Sunday, 23 December 2007

A Wet But Wonderful Ride

Good news all around. Mom gets to go home tomorrow - just in time for her many children and their families to descend upon her for our traditional Christmas Eve gathering. I know she is looking forward to it and we're looking forward to her continued recovery.

Robin organized a bike ride today with me, Mark, Peter, Bob, Wayne, and Robert. He promised a flat and mellow ride which he delivered. Good thing since my fitness level is at the lowest it has been for years! It was fun to ride and chat with my good riding buddies. It was pretty wet which was the only drawback but I suppose expecting anything else in the Pacific Northwest in December would be silly. We met up at Greenfresh Market in Renton, fueled up on our choice of hot beverage and then headed south to Flaming Geyser Park. A short stop for more hot beverages along the way and yummy soups and goodies in a nicely heated deli at Greenfresh made for a nice social ride. Just the minimum of whining scored me a ride up the hill in Mark's car complete with heated seats and an extra jacket while Robin played the true randonneur by riding back home. A hot shower followed by a nap and I'm nearly good as new - except for the large pile of soaking wet riding clothes I need to deal with...

If any of you usually get a Christmas letter from us and are wondering where it is don't hold your breath. We will be sending some kind of New Year's greetings this year! Of course it was planned that way!

Merry Christmas and wishing you love, peace, and health in 2008!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Mom in recovery

I've been remiss about posting. My mom's surgery on Wednesday was tough but they successfully installed a new valve in her heart. I've been spending lots of time with her and dad while trying to stay on top of things at home and not neglect Robin too severely. It is a hard time but my mom is a strong woman (you don't raise 7 kids if you're a wimp!) and my dad, brothers & sisters, and I are leaning on each other. Thoughts and prayers from extended family and friends have been more helpful than you could know. As of this morning mom is still in Critical Care. The staff there have been terrific but it is not a restful place. Hoping for mom to progress to be able to move to a regular room where she might be able to get some real sleep. Other siblings are with mom and dad over the weekend so I will be catching up with some friends, riding my bike, and putting up some Christmas decorations before heading back to Lacey on Wednesday. I'm very thankful to have the scheduling freedom to be with mom and dad right now.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Home Sweet Home

We've been back home now for about a week and a half and hit the ground running. Two fabulous full-on Thanksgiving blow outs, a couple days of nose-to-the-grindstone-take-advantage-of-the-good-weather yard clean up, a short visit from Robin's parents, sink purchase for the kitchen remodel, practice work with the new countertop material, MAJOR dustbunny eradication program in the house, several Mt Rainier-sized piles of laundry, family time, sorting through 3 months of mail (holy CR*P there was a lot of paper wasted for the recent election!), and various other sundry activities all pointing to the very happy fact that we are HOME!

Braving the predicted freezing weather we'll be leading the SIR "meet the teams ride" on Saturday. Check out more info on the SIR website (linked to the main blog page).

On Wednesday next week my mom goes in for major heart surgery. All prayers, good vibes, and pagan rituals on her behalf are appreciated. It'll be a long recovery but I and my siblings have a time-tested strong tag team to hopefully provide all the support and help needed for mom and dad. There outta be some pay off for raising 7 kids right?

Hope to get a few more pics from England posted soon.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Coming Home update

The test that Robin is on is finishing up early so he gets to come home with me on Monday - yippey!

I've been meaning to do a very witty post about some observations on a couple of things but just can't seem to get enthused for it. I think this ankle/foot injury is getting me down. I'll be seeing the orthopedic doc the day after we get home so hopefully he'll get me straightened out! See y'all stateside!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Winding down in England

I'll be heading home in a week and Robin will follow whenever the test is finished here (supposedly before Thanksgiving!). We are both ready to be home. I do always enjoy our trips here and the great opportunity to see new things and experience a different culture more intimately than as a tourist but home is home and I am missing mine. It is harder to stay current with friends and family than I had imagined it would be even with phone calls and emails - I really feel out of the loop.

Catching up on our activities here: One night I answered the door to a guy from a farm in Devon who co
mes around every few months selling meats and goods from the farm. I wasn't in need of anything but he was quite the talker and he ran through about a dozen different topics in the 10 minutes he was here. One thing that stuck in my head was his mention of a museum that is preserving examples of English homes from various periods. A little searching uncovered the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum just about an hour's drive from us. On Sunday 11/4 we hit the road to find it. The museum consists of 45 homes dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries that have been rescued from demolition and rebuilt on museum land. It is spread out over tens of acres in beautiful rolling countryside. The museum also conducts various demonstrations and courses on traditional crafts, trades, and everyday skills. When we showed up a man just ahead of us handed us a coupon from a local paper allowing one free entry. Great! Then even better the man at the reception desk just put both our names on the coupon and let us both in free. Gotta love it - a great day out and free to boot. We didn't even get to spend money in the shop because we wandered around until after the museum was officially closed and it was all buttoned up.

Nice horsey

Now that's a pizza oven!

On Saturday Nov 10 Robin got the ball rolling by suggesting we drive to Brighton to see what it has to offer. Brighton is
on the south coast and is a huge resort area in the summer time. There were still plenty of people on a bright sunny day in November. We walked west along the beach enjoying all the different activities and sights. Juggling, skateboarding, dogs playing, bicyling, kite flying, surfing, jogging, and above all - ice cream eating! We walked a couple of miles and my ankle/foot started aching (yes, that is on the list of things to sort out when I get home) so we turned around and got back to Brighton Pier as the sun was setting and all the lights were coming on. Our 2006 Rough Guide (published in 2004) indicated that the West Pier was to be renovated by 2006 but those plans had obviously been foiled and, in fact, damage from a couple of severe storms seemed to put that dream out of reach. The remains of the pier and what appeared to be a dome lay charred and twisted in the water - very cool looking I thought.

Taking in the fresh sea air at Brighton

Amy at West Pier


Thursday, 8 November 2007

How to Contribute to Reward Fund for Cyclist Shooting

Thanks to Tim Hennings the reward fund for finding and convicting the criminals that shot Peter McKay is a reality. Please join us in making a contribution to the fund. Here is a copy of the email Tim sent to the SIR mail list on Wednesday, Nov 7 with all the details:

Hello generous cyclists! Shan reports that we're over $5,000 for the reward
fund, and the pledges are still coming in. Not bad at all for 48 hours and
our modest sized group. Just imagine if we really tried to get the word out
to cyclists far and wide.

Back to the mechanics of this reward thing: The problem we've had this week
is that the two principal leaders of the local Crimestoppers who would
normally handle a special reward such as this are at a conference out of the
country. But we are now set to go despite that setback. Special thanks to
Leticia at Crimestoppers who took hours out of her day off to help us out.

I've been in touch with the person at Bank of America (First Hill
branch) who normally handles these reward accounts with Crimestoppers. We
are initially setting up the BofA account with the $1,000 contributors. That
should be in place Thursday morning. The rest of us contributors should send
checks to BAW, per Kent's offer, as follows:

- Payable to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (NOT to the BofA
- Mailed to this address: BAW, PO Box 2904, Seattle, WA 98111
- You can also pay via PayPal <> (pay to
- Either way, the amount should be noted as being for the
"Crimestoppers - Cyclist Shooting Reward".

*Please do this within the next day or two.* Kent will then make a single
deposit to the account at Bank of America. (Sorry - it is not possible for
all of us to make our deposits directly to the account at BoA; that would be
a much more complex set up process and has other disadvantages.)

Mark Thomas is handling the account setup. We all know and trust him (well,
sort of...) so he will be the signatory on the account (not me!). We have
yet to work out the details of reimbursement if the reward is not collected.
We have to wait for the Crimestopper people to get back in town, and meet
with them and the BoA exec. There will be a time limit, say 12 or 18 months.
We should not expect 100% reiimbursement of course, because there are going
to be some transaction fees in all this.
Leticia at Crimestoppers has promised to make the posters tomorrow. Bill
Dussler, who lives in Burien near where the shooting took place, has offered
to put up the posters in that area if he gets them before Friday afternoon.
So if everything goes like clockwork, we'll have posters up announcing the
reward almost exactly one week after this awful incident took place.

I will ask Leticia what the normal process is for contacting the media about
spreading the word. Depending on the quality of the Crimestopper poster, we
might also want to design our own poster and distribute it throughout
western Washington. I think we all agree that we are aiming higher than
nailing Peter's assailants. We want everyone in the region to know that
cyclists are taking this incident very, very seriously. Who knows, maybe
we'll even have some impact on the crazies who throw bottles at us from fast
moving cars. If this works, maybe one day we should work with Crimestoppers
to set up a standing reward for information about attacks on cyclists.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. And huge thanks to
everyone for their pledges! Peter - hope you get well soon and you're not
too appalled by all this activity!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A ride through the falling leaves AND a reward fund

I blogged a few days ago about the assault on my friend Peter while riding his bike. There have been some newspaper articles and tv news spots about it (which Peter has handled with laudable grace) and a lot of chat on cycling message boards and email lists. On the SIR list people have started making pledges ranging from $50 to $1000 to create a reward for information leading to a conviction of the shooter. Details are being arranged and the vehicle for collecting pledges and advertising the reward is still being worked out. Once they are I will publicize it here in my blog so if you want to be involved stay tuned - at last count pledges totaled over $2100.

Cycling today on the other side of the Atlantic was superb! A chilly but bright morning lived up to the weather forecasters' predictions so we layered up and headed out. Robin has been uncharacteristically unmotivated to do any road riding so I have enjoyed the position of getting us out the door and deciding on the route. Today we headed south through North Camp and Aldershot and then southeast through the villages of Tongham, Seale, and Puttenham. Winding sun dappled lanes were the order of the day featuring crunchy orange and golden leaves under the wheels and more blowing down from the trees providing a soft (and dry!) autumn shower. Past Puttenham Common we turned west through Sands and Runfold then north again back through Tongham, Ash, Ash Vale, and Frimley to return to the Lodge and lunch. Lovely!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night is fast approaching here in the UK. Actually, it seems to be more of a Bonfire Month as fireworks have been going off regularly for over 2 weeks. One might reasonably ask "what the heck is Bonfire Night?" and as I am a reasonable person (its my blog - I can make any claim I want!) I did indeed ask the question. It is a commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot which was foiled on November 5, 1605. In a nutshell the plot was to blow up parliament with the King (James I) present in hopes of ending repression of the Catholic faith. If you want more detail see:

Guy Fawkes was a member of the plot and was caught red-handed in the cellar with the gunpowder. That's when the REAL fun starts British style. After "due process" Guy, and some of his co-conspirators were found guilty of treason and sentenced with the ever-popular "hanged, quartered, and drawn" treatment. Do your own research on this if you like - it is gruesome.

Bonfire Night (which much like many holidays and commemorations in the US is basically an excuse to party and blow stuff up) traditionally consists of parading through the streets with an effigy of Guy Fawkes followed by throwing the effigy on a huge bonfire. Entertainment for the whole family - including traditional bonfire foods!

On Saturday night Robin and I decided to head to nearby Farnham for their celebration so we could experience the spectacle in person. Of course it wasn't on the actual night and Farnham went with the fireworks show rather than the bonfire but that seems to be a popular substitute. We gathered with several hundred (thousands?) others near the town centre. Big wax torches were available for sale along with various neon glowy things. The torches were impressive - about an inch and a half thick and 18 inches long - they put out a good flame. With loads of people carrying them the heat and light were amazing. Following a pipe band (bag pipes that is) we paraded through town and up to Farnham Castle. Going up the hill was really cool cause you could see a wall of people and torches both ahead and behind. We hadn't bought tickets for the fireworks so we turned around and headed back into town. Now if there'd been a good old fashioned effigy burning on the agenda I would have been all over it but didn't feel like shelling out for a fireworks show. Still hoping that between now and the 5th I'll get to witness the "real McCoy". My part in the spectacle was along the lines of honoring the revolutionary spirit and throwing off the bonds of repression. Vive la revolution!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Hate Crimes Against Cyclists

I was going to blog today about being bored and grumpy because I didn't allow proper time for my twisted ankle to heal up and I've been resting and elevating it for the 3rd day. As I logged on to my pc however I found out that my good buddy, Peter McKay, was SHOT with bb's while commuting home from work on his bicycle. Peter was injured but appears to be okay. You can read Peter's account here:

I am so very sad, angry, disgusted, upset, and frightened by this crime. I guess it is a good thing that I cannot understand the mind that would view this action as acceptable (and perhaps even FUN???). It will not keep me off my bike but it will add a new dimension to the cascade of emotions I experience when cycling, especially when motorists act agressively towards me.

I've had several British cyclists comment about how bad it is to cycle in England - the drivers are dangerous and don't cooperate with cyclists. It may be their perception when compared to the superb treatment of cyclists in France but I do set them straight - compared to the US, cyclists here in England have it made. And my experience is cycling on the West Coast which is recognized as much more cyclist friendly than the rest of the nation.

I am thankful my pal Peter is going to be okay and my thoughts are with him and his family. Peter has served as my stoker on the tandem a couple of times and we have a date for Dec 1 so fingers crossed this will not hold him down for long. To all the other cyclists out there - keep on pedaling, be safe, be legal, be seen, and don't let the turkeys get you down. In the words of Rodney King "Can we all get along?" "We're all stuck here for a while. Let's try and work it out."

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Ever heard of the Seattle Tower?

When we had Ken, Barbara, and Shaun over for dinner recently I presented them with some of the stylish new SIR lightweight wool socks. As I pointed out the inclusion on the top of the foot of the Space Needle they were a bit confused. They then told me they recognized the building but they know it as the Seattle Tower. Now how the heck did that come to be? Those of us in the Seattle area have never known it as anything other than the Space Needle. What other internationally recognized landmarks are operating under aliases away from their homelands - inquiring minds want to know?

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Back to the Bat Cave

Today we resumed our interrupted walk to find the collapsed Greywell Tunnel on the Basingstoke Canal. The canal was built starting in 1787 as a means of transporting goods from the Northeast Hampshire area into London. It entailed 29 locks and a 1200 yard long tunnel to raise the water 245 feet. The arrival of railway was the death of the canal as a commercial enterprise but, thanks to enthusiastic (and mostly volunteer) collaboration most of the canal has been retained and/or reinstated to allow for public enjoyment. Read more about the canal here:

Odiham Castle along the Basingstoke Canal. Also known as King John's Castle (early 13th century). Currently work underway to arrest decay.

ll Tunnel collapsed in 1932 and over time became completely blocked. It is now an important winter habitat for hibernating bats. More about the tunnel here:

Greywell Tunnel

We got there without incident this time (after spraining my ankle last time). It was a clear sunny day with lots of birds and fish in the canal. We couldn't see far in to the tunnel but it was interesting just to see where it was. We could
hear a couple of guys inside the tunnel doing some work but couldn't see them. Couldn't see any bats either, dang.
Robin above Greywell Tunnel and looking along the canal towards Odiham.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Homeward bound - but when?

On this trip to England we were originally scheduled to return home October 26. We were fairly sure that would be extended which it was - to November 16. Now that date is uncertain as Robin's boss has asked him to stay just a few more days to see out the end of a second short test. Not sure of a date yet and I am still without a ticket at all. Oh well, I am learning to be slightly more sanguine about having little to no control over the schedule of my own life. In any case we're here for around about 3 more weeks. The summer clothes I had packed in mid-August are languishing in the closet of despair while the 2 items of warmth are on rotation between body and laundry. I'd really like to experience some late spring/early summer weather on one of these jaunts - maybe next year?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

New source for SIR blue wool jersey!

On a recent walk we found a new, direct, source for the hard-to-obtain SIR blue wool jerseys. You may have to try several before you find the right fit - and wait for the blue to spread and mature throughout the wool...

Saturday, 27 October 2007

No "do-overs"

Generally I don't like to try to repeat experiences that I found really great their first time out. Today was a lesson in the wisdom of that philosophy. We went back to the Roman ruins, this time taking along friends Steve and Rachel. While the day as a whole, the pretty country walk, and the company were all wonderful it altered our impression of the main attraction. When we uncovered the mosiac tile floor we found that someone had chipped away a part of the mosiac. I actually felt a little sick. It wasn't a huge part gone (and there had been some gone already) but the fact that it was fresh and had happened just since our last visit was very disheartening. Then, as we were leaving, we passed a couple heading towards the site and their walking sticks reminded Steve he'd forgotten his so he went back while we waited just a ways up the trail. He was some time in coming and we figured he was talking to the other walkers which he was. He reported back that he'd gotten quite a bit more information about the ruin from them. All of the mosiacs from the site had been taken up and transported to nearby Sudeley Castle and then lost (not sure about that details of that). At some later point this portion was found and it was then reinstalled (along with the adjoining rebuilt walls). It kind of put a little cloud over it all for me. It was much more exciting and romantic to have envisioned this little treasure right here for a couple thousand years untouched. Oh well, reality prevails again! We did enjoy the time with Steve and Rachel and later that evening we were treated to a lovely dinner. Our friends Jean and Robert took us to the Red Lion in Oakhangar which provided a great meal, a warm fire, and entertaining company.

A natural "heart" in the bark of an oak.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Cruisin' for a pint

Today we went to Hogsback Brewery in search of a gift for our mail carrier at home. The US Postal Service only provides for 30 days of mail hold service but our carrier agreed to work with us to hold for longer which we really appreciate. My sister Mary contributes to this scheme too because she goes by the post office every couple of weeks to pick up accumulated mail - but she's not a beer drinker so didn't figure in to this outing. This last minute outing turned out to be one of the English experiences I treasure.

While browsing around the shop at the brewery Robin picked up and was reading the quarterly newsletter of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
An older gentleman starting chatting with him and told him he was the one responsible for checking on and reporting on about 40 pubs in the area. The newsletter always has member's notes about the pubs they've been visiting. He seemed quite proud of his responsibility and contribution. Robin mentioned we'd be meeting some friends this weekend at the Red Lion in Oakhanger and that was given a good review by our resident CAMRA expert so that was good news! From there we headed north. I was driving and wasn't exactly sure where I was going but generally heading in the direction of home via Ash and Ash Vale. I've done a bit of cycling through these villages but I am always lost. I suggested we were heading in the general direction of the Swan (a nice pub on the Basingstoke Canal) and Robin thought he could use a pint on such a cold, grey, and drizzly day. We'd been to the Swan before but had gotten there by hook and by crook because it is a bit off the beaten path. I kept heading north just following my nose. As we passed through Ash Vale village a small black car in front of us began maneuvers to parallel park. We waited and both commented on what a cute little car it was but couldn't actually determine the make. We continued on and the road became a little narrower and more winding. Robin had just made the comment that I had gotten us good and lost when what should loom into sight but the Swan! Ha! Just like I knew what I was doing! We pulled in laughing and trying to figure out how that had happened. It was about 11:40 so the place was empty. We ordered some beers and read the menus and boards to decide what the have for lunch. Our timing was perfect because within another 20 minutes the place was packed! And then guess who should arrive but the man with the cute little black car! Robin had a little chat with him while we waited for our food. We happened to be walking out of the pub at the same time so went to have a closer look. He was quite happy to tell us all about his little Austin. It was a retirement project and he'd had it 7 years. He said he took it out a couple of times a week. We mentioned we'd seen him in the village and he rather sheepishly admitted he'd stopped there to pick up "a crunchy (or crusty?) roll and a naughty cake" before heading to the pub for a couple of pints. What a great character! He even let Robin sit in the driver's seat for a photo:

This was a great day for cars too as we'd seen one of my little Nissan Figaro's for sale in North Camp earlier. I must find a way to get one of these!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

In search of Bat's Hogsty

Ordnance Survey maps are marvelous. They are extremely detailed maps originally created by the government for military purposes. Long available to the public they show details of roads, contours, buildings, footpaths, and points of interest. A must-have resource for outdoor activities in the UK. The one drawback is that they are expensive so I was delighted to recently discover that I can get parts of them for free online ( Our local map shows something called Bat's Hogsty. A walking guide has this to say about it: "Bat's Hogsty is a curiosity amongst walkers because of its name and because they cannot find it; amongst archaeologists because they cannot decide what was for. It is a rectangle of about 3/4 acre enclosed by four mounds with three ditches between them, externally 300' x 270', in total about 1 3/4 acres." Now how can you resist a challenge like that? Well, we couldn't.

We called Rachel to see if she wanted to join the adventure, drove by to pick her up and headed south to Aldershot. We started at the Wellington statue. This sucker is huge (40 tons and about 30 feet tall!) and but seems to be stuck off in a very
out-of-the-way place. When it was first made in 1846 it was taken by grand procession to London and installed atop the Constituion Arch. Some people were unhappy that it seemed out of proportion to the arch but there it stayed until the arch was moved to the corner of Hyde Park in 1882-3 and the statue was removed and later reinstalled in its current location. Wellington, of course, is a war hero, most famously from the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. He later entered political life and was Prime Minister - but apparently not a very popular one. I suspected it was the change in his popularity that resulted in the this kind of exile however I have since discovered that its current location used to be much more visible from the main roads before the surrounding trees grew tall enough to obscure it. Anyhow, here it is:

From there we went on our quest. It wasn't far and in the end we decided that we had indeed found Bat's Hogsty but it was a bit of a letdown. The site was on a scale made it hard to distinguish the four mounds bu the ditches were quite clear. It is in the midst of military lands that have been used extensively for training so there are remnants of old buildings and trenches and foxholes everywhere making the terrain of this particular point of interest kind of blend into its surroundings. It was also quite grown up in trees, ferns and shrubs that also masked the underlying land. We enjoyed walking around the area though and seeing the evidence of the changing season. Here are Robin and Rachel making their way towards Bat's Hogsty:

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A lovely ride

Robin hasn't been enthusiastic about road-riding lately. Maybe 1200km in France was enough for a while? Tuesday was looking like the last sunny day for the week so I blasted him out of the house to do a loop I'd been thinking of for sometime. Heading south from Farnborough we revisited our old English home base of Aldershot then hit Bourley Road - one of my favorites. It has a bit more traffic than is ideal but it isn't intrusive. The road rolls up and down through a deciduous forest which was very pretty with the yellow leaves floating down and the sun peeping through. From there it was a tour through some of our favorite country villages - Church-Crookham, Dogmersfield, Odiham, and Winchfield. To make it a loop we returned along Robin's favored route through a new housing development called Elvetham Heath. This development goes on FOREVER! There are even signs pointing "way out" at the round-a-bouts. I'm thinking if there are any heavy drinkers living there they may have a hard time finding their way home from the pubs! It was nice to be out in the sun even though it was cold and my tootsies were frozen. Back home we rustled up some lunch and got Robin off to work and I settled in for the long and drawn out process of getting 2 loads of laundry done. No lie - it took over 6 hours - and that's with a separate washer and dryer - not one of the crazy combo machines. Sheesh.

Monday, 22 October 2007

No pumpkin pie for you!

We hosted friends Ken & Babara Robson and Shaun Bonney for dinner Sunday night. All three are friends we've met here in England through cycling. While (or should I say whilst?) trying to decide what to make for dessert Robin requested pumpkin pie which seemed a great idea as that is a distinctly North American thing. I've been having groceries delivered for the last month or so from Tesco. I didn't find any canned pumpkin while doing my online shopping but they did have "culinary" pumpkins plus all the other ingredients I needed. Delivery Saturday morning brought a subsitution of plain old Halloween pumpkins (which I rejected). I'm no expert on pumpkins but I'm pretty sure those wouldn't have the right flavor for a pie. Sunday morning we're off to the stores to try to find the missing key ingredient - no luck. We had a nice dinner though - fun guests and good conversation - and we settled for banana cake (bread) with cream and ice cream for our "pudding". Maybe I'll drag over a can of pumpkin filling if we are here in the autumn again.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Just call me Grace

Out for a walk today along the Basingstoke Canal near one of our favorite villages, Odiham. We were looking to get to the end of the navigable portion of the canal where a tunnel collapsed in 1932 and was never repaired - it now serves as a winter habitat for bats. We're walking along enjoying the clear, sunny, and warming day. We both look up at a bridge ahead and see a sign for The Swan Pub. I think we were both pondering at the same time about this because there is another Swan Pub along a different section of the canal where we've eaten. It was one of those things that twist your mind for a second because we weren't in the right place for that pub (simple explanation - it was a different Swan Pub - there are only about a billion of them). Anyway, it was enough of a distraction for my meager "walking and chewing gum at the same time" skills that I stepped off the path and rolled my left ankle. I used to do this a lot when I was playing soccer but haven't had a really good one (and by that I mean bad one) like this for a while. I was nearly in tears and felt nauseated and light-headed with the pain. Robin got me hobbled up onto the road and over to a nice sunny bench outside the damned Swan Pub so he could run back for the car and pick me up. Well, we still got to have a nice lunch at the Grapevine in Odiham so all was not lost. Back home to ice packs - fun!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Driving in your right mind?

So if I'm driving on the left here in the UK does that mean I'm driving in my right mind? Somehow I doubt it. The British are excellent drivers as a whole so I can't fault that (or maybe Americans are just so horrible anything looks great in comparison). They pay attention and adjust to circumstances without a big fuss or that old American standby - the one fingered salute (possibly accompanied by gunfire). It is the system that is nuts. Car parks have very small parking spaces (and by the way, if it is a pay and display lot you'd better not have even one tire resting on a white line or it's ticket time baby - right Robin?). Many have one-way ailes. So why the heck aren't the spaces angled??? No, you get to squeeze into a space approximately 10 centimeters wider than your car and have fun executing a 10 point turn to get lined up right. Of course many people get around this by just parking on the sidewalk (called "the pavement" here - huh??? aren't the roads paved???), or a median, or whatever. Driving on these is also practiced when the situation warrants and is very rewarding. We haven't noticed that drivers react much to emergency vehicles (that might just be because the catchy "move right for sirens and lights" doesn't work here). Anyway, check out #4 on this website to see an example of some of the fun you could have driving British roads:

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Getting Wet

Getting back in swimming shape is a drag. We left for England/France in mid-August and even before then my swimming routine had been pretty spotty for a couple of months. So, no swimming for 3 weeks then back to England to find the pool at my club here was closed for the entire month of September. Aargh. So, I finally get back in the pool in October and I am a total turd in the water. Time off the bike doesn't seem to have as much an impact - or maybe its just that swimming is the only thing I have some competency in to start with. Anyway, with that much time off I have spent the last few weeks feeling like I'm fighting my way through jello most the time instead of that lovely slipping through the water feeling, floating on top, and gliding effortlessly. The last couple of workouts have felt somewhat better but still not back completely. How about a little humor to shake off the downer? Check out this Clif Bar commercial depicting what it feels like to be part of a mass start open water swim:

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Remains of a Roman Villa in situ

During our trips to England we've seen a couple of Roman ruins and/or museums. They are interesting and amazing but you are definitely removed from the artifacts themselves. Reading Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island" I made special note of his reference to a walk that led him to the remains of a Roman villa where a good section of a mosiac floor was still intact unmarked and unofficiated out in the woods. A little googling gave me more information along with a marvelous new resource - Ordnance Survey maps online! Armed with some detailed mapping we set out for Winchcombe - a small village in the Cotswolds. We got off to a bit of a rough start finding it hard to locate the footpath we wanted to follow but soon enough had it sorted and we were on our way. A little over an hour later and we had found the area of the remains. A couple of very small side paths led to remains of walls and then to the area of the floor. At some point admirers had constructed a small shelter covered in corrugated tin about 5 feet above the floor and covered the tiles with tar paper held in place with rocks. We uncovered the floor and found a real treasure. The mosiac covers an area about 4 feet square and is very well preserved especially considering its exposed situation. It was terrific to be able to touch the mosiac and try to imagine the site as it would have been during the 1st century AD. While we were there other walkers passed by on the main path oblivious to the historical wonder just yards away. It felt like a real secret.

Our first clue: remains of a wall and steps (look closely).

Robin contemplating the mosiac floor.

Details of the floor, with Amy's red wellies for a bit of modern contrast.

On the way back home we did a short walk to Belas Knap, an prehistoric burial mound - the biggest in Britain. Our timing was perfect - heading towards twilight and no one else around. We didn't get any pictures but you can see it and read more about it here:

We finishe
d the day with yet another failed attempt (I think this is the 3rd) to have a meal at the Highwayman pub. We ate there once in 2006 and really liked it but we have had dismal luck since then in finding it open. We quickly found a substitute in the handy Pub Guide I'd had the foresight to throw in the car and I finally got to have some of the fabled Banoffee Pie - quite delicious!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Cycle London and Kew Gardens

We went to Cycle in London today. Like Bike Expo in Seattle only WAY MORE EXPENSIVE! By the time we bought tickets, paid for parking at the end of the tube line and then bought a tube ticket we were in it for about $60. The show was okay, only a couple of really interesting things - mostly the major manufacturers showing all their most up to date stuff - which translates to fast and fun but not usually practical for the every day cyclist, commuter, or randonneur. Nicole Cooke made an appearance. We had lunch there which was a bust. So, feeling rather discouraged by the day's events we hopped back on the tube but decided to get off at Kew Gardens. The money spent there was a much better investment! It was a lovely warm, still, fall day (of course no one here would say fall - the season is autumn) and the many trees were in various states of changing colors. The gardens cover several hundred acres and were very open and inviting for strolling around. There was an outdoor exhibit of 28 sculptures by Henry Moore. The Princess of Wales Conservatory housed a huge variety of plants from different ecosystems including some really interesting orchids. After leaving Kew we roamed around Richmond (where the car was parked) looking for a spot for dinner and stumbled upon Fish Works. They sell fresh seafood as well as serve it in their restaurant. Most of the fish available here in restaurants and in the stores is farm raised so it was a treat to order wild caught sea bass. On the way out I chatted with the young man working at the fresh fish counter as he was opening a huge pile of oysters. I asked how many he had done that day and he said he had lost count but that he was opening 3 boxes now (looked like a box contained about 100 oysters). So then I asked if he'd ever found any pearls. His answer (as well as his slight accent) gave away that he wasn't British (or American!). He said "The only pearls I have found are all you pretty ladies walking by". He was Brazilian. Sorry but gotta make a huge generalization here: Anglo Saxon men don't say stuff like that and if they tried it would come out sounding sleazy. Those of Latin background - they can do it.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Of Mice and (repair)Men

Update on the mouse situation: We got a mouse in the live trap and set it loose in the woods behind the house. After the fright of Robin opening up the trap to reset it, thinking there was nothing in there and coming nose to nose with the mouse, we are hoping he/she will decide to find nibbles elsewhere...

Have you ever seen a dormouse? They are the cutest things ever. Here is a photo
of three in a torpid state (the little guy on the right looks like he might be snoring):

My record with all things house related continues to be poor here in the UK. A leak in the roof of the conservatory of our holiday rental has progressed into several leaks and currently there are 4 separate rain catchers spread about and the furniture rearranged to prevent damage. The owners are aware of the problem and have checked with me that we're not bothered by leaving it until they return in November. We're not at that room isn't very inviting in the grey and damp weather - just looks a little strange. The more immediate problem is a nibbling visitor. Seems we have a mouse (or possibly a hyena but that's just my overactive imagination when I'm home alone at night - I hope) making visits. We think access is coming from under the sink so we've set a live trap but no activity in the last couple of days. Perhaps my stomping about and poking at things a few days ago scared it off - or maybe it decided our preference for organics isn't to its liking. Of course there are 2 cats in the neighborhood so there is always the possibility that it met a feline foe. Well, the fun just never ends!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


What is it about a box or package in the mail that is so exciting? When I get one, even if I know it is something I ordered and am expecting, I get a thrill when it arrives. The moment before you open the box you can't be exactly sure what is inside. Along those lines today was a red letter day. The postman (yes, they still call them postmen here - I think) brought not 1, not 2, but 3 packages! The Royal Mail has been on strike off and on the last couple of weeks so possibly these were piling up but the end result for me was like Christmas! One package was an order I had placed so nothing too surprising but still fun. One package had a return address of our friends Mark & Laurie. Now Laurie had asked for our mailing address and wondered if a package would make it here before we return home but somehow after that exchange of information it slipped my mind until the package arrived. It contained some decadent Theo chocolates and a cool new plastic wallet that I had admired as well as a return of the British Museum guide I had lent to them during their stay here. Lastly was a complete surprise of a "care package" from Mom, Dad, and the Coddingtons. Sweet treats and autumn goodies. What fun!

200k the Scottish Way

We met Lucy and Dick McTaggart online while planning our journey from Farnborough to the start of Paris-Brest-Paris. We met up with them in Evreux and rode together to St. Quentin-en-Yvelines along with Ian, Tom, Francis, and Sheila. Lucy and Dick made the mistake of inviting us to visit them in Scotland. Robin saw that Lucy was organizing a 200km AudaxUK ride so we decided that would be the perfect opportunity but we were a bit late in contacting them so lost out on a free bed. No matter, we made a reservation at a nearby guest house, loaded the bikes, packed some clothes, grabbed the road atlas and headed north to the Scottish Borders. 7 hours later we arrived in Galashiels where we were treated to a great spaghetti dinner chez-McTaggart along with Nigel, Mark, Louise, and the late-arriving George. George is in his 70's and had ridden 200km that day to get to Galashiels. I could tell immediately that George was one of those guys that you may pass early in the ride but in the end, he will have well and truly kicked your butt, which is exactly what happened.

Early Sunday morning we enjoyed porridge, eggs, toast, and tea at the Watson Lodge Guest House before joining the riders at 8am for our day's adventure. We immediately settled in with Lucy and Dick (good strategy there - stick with the organizer and you won't get lost), Nigel, and Louise (Mark was sitting this ride out with a broken arm). The air was wet and misty to start out but soon dried up and it was dry all day long. A bit cloudy but that just added to the drama of the beautiful and mysterious countryside. Every turn brought a new series of sharply rolling hills crisscrossed by stone fences and fields hosting winter wheat and grazing sheep. The sky was full of various shades of grey while the hills were a patchwork of greens from fresh spring green to nearly black. We travelled over very quiet single wide country lanes sprinkled with leaves and tiny, quaint villages. Although we only spent 1 full day in Scotland we felt we got a good view of that area of the country. Our little group consisted of both Scots and English (and us as the token Americans) and we enjoyed their ongoing banter and jabs. Our experience with the Scots we have met to date has left a wonderful impression of friendliness, warmth, humor, and more than a little craziness. I personally could listen to them speak for hours - they have such charming expressions and accents.

Our official time on the brevet is 12 hours. That is the longest 200km I've ever done by at least 2 hours. A killer combination of unrelenting hills, warm and cozy pubs and tea houses, and a broken spoke that had me working against my rear brakes for a time resulted in a longer than expected day out. Regardless of that we enjoyed the company and the ride to the fullest. We ended the ride at the chip shop where we loaded up on fish & chips to take back to Lucy and Dick's place. Warm food and good conversation were quickly followed by sleepiness so we were back to the guest house, showered and in bed very soon after.

Robin was due at work at 2pm on Monday so we were up early again and back on the road. A long drive for a short weekend but well worth it. We will be looking for a chance again to visit Galashiels when we can spend a bit more time. Link here to see a map of the area we covered on the brevet (photo to come shortly)

Thursday, 4 October 2007

$120 parking ticket

On Friday friends Des & Steve along with their friends Brett & Mary Kay were in London for one night on their way through to Croatia so we decided to go in to town to meet up with them. I found out where we could park near a tube station for the cheapest way to get there. We drove to Richmond, found the car park (that's parking lot in American English), and took our credit card over to the pay machine. That's where the trouble started. The machine rejected our credit card so we stepped back to dig out some cash and let another customer use the machine. He pulled a paper stub out of the machine and asked if it was ours. We took it and thought, well, maybe our credit card did work. Then we saw that no, it showed the last 4 digits and it wasn't our card but hey, it was only a few minutes prior to when we got there so we thought someone else had paid and then left their stub in the machine. Happy days for us right? Free parking! We put the stub on the dashboard and skipped off to the tube station. There we were confronted with another payment machine. We put our card in and were just getting ready to push the buttons to get 2 travelcards but before we did the machine spits out 2 tickets. Well, we couldn't figure out how it knew we wanted 2 but off we went. Robin sailed through the automated gate but I would put my ticket in the slot and then slam up against the non-opening gate. I showed my ticket to an attendant who informed me it was only a receipt. Doh! Okay, back to the machine to get another travelcard. By the time we got into central London my brain had started asking "was it possible that our "free parking" ticket back in Richmond was only a receipt???" Not only possible but it actually was only a receipt as confirmed by the 60 pound "penalty charge notice" on the car when Robin returned several hours later. Ouch! Okay, if we pay it within 14 days it is "only" 30 pounds (still over $60!). Needless to say I am appealing using the "we are stupid American tourists" defence. Keep your fingers crossed - this could be the difference between good english ale in the pub vs yucky tasting tap water at home for the next month!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The British are truly whacked!

Apologies to my British friends but I've had further proof today that, as a whole, the British are whacked! Robin and I went to B&Q which is basically a Home Depot. We spotted this item for sale.

We could not figure out why someone would come up with a butt shaped rain barrel with a spigot coming out the "business end". Goggling "rain barrel butts" when I got home shed some light on the subject. In Britain a rain barrel is called a water butt. Okay, so that explains the "double entendre" but still...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Newbury Cycle Sportive

We rode the Newbury Cycle Sportive on Sunday. Our friends Ken and Barbara Robson were organizing so we knew it would be a good event. Cycle Sportives are organized to encourage cycling at all levels and to provide a competitive (although technically not a racing) challenge to those that want it. Robin rode the 115 mile event and achieved the silver medal standard (discovering after that he missed gold by only a little over 2 minutes) and I rode the 75 miler achieving the bronze medal standard (missing silver by 4 minutes). Since neither of us bothered checking to see what the time standards were ahead of time we weren't really aiming for anything. Robin rode hard to challenge himself while I enjoyed the countryside and rode a different paces matching along to different people to chat. A good day out followed by my favorite English beer - Kings Down. Kings Down is brewed by Arkell and is only available in a handful of pubs - none really close to our place in Farnborough unfortunately (?). Maybe I like it so much because so far I've only had it after a full day of cycling! Cheers!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A Walk at Fleet Pond

We set out one morning for a walk around Fleet Pond before Robin went to work. It was a nice day and a lovely walk - but somewhere along the way I lost my favorite Smith Bazooka Slider sunglasses. I suspect this guy but he never cracked under interrogation.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Love at first blog?

In an attempt to be more timely with webpage updates I am giving Blogger a try. If all goes well I'll get some pictures and words up from the last 9 months that I haven't gotten around to posting on the traditional webpage. Starting with way back in winter 2006...

Monday, 17 September 2007

A W(h)ale(s) of a Time

The windtunnel broke down for a couple of days and the weekend was open so we decided to drive to Wales. A couple of years ago Robin visited a village called Hay-on-Wye in Wales that is famous for its many and varied book stores. Right up my alley! We arranged a B&B for 2 nights and hit the road. As we got close to Hay I saw signs for "Arthur's Stone" so once we settled in we got out the bikes and headed out on our "quest" to find it.

The terrain in Wales is quit unforgiving to cyclists. Very narrow roads with steep steep pitches. Plenty of great scenery but you are either in oxygen-debt trying to get up a hill or holding on and watching out for rocks, holes, cars, fences, and sheep on the way down. At the bottom of one hill was a sign that said Not Suitable for Heavy Goods Vehicles (also sometimes referred to as HGVs). As I ended up pushing my bike part way up this hill I've determined I must be an HGV.

Arthur's Stone was the name given to a Neolithic burial site. It was in use many many years before the legend of King Arthur ever came to be but it is a good name anyway.

One of Robin's co-workers, Dave, was in Hay that night too so we had a nice dinner with him. Next morning Dave was heading back to Farnborough but we were doing a bike loop that would bring us back to Hay through the Black Mountains. More unforgiving hills and sheep but a very cool ride. We visited a little church tucked way back in the hills that had this intricately carved wooden screen, St. Issui in Partrishow. A little further north we saw the ruined Tintern Abbey.

Next morning we looked in a few book shops before leaving town but didn't buy anything. Stopping in Ross-on-Wye we found a plague cross in the churchyard. It is a plain stone cross commemorating more than 300 townspeople who were buried by night in unmarked graves during the plage.

We were about 45 minutes from Farnborough when Robin's boss, Rick, called on the mobile to say the wind tunnel was back up and running. Good thing we'd decided against staying one more day in Wales!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Mark and Laurie come for a visit

Our friends Mark and Laurie had arranged to come for a visit here in England combined with a week in Paris. They were due to arrive on Friday Sept 7 but missed their connecting flight in Chicago so we were robbed of one day with them. Still we made the most of their time here:
A day's outing seeing the sights of London, here at the Tower Bridge
and here at the Tower of London where we saw the first ever female Beefeater, only appointed or commissioned or whatever the previous week.

A lovely day out on a countryside and town ramble.
A visit to Stonehenge (including special pre-arranged access to the stone circle prior to official opening time).

We also took a drive in the country followed by lunch at one of our favorite pubs, Saturday evening at the Hatch Warren Beer Festival and visited Hampton Court (one of Henry the VIII's cribs),

Thanks for visiting guys!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Tour BC

After first meeting Danelle and John in 2003 through BC Randonneurs we had wanted to ride Tour BC which they organize but the timing never worked out. We had just found out that we would not be going to England in July when we saw them at the Seattle Bike Expo so Danelle sat us down with firm instructions to register immediately. We did as we were told and also got my brother Paul to sign up. During the ride we also met up with friends John and Sue who we knew through Cycle Tuesdays, Ralph and Carol from SIR (who were gearing up for PBP on their tandem), and Doug and Susan from BC Randonneurs.

We drove up to Penticton on Saturday July 14, got the bikes checked, had dinner, and returned to a hotel room that was blazing hot. There was a small 1960's vintage air conditioner that worked its heart out all night and maybe managed to drop the temperature about 10 degrees by the next morning. We were happy to get out into the cool morning air and begin our week-long bike trek.

Day one: 144 km from Penticton to Armstrong with 5500 feet of climbing. It was really hot and it took its toll on the riders. Lunch break included swimming but towards the end of the ride all fannies were dragging. We met Charlie and Terrie from Aberdeen who just happened to know our old pals Steve and Dian who had moved there from Bellevue a couple of years ago. We also met Jude and Nancy from Salmon Arm. Jude was riding and Nancy was driving her RV and dog-sitting. The 7 of us had a great time together the entire week. The campsite in Armstrong was a dry and hot showground/arena. Charlie and Robin found a dilapidated stage to set up camp because it offered the only shade. Good job guys! Also thanks to Terry and Charlie for all the photos since we didn't bring our camera.

Day two: 136 km from Armstrong to Revelstoke with 2900 feet of climbing. Still hot but a shorter and easier day ending at a campsite along the Columbia River with grass and shade. Charlie, Robin, Terry, Paul, and I all rode together on the flatter terrain. A quick scouting party into town brought back beer and chips so we hardly cared that the luggage truck was late getting there. Support on the ride was great and it was arranged so that the support crew could ride part of each day if they wished. Our lunch truck driver was another BC Randonneur rider, Bob, and we enjoyed seeing him each day. Michel covered afternoon water/rest stops and was beginning what he called his "one month training plan" for PBP. The river was bone chillingly cold. You know when you can put your feet in a stream or river and bear it long enough for everything to go numb? Not here - it just hurt too much (or maybe I'm just getting wimpier???). That didn't stop Paul however who took several cooling plunges. Yeow!

Day three: 103 km from Revelstoke to Nakusp with 4200 feet of climbing. A few thunder and rainstorms on this day. We managed to miss most of them somehow. A nice long climb to start the day and a lovely ferry ride across the Columbia to - another long climb - not quite so nice as it was getting much hotter. A beautiful waterfall and many gorgeous views marked the route. Camping was in a nice wooded campsite and the threat of a real soaker never materialized. We kept finding that by the time we got done riding in the afternoon we were much too hungry to wait for dinner. We all got laundry going then wandered into town and found a pizza place run by a German. At first he was a bit gruff but we finally pestered him enough he came to talk to us.

Day four: 149 km from Nakusp to Castlegar with 5600 feet of climbing. A beautiful but tough day of riding. Luckily my brother Paul stuck with me and towards t
he end of the day when we had to ride on a busy road followed by more climbing to the campsite he saved my butt. He said he would get us in if he could get a double espresso. My self-preservation radar kicked in and we found a coffee stand pronto so I could get him the required caffeine. That did the trick! Thanks Paul! A really lovely campsite including a nice shallow stream for sitting and soaking followed by a fantastic dinner - what a great day. It rained quite heavily that night but was mostly just cloudy when we woke. A terrific breakfast to start the day (the lady that did the catering for this stop was a marvel - we wanted to load her up and take her with us for the rest of the tour! - and we really wish we had later...)

Day five: 98 km from Castlegar to Grandforks with 4800 feet of cli
mbing. Two long passes to climb on this day and some pretty severe downpours. Heading down the last big descent I hit a huge cloudburst so I just kept it in the middle of the lane (there were 2 lanes of traffic in each direction) and rode it out. Smooth road with plenty of sight distance saved the day! Once again Paul stuck with me - until the final insult of the day. We had just linked up with Ralph and Carol when we saw another storm moving towards us. We thought we could outrun it so we stomped on it. We rounded a bend and saw something head in the road we couldn't identify. It was a wall of ran racing right at us. We slammed into it (or it slammed into us) about 5 km from Grandforks. Paul took off to save his skin and I did the best I could to push through. A small climb almost undid me as the water was running down at me so deep and fast I was having a hard time maintaining forward motion! For some reason I found the whole situation hilarious and was laughing out loud as I got completely drenched. At the campsite Robin had managed to get the tent and sleeping bags dry from the night before so we were comfy and cozy. A bagpipe group entertained us that night while loads of wet cycling gear dried on trees, fences, tables and benches.

Day six: 128 km from Grandforks to Osoyoos with 5100 feet of climbing. It was about at this point of the tour that I found out Danelle had made this the hardest route ever after having polled former tour participants. Well no wonder I was getting pooped! This was a gorgeous day of riding. Paul would usually wait for me at the tops of the long climbs and he and I would work together to roar down the descent. It was great fun but we found we were killing ourselves but we couldn't resist! The supposed final climb of the day was to Anarchist Pass. A great name but the problem was there was still plenty of climbing after that. I was saying bad words until at the last water stop Danelle assured me it was clear sailing from there. The descent was a gas! Right down into Osoyoos - frequently Canada's hot spot - and it didn't disappoint today - it was hot! Great entertainment by young dancers from the First Nation people (what we would call Native Americans) and massages to end the day - ahhh.

Day seven: 68 km from Osoyoos to Penticton with 1800 feet of climbing and several winery stops. A well deserved easy day with a strong tailwind - yahoo! We tasted and bought some wine, got cleaned up at the local recreation centre, then met up to bid goodbye to our new friends. It was such a fun week with special old and new friends.