional GPS system and show route directions, useful because I have been known to get lost when taking random routes. I can also "race" against a previous circuit of a route and get a constant update of the relative position. The device has a claimed on-time of 15hours between charges and has training software that lives on the PC.

I first used it on the Bristol-Bath bike path, (www.bristolbathrailwaypath.org.uk/home.shtml) as it was the first time, I just used it to record training data and work out appropriate settings. One setting will record speed/position data only when moving; I stop to take pictures from time to time and did not want that randomly affecting the data, if it keeps recording when I am stationary then it would give a slower overall speed.

It worked well, I was able to view my cycle ride on Google Maps and also my speeds at different points of the journey. One thing I learnt is that, understandably, it cannot track position when in a tunnel and after a certain amount of time turns off the tracking, it then needs manually turning back on. As the Bristol/Bath cycle path follows an old railway line it takes cyclists through an old tunnel - Staple Hill Tunnel which is around 0.5Km/0.3miles long. When I went through there was quite a lot of water dripping from ceiling. What I found is that the GPS stopped tracking near to the end of the tunnel when on the way through and I should have stopped to re-start it and allow it to get a satellite lock. As a result my cycle speedo showed a 10Km longer journey than the EDGE 605. When I viewed the route on a map there were a couple of large gaps starting after I went through the tunnel one for the way out and one for the way back.

Having checked on the web, it turns out that the path is under threat for use as a guided busway into Bristol, quite understandably local people are very upset with the plan to change its use(http://www.railwaypath.org/). The last trains ran around the end of the 1960s. According to Wikipedia there were 2.4 million trips on the path in 2007 - so it is well used. Judging from my experience a lot of people use it to commute between Bristol and Bath. There are also plans to re-open a disused railway near Bath which will result in around 4 miles of share-used path which will use a large viaduct and two tunnels, only in this case one of the tunnels is around 1.6Km/1mile long. You can check out the imaginatively named project at the following website: Two Tunnels Greenway: http://www.twotunnels.org.uk/index.html)

The other thing I noticed is that the Bath area is a lot hillier than here in the flatlands of East Anglia, they are hard work and I am out of practice, I will need to track some down hills, although I have left it a little late. :--)

As today was a lovely sunny, cool day I took the GPS out on the usual trip around Wicken Fen to try it out. I have finally gotten the associated software acquired with the device working. Actually I spent hours, edited the registry, restored back to system points, only to find, after a phone call to Garmin, that they knew the bl**dy software didn't work and I needed to download an almost secret update from the recesses of their website. I did and it worked - sometimes it is just better to pick up the phone and have a chat.

The sky was clear and all of the fields have been harvested, this field of stubble is waiting to be ploughed up, although I did see at least ten tractors out ploughing fields today.

On the route I stopped and had a chat with a bloke on a "recumbent". The type of bicycle where you lie back and pedal with your legs out front. It is good for those with back problems and is more stream-lined and now I don't have one. He is involved with the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and is also instrumental in getting some of the new paths through the Fens sorted out. I had not realised how hard they have to work to get the funding money. I thought that a recent "competition" for UK lottery money was going to fully fund many of these projects, in fact they all rely on raising a lot of additional funding, which is one of the main reasons that these projects can take a long time to complete. The other problem is that there can be lots of negotiation with the landowners involved, some of whom seem to think that it is a gravy train, or maybe they just don't want to have better access to the countryside. If this were a major road project the land would get bought by compulsory purchase.

I tend to explore when out cycling, this picture is a path in Wicken Fen that I occasionally cycle along, it is strange to see tarmac laid through a field. Despite its appearance it is easy to cycle along and good for kids to gain more mastery of a bike - flat mountain biking!

This is virtually the same aspect, but closer to the lode that the path runs alongside, it was quite sheltered so not much wind and so the water surface was flat - ideal for reflection pictures.

At the end of the path there is a nice view of one of the windmills you find in the area. The Dutch were involved with the drainage of the land and used windmills to pump water around. This one can still be seen working occasionally.

Finally as it is Autumn here is a shot of some leaves, what caught my eye was the way the sun was lighting them up and the purple colour of some of the leaves. To focus attention on the purple leaves I used Google Picasa 3 to create a soft focus circle around the interesting leaves.




Bikes paths and roads

Not cycling is getting to be a bad habit, I did not manage to get out again today. I was thinking about getting up early (6.30am)- but it was too cold and gloomy outside and because I'd spent the previous couple of days getting too much sleep I couldn't sleep last night. My hotel room was in the basement and I could also hear people walking about above me which is a bit off-putting.

On returning to Cambridge in the car I ended up going around the M25 during the rush hour and it was its usual stop-start crawl - karma for the recent pictures I've taken of queues of traffic. However it got me thinking about the constant battle that the media seems to stir up between cyclists and motorists. I do both (cycle and drive - not stir up the battle!), although for choice I prefer to cycle. The other month I had a meeting in Ipswich, I cycled to the local railway station hopped onto the train and armed with my Google Map of directions cycled to my destination, locked my bike to convenient cycle stand a short distance away no fuss whatsoever. The cost was around a tenth of that I could have claimed for the cost of the petrol and much less hassle since I did not have to worry about parking (or even one-way streets since on a bike you can hop off and walk.)

Anyway back to bikes and cars, I do both, but my annual cycliing mileage is higher, and even have a motorcycle licence - the worst or best of both worlds? It seems that the common complaint about cyclists is that they pay no road tax and run through red lights, whilst for cyclists the problem is that motorists are a threat to life and limb with the often used phrase - smidsy - "Sorry mate I did not see you". When cycling I have been sworn at and told to "get off the road and onto the cycle path where I belong". I have had an older driver bump into the back of my bicycle - he was oblivious. I have been cycling along at 32Km/h/20mph in a bright yellow jacket (and other apprpriate gear of course) when a car driver, at a T-junction, whilst staring right at me pulled out in front of me as they turned right. I only just managed to stop and skidded right up to the car - the driver froze and stopped at right angles to the oncoming traffic - dumbfounded by the sudden appearance of a bright yellow jacketed cross-looking bloke on a bike. She did apologise - it was a "smidsy".

When in my car I have been amazed to see cyclists cycle right past red traffic lights and weave past cars causing them to swerve. Frequently cyclists will pull out of a side road, barely slowing and although they know they are going to cycle close to the kerb the car driver has to slow down and move to the right to give them more room (if possible). the cyclist does not always appreciate the impact she/he has on the car drivers. The trouble is that, in the main, driving on Britain's roads is rarely a pleasant task, there are frequent hold ups, the roads are congested and motorists, when stuck in traffic jams focus that irritation on the cyclists who are seemingly unimpeded and getting a bit of exercise as well. The cyclists view the cars as getting disproportionate attention, despite their polluting nature,a car (or truck) takes up a lot of space and can be lethal to a cyclist who is told to put on all sorts of bright gear to make up for the failings of car drivers!

This brings me onto bike paths. The ride from Bath to Bristol and back make me think about the argument that rages in the cycling world as to whether cycle paths are good or bad. The argument against is that they turn cyclists into second class citizens, are appallingly built and often create conflict for the cyclist with everyone including cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. (Think of a shared footpath/cycle path that has areas for cars to cross it for instance into pub car parks.) It is not pleasant to be either a cyclist of pedestrian when a cyclist, late for work is barreling along. Similarly two cyclists can hardly pass each other and at night if both have lights (not always the case) then they tend to blind each other making it even harder to pass.

On the other hand a lightly used shared path is great for children or a "joyride" away from the traffic. So the key test is are they fit for purpose and in my view they are not - they are not really fit for moving large numbers of cyclists safely (for cyclists and others) around efficiently. Some are great to recreation. many are more pleasant than cycling on the road (in my view). However They simply aren't built to a standard to encourage more cyclists out safely. If you think I am kidding take a look at this web site: http://www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk/facility-of-the-month/%22 - it is actually quite funny how some of the cycle lanes actually got built.

You can tell from this rant that getting stuck in traffic jams does not agree with me and does not even allow time for taking photographs. I cannot wait to get started on the B2S ride - and I bet a few of you are thinking the same - then you might get something interesting to read!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sickness, Bike Paths

Sorry about my brief absence and thank you for the good wishes. Early Monday morning I had a stomach ache (actually more a burning sensation in my intestines) which as you might imagine tied me to the house close to the facilities, plus a temperature, aching limbs and a headache. To show how ill I must have been I even lost the will to do my email. No it was not man flu and fortunately it was fairly short-lived and lifted as quickly as it came on so this morning apart from the fact I had not eaten much (plenty of lemon squash though) I felt pretty normal. A good job as I have had to head off to Bath for meetings today and tomorrow.

So I can hear you asking - how are you going to maintain your training? Well I can't hear you - but that is what I was thinking. I had two options for my trip to Bath; the preferred one was to take the train, the other one was to take the car. Normally I would take the train as it allows me do some work, is more relaxing and generally more pleasant for me and the Earth. If I take the train I can also take my Brompton bicycle (sorry no picture at the moment). It folds nicely so allows me to travel during the rush-hour. I then cycle the few miles from Kings Cross Station through London to Paddington Station and continue the journey to Bath where the hotel is a mile or so from the station. With care I can pack my computer and a change of clothes and put it into the handlebar bag. They are quite happy to look after the bike in the hotel - I don't have to fold it up and sneak it to my room. Then I also have a bike for pootling around whilst in Bath.

This time I also had to do a delivery for my Student son which I could have carried on a full-size bike, I have large rear bags (called panniers). Then I would not have been able to catch the train during convenient times. So in the end I decided to drive down, pop the Longstaff in the back of the car. Although I arrived at the hotel a little later than I would have liked, I did manage a run out of around 56Km/35miles. The delivery was some more clothes, a book and a basket of apples and pears. We planted some fruit trees seven or eight years ago and this year have had a wonderful crop of both pears and apples.

Today I have cycled over to Bristol and back along Sustrans route number 4, which I believe was actually the route whose support and creation led to the foundation of Sustrans. It pretty much follows an old railway line between the two cities. Consequently it is fairly flat and fairly straight. At times you cycle past old stations with the platform at waist level. My first challenge was finding the route from Bath, I managed to get lost twice before getting onto it. The bit before it joins the old railway line follows the river and at times as rather thin for a shared path (cyclists and pedestrians). After that though it is easy to follow and runs through some lovely countryside. The main thing though is it is not the Fens - it is great to be able to cycle along a different bit of England for a change.

I did notice a couple of things. It seemed to me that a lot of cyclists wore fluorescent yellow tops and helmets. As the path is very much a working path, one cyclists use to get to and from work they tend not to hang around taking pictures like I do. As well as the speed the track runs between runs of trees in quite a few occasions which looks great but does mean that the road surface of flat tarmac did like quite slippery in places. I did have my yellow jacket as well, but because of the speed I felt compelled to cycle at I was too warm to wear it. I also got overtaken a couple of times and just did not have the energy to overtake them - that, I claim, was just down to my lack of food over the last two days and not my inherent slowness ;-) (Readers of this blog will know it as a form of Bonking - but not a full-blown bonk though.) Actually there was a third problem on the way over to Bristol because of the time of day the sun was in my eyes making the path just a little bit harder to negotiate. Probably another reason for wearing bright clothes. I did have my red "Jelly Belly" jersey which wasn't too bad.
This photograph shows where the path follows a railway track that has not been removed- I do not think it is in use, although I did pass an old railway station with old bits of engine (steam and diesel) and carriages in it. I also passed graffiti painted on the path protesting about the railway line so I wonder if there are plans to re-activate the line at the expense of the cycle path.

This picture shows one of the many yellow jacketed cyclists - no helmet though (or hair either for that matter). In case you are wondering I did not have my helmet - although I would have worn it had I brought it with me.

Of course I can't resist another of those gratuitous pictures of cars queueing, mind you I got stuck in quite a few one my way down today so I had a bit of sympathy for them, all anxious to get home.

It was quite dark on my way back, I switched on my lights. I also stop at red traffic lights, in fact most I think all the cyclists who had to did so today. Bristol and Bath cyclists are more law-abiding than those in London. This picture is taken by a cyclist (me) on an old railway bridge over a river where you can see a longboat moored at the bank and a plane's contrail in the sky. Transport through the ages ;-)

Monday, October 20, 2008

IIllness

I have been feeling grotty from about 5am - hopefully I will feel well enough to provide an update tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cycling Kit, Dog walking

Hiya, I have had a few comments back from readers of the blog - thank you. If you have any questions, suggestions or areas that you would like me to cover then either leave a comment or drop me an email

The time has come around to think about the kit I will need for the B2S cycle ride. With three and a bit weeks to go and the weather getting colder and windier here in England I am getting excited about cycling in warmer places whilst at the same time I do need to ensure I have what I need for the trip. I just been out for dinner with some friends - one of whom recently cycled the Irish End to End - having just checked out her pictures I can't wait for my cycle ride to start, well done Lynne.

I didn't take any photographs on today's cycle ride - the usual run around Wicken Fen. The weather was pleasant but nothing caught my eye. I did see something, that I find slightly odd, but happens around these parts. It is not unusual to see people "walking" their dogs along country lanes by driving down the lane and letting the dog follow on behind or in front. My first concern is how can I squeeze past when the car is blocking the way, the second concern is whether the dog is properly under control. I have had one or two moments where a dog has started chasing my bicycle. Today I passed a very well behaved dog "trotting" along side its owners who were on bicycles, not a bad way of ensuring that everyone gets some good exercise.

The key bit of kit for a bike ride is the bike. I agonised for some time over whether to take my bike or rent one from the organisers (or buy another bike). They recommend a bike with front suspension as the roads can be quite bumpy apparently. The advantage of taking my own custom-built bike is that I know I am used to it, it fits me and I can cycle for hours without problems. As it is a touring bike it is robust and although it does not have suspension forks would be quite comfortable when used with larger tyres . The downside of taking my bike is that it has done a fair number of kilometers/miles, roughly 56,000Km/35,000miles which creates a bit of uncertainty about its reliability. I know that the steering needs some attention and the wheels have also seen a bit of distance. All of these things are surmountable problems though - and will shortly be getting sorted at Chris' Bikes.

The factor that swung my decision in the end was that I did not want to risk have my bike damaged in transit. I will be taking five flights in all during the trip and each transfer represents a risk. I could have packed my bike into a special "suitcase", but that would have been extra cost and getting the special "suitcase" around whilst cycling would have required me to arrange a courier. So all in all it seemed easier to hire a bike in Thailand. Hiring a bike from the organisers also means that I do not have to worry about taking any spares as they will arrange them. They indicate that they hire mid-range Trek or Cannondale bikes with front suspension.

As I have mentioned before I will be taking my own saddle, now moulding nicely and my own pedals and cycling shoes. The shoes clip into the pedals and make it easier to pedal efficiently and reduce the risk of foot slippage. My pedals have a clipped side and a normal side so I will revert to using them without clipping in when the road starts gets too bumpy.

Where we will be cycling the weather is at its coolest from November to January - where cool means 30C and can be up to 40C with the chance of short heavy bursts of rain. It will be sunny and parts of the route will be very dusty. With that in mind the organisers recommend clothes that are modern, long sleeves and easy to wash. The trouble is that the gear I want is for summer cycling but shops in the UK are set for winter gear. Fortunately I did a little planning ahead and bought some clothes over the summer. Including cycling gloves with no fingers, baggy shorts and Lycras shorts to wear inside the baggy shorts. I have also got some slightly baggy long sleeved tops. Personally I do not like clothes that are too tight fitting. I have also, on the organisers' recommendation, bought a nose and mouth mask as day 6 is a very dusty day.

Other important gear includes my cameras. As you can see from my previous posts I do take quite a few pictures. Most are taken with a small pocket DSC (Digital Still Camera) in my case a Sony W200 with 12.1 million pixies (sic) recording those colours. However when I can, I also take an SLR camera. I have bought a bar bag for my SLR so that I can have it (Canon EOS 5D) to hand, but have not yet decided on which lens to take, the smaller lens are more practical for carrying, the telephoto lens are great for some more interesting pictures though.

My supplies of medications seems to be growing all the time, anti-malaria tablets, antibiotics (urine/bowel infections), Imodium (diarrhoea), eye drops (dusty roads), paracetamol ( headaches), Sudocrem (most people use it for babies' nappy rash - cyclists use it for undercarriage problems!) . Not to mention; mosquito sprays for clothing, lip balm, sun cream, plasters, anti-septic hand wash and anti-septic wipes. I hope that I do not have problems crossing borders with all this stuff.

One item I must buy before I leave is a decent pair of sunglasses. I have an old pair bought around 10 years ago that are great for everyday cycling. They are light. comfortable with the right level of darkness. unfortunately they are quite scratched and so need replacing. The challenge is getting a comfortable pair for cycling pair rather than falling victim to fashion.

I can't finish without a picture at all though - here is a recent one of one of the paths through Wicken Fen. The blue sign with a No.11 indicates that this is a Sustrans Route - number 11. It is gated because semi-wild ponies and cattle roam the fields they sometimes block the path, then I normally either cycle along the grass track by the side or walk though the middle.








Friday, October 17, 2008

Email from Vietnam, helmets, Out and About

I got two email's from Vietnam last night. The first from my brother in Hanoi who is going to Angkor Wat in Cambodia next week, pleasure not business, although I am not sure I would call golf pleasure, but hey, each to his own :-) .He has been checking out the troubles in the area and thinks that we will be travelling some miles away from the hot spots. The second email was from Saigon, from the Director of the Saigon Children's Charity passing on his thanks to everyone who has kindly sponsored me through my Justgiving web page (www.justgiving.com/jamieurquhartbangkok2saigon). I would also like to add my thanks as well.

The weather here in Cambridgeshire has turned a bit colder, around 13C this afternoon but very pleasantly sunny. I couldn't face my normal "training" run - I have done it a few times over the last few weeks. As the wind was blowing from the East I decided to head out into the wind and then get a push from the wind on the way home. There are quite a few green roads in Cambridgeshire and it is possible to cycle quite a few miles and be clear of traffic. Today the journey included a route from Histon up to Aldreth, mainly on green lanes, around 12Km/7.5miles. Depending upon the recent weather the tracks can be quite tricky so I took (and wore) my cycle helmet. I have fallen off my bike a few times over the last few years (5), most of the falls tend to happen off-road though. I did end up in Casualty one time, a purpose built wooden cycle "bridge" became extremely slippery one icy day.

I do have a helmet and use it when I am going off-road and will take it on the B2S trip. However I certainly do not believe that wearing helmets should be made compulsory. There are many arguments for and against but I believe that it should be the choice of the cyclist. A quick check of a Government Statistics database suggests that in 2002 there were 5,803 Adult pedestrians killed or seriously injured and 1,856 Adult Cyclists killed or seriously injured. So there would be more to be gained by making helmets compulsory for pedestrians, each year it would be more beneficial to larger numbers of people. Of course this is a crazy idea, yet many accept the simplistic view that cyclists should be forced. Given the concerns about obesity and lack of inactivity in the population (of the UK) cycling (along with other physical activities) needs more encouragement.

Rant off, back to the cycle ride. This shows why I cycle, you get to avoid the traffic. As far as I can see there will always be either too much traffic, or petrol (gas)/diesel will cost too much. So you can either sit there or bypass it all. You also get a bit of fresh air, exercise and thinking time.

Not far from the traffic I passed this church glowing in the sunlight, a sprinkling of autumn (fall) leaves already in the churchyard.

This next photograph shows one of the green lanes I cycled along today, a much nicer way of getting from one village to the next compared with the roads. I passed one person walking a dog, one walking alone and saw a couple of tractors out in the fields. I also passed a farm where some loud barking followed me from the other side of the hedge, but the dog did not join me on my side of the track fortunately.

Further on, on the way to Aldreth I came across some leeks already growing in the fields, look at the line of trees on the far side. Somebody planted those trees deliberately to provide that view, I particularly like the way the colours of the leaves contrast.

This picture is made from six pictures of the Aldreth Causeway (green lane) stitched together. Actually the path at either side is the Causeway so to view this properly you should enlarge it, print it out and wrap it round until the path appears straight. Today the path was reasonably dry, but requires more concentration than when cycling on the road as you have to focus on staying in a thin rut. If you don't one or other of the wheels will slip and you run the risk of tumbling into the drainage ditch at the side. When cycling on this type of path I do not allow my shoes to clip into the pedals and yes I have ended up on my back due to lack of concentration.

I did return through Wicken Fen but the wind had died down so instead of getting the benefit of a push I got to take pictures of reflections in the still waters. There is a little dot to the right of the ditch in the middle this picture. It was a hot air balloon taking advantage of the low winds. You could see the balloon light up whenever they turned on the burners to provide more lift.

I did manage to get a little closer to the balloon, this picture shows it drifting over themiddle of Wicken Fen. At one point it looked as if it would land somewhere in the middle of Wicken Fen.

Today's ride was around 72Km/45miles and most of it on green lanes or very quiet roads. it takes longer, it is hard to cycle very quickly on tracks and my legs end up more tired as I stand on the pedals to give more balance. Unusually while typing this, yes the television is on, I got a bit of cramp in my thigh, not something I usually suffer from.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Serious Matters

Normally I tend to write my entries at the end of the day using my laptop in a semi-darkened room whilst watching the television. Some would say that years of attending meetings whilst also reading email have taught me this skill, actually I have come to realise it is a bad habit really. I find as along as I don't think about hitting the keys I can type, but as soon as I stop and think about hitting the "t" key for instance then I hit the "r" key instead.

Whilst coming clean about multi-tasking - if you ring me and I go silent for a little while - it probably means an email has just arrived which has captured my attention - sorry. I'll try to shake that habit.

At the moment I am using my desktop computer which has a much a larger screen than my laptop, allowing me to watch a great TV series being shown on BBC4 in the UK - "The Story of Maths" by Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy, at the same time as I am doing this post, naturally. Did you know that quadratic equations were one of the greatest legacies of Babylonian mathematics.

So why I am writing my Blog this morning? Just before going to bed last night I caught a brief story on the news concerning a "Border war" between Thailand and Cambodia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7672641.stm) and last month there were reports on unrest in Bangkok (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7592942.stm). At the moment I am still anticipating the trip going ahead. If you look closely at the reports then they refer to parts of the Thai/Cambodian Border well away from where I will be travelling, but I must admit I am a little bit worried about the trip being cancelled. I am still definitely up for it and there are still three weeks to go for things to calm down. As the organisers (Symbiosis Travel) are based in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia they have an on-the-ground view of the situation so fingers crossed.

On the the recent cycle ride up to King's Lynn I did not take any pictures of the place so here is one taken in February 2006, to give a sense of the town. There are still a small number of fishing boats that moor here - you can see them in the picture if you look closely.


I use Picasa (version 3.0 at the moment) to review my pictures and Adobe Photoshop Elements for serious editing/printing. Picasa is great for for reviewing loads of pictures quickly it is also fascinating to see some of my pictures taken from the same place but at different times of year. It also offers quick editing - in this picture there were a couple of pieces of litter lying on the grass which I removed with about 30sends of editing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Animals, Closed Roads, Puncture and Trains

One of my cycle runs loosely follows the Sustrans' route 11 up to King's Lynn in Norfolk. It is roughly 96Km/60miles as the crow flies and depending upon how much time I have I can either cycle there and back or catch the train from King's Lynn to either Ely or Cambridge depending how much more cycling I want to do to get home. I use the time on the train to catch up with email and phone calls.

On the way up I did see another potato spillage, this one did not quite block the road and is more representative of what to expect, a few dropped beetroot, turnips or potatoes fallen from the tractor pulled trailers that take the vegetables to central points to load onto larger trucks.

As the seasons move on most of the fields have been harvested and ploughed ready for the next crops to be sown. The farmers take a pride in the precision with which they plough their fields. This one near Ely seems to have been ploughed twice.

The weather was a bit dull today, I started with a rainproof jacket but took it off after I had warmed up. Here is a picture of Ely Cathedral, taken as I was leaving the town, it is one of the high spots of the landscape.

When I take this route I normally stop half-way along a country lane that follows Brandon Creek (a river) at a place called Ten Mile Bank. It is at a crossroads at one of the few bridges over this river. There is a convenient bench where I stop and have a drink and eat something.

Cycling uses energy, even at the slow speeds I cycle and so it is important to avoid bonking. For a cyclist this has a very different meaning to that used by the down-market newspapers in England. When a cyclist bonks they have used up the energy in the blood stream and muscles and virtually grind to a halt. To avoid this cyclists try to eat food before riding that releases energy though the ride and to eat food that supplies energy easily during the ride. There are various foods that cyclists recommend such as Bananas, dried fruit, energy bars/drinks. My personal favourite is to eat "Jelly Babies". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelly_Babies) I have always liked Jelly Babies and cycling gives me the excuse to eat them. (Note for non-native English speakers - I would avoid using the word bonk even when talking about cycling because you'll get some very surprised looks. As in "I bonked on the way home last night" --No)

As I was sitting down eating my jelly babies, drinking some water and checking my emails a gaggle of geese took an interest in me. They all started heading my way, heads pointing up and hissing. At this point I decided to move on, I have never been attacked by a goose, but they are intimidating as they hiss away. Apparently they make very good "guard dogs".

Actually dogs are a real problem for cyclists, they like to chase moving objects, bark and are known to bite. I find the chasing the most annoying because there is a danger of a paw getting caught up in the wheel and the rider going over the top and the dog getting a broken leg. Because I cycle along shared paths I come across quite a lot of people walking their dogs. Most are well behaved and on their leads (the dogs that is) but there are always one or two lively dogs that are not on leads and are, I am sure, being friendly but can unintentionally get caught up in an accident.

My worst incident recently was when cycling along a country lane four weeks ago, I had gone to investigate a field fire. It is now illegal in the UK to burn the stubble in a field after hay has been harvested, but it used to be a common sight. I wanted to see whether I could get some interesting pictures of flames and smoke. As I got closer to the field two large Alsatians came running at me, barking and drooling saliva. Normally I would cycle on - these were way too scary, I jumped of the bike and put it between me and the two dogs and grabbed my pump. Richard's Book of Bicycling, (since updated to Richard's New Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine et al) recommends, as a last resort, stuffing the pump down the dog's throat. Unfortunately I do not carry two pumps, but did shout sit and then an unseen owner called the dogs and they ran back. I gave up on getting any good pictures and headed off for home.

On setting off after lunch, I came across a "Road Closed" sign. I tend to ignore them, partly because detours tend to add miles to the journey, which to a car driver is no problem but on a bike is a real pain and partly because you can always walk over or around the obstruction. In this case I couldn't get around, short of swimming because a crane was completely blocking a bridge. So most unusually I had to head back to the crossroads where I had my lunch to take the detour.

To add insult to injury shortly after turning around the back seemed to go squidgy. (Cycling jargon for problems with the back wheel) It turned out I had run over a small nail, which even my super-strong tyres weren't going to be able to stop from puncturing them. So I nipped up the bank with the bike to get it off the single-track road, turned it over and found the puncture and just pulled out that bit of the inner tube, patched the inner tube, removed the nail, pumped the tyre up and was on my way in 15 minutes.



Check out the patch.This method saves removing the wheel - which even though I have quick-release axles which don't require a spanner to loosen the wheel still involves fiddling the chain past the rear block (cogs) and then back again. I normally end up with oily hands if I have to remove the wheel. The important thing is to ensure that the source of the puncture has been removed


The rest of the journey was uneventful. The light was not too inspiring so no pictures of King's Lynn today. The railway is easy to get to and bicycles go for free. There are no specific places for bikes they have to be propped up against the doors. At King's Lynn the easiest thing to do is prop the bike against the right hand door - at all the stops, except for Cambridge the left hand door opens onto the platform so it does not cause any obstruction. The challenge comes at Cambridge - so many people flock to get on the train that it is quite difficult to get the bike off. Once I had cycled home that was another 112Km/70miles of "training".

Monday, October 13, 2008

Disk Drives, Skeletons and a Shaky Video

My much travelled new Disk Drive has not yet been delivered by the couriers, according to their helpful website it was taken out of the container it was put in over the weekend and "loaded onto vehicle" at 9:04am. It is now 5:56pm so I can only assume that it has had a scenic trip around Cambridgeshire as someone has been in all day ready to accept the delivery.

As a very real reminder of why backup is important my student son rang this morning, he had suffered a laptop failure, fortunately we should be able to retrieve his data and stick it on an old laptop to keep him going. I am a bit of a hoarder and find it difficult to throw things away, particularly bits of electronic kit including old PCs, telephone modems and the like. (Readers of earlier posts will know that my new disk is to be used to backup my computer data - pictures, music, work, email).

As the date for my cycle trip draws closer I am still popping out around on, for me, a well worn track up towards Ely and back through a nature reserve - Wicken Fen. It is a lovely route with very few cars and great scenery and wildlife, but even with the seasons changing from Summer to Autumn (Fall) I find myself getting a little bored of the same route - I must head off in a different direction soon and I probably ought to spend a bit more time in the saddle in one day. The "training route" varies between 56Km/35miles and 80Km/50miles, during the Bangkok to Saigon run I think the longest day's cycling will be around 150Km/95miles. I have used the saddle for around 1200Km/750miles - it is starting to mold nicely.

To amuse myself today I recorded a video as I was cycling along - this piece of road is mainly used by tractors getting to fields, it consists of slabs of concrete over which tarmac has been laid. This means that it is very bumpy. I apologise for not being able to keep the camera still, so I hope you don't get seasick. I did not realise I puffed quite so much when cycling, the banging noise is caused by the uneven road surface and is quite unpleasant to cycle along.


video


The path heads towards a newly built track though a field to a (you've guessed it) newly built bridge over one of the Lodes (Drainage ditch) this then joins up with a similar road previously used only by tractor drivers to get to their fields. The work is part of a Sustrans (http://www.sustrans.org.uk/) initiative. This is a charity who wish to promote more sustainable transport in ways that are beneficial to health and the environment. In this case they are working with The National Trust (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) a UK charity that preserves historic buildings, estates and land for all. The National Trust own Wicken Fen and together with the help of a Lottery Grant are building more cycling/walking/horse paths through this area. This website www.wicken.org.uk/vision_spineroute.htm shows their goal, the Lode is the Swaffham Bulbeck Lode in the picture on the web page, but I am not that cyclist. I am the one below on this page.




Using the wonders of modern digital cameras I used the delay timer to take a picture of myself on the newly built bridge along with my Longstaff. check out the new handlebar tape and the Brooks honey-leather saddle (with titanium rails!) As you can see no Lycra in sight, I tend to use cycling shorts - they have useful pockets. In case you wondered; the training I am doing has not made me loose so much weight I am reduced to a skeleton. It is a cycling top I got for my birthday last year. As well as wearing it for cycling I also put it on for Halloween. As it is so flat around this part of the world the fact that I am heavier than what I would consider is my ideal cycling weight the penalty is not high. The sunglasses are not to look cool, there are swarms of small flies (midges) around the Lodes and they seem to be able to get both eyes simultaneously - different flies of course.

My disk drive finally arrived at around 7:00pm, I got a strange look from the delivery man - obviously he does not get many people answering the door in a skeleton top. A full system backup is running as I type.

I must also have a check of the recommended kit list for the trip to ensure that if there is anything particular I need then I have time to get it- I'll leave that for the next post - along with the nutritional suggestions from my brother who lives in Hanoi - hard-boiled eggs - humm he obviously knows something I don't.

Finally just to show that I do cycle in the mornings as well as the evenings here is an early morning misty shot across the fields as the sun came up.