learning to fly

Wait. What? How can the 2015 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge be over already??? And I was having such a good time, too!

Well, we started out with an entry in my favourite new category (You carried WHAT on your bike?!) so it seems only apt to end there too.

Errand #11: Cake delivery | Date: 15 March 2015 | Category: You carried WHAT on your bike?! | Miles: lots | Thing I noticed: People will eat cake, regardless of how smushed it is, providing it’s free. | Bonus: Carrying a baked good.

Yes, I said cake delivery. I ever-so-carefully placed the cakes in the box and secured them in my Carradice saddle bag… on my Surly Ogre MTB. And then I went mountain biking in the Pennines. You see, the cake delivery was to the people I was riding with and it just so happened the location of the delivery turned out to be several hours and many, many extremely rough miles up the Pennine Bridleway.

Before:errandonnee11 cakes beforeAfter:errandonnee11 cakes afterWhoa. Those cakes did NOT survive well. But that certainly didn’t stop my friends from digging in and eating the whole lot!

errandonnee12 emusErrand #12: Surlyfest with friends (other Surlys and friends not pictured) | Date: 15 March 2015 | Category: take your pick from social call / personal care / wild card | Miles: lots and lots | Thing I noticed: Epic scenery (and some random emus).

Originally, this ride was supposed to be the much anticipated and long overdue Trollfest #4 (and then there were four) but, in the end not a single one of us actually turned up on a Surly Troll!

I neglected to take any pictures of the collection but there were 2 Surly Karate Monkeys (both single speed), a single speed Surly Krampus, a Rohloff equipped Surly ECR and, of course, my Surly Ogre now in all its knobbly tyred off-road glory.

The wind was relentless and chilled us all to our cores as we rode through some of the best scenery the Pennines has to offer, finding new trails, rediscovering ancient packhorse trails and even inventing new trails through tussocks of grass and boggy marshes.

We took turns failing to crest impossible climbs and I had more than my fair share of close shaves as my rusty mountain biking skills were exposed on the technical descents.

My friend Matt and I unknowingly entered into a bizarre competition to see who could catch the most air off whatever piece of rock or whatever we could find as we hurtled downhill. I’d like to think I scored OK and by the end of the ride was even getting quite good at it but when I tell you Matt was carrying luggage on his ECR and was still catching bigger air than me, I think you’ll agree he deserves the prize!

What a way to round out a great challenge – can’t wait for the next one!errandonnee12 Surly Ogre

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life is a lemon (and i want my money back)

Well, for a moment there I was getting a bit worried that the 12 days of the 2015 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge was slipping away and I was running dangerously low on completed errands. And then one simple errand led to a massive five in one day and one more the following day. AND I’m one step closer to getting over not being allowed to have a Krampus (yet) (again).

errandonnee4 bike partsErrand #4: Picking up new shiny from the bike shop | Date: 10 March 2015 | Category: personal business (getting over the whole Krampus thing) | Miles: 12 | Thing I noticed: that doesn’t look like £80 worth of gear, but it is.

The new shiny in question was: 4 new tubes, a gear cable, some jockey wheels, a chain and 2 disc brake rotors. The plan being to convert my Surly Ogre from its current setup as foul weather commuter and dedicated coffeeneuring rig to a fully rigid, knobbly tyred, lightweight (as lightweight as Surlys get, anyway) 29er mountain bike.

Basically, convert it into the closest thing I can get to a Krampus with the meager budget I’m allowing myself to splurge on bikes at the moment.

errandonnee5 Surly Ogre MTBErrand #5: Surly Ogre MTB shakedown ride, part one | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: wild card | Miles: 15 (combined for errands # 5 – 9) | Thing I noticed: I’m too fat to ride a 1×9 setup where 39:36 is the lowest gear ratio available to me.

Errand #6: Showing off the Ogre to my bike shop friends | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: social call | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: The Ogre now weighs (only) ~17kg. There’s no picture because I’m sure you’re sick of seeing my bike at the shop!

Errand #7: Getting money out of the cashpoint so I could pay back the tenner I owed Karen | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: non-store errand | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: I still can’t work a cashpoint with gloves on (I seem to remember noticing this last year too). There’s no picture because there was a queue of people behind me waiting to use the one working machine and I suspect they’d have beaten me if I stopped to take a photo.

errandonnee6 white spiritErrand #8: Buying some white spirit so I can clean paintbrushes and thin down the yacht varnish I’m using for the new garage door frame (how rock & roll is my life?) | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: store | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: One does not simply walk into the store and just buy some white spirit – there must’ve been 20 different options! I went with the one that I felt struck the best balance between value for money and ability to fit in my Carradice saddle bag.

errandonnee7 lemonsErrand #9: Picking up some lemons for Karen to make Lemon Drizzle cake with | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: store | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: People look at me like I’m crazy when I take pictures of lemons and, to quote my friend Tess, the white spirit and the lemons “is gonna make a helluva martini”.

Overall, the shakedown went well and all I really needed to do was adjust the angle of the handlebars slightly and think seriously about the gearing. I’d originally planned to put a standard MTB triple on the front but then I got to thinking about whether I really need a big ring and settled on a double with bash ring.

Then I thought: hang on a minute, I’ve already got a single ring with bash fitted to the Ogre… maybe I can just run that as a 1×9 with a 12:36 cassette. As it turns out though, the 39 tooth chainring I had on there (which I’d wrongly thought was 36 tooth) was just way too tall for the kind of riding I want to do and even on the flat I wasn’t using the high gears so a smaller chainring was in order.

After rummaging in the parts box, I found a 32 tooth middle ring on an old Shimano chainset so I threw that on and headed out for a quick spin to the shops. It’s a shame I’ve already used up my 2 store errands, but there you go.

Errand #10: Surly Ogre MTB shakedown ride, part deux | Date: 12 March 2015 | Category: personal care (because leaving the old gearing on there would’ve killed me). Miles: 1.5. Thing I noticed: the gearing was so high before because what I thought was a 36t chainring was *actually* a 39t chainring! This 32t ring is *much* more sensible.

errandonnee10 Surly Ogre Sturmey Archer Blackspire4 full days to go and only 2 more errands to complete! How are you getting on?

down by the sea

 

Sometimes when I’m out cycling, I get a song stuck in my head. More often than not, it’s one of those hideously annoying songs I somehow know all the words to but will never freely admit to recognizing and would certainly never buy a CD of, not in a million years.

My most recent earworm was the unfortunately apt Ferry cross the Mersey.

Surly Troll Mersey Silver Jubilee bridgeWhy was this song going through my mind over and over and OVER AND OVER? Well, it just so happens I was cycling along the banks of the River Mersey and, like a bleeding tourist, stopping to take photographs like these ones of the Silver Jubilee Bridge in the Mersey Estuary.

2 Surly Troll Mersey Estuary Silver Jubilee BridgeWhat was I doing in Merseyside being a bleeding tourist? Well, I was making my way back to Manchester via the starting point of the Trans Pennine Trail at Southport.

BEHOLD: Trollfest #2:

2 Surly Troll Southport TPT Trans Pennine Trail startYes, the Northern Walker and I had somehow managed to convince our respective other halves to let us escape for the day so we hopped on a train at Manchester Piccadilly to the somewhat underwhelming start point at Southport. We decided not to dip our wheels in the sea (what with it being about 5 miles out), much to the relief of the RNLI guy who looked like he’d had to rescue far too many cyclists from the mudflats.

Instead, we set off into a relentless headwind on the exposed coastline which, coupled with the dull route, made the initial part of the ride a bit of a chore.

Trans Pennine Trail Liverpool Loop Line blockedEventually, we turned slighty inland and enjoyed miles of deserted trails and country lanes as the early morning sun started peeking through the grey clouds overhead… until we reached the start of the Liverpool Loop Line which was closed apparently due to asbestos being removed from a bridge.

994460_10152927169679863_3908862782886263258_nWe were not amused. Not least because the diversion was poorly signed but when we could navigate our way through it, we increasingly found ourselves riding through some of the worst neighbourhoods and decrepit industrial estates in Liverpool.

Just when we were at our grumpiest, we happened across a HUGE supply of the plumpest, sweetest wild blackberries which we scrumped until our bellies were full and our moods improved.

2 Surly Troll Liverpool Loop LineBack on track and after a couple of unplanned diversions (thanks to whoever turned the sign around), we eventually made our way onto the Liverpool Loop Line proper which is an old railway bed carved directly out of the sandstone. Purty.

We paused for an apple and some questionable yet strangely morish jelly sweets and discussed the pros and cons of Surly Open Bars vs Jeff Jones Loop Bars.

Last time we rode, Matt’s Troll was sporting some el cheapo riser bars and I had a set of Jones. This time, Matt had a brand new set of the Loop Bars and I’d switched to the Open Bars.

Surly Troll Open Bars Carradice bagWhich is better? Well, I still love the Jones bars but, boy are they expensive. Sure, I got a killer deal on my Surly bars but even at full price they’re considerably cheaper and I still have plenty of hand positions. Plus, a small Carradice bag sits neatly underneath, giving me ample room to stash a spare tube, some tools and whatever strange munchies I can lay my hands on.

We pushed on through Merseyside, wondering if we’d ever make it Warrington and starting to question the advertised mileage on the map as time marched on and our curfew approached.

The bullet holes in the TPT signs in Halewood helped motivate us to pick up the speed until the thatched cottages in the beautiful Hale Village almost stopped us in our tracks. The wild plums I found at the roadside were enough to stop us completely for a few delicious minutes.

Apple scrumpingWe finally made it to Warrington, now convinced the mileage on the maps was pure fantasy so we stopped for that oh-so-traditional cycling nutrition: beer & peanuts.

A little further on and I spotted yet more trail side foraging and set about grabbing myself an apple.

Matt wasn’t convinced they’d be ripe just yet.

Apple scrumping 2Matt was right.

We neared home via the Bollin Valley Way, stopping only to avoid mowing down small children, double check the route and eat a huge slice of fruit cake.

At Sale, we decided to skip off the TPT in favour of the Bridgewater Way which I knew would take us home to yet more cake. What I didn’t know was that just about everyone else had the same idea which meant the trail was uber busy, hampering our progress.

Even worse, the trail was blocked in places and rough all the way which slowed us down even more. At Salford we realised just how late it had gotten and agreed it was better to part ways than face the inevitable “where are you?” phone calls from the bosses.

I checked the mileage when I got home, almost 70 miles total for the day. The maps suggested it’d be a little over 50 miles… Ah well, at least we know why it took so long!

2 Surly Troll TPT Trans Pennine Trail Bollin Valley

karma police

 

I’m not sure I believe in karma and all that mumbo jumbo.

I love that expression “mumbo jumbo”, you so rarely get to use it in a sentence. In fact, I’m fairly confident I’ve never typed it before.

But I digress.

Every week I say to myself “Listen, you can’t leave the office at 7pm on a Friday and expect to be able to ride across Manchester city centre without running into revellers, crazy people, buses, taxis and other assorted hazards!”.

Every week, I ignore my own sound advice and find myself dodging people stepping out into traffic, drivers making ill considered (and often illegal) dangerous manoeuvres and women of a certain age who really shouldn’t be wearing *that*.

Tonight, as the pack of mini-skirted 40-somethings almost got wiped out by a tram, I decided to hang back and let the taxi (that was going to pull out whether I pulled back or not) pull out ahead of me. To which I received a big smile and a friendly wave.

A little way down the road and I pulled alongside another black cab sat  waiting at a red light and waved to point out he was driving around in full dark with no headlights on… to which I received a big smile and a friendly wave.

The remaining trek across the city centre presented the usual selection of horrible sights, a few close shaves and one incredibly impatient driver blowing their horn at me when I didn’t move out of their way immediately.

Meh. I suppose it’ll take a little time for my good karma to kick in.

But I digress.

You see, tonight’s ride home from work was the first in a series. Over the next 12 days I am taking part in the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonee Challenge.

The rules are pretty simple, I just have to complete 12 errands by bike in 12 days, covering a minimum of 30 miles. Oh, and I also have to document each errand with a photo and point out something I learned or observed on my trip.

carradice bagHere’s a picture of my Carradice saddle bag I use for commuting to work, it’s plenty big enough for a change of clothes, lunch and a few bits and bobs if I need to pick anything up on the way home.

Something I observed on my trip? Well, other than the bewildering selection of outfits on display in the city centre, I was quite struck with just how big the difference is between the madness of the city centre and the serenity of the suburbs – I can’t wait to get out of the former, but I find myself taking longer and longer routes through the latter.

Edit:

Errand #1 fits into the ‘work’ category as it was my daily commute to / from work and also takes care of one of my recommended ‘after dark’ errands.

1795689_10152477967614863_2101079586_nSee, look, it was dark. Dark like a dark thing. The lighting method used a simple Shimano hub dynamo wired up to a Trelock front dynamo light and a… something-or-other mudguard mounted dynamo rear light, both with built-in standlights. How I ever lived without dynamo lights, I’ll never know.

Total mileage for errand #1: 16 miles.