Being a Smug Know It All is a time consuming occupation, particularly when you have to do it across both your personal and professional lives. Remembering all ones own sage advice can also be a challenge, which I thought about at length at the start of the year as I pushed my bike up a snowy verge and recalled some of my own advice on the topic of safe cycling in rural and remote Scotland.
Last year my ire was irked by a perfectly pleasant new guide on my work website because it failed to mention that Scotland Is Much More Dangerous than cycling elsewhere and a phone signal and nearby provisions should not be presumed. I rattled off a disgruntled email, got a lovely accommodating one back and put the resultant task on my long list of things to do after I sorted this out. In my defence, several friends are mountain rescue volunteers and I’ve spent many an evening hearing about lost map-less morons in flip flops, partners with no real idea of where their beloved had gone on the hills and what it’s like to find a body partially eaten by wolves. Alright, I made the last one up but you get the idea. Despite this grounding in outdoor safety basics I managed to make a selection of textbook fails on a solo ride in January, which I now present as a slice of cold humble pie:
Don’t tell anyone where you are going
This is most effective if done in combination with not knowing where you are going, which I find a particular hazard due to having no sense of direction or ability to read a map. This set of personal challenges led me to using my Garmin’s ’round trip’ function, putting all my navigational faith into a blue line after telling my husband I was ‘going cycling’ and I would ‘be back later’. All of which seemed perfectly sensibly when I was standing in my kitchen, but less sensible a couple of hours later when I realised no-one knew where I was. Not even me.
Don’t take a map, or know how to use one
Like the point above, this can lead to both being lost and then unable to tell anyone where you are. I managed to get my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award when I was a teenager but failed to really understand navigation and despite renewed efforts last year I still don’t. I’ve found my Garmin to be helpful in telling me where I’ve been but helping me know where I’m going, not so much. Particularly when it tells me I’ve cycled 26000 miles, freezes and the screen goes grey. Thankfully, the little blue line was consistent that day and I was able to follow it home – apart from one final fail, which was too idiotic to relate – on good roads with few navigational choices to make.
Go alone, preferably somewhere remote
You can die horribly on a bike in company in any city around the world, but perhaps being alone somewhere isolated makes the fear a little more tangible. I passed three or four cars in around five hours and as each one passed I wondered if I was more scared of them stopping or not stopping. I’d cycled through the winter months in the dark and finally discovered that I enjoyed the solitude on rural lanes, but out on the hills on my own I felt the the other side of ‘epic’ and I found real fear – of not knowing quite where I was on icy roads I couldn’t cycle on, in a temperature that had me shivering in my layers of wool.
Misjudge elevation, mileage and the weather
Standing in my kitchen, Garmin in hand, my rough 30 miles = 3 hours cycling equation looked feasible and meant I would be back as it got dark. But that doesn’t work when hills are added into the mix, which I *know* but failed to recognise in January due to I don’t know what – perhaps an excess of hygge over Christmas in Denmark? In a similar brain failure, I’d not recognised that although it was ice-free on my sea level road it would be snow covered by the time I’d climbed up into the hills.
Set out after lunch, without having eaten lunch, in winter
In my enthusiasm to enjoy the best of the winter weather I set out around 1pm, after the rain passed. Only I didn’t eat lunch ‘because busy’, thinking that the two cereal bars and the ’emergency’ chocolate pilfered from my son’s Christmas stores would be adequate. This meant I was cycling on my breakfast bowl of porridge for around five hours with three hours of daylight left.
Ensure you’re in an area with no phone reception
In the modern world its now rare to be without internet access, much less a phone signal. Unless you live outside a city in Scotland, where you can enjoy impromptu social media breaks just by leaving the house. I rode for miles without phone reception, stopping to panic and check every few miles as it started to get dark. The little black lines finally reappeared as Torness came into view in the distance. I never thought I’d be pleased to see a nuclear power station, but I could barely contain my delight as I recognised the light in the darkness.
Bad mistakes, I’ve made a few..
If you really want to max out on poor practice you should forget your lights, take no water or extra clothing and leave essential medicines back at base camp. These, at least, I avoided and I had a flask of tea and a fully charged battery pack and associated cables.
Just don’t ask me about the whereabouts of my bike pump that day.