Buttermilk sky.

Time passes so quickly that differentiating one week from the next becomes a blur. Since I last sat down to write, I have had two different trips to two different hospital departments. A more enjoyable trip was to Bristol attending an ‘invitation only’ Sustrans evening in the company of head honcho Xavier Brice and other Sustrans supporters.

Rushing around like a headless chicken may be normal in our world, but I’m neither used to it or able to maintain it. Balancing my therapy sessions with all the travelling, prodding and poking has left me feeling rather exhausted. The weather forecast added to the glumness by starting at miserable and going downhill from there. Thank goodness for our Sustrans volunteer group dinner on Sunday. Something to look forward to.

I should add, regarding the hospital appointments, that there appears to be nothing too serious going on. One set is investigating why I’m up so many times at night, and the other is investigating a few falls I’ve had during the night. Various cardio-vascular tests (ECG, heart scan, bloods) have so far revealed very little, other than a well-functioning heart and associated arteries, thankfully. Next up is a one-week long, cardio monitoring test, to search for any anomalies. Fingers crossed please, although it probably won’t happen until the New Year.

Falling, when you have no intention of doing so, is scary. One minute I’m upright, heading for the bathroom and the next I’m flat on my face with no attempt to halt the fall at all. It’s happened three times, and all of them at night, but I’m not wishing for a fourth. I can hear you saying: ‘low blood-pressure,’ from here. It may be, but at present there is no sign of it, although it will be lower at night. There is no dizziness, unsteadiness or build up prior to the event. The lights simply switch off and over I go.

It’s been a little it damp.

Away from that I feel good regarding my physical self and particularly with my cycling. I haven’t been advised to stop or slow down during these investigations and that’s great. I’m stronger, mentally and physically, now than I have been all year long. Perhaps it’s the tail end of the mania I was trying to explain in the last couple of articles. Who knows? I feel good, I’m enjoying being out and that’s that as far as I’m concerned.

The Sustrans meeting in Bristol was a pleasant evening, an opportunity to share ideas and values, thoughts and experiences, with a group of other people who support Sustrans in a variety of ways. I managed a short chat to Xavier Brice, the relatively new head of Sustrans. I wanted to put forward the idea of removing all the physical barriers from the trails that prevent access for those with disability or who are age-limited or using mobility scooters. We seemed to agree that this would be a good thing to do, although convincing councils might be a big hurdle to getting it done.

We learned that Sustrans are looking at reinforcing what they already have as a National Cycle Network. Improving what exists will take priority over creating a wider network. From what I understand, this will involve better infrastructure around shops, train stations and schools as well as better quality of, for example, trail surfaces and signage. I think this is a good step. Anybody who has spent any time on the network will understand that it can vary from grass and mud, rocks and boulders, to fine tarmac. It is inconsistent in width and surface quality as well as signage, even where it originally met the three-metre wide guideline.

I asked Xavier directly whether Sustrans would look at a minimum standard for trails if they were to be included as part of the network. His reply was that it would all be looked at through the appraisal process. Before you get too excited about your part of the network improving beyond belief, I should add that any upgrades will be concentrated in certain areas, at least for a while. It would be fabulous to upgrade it all, but this just isn’t financially possible with current levels of funding. This is a longer- term vision and may take many years to reach fruition.

I’m still finding unusual things close to home. Possibly the result of triking.

Anyway, enough politics. Devon has settled into a uniform grey, but I intend to get out and ride a few miles before tomorrow’s horrible weather arrives. My local lanes are full of mud and mulch, making riding more akin to mountain biking. Even with a thin layer of mulch the front wheels have a mind of their own at times and it doesn’t need to get more than a few inches thick to be treacherously slippery. Fortunately, these conditions don’t usually hang around for too long as rain will wash most of it away.

This aside, I quite like riding in winter. There is such a stark contrast between being in a warm but gloomy house and being out in the light, sun, wind, cold or rain. Sometimes we experience all of these in one day. Getting going may be a little uncomfortable initially, but it feels great once you take the plunge. On those special, crisp winter days there is nothing I would rather do than wrap up in many layers and get out to feel the cold air in my lungs. The soft light bouncing off the moor and the clarity of vision after a cold front passes over are enough to get me excited about being out every time.

The only problem I ever have is cold feet. I use Sealskinz socks and have tried a variety of overshoes, none of which help my poor feet. I take a flask on longer rides and make sure I stop lots to get the blood flowing again and to ensure I take in enough of the ever-present panorama. I’m going to try hill-walking gaiters next, to see if they help. Plastic bags in your shoes also help but any other ideas you have would be very welcome. Please bear in mind that a £500 fairing isn’t an option, even though this may be the best solution. If you know of any second-hand ones, I would love to hear about them.

I never actually made it out last week until Saturday. My previous ride was a short and gentle ride out to see some friends with Michele on Sunday last weekend. With all the appointments and driving around I’ve been exhausted all week long. When that Saturday ride eventually arrived it felt amazing. I was released from all the tiredness of the week. The sky was milky white with the sun veiled behind a thin layer of cloud. There was little wind as I squelched away from home, heading for cleaner lanes. They wouldn’t arrive until over half way to Okehampton.

The sun rising through the trees of Abbeyford woods, near Okehampton.

There was no traffic and I had the joy of watching a young buzzard trying to take off while carrying a dead squirrel in its mouth. This made the effort it took to get out of the house even more worthwhile. It was only a couple of hours, but that is all it takes to raise a smile and shift some chemicals around in my mind. Elsewhere, deer stared me down from the comfort of the barn they were sheltering in. They all had a ‘what the heck is that,’ look on their incredibly expressive faces. The stags were all out in the open, prancing and preening themselves. One stood, front feet up on a feeding trough as if to say, ‘look at me folks.’ I trundled quietly by, leaving them to make their own minds up as what I was.

I love this route. It is a beautiful balance of uphill effort and manic downhill. The real beauty of it is that some of the downhills are gentle, allowing prolonged high-speed riding. Even better is the fact that there are some reasonably open bends included, and they take skill to ride flat-out. The resultant huge and almost permanent grin that ensues sees me riding this way time after time, never getting fed up with it, always in search of a rush. The last part includes two uphill sections, one short and steep, the other a long crawl. Then I pop out on Hatherleigh Moor once again and the view of Dartmoor makes my heart jump a little. That view alone makes the hills worthwhile and from there I plummet downward like a rocket, my reward for all the uphill effort earlier on in the ride.

The contrast of high speed, hedges flashing past and the slow crawl up the hills is what marks out trikes as so different from road bikes. There is always plenty of time to look around as you distract yourself from the effort of long hills. It is so wildly different at either end of its unique spectrum that possibly only recumbent bike riders know what I mean. A gentle, relaxing ride can become a manic rush in just a few seconds. But it will always settle back into that relaxed and unflustered mobile-armchair mode soon enough.

I’d swap the recent rain for this anytime: Hatherleigh 2010

Back home I dug out the portable power washer that I had recently purchased. The term ‘power washer’ is a little misleading, but I knew that before I bought it. The jet isn’t powerful enough to do any damage wherever you point it. It only has sufficient power to remove the loose mud from your much-loved cycle. After that, using the soft brush attachment that comes with it, you can remove most other grime as well. For me, this is important as I keep Kermit in the house. He still requires a decent clean once in a while, but I feel much better about hammering him through the winter, something I have done since I bought him nearly four years ago. A second trike would be ideal, but I cannot afford another one of any description.

It’s now Sunday, much of the country is plastered in snow and here in west Devon it’s blowing a gale. I don’t mind as we have our annual Sustrans Christmas dinner here in Hatherleigh at the ancient George Inn. Food, beer, great company and a warm fire should suffice to make for a pleasant afternoon. Enjoy the build up to Christmas whatever you are going to do over the festive period and see you soon.


Until next time……………………………