Thursday, October 29, 2009

India Tomorrow

All being well this is the last pre-India trip post, tomorrow my son and I fly to India. The last couple of weeks have flown by, both with work related activities and getting all the bits and pieces for the cycle trip together. My main concern has been getting my new bicycle there in one piece - or rather getting it there still fit to ride 400 odd miles on. (640Km). In the end rather than rely on the fact that the frame will divide in two I got a slightly larger bike box from DHB via Wiggle. Having gotten the box I then had a bit of a problem with one of the airlines in India being unable to take it. It seems that some wires got crossed and the maximum baggage size quoted was for carry on luggage. I pointed out to the Travel Agents who had booked the flight and were helping me that the size meant we could not take our normal suitcases on let alone the bike. After a bunch of phone calls I spoke to someone in India who was able to quote me a cost for the bike and seemed quite relaxed about it. Anyway I will find out tomorrow when I try to check in at Heathrow.

My son arrived at around 7.30pm having driven down from the Midlands where he lives and works. He has just moved house, spent a week on a business trip in wales (sorting potatoes) and last weekend in Bath and Oxford celebrating a friend's 21st birthday so he was also feeling a little frazzled.

Here is the box with my bike in it. I have used pipe insulation and zip ties to hold it all together - but I can carry it all and it has wheels.


This is what it looks like closed - I am planning on heading off to the airport quite early to maximise the time to sort out any issues that might arise. The flight is at 2pm so not too bad really.


I have also been popping into my local bike shop - Ben haywards, buying grease, for when I re-assemble the bike in India, water bottles and I also got my Brompton serviced just in case . My backup plan was to take my folding bicycle although it would have been quite a challenge cycling up and down mountains with only 6 gears. I also took a quick trip to the local pharmacy for Immodium and antiseptic cream. Now I had better finsih off packing and then double check that I have everything I need.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Pootling around and about Wicken Fen on a bicycle - Autumn Skies and Burnt out Cars

One of the (my) first rules of computers is try not to load too many programs onto the computer as you end up spending too much time keeping them all current and fixing the inevitable problems that occur. Just recently I have been having some challenges with Backing Up my computer. I generally maintain a System back up once a month and a Data Backup every week. The Data backup starts with a full backup and then incremental each week until the disk is full - I then switch to another driver and repeat. When I have to switch back I then wipe the previous disk and so on, toggling between the two disk drives. This is not as good as keeping an archive of backups and can cause problems if a file gets corrupted along the way. I also duplicate my storage of pictures and music, but since I now have around 200Gb it represents quite a lot of storage.

The problem I am having is that my Incremental Backup seems not to be incremental - the idea is that each week only a small additional number of picture files get stored and so the Backup drive can store many weeks of data. Unfortunately the Incremental Backup seems to archive all the files each week - which quickly fills up the storage disks. It also take my Computer quite a lot of time to do the back up and so instead of it quickly running overnight (Sunday 1pm onwards) it is still running into the Monday. The last time this happened I think that it was Google Desktop Search somehow marking each file as changed so that the Backup re-copied it to the Archive. I have since stopped using Google Desktop Search as it also kept stalling and refusing to find stuff later than 5 months ago. I think that it collides with Microsoft's Search facility. A shame but there is no point if it does not seem to work.

This time around I am not so sure what the problem is, although I suspect it might be caused by Google Picasa - only suspect mind you. I have enabled Face tagging and so I wonder whether it has a similar effect to the Google Desktop Search. I have not got the time to check it out at the moment as I fly to India in less than 5 days - and I am having problems as the airlines in India seem to have minute baggage allowances - even my suitcases are too big apparently - which is why I think there is a misunderstanding. The fall back is to take my Brompton, although cycling that up 2000m mountains will be quite a challenge.

My second challenge is that when using Zoundry Raven to write a post (this one) I had storage problems. I tend to use Picasa to select the pictures I like, then I write them to a new folder and then copy those pictures into a Post. (I then store it as a draft post before adding the words - when it is stored as a draft Zoundry Raven uploads the pictures onto my picasaWeb account). This time around I accidentally reduced the resolution of the images. After deleting them from my PicasaWeb account and re-loading them they refused to store correctly. In the end I deleted the Local Zoundry ImageStore and re-created it. It seems to have worked - but a minor hassle that I could have done without.

The bright spot on the horizon is that my new bike is great to ride - it goes well on tarmac, is comfortable and goes well on byways and farm tracks Also the weather has been pretty good too. We have had some rain and some sun so a few fields have started sprouting again before the Autumn turns into Winter. This field is one I cycle past quite regularly and this is the third sprouting this year. I think the first one was probably a nitrogen crop to get some condition back into the soil - the second crop was leeks - I wait to see what this one is..


Another field on the way to Upware also getting a green tinge - only a couple of days ago it was light brown.


A few days ago I "discovered" a rather nice off-road track between Wicken Fen and Soham - it is always more pleasant to stay away from cars. I noticed another route whilst on it and took that this time - it brought me to a path I knew but had never explored.


There were what looked like motorcycle tracks on this bridleway - which is not strictly legal, although if it was the farmer then he/she can. However it does seem to join two By-ways open to all traffic (BOAT) which is perhaps why it was used. I have never seen motor vehicles here so it does not seem to be a big problem.


Alongside the by-way was an apple tree - I am quite surprised how many apple trees you see around here.


The apples were smallish - I am not sure what variety - but I assume the tree was seeded by a dropped apple core - so an eating apple probably.


Cycling from Reach along Straight Drove with Winter drawing in the skies are more dramatic at around the time I am cycling. So much so that I took the same (well similar) picture three times. Here is the wide open sky.


In this one I have zoomed into the sun/clouds.


Finally in this one I have zoomed right in to the "lemon" sky and the silhouette of the hedgerow/trees.


When taking pictures of the sunset the sunset the camera makes the sky seem darker - this is what the scene looked like looking along Straight Drove.


The Commissioner's had been cleared by some large digger using articulated tracks so the path alongside was rather more chewed up with a lot of plant debris on it. This made the cycling a little slower but not too bad.


Time for another shot of the sky as the sun set.


Along a bit of tarmac between Straight Drove and Rand Drove there was a sign of the times a burnt out car. Fortunately not something I see too frequently - but more frequently than I would like.


It is surprising how much our eyes can adapt to changing light conditions - here is the sky in the opposite direction - practically dark.


As usual I was carrying bright lights for the journey home.

Finding new tracks to Cycle along - Balsham Icknield Way Willingham Greeen / Weston Green/ Carlton

The second time out on my new bike, I decided to try out a couple of new off-road routes that I had seen whilst checking the map. The website I used was: Where's the path? It shows two different views side by side. (Chosen from various OS views through to Google Maps/Satellite views and the Open Street Maps view.) I generally use the OS 50K view alongside the Google Satellite view. Whilst checking out the area I noticed that there was an off-road route out of Balsham on the Icknield Way. So I thought I would give it a go and then perhaps link up with other off-road routes out towards Newmarket/Exning and then back to Cambridge.

It was a pleasant sunny Autumn (fall) afternoon so I headed out to Balsham via the Roman Road from near to Cambridge (the Gog Magog Hills). The is not much climbing around these parts - but the path starts just of the Shelford Road between Cambridge and Fulbourn at 70m so it was a good opportunity to check that I had the low-end gearing about right on my new bike. In India we will be reaching heights of around 2000m so I need a gear I can twiddle in. (A twiddle gear or granny gear is one where the pedals can be spun quite quickly, with the bike hardly moving, it can make a climb up a hill along one, but saves having to get off and walk.) The low-end gearing was fine. When I reached the turn off there was a path closure. A short bit from the road to the path proper was being cleared of vegetation. Judging by the alternate route they assumed that all visitors would arrive by car and be able to drive round the several miles detour. As my aim was to cycle off-road and decided to nip across, all I saw was a fire at the end of the connecting path - not a problem on an MTB. (Note I had got some tools including a pump and some patches in case of punctures or other problems.)


The Roman Road starts of going downhill - the leaves have started turning and a few Beech leaves were scattered along the path.


The path undulates and was fairly dry at the start although we have had quite a lot of rain. What is tricky is that there are ruts, presumably worn won by walkers and cyclists over the years. You have to pay attention when cycling in a rut as the front wheel can bounce from side to side. Also if the rut gets too deep then the pedals hit the sides of the rut - which can be a bit disconcerting. On this section you can see that it has not been very windy for a while as the leaves have all fallen straight down from the tree above.


Although Autumn is on its way the trees have a lot of green in them. This clump of "woodland" is in fact where the path crosses over the A11 and a junction has been built. After crossing the A11 I did notice a van that was parked up and a person putting on body armour - off the sort that down hill cyclists wear for protection.


The path passes by Chilford Hall - a place known for its Vineyard and also having Banqueting, Meeting, Conference and Wedding facilities. I once went to a company Christmas do there back in the 80s. The tower is a water tower and sits on Rivey Hill which is 112m above sea level - one of the highest points around.


As the Roman Road got closer to Balsham I found the going quite tough, the last time I had been up here it had been dry for ages, this time around the rain had created a slippery mud layer on top of the ground. This had the effect of causing wheel-spin if I pedalled too hard. I was also passed by a couple of motorcyclists - the map shows the Roman Road as a byway open to all traffic (BOAT) so they were within their rights and did not seem to be chewing up the track at all. I then turned off up the Icknield Way towards Balsham and they carried on.

I made the mistake of not actually plotting on my GPS or print out a map of where to head in Balsham and accidentally headed off along a footpath and had to lift my bike over a couple of stiles. Fortunately it took me in the right direction though and I rejoined the Icknield Way - which was marked as a BOAT on the OS map. Here you can see an apple tree growing by the path, thus adding further evidence to my theory that they were seeded by walkers throwing away apple cores.


The fields have benefited from the recent rain and green shoot can be seen popping up - I am sure that farmers work fields harder than when I was a boy. No sooner are they harvested and ploughed than another crop is grown.


I like travelling along routes I have not taken even familiar countryside takes on a different look.


I carried along the Icknield Way , which joined an unnamed road and the headed off along a track - this one was pretty difficult as it also had a surface layer of wet mud as it headed off to Willingham Green. No sooner had I joined the road than the Icknield Way seemed to head off again, so I followed it. At this point I was definitely in unexplored (for me) territory. Not that it was a big deal, I had my GPS with me and could have easily checked the map, but where's the fun in that. The track ended up at a dry Ford with two possible ways to go. I cycled along this briefly then though I would head the other way.


The other way passed along the outskirts of a wood and up a slight hill before turning right onto more open countryside,


Just for completeness this was the other part of the three-way junction , the direction I had come from.


The track eventually became a rough road until I reached a Ford - and not a dry one this time. As I was more interested in cycling along tracks I turned back and took the alternate route. This village turned out to be Weston Green.


The other direction took me along a leafy lane - which seemed to have a rubble base - but nicely cushioned by the leaves. There were hoof-prints along hear so probably a popular route for horse riders as well. This path eventually brought me to Carlton.


My exploring had taken some time, although I had carried along several other tracks which included one from Woodditton through to the B1061 road near to Newmarket. It was getting dark by then as this picture of the moon shows.


The sun set before I had reached Newmarket, but I had lights and was wearing my fluorescent yellow jacket. I use a rechargeable USE Exposure Lights Joystick. I t has three levels of brightness, with on times from 3 hours to 24 hours and a flashing mode capable of lasting for days. I used the flashing mode on the B1051 - when I can see I think that cars are more careful with an oncoming bright flashing light.


I then cycled through Newmarket and onto Exning where I joined a narrow byway which headed for Burwell. With the light on maximum brightness it was great to be able to cycle along the narrow track in the dark. It certainly gave me confidence in both the light and the bike. Once at Burwell it was the Sustrans 51 back to Cambridge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sunny Sunday Cycling - Time for a new track

With the TTT (time to trip) reducing (less than two weeks to go) there is a conflict between getting out to get some more miles in my legs and sorting out the last minute items - such as no bike to take with me, a bike box for the bike I don't have ... Mind you even with the Internet making research and purchase possible you can't not go out on a Sunny Sunday. (That means you have to go out!)

As you can see from this picture then sky was cloudy but the sun peeped through from time to time - many of the fields have been l=ploughed, harrowed and appropriate nutrients added for the next crop to be grown. Near White Fen there are dark peaty fields alongside browner fields. This one looks as if it has also had a dusting of powder, I assume that it is the fertiliser.


I trundled up to Upware - notable for a pub called "Five Miles From Anywhere No Hurry Inn" I could not find a website for the pub so that link points to a review of the Pub- here is another one from a cyclist, well he cycled there anyway. There was a strong onion smell on the air - which turned out to be leeks being stripped from the fields. I presume that the Supermarkets have high standards for how leeks look - driven by us fussy shoppers who will always choose perfect looking, clean vegetables over interesting ones that look as if they might have been grown in soil (Whatever next eh). It is very labour intensive and requires gangs of labourers, who after a day's work look shattered as they wait by the roadside for transport. My son is involved in AgriScience and has spent the summer digging, weeding and lifting crops so has a lot of sympathy for them.


As it was a nice day and although I did not have the time to wander too far afield I decided that I would do a bit of exploring and in Wicken Fen set off down a "No Through Road" which I had an inkling of where it might end up. It was great a secluded track that in the end reached Soham. It was a delightful way to avoid traffic, I passed a couple of cyclists going the other way who had obviously had the same idea. Although I could have used the map display on my GPS to see where I was heading I tend not to unless I am tired at the end of a long ride and really want to head home. Along the track the path stopped being a Public Byway and became a Public Bridleway. I have always felt certain that it was permissible to cycle along either type of track, but was not totally sure quite what the difference was.


This was the Byway path, a single track between hedges, it looks as if it has been around for a long time and was probably the normal route for those travelling between Soham and Wicken Fen.


Here the route is now a Bridleway - it looks a lot more suitable for horses being wider and generally flatter. The Byway path had one or two rabbit holes in the path, not really a problem for a cyclist, but not so good for a horse.


A quick check of Wikipedia - here - provided a readable explanation. It turns out that Bridleways are ways over which the public can travel on foot or by horse and under the Countryside Act 1968 bicycles. However there is no obligation to facilitate the use by cyclists. I was on my Hybrid (Marin) on this ride and travelling dangerously. I had not bothered carrying any tools or helmet or puncture repair kits. Normally whenever I do that I end up either falling off or having a puncture. This time I was lucky. I tend to think of this part of the world as flat and boring but with a bit of investigation it amazes me how many off the beaten track paths there are for cyclists.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kites, Carrots and Crates

just to show how windy it is as I passed a field near Lode there were a bunch of Power kiters out flying their kites. It was a few fields away so the picture was taken at full zoom and I've cropped the picture to enlarge it. Here are two kites and their flyers hanging on tight. I have seem kites flying in this field before - but hadn't realised they were Power kites that you can literally fly with.


It was a short cycle ride today as my son was visiting for the weekend and some of the cycling gear we had ordered over the last couple of weeks on the Internet did not fit. He has a long body and the medium t-shirts were too short. So I returned those and we went off to Ben Hayward's new shop in Horningsea - it is larger and there is plenty of parking available. Once there we kitted him out with some cycling gloves, a helmet and some cycling tops. They were, as usual very, helpful and persevered until we had found some gear that both fitted and he found acceptable. The good news was that the short-sleeved tops had 25% off as it is the end of the UK summer season. My son was also not too unhappy with his helmet. When cycling in foreign parts I think that it makes sense to wear a helmet, but in hot weather you need something that is light with plenty of airflow. Fortunately things have improved greatly since my son last acquired a helmet so he was quite pleased with the result. I was paying so I also set a budget as he went for the most expensive helmet in the place, without knowing it though.

Today was both gloomy and windy so I did not take may pictures, one bright spot was this pile of carrots, it looks as if someone forgot to stop the conveyor belt!


Next to the carrots were some pallets (the crates of the title) - the only other bit of colour on a gloomy day. Although I did turn up the saturation to boost the colour though.


Only two weeks to go before we head off to India. The new bike is due soon, I must get a suitable suitcase, arrange bike insurance - but most things have been sorted. This week I arranged a hotel In Bangalore as we have an overnight stop there. I must make a list and start ticking things off. When I was travelling a lot I used to pack the morning of a long-haul flight - it mostly worked although i did once end up in Japan without any socks. I had to pop into a department store and with limited Japanese buy some socks. I ended up comparing feet with a Japanese shop assistant who then showed me what to buy. They were great socks - but even though they were on sale they were still expensive.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cambridge to Kings Lynn by Sustrans 51 and 11 and back - letting the train take some strain

Two weeks to go before my son and I fly out to India for our cycle tour and my bike has not yet been finished - oops. When I cycled from Bangkok to Saigon last November '08 I hired a bicycle for the journey, unfortunately that turned into 4 bicycles. With problems such as breaking chains, non-functional gears, zero brakes it wasn't until the fourth bike, supplied in Vietnam did I have a reliable bicycle, albeit slightly small. So this time I have decided to take a bicycle with me - I have decided upon a Titanium frame, with S&S couplings and hub gears. Why - well the Titanium frame is both strong and flexible and rust free. The downside will be if it does break it is not easy to to fix as titanium welding is not easy (compared with steel). The S&S couplings allow the bike to be split into two to make it easier to ship around the world without paying exorbitant extra fees to the airlines for the privilege. Finally why hub gears, well they are internal and so tend to be affected by mud and grime less. There might be a small loss of efficiency, although some would dispute that. I found my derailleur gears getting clogged very easily on the muddy tracks of Cambodia. In the end I was having to wash the gears using water from my water bottles which in the heat was quite a sacrifice. If you have been following the latest Round the World cyclist - James Bowthorpe, then he used a hub gear for an 18,000mile cycle ride. There are probably some reading this who when thinking of the hub gears remember 3 speed Sturmey Archers gears of 40 years ago are starting to get some tears in their eye. Those 3 speeds were tricky to set up and would occasionally slip, which if you were standing on the pedals at the time resulted in rapid and intimate contact with the bicycle top tube.

The good news is that the bike might even be ready tomorrow - once it is a post will of course follow.

The weather was a bit gloomy yesterday, but I really needed to get a longer ride in, in preparation for the tour. Although we will only be covering around 640Km/400miles over the two week period there will be heat, altitude and jet lag to contend with. I want to be fit enough to enjoy it and not struggle (hopefully). On the longer days we will cover around 120Km/80miles so I decided to cycle from Cambridge to Kings Lynn, I could not set out first thing so to create a manageable ride for the return journey I caught the train from Kings Lynn to cut the overall length of the journey and provide an opportunity to get some lunch and catch up on emails/calls.

It was a dull and gloomy day - but not too cold around 15C was predicted so I was able to avoid wearing a jacket, I did wear socks with my sandals though. The route I took was the Sutrans Route 51 to Burwell and then the Sustrans Route 11 to Kings Lynn. I do not normally follow the bit between Ely and 10 Mile bank, I either head through Ely to Littleport or to the side of Ely and then to Littleport as the roads are pretty reasonable as the A10 takes most of the non-bike friendly traffic. However for this trip I did because it was slightly longer. I also took my Longstaff Tourer since the purpose was to get a few miles in.

This picture was taken at Lode End Bridge, on the off-road section of Route 11 between Barway and Ely. It is Soham Lode and you can see how gloomy it was.


Ely Cathedral is also visible from here and stands proud on the Isle of Ely, the River Great Ouse and the Railway line are down on the plain in front.


The route out of Ely is indicated as off-road on the Sustrans map and follows the Downham Road, I assume it means that you can cycle on the pavement, but the pavement crosses over and is not clearly signposted as a shared cycle way. Mind you the road was not too busy. the sustrans map also shows that a track that runs parallel to the road is going to be the the future Sustrans Route (Hereward Way) . I stopped to take a picture of the Cathedral from the other side, at a height of around 17m. The sky provided an interesting backdrop. To the left you can see a spire of another church (which appears to the right on the previous picture.) I think it is St Mary's, Ely. The route heads out towards Pymoor and then runs alongside the Hundred Foot Drain. As it was not windy I was able to maintain a reasonable pace (dropped handlebars help) and then had a tow from a tractor. I did not literally grab hold but followed one for a few miles up the roads using it as a windbreak, he generally drove at 20-25Mph/32-40Km/h which makes for good progress. He turned off at Bank Farm near to the Welney Wildlife Trust, I gave him a thank you wave.


As the day was it bit gloomy I did not take may pictures but my eye was caught by the power Transmission Lines . They start at Walpole St Peter to the North and end up in Burwell. This is the South view with the darker skies. There is a bend in the track before they reach Burwell though.


This is the North View.


The route then turns left at Ten Mile Bank. There are automatic traffic lights at the Ten Mile Bank crossroads, my bike does not seem to be able to trigger them though. it also appears that the road sensors have not been placed correctly as they are sighted in a keep clear area of the road. I normally come in River direction from Littleport and use this as a stop and refreshment area - there is a bench near the river. This time around I had not bothered with any food/drink or even Jelly babies so carried on up towards Downham Market. This view is looking back along the River Great Ouse, where the Kings Lynn/Cambridge railway line crosses


This picture was taken from a similar spot but across the river, the water was pretty still so the reflections were good.


There were a group of Canoeists paddling down from Denver Sluice.


The Sustrans Route is well signposted although it does go around the houses in Downham Market - it them meet with Sustrans National Route 1 (Hull to Fakenham) near Wiggenhall St Germans. A little bit later I noticed the smoke rising from a fire. You can see there is not a lot of wind around by the random way the smoke has risen.


The Sustrans Route goes off-road when it reaches the Kings Lynn Power Station. There has been a lot of building work taking place by the River as it reaches Kings Lynn. I am not sure what the building is for - but they are clearly planning for global warming - they have planted some Palm Trees out front.


No reason for this picture apart from the fact I liked the reflections. You can see another Palm tree on the left of the window.


The route then gets into Kings Lynn via the docks, here are a small number of fishing boats presumably still plying their trade from these docks.


The sea is to the North of Kings Lynn.


I like Kings Lynn Railway station - it has a small town feel. Unfortunately I arrived 5 minutes after the train left so had to hang around for an hour for the next train. It gave me some time to buy and eat some late lunch though. Unlike Cambridge Railway Station there are plenty of unused cycle racks here. Mind you I don't think there a restrictions on taking bike on the train in rush hour here either. The single ticket to Ely was £5.40 and the bike was free.


I was not the only one taking pictures of the station, a lady born in these parts had come back for a visit 60 or so years on and was also taking pictures. The Station looked pretty much the same as when she was a girl - although it had been given a lick of paint.


The journey to Ely was quite quick and a number of bike were on the train, at Ely loads more people got on with bikes. The railway line is used by schoolchildren who go to school in Ely but live closer to Cambridge. It was starting to get dark when heading back, fortunately I had taken lights with me. Unfortunately my front light must have turned on somewhere along the way and the batteries were flat. Most of the remainder of the journey was on paths though and it was still not lighting up time. Must remember ti put some new batteries in them. Despite the gloom it was a really pleasant cycle ride 128Km/80miles in all and so I treated myself to two bottle of beer with my evening meal.