So here we are onto the next great adventure. Read about it here.
Don’t forget to follow Tim’s Crazy Guy on a Bike journal. He is doing more systematic posts of the trip than I am. He spent most of our day off here in Gairloch blogging and I, er, well, I was checking out the insides of my eyelids.
I find myself missing the writing involved in keeping up the blog, but I am not missing the inevitable human-device interface issues. And so I will concentrate on keeping warm and dry and having fun as well.
A week ago Tim and I took the train from Sheffield to Oban, on the west coast of Scotland’s Highland region. The train rides were slick and easy – places for bikes must be reserved ahead and each train has one car with racks for bikes.
First thing the next morning we crossed to the Isle of Mull and began to ride. We chose a longer, scenic route in order to go through the town of Calgary. It was raining of course, and windy, too. The roads went up and then down and then up again – no along! As with cross-country skiing in this type of terrain, it is hard to get a groove going. Well, impossible. It is a test for one’s gearing on the bike, and of course the Rohloff hub with its grip shifter is second to none for quick changes.
There was a lovely camping spot near the sandy beaches in Calgary, and there we stayed. We hadn’t come very far, but I was ready to stop – this was my first lesson in how cycling distances in Scotland compare to other places I’ve cycled: what with the rain, the wind, and the hills, don’t expect to get very far on a loaded bike!
In Calgary – the rain has taken a break in time for dinner. Notice the groundskeepers hard at work in the background.
It’s awhile ago now, and seems a little shady in my memory, (things have been conspiring against blog posts getting uploaded – mostly the weather, but I’ll get to that!), but one reason I came to the UK was to meet my new in-laws. And they of course wanted to meet me, maybe so they could continue to wonder why their son/brother has taken leave of his senses and decided to move to Canada.
At any rate, from my end that all went smoothly: everyone seemed normal enough, I didn’t hear any rumours of skeletons in closets, and they all smelled OK!
I was privileged enough to get my grubby little paws on two delightful photos to share with you as well. Needless to say, and Bill Bryson will back me on this, the Brits can laugh at themselves more than we simple North Americans can. And that is good.
Tim’s parents live within walking distance of Windsor Castle. It’s a long walk, mind, but on a hot and sunny day (oh, those were the days!), it’s a lovely walk through the Windsor Great Park to see the Queen. I was on a bit of a mission, too. My friend Dennis wanted me to ask the Queen if he could have his money back. She was in, apparently, (one can tell from the flag flying atop the castle – when she’s in the flag says, “The Queen is IN“), but she didn’t want to talk to us, even though Tim changed into his new socks especially for the occasion.
She did, however, let us have one quick photo.
What, no blogging? Here are my reasons (er, excuses):
1. Functioning WiFi is scarce in the highlands of Scotland, at least in the places we frequent. Although, one night we stayed at a “posh” hotel (because it was pouring rain and freezing cold and windy) and their “free” WiFi was so slow we gave up waiting for the BBC weather page to load. A good thing, too, because we may have given up then and there. Or at least I may have.
2. On a three-week tour in a country full of things to see and experience, time is scarce. For instance, my time is spent putting on and off my rain gear alternately with my insulated cold-weather gear, rather than writing pithy prose for your entertainment.
3. Do I need any more reasons than those?
Having said all that, here are some brief observations on cycling in the Highlands of Scotland:
1. It’s windy. I’d recommend training in a wind tunnel with the setting at about 50 miles/hour.
2. It’s hilly. I’d recommend training by cycling across Canada. Go in November to get the full effect.
3. It’s wet. I’d recommend underwater training to test your water-proof gear. And all those cycling clothes you have that you never wear because they’re too hot to cycle in? Perfect for Scotland!
4. This place is crawling with tourists. Pre-book your hostels and B&Bs well in advance, because you can guarantee you’ll need to warm up and dry out on a regular basis.
5. I finally get the whisky thing – that spot of warmth in your belly is the only warmth you’ll get in this place! That doesn’t mean I’ve started drinking whisky (funny, they don’t call it “scotch” here), but I did find some whisky fudge that went down quite nicely!
6. Wild camping in Scotland is legal and accepted. And tenters are more welcome to do it than people in caravans. How cool is that?
7. All coffee and tea is consumed with milk. If you want it black, ask loudly at the time of ordering, and be prepared to be looked at as if very strange.
8. The scenery is lovely and everything is quaint. It’s like we try really hard in North America to make everything we touch so ugly.
9. Lambs are cute and they are walking, baaing advertisements for the many beneficial properties of wool. How else could they be asleep on a wet lump of grass in the freezing cold blowing rainy weather? As an aside, when the sheep seek shelter from the weather, so should you.
10. Holy cow the roads are narrow. Luckily, so are most of the cars. As a cyclist here, one has more of a direct relationship to the people in the cars because of it. We slow for them to pass, they slow for us to pass, and it requires eye contact and most times a wave too. Nice.
11. There are birds here that sound like they belong in a clock. Tim tells me they are cuckoos. They go on incessantly. Do we have them in Canada? I’ve not seen one yet, they must be quite small to fit in those clocks.
That’s all for now, folks! There will be photos and more specific info about our route at some point, I’m sure.
The eleventh-hour sprawl on the living room floor:
I left Wells yesterday morning at 5:45 am in a blizzard. There was 5 cm of snow on the ground and it was coming down hard. I, of course, had put my summer tyres on my car 2 weeks ago when I thought it might be spring. That was a mistake. (By the way, I can spell “tires” with a “y” now because my husband is British. Just like I can get really excited about hot beverages, and about having them at every opportunity!) I was bound for Calgary, where I get to disturb my brother and his family for two days before I fly over to London to meet up with Tim, meet my new in-laws, and then head north to cycle in the balmy spring weather in Scotland.
In order to go east from Wells one must first go north or south. If you go straight east you will end up in the Cariboo Mountains. And given the amount of snow still in Wells right at the moment, there is sure to be quite a bit more in the higher hills! I drove north to Prince George and then waited there for six hours while my car had some work done to it. Waiting six hours in a town with more than two stores is actually not really a chore for a girl from Wells, so there is a certain sale rack in a certain outdoor store that is now a little skimpier in its offerings. As I was walking back to the car shop in the freezing cold north wind I was happy to have a new down jacket in my bag – from the 40% off rack!
From Prince George I drove east through the north Rocky Mountains in Mount Robson Provincial Park and into Jasper National Park. There was snow, wind, hail, and cold temperatures. Just as you would expect at the end of April. There were road warnings for the Icefields Parkway, the road that heads south from Jasper towards Banff. This, of course was my intended route. Well, only route really, unless I wanted to go hundreds of kms out of my way. The scenery is fantastic and the road was only dicey in a couple of spots where it rises up over 2000 m in elevation near the Athabasca and Bow Glaciers.
I was relieved to get out of the mountains and back down into the relative depths of Highway 1 near Lake Louise and Banff. Driving in winter conditions with summer tyres can only be asking for trouble. Little did I know that there was a total blizzard happening between Canmore and Calgary! The traffic was travelling fairly slowly, the only folks going faster than they should have been were those in pick-up trucks, of course. They are immune to everything, including common sense! I narrowly missed getting squashed by a transport truck at one point. I was glad to get to my brother’s house just after midnight. And boy, will I be glad to get on my bike again. This driving stuff is for the birds!
It’s April in Wells, BC. It’s snowing and wet and muddy and sunny and raining and hailing and muddy and snowing. It SUCKS. Skiing might be OK if it were ever sunny for more than five minutes in a row, and cycling would be good if it weren’t snowing and muddy and wet and snowing and windy. For outdoor pursuits it’s down to running and snowshoeing, really: two sports one only does when there is nothing better and more fun that can be done. I am vowing never to be in Wells for another April. Ever. That’s not to say I’m leaving Wells for good, it’s just that I will be sure to be away for the better part of next April and for the rest of the Aprils after that too. So if you live in a place where the word April is synonymous with “hope” and “spring” and “change” and “new life” and “anticipation of summer warmth”, expect a visit next April.
Now on to more cheerful stuff. There is a tune I heard a few years ago at a little music festival called ArtsWells. (Check out ArtsWells – Festival of all Things Art. This year is the 10th Anniversary for the festival). I was sitting on the floor of the packed Sunset Theatre listening to BC musician Corwin Fox, when lo and behold, he played a song about cycling. It’s called Equilibrium. I remembered the song, but didn’t see it on any of Corwin’s recordings that year or in subsequent years. I meant to contact Corwin last spring before I left on my trip to ask if I could somehow get a digital copy of that tune. I wanted to make it part of my trip sound track. I guess I was too busy and didn’t get around to it. Coincidentally, last autumn when I got back from my bike trip Corwin played a gig in Wells, and that song was back on his set list! And, his new recording with fellow musician Raghu Lokanathan under the guise of The Chimney Swallows, includes the song. What luck. Now, if I payed money for this blog I could upload the mp3 file for your listening pleasure, but I don’t. So thank goodness for CBC the good. “Equilibrium” by The Chimney Swallows.
To be honest, I don’t really get the lyrics, but I like the sentiment. I’m such an unsophisticated (read lazy) arts consumer. On that note, while you’re there, click on the “Albums” tab and listen to Raghu’s tune “Fucking Genius”. That one I get. It’s right down on my level.