New blogging gig and a commitment to cycling

So I’m now also going to be blogging over on the Broken Spoke website.

Here’s my first post for them, about the time those nasty people stole the wheels off my bike.

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What is a bicycle? A frame and a pair of wheels? A method of getting from point A to point B?

To me, a bicycle is freedom. Freedom that I’d taken for granted until one day a couple of months ago when I returned home from a weekend away to see only part of my bike locked to the lamp post where I had left it. Thieves had taken both my wheels, leaving a sad looking slightly rusted frame.

The bike wasn’t worth much. It was Halford’s cheapest option, eight years ago when I first started at university and didn’t know anything about cycling (or life). In fact, I still don’t know anything much about bicycle maintenance. My eight year old bike had been severely neglected, left out in the rain, never oiled and barely washed. My housemate concluded that buying replacement wheels would cost more that the whole thing was worth, so I unlocked the frame (which disappeared about two hours later).

The following week was one of frustration. Frustration at waiting for the bus that should have arrived ten minutes ago, frustration at the walk home that was taking so long, frustration at having to carry heavy shopping bags that would otherwise have been in a basket. I felt so held back by the extra time it took to get places and by being at the mercy of the Oxford Bus Company.

Now I’m back in the saddle, and it’s incredible. Right the first ride on my new bike when I’d felt the wind against my face. I was moving so fast!

I vowed never to take cycling for granted again. This time, I’m going to learn to look after my bike properly, keep it safe, and use it more than ever. Like Carlene Thomas-Bailey I can barely identify a pump. But with the help of Broken Spoke, I’m going to become an expert. Watch this space.

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Walking, Commuting and Communities of the Future

The other day I decided to walk from my house to Draycote Water, a local reservoir, to chill out by the water and enjoy one of the last days of sunshine we might get before winter. I think of it as ‘just around the corner’ since it takes us about ten minutes to drive, but at six miles it took me two hours to walk. Granted, I wasn’t exactly pushing myself, but the distance still surprised me. It got me thinking about what life was like before everyone owned cars. It’s no surprise that 150 years ago a lot of people could live their whole lives within fifteen miles of the village they were born in.

Modern transport methods make Britain seem a lot smaller than it would have done to somebody whose only method of getting somewhere was walking, and that’s reflected in our lifestyles. It enables me, for instance, to live near Rugby when I work in Oxford.

Anyway. On my walk I started to wonder what the communities of the future would look like, when people can no longer rely on cheap fossil fuel to make the world a smaller place.  Will we all have to work where we live? Or work from home? Perhaps to adapt we’ll all be living a more agricultural life again, with everyone tending a small-holding to support the food needs of their community? The internet guarantees we’ll stay connected, but will virtual friendships over twitter become more common than driving to a coffee-shop for gossip?

Loch Lomond: A Few Thoughts on Sustainable Travel.

After a twenty minute car share, seven hour train journey (with four changes), and forty minute walk, the evening of 6th September saw my sister and I settling down at the Loch Lomond Youth Hostel. Not only was this the first time that we had holidayed without the parents, but it was our first UK holiday without the use of a car. How would we cope with having to walk or catch the bus everywhere? Would we able to get everywhere we wanted to go? Would we manage three days on our own without wanting to kill each other?

The following morning was not the best of starts. Attempting to walk to Ballach for to explore the town we managed to get lost in an endless maze of holiday cottages and golf course, turning what should have been a thirty minute walk into one that lasted an hour and a half. To make things worse, it was chucking it down with rain. By the time we were there and able to take refuge from the weather in a tea shop my waterproof jacket had ceased to be waterproof, my jeans were soaked through and I was freezing cold. I couldn’t help thinking that a car would have enable us to be there in five minutes. We would be warm, and I wouldn’t be in the position of having to wring out my t-shirt in the toilet. A pot of tea has rarely been more welcome in my life.

After we were unable to drag out our drinks much longer we braved the outside again, reluctantly wandering the castle grounds until we could legitimately retreat to a pub for lunch. And what a lunch. We went to the Water House Inn where I ordered soup and a sandwich, followed by ‘Millionaires Cheesecake,’ – fudge flavoured with a chocolate topping. Harriet followed up a massive burger and chips with her second hot chocolate of the day. Amazingly, by the time we left the sun had come out. We immediately began to enjoy ourselves a lot more, embracing the castle and grounds with a lot more enthusiasm. Now we knew the way, the walk back to the Youth Hostel did only take thirty minutes.

The following day we took the bus to Luss, a picturesque village on the west side of the Loch. I had a brief sulk after having to pay £4.90 for a six mile journey (‘You’re joking! You can take a train India for less than that.’) but my resentment soon disappeared once we saw the view.

I managed to drag Harriet up most of a hill; we were walking for about three hours in total. Then we went back into town for coffee and shortbread, a wander round the churchyard and a paddle in the Loch.

Once back at the Hostel I began to think of about the differences between holidaying with a car, and using only public transport and your feet. It’s true that jumping unthinkingly into a car would have been more convenient. We weren’t able to climb Ben Lomond, for instance, because the bus and ferry times just weren’t convenient. We got wet, we had to carry all our stuff on our backs, getting places took forward planning. But actually, there’s something quite positive about that. We were more in touch with the elements; forced to explore the area by foot in the rain ultimately (once we were warm and dry) proved a more rewarding experience than jumping in a car to a cinema or shopping centre to avoid the weather would have been. We gained a better sense of our location, the distances and the terrain by having to walk everywhere. Spending entire days outside left us more tanned and more tired. The tiredness, combined with the Hostels distance from anything interesting to do in the evening, meant we fell asleep at 9.30pm and woke fully refreshed at 7.30am. We joked that we were being a lot lamer than when we holidayed with parents, but we felt fantastic. The train journeys weren’t too bad either. We saw a lot more of the countryside than flying would have enabled. It was stress free (no being treated like a criminal for carrying water) and simple. I was able to make significant headway on a book that I have been meaning to start reading for months. Somehow at home there is always something else to do, so being forced to sit down for seven hours was a real luxury. Ultimately, I concluded that there is no need for internal air travel, and while there are a few times when owning a car is necessary, going on holiday isn’t one of them.