23rd October (#112)

Having conquered my nerves and perceived danger caused by my mumbo jumbo superstitions from yesterday, it was back to my Friday routine. It was my last bike commute for work for a week. I had a break from coursework last night but made plans to do some during a quiet day at work so packed a some article copies into my bag and pedal off into the lifting mist of another mild October morning.

Lifting because of the 10mph headwind from the south. Still, if I waited for the perfect for a cycle, I would probably only ride 3 or maybe 4 days a year and the current mild temperatures are to be welcomed for sure. I went as many back roads as I could today, avoiding the A1184, going down the back of Sawbridgeworth parallel with the train line and river. I stopped at a large puddle and contemplated going back, across the river and onto the A1184. But I waited and watched some cars and vans plough through it as if it wasn’t there. Walk around it to avoid the deep parts and keep my feet dry? Nah, the edges were high and I’d get wet anyway so I decided to take a path through it and hope that it wouldn’t be as high as my bottom bracket.

I changed into the granny gears, got up enough speed to free wheel into it and pedalled though the shallowest part. My shoes got wet but not saturated and job done headed towards the temporary lights. Except there were no temporary. Bugger! I wanted to make all the waiting drivers envious as they watched me glide past them in a flame of pedal powered glory. Another time maybe…

I stopped at Aldi to get the last of the seasonal cycling special buys. I missed them last week and all the merino base layers were gone in Bishops Stortford yesterday. The Harlow branch always has more leftovers but there was only 1 left in my size so I nabbed that and some merino socks to replace my holey ones. I showered and powered through my admin and started on my coursework churning out another 300 words before I left at 3.30 taking my remaining time owing to start my annual leave early.

On the way home I discovered why there were no temporary lights. They had finished one section and moved down to start on another. The back road that I took was stationary with cars used to using it as a rat run to avoid the previous section. One clown decided that he didn’t have to give way to his right and moved his RangeRover across my path. “No matter, bump onto the footpath and beat you to the junction, see how far that gets you champ!”, I thought as I passed another 20 odd stationary vehicles. On the main road up to Sheering there was no traffic moving. I was just delighted at Mr RangeRover’s timely visit from Prof Karma. I pedalled along on the quiet, usually busy road out of Harlow content to have actualised my morning plan.

And then the steady stream of cars behind me passed as they were let out of their purgatory but not until I was well beyond my danger close passing points on the Sheering suicide. I didn’t see Mr RangeRover again to give him a wave which was a shame. Yes, I have a sad, vindictive outlook at times. I was soon home, soaking in the bath reading for my essay over an IPA.

No bike commutes next week barring a better national emergency than what we have now. Things have felt quite attritional lately so I’m hoping that the break will do me good.

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22nd October (#111)

As a cricketer, 111 is considered an unlucky score made either by a team or an individual. Multiples of 111 thereafter are also seen with dread so if you or your team are on one of these scores of say 222, 333, 444 and so on…watch out, you could be courting disaster. Its said to be unlucky because 111 resembles three stumps without bails, which obviously equates to losing your wicket. Which is bad because you can’t score any more runs once you’re out. 111 is also known as “Nelson”, perhaps originating from Royal Navy Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who supposedly had one eye, one arm and one leg towards the end of his life.

Whatever the reason, being commute #111, I set off with some trepidation, nervous of what disaster may fall upon me. Riding a bike is most unlike cricket unless you sport white riding kit but still, it gave be the heebie jeebies riding today. I gingerly avoided anything on the road that may cause me to fall, nervously keeping away from the same imperfections and pot holes that I’ve zoomed past many times before. I made it in one piece brawling with a cross-headwind all the way. Maybe that was my bad luck for the day I thought-a bastard headwind!

By the time that it was time to head back to the van late that evening, I could not believe that the headwind was the only bad luck that I could have. I hadn’t finished #111 yet, I had only completed the first half of it. But it was less a worry than the morning, even in the dark on a main road for half of the ride. The wind had died down and 11°C at 8.30pm was a cause for minor celebration at the end of October and it kept my mind off what could happen.

Normally better weather keeps me out for some minor bonus miles but I had to be back to squeeze in some more time on my coursework, if only to maintain some momentum. Due for submission in 7 days, I’m determined to break the back of it by the end of the weekend. That way I can get out for some leisure rides in between doing housemoving jobs during my week away from work next week. We’ll see…

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20th October (#110)

Up early, coffee downed and a roundabout journey around quiet roads before hitting the A1184 from Bishops Stortford to Harlow. Gone are the bridleways and byways for a while and here to stay for a while is the boredom and aggression of main roads. There were spits and spots of rain when I started out but nowhere near enough to saturate me. It was brief and I was treated to a mild, mostly dry morning.

So mild that it was warmer out than inside my building. The broken heating and the high ceilings make it hard to heat with the miniature oil filled heaters that we’re being given. We’re still waiting for a new building to be signed off for construction. In the meantime, we have to wait for, “the solutions that we’re [the hierarchy] working hard to help you with…”. Blablabla, no money, blabla inane generic non comittal answer blabla

The ride back to the van was an unusual October epic. The wind had got up and was behind me. Not so unusual for Autumn you say but it was NINETEEN MOTHER FLIPPIN DEGREES! CELSIUS!!! What a bonus and definitely the medicine that I needed after another crappy day of frustration and dissatisfaction. I was toasty in my 2 thin layers up top and took my time, letting the breeze blow me along as I basked in the warmth on offer, blasting back along the A1184 feeling sorry for all the people in their cars.

If only it could last more than a couple of days. While the same temperatures are forecast tomorrow, heavy rain is moving in and I have a late finish writing my coursework so I’ll be driving (ugh!)

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Riders on the Storm

Today, we had a Vet come to the house to end our elderly cats pain, incontinence, confusion and suffering. It was distressing for me but not for him. Not being used to facilitated death, I didn’t know what to expect but the Vet was very caring and efficient in both a clinical and understanding way. It was mercifully quick and peaceful. Nearly perfect if that is such a thing in the circumstances. It was a hard decision nonetheless and one which was the right one for him.

Some of you may know that my alarm tone is a classic by The Doors. The intro is a smooth, peaceful wake to the day. Sometimes as yesterday, I will let it run as I drift back to sleep but I have to be quite tired for that. Over the last few months our failing elderly cat’s early morning antics have woken us earlier, robbing me of my Jim Morrison wake up and (a LOT of) sleep. We have long since started our own lyrics, started by Mrs B2W. If you follow me on Strava, you’ll know that I occasionally adjust lyrics of the songs in my head according to the thoughts in my head. This is another, but not related in any way to riding a bike. So if you know the song, sing along (I know that I want to)…

Black cat on the prowl,
Black cat on the prowl
You’re gonna hear him yowl
And you’re gonna hear him howl,
Black cat on the prowl

Black cat on the prowl,
Black cat on the prowl.                      He’s confused about the time            and to starve him is a crime.

Black cat on the prowl                     Black cat on the prowl                      He’s only got one eye                          and he can’t jump very high,
Black cat on the prowl

Black cat on the prowl                           If you don’t give him a feed
He will make your ears bleed.  

Black cat on the prowl                       He’s scratching at the door,
And there’s litter in his claw.          Black cat on the prowl

He jumps up on the bed,
Pissy litter on your head.
Black cat on the prowl (YEAH…)                                                Cue instrumental

Arohanui Charlie. You’ve been with me for 40% of my life but you’ll always be here (you grumpy old bastard*)

* it was one of his most endearing qualities…

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16th October (#109)

I didn’t want to do the cold thing this morning and was tempted to drive to work. And then I thought about my goal and how green I was with envy last week sitting in my van stuck at temporary lights watching people on bikes getting from A to B. Besides, if I rode I wouldn’t have to compete with everyone else for a parking space. Since the visitors car park has been closed for the construction of a new acute assessment unit, it would be fair to say that there is a shortage of space for parking leading to idiot parking and frayed tempers. No thanks.

Once it was out on the permawet roads, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, it was cold but I had layered up and there was no wind. I lost myself in the mental rehearsal of priorities for the busy day ahead and how to conjure an early finish in order to ride home in the daylight while avoiding the worst of the hometime traffic. The Friday escape from Harlow can be a tricky affair and the quiet route is also a longer ride. I was on full beam until the last third of the ride. Not long now until I ride to work in the dark AND ride home in the dark.

An early finish after a busy day at the end of a busy week is always difficult. I could have downed my tools at the earliest opportunity but that would mean complications and chaos next week. With a house move in progress and course work to complete in a fortnight, I just have to accept that I can no longer fit my priorities in around riding. This had become the norm over an unusual summer and I took full advantage of it but to continue will be a luxury that I cannot afford. It has to be the other way around for a while.

I did however get out while it was still light(ish) and finally switched the blinkies onto full beam just after two thirds of the way home. The rush to escape Harlow had died down by 6pm but the temporary traffic lights at a road widening scheme to prepare for a new motorway junction is a worry. I can bypass this easily as it isn’t a road that I often travel although any temporary lights seem to make drivers impatient. After waiting in a line of traffic and then having to slow down later to wait to safely pass me plodding along is a bridge too far for many it seems. Despite this pinch point I did decide on the short route and all the perceived danger that this holds.

I got home in one piece, ready for a weekend of loft clearing, trips to the refuse centre, humping boxes about and trying to squeeze some coursework in between.

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15th October (#108)

I had another late finish last night, hit the sack late and woke with that thick, foggy head which tells you that you should’ve got more sleep. Even a brisk walk with the dog in the cold morning air couldn’t shake it. After dropping the boys off at school I hauled Boris out of the van and decided to take the shortest route along receding rush hour main roads to get to work for a long, hot luxurious shower.

I soon hit the tail of the snake of cars that is the morning bottleneck of Sawbridgeworth. I ducked through a path to some back roads and rejoined the A1184 bypassing the slow bit and what I found out later to be a lot of vehicles. The bus that passed me 3 or 4km back passed me again just before I turned on to the river path. As this was a reverse route from Tuesday, I continued the splashy theme, cutting through puddles aplenty along the path.

It wasn’t exactly long but the shower was luxurious and what I needed before a busy day. Along with coffee, I made it through the day more or less intact by 8.30pm. I was soon out taking another short route back to the van. The days of stretching the Thursday commute are gone for another 6 months. The dark, the cold and the wet will make sure of that.

For a while now, the bike commutes have become attritional, even after a week break last week. That’s the risk of having goals I guess and anticipate that the next 10 commutes and ~ 1000km is going to be the same.

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13th October (#107)

I’ve had an enforced layoff from my bike commute through injury. Not my own injury although my back is enjoying the break. Master15 decided that skateboarding in the rain was a good idea and broke 3 metatarsals in his left foot so our week started with a couple of days off school, shortly followed by Master15 taking time off with nausea and vomiting.

Ouch

A trip to the ED for attempted realignment, followed by another journey for a lightweight cast 4 days later as well as being chief cab driver for master12s dental appointment meant a swift reduction in bike miles. The van hoovered up £60 of fuel in last week as I was forced through circumstance, weather and late work finishes to drive. Boy did I feel dirty polluting the environment. I was even resentful at times when I spotted the growing number of people riding bikes their bikes on my numerous journeys. I managed a paltry 30km through manufactured errands and getting out on little rides when I could so this week, now that both boys are back at school, I was straight into my routine yesterday. The Monday ride to and from school was punctuated by a couple of doggie walks. Gee it was good to get out again and I was looking forward to my commute today. But our quickly fading elderly cat had other ideas, waking me at 03.20 a.m, wailing with confusion and at his aching joints plus empty stomach.

I’m a bit skeptical over how Fitbit measures sleep but today has sure felt like I got that much sleep 😴

So this morning was a sleep deprived sloppy splatter along my summer trails that have turned into a muddy mire. Freshly cleaned Boris was not happy about it but I couldn’t help it as I wanted the joy of riding them one more time with all the exhilaration of doing it in the dark. There was quite a lot of sliding as the new tyres, on order since over 2 weeks ago still haven’t arrived via the salary sacrifice scheme. I made a mental note to stay away from this route until the Spring.

While I was at work, I called the Vet to enquire about changing the focus of his suffering with some dignity. He has been with us since 2002 when he was 18 months old. The dementia, the failing hind joints, dragging excreta around the house and the pain have become too much. While it’s the kindest thing that we can do for our grand old chap, I’m in pieces over this decision to end his life. At least he gets to eat like a king and be spoilt during his last days…

I made my excuses to leave early and headed out into the wind and threat of rain. I ploughed through the puddles along the river path and took dry roads the rest of the way. I was threatened with my own mortality by a couple of people in their Land Rovers, one a Discovery and one a Range Rover. The roads are too narrow for these things but they’re built for the crappy surfaces that pass for roads hereabouts. I got back to the van early to snare a primo parking spot as close as was legal to the school gates to collect Master15 who had been on crutches all day.

It was early, early enough to take the bike out and idle up to the supermarket to buy some tasty cat treats and gourmet food. Leaving work early to get a premium park and going on another smaller ride may become my routine for a while.

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1st October (#106)

I wanted a rest day today or at least my legs did. But with the weather set fair and rainy tomorrow I decided to push through the lazy barrier and haul myself onto the increasingly sloppy trails. Besides, with a new assessment unit going up in the visitors car park at work, it is almost impossible to find a space after 9 on a Thursday so at least I wouldn’t have that aggravation by driving in. The sky was grey, the trails a deep brown mire scattered with puddles and tyre tracks. I took more road than trail and the lanes were scattered with grit and road wash. It was unexceptional and perfunctory. Get in, shower, start work and get the job done.

By 9.18pm I got the jobs done and it was time to leave in the dark. I spent a few minutes to plot a route back to take me to an early 100 mile week but didn’t bother. That could wait until Sunday’s post clean ride, if/when the rain has passed. So it was my last commute ride of the week and I made it count by being 16km, brief and quicker than usual. Not intentionally quicker but because I kept the balding tyres on what passes for tarmac in my part of the UK.

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30th September (#105)

During yesterday’s ride back, in my low mood, I decided not to ride today. And then later reflecting my post, I thought better of it. I will lose my protective blanket of mental health self help if I don’t ride if yesterday was anything to go by. So out I went into the misty roads of the countryside eager to make the most of the reasonably mild air that was forecast. The eerie dark shadows of grazing cattle in the field was a nice feature for starters. Moving onto higher ground made for better visibility as the sun climbed above the mist, casting long shadows of early morning early autumnal splendour. If it wasn’t for the early promise of spring and the warmth of summer, autumn would be my favourite season.

Instead of making haste, I cruised around, zig zagging my way across to Sawbridgeworth and up the hill to the main road to Harlow and the buzz of rush hour. I left the close passers behind to get onto tranquility again along the river path. More mist, this time hugging the water’s surface cloaking ducks and moorhens as they floated by on their morning business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-you just don’t get this driving a car.

The ride home was less tranquil but only because I went more main road than not. There was a 99% prediction of precipitation. Apart from a few spots of light rain for 10 minutes, I stayed dry and warm enough with my rain jacket over my merino base. What I thought was one of my neighbours cars gave me a close pass, a utility vehicle with company name on it with a ladder on the back. I rehearsed my conversation with him for later but when I arrived home there was no ladder on the back of his parked vehicle. Maybe a colleague I dunno-I know that they have at least 2 of the same colour and make/model. I decided not to approach him and while I don’t know him all that well suspect that it was ignorance rather than malice. Besides, I had left it behind me, moved on instead to wash my 29er down with the hose before spraying lube on the important bits and coating the chain with wet lube for some interim loving.

So another month has passed and another 500 mile chunk taken out of the target. That’s half a endurance month if you believe Strava but more than enough for me. It was my 365th ride of the year, 133% committed to riding my bike. Only another 790 miles left to 5000 miles, well ahead of target…

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29th September (#104)

Last week was a week of 2 halves. I had smashed 80km for the week by Tuesday evening but was feeling tired and had that feeling that I could be coming down with something. Master 15 had a dreadful head cold with full sinuses and, as showers and colder weather was forecast I decided to drive to work. Which was a good decision. While we were sure that this wasn’t the C word invading our house, we took the pragmatic view to get him tested-if he was well enough to go to school, they would have sent him home with the cough caused by the postnasal drip, such is the world that we live in. I left work at 10.30 pm with plans to get him tested on Thursday morning through Occupational Health, hopeful of getting the result in 24hrs so we only had to isolate for 1 day. Nothing is ever straight forward, more so now so we were well into the weekend before our suspicions were confirmed. Just a nasty head cold. I kissed my aspirations of 4th 200km week dunning goodbye but a least I delayed riding in the cold rain by another week.

House cleaning, Scrabble and a boxset later over a monster mountain of ironing and we are now back to the normal of remembering a mask wherever we go, but the abnormal of having an ironing box that closes without employing a sumo wrestler to sit on it. What else has become normal again is the second skin of a merino base layer. After a the welcome visit by summer a couple of weeks ago the warmth has all but disappeared for 6 months so I’ve made a plan to climb into the remaining miles and get to 5000 for the year ASAP. Then I’ll take a holiday from riding. I am beginning to like winter bike commuting about as much as the C word.

So it was with renewed motivation that I hauled the 29er out of the van and exited the supermarket car park at 06.15. I was tired after yesterday’s 50km start to the week and the drizzle coating my jacket in the dark quickly dried up my enthusiasm. The blinkies are good enough on the quiet roads to be seen without affecting my vision at so I didn’t need the full beam unless I was in the dark of the woods. At least the wet stuff falling from the sky filled the troughs and pot holes of the trails, way marking my lines along the off road route. It was a reasonably smooth ride as my balding tyres struggled with any grip in the muddy bits but these, although few and far between, sprayed me with a fine speckled shower of brown camo. The grit grinding on my rear cog announced that riding these trails will soon be replaced with the smooth surface of roads until April. All good things must come to an end eventually I guess.

Work stole my time. Sure, working remotely had bought me some but I was still nearly an hour late in leaving, frustrated about things beyond my control. As we enter autumn with the Covid threat on health on all fronts, I was deeply resentful of it adding more layers of bureaucracy to my life. I texted ahead to meet the boys in the supermarket to choose a desert for dinner by way of placating my guilt at being late to meet them. I should have enjoyed the sun and lack of wind on the ride along the quiet country roads but a sense of urgency and the unfair nature of having my time stolen by the organisation grated on my sense of well being.

When I got there, my mood had lightened. Happy to see the boys? Happy that the work day was finally over? Whatever it was, the ride did the trick to change the negativity so I rode with it and took the dog out for a sunset stroll to end the day.

Evening poo patrol
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