How Much Space?

Two days in a row the same set of traffic lights have seen the red mist descend.  The junction of the A5 and French’s Avenue to the north of Dunstable.

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It seems straight forward enough but heading north I have to take the right hand lane. I am wearing red. Flashing lights in sunlight. Look over my right shoulder and keep a straight line. But out enough to take the lane. Including the island with the traffic lights there are three island pinch points waiting form me to be squeezed. Clearly I am not out far enough as the Astra behind squeezes past close enough for engine heat to curl the hairs on my legs. I gesture with a phone signal with my hand. A kind of “call me if you want to get that close”. He reacts. Slows. Opens his passenger window and shouts “how much soace do you want?” or words to that effect. “Just the legal amount will do” is my reply. He reacted more but I have no idea what he was saying.

For the second day on the trott I had gone against my own rule of not picking fights with those in metal boxes. I’m not proud. But sometimes you have to let  them know that they are dangerous and illegal.

To put a smile on my face I catch him up three miles later at the Hockliffe lights, this time opting to avoid confrontation.

I hope he had a really bad day.

Angry Ride

A day at work. Tired. Bored. For the last two nights I have been taking a longer route home. Tonight I just want to be home.

Cycling is supposed to be a stress-reliever. Sometimes it couldn’t be further from the truth. I make it all the way to Dunstable. Coming to the lights I take the lane and a car nears. I sense that this guy isn’t going right – but straight on and should be in my lane. I get squeezed. I give it some verbal. The lights change to green and he drives forward in a way that wasn’t too kind. The red mist descends. The rule of “don’t fight with people in metal boxes” disappears from my memory. Grrr.

Bracknell Commute (Again)

In April 2014 I promised myself: commuting from Dunstable to Bracknell, doing a day’s work, and commuting home again – whilst a fabulous ride – was something that I was unlikely to repeat.

It’s not really the distance or the hills. Nor is it carrying everything from a change of clothes, laptop, food, towel and shower gel (and deodourant), tools for most occasions, spare batteries, or the additional cycle clothing (just in case the weather forecast is wrong). It’s more that come the end of the workday I am more ready for sleep than a ride. And despite the first 20 miles being relatively easy and passing HRH’s home castle in Windsor, the back end of the home leg becomes hilly and in 2014 my legs no longer wanted to “shut up” beyond Hemel Hempstead.

A year later and my legs have had eight months of cycle commuting on most days. In a little over a month I will be riding Lincoln to London on a self-organised charity ride for Cystic Fibrosis – a ride that on the first day will see me (hopefully) ride an equivalent to this commute three times on one day, then get up the following day and ride it once more. So with miles in my legs, but rarely more than fourteen miles in one stint; Mrs OLN using the car for the day; and with a weather forecast neither wet nor windy it’s time to hit that route again.

As before but with a little more confidence I set off at 0500. I love how quite the roads are at this time. I see nothing of traffic until Chesham and Amersham. The tarmac passes by like never before. It’s easy. I hit the office in a fraction under 3 hours. Fifteen minutes before last year.

After a day of work I head back in the other direction. Mrs OLN has been to Southampton in the car and could meet up with me on the way home  but regardless I pedal on. Bracknell to Slough is a great ride. Mostly flat with no up hills to mention. Then it’s in to Gerrard’s Cross and the Chalfonts. But this year they are easier. Flaunden and Hemel Hempstead come fast, remembering that Hemel last year was where I hit the wall. This year, tired,  but no problem. I carry on up the Leighton Buzzard Road, mixing it with the HH CC Time Trial bikes as I go through. Home and changed before Mrs OLN makes it back. I am glad that I made it all the way, but can’t deny that it is a little tiring. Just a little energy left to make it to the chip shop and back.

Goal! (aka “I Hate You Phill”)

At the beginning of 2014 I set out a number of goals: the first one normally that I fail is the “cycle 100 miles per month” in conjunction with Phill Connell’s #12×100. Whilst the month started well, the final week I am struck with a man flu. This combined with a wet and windy week in the UK meant that cycling was not high on the list. Hoping that one or both would improve I am sure that I will fit in the last 13 miles in before the end of January to hit the 100 mile goal. Friday comes. Kids in bed and despite the wind howling outside the weather forecast is for the rain to ease. Surely I can get those miles in.

I open the back door and stick my head out. The trees are bending with the strength of the wind. Dark, still the tail end of the rush hour, rain still falling. This is not a good time to ride. My head debates between wine and cycling. Wine or cycling. Hmm. Mrs Nut agrees it’s silly. “Do it tomorrow”. She doesn’t appreciate: that’s not how Phill’s 12×100 works. Miles cycled after midnight are February miles. I have to do this now. I start heading towards the wine rack then change my mind again. It can’t be that bad can it?

Fifteen minutes later and I’m protected from the wind and rain by four layers of clothing, buff, cycling cap, helmet, winter gloves, overshoes and heading off through the estate. It’s not that bad. I head off to the west side of town before heading down the hill to Totternhoe. And that’s where the trouble started. As I leave the end of Dunstable’s bricks and mortar and between open farm fields the wind from the left hit’s me. I’m blown 3 feet to the right before leaning back into the wind and taking control. I have off some speed and bring things under control and continue leaning into the wind, and playing a balancing game as gusts of wind come and go.

It eases as I change direction into the wind, and the relative safety of Eaton Bray. Out of the other side the wind is behind and helping me along. The roads are unlit, and the rain-soaked tarmac hides both puddles and potholes as my light tries to light up the path ahead. A BMW with those new fangled headlights comes my way and despite not being on full beam the lights are still bright enough to hit the water droplets on my glasses and send patterns of light dancing across my vision making the road ahead even less easy to follow.

I head through Stanbridge and on to Tilsworth. I know that there’s a stretch of road that was flooded last year, and was surprised to see that it was not as bad as expected. Two bends later and away for the village lights and the puddle I enter gets deeper and deeper until the overshoes have become bathing shoes. Can’t stop now: if I do my wet feet will become wetter and I keep cycling hoping that it’s not going to get any deeper.

Beyond Tilsworth and back on the A5. 10 miles done – heading back to Dunstable and home should clear the 13 miles needed. Back in town and despite a loop around the shared space it looks like I am going to be a mile short. So a short detour back into town and through the estates ensures that enough miles are logged. 100 miles in a wet and windy January. Job done. Goal achieved. Thanks Phill. I hate you (but not in that way).

Should you want to join Phill’s 12×100 just use the sign-up form on http://www.phillconnell.com/blog/monthly-cycling-challenge/ and Phill will send you an invite and put your name on the sheet.

Red Lions and Dead Lions

Saturday morning. It’s cool. It’s been a while since I’ve done serious miles. And with more layers than a Michelin man it is time to strike some Red Lion pubs off of the list of places to go to.

Intentionally I have selected three easy and logistically logical lions: Bidwell Hill (Houghton Regis); Toddinton; and, Upper Sundon. But mixed in with this are a few hills that should challenge the legs (and probably the heart and lungs too).

Old Red Lion – Bidwell Hill

RL Bidwell Hill

The nearest Lion to home, and psychologically there before opening time (sorry – pubs open at 11am still in my mind) although there are people around. Tempting as it is to have a symbolic beer, only a few miles under my belt, cold, and beer would not bode well for the rest of the ride.

Continuing along the Bedford Road and up the steep hill to Great Wood (it’s not that great) leads me straight into Toddington. Famed for it’s M1 Motorway Services and the Toddington Gallon – eight pubs surrounding the village green. One pint it each.

Dead Lion – The Raj Garden

DL Toddington

Despite using Google Streetview to see whether the Red Lions that I visit exist, I know that from time to time my pedalled journey may be fruitless at the end (or lion less). So early in the year and I find my first Dead Lion. Toddington’s Red Lion is now the Raj Garden. It is common for pubs these days to convert to restaurants, and with the popularity for all that is spicy many public houses are having stale smoked rooms replaced with the smells of garlic, cumin, and garam masala.

Lion number three is also an unknown. I fear it may be dead but ignore the suggested route through Charlton to Sundon and instead carry on through Toddington, over the M1, and head into Upper Sundon through Harlington and up the steep hill to Upper Sundon on Harlington Road. In Strava this is “Sundon Hill”: 18% gradient at one point. I have done it before, but that was when I cycled frequently. Today it will beat me and I shamefully walk the last half. Strava tells me I am 305th out of 341 riders. Languishing down there with the walkers.

The Red Lion – Upper Sundon

RL Upper Sundon

“Pub and Kitchen” it says. But gone 11am and it seems lifeless. No lights. No sign of life. Is this a Red or Dead? I will class it as Red, but it was my intention to have at least one beer today in a Red Lion – but sitting on my own in an empty pub wearing Lycra is not something that I will do today. I carry on through the village and despite my clear drop in fitness opt for a longer than necessary route home via Luton and Leagrave.

Job done.