Friday, 17 March 2017

Are You Up To A Challenge?

Over on the righthand side of the blog is a link titled "Challenges", which takes you to a brief potted history of some of the "organised" schemes I've signed up over the years in an effort to get myself out on my bike a little bit more than maybe I normally would without some kind of "incentive" (if that's the right term). 

I don't know about you, but I don't actually respond very well to the concept of a "challenge". I mean, I like to have goals, but as soon as I sign up to what someone else has defined as a "challenge", I swear my sub-conscious is quickly at work to invent ways not to do it!  (I like how G.E. of EndlessVeloLove explored the whole idea of goals and resolutions in a January 2017 post -- my own experience feels very different from hers because she and I define the words "resolution" and "goals" in almost opposite ways -- but oddly enough, the end result is often the same!)

A classic example for me is the #30daysofbiking challenge that runs the full month of April. When I'm not riding my bike much, then, as much as I like the idea of "pledging" to cycle, even just a short distance, every single day, no way is that going to happen. And if I'm cycling quite a lot, then to be honest, I want a day off now and then! (And the various chronic physical difficulties I deal with often have my sports massage therapist and personal trainer reminding me that recovery is essential, that muscles can only grow stronger if they're given a chance to rest.)

The exception for me has been Chasing Mailbox's spring and autumn challenges, Errandonneuring and Coffeeneuring respectively, which have at their heart the fundamental concept of, well, fun. Keeping it fun is what it's all about. I mean, if cycling didn't make me feel like a happy go-lucky kid again, I wouldn't be doing it. 

So here it is, spring once again and today saw the announcement of this year's Errandonnee Challenge

© M.G. / Chasing Mailboxes 2017

Am I in?  You bet!

But a few weeks ago, a Facebook friend also reminded me of the #30daysofbiking challenge and, you know what, I may actually have another go at that this year. 

Why? What makes this year different?  

Well, primarily I think it's the fact that I have been cycling very nearly every day since Christmas, more than I have ever cycled on a regular basis, and I'm significantly fitter and stronger than perhaps any other time in my life --- not to mention, for this time of the year!

Morning commute, Xmas/New Year 2016

And I actually think I can do it, without waking up very many mornings at all saying to my bike "sorry, lovely friend, but I need a break from you today". 

If you're thinking of giving Errandonneuring a go this year, check out the lively and fun Facebook group. (And the FB Coffeeneurs group is just about my favourite place on the internet, year round.)

So how about you? Does the idea of a 'challenge' motivate you or bring out the rebel ("you can't make me!") in you? 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Year Of Transition

Yes, things have been a little quiet on the blog lately and an update is overdue. This post will be of most interest to friends and family living far away, and not so much to those who primarily read this blog for its cycling content. 

In the past 8 months, we somehow went from living in one family house to.... one house plus... my suddenly-empty-again London flat plus... a seaside flat that will, once probate is complete, belong to Adam. 

Our medium-to-long term plan has been to sell the house once Adam's (now grown) children fledged and find a new home of a size more appropriate to just two adults (plus approximately a <cough> number of bicycles). But the unexpected loss of my tenant and Adam's inheritance prompted a lot of re-thinking. 

The goal now is still to sell the house but, instead of buying something else, divide our time between the two flats. We can't do that immediately however because Adam still works in Harpenden, his son hasn't yet moved out (a whole 'nother story) and my flat really needs a lot of work before it can be a proper home again.

After mulling over a dizzying number of options (I can't even remember what they all were), we find ourselves nearly 3 months into a Transition Plan.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Thursday, 29 December 2016

In The Wild: Freddie Grubb Ravensbourne

St Mary Axe, The City of London -- December 2016

(Not built by THE Freddie Grubb but by a new start-up who, rightly or wrongly, have adopted the name.)

Monday, 19 December 2016

In The Wild: BSP Oma Confort

If there's ever a bicycle guaranteed to make even a confirmed bicycle junkie do a double take, it may well be this:  a Dutch bicycle in Pepto-Bismol Pink.

Gresse Street, Fitzrovia, London -- July 2016

Friday, 25 November 2016

#Coffeeneuring Challenge: The 2016 Edition

The 6th Annual Coffeeneuring Challenge: Yay, I finished! Autumn of last year is a complete blank for me so presumably I didn't even attempt this wonderfully traditional challenge, and I know I did not complete in 2014.  So I am quite surprised and pleased that I did succeed, on 7 separate occasions, in riding my bicycle at least 2 miles for the pleasure of a hot beverage. 

I have finally figured out why this is such a tough thing to do if I'm riding with Adam. It's all down to the "spirit" of the challenge. See, Adam does not drink hot drinks. But the problem is more than that. We are both "tourists" and love nothing more than spending the day together out on our bikes peering at everything. However, Adam is not a coffeeneur at heart. He does not see the point of stopping -- or 'interrupting' -- a perfectly good bike ride for something as trivial as having a drink.  Drinking is for hydration and drinking from his bottle on the bike while on the move is perfectly adequate and sound good sense to him. Stopping is inefficient. He does it for me but I have to pointedly and directly request it. Hints go right over his head. Yet, how many times have we ended a ride only for him to say "Oh no! You didn't get to log this as a coffeeneuring ride!"  If I didn't know him (and his honest heart) so well, I'd suspect Coffeeneuring Sabotage.  

So this year, knowing that one week of the 7-week challenge would see us in the Netherlands where we would be cycling together every day, I devised a strategy:  get him cold enough and/or present our plans each day as ambitious enough that some kind of proper sit-down stop would be not only (1) welcome, (2) sensible, (3) enjoyable (even for him), and/or, if push came to shove, in some way (4) absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, the weather during our Amsterdam sojourn was fully co-operative! 

But I am jumping ahead to the second part of my 2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  

Without further ado, here are my 7 rides in chronological order. 

Destination:  Chilterns Gateway Centre (National Trust), Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2GY, UK
Date: Sunday, 9th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Plain Black Tea with Milk (score: average, say 3/5)
Total mileage: 23.8km
Bicycle: Riley the Enigma

Bike Friendliness: 

Quite good. There are bike racks but it is perfectly okay to keep your bike with you and lean it against a table or wall within your line of sight.  This is a popular stop for cycling clubs.

Other Observations:

This was a beautiful morning and it was nice to see so many families out early to enjoy the great outdoors. Lots of dog walkers and kite flyers. After enjoying my hot beverage, I freewheeled into Dunstable to visit Adam's daughter and her fiance in their new, first home.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Notes From Amsterdam (Part II)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

We are told it will rain off and on (mostly on) all day today. Oh, and windy. Gusts of wind. Those isobars are packed tight today, weaving and waving their lines towards us from the west. It's November though -- what else can you expect? We cycle north through the city, through Chinatown, pausing in Niewmarkt to remember our first visit here one extremely clement March. Then we roll straight onto a ferry over the River IJ and roll straight off the other side into pleasant suburbia (mostly land reclaimed in last 50 years to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding Amsterdam) and hence onto a wild natural Polder Oostzaan. Why this wilderness? Water management. (Everything is all about the water. Always.) Headwinds. Marshland birds. More herons than you can shake a stick at. (And at one point, somehow, we inadvertently literally did. Nerves of steel, those herons. Be still now, indeed.) I love polders. Musings on wide open skies... my mother spent her childhood in south Texas, loved wide open spaces... my father grew up homesteading in the Bitterroot ranges of northern Idaho and hated them... the two years in the 1970s we lived on the prairies, my father yearned for mountains. My sister-in-law from the prairies felt claustrophobic for years in western Oregon. Me, I'm comfortable with either. Both. I love the drama of Big Sky Country. And the Netherlands definitely qualifies. Look down at your feet, below sea level. Look up. The sky is the limit. Anyway. I like wild, empty polders! And the sun is peeking through. Lunchtime brings us to Zaanse Schans, a residential area of Zaandam that looks like a theme park but is the real deal and oddly enough not a 'protected' site (although it is listed on the European Route of Industrial Heritage). Tasty salads and coffee in a bistro run by a family with very American accents. The bikes sit unsecured outside the window. (Adam has left the key to his chain in the pocket of his other trousers!) Then back through Zaanse Schans and across the Wijdewormer to Neck then through the sprawling town of Purmerand and down long straight avenues to Edam. Edam is a "protected townscape" and very pretty, verging on twee. They really ought to pedestrianise the village centre though. A brief sit down and then... it's dark. Magic along the unlit Purmerdijk -- a night ride! Our little blinkies are next to useless. But there's no traffic, just the sound of the wind in the reeds and dry grasses bordering the canal. A few wiggles through industrial estates to make you think you're back in the UK (cycle here? inconceivable!) and then we are on a southbound train... Approximately 40 miles in total.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Notes From Amsterdam (Part I)


I wish I could have a video cam strapped to my head every time we leave the apartment. So many amazing everyday stories here. I have in fact taken very few photos. I'm just gobbling it all up with my eyes and (hopefully) brain. Not to mention, it's hard to take many photos when you have to take gloves off to do it. After a while, cold hands get faster and more efficient at slapping down the photo bug impulse.

Oh and.... autumn is so beautiful here. The backdrop to every scene is a blurry watercolour in every shade of grey, with great splashes of fallen leaves in vivid yellow, orange and gold. Add reflections from rivers, canals, lakes, marshes and puddles and it's like moving through a liquid painting.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Today it was just above freezing and pervasively damp. But there's no such as bad weather, just bad clothing... and some days that's even true. We cycled to the Novagraaf offices (a reccie for tomorrow) then through a beautiful forest, over the Amsterdam shipping canal, round Weesp (pretty but, well, nothing special as Dutch villages go - I can't believe I am saying that), then through a wonderful nature reserve where some kind of native but rare deer has recently been re-introduced, around through Naarden (which is beautiful and charming and unusual with its forts and starflake-shaped canal system), had a wonderful lunch at Het Hert (I walked in thinking "I want an omelette and a bowl of really hot soup" and that's exactly what I got), where we warmed up and dried off (or steamed gently by the radiator, if truth be told), then ventured out again only to find it was raining in earnest. Heigh ho, off we went to Muiden (or Muider, I'm not quite sure) where there is a huge, moody impressive castle dating back to 12?? called Muiderslot (I do have that part right) that is not open November-April but the village (whatever it's called) is the prettiest, most postcard-perfect place you'll ever see. We cycled along a pretty canal on a road closed to cars, then alongside a motorway, then along the Amsterdam shipping canal for a very long way (which brought back lovely memories of the Fridays' Lowlands Tour just over a year ago) and then a superb commute-hour route across the eastern part of the city to the Amstel. Which meant home. 33 miles in total. Hot shower, feet up, drink to hand... Life is good.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

An Oldie But Goodie: Raleigh RSW 16

Here's another Luton & Dunstable Cycling Forum Recycle Project story...

One Saturday afternoon last month, Adam disappeared into the depths of our shed looking for a longer seat post for Petra.  He began removing various bicycles and boxes of parts from the shed and laying them out on the lawn. My mind on Petra, I took little notice. I am so accustomed to seeing lots of 'junk' from the shed -- all of it donated, all of it received without inspection -- that it was several minutes before my eyes focused in any meaningful way, only for them to land on something that made me dash for my phone. 

I know nothing about Raleigh's RSW range but I knew instantly this was not another run-of-the-mill "let's see if we can transform a sow's ear into a silken purse" sort of refurbishment project. 

A few minutes later, I had uploaded a handful of photos to the Vintage Bicycles UK group on Facebook. And within 24 hours, this little beauty had a new home. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

(Not So Much) Cycling in Provence: Relaxing in Vaison-la-Romaine (Part 2)

One of the aspects of cyclo-touring that can make or break your enjoyment is getting your clothes washed and dried so you have the right kit at the right time. 

In case we thought we were the only cyclists staying in le Beffroi, spotting this from the street swiftly proved otherwise: 

Our own system was rather more discreet: 

Day 2 dawned hot and sunny yet again. Time to find out what this town is really famous for. 

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