Monday, 19 November 2018

no fun at all

In March last year, I posted a description of a short path that illustrated perfectly my contention that a typical country path, if it offers any difficulty, will present a different challenge depending on the direction of travel. You will probably not be surprised to hear that I called this account Two-Way Fun. The path is only 50–60 metres in length, but it has been an integral part of the final frontier, my regular Sunday bike ride, in both directions, merely to do a single manœuvre that is awkward in a radically different way depending on whether it is tackled from north to south or from south to north.

However, when I arrived at the start of the path on Sunday, I sensed immediately that something was wrong:


The path seemed wider, but it became obvious that it had been completely rebuilt only when I approached the crucial move:


If you compare this photo with the one that I took to illustrate the original problem, you will see that all intrinsic difficulty has been removed:


The difference is even more stark between the then and now photos of the manœuvre as it is approached from the opposite direction:




The start of the path from the northern end also betrays how things have changed:



So why would this apparently inconsequential path have been upgraded? If you look closely at the first photo above, you will see that someone has started to clear the land. Presumably this will be for building purposes, and it seems to me that this apparent upgrade of the path is in fact an upgrade of the storm drain that can be seen in some of the older photographs. Presumably, this is connected to the likely construction of new village houses.

One thing is certain though: it is no longer worth the short detour to take in this path—it is no fun at all—and the bike ride that I’ve been calling the final frontier is diminished as a result.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

impossible targets

In case you hadn’t noticed, I do a lot of cycling. And as I frequently tell Paula, I don’t do it ‘to keep fit’, although this is clearly a benefit. I do it because I enjoy it. And I like to set targets for myself. For example, at the start of the seven-month period that I spent in Hong Kong in 2015/16, I set a target of 5,000 kilometres for the aggregate distance to be cycled. This was a purely arbitrary figure that I thought would be easy to achieve.

I was comfortably on target after five months, but I reckoned without El Niño and its detrimental effect on the local weather, and I eventually fell short by almost 600km. However, I kept the same target for the following winter, and because there was almost no adverse weather, I reached it with some time to spare, as the following summary of my 2016/17 activity shows:


There was just one small problem!

The speedometer that I’d been using to record my activities for the past few years had occasionally malfunctioned—the contacts had become tarnished—and on my first time out upon returning to Hong Kong in October last year, it refused to work altogether. So I bought a new one and duly recorded the distance cycled, failing to notice that there was anything amiss.

On descents of steep hills in Hong Kong, it’s often necessary to proceed with caution because there isn’t a safe run-out at the bottom, but where there is a safe run-out, I like to see how fast I can go. And my second ride was around the final frontier, a highlight of which is the switchback. I had previously managed to reach 50km/hr on the two main descents here, but this time I couldn’t do any better than 46km/hr. Then it dawned on me: I’d transferred my old speedometer from a hybrid bike to a mountain bike without recalibrating it to take account of the latter’s smaller wheels!

This meant that all my records for the past few years were inflated by around 8 percent, and I hadn’t hit 5,000km in 2016/17 after all. Damn! As a result, I decided that not only should I aim for a genuine 5,000km this time, I should try to beat the false 5128.7km from the previous winter. It did cross my mind to try for 6,000km, but I dismissed this idea as unrealistic.

My second target was to improve on the false trip average of 52.33km. I did consider whether I should aim for a trip average of 60km, but in the end I didn’t think this would be feasible either.

Because so many of my rides in 2016/17 had covered less than 40km, I decided to set myself a target minimum of 40km per trip last winter, which wasn’t at all difficult to maintain for the first two months. However, due to a miscalculation, I failed to make the distance on one occasion, so at the beginning of 2018, I decided to increase the target minimum to 50km.

I don’t remember at what point I noticed that my trip average had been increasing steadily, but in mid-March I decided to increase the target minimum to 60km per trip. By the middle of April, my trip average had crept up to 60km, but then I experienced a minor setback. I was caught out in a thunderstorm and decided to abort, recording only 19.5km for that particular ride. This knocked my trip average below 60km again. Paula suggested that I not include it because it was in a sense an artificial reading, but I felt that this would be cheating, so it is included in the overall figures.

And I did hit 5,000km with a month to spare, so although I’d originally dismissed the idea as unrealistic, I thought that I might as well see whether I could reach 6,000km after all. And I did:


You will notice that after the minor setback in April, I was able to push my trip average above 60km again. So that was two ‘impossible’ targets achieved. But there was a third!

I’d been wondering for a while whether I could cycle 160km (100 miles) in a single day. Actually, the problem isn’t so much the distance as the location(s). A lot of my bike rides take in narrow paths and alleyways, where you would be lucky to average 10km/hr, and in order to do 160km, it’s necessary to average at least 16km/hr, which is achievable only on roads and official cycle tracks. So the problem is finding a long enough route that meets this criterion.

I had managed 123.6km in November 2016 by following the cycle track network around new towns in the New Territories, but as I explained above, this was a false reading. However, by expanding the options that I covered then, I managed to cycle 134.1km in a day in December last year. Finding an extra 26km was always going to be a problem, but I eventually succeeded in February:


I have no intention of trying to improve on these figures this winter, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some targets in mind. During November 2015, I cycled a total distance of 1341.1km, which remains the farthest I’ve ridden in a single month. This included a weekly total of 356.2km, also a record. However, as I’ve already indicated, these are false readings that need to be replaced. I do think that improving the monthly total is probably impossible, because among other things it depends on continuously favourable weather, but I will certainly be giving it a go.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

…french and

Other languages have not been used in the compilation of this puzzle.

What do the following clues have in common?
• Africa has one.
• China has a great one.
• Arachnid.
• Playing card.
• Freshwater fish.
• Mediæval instrument of torture.
• One of the so-called four evangelists.
Clearly, some of these clues have more than one possible answer, but if you get two answers that appear to match, then it should be possible to connect the rest.

I shall be offline until at least Saturday because I’ll be travelling back to Hong Kong. I hope that someone will have submitted a correct answer before then.

Monday, 12 November 2018

penrith picture quiz

I’ve been looking for distinctive architectural features around Penrith that I could take photographs of and compile them into a quiz. Obviously, this will only be of interest to residents of or visitors to Penrith, but if you fall into either category you may find this quiz amusing. All locations are within a 250-metre radius of the Musgrave Monument, which most people would regard as the centre of town.

I’ll start with two stone arches that no longer serve any practical purpose:


There are probably other projecting windows on the upper floors of buildings, but where is the one seen in the next photo?


This stone recess was once a source of drinking water:


This may be the only example of a clerestory window in Penrith, although the whole structure is decidedly ramshackle:


A studded oak door:


This façade should be easy to place:


More arches that no longer have a purpose:


Is the next photo of a door or a window?


Where is the entrance leading to a short flight of steps in the next photo?


Finally, where are these two windows with wrought iron balconies? The ‘roof’ above suggests some kind of industrial use originally: