Be Thankful

Both rides yesterday and the day before were of the ‘good to be out’ but ‘boy, is it yukky out there’ variety.

Both were short-ish, partially off-road excursions in the territory between Caversham and Henley. Both times, I came back mud be-splattered with a bike caked in the particularly finely textured gloop you seem to only get after it’s been frozen. I don’t know if the freezing and thawing process somehow breaks mud down more.

After today’s excursion I did wash the bike down and as I was sprucing it up it crossed my mind how well it had kept working despite all the abuse it was enduring, and how little I appreciated its reliability.

Mud-covered bike parts

Somehow, it just keeps working

It’s like a lot of things – when they’re working they’re ignored: things mechanical, things electrical, things biological – not least your body. Now, 50+, it’s getting harder to ignore my body. I’d be lying if I denied having more aches and pains – niggles, but frequent niggles where there once weren’t any.

Presumably, things will continue to deteriorate. Possibly, there comes a point when the deterioration is so bad that it’s unpleasant enough to want it all to cease. Prior to that, be thankful for what does work.

Unalloyed Pleasure

A bike ride – a real, out of doors bike ride; the first for over a week. The roads are in an appalling state; the rain and melting snow means flood waters are rising again; off-road the mud is deep and there are puddles everywhere with who-knows-what for potholes lurking beneath the dirty water. There was some evil slippery grey-black slush on some of the shady parts of the route. And I loved every minute of it.

You can't have enough firewood

If cold weather’s due, it’s good to have a few logs in stock.

It’s just the being outside that’s so simply, purely pleasurable. You don’t have to be riding a bike. It is the fact that the weather’s just that little bit better to make being out reasonable – not so cold you have to be wrapped up just that bit too much to be comfortable; not so slippery that you’d justly call yourself daft if you fell over and broke something.

Talking it over with Charli, she says she feels the same and reckons being outside has some deep appeal to the animal in us. If that’s true, I suppose it’s probably not a good thing that we’re still responsive to the instinctive. If civilization is about anything, it’s surely about the triumph of intellect over instinct.

Mud, Inglorious Mud

I guess where ever you chose to ride off-road in the UK today, you’d have been faced with an excess of mud. In the Forest of Dean, you’d have experienced mud, swamp-like areas where there’s more water than mud, and more mud. Thankfully, there are also reasonable hard-pack trails.

There’s also a very, very large chair which, if nothing else, brings a smile.

Other sculptures on the local ‘sculpture trail’ there, I confess, left me cold and the descriptions or ‘artist statements’ that accompanied them seemed by and large banal.

I suppose it’s a comment on something that the fact that these works of art didn’t strike a chord with me, makes me examine my reaction just as much as I looked at the sculptures.

The – to me at least – interesting question is, what’s that ensuing self-examination a comment on? My perhaps feeble lack of confidence in my opinions about ‘culture’, as if ‘culture’ is for experts? The success of the art establishment (what- or who-ever that might be) in making me doubt myself, however mistaken that doubt might be? My liberality and open-mindedness? I don’t know. There probably isn’t a definite answer.

Forest of Dean chair sculpture

Dull, obvious, unchallenging art easily appreciated by idiots?

Wet Leaves, Mud, Low Sun And Darkness (Just For Cyclists)

A while back I wrote some tips for novices, for riding in the wet. These proved popular so herewith a few more Autumn-inspired thoughts in a similar vein:

  • The sun can be very low – and blinding. If you’re riding in to the sun and having trouble seeing, bear in mind that drivers might be coming up behind you and struggling to see too – and that includes spotting that small-profile bike and rider combo in front of them. If it’s really bad, get off and walk on the path.
  • Darkness sneaks up – quickly. On a dull Autumn day, you can need full night lights by mid afternoon. Don’t get caught out with thoughts of “dusk isn’t until 5” or whatever.
  • Leaves look lovely. They are also quite lethal if you come across them in the wrong place – the classic being a leaf-strewn corner. Sliding on leaves isn’t fun. All you can do is think about where you’re riding – if it’s tree-lined be a bit more careful about what might be around the corner.
  • Mud is evil. A coating of mud on a road is as slippery as anything – snow or ice included. There’s plenty of mud around this time of year. Around here at least, there currently seems to be plenty of farm activity that involves mud-bespattered tractors driving down lanes with all the obvious consequences, but it’s by no means solely caused by tractors.
A sheen of wet mud on a road

Mud: slippery for the unwary

If you’re riding an off-road bike off-road, with the right, deep-treaded tyres, then mud and leaves aren’t so much of an issue – though a thick build-up of leaves on hard pack, particularly, can still catch you out.

If you’re riding on-road with hard narrow tyres, caution is advised. I have read that tread on road bike tyres is nonsense and that seemed to make sense: the logic goes that road tyre tread is all about dispersing water to prevent aqua-planing and bikes will never go fast enough to aqua-plane. Thus, you’re better off with no tread to maximize the amount of ‘rubber’ that’s in contact with the road, as that’s what will give you grip. Knobbly bits on road tyres won’t help with muds, leaves or anything else – so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be OK.

Just Yuk

It doesn’t happen often, but today’s was a grotty ride and I’d have been quite happy not to have done it.

The sign to Bury Down on the Ridgeway, near Wantage

A bad day on the bike. You could have put us out of our misery and buried us just down there.

The intention was a ‘blow the cobwebs out’ trip on the Ridgeway up and around the Wantage area with Charli. The reality was a hard slog on a very windy day with lots of mud and water around after the downpours of yesterday – the ‘worst September storm for 30 years’, apparently. I fell off – albeit slowly and without doing any damage, Charli nearly did and both of us were happy to cut it short and go home. Neither of us had ‘anything in the legs’ as they say – for some reason we were both running on empty.

Hey ho – so it goes. It’s rare that there’s a day I’d rather have not ridden. Of course, as is always the case, a bad day is far more memorable and makes far more impact on your consciousness than all the good ones. That seems fairly natural: that makes it yet another example of natural not always equating to good.

White Nature

Photo: Dead Nettle

Dead Nettle - called that, so I'm told, because it doesn't sting, not because it's dead

And all of a sudden, blue skies! Not unbroken blue but it’s not raining … That is progress. Off road – as today’s ride with Charli was in parts – it remains pretty soggy and it will take a few days to dry out so you don’t come back splattered, but it’s feels like a bonus to be able to ride without worrying about being caught in a downpour.

But being a happily mud-splattered 50-something year old is pretty good.

Over the last few days, the thing that’s struck me on the plant life front is how white the hedgerows are. An awful lot of the plants in the hedges at this time of year are putting out white flowers.

I’m not complaining; I have nothing against white flowers. It’s a reflection of my ignorance that I find it odd that there’s so much of more-or-less the same colour. I would have thought there’d have been some kind of competitive advantage in differentiation between the species. Presumably, there’s more to be gained from being white(ish). Perhaps it attracts those pollinators around at this specific time of year. Perhaps it repels things that would otherwise munch them. I am totally at a loss for an explanation.

And talking of losses, today the thing that strikes me in the news is JP Morgan’s massive losses. Yesterday, in the rain, I drove by a team of litter-pickers working on the verges of the road to Woodcote. Back in March litter pickers prompted me to muse on pay not reflecting value to society. Now, as JP Morgan’s losses show, we see that in the financial sector obscene pay doesn’t even reflect performance for the jobs people are employed to do. I am left at a loss to know why society should put any store by these people, bestow them any respect. And I am at a loss, too, to know how the fourth estate – the media – can continue to protest its value to society when it does so much to prop up this iniquitous value system that so bedevils us.

Photo: Lady's Smock

Lady's Smock

Photo: Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Photo: Field Mouse Ear

Field Mouse Ear

Photo: Jack By The Hedge

Jack By The Hedge