Cycling around Cambridge

My final day in Cambridge, I went cycling around the city with Nick and Andrew, another researcher from MSRC. I had found what looked like a nice route at CTC Cambridge: http://www.ctc-cambridge.org.uk/Cycle-Routes.html that went around the city. So, starting from MSRC, we biked mostly due west to connect to the loop, and then took it clockwise. Turns out this wasn’t the best idea… the cue sheet wasn’t the easiest to follow, and we were going backwards — it called for counter-clockwise.

Anyway, we managed to get through the first half of the loop without much difficulty, but then managed to get a bit lost… oops. Also, turns out that there was a problem with the camera… the shutter stuck in a halfway up position, with the D70 flashing “Err.” Gonna have to look at that when I return.

After a brief stop at lunch, we took a bit of a wrong turn and went due west vs southerly… after a bit, we arrived at a sign for the town of Babraham… yes, its real. And apparently, there’s a nearby zoo… Linton Zoo…. so, it’s Babraham Linton Zoo. Fun fun fun… :)

Anyway, we turned south and then circled about, completing the loop more in a plus-shape versus a loop. But hey, we still got our 40 miles, and all is good.

40 miles, GPS log: http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=865867

Cambridge to Ely

A few days after a trip to Loch Ness, Nick and I teamed up with another colleague from MSRC (and as it turns out CMU) Dushyanth did a quick ride from MSRC in Cambridge up to Ely (pronounced EE-lee).

MotionBased GPS log: http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=841914 – 37.65 miles. Don’t believe the 7:30:09 time… we took quite some time at lunch (Pizza Express) and at the Ely Museum waiting for the rain to let up.

Here’s Nick and Dushyanth:

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and here’s yours truly at the River Great Ouse (pronounced ows, although here it’s more like ooze), the fifth-longest river in the UK.

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A few seconds later, this flotilla of swans decided to pose for a photo:

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There wasn’t a whole lot between Cambridge and Ely; it’s relatively flat, and aside from a freak hail storm (d’oh!), we got to the cathedral at Ely quite handily:

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We couldn’t actually go inside the cathedral, as they were filming Elizabeth: The Golden Age starring I believe Cate Blanchett. Guess this means I’ll to see the first Elizabeth movie, as I’m dying to see the interior of the cathedral! Of course, I suspect I could just look for other images out there… :)

Cycle Scotland, Loch Ness – Inverness to Fort Augustus, 36.33 miles.

Nick, a colleague from MSRC, and I decided to attempt a ride from Inverness down to Spean Bridge. As it turns out, we only made it 2/3 of the way before Nick’s chain snapped! However, we did get to have lunch at scenic Loch Ness. Anyway, on to the ride!

GPS Log via MotionBased: http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=830171
Nick and I started the day at Inverness, after a 3.5 hour train ride up. Initially we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get the bikes on the train, as the guy at the ticket counter said the racks were all full. But there was no problem… we just arrived early, got our bikes on, and nobody came to boot ’em off!

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We took a bit of a scenic route out of Inverness, but eventually found B862, the Loch Ness Loop. We got drenched in Inverness, but then the sun came out and dried us off. It was quite scenic, although we were sure the loch was “just over there” and couldn’t wait to see it. We did however see a number of covs, who all stopped to look at us.

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Trucking down a bit, we came to the town of Dores, and there it was – Loch Ness! And you can see how big it is… or rather, you can’t! It’s narrow and just goes into the distance. It’s actually about the size of Lake Washington — only about 20 or so miles long. Just with some cooler scenery and a monster.

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There’s a nice stop for lunch right at the top of the loch at Dores, the Dores Inn. It has a nice outdoor patio for eating, and we decided to chance it as the sun was out. Here’s Nick and I posing at the loch:

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Here’s another shot of me a little later at a scenic view… we’re a few miles down the loch, and still can’t see the end from the mist and rain… mostly rain, as we were about to find out!

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The road leaves the side of Loch Ness about the town of Foyers, and sadly that was the last we saw of it. However, we did see the Falls of Foyers, which I thought were quite spectacular!

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We then started to go up a fairly steep uphill section… and saw some gorgeous scenery. Something which doesn’t come out as well in the picture were the silver rocks — the sun had come out and was reflecting on several wet rocks on the other side of the glen. But it’s still a pretty picture.

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For example, some more falls. I’m still trying to figure out where the water is coming from — there’s a lot of it, and there doesn’t seem to be any snowpack left on the mountain!

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There’s also a scenic guide to the area we came at… this was at the 20 mile point or so.

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We proceeded cash out our uphill and bombed downhill… halfway down, we found Loch Tariff, which was looking quite scenic in the sun.

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We’ll now stop the photo journal and dive into the bit of catastrophe. At Fort Augustus, as we were determining whether to take the A82 to Spean Bridge to ensure we made the train, Nick’s chain snapped. Bad luck… especially as he had already had a flat. Now, while Peter at Cycle Scotland had furnished us with a spare tube, we didn’t have a chain tool… d’oh! So we ended up at this Gulf petrol station to try and figure out what to do. Plan A was to take a bus, and the woman at the station was sure that the coach could store bikes in the luggage compartments under the seats. Turns out they don’t carry bikes. D’oh! Now we’re getting panicked, as it’s 6:30 and we need to get 20 miles to Spean Bridge in an hour and a half. We eventually get a hold of a cab in Fort William, about 40 minutes away. They’ll come and get us, and hopefully we can make it to the train in time. Along the way we also talked to Peter, who told us to lock the bikes up somewhere safe and make an issue of them — that was at least generous of him. So the gas station manager agreed to store the bikes in her propane storage area, which is a locked area behind the station. The cab arrived at 7:55… no way we were going to make the 8:00 train. So, we called ScotRail to find out what times other trains were leaving for Edinburgh… and since it was Sunday tomorrow, what times the Sunday trains ride.
Well, to make a long story short, we weren’t going to get in to Edinburgh before 1:30 if we took a train. And we were pretty sure our flights to Cambridge were right around there. So, we ended up taking the cab down to Edinburgh, for 200 quid with a 40 tip for the guy who was going to have to head on back on the 3 hour drive. Oof… a bit more expensive of a bike ride than we had thought!
But hey, at least we did get to see Loch Ness! And I did burn 3900 calories in doing it… so a pound gone isn’t bad, especially considering what I’d been eating and drinking during the week!

Cycle Scotland, Pitlockry Loop. Day 2

Well, after a good night’s rest, it was time to get up, load up on some fruit and whole grains, and head off again! I got off to a bit later of a start than I wanted, but as I didn’t have anywhere to be that evening aside from making one of the later trains, all was good.

Day 2, Fearnan by Aberfeldy to Pitlochry via Glen Lyon and Loch Tay, 75.80 miles.

GPS log via MotionBased:
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=805786

Day 2 began with a scenic ride through the center of Glen Lyon, up to the eastern side of Loch Lyon. I was getting worried, as I knew I was turning south at some point and the mountains to the south didn’t seem to have a natural break. They were quite spectacular, however.

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Towards the end of the glen, I spotted a few local deer… they had scampered off a reasonable distance by the time I got my camera out, but proceeded to display for me so i could get a good shot in! I also saw a couple herds of yaks about, although certainly it was predominantly sheep with some cattle mixed in.

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The route turns south at Loch Lyon, and while there was a traverse, it was still fairly steep — 1700 feet at the summit! Fortunately, I was already at about 900 feet, so it wasn’t that horrible, but still a healthy climb. Along the way I noticed some ruins of an old Scottish stone house… there were a number of these scattered throughout the ride. For some reason, when I saw this one I just couldn’t help but wonder who had lived there and what finally caused the last person to abandon the house. It’s a marvelous location for a house, with a great view and ample access to fields for ranching.

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I then bombed down the hill to Glen Lochay, which wasn’t nearly as fun as it should have been. I was on a narrow access road, and while it was paved, there was only room for one vehicle — car or bike. And it was windy with blind turns and summits… so I couldn’t go very fast as I never knew if a car would be coming up. Used those brakes pretty well though! At the bottom, I had a great view of Glen Lochay and then up through Loch Tay — some gorgeous scenery of local farms and homes.

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After an hour or so, I came to Loch Tay and rode along the southern edge… I ended up on Cycle Route 7, which is just a normal back road that is labeled on maps as good for cyclists. I actually prefer B-* routes, which are bi-directional secondary routes. On the single-lane roads, every time a car passed in either direction, I had to slow down to pass carefully. On the B roads, I could actually get some momentum and cruise between 17-20mph.

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Past Loch Tay, I passed by Castle Menzies, a small Scottish castle nestled against a hill. Quite a sight, and the view on the other side was also rather impressive. It turns out that “castle” doesn’t necessarily imply huge walls and moats… but a 5-story stone mansion isn’t shabby!

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The sun came out towards the end of the ride near Pitlochry. Along the way I passed by this house overlooking a field filled with sheep and pheasants. I can only imagine the view from the house on the valley, which I took from my level. But I have to say, it wouldn’t be that bad to live in this countryside with such gorgeous scenery all around. I suspect the winter months might be where you pay for it, as it was still chilly in May, but still, gorgeous scenery.

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I finally arrived at Pitlochry about 7:40, about 40 minutes from the next train. I plopped down on the bench, took off my helmet and gloves, and ate my last bit of food — an orange! There weren’t great places to stop for lunch around lunch time on the route, an issue with my timing I suspect, so I ended up snarfing down string cheese and PureFit bars — 3 PureFits and 4 string cheeses per day! Was reasonable enough to get me through lunch. :)

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Anyway, the train ride home was uneventful and quiet, and finally got back to the Balmoral around 10:30 at night. I did some quick analysis… over 10,000 calories burned over 130 miles, with some 12,000 feet of elevation gain over the hills and occasional peak. Huh… maybe RAMROD isn’t so out of reach as I thought!

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Cycle Scotland, Pitlochry Loop. Day 1

As I’ve mentioned, I and a number of colleagues are busy training for STP, a 204 mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland. Not wanting to skip training for the 3 weekends I’ll be away at WWW 2006 in Edinburgh, I located a nice local bike rental shop (or cycle hire, as it’s called here in Britain) to rent a bike and do some distance rides. I find Cycle Scotland, run by Peter Butterworth, a very engaging fellow who in addition to renting bikes also plans scenic tours of Scotland.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and Peter had a 59cm red 1997 Dawes Galaxy touring bike ready for me to go. This is a reasonable drop-handle road bike; the geometry sits me more upright than on my Bianchi Eros frame. The one thing to notice, even on the 2006 model linked, is that Dawes uses lever shifters on the end of the handlebars… which is surprising, considering both Shimano and Campy have been making break shifters for some time (at least since 1996, as that’s what was on my Eros!). But Britain is a country of tradition. One nice thing is that the bike did come with the back rack, which turned out to be the perfect size for my camera bag.

Peter and I sketched out a two-day ride that would take me all around the Pitlochry area, through some scenic glens and lochs. I took the bike back up to the hotel (the Balmoral, quite close to Peter’s shop on Blackfriars Street), had the concierge store it in their luggage room, and went to bed for an early morning rise and hop on the 9:25 train to Pitlochry. One note: in summertime, you should have a reservation to take your bike on the train, but during rainier months (like May), there aren’t too many. I was the only bike on the train both directions.

Day 1, Pitlochry to Fearnan by Aberfeldy via Loch Rannoch, 61.23 miles.

GPS log via MotionBased:
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=805794

The day started uneventfully with a 2-hour train ride up to Pitlochry. The biggest challenge was getting into the Edinburgh Waverly train station… there’s an entrance right next to the Balmoral, but it was closed for construction, so I ended up wandering around the block trying to get in. As you can see in the photo, the train just has a metal bar where you rest the bikes… it looks like it might hold 6 packed tightly, but more like 4 reasonably well.

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I then started cycling from Pitlochry to Tummel Bridge, passing by River Tummel on some quieter backroads. Along the way, there were several green fields filled with herds of cattle and sheep.

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The early route was quite flat and very scenic; for example, I was frequently on the side of the water as I toured west. Along the way, I passed by the lovely Loch Rannoch Hotel, seen here after I had circled Loch Rannoch. Looks like it’d make a lovely place for a holiday! Along the loch were plenty of small powerboats, sailboats, and kayaks… looks like quite the spot!

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After Loch Rannoch I began a rather steep climb (up to about 1200 feet). Along the way I saw this amazingly green tree… not sure what its genus is, but it was the most brilliant green and quite striking.

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Once I had made the summit and was cycling along a plateau, I came across one of many long rock walls. This one extended from the top of one hill to the top of the other, with the road I was on smack in the middle. I assume that the wall extended out on both sides as well. Apparently, as I found out later, over years the local shepherds and farmers would clear the land of rock, and built the walls as they needed to put the rocks somewhere out of the way. Plus, it helped pen in the sheep, which is always a plus.

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Right before the final stop I stopped in Fortingall, home of the Fortingall Yew. This is a 5,000-year old yew tree, reputed to be the oldest in Britain (if not the world). It’s nothing too spectacular, but pretty cool nonetheless. Apparently the tree is in great health, so it should keep going for some time.

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I then arrived in Fearnan, a few miles down the road from Fortingall, and stopped at Culdees Bunkhouse. Peter had made a reservation for me the day before. It’s an eco-friendly place that serves vegetarian breakfasts and dinner. It was a bit full, so I was in the 4-bed bunkroom. I ended up sharing it with two retired gentlemen named Dave and George, who were out to do a few Munros. A Munro is a particular type of peak, named after Sir Hugh Munro who surveyed them, that is at least 3,000 feet high and has at least a 500 foot dip between it and the nearest peak. There are currently 284 Munros in Scotland, and Dave and George had done over half, and were looking to bag another 5 or so the next day. We had a lovely time chatting about this over a pint at a local pub in Kenmore, another local village close to Fearnan.

About

In 1995, Rich Segal, a grad student in the Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) department at the University of Washington (UW), roped in a number of fellow grad students to ride STP, the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. While training, using routes from Bakeries by Bicycle, someone coined the term “Pastry Powered Turing Machines” — a pun based on the unofficial CSE icon, the Steam Powered Turing Machine. Our motto is: We live to eat… we bike to eat more!
12 riders: Paul, Rich, Joanna, Don, Ruben, Keith, Lauren, Eric, Erik, Marc, Jennifer, and Kevin completed STP that summer.

Flash forward 11 years… Lauren, Ruben, and Erik, still in the Seattle area, decide to do it again. So we call the gang… Paul, Keith, Marc, Rich, and Joanna are in, with Keith, Rich, and Joanna all pledging to fly out. We meet some new people – including Megan, Julie, Scott, Kate, and Katie. And we do STP again!

Now, the Pastry Powered T(o)uring Machines are back, and are an informal cycling, triathlon, and social club based in the Seattle area. We’re interested in group training and do mostly cycling rides, either lead by members or part of other groups (such as Cascade Bicycle Club or Tacoma Wheelmen).

Seattle to Portland 1995

In 1995, a number of grad students in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at the University of Washington were roped into riding the Seattle to Portland classic. Pictured here are George Forman (who came down to see us off, but didn’t ride), Paul Franklin, Rich Segal, Joanna Labendz (now Segal!), Don Rollins, Ruben Ortega, Keith Golden, Lauren Bricker, Eric Stollnitz, Marc Friedman, Erik Selberg, Jennifer Fisch, and Kevin Hinshaw.

1995 STP Group Photo