Dem Bones Dem Bones
My recent cycling ambition was to travel to my eighteen-week fracture clinic on my bike. Not, you understand, to actually cycle around the clinic and X-ray department on the bike, though it is tempting: Addenbrooke's is a big place.
Recent icy weather put the kibosh on any cycling, so I couldn't build up to the mileage or reconnoitre the route. I spent the time on "virtual cycling", using BikeRouteToaster to find a plausible back-route directly to the hospital, avoiding Cambridge centre.
Another complication arose: a friend organised for a gang of us to have a Christmas meal in the village of Bourn, coincidentally on my chosen route. So I could cycle to Addenbrooke's, cycle back to Bourn, eat drink and be merry, then cycle home. But if there was a danger of ice, I would bus to Cambridge and home, then beg a lift to Bourn.
The night before, Brown Bike and I nipped out to test his lights and my clothes in the dark and cold: 4 degrees C and everything worked. On the appointed morning, the sun stayed in bed behind a blanket of fog, with a temperature of 1.1 deg C. Yikes. I hung around, undecided, and looked at the roads. They were okay. The fog thinned (a bit), the temperature rose (a bit).
One pannier (just one, sorry) was already packed with waterproofs, a second U-lock, all the lights I posess, some food and other stuff. The underseat bag always has a spare tube and required tools. One crutch was already strapped to the rack.
As this is a cycling blog, you can guess that I decided "Stuff it" and set off by bike.
A farm track goes from Eltisley to Caxton, but is littered with puncturing slivers of flint, so we took the long way by road through Great Gransden. The sun emerged a couple of times then hid away again. After Caxton we went village-hopping through Bourne (where I found the restaurant we would be in that evening), along the gently rolling south Cambs landscape ...
... through Toft, Comberton and Barton, ...
... then a bridleway to Grantchester which turned out to be muddy, slidey and slow — not clever when I have a dodgy leg, and I wouldn't fancy it at night. I now realise that I hate mud as much as ice.
The best part of the path was the bridge over the motorway. If they can spend all that money on a bridge, would a bit of tarmac on the path have hurt anyone?
After Grantchester, Trumpington and another muddy path, we explored the misguided busway that might be opened some year soon. There was a "cyclists dismount" sign but I didn't. Rumours claim the unfinished busway makes a fine cycle route into town. Wouldn't you be tempted to try this on a bike? I was, then found there was a fence across the bridge at the top of the photo, so I cycled down again, walked over the marsh on the right of the photo and cycled the (pedestrians only?) path ...
... to an unmanned level crossing and into Addenbrookes. A road pretended to be a shortcut to the outpatients clinic, but of course it lied. When I eventually found myself again, I secured Brown Bike with two D-locks at a bike park overlooked by a heavily-used smoking shelter. Cambridge has a horrendous rate of cycle theft and Addenbroke's seems easy pickings.
It didn't look like rain, so I didn't put the placcy bag on the saddle. I returned an hour later to find it had rained and the saddle was soaked. Oh joy. But I was thankful Brown Bike was still present and correct.
I didn't fancy the same way back — too many muddy paths. I could take the roads instead, but I had plenty of time and fancied taking Hills Road into central Cambridge, then taking the old A428.
I paused to assist a fellow cyclist who was stopped on a pavement, peering at his wheels. His V-brakes wouldn't brake. I diagnosed the pivots had become gritted-up.
[Note for Americans: a "pavement" is a strip at the side of the road reserved for pedestrians, and sometimes cyclists, and sometimes parked cars provided they don't actually drive along it. Confused? So am I.]
It's been a long while since I cycled in a city. It is totally different to rural cycling. The difference isn't the traffic: rural roads can be just as busy as Cambridge streets. I'm sure city-dwellers know what they are doing, but this country bumpkin had problems deciding instantly (a) where he was supposed to cycle and (b) where people expected him to cycle, which isn't the same thing.
Sorry, it was too dark for photos, and I was rather engrossed with the traffic.
Cambridge is littered with pictures of squashed cyclists. You know what I mean: white cartoon figures of person on bike are painted on roads and pavements. This always means "you can cycle here if you want". If it's on a pavement it also means "... but expect pedestrains, bus shelters and litter bins". On a road it also means "... but expect vehicles, even if there is a solid white line".
Some road lanes are marked "Bus and squashed-cyclist lane". Others are marked merely "Bus lane". Does this mean I'm not supposed to use them? Other cyclists do, so I also do. Cars generally keep out of bus lanes except where the lane has only just started or is about to finish. Motorists generally stop before Advance Stop Lines.
I was surprised when one cycle lane split into two, separated by bollards. The left lane was (I think) for filtering left, so I chose the right lane. The road at this point seemed to be all cycle-lanes, so I had a motorist trying to spear himself on my crutch.
Some cycle lanes stop at junctions, and others are only for junctions.
Motorists generally keep out of both mandatory and advisory cycle lanes, but the cycle lanes peter out every few yards for a bus stop, junction or no apparent reason.
When cyclists encounter stationary traffic, they will hop on to the pavement for the duration, then hop back on the road. Pedestrians seem unfazed by this. I once tried this athletic feat, but then found myself having to dodge squidgy things on two legs and cycling over a light-controlled crossroads as a pedestrian.
Is this cycling hassle worthwhile? I would like more consistency, but I suppose each stretch of road and junction is considered separately, with due regard for all road users. Cambridge is an ancient city; they can't dig it up and start again. Cyclists and motorists travel (when I was there) at similar average speeds, but motorists start and stop in queues for lights where cyclists want to squeeze past. It seems to work out somehow, although I had to keep my wits sharp.
Back to the story... At the town centre, I discovered that I can't eat a large spicy hot dog with one hand while holding Brown Bike in the other. I took Madingley Road out of Cambridge, using the footpath when the hill became steep. This is a shared-use path in practise, but I have no idea about the legality. This doesn't seem a high priority in Cambridge, although I read recently that loads of cyclists are regularly fined for this offence.
Then the old A428 (now called "St Neots Road") to Broadway, the turn-off for Bourn. My chums knew I was due for the fracture clinic, and were suitably shocked that I had travelled by bike.
We ate, drank and were merry. After 11pm Brown Bike and I completed our circuit by going to Caxton then taking the farm track home. (If I got a puncture, I could fix it in the warmth of home next day.) We rode slowly as the concrete track has scattered mud and is badly potholed. It was unlit and with a nasty north wind. I had all my front lights on. In the distance a bright yellow beam like a lighthouse swept the fields and sometimes caught me in the glare. It was moving towards me. When it got close, I moved off the single-lane track to the grass verge. It was a 4×4, and stopped alongside me. The driver asked in a friendly way what I was doing there at that time of night. I explained and he was happy. He was looking for foxes, he said. This seemed strange to me, but I don't fully understand rural life. Only later did I remember we were only a couple of weeks from Boxing Day so he was probably looking for suitable prey.
We arrived home exactly twelve hours after we left. 32km out and 33km return. Total 65km (41 miles). The outward trip took nearly 2.5 hours, which is pathetic but I had photo stops and muddy paths and a dodgy leg, so I'm happy. True, both legs felt like lead when I told them to take me upstairs to bed, and the right knee had a slight ache.
Oh and yeah, my consultant told me the bone has healed and the screws haven't come loose. Yipee!
[Addendum: I did get a puncture from the farm track. After fixing it the next day, my legs were happy to cycle 10km. Someday I'll be capable of 80km day after day.]