I hadn’t intended to ride today. To tell the truth I hadn’t intended to ride at all this week, and probably not next week either. But I made a mistake: I entered Mikefule’s quiz. Didn’t get all the literary references right, but Mike suggested I should write more often in the forums. Hard not to read “ride more” into that too. So, after not having ridden at all for a couple of months, my guilt overpowered my lethargy, and aided by Mike’s poke in the side with a sharpened Morris stick, or maybe his epee, I threw a unicycle into the car boot this morning.
I would like to be able say that I had pondered long and hard over my choice of unicycle, to describe my angst over crank length choice, that I had carefully calculated the correct tyre to match the expected riding, and that I had equipped myself with sufficient armoured gloves, knee and elbow pads, helmets and wrist protectors that I would look inconspicuous in a fully functional SWAT team. I would like to say that, but I cannot. I just grabbed the nearest unicycle and, because the weather looked good, a green dress. The uni is a simple basic 24", bought cheaply, ridden maybe a half dozen times to date. Still has the tyre moulding nobbles. What are they really called? My preparation was just to get some air into the tyre, which had gone completely flat.
So lunchtime arrives, far sooner than is compatible with my level of outstanding work, but I wheel the unicycle from the car park towards the front of the building and to the roadway. I am no longer allowed to ride it in the car park. Last time I did, I was told off by the H&S people, who said quite simply that if I really did intend to break my neck and other assorted bones, would I mind doing it off site. As I walk I get the usual odd looks and comments. I didn’t quite catch them, but one said something about physics tutors who should know that some things are impossible. I have not ridden sufficiently from campus that anyone expects to see me on one wheel yet, so many people have still to absorb this particular shock. A number of students follow and gather to see what I will do next. Normally this would be falling off in a disastrously executed freemount. I can still only freemount with any semblance of style about once in every three tries, and I remember how long it is since I rode this bigger wheel ( well over a year!). To avoid embarassment, and to reduce the volume of expected heckling, I casually get a tree to help me mount, whilst continuing a conversation with the jogger who will come with me today. It works, no one seems to have noticed that the beech tree displayed a far higher level of skill during the mount than I did, and a minute or so later I ride off along the road. The speed difference from the 20 is quite noticeable, and my jogger is pleased with the pace. I actually seem to make some progress, and it feels less of a toy. Not quite Cathy cum Coker of course, but it feels good. I try to ride elegantly so as to impress the audience, and consider I am not doing too badly, but am still relieved once finally out of sight around the corner. The UPDs do come, but later in the ride, and all are simple step offs. None of that rolling around in the mud stuff this trip.
The plan is to do a couple of miles or so, although I am worried whether I will be fit enough to go the distance, but the route is easy, no hills, smooth surface, and I am riding quite well by my standards. On the trees leaves are just appearing, still clean and pristine, unaffected by age or by passing traffic. The horse chestnuts still have their limp wristed hands, and it will be a while before they fully expand to display the strong masculine fingers of their leaves. The sun is shining from between the clouds, it is warm if a little breezy, and nothing of consequence happens until we pass the all day breakfast cafe. Then I hear from behind us a cry of "Whoa, come look at Tinkerbelle". Unseen by them I turn bright red as I realise they mean me. The dress is not THAT short, but in retrospect, I think that maybe the blue one would have been more appropriate to the terrain. My thoughts cause the first UPD, which is both applauded and jeered at by a crowd of eight or nine tradesmen between bites of their bacon butties. My biggest and most erudite audience yet. The flush fades to a grin as I manage to freemount first try. A bit wobbly, but safe enough. The route takes us past the grassy area where I had seen a hedgehog a couple of days ago. I had only seen hedgehogs a couple of times before, and never during daylight. It ambled across the grass ignoring me completely. It was heading towards the road, and so I watched as it made its way safely across. So many hedgehogs get killed by cars. From there we descended onto the canal towpath. I dismounted, for I knew I could not ride down the wide steps. No point in my trying. The sun has dried the muddy patches on the path, and it is not badly rutted so is also easy riding, with a few Canada geese and mallard to look at on the route. I had walked along here yesterday, and had a very interesting moment. The canal descends into Manchester City centre, and so has numerous locks. Canals are not static and usually carry a slow flow. They are topped up by reservoirs and rainwater, which allows the locks to function. When not in use for lifting boats, the extra water is diverted around the lock, either in underground or in surface channels. The locks here mainly have surface channels which bypass the locks. Excess water from above the lock flows over a cill, and around a 30 metre shallow descending arc to the bottom of the lock, some 8 or 9 feet below. These "streams" are perhaps 4 or 5 feet wide, with rather less than an inch or so of water flowing. As I passed one such lock yesterday, a movement four or five feet above the end of the stream caught my eye. Not a mallard but a fish. The word "salmon" leapt over the weir of my subconscious and into my head, but reason quickly dispelled that as being a rather unlikely event. The fish continued to wriggle, and as it did so it was swept further down the stream, and finally fell over a last 12 inch drop and into the canal proper. It was a pike (Esox Lucius for the biologists out there). I would guess its weight as being about three pounds and it was maybe eighteen or so inches long, which is fairly small by pike measures, and only about a tenth of a perch. By pure chance I had been priviledged to see this predatory fish as it was slowly swept downstream to safety. How it got into the top of the stream I do not know, I guess it had to have jumped out of the canal above the lock, over the cill into the overflow. A rare event indeed. No such interesting wildlife moments as I rode the towpath today though. The wheelie bin in the canal remained where it had been yesterday, serving only as an indication of depth. The 6 by 10 foot length of metal fencing remains in the water where it has been thrown. The "Private Land, Trespassers will be Prosecuted" sign is still floating lifelessly in the lock pound. The rafts of litter, empty beer cans and bottles remain, and I again wonder why the locals do not look after their canal properly. It is such a tremendous asset in an area that has little else to commend it (apologies to any Manchester City fans). It still surprises me that the ducks and geese have escaped the full attention of the local teenagers, many of whom are, to be honest, quite evil little swines. But I love the Spring, and its ability to hide a lot of the mess left by man is appreciated, even if only until Winter returns. The speed of Spring growth in the UK is astonishing, far more so than anything I used to see in the Far East. From here on the ride back was uneventful, another mile or so, a couple more UPDs and back to the car without feeling anywhere near as tired as I usually do. One of the UPDs did take me nearer the canal edge than I might have liked, but I remained dry. My freemount average returns to normal. ;-( But a good ride for me, not in perfect surroundings, but probably the best this very downtrodden area offers for a nearby lunchtime ride. And it is much easier to ride here, than it is when I am working more centrally in Manchester.