To recap: after doing maths in St Andrews for half of June and all of July, I spent a couple of weeks in Nottingham with some of my family. We got out on our bikes a bit, and tried to make the most of whatever small piece of summer we could salvage from 2012. I returned home to Perth half way through August, and shortly afterwards, I took the opportunity of visiting Emily to bring my bike home from St Andrews. I wanted to go on some bikes rides.
The River Tay at Port Allen
My first bike ride, a week or so later, was a route of about 20 miles that I’ve done several times before, taking me first south, to get out of Perth, and then west along one side of the Earn valley before returning home on the other side of the valley.
I would’ve been out on my bike sooner than that, but as was typical for 2012, the weather hadn’t been great. It was cold and, as you can see from some of the photos from my last post, there was a lot of rain about. Indeed, on that bike ride I ended up spending about half an hour under my umbrella, sheltering from torrential rain. Packing a waterproof jacket and umbrella would become standard operating procedure for the rest of my rides.
Approaching a level crossing in the Carse of Gowrie.
Just 3 days after that, on the 27th August, I decided that the weather was good enough for my next outing.
There aren’t many official cycle routes around Perth, but the main one which passes through is Sustrans National Route 77 of the National Cycle Network. It runs from Pitlochry, which is roughly 30 miles to the north of Perth, through Perth, and then all the way to Dundee, which is 20 miles to the east. I had ridden the route northwards once or twice before, but only as far as Dunkeld. The section of the route towards Dundee had always been something that I’d do “one day”. It’s a least 20 miles each way, and the roads are exposed to the full force of the weather. To tackle them, you ideally want a long, warm and dry day with little wind. That is, a nice summer’s day, something which we’ve been lacking recently.
I could be waiting years for such a summer’s day when I’m in Perth with my bike with enough free time. I was only lacking lovely weather, and you can’t always have everything. The 27th wasn’t forecast to be particularly sunny or warm (a maximum temperature of around 15ºC), but it was meant to be dry and calm, so I took the opportunity to get out.
My plan: head towards Dundee.
The Tay at Invergowrie.
Initially my intention was not to cycle to Dundee, only to cycle along Route 77 towards Dundee and then turn back and head home whenever I felt like it. Indeed, I didn’t end up reaching Dundee, as you’ll see, but I almost did. I got as far as Invergowrie before deciding to head home for the day. I had a good time – I always find it exciting to cycle along a new route. It’s an adventure, a discovery.
As it turned out, I mostly stuck to the official roads of Route 77, although I decided to throw in a little detour for lunch. Here’s the route that I ended up taking (click to see a better version, or an even better, not scaled down version: left hand side, right hand side):
The map of my bike ride to Invergowrie, and back.
And here is a link to that route on Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/dS738.
My total mileage was about 42 miles (about 20 miles each way and 2 miles for my detour) and you can see that I was generally heading in a sort of east-north-east-erly-ish direction. What the map doesn’t show you is that the stretch of the route from Glencarse to Invergowrie is pretty much level – which for a long bike ride is perfect. At least: perfect in my opinion. There are no large hills to speak of, just the occasional rise and fall, so no cause to get sweaty or out of breath, or need to dismount and walk.
There is one exception to this topological constancy. Kinnoull Hill, directly to the east of Perth:
The view from my old bedroom.
That’s the view of Kinnoull Hill from my old bedroom. Kinnoull Hill is the plug of an old volcano, one which has been extinct and hence has been eroded away for millions of years. Despite that, it still stands over 200 metres tall, and blocks the way between Perth and Dundee. You can’t cycle to Dundee without surmounting it: to the north are more hills, and to the south (the right-hand edge in the above photograph) lies the motorway and then immediately there is the Tay. Both of these are significant obstacles to bikes, and I’d recommend that any cyclist avoid rivers and motorways.
I started my bike ride in the early afternoon, at about sea level. At one point the route takes you on a small bridge over the River Tay, and as the Tay at Perth is still tidal, you can pretty much take it to be at sea level.
Perth Bridge seen from the eastern side of the Tay.
After leaving that bridge, the route climbs sharply up the side of Kinnoull Hill (although thankfully you don’t have to reach the summit). I reckon, after quickly consulting an Ordnance Survey map on bing maps, that the road crests at about 140 metres – although I could be wrong. Here’s a photo which I took shortly before I reached that point:
The climb up Kinnoull Hill is long, and full of terrors.
I had walked almost the whole way up, getting off my bike when the gradient of the hill was too steep, and finding the leisurely walk pushing my bike up the side of the road far more pleasant than forcing my leg muscles to keep me moving uphill on two wheels.
Again, I was doing the naughty thing and listening to an audiobook for the whole duration of the ride. I did wear my helmet again, and I turned the book off and removed the earbuds when I was cycling quickly, in traffic, or attempting something dangerous. After finishing Consider the Lobster on my previous ride, and after having finished the first book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire series” (A Game of Thrones), for this bike ride I chose to listen to A Clash of Kings. For the first part of the day, and during the walk uphill in particular, I was listening to the first chapter, which was the prologue. Naturally.
Shortly after reaching the apex of the road, and only after descending very slightly, the road becomes very alpine-feeling: hugging the contour lines on the side of a hill, on a road carved horizontally into the slope. I love it, and what’s more, the route provides some great views. I stopped my descent, got off my bike, and had a look around:
Looking back to Perth, seeing Craigie Hill, the A90, the Tay, and cows grazing in front of Kinnoull Hill.
I took all of the photos on this bike ride with my iPhone, and as my phone includes GPS technology, every photo is saved with location information in the Exif data. According to that data, these two photos were taken at an altitude of 138m – quite a climb from ‘sea’ level!
A weird iPhone HDR photo of the Tay from high up the sides of the valley.
Just visible in the higher-resolution version of the above photo is a freight train meandering along the railway line to Dundee. That was a nice spot to see from up on the hill: a Class 66 operated by government-owned company Direct Rail Services (DRS) and in their colours, hauling what I call “the Asda train”, an assortment of containers bound for Aberdeen, mostly branded as Asda or W. H. Malcolm. It sounded quite loud too, and was cracking along at a fair pace. Cool.
After getting my fill of the scenery, I replaced my helmet and iPhone, turned off my audiobook, and headed down into the valley. As I pulled away, my bike was making a worrying rattling sound, but I couldn’t locate the source of the malfunction. I held my brake cables tight, but that didn’t stop the noise. I held my bell, but that didn’t change anything either. My brake blocks were aligned correctly and my spokes were fine. What could it be?
I headed down a bit of steep hill, and took a tight corner at too ambitious of a speed. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I dared, but I still veered wide onto the verge at the edge of the road. The bike shook violently, but unbelievably to me, I didn’t panic and I remained upright. I cycled off with a deep belly laugh at my brush with disaster.
Soon I was off my bike again, as the road was heading up too steeply. The noise from my bike had only gotten worse whilst I was cycling it, and after fiddling around for a while, I finally figured out what was wrong: one of the two nuts keeping my front wheel in place was loose and had almost fallen off. My wheel was almost loose. Craziness. I quickly tightened it with my fingers (it held), climbed the rest of the way uphill, and then got in my seat to ride the rest – and bulk – of the way downhill.
And some hill it was. I soon passed a sign that said this:
A 20 per fucking cent slope. Wow.
20%: for every 5 metres travelled horizontally, you travel 1 metre vertically. That’s a lot. The rest of my journey down into the valley would be a steep one, and – a couple of metres beyond the sign – one that I’d never done before. That’s a dangerous combination.
My audiobook was still switched off, but after all of the effort I put in to get up the side of Kinnoull Hill, there was no chance that I was going to squander my gravitational potential energy and trundle downhill at a slow speed. I released my brakes, pedalled as far as I could, and then sat back in the saddle for stability. The descent started out well, but I quickly got into trouble as I traversed what must’ve been the steepest part of the hill: my brakes weren’t sharp enough to stop me from veering onto the wrong (right-hand) side of the road on a left turn. Fortunately there was no on-coming traffic, but had there been, I might have had a near miss. Despite applying my breaks, my speed was still increasing, to around 35 mph, and my cornering was becoming wider and wider. I pulled on my breaks as hard as I could, and eventually I started slow: but not before cycling over a very rough and cracked patch of road which I was going too fast to avoid. It was one of the scariest moments of my cycling life when I was going over them. I was so unsteady and out of control and going so fast that I was sure that I was about to be thrown off my bike and down the middle of the road. I let out a loud “FUCK!”, but I was okay. I was okay.
I drifted on, there was one more turn, and then the rest of the road was straight: I let my brakes go, pedalled to regain a bit of speed, and at a leisurely 31 mph, I cruised down towards a crossroads at the bottom of the valley:
The final bit of descent from Kinnoull Hill.
Next time, I’ll take that hill more slowly.
A bailer working in the Sun.
I caught my breath, turned A Clash of Kings back on to hear more about the maester up to some tricks in the Prologue, and I continued my journey, now in the flat stage.
There is not much more to tell: the Sun soon started shining through the clouds, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride. I particularly enjoyed the first valley at the bottom of the hill, towards the left in the crossroads shown above, and before reaching Glencarse. There was something secluded and private and wonderful about it all, yet majestic. I was truly into new cycling territory.
The miles piled up, and so rolled by the hours. So it was that I found myself feeling remarkably hungry, and looking for a place to stop and eat.
An enticing roadway down towards the River Tay.
One of my very favourite aspects of life is eating, and I am almost always looking forward to my next meal. Before departing, I had taken great pleasure and care in putting together my food and drink for the journey. Fluid-wise, I had packed both a 1½ litre and a 750ml Highland Spring bottle filled with water, along with a can of Dr Pepper and a can of Orangina. Food-wise, I’d make a prawn mayonnaise sandwich, a jam sandwich, and brought a banana or two.
I pulled in by the road just before Errol, took the picture above, and then consulted the map: that little road would take me down to the river, and by the river I might find a nice place to eat. I waited for the traffic to clear, which included 2 cyclists. The instant I saw them, one or two hundred metres away, I just knew that they’d be taking the same road as me. Even though the cycle route continues onwards, even though there was nothing down that road, I knew that they’d go there, and that I’d then look like I was following them, and then I would have to make awkward conversation with them, and not be able to eat my lunch in peace.
That’s exactly what happened: they turned down onto the road to the Tay, and I followed. They were serious cyclists and much faster than me, but I caught up with them at the river. We exchanged greetings, but thankfully they left shortly afterwards. Maybe they’d seen that I was going to go down the road, and had just wondered what all the fuss was about. Copying me, basically.
I was left with a nice spot by the river to eat and drink and prepare myself for the rest of the journey:
Some reeds and water in the foreground, in front of the River Tay.
It was nice, and in the audiobook I got to listen to the chapter which included the tourney for Joffrey’s 13th name day. I got back on my bike, turned around, and headed the ¾ miles or so back to the main road, and turned right, onwards to Dundee.
By this point I had gone around 13 miles, but I was still full of energy. I passed through Errol – a first for me – and continued to follow the cycle route. Soon I noticed that the road was getting closer to the railway line (which also heads to Dundee), and eventually I came to a level crossing.
A level crossing over the railway line between Perth and Dundee.
I like level crossings. At a level crossing, you might see a train. I crossed the line slowly and dismounted on the other side.
My speed and distance at that point. Note the front wheel, still attached. Cool watch.
I consulted the National Rail Enquiries app on my phone, and found that there would soon be a train departing Dundee, which would then pass my location on its way to Perth and eventually Glasgow. I waited, and was rewarded with a pair of Turbostars passing through:
ScotRail always runs their Glasgow to Aberdeen trains in this fashion on a Sunday. Trains are half as frequent, but twice as long: not a great compromise, in my opinion.
After another drink, I cracked on, determined to go further and discover some new places. The roads from this point on were very flat, and there were large and flat fields to either side of the road for many miles. It was uneventful, and I enjoyed the views and the audiobook, until I approached a built up area, which I concluded must be the first outskirts of Dundee:
Approaching Invergowrie, photographed whilst cycling.
By this point the Tay was very wide, well into its estuary, and the Tay bridges seemed very close. I pressed on, cycled through some small village or suburb of Dundee, and soon I came to Invergowrie. I headed for the railway station, where I knew I would find a bench where I could sit comfortably and finish the rest of my food and drink.
The river by the railway station, weather when I arrived.
The river by the railway station, 15 minutes after arriving. Much nicer.
As it was a Sunday, there were no trains stopping at the station for the whole day, so I didn’t have to worry about getting in the way of passengers. A couple of local kids walked by and gave me funny looks, but it was mostly a quiet and restful break. No trains even passed through – although there is an average of one train per hour on a Sunday, in reality there are two trains every two hours, and they both come quite close to each other. So the gaps between trains is more like two hours than one.
By this point I had cycled about 22 miles, and I was starting to tire. If I was to get home – which I very much wanted to happen by the end of the day – I would have to get there under my own steam. I had come ~20 miles, but I still had another 20 to go.
I posed for a photo of myself when the Sun came out:
Me, Wilf, in cycling gear.
In the above image, over my right shoulder, you can see a bridge. That bridge is on Perth Road, and is part of Dundee. So whilst I had not literally cycled to Dundee, I almost had. It was within reaching distance, almost. However, although the Sun had come out, it was getting late in the day, and I had no time to explore further. I would need to return home before the temperature dropped, the light got dim, and I got too hungry to continue (a boy needs his dinner!).
After about 45 minutes at Invergowrie, I got back on my bike, and had an uneventful 20 mile cycle back to home, in Perth.
I passed the river again, and the clouds started coming back in:
Looking upstream the Tay, near to Invergowrie.
And eventually I had to climb out of the Carse of Gowrie, and make the gruelling journey back up over Kinnoull Hill:
The valley from which I had just climb out of, with the resplendent Tay prominently on show.
And when I was back to ‘sea’ level, I had done 40 miles:
My speedometer clocks over to 40 miles as I wait at the traffic lights to cross the Perth Bridge.
I got home at around 6:45pm, having spent close to 6 hours out, cycling and walking and sitting and eating; all whilst listening to a substantial part of A Clash of Kings. I was tired, exhausted, but in a good way. I’d earned it – and being covered in sweat was the proof. I jumped in the shower, then got out in time for dinner, and then went to relax in bed with a cup of Earl Grey and my Kindle. A good day.
Here are the final statistics:
I had a really fun bike ride. I hope you enjoyed reading all about it.
I’m going to miss the RAF when I leave St Andrews, or when the RAF itself leaves Leuchars. Yesterday was a perfect example of why.
For the 2012 airshow display season, the RAF’s Typhoon Display Team was based at Leuchars, and was operated by members of 6 Squadron. I loved the Tornado F3 in many ways and I still miss it, but I can’t deny that the Typhoon (which replaced the F3 at Leuchars last year) is an incredible aeroplane.
A Tornado F3 of 111 Squadron circling to land at Leuchars.
2 Typhoons taking off at RAF Leuchars
The Display Team website is full of information, and I recommend that you give it a browse. This was the most impressive statistic that I could find:
When fully loaded the aircraft can climb to 35,000 ft from releasing the brakes in 90 seconds.
Almost 7 miles directly upwards, from a standing start, whilst being heavily laden down. Wow.
During the run-up to this summer’s airshow circuit, the pilot Scott Loughran was practising his routine in the skies over RAF Leuchars in up to 3 timeslots per day. There was sometimes a practice at 8am, at 12:30pm, and again at about 4pm, with the frequency of practices peaking in late April or early May.
Sometimes I missed the displays because I was in the shower or in bed or in a lecture, but quite often I did get to watch them – or at least see some of them. Due my lecture schedule, I rarely got the chance to walk somewhere to see the display close up (only once was I actually at the end of West Sands, directly under part of the display) but, when I heard the distinctive noise, I would often be able to step out of my house and find a vantage point, or settle down on a bench to eat my lunch. I would mostly admire the routine from the comfort of St Andrews.
Typhoon doing a ‘performance takeoff’, using afterburners to climb at an incredible rate and angle.
Yesterday was such an occasion. The airshow season has finished – the Typhoon performed its last public display at the Leuchars airshow on 15th September (which I watched). Yet last Thursday, RAF Leuchars posted an exciting message to their Facebook page, which read in part:
Over the next 24 hours, it is planned that Squadron Leader Scott Loughran will fly up to 3 routines over RAF Leuchars in order that he can complete his responsibilities for 2012 and successfully handover the role to Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris who will be the Royal Air Force Typhoon Display pilot for the 2013 airshow season.
Yes! What a treat.
And so it was that I heard a takeoff at 8:30am on Friday. That was suspiciously early, I thought… until I remembered the Facebook message which I’d read the previous day! I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and headed for a door, and took an earlier-than-intended, but amazing, walk to Maths.
It was a couple of days before BST ended, so the mornings were still very dark last week. When I stepped onto the coastal path, the sun had only just started to clear the cliffs to the east, presenting me with an amazing sunrise.
The Sun had just risen over the cliffs by East Sands.
The Typhoon hadn’t started practising yet – but I set eyes on it the moment I left my house. It was a couple of miles out to sea, at a reasonable altitude, doing dives and twists and loops and other strange manoeuvres. I took a few photos of the morning light, and as I started my walk to class, the Typhoon headed toward Leuchars, and started its display.
Being his first display in a while, Scott performed the display at a higher altitude than normal for safety. This would be disappointing if you were close up, but for me, it was perfect. I would have only been able to hear a low-down display, but higher up, I could see him, even from down near the beach at East Sands.
In the large version (click the image), you might just be able to make out the Typhoon, orange in the morning light.
The warm morning light lit up the aircraft beautifully, and when the glint of the sun was matched with the glow of the afterburners, the sight was incredible. The roar of the plane and engines cut through the cold morning air, to produce a deafening sound. The display included many high speed passes, inversions, stalls and an impressive near-vertical dive, finishing with a vertical climb. At one point, due to my slightly raised perspective in St Andrews, the Typhoon dived below the roof-line of a faraway building, giving the illusion of being about to slam into the ground and explode. Thankfully it didn’t, and a few seconds later I heard a boom of reheat as the Typhoon forced itself upwards.
10 minutes after starting, the display finished, and I continued my walk to class in peace.
This is where I watched the end of the display.
Scott performed another display at 11:45am, but frustratingly I had a lecture until 11:55am, at which point he’d finished. I headed to the end of West Sands, hoping that he’d perform a third and final display in the afternoon slot – around about 4pm – but he didn’t, and walked to my tutorial slightly disappointed.
Typhoon banking and using reheat during an earlier practice display.
Until yesterday. It was around 12:40, and I was sitting in the library, trying to ‘qualitatively’ solve some systems of differential equations, when I heard a suspiciously loud Typhoon takeoff. I listened for a few moments to see if the sound would trail off – characteristic of a departing plane – but the sound remained, and it was clear that something was afoot. Something loud.
I stood up from my desk, and walked out of the building and sat on my nearby favourite bench, where I often eat lunch. The sky to the north was dark and full of rain, but over Leuchars it was calm, except for Scott Loughran throwing his Typhoon around. It was just like all of his other displays – only better. Maybe because it was his last. The contrast of the copious reheat with the dark clouds behind the jet was breathtaking, as were the speed and tight cornering. He was having fun out there, and I was having fun watching him.
If you ever get the chance to watch a fast jet display: do it. It is absolutely thrilling. It has been a privilege and a joy to be able to be follow the development of a display, and watch its iterations throughout the year. I’m sad that 29 Squadron at RAF Coningsby is taking over the role next year, but I definitely made the most of the opportunity this year. Make hay while the Sun shines.
It certainly brightened up my days. Thanks Scott, and thanks RAF.
A Typhoon using afterburners during a high-speed low pass.
A Typhoon landing after the Leuchars airshow in 2012.
I’ve hardly written anything recently. I’ve not written on my blog for about 4 months, during which time…
- I had exams
- I moved house
- I visited London
- I went to an airshow
- I worked in the School of Maths at St Andrews (whilst living with Emily) for 6 weeks
All perfect topics to write about, yet not once did I bother. If I’m ever going to get back into the rhythm of this (which I probably won’t), I’ll have to start small. How small? This small:
Yesterday I went on a bike ride.
I brought my bike back from St Andrews a week or two ago, on my way home from visiting Emily. I keep it in the shed at Albany Park during term time, and as I was staying in St Andrews for a large part of the summer, I left it there when I moved out. The weather has been so wet this summer that I didn’t use my bike at all in St Andrews, and I brought it home in the hope that the weather would finally improve and I’d be able to go on at least some rides.
The weather hasn’t improved, but my courage has. Anticipating this, I spent an afternoon a few days ago cleaning and maintaining my bike in the garden. I still need new brake blocks and (probably professional) repairs to my front gear mechanism, but otherwise I’ve got it running nicely. I’ve even got a new helmet, which Jonathan left me when he moved out of Albany Park. It’s good, much better than my old one, and it fits snugly and comfortably. AND SAFELY.
The weather seemed fairly bright and dry after breakfast yesterday. I put on some suitably scruffy cyclewear (including waterproof jacket and cycling gloves) and then made a prawn mayonnaise sandwich for my lunch, which I threw into my backpack along with a water bottle, a can of Orangina, my Kindle, and – yup – an umbrella.
I haven’t cycled much around Perth, but I’ve done enough to have a couple of favourite routes. I enjoy cycling into the Earn valley, which is where I went yesterday. The Earn valley lies just to the south of Perth, and stretches to the west in the direction of Auchterarder. To get there, you follow the old Edinburgh Road out of Perth and into Bridge of Earn, and from there you go wherever you fancy. I usually head west about as far as Forteviot before crossing to the other side of the valley and heading back to Perth, and that’s pretty much what I did.
Here’s the route that I took (click to see a better version):
And here is a link to that route on Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/Anw1j
I’m just going to mention: on this bike ride I was naughty, and I was listening to an audiobook almost the whole way. I’ve been meaning to re-listen to the audiobook of “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace for ages. I’ve listened to it before, but it’s abridged, and I recently got a copy of the unabridged text. I read the essays which are missing from the audiobook (very skilfully read by the author himself) which made me really want to listen to it again to complete the experience. Yes, I know it’s dangerous to listen to stuff whilst cycling, especially on roads. I don’t normally do it – though that’s probably because I don’t normally cycle alone. But yesterday it was quiet on the roads and my earphones let in enough background noise, so that I was always aware of any approaching traffic with plenty of time.
It’s a really good book by the way, I recommend it.
Shortly after Forgandenny, it started spitting, and soon it turned into a downpour. I sheltered at the entrance to a farmer’s field, where I stood around and ate my lunch. My Mum had bought some sort of oatmal loaf, and it was pathetic, it had the structural integrity of candy floss. The sandwich fell apart in my hands. Never mind. I was listening to the essay from the book called “The View from Mrs Thompson’s” at this point, by the way. It rained for about half an hour, after which I carried on to Forteviot, where I stopped on a bridge over the railway line to Stirling to drink my Orangina and watch some trains.
I continued in the direction of Auchterarder for a couple of miles (the red line on the map above), before deciding to turn back and go home.
Which I did… for a little while. And then I crossed the Earn and, to my left, saw one of the steepest and tallest roads I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s the yellow road on the map above. It isn’t on the route to Perth, but if there’s one thing I love about cycling, it’s going fast. Especially down hills, and especially going very fast. This seemed like a Very Fast Hill. There was no question: I was going to do it. I tried to cycle up, but it was too steep to bother, and walked. I was too impatient to get all the way to the top (the A9 is at the top anyway, I didn’t want to go there) and I stopped, briefly considered sending a text to my Mum letting her know where I was in case I crashed (I didn’t) (send the text, that is), turned my bike around, took out my headphones, got on, and started to pedal.
I pedalled really hard. To get to 10mph, it’s easy. 20mph requires a considerable effort, but going downhill, you can easily reach that speed just by drifting. But at somewhere between 20 and 25mph, I stopped pedalling for a moment, and my speed remained constant: the friction of my tyres on the road and the air resistance of my body almost balanced gravity. From this point onwards, only serious legwork was going to get me to go any faster.
My goal was 40mph. If I was already going 25mph, that’s only an extra 15mph – that’s easy isn’t it, that’s just like the equivalent of increasing your speed from 0mph to 15mph? Right? Wrong.
If you studied physics at school, you will know that kinetic energy increases linearly with mass, but with the square of the speed. That is: Ek = ½mv2. This means it takes twice as much energy to cycle at 10mph if you double your mass, but to carry the original mass at twice the speed, 20mph, it takes four times as much energy.
40mph is 1.6 times as fast as 25mph. 1.62 is about 2.6, which meant I needed to give my bike 1.6 (= 2.6 – 1) times as much energy as it had, in addition to what it already had. I would have to do this using only my legs. What speed has 1.6 times as much energy as 25mph? sqrt(252 * 1.6) = 32mph. This means that to go from 25mph to 40mph, I would have to do the equivalent work of cycling (on level ground) from 0 all the way to 32mph which, FYI, is a really hard thing to do. (By the way, these calculations all ignore air resistance which would horribly complicate things).
But as I trundled down the steep hill gaining speed, there were a few further complications. There road was bumpy. There was a bend in the road – it’s not wise to be pedalling at full power when you turn, so I would have to ease off slightly at the bend to avoid losing control. Oncoming cars could appear in my way at any moment. And: I didn’t have much time. The road was fairly long, but at 30, 35mph, you are travelling so quickly that your bike eats up the road and it quickly runs out. I might not have enough space, and still be accelerating when I’m forced to break for the junction at the bottom (with my break blocks which definitely need replacing).
As I turned the bend half way up the hill, I was already doing 32mph – I was covering about 14 metres every second, which is quite a lot if you think about it for a human being. To my delight, the road ahead was completely clear, and I pedalled my legs as fast as I’d ever done before. It felt amazing, and I let out a whoop of joy and excitement – quite like Bear Grylls does when he jumps out of helicopters. My eyes were watering so much that I couldn’t look down at my speedometer, but after my legs burned from the lactic acid generated by my pedalling, I rested and slammed on the brakes. Too early in retrospect – I stopped far short of the bottom, but I had reached my maximum. I had no extra effort left to increase my speed, but I would have enjoyed drifting at speed for an extra second or so.
The fasted I have ever cycled was 40.0mph, down Glenlochay Road in Perth, an incredibly steep road near where I live. I’m not sure how I got to that speed, but I did, and I really wanted to beat it. Crazy.
When I was stopped at the bottom of the hill, I clicked through my speedometer until I reached the maximum speed section. This is what I saw:
The rain clouds were gathering, it was already raining on the other side of the valley, but I knew I could do better. I knew it. If only I’d hit the brakes later, if only I’d pedalled just a bit harder and longer. So, I turned round and scurried up the hill again to the same spot.
When I got to the top again, the rain was almost upon me:
I had to be quick, because a wet road is seriously dangerous at high speeds on a bike. I got on my bike again, but things didn’t go as well: I was still worn out from walking quickly up the hill, the were a lot of cars on the road, and I think I was just a bit tireder. I only managed about 38mph.
I truly had just made it in time, because seconds after I reached the bottom, it started to rain. It kept raining, and got heavier. So heavy, that I could not see through my glasses. They were full of water droplets. I need wipers for my glasses, like a car.
I got off and stood by the road, parked my bike on its kick stand, put up my umbrella (good job), and got out my iPhone. It was time to see how long this rain would last:
Fuck. There was a lot of rain in the Perth area for the whole evening, it might not stop at all.
The heavy rain persisted for half an hour, during which time I continued to listen to the audiobook, until it slowed and eventually stopped, and I could cycle the 6 or so miles home.
I stopped by some brambles to pick some tasty ripe blackberries, and then got back on my bike, refreshed.
I passed the entrance to a country estate:
And at Milltown of Aberdalgie, as I was was dismounting – to climb another hill on foot – I got a phone call, from Emily. It was a lovely surprise and exactly what I needed to revive me after hanging around in a downpour, exhausted, for half an hour. We talked as I climbed the hill (which was the back of Craigie Hill), and when it ended, I was just about 3 miles to my house, mostly downhill.
It took me about 10-12 minutes to get home and end my ride, safely. I had fun.
My total, modest, trip distance:
If the weather’s nice, I’m going on a ride tomorrow, too.
It’s Thursday 13th May 2010. I’m in Marseille, hanging out by a huge ‘basilica’ called Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Yesterday I got to Marseille, but it wasn’t easy. It was a bit of a shambles actually – I hope all travelling days aren’t going to be this bad.
I got up early, breakfasted and left for the station. I was really feeling the weight of my bags, so I waited 20 minutes for a bus which was full to the brim. Being you’re laden down is the perfect reason for catching a bus, but it makes you feel uncomfortable getting on a bus with 2 large bags, as a foreigner, squeezing in amongst everyone else and getting in their way. You just have to avoid eye contact, I guess.
I couldn’t wait to get off the bus, which I did at a stop in town and went to hang out on the Place de Victor Hugo – the French really like that guy, don’t they? I used some open Wi-Fi for a bit – mostly to check my emails – and then I went in search of postcards to send home. But for some reason, despite being a really nice place that would look great on a postcard, I couldn’t find any. It was only then that I noticed the time, and I rushed to the railway station with a couple of minutes to spare before my train left. Good job I didn’t find any postcards.
The train to Valence Ville was pleasant. The weather cloudy most of the way and unfortunately I wasn’t next to a window. I was sitting at a table, but there was a boy in the window seat opposite me who crutches, and I wanted to respect his leg room. That said, there was no one next to me so I still had a clear view out of the window.
What did annoy me, though, was that my ticket was not looked at once on the journey to Valence. An InterRail ticket like mine is provided with 8 little boxes, and you have to fill in the dates that you’re going to be travelling. You’re supposed to validate it before you get on the train, else face a fine. My ticket is valid for travel on 8 separate days, and as required I diligently wrote “12/5″ in my next clear box. I’ve used two of them now. But on this journey no one came to check that I had a valid ticket, and I feel like they should have done. Otherwise – it feels like I’ve just ‘wasted’ one day’s travel, if you see what I mean. Yes, I know I was being honest. But fuck that. It makes me feel like an idiot.
I arrived at Valence, left the station and then followed signs to the tourist office – but when I got there it seemed totally commercialised. I want to go to a tourist to find stuff out, not to be sold a load of shit. So I just went to the nearby park to hang out. The air temperature was fairly cool, but the Sun felt hot when it shone. Valence was a nice town, and the park was nice too but I really needed a piss – but the toilets were out of order! Typical. I ate some dried apricots and some brownies whilst I held in my piss and listened to the audiobook version of Starship Troopers. I texted Mum.
I eventually found some toilets in the park and I relieved myself – much to my relief. Afterwards I found a different part of the park and went and laid down on the grass. There were some guys out cutting the grass, but I chose a patch which was uncut so that I could make a daisy chain. Which I did.
I had looked up timetables earlier, and knew that there was a train from Valence Ville to Marseille at 12h30. That wouldn’t have given me very long at all in Valence, so I had decided to wait until the train at about 2h30. It turns out: that was a bad idea. Well, it was a good idea, but a decision that unfortunately led to a lot of stress, and through no fault of my own.
I got to the station with plenty of time to spare for the half past two train. Except it didn’t show up… but instead there was a different (unscheduled) train which the boards said was going to Mirimas only, will a little extra bit of information saying something like “correspondance Marseille en car”. That was confusing. It now know that is means “connection to Marseille by coach”, but why would I want to go to Marseille by bus? I have a train ticket, which I spent a lot of money on, and I’ve already validated it for today so I’m going to use it, but hook or by crook.
Why was the regularly scheduled train nowhere to be seen, and why instead was there a train only going to Mirimas which would require a bus to get to Marseille? I went to the information booth at the station and he told me that if I wanted to go to Marseille today, I needed to get to the TGV station. The TGVs use different lines from the slower, normal trains. He said there weren’t any trains to Marseille. That’s not what the timetable said, but okay. Maybe something had changed. I didn’t get round to asking him what the “correspondance Marseille en car” meant, as he didn’t speak English and by this point my French was really being stretched thin. Next I went to the booking office, and asked to reserve a seat on a TGV from Valence TGV to Marseille. Nope! They’re all full! Okay then, fine. Which regional (slower, non-TGV trains, “TER“) could I get? There was one getting in at 7 and one at 11! Much later than I had hoped to arrive at Marseille, but that’ll have to do. I received a printout of these times, and walked back to the park. I bought some postcards on the way and wrote them when I was sitting in the park – one to Grandma, and one to Mike – and then I posted them.
Soon it was time for the first scheduled TER, and a storm was rolling in as I headed for the station. Real big clouds.
The rain held until I reached the station. But the train wasn’t going to Marseille. By this point I wasn’t going to be surprised by anything, but I’d still get annoyed – and worried, because I had nowhere to stay in Valence. I needed to get to Marseille by the end of the day. Instead, the train was only going as far as Avignon! I went to the booking office again, and asked a man why the train scheduled to go to Marseille was terminating at Avignon. He had no idea and was really confused, but eventually found me some connections from Avignon to Marseille. (I also tried to reserve my Bordeaux – La Rochelle leg for later in the month, but it turns out that it wasn’t possible – reservations are not necessary on that route).
At that very point, the lights inside the station went off for a second – the storm had arrived! Lightning! I went to the platform to wait for Avignon train (which the monitors now said was 15 minutes late). A bit later, after hearing the rain pounding the roof and watching the flashes of lightning, there was an announcement on the public address system. I knew it was about Marseille, but what with the business of the station and the raging storm, I didn’t catch most of the message. No one could help me – and train announcements are hard enough to hear, even in English and on a clear day!
Photo of Valence Ville station by Practise:
I somehow found an official SNCF woman and she told me the news: we had to go to Valence TGV then get the TGV to Marseille. I asked if I needed a reservation – usually travelling on a TGV without a reservation gets you a penalty, and I had already found out that there was no reservations available. No, she said. Special circumstances. Screw the reservations (she didn’t say that). She pointed me across the platforms to the right train. I headed over and looked for another member of staff to tell me the deal before boarding the train – you can never be too skeptical, especially in a foreign country like France. You definitely don’t want to end up on the wrong train. That’s worse than not being on any train. I found a man and asked him what was going on. Same story – giving the reason that the Avignon train was too late to make its connection to Marseille.
I got on the train with maybe 30 seconds to spare, and saw 3 French guys who I’d seen earlier in the booking office. They asked what I’d managed to find out, and I told them that the booking office hadn’t been very helpful. We still didn’t know the root problem, but being French, I guess they had understood the announcement. It was fortunate that I made these friends, and that they spoke English, as several times over the next couple of hours I needed to ask for their help with language and knowing what to do.
The rain was ridiculous. At Valence TGV it was absolutely pouring down… and the station was really busy. The noticeboards said that the TGV to was 10 minutes late, but having waited this long already to get back to Marseille, I didn’t care. I like hanging around train station, anyway. As the arrival time drew nearer, we were permitted to walk down to the platforms. At Valence TGV, the station concourse is raised, and there are lifts and escalators down to the platforms below. Have a look at some of these photos that I found online: the whole station, a double train boarding, and again.
Photo of Valence TGV station by franxk:
Photo of train arriving at Valence TGV station by reallyboring:
In about 30 minutes of waiting on the platform, several TGVs passed through the station on the central lines at huge speeds. (When in the station, the passing trains are separated from the platform lines by a fence, probably to reduce noise and terror, so you can only ever see those them when they were just entering or leaving the station, not right up close). Honestly, if you’ve been scared or surprised by a fast train passing you by, close up, you’d be absolutely terrified in France. The trains are loud, and fucking fast. Maximum speeds are almost 200mph, compared to a very maximum of 125mph on normal British lines. And what’s even more impressive is that the trains had very short headways. After one train passed, another one might pass in the same direction in what seem likes barely a minute.
The French guys that I’d met starting smoking something which smelled like weed. It was unusual to me, as people aren’t allowed to smoke on British platforms any longer. Our train arrived as predicted (wow), and it was comprised of two TGV Sud-Est trains. That meant that there were 16 (=2*8) coachess. The French sure like their train travel. And yet… the train was packed to fuck! There were loads of SNCF staff onboard, but thankfully they seemed to know the situation with all of us non-reserved people heading to Marseille. I didn’t have any hassle from them, at least, and so I went a whole day without showing my ticket. What a waste.
I had to stand with my bags until Avignon, at which point we had escaped the storm and it was sunny. There were beautiful views, with the railway line taking on impressively steep gradients, and the sky was filled huge clouds. Unfortunately, with the stress of everything, I didn’t take any photos. I briefly got a seat at Avignon when someone left the train, but I was quickly turfed out as someone go on to claim their reserved seat. Never mind. I feel sorry for all of the long-booked passengers who had their journey spoiled by a flood of scumbags joining the train without a reservation, cramping the whole train and taking your seat. It’s happened to me before. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stand for long. Marseille was a surprisingly short trip away from Avignon, and after going through lots of tunnels, I was delighted to arrive in Marseille.
Marseille is weird. That’s how I feel about it at the moment.
Vertigo Centre (which is the hostel I’m staying at whilst I’m in Marseille) was very close to the station – handy – and I found it easily. It’s a nice place, but I can’t be bothered writing much about it. It’s quaint – obviously adapted from several old houses to become this hostel. My bedroom is in a sort of outhouse, which sleeps 6 or 8 and has its own bathroom. Whilst sorting through my stuff in my room, I met an Aussie called Jimmy. We chatted for a bit and he gave me a book that he’s finished with, called This Bleeding City by Alex Preston. I only just now realise that maybe he was expecting me to give him one of my finished books in return. Well, I didn’t. I had a shower (not bad) and went to checked out the hostel and use the Wi-Fi – which didn’t work.
Once I was satisfied with the place, I just my stuff on my bed (I had to be trusting, there was no place else for it) and I went for a little walk around Marseille. I am sick and tired of beggers. Fuck. Off. Most of the people around the hostel were not white French, instead there were a lot of people dressed in Muslim garb and a lot of African-looking people. I bought a 6-pack of Kronenbourgh 1664 and some water from a local shop.
Marseille is a total melting-pot of cultures, but I was disappointed by what was available locally – I couldn’t find authentic food, no food stalls, no quaint or cool restaurants serving local food. Instead it was all just the typical greasy spoon type place, serving kebabs and burgers. There were also about a million “Internet + Taxiphone” shops. The French sure must like surfing the web and riding in taxis.
I headed back to the hostel for the night, where I used the internet, drank some beer whilst reading some articles in Instapaper, and then I went to bed.
Today, which is Thursday, I woke up at 7:30am. From some reason I’d been dreaming of a girl I used to know at primary school. Why? Weird. At one point I had dreamt that I was going to going to be going to Inverness Uni (really) to study biology. Laughable. I also dreamt that my St Andrews accommodation application (for standard self-catered housing) was granted. LOL.
Did I note that there were loads of beautiful girls on the TGV yesterday? Well, there were a lot.
I spent quite a while playing with my iPod in bed – the internet is now working on it.
I got up, checked how much tickets to Nîmes would cost (€19, about what I was expecting) and then I headed to Notre-Dame de la Garde, via Vieux Port (the old port). Finally it was really sunny, but the air was still cold – maybe 16ºC. After listening to an episode of PadPundit with Scott Bourne, I carried on listening to Starship Troopers.
I was amazed by fish market at the old port – there were so many types: big and small, red, pink and white, lobsters and even octopus.
I passed a Lidl store but it wasn’t open – I’m not sure why not, there’s probably some sort of public holiday going on. Instead I went to a different place and stocked up on groceries. I bought some Babybell, plums, chorizo, orange juice, mackerel fillets, yoghurts, and possibly something else. It came to under €10.
I ate some of it in a park where I texted Mum (I texted Dad when I was on the TGV yesterday, moaning of my troubles) and then I carried on to Notre-Dame de la Garde, which has amazing views over the whole city and the sea.
I bought and wrote some postcards (to Poppy, Dad, and Mum), then I got to work writing this entry which has taken a while. I’m slightly worried that my arms have become quite sunburnt, despite the copious amounts of sum cream that I’m wearing.
I’m going to continue walking around the city now, I’ll maybe head to the coast before walking back to the hostel in evening. Maybe I’ll eat out tonight – I really want to try authentic local bouillabaisse. And I need to send these postcards, too. I’m hungry.
Bye for now.
All warm, in bed: