Cycling Experiences of Note

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Cycling Experiences of Note

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Editado: Jan 28, 2011, 6:21 pm

Over a cycling career of nineteen years, including year-round cycle-commuting (except for snow), club riding and cycling vacations, some unusually memorable incidents come to mind.
There was The 'Possum'. After riding about forty minutes from my home in the inner suburbs to the main library downtown one night, I left the library to discover a light powder snow coming down and not melting (thank goodness). Years of winter cycle-commuting had taught me how to deal with this, so I set forth, staying on little-traveled streets with shallow gradients, being careful to anticipate braking requirements and making only slow turns. Near home, I turned onto a quiet street with one of the steeper downgrades, with a bend part of the way down which hid the lower part of the hill. Upon rounding the bend, I spied an animal somewhat larger than a cat crossing the street from the right. At first I could not identify it, but was relieved to see that it was not a large animal like a dog or raccoon. Smoothly, I steered to pass behind the creature, since it would too dangerous to brake. At that point I recognized it to be an American Opossum, one of most ancient and primitive of mammals, who survive by living an accelerated life, reaching maturity about two months after birth, and dying of old age after about a year.
The creature spotted me coming and instantly reversed course onto my path. There was no time to do anything except keep the bike going perfectly straight for maximum dynamic stability. Thump-thump, I went over the creature and continued down the street with balance undisturbed. It was close call, and I was lucky to avoid a crash. I suspect that the possum was more startled than injured, although I did not look back to check, being very relieved not to have crashed.

One of the more challenging types of cycle-touring is doing the high passes of the Alps in Austria and Switzerland. This is not for novices on loaded touring bikes, since one's skills are tested to the maximum when riding at slow speed on a very long, steep grade while pedaling rapidly. The road is often running with water from melting snow, and there are no guard rails alongside oneself, only stone pillars every five meters or so. I found that I was in danger of developing vertigo if I looked out over the vast spaces alongside, to the valley thousands of feet below. Part of the problem was that the grade was so steep that if I had to stop I would probably not be able to start riding again. Drivers were very considerate on the winding road and would wait five or ten minutes until they could see far enough ahead to pass safely. Traffic was surprisingly heavy, and there must have been quite a long line of motorists waiting to pass. One of the more shocking things was having ice water drip on one's back when entering or exiting the short tunnels along the climb. Further on, the gradients on the the south side of the mountain range were much steeper, and descending was a little scary.
Since the day was yet young, we continued on to one of the towns located on an 'Alp', which are shelf-like remains of the ancient mountain valleys before the Ice Age glaciers, starting 2.5 million years ago, sliced through them and left them suspended high above to current valley bottoms. Our misfortune was to start climbing, unbeknownst to us, into a spiral snowshed road, with cars passing a meter away at thirty miles an hour, having come into sight of us about two seconds before passing us. It would have been fatal to fall in front of one one of the passing cars, and there was plenty of traffic. This was scary as heck, and my forty year old lady was in tears by the time we reached the town, Andermatt.
The next day, we continued and happened to pass one of local cowherds who live high in the mountains and who was waiting for the bus to go into town, complete with hob-nailed boots, thick socks, hairy calves and woolen plus-fours. Just to be friendly, I said 'Good Morning' (in German of course) and in reply received probably the most hate-filled stare that I have ever experienced. Apparently the most isolated Swiss are not always as broad-minded and polite as we to which are accustomed.

If you really want to test your cycling skills, try the coastal roads of northwest Scotland. The gradients are unbelievable, with 18% as marked all too common. At one point, just in order to continue moving (I don't walk), I found myself out of the saddle and using my whole body and back muscles to drive the cranks around. At that point, an open-top sports car went by, the occupants cheering me on loudly. The wind at this time was blowing a steady forty miles-per-hour. It was the only day that I ever rode for only 35 miles before stopping for the day. In Switzerland, we averaged 65 miles a day, and were not actually tired.
Just as difficult was descending such steep grades, with all of one's weight jammed into the drop handlebars, and trying to avoid braking too much on the front wheel while also trying to avoid locking up the rear wheel, which is lightly loaded in this circumstance. Even in the cool temperatures, the wheel rims become so hot that there is danger of tires blowing out from over-pressure, especially on long descents. Brake pads have a tendency to melt partially and smear onto the rims, so it is a good idea to carry something to remove brake material from the rims. These roads are often not smoothly graded, with humps and dips and rough surfaces creating something of a bumpy ride, some with loose gravel, adding to the challenge. We think of this as somewhat adventurous cycling.

Jan 29, 2011, 10:52 am

Headwinds: Cycling south down Ireland's east coast, aiming to do 50+ miles. We were headon into an atlantic gale the whole day and barely managed 20 miles. We caught the train the next day. Which is an experience in an of itself in Ireland. On another day, cresting a hil coasting along ready to start freewheeling down the other side. Only to meet such a wind blowing up that side that I'd started to go backwards (not the most stable motion for a bike!) before having to pedal all the way down.

Commuting in snow is fine. As long as there's no ice underneath. Thin tyres (23 mm - less than 1inch) cut through 5cm+ of snow without trouble. You just have to take it slowly and mind the corners.

Jul 7, 2011, 12:27 pm

Perhaps you have a memoir in you, r_f? Enjoyable reading! I just finished my ER book, It's All About the Bike: Man, has that guy done some riding. Including an around-the-world ride, and over the major mountain ranges of the world. About to post my review.

Jul 29, 2011, 4:11 pm

My lady and I decided to begin our cycling tour of western Scotland at the port of Oban, and so crossed the water to the Isle of Mull on the large and crowded ferry. We set off to follow the road in a clockwise direction on the way to Tobermory for the ferry trip back to the mainland. Having left Glasgow that morning, we decided to stop for the day at a Bed & Breakfast that we reached just past the spectacular high vertical cliffs extending perpendicular to the road out into the ocean. It was a single lane road, so we had to stop whenever we encountered on-coming traffic. The side of the hill often fell steeply down from the edge of the road. Also notable were the dead sheep laying in the road where they had fallen from high above while trying to reach the untouched grass of the hills.
Elaine mentioned to the proprietors that my father was a native of Scotland (We're from the USA), and they surprised us that evening at dinner with an authentic Haggis meal, complete with bagpiper! This was very kind of them of course, and it occurred to me that the fact that we were the very rarest of all tourists; thirty-something adults traveling by bicycle, that may have contributed to their motivation. I believe that they were actually natives of England who preferred to live in one of the quietest areas of Britain.
This was the most generous and kind gesture we ever experienced during all our cycling tours in the Swiss, German and Austrian Alps, and Ireland, and Scotland again.

Jul 30, 2011, 11:39 am

Great images Jim -- thanks for contributing that!

Jul 31, 2011, 5:24 pm

>4 JimThomson:
That reminds me I once had more-or-less the opposite experience - about 25 years ago, when I was living in Yorkshire, a friend and I did a little weekend ride into the North York Moors. We stayed overnight in a small, unstaffed, youth hostel, where we had been planning to heat up some dehydrated noodles or something for supper. It turned out that it was the 4th of July. There was a very pleasant middle-aged couple from Seattle staying in the hostel: they had talked the lady who looked after the place (in her day-job she was the village postmistress) into cooking a celebratory meal for everyone who was staying there. The American couple paid for all the ingredients. I think there were seven or eight of us, including the postmistress, and we all had a very jolly evening. Whatever differences we might have had in 1776 seemed a long way away. The usual YHA curfew hour and alcohol ban were conveniently overlooked for once...
The Yorkshire 1-in-3's seemed even steeper than usual the next morning, after all those roast potatoes and cake. After the second puncture we gave up and put our bikes on the train.

Jul 31, 2011, 6:25 pm

The short version:
Back in 1977, living in Saranac Lake, NY, my then-wife (ThiMs) and I were influenced and guided by a neighbor of ours named Eldin Housinger to purchase bicycles and equipment, get in shape, and do our own cross-country tour. In July of that year, we stowed our possessions in my parent's barn in northern New Jersey, and headed south. Our intention was to bicycle the perimeter of the Lower Forty-Eight. Somewhere in Virginia, ThiMs decided she had enough, but didn't mention it to me until we arrived at her brother's place in Pensacola, Fla. It took fifty days. We camped most nights, stayed in hotels only when it became necessary (maybe three times), and was an adventure every day. I bought an SLR camera for the trip, and the memories are preserved in two journals and over seven hundred color slides.

Alas, I don't have a slide projector anymore, and my handwriting is indecipherable.