Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Road to York

This post comes to you direct from the interior of York Minster, accompanied by the beautiful sound of the pipe organ playing for the morning service.  Spoilers - I made it to York!

Yesterday was a reasonably relaxed and lovely day. I set out from Doncaster at the relatively late hour of nine o' clock and the whole journey to York was a reasonably flat one. It was also cold and drizzly and very rural, so although I took a stretches-and-harmonica break at the side of the A19 after twelve miles, it wasn't until I reached Selby at the 22 mile mark that I managed to find a hot drink and a bathroom. It was still quite cold and I was in no rush, so I put a tuna baguette in my face for good measure before striking out on the final fifteen miles.

I didn't even look at my directions after leaving Selby. I found myself on the Trans-Pennine trail with York clearly signposted, so I just followed the signs for another hour, and then came into the city along the River Ouse. (Pronounced River Ooze, haha, that tickles me for some reason.)

I arrived with half an hour to spare before I could check in at my hostel, so I treated myself to a nice hot cuppa at the cycle cafe near Micklegate Bar, and spent the rest of the day chilling out and planning my activities for the next three days in York. After that, on Saturday, I have one last day of cycling to do as I head out to the east coast to see Moira - another fifty miles. I'll update again when I get there to let you know how that went!


Monday, 7 September 2015

The Road to Doncaster

Just a quick update as today went very much to plan (in spite of swype thinking the title of this post should be The Road to Disaster!).

It was a long morning at 33 miles and pretty hilly, so it was quite hard work. I stopped for a cheese and bacon turnover at the visitors' centre in Sherwood Forest (eek! :D) and also took a stroll to see the Major Oak while I was there. On the way I saw a little robin perched on the fence and it flew away before I could take a picture, which was a great shame as I could have captioned it "Robin of Sherwood Forest" and it would have been excellent. Le sigh.

Lunch was relatively short as I only had seventeen miles to do this afternoon so I didn't bother charging the battery back up fully. The most eventful point of the afternoon was when my left pannier spontaneously fell off the bike and bounced into the gutter while I was coming up the A60. No damage done though, and the clips are still in perfect condition, so I can only assume it was operater error and I somehow didn't clip it on right when I was leaving Worksop.

Now I'm hanging out in a Doncaster back bedroom on another couchsurfing arrangement. So far I have not surfed any actual couches, both my hosts have had a spare bedroom with a single bed so I am winning at life really. I've done my duty as a good houseguest by washing up the dishes from dinner - next time I couchsurf I'm going to carry rubber gloves with me. My host's fairy liquid is a lovely apple orchard flavour and in a couple of hours my fingers are going to be itching like the dickens and I am going to have Regrets.

Tomorrow I'm going to award myself a lie in and not start out until half past eight or so. It's only thirty-some miles to York from here so no need to rush. :)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Road into Nottingham

Whew. That went SO much better than the morning!

The sun was already beginning to sink down the western half of the sky when I got going, and everything was blue and gold. Flo spent much of the evening's journey in glitch mode, although she did come back out of it for five to ten minutes at a few points. But I got used to jumping off and resetting the battery whenever she fainted, and all was well. Encouragingly, it doesn't seem as though her condition is deteriorating at all - I was afraid the intervals between her fainting spells would start to get shorter and shorter, but that didn't happen.

The sun was close to setting when I reached the southern outskirts of Derby. A  crowd of some six or seven semi-pubescent boys on bikes gathered around me as I was updating you all on my progress, gawking at my combo of pastel cycle helmet, hi-viz jacket, wang shorts, Frozen leggings, and muddy hiking boots. I was busy tweeting and texting so I ignored them at first, and after a minute or so the biggest one (who was taller and broader than me) puffed himself up like a pigeon, stepped forward and asked me what the fuck was up with my outfit. I replied pleasantly that sheer awesomeness was up with my outfit, and asked him what the fuck was up with his face. His mates all laughed and jeered "Sick burn!" at him. He did angrily call me a cunt, but it didn't quite sting the way it might have if he hadn't been so red about the ears, and when I cycled off I began to pretty smug about myself - as soon as I'd satisfied myself they weren't following me, that is.

The Derby cycle routes were a sheer joy. My favourite part of the trip was sailing up the east side of the city on Cycle Route 6 by the light of the setting sun, belting out Ramblin Rover for the benefit of the pigeons and squirrels. Cycling north at the end of summer is a little like accelerating through time - autumn has already begun in Derby, and a few of the trees were solidly yellow. At the northeastern corner of Derby I turned onto the River Derwent cyclepath and began chasing my shadow towards Nottingham. The sun was setting, and midges and rabbits were everywhere.

In Breaston, which marked the end of stage five, I only stopped long enough to let folks know I was alright. Dusk had descended, my lights were on, and there were still more rural cyclepaths ahead before I reached Nottingham. I didn't want to do them in the dark if I could avoid it. So I pressed on, and reached the canal path that began at the southwestern edge of Nottingham as the last light was fading. It was broad, well-maintained and set aside from the water's edge by a narrow grass verge, so I judged it safe enough to traverse in the near-dark, and got through it without mishap. And then my instructions told me to turn right and cross the railway tracks, and to my right stood a great iron footbridge over the railway, with a steep double flight of steps and no ramp.

Reader, I cussed that bridge very loudly.

I had to remove Florence's bags and battery; she is so heavy with them I can barely lift her back end off the ground, let alone carry her up a flight of steps. By the time we were down the other side and reassembled, it was properly night time. Then came a short cycle through a forrested footpath, and a winding track up the side of a meadow that was thoroughly overgrown with stinging nettles. But then: road, blessed road; and city lights in the distance, and only another five and a half miles to go.

The roads were quiet, and I put googlemaps on in my pocket and let it tell me where to go, and fifteen minutes later we arrived at Gordon's house and there was soup and cheese and tea and I wasn't dead and everything was excellent.

It's a day off today, and then I'm striking out for Doncaster in the morning. Only another eighty miles to York, woopwoop!

The Road Through Birmingham

I'm having trouble remembering as far back as this time yesterday, because my brain is seriously fried from a spectacularly awful morning. But give me a moment, and I will try...

Ah yes. It was mostly fine heading out after lunch, although stage 4/6 was super hilly - 515ft of elevation difference overall and it just kept going up and down and up and down and then there was a HUUUUGE uphill where I looked at it and went D: and then whacked the power up to full and let Florence deal with it. #cheating

My favourite thing about Birmingham was the roving packs of Canada geese hanging out on the (superbly maintained) towpaths.  They did not budge an inch to get out of my way, but they all turned their heads and hissed at me as I carefully wove between them, all too aware that my ankles were in easy pecking distance.

I had a lovely time with my first couchsurfing host, who made me dinner and offered me a bubble bath and didn't mind at all when I fell into bed at 9pm.  Winning.

Today was grey and wet to begin with, but the good news was, even though I was facing an elevation difference of 450ft, I was already at the top end and almost everything would be downhill and flat. I was looking forward to a long but relatively easy morning. Ha. Hahahaha.

It was largely rural canal towpaths, so yeah, it was flat alright. Flat and wet and muddy and bumpy, with a clear and present danger of me skidding right into the canal if I didn't go slowly and carefully the whole way.  I had to do about half my usual speed. There was more than ten miles of it.  And just as I came off to go through Lichfield on the roads, Florence's control panel blanked out and her motor died away.  That was fifteen miles ago and I've had to keep getting off and resetting the battery every mile or so since then.

After Lichfield it was back on another rural towpath again, and another wet muddy stripe to traverse. I had to stop and scrape out the mudguards and clean off the chain because I could feel the extra drag it was all creating on the back wheel.  There was a glorious couple of miles where the canal ran parallel to the A38, so I rode up the inexplicable pavement on the edge of the dual carriageway instead, but then they parted ways and I had to get back on the towpath. It very quickly narrowed to a squelchy ribbon through the grass, and googlemaps chirped continue for four and a half miles from my pocket, and I stopped and stared and then bellowed "FUCK THIS" at the universe in general.  I turned Florence around, and found a longer and hillier route by road for the rest of my journey to Burton.

If I have to look at one more mud stripe towpath ever again in my life, I think I am gong to start screaming, and maybe I will just never stop.  They are without a doubt the single WORST recommendation Google has ever given me.

I'm supposed to be on another towpath out of Burton when I head out again, but to hell with that; I've already plotted a new route by road. It will be a mile longer and more hilly, but it will probably still be faster, and it will definitely be less stressful. I've resigned myself to not reaching Nottingham until nine o' clock at best; I can't skimp on Florence's charging time so I'm stuck here til five.

I already feel as exhausted as I did in the last ten miles of yesterday, and I still have another thirty to go.

I think I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Road Through Cheltenham

When I left Alveston yesterday lunchtime, I quickly became confused.  My route instructions said to cross over the railway tracks and take the fifth turning on the right. I passed under a railway bridge and started counting, but I wasn't sure what counted as a turning and what didn't, and then I lost track. I stopped at a decently-sized right turn and wondered if it was the right one, but I was in the middle of the sticks and there was no name sign for the road so I couldn't tell. I fished out my phone and pulled up googlemaps, and my phone was like "Oh did you want mobile data? LOL."  So I decided to cycle on a little way and see if I could find a road with the right name sign, and if I didn't then I'd come back and try this road.

When I put my foot back to the pedal and glanced down at the electric control panel, it had gone dark. Huh, I thought, I didn't turn off the panel when I stopped, did I?  I pressed the 'on' button. Nothing happened.

Oh god, I thought. Oh god, the electrics have died again. Oh please, not now, no no no no no...

I jumped off Flo and turned the battery off.  I slid it out, blew into its sockets for good measure (hey, it worked with Megadrive cartridges), slid it back in, turned it on. Pressed the 'on' button on the control panel.

It lit up.  It was all I could do to keep from cackling "IT'S ALIIIIIIVE" at the top of my voice.  But then half the lights went dead again, and her low battery warning light began blinking.  I had only just charged her back to full power not fifteen minutes before. This simply wasn't possible.

There followed an awful thirty minute montage of me picking turnings without being sure if I was going the wrong way, while Florence steadily insisted to me that her power was about to fail. I hoped it was just a sensor error and that she would get me all the way to Cheltenham with her warning light blinking away, but then it happened - in the middle of cycling along, the control panel went dark and the battery went dead. I reset the battery again - the battery lights were consistently saying it was full of charge. And this time, the control panel lit right back up to full power, and I offered thanks to the heavens. But half a mile later, it suddenly dropped back down to that blinking warning light, and the motor began fading in and out of operation in fits and starts. It whirred for two seconds, stopped for a second; whirred for three seconds, stopped for a second. A mile later it cut out altogether, and the panel went dark again. Under my breath, I said a great many unrepeatable things, and considered whether to turn around. I could make it back to Bristol on leg power if I had to. I could not make it to York on leg power.

But I found that, so long as I kept resetting the battery when the power cut out, she would keep going, in that start-stop temperamental fashion. And if I turned back now, I would be wasting all the money I'd spent on beds for the night, and I'd have to shell out for an expensive last minute train ticket to visit Moira, and everything would be sadness because I couldn't do my cycle trip. So I decided to press ahead. If the electrics died altogether, then I would see where I was and figure out what I needed to do. But if it was just going to be like this all the way then so be it; I was not turning back if there was any way of avoiding it.

So we went through a start-stop-reset routine for the next three miles or so, me gritting my teeth and wincing, always afraid that maybe this was the time when she wouldn't come back online at all. And then all of a sudden, she jumped back up from that one blinking light to three out of four lights, and the motor began running consistently again. I hardly dared to breathe every time I looked down to check the power supply, but it wasn't dipping. A mile later, she reconsidered her position, and went right back up to four lights.

She behaved perfectly well all the rest of the way to Cheltenham, which was another twenty miles.  The only troubles we had after that were with the towpath, which in several parts was just a puddly mud streak running alongside the canal into Gloucester. Florence fishtailed pretty badly at one point, and for a hideous second I thought we were both going in the drink. We slowed right down after that - better to get to Cheltenham several hours late than risk going for a swim. At Gloucester Docks I stopped to stretch my back, and to scrape endless reams of filth out of Florence's rear mudguard with a tyre lever.

I hadn't been able to find anyone to couchsurf with in Cheltenham or Gloucester so I'd ended up booking a spare bedroom through Air BnB. The room was lovely, I went to bed early and then was up at half past five this morning, forcing breakfast into my face and getting back on the road. Florence has been on her best behaviour all morning, thank goodness; no sign of any further power troubles so far. *touches ALL the wood*

So: I have achieved Alcester!  I am sitting in a delightful coffee shop with a chai latte and a vanilla pastry inside me.  Flo's battery is slurping up charge.  Around one o' clock I shall Lunch here, and then I'll be off again. Birmingham hhhhoooo!