Brother and Sister ride through the rain

My sister and her family came to visit today, only the second time they have all been at our house togther, and, like their first visit, the weather was awful. The rain lashed hard at the window, driven into needle points by a gusting wind. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem normally, but my sister had come over especially to try out my Lemond Etape with a mind to borrow it for her first triathlon. She has a bike on order, but it’s very unlikely that it’ll arrive in time for her race. She’s been practicing on a mountain bike, a completely different experience from riding a road bike, even an entry-level racer like mine. Finally, having consumed incredible amounts of pizza, there was a break in the weather, and even though the sky was black with boiling angry clouds, and the wind was still blowing hard, my sister and I set out through the lanes, she on my Lemond, and I on the Brompton.

The roads were slick and muddy, punctuated with sudden huge puddles. Unexpected gusts slammed into us as we passed gaps in the hedges, blowing us off course and spraying us with droplets from overhanging trees. A solitary crow bowled past us, tumbling rather than flying. We headed through Rudge, my sister getting the hang of mvoing the brake levers to change gear. I only intended to go three miles or so, but I found myself shouting to follow the road to the right at the Full Moon pub rather than turn back and soon we were crossing the A36 and heading towards Frome. Whenever my sister asked how far it was back to the village I replied two miles, which it kind of was… as the crow flies. We turned into the wind which slammed into us, forcing us down to a mere crawl. We turned off the main Frome road down a tiny lane criss-crossed by gigantic pylons. The wind shrieked and howled through the wires, tugging them backwards and forwards. As we reached higher ground we could see that the undulating grass in the fields was moving like a squalling sea, and beyond the electric steel sentinals the sky was furious and inky, long smudges of rain hung beneath the clouds, there was no way we could outride the deluge. We crossed a main road and passed Lullington creamery, climbing up towards the turning to Woolverton. With appalling suddeness the light dimmed to a dull grey and the clouds were upon us, however, they raced over without any rain falling. A huge dead tree, it’s bark stripped off, standing stark and white on the horizon on contrast with the raging clouds, marked the right turn towards Woolverton. Riding that quarter of a mile stretch, my sister foolishly stated that we had escaped the rain. Within a minute we were in the midst of a merciless soaking. The wind seemed to be coming from every direction, the rain stung our faces, as I hauled the bike down the linking track that would deposit us onto the A36 at the Laverton junction. There then followed a scary twenty seconds as we had to wait in the middle of the road while a bus passed on the opposite side. A car squeezed past my sister, barely missing her (my) handlebars. We rode passed the Red Lion, our faces either grimacing or stuck in a rictus grin of cold. Now only three quarters of a mile to the village.

We made 10.5 miles, my sister pointed out that I said it was two miles to home at 6.3 miles. According to the speedo we pulled 27.5 mph at our fastest, which may be one of the fastest speeds I’ve gone on the Brompton, nothing like a rainstorm to improve your average speed.

My wife took a picture of us as we stood on the back steps at the end of the ride. As you can see she had her new digital SLR set to ‘make husband’s head look a really weird shape’ when she took the photo.

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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To the Railway Bridges

Do you know that feeling, when you just ‘have to ride’ ? Perhaps it begins with a restlessness, maybe repeated glances at the window, agitation, sighing, even a little heart-ache. This is the urge to ride, a demanding physical need to spin the cranks, to be moving through the air, to feel the road thrumming beneath the tyres, to bring endless horizons towards you, rolling on, and on, and on.

On Friday I couldn’t get out to join John and Andy on their afternoon ride, but when the chance came to take just half an hour, I had to ride, my bike of choice was the Brompton. The destination was the two railway bridges between Brokerswood and Dilton Marsh. One of riveted iron, straight and wide, the other of brick, arching gently out of the ground. Only a hundred yards or so apart, they span different stretches of track and the junction where the lines part can be seen in the distance from the brick bridge. Maybe a mile or two further in that direction sits another, larger bridge, off the beaten track. No road seems to lead to its grand arch, it will be the subject of another cycle quest another time.

I made another cycle film of the journey- this one is epic by my standards – nearly six and a half minutes long. It’s filmed entirely on my little compact digital camera so the quality leaves a lot to be desired, I would like to think that it has a charming sort of super8 feel to it, but that is very much wishful thinking. The film contains variously, a farm cat, lots of shots of power and telephone lines and pylons, the long hill at Rudge (road technically closed, you can see it’s all dug up) the tin tabernacle at Brokerswood, wheat fields, hedges, verges, the two railway bridges (the iron one only briefly because I could hear a train heading for the other bridge so I turned back and headed for the brick bridge to film it), a train and a feather. The music is by John Cage.

Power and phone lines fascinate me, I think partially because we do such a good job of editing them from our vision and memory. They are so ubiquitous yet it seems to be possible to view a landscape without seeing them at all. A photograph can be startling when it restores these invisible towers and poles that we have edited out of our memories of the landscape.

Pylons viewed from the road between Frome and Standerwick

Pylons viewed from the back road that runs between Frome and Standerwick

For some reason that I cannot articulate, or even fully understand, I find pylons and telephone lines beautiful. I particularly like to see pylons striding out across fields, or better still, a skewed line of telephone poles lining a country road.

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

This fascination of mine extends only to wires and lines, it does not include phone masts, I’m not sure if it includes radio masts. I would very much like to see a map with all the above ground powerlines added.

Apparently one of my first words was “Pylon”.

Abbey Meads Cyclepath, Sunset, New Year’s Day

Hello and Happy New Year reader.

 2007 was a mixed bag for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone. Being off the bike from September onwards was a terrible blow, not least because I now need to lose at least one and a half stone to get back to fighting fitness. The ‘regime’, as my wife calls it, begins today. I am hoping to get on the turbo trainer once the little ones have gone to bed. My aim is to keep that machine humming steadily in the workshop well into the night as the first flakes of snow come down and my muscles howl their protest.

We spent New Year’s Day at my sister’s in Abbey Meads, Swindon. After an enormous feast we hauled our food-crammed bodies up to the top of a nearby hill to a play area where the children could race around madly. Running alongside the play area is a network of cyclepaths and bike lanes. We only saw a couple of cyclists out and about, but one of them was on a Brompton (it looked shiny new) replete with front mounted bag and a spaniel running gamely alongside. I was reminded of the day I received my Brompton, and how, once I had mastered the complicated folding and unfolding process, and learned to control the tiny wheels, the Brompton opened new avenues to freedom, more opportunities to cycle. I longed to be back on the bike.

As an aside here, I was very surprised that the cyclists didn’t deliberately run me off the path, abuse me or throw litter at my head. The anti-cycling press has been getting so hysterically worked up of late I wondered if it was safe to venture onto tarmac, so afeared was I that I might be hunted down and violated by packs of rampaging self-righteous cyclists outraged at my audacity at using feet or a car instead of their chosen method of transport.

Seriously though, I don’t really want to waste inches getting outraged at ill-informed ‘joke’ articles calculated to raise hackles, but the increase in anti-cycling press seems to be balanced by an increase in pro-cycling press. My guess is that we are entering some sort of transition period socially, a kind of prelude to the ‘tipping point’ when cyclists cease to be a minority and simply become ‘traffic’. Hopefully when that happens everyone will stop having tantrums and play nicely together.

Back to Abbey Meads The sun dipped below the layer of heavy cloud into some strange, clear area of tension existing between sky and ground, a no man’s land claimed by neither of the elements of air and earth, yet now populated by fire as the sun flooded the roofs and pylons of West Swindon with rich, golden light. The effect of seeing the glorious rays hitting the flat uniform sprawl of gigantic industrial units and homogenous housing was akin to watching a kind of alchemy. The base and unlovely made into something brilliant and precious. 

sunset over the cyclepath Abbey Meads  

More photos over at my flickr page.

Have a good New Year, I hope you’ll join me as I attempt to get into shape, with you watching I’ll try harder.   

Published in: on January 2, 2008 at 1:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cycling through the witching hour

At the turning point of the witching hour I set out for an evening ride, I just needed to spin the cranks after hearing about Vinokourov being thrown off the Tour de France. A fast ride out of the village, the feeder lane spitting me out onto the A36, I didn’t know where I was going but as long as the cranks were turning I didn’t care. The sun was under the horizon behind me as I sped into the gathering shadows, very little traffic around. Pretty soon I found myself heading down the gradient towards the Frome bypass, flying insects smacking into my helmet and goggles, breathing through clenched teeth to avoid ingesting unwanted winged protein. More pylons, one steel foot practically on the road by the new Frome Flyer Harvester-style motel thing in the middle of nowhere, always a full car park, I never see anyone there. The light is fading fast as I turn back down the bypass and head now towards Frome itself.

A hiss of airbrakes, flashing orange indicator and a rush of air. Huge artic easing past me, plenty of room on the empty road, nightfreight on the A361. Off right and up Beckington Hill, easier now that I’ve been riding regularly, fast through Beckington itself then right again towards the garage.

The western horizon has cooled to a dull orange tinged with gold; black, wet inky clouds moving in with their promise of rain for the coming night. Now as I speed beneath each street lamp the sulphurous light throws a shadow rider onto the tarmac behind me, moving into sharp relief the angle changes as I cycle towards the next light, the ghost racer moves to my right, now in front, matching me pedal stroke for pedal stroke but going faster before fading into the road and being replaced by the next shadow from the next lamp. For quarter of a mile I cycle with this shadow peloton, each doppleganger riding up from behind and dropping me.

Past the roundabout there is only my bike light to guide me, but as I turn off the A361 onto a narrow backroad the half-moon struggles clear of the cloud blanket and illuminates my route. A silent white ghost crosses my path at head height, Barn Owl. Though I have seen many, the eeriness of its sudden, quiet manifestation shocks me and I briefly forget to pedal. Now pacing a flying bat, the moon giving enough light to see 11mph or maybe 14mph on the computer, things seem much faster in the dark. Beneath the canopy of trees lining the road into the village there is no light save the feeble blue-white disc thrown out by my front lamp, it falls uselessly on the road illuminating only a blur of gravel, eyes scrambling in the darkness for a foothold on any shape the brain can process before I reach it. But soon I am in the village itself, all evening meals and blue static flicker of televisions in front rooms. It’s only half nine but there is no one to be seen.

The gradient up to the house scrubs off my speed enough to comfortably get through the gate and past the bins without putting a foot down. Eight and a half miles, enough to read the internet headlines about the Tour’s latest doping scandal without feeling anger. The brief flame of anger is lost to the road, now there is just that strange breed of disappointment that only comes when you find your heroes have cheated.

Published in: on July 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of Miasmic fields, weddings and sluggishness

The weekend was spent celebrating a wedding, my wife’s cousin was finally getting married and her family had a reputation for enormous parties to uphold. Consequently by the end of Sunday even my eldest son, normally so full of energy, was tired, moody and begging me to put him to bed an hour early. I seized the opportunity to get some much needed riding in as I hadn’t been out since Tuesday. During the weekend’s festivities I had consumed excessive amounts of cow and pig, now their vengeful spirits had become energy vampires, threatening me with lethargy and compelling me to collapse in front of the television. It was for moments such as these that I created this blog, knowing full well there would come a time when I would want to let it all slide back to the occasional three mile pootle around some quiet country lanes every month or so. Well no dammit, I won’t experience the shame of not blogging a ride for weeks. So it was with a heavy stomach and leaden limbs that I saddled up the Lemond Etape, slipped the Rivendell bidon into its cage, switched on the lights and eased up the path and out of the gate. By the time I hit the main road an apology of a drizzle had started, a continous patter of gentle rain on my helmet added pleasing percussion to the swish of the cranks and the hiss of wet tyres on tarmac. I spun through Rudge at an easy pace and carried straight on past the tin tabernacle and Brokerswood Country Park, now the rain was more insistent, dripping off the helmet and fogging my cycling glasses, the lethargy tugged at my limbs, trying to persuade me to turn back. Then in the middle of nowhere, I heard that fizzing, crackling and buzzing, to my right, the same line of pylons that crosses the A36 by Dilton Marsh was reacting noisily with the rain again. On a ninety degree corner there was a tiny lane off that simply had a dead-end sign, no placenames or destinations but it would take me right under the powerline. I turned down it onto poorly maintained, frost-shattered tarmac, the gravel in the centre and the washed out, undercut banks with their dying ox-eye daisies told of heavy flooding. Barely a car’s width this truly was a road to nowhere, and there, dead ahead stood the crackling steel colossus, its miasmic field buzzing and throbbing in the dusk.

pylon at dusk on a road to nowhere.

As I approached I could feel the air quality change, the hairs on my arms stood up and everything seemed more… squeezed somehow. It didn’t feel pleasant, ahead on the road all I could see was an enormous puddle, perhaps that’s all there was, I didn’t hang around to find out, mindful of Valerie Mushroom’s email warning last week:

I skimmed your cycling blog and am concerned that you might have messed with your own head by going under pylons and power cables – it’s like that at Glastonbury – huge pylons and I’m surprised people were allowed to camp right under the cables especially in such wet and stormy weather. You can hear them hissing and whispering. I don’t like it. Maybe it affected me.
But I was glad to see there were a number of references to food so I know you are still your usual self so no harm done I suppose

I hurried down the hill to Southwick then took a turn off the road where a sign pointed to Scotland and Ireland. I was disappointed to find it was a short no-through road with a few big houses on it, not even a place sign saying Scotland and Ireland. The cow and pig sitting in my stomach whispered that I should just head back down the main road, but I had only gone six miles so I ignored them and turned back past Brokerswood and on to Dilton Marsh. I love cycling through Dilton, if I get overtaken by a car as I come into the village I can keep close contact with it until the other side, that is unless they are speeding. On exiting the village I was relieved to see that all the ox-eye daisies were going over, not just the ones in the sickly lane with the pylon. Now I really was pootling, low on energy but loving the ride I settled into a nice low gear and ambled up the dreary gradient towards the Beckington roundabout, even the traffic on the dual carriage way couldn’t be bothered to speed and I easily got across to the right hand lane without risking my life. To the west the setting sun had turned the sky into an inferno of red and orange clouds. I turned my front wheel towards it and headed into the broiling horizon, the angry sky contrasted with my good mood now that the pig and cow in my gut were finally silent and I had seventeen miles racked up, albeit at a reduced speed.

sky on fire as I head for home

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seeking E-lec-tricity.

The cover of my favourite book on Electricity

I slipped over to Dilton Marsh to pick up a take-away. It was merely some stir-fried vegetables for my wife, and a curry for myself, no chips this time, just a portion of boiled rice, we were being good. the ride was a nice pootle, waves of showery rain were sweeping in but I had my Millets camo mac on and I was feeling pretty comfortable. Turning off the main road towards Dilton I heard a tremendously loud buzzing and thought maybe a bee had got into the hood of my coat. I pulled over and was amazed to find that the buzzing and fizzing was coming from a nearby pylon. The rain was reacting strangely with the electricity, having stopped I could smell something weird and metallic on the air, a bit ozone-ish. Oblivious to the pitter-patter of fat raindrops on my helmet, I stood astride my bike in the layby and my mind drifted back eleven years to another ride I made regularly between Chippenham and Hilmarton. I used to cycle home via Lyneham and Dauntsey on the winding back roads. One rainy day I was pushing the cranks into a mild headwind, my eyes fixed on a point on the rolling tarmac two metres ahead of my front wheel as the misty rain permeated the air. All of a sudden I felt an intense physical pressure on the top of my head, as if someone had pushed my head down. The air was making that crackling, fizzing sound redolent with the whiff of ozone. Looking up I realised I had just ridden under a powercable hanging over the road. I spent the next five minutes riding under it again and again, repeatedly feeling the strange pressure on my head before I became a bit wary of what it might be doing to my personal electromagnetic field. I continued on my journey and very soon the looming problem of the narrow, hairpin climb into Bradenstoke over subsiding tarmac pushed the recent eltromagnetic bath out of my mind. I’ve ridden under a fair few powercables since in all kinds of weather but have never again felt that curious pressure. Hearing that fizzing today brought it all back. Those are pretty powerful forces in those wires, especially when it rains. Back to the present day, that line of pylons runs parallel to the road to Dilton, as I rode beside the line it was apparent that it was just that one Pylon making the noise.

By the time I was on the return journey, my Hi-Viz vest stuffed with leaking plastic tubs of tuck, the rain had stopped and so had the fizzing.

Apparently my first word as a baby was ‘Pylon’, this was because as my dad drove me through the Cumbrian countryside, he would intone ‘pylon, pylon, pylon, pylon’ as we passed each steel-framed colossus. I’ve always been fascinated by them, I don’t know what it is, the size, the fact that they don’t blend in at all, all that negative space…

Post title from Electricity by Captain Beefheart.

Singin through you to me
Thunderbolts caught easily
Shouts the truth peacefully

High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow deed
Go into bright find the light and know that friends don’t mind just how you grow

Midnight cowboy stained in black reads dark roads without a map
To free-seeking electricity (repeat) (Repeat both lines)

Lighthouse beacon straight ahead straight ahead across black seas to bring
Seeking electricity

High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow-deed hide their shadow-deed (repeat)
Seek electricity………..

I like it, it’s a travelling song and it uses a theramin.

Published in: on June 21, 2007 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment