After the Snows of April

The weekend had come with a curious blend of weather, veering wildly between the glorious sun of Spring and, well, quite frankly, a blizzard. With snow on the ground on Monday morning, the boys were out in the garden making a tiny snowman, but by the afternoon all that remained was a small puddle with two stones, a carrot and a couple of sticks sitting forlornly in the middle. Inside the greenhouse the sweetcorn, lettuce and spinach were pushing green shoots out of the compost, the washing was on the line and the air was warming nicely. After a hard day’s slog at the computer, it was time to get out on the bike. I selected the Lemond Etape again.

The roads were slick with melting slush, I didn’t fancy going up the Black Dog again so I headed through Rudge, easing down the winding Scotland Lane to look for the end of that byway on the way. Sure enough, there was a signpost pointing over a bumpy field towards a copse of trees. I made a note to return soon with the Mountain Bike and tackle it from the other end. Down Rudge Hill I plummeted, executing a rather splendid skid to take the corner towards Brokerswood. Near the country park I found myself needing to view the plough, so I lent the bike against a mossy pole and took to the ditch to answer the urgent call of nature. Soon I was back on the road, one hand on the handlebars, no urgency to my riding.

I’ve recently taken up running, which seems to have freed me up from the need to go ridiculously fast everywhere on the bike, or at least to push myself too hard, not yet anyway, I’ll save that for later in the year.

On towards Dilton, up and over the little railway bridges again, the landscape laid out in golden evening light. Beyond Warminster I could see the snow clouds slowly heading off over the plain, above me clear blue sky. It seems to me that it’s hard to fix in my memory just how brilliantly blue the sky is, it’s like seeing a kingfisher, the blue is always so startling and vivid. Perhaps I just think in muted tones.

At Dilton I decided to take a back route and ended up going up a very steep climb called Tower Hill. Suddenly I was beset by cars, growling and revving behind me as I inched up the twisty wooded lane. At the crest I swung left heading down a very narrow country road, about forty yards down, two gleaming 4x4s had arrived at a literal impasse and now sat head to head while the drivers, both dressed in quilted bodywarmers, motioned each other to go back. I squeezed past and left them to it, approaching a switchback I heard a crunch of gears and the whine of a Shogun reversing at speed so I took the first turning I saw. Immediately I needed another wee-wee. Perhaps it was the close attention of the cars, inducing nerves and anxiety, or maybe it was the six cups of tea I had drank during the day as I worked. No matter, much relieved I continued up the hill. The road was arched by trees, a squirrel bounced from branch to branch overhead as I trickled onwards. Birdsong flooded out from the greening undergrowth, enriching the air with clear, jewel-like tones. I’ve noticed that one of the digital radio stations has stopped broadcasting and been replaced with a loop of birdsong, apparently this has doubled the amount of listeners the previous station had. I like to listen to the channel when I’m washing up. Looking at the ukdigitalradio website I noticed it says:

“Please note that the line up of birds featured in the cast may change without warning due to illness, weather and migration.”

There was a blackbird alarm call and then a weird continuous ringing tone started up, getting louder and louder. It turned into a roar and suddenly a train rushed past on the track that I hadn’t noticed was right next to the road. A little way further up I came to a small bridge and a layby absolutely smothered with bin bags and flytipped rubbish. Paintpots, a skateboard, pizza boxes, dirty nappies, cans, someone had also decided to set fire to half of it at some point. It was a depressing sight and I quickly hurried past after taking a picture.

Reluctantly I headed back to the A36 and hurtled down Black Dog Hill, getting up to 42mph. Rather than take on the dual carriageway I turned into Beckington and pottered through the village, before skipping over the A36 and heading home.

A mere 16.5 miles, but proper bicycling none-the-less. More pictures at my Flickr page (including the flytipping).

Sainsbury nee Budgeons: “Lard, be gone!” and Bastard, Bastard, Lorry.

Imagine my surprise and alarm on discovering this morning that I appear to have a tractor tyre round my middle. I knew I’d put some weight on, but the nature of the blubber had not occured to me until now. By my reckoning, I would do well to lose about one and a half stone. To this end, I have decided to ‘do some running’, Jez reckons that it should take two weeks of running three times in seven days to start losing the lard, I’m giving it a go.

I made a start on the lardbusting today by cycling to the supermarket on the racer. It was bitterly cold, though the sky was bright and clear, so I found a lightweight merino scarf that belonged to my first born when he was just a toddler, and wrapped it round my head lengthways. Now with my ears covered up I could brave the elements. It took a little while to get going especially into the headwind, the Wingfield straight was murderous. Cars screaming by, overtaking in each other’s wake without even looking to see if the opposite carriage was clear. There was a close call as an SUV overtook me, narrowly missing an oncoming lorry and cutting into me, I was going 29mph in a 30mph area at the time. Away from the hidden dips and onto the straight itself things weren’t so bad, although the wind was searingly cold. By the time I reached the Farleigh, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon crossroads I was feeling weary, but I’ve found something that helps. If when you first set off on a ride you start to flag, just stop for five minutes. I pulled over at the shrine by the crossroads and took a picture. As usual, the flowers were fresh.

Roadside shrine, Wingfield Crossroads

On getting back on the bike I felt refreshed and ready to go. I often find that a tiny break not long after setting off, perhaps two miles down the road, will get the energy levels up again. On towards Bradford-on-Avon, warming up nicely now, the cars few and far between. To my left the ditch had been recently dug out, a reminder of the recent floods, today the roads were dry, the Spring sunshine had melted the morning’s hard frost. I hurtled onto the roundabout on the Rode side of Bradford, hanging a right, then another, into the car prak of Sainsburys. Total chaos. The store is being extended and the carpark remodelled, traffic queued up everywhere. It wasn’t clear where cars should go, the arrows on the road bore no realtion to the current temporary layout. Not a problem for me on my bike though, I picked a clean line through to the new bike racks. It was pleasing to note that with my bike locked up, all the racks were in use, and someone had left a crazy looking folder or shopper in the foyer.

It didn’t take long for me to fill the backpack with grub from the shopping list my wife had supplied, then out on the road again, albeit somewhat more heavy-laden than the outward journey. I elected to go back via the Bradford-Trowbridge cycle path. Ah smooth, smooth tarmac. And just as well, I’d forgotten about the hill. Riding that stretch of cycle path is a real pleasure. It’s short but sweet, mixed use, but rarely do you meet another pedestrian, fields to the left and the smell of sewage when you reach the water treatment plant. Someone had written in pen on a sign “Polski Go Home!”, the directions to the recycling centre perhaps an odd place to choose to express one’s fear of immigration, but not as odd as writing the surreal message “Achtung Polski!” on the Wessex Water sign five meters later. The cycle path ends at the outskirts of Trowbridge, jettisoning the rider onto potholed crumbly tarmac. Heading into the roundabout a gravel lorry was in the left hand lane. I thought I’d better stay behind him, even though I was going right, because you never know…

..sure enough he was making a right turn without signalling. Actually he was going right the way round the roundabout, much to the surprise of a car waiting to come out of the Broadmead turning! The lorry driver could not hear the horn of the car, or move his hand to signal for one reason, and this became apparent as the cab swung broadside to me: He had his mobile phone pressed up against his ear and was using the palm of his left hand to spin the wheel. As an avid reader of The Moving Target messenger zine (I am not a fakenger, witness my photos and my ride – I could not be accused of copying neither courier style nor speed, I just think it’s one of the best cycling blogs out there) I am all too aware of the incredible danger HGVs present to urban cyclists* so luckily I hung back. If I’d have been in that right hand lane, looking to go right (and I could rightly assume that a vehicle in the left hand lane not signalling at a two exit roundabout is going straight ahead) I’d have been crushed, even at fifteen miles an hour, it would not have been pretty. The car that had pulled up short when the lorry passed in front was still honking his horn as he pulled out behind the lorry and followed it up the hill. Afterwards it occurred to me that I wasn’t shaken or surprised because I have started to get back into that cycling zone when you just ‘know’ when a vehicle is going to do something silly, and actually, that worried me because the last thing I want to feel is a complacency from assuming that I have some weird ‘bikey sense’ that tingles when something dangerous is going to happen. Got to stay alert!

Through Broadmead, up a different side of the same hill I’d just cycled down, and back along the Wingfield straight to home. A good ten miles in cold weather and, I feel, a reasonable start to the “Lard, be gone” campaign.

Tomorrow, running! Damn!

*Stop press, on picking up the link to Moving Target to place in this post, I saw that the latest post on MT concerns two Messengers , who did get hit by lorries. It’s sobering and very frightening, Buffalo Bill, the MT author writes “2 guys under lorries in the same day. Thank god you are both still alive.” and Christ, I second that, good luck to those riders, I hope they both make a speedy recovery.