Monday, May 31, 2010

I want to ride my bicycle

Last weekend my girlfriend and I used our new bikes to go on a trip to the Falkirk wheel.

First let me go back (for the record) to our first trip on the new bikes. Four weeks ago we started our new cycling life with ride up to Balloch in the sunshine, up part of National cycle route 7. The ride initially goes up the Forth & Clyde canal through some of the loveliest parts of north west Glasgow! Due to the nice weather the canal path was pretty busy, there were a few of the standard groups of semi-drunken neds standing around (although not too many and they were generally quite benign), but also plenty of other cyclists and walkers. Once we got to Bowling, and the River Clyde end of the canal, thing got prettier and slightly less busy. We had to leave the canal here and head towards the River Leven, which we could follow to then follow to Balloch (you also have to go through a couple of towns and we did manage to get a small bit waylaid at one put, before re-finding the cycle route. Balloch was pretty mobbed, but we only stayed briefly to sit by Loch Lomond and have our lunch. I'd been feeling pretty good, with no aches and pains, on the ride up, especially given that that last time I'd cycled that far must have been a long time ago (in fact I don't know if I'd ever done a longish cycle journey). However, having got off the bikes and rested my legs during lunch they weren't liking working again when we started heading home - my knees in particular were protesting a bit, and also more strangely my wrists. We made it home in good time without collapsing from exhaustion, but certainly felt the journey afterwards. Our bikes had also survived well, although I had had to re-attach my chain at one point. In fact as it had been so dry they looked pretty much unused.

For this more recent ride the weather was more inclement. The trip to Falkirk goes entirely along the Forth & Clyde canal starting pretty much from just outside my flat (basically we just went the opposite direction to our first trip). With only a few locks between here and the wheel the ride is pretty much entirely on the level, but the weather and our lack of regular cycling meant it was quite tough going. The ride goes through the lovely Possil marshes, up through Bishopsbriggs, Lenzie, Kirkintilloch, Kilsyth, Bonnybridge and then the wheel. We had rain showers of varying severity hitting every so often, and inbetween (especially on the outward ride) were inundated with flies and other bugs, which on a positive note meant there weren't too many people out on the path to get in our way. I'd never been to the wheel before so it was interesting to see it and it is a quite impressive piece of engineering. But unless you actually take a trip on it (they put on many sailings every day to take you up and down) there's actually very little to see or do - they have a visitor centre (looking like a mini Glasgow Science Centre), but it lacks any real information. I was expecting it to be more like a musuem, with displays about the history of the canals and the engineering of the wheel, but there was very little except for a shop and a cafe. We didn't go on a sailing and just ate our lunch and had some tea and a cake in the cafe, whilst waiting for the latest rain shower to abate. Contemplating the ride back to Glasgow wasn't fun as we both had felt like we had no energy and were considering the idea of just cycling to Falkirk station and getting he train back. But we didn't give up and once we started riding again, with our energy levels restored from our lunch, things picked up. I definitely wasn't aching as much as I had on the return journey of our first trip. We also made far better time on the way back, cutting about 20 minutes off our outward journey. After this trip our bikes definitely now look used - the puddles and mud have given them a nice spattering (as well as at the time giving us, despite mudguards, a similar look). There was no chain slip this time, but my front brake callipers do seem to have moved meaning that one of the brake rubbers is stuck against the wheel rim.

Who know were our next trip will be - we might even venture off the canal paths and try a route with some sort of hills!

Etive again

Last weekend saw our annual canoe club camping weekend up to Glencoe to paddle the Etive. Two years ago saw glorious weather, but a very low river and an insane amount of midges. Last year we had rain and cold weather, which wasn't fun for camping, but gave a decent amount of water in the rivers and no midges. This years was another with good weather, and possibly an even lower river than two years ago, but fortunately no midges.

The weekend's boating got off to an inauspicious start on Saturday morning when we had a minor accident with one of our mini-buses (I wasn't driving), which mounted a rock and sprung a leak from it's hydraulics. This meant that we had to shuttle all our boats to the river (about 3 miles from the campsite a the Kings House) with our working, but smaller minibus, delaying the paddling by a couple of hours at least. Not that we were missing much, as getting to the river showed it to be little more than a stream. Still we persevered and all got kitted up at the standard get in of Triple Falls. The low river probably was good for encouraging Etive newbies as it's far less daunting when there's only a trickle going through. We spent the day going up and down Triple Falls, which including a lot of boatless activity of jumping into the deep splash pools from the rocks. We also had a few boat-a-cross (like motocross or ski cross) races down the falls (my involvement mainly bringing up the rear, which was probably for the best as I would most likely have caused some pile-ups). Despite not being able to paddle that far it was good to get back in a boat as this was my first time on a river this year (the cold weather and other commitments kept me away since last December). The evening saw the standard trip into the Kings House for dinner and drinks, and being old I retired quite early and fell asleep quickly.

I woke up to the rain. This was a blessing and a curse - it might mean more water in the river, but it also meant packing up a wet tent. Unfortunately the blessing wasn't very blessed as the rain had only marginally increased the water level, but I still had to pack up a wet tent. We then had a major amount of faff deciding on todays course of action. The busted minibus had to be loaded up with half our boats, so that it was ready to be towed back to Glasgow later that day, which meant not everyone would be able to get on the river. We also weren't sure whether to try something different than just redoing the Etive (with the tributary Allt a' Chaorainn as an option). The one bit of fortune was that another bus had been requisitioned from GUSA (although lacking a roof rack) meaning that people weren't having to hang around to travel back in the tow-truck with the other bus. It was eventually decided to just do as much of the Etive as we could, with as many people as possible.

On getting to the river it was looking a bit more promising. Some people got on to do a few runs of Triple Falls, whilst me and a couple of others decided we'd swim (and clamber) up and down (jumping) the falls. Then the group headed further down river - with mainly beginner's in boats to give them the experience. We didn't do the first drop after Triple, which is Letterbox, after hearing that someone from Dundee Canoe Club had broken their ankle going off it the day before (not enough water in the pool at the bottom), but carried on to Ski-jump, which saw no casualties, or swims. Crack of Doom was also successfully negotiated with no swims (I think), after which I was able to get in a boat. We did the standard seal launch to avoid trying to boat down Crack of Dawn, and at Rock Slide I manage to avoid the normal pitfall of heading straight into the wall after the drop. At Right Angle there was the usual umming-and-erring about whether to so it, but most people (including myself) who'd boated down there went over. For only my second time I didn't swim at the bottom - in fact I landed pretty well and didn't really even have to brace. I was actually quite a successful day despite the problems.

In other kayaking news last Thursday was the last pool session of the academic year. It was fairly empty, so I managed to get in a boat for about an hour. I was able practice rolling and bracing to my hearts content - and I seem to be pretty consistent and competent at it now! I even managed one (my second ever) hand roll. I'm going to attempt to get out on a river over the summer if there are others about, although due to work commitments I'm missing out on a trip to the Alps starting this week, and also won't be able to go on a trip to Wales later in the summer.