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I cracked: I cleaned the Xtracycle again…

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I even took the panniers of the back and removed the accumulated crud of Autumn, thus reducing their weight by about a third.

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If last time I did this is anything to go by, expect Christmas in south Germany to feature sustained foul weather and plagues of mud.

Still, I hope that wherever you end up, and whatever the weather in your end of the world, your Christmas will be a happy and peaceful one…

Drivers: you may have noticed a lot of white stuff hanging about recently? That is called ‘fog’: It stops you from seeing quite so far as usual, I don’t know if you noticed. Actually, I suspect you probably didn’t, judging by the numbers of drivers who pass me while texting, reading their phones, navigators, and in one case a paperback.

However, take it from me, if you were to look up from these important activities, you’d probably notice the fog, or at least the fact you can’t see more than about a hundred metres.

In the circumstances, I’d like to ask a favour. No, don’t worry, I’m not silly enough to suggest you slow down, stop at red lights or even that you switch your phone off: I understand that your very important phone calls and text messages simply cannot wait until you reach your destination (how did society survive without your wisdom being constantly available?). My request is that you might, perhaps, consider turning your lights on when you are driving through the fog. Thus, when you are reading your text message/novel et c whilst racing toward or through the next set of red lights, we can see you and keep out of the way.

If this isn’t possible, could you at least refrain from the rude gestures aimed at us when we have the temerity to be occupying the road/pavement/cycleway/pedestrian crossing when you want to be driving on it. The reason we are interrupting your important journey (or conversation, or novel) is that we didn’t know you were there…

So yesterday I went back to have the bandage changed on the smallest industrial injury ever. I was a bit apprehensive about this to be honest because I wasn’t sure where the surgery was, and after the faff we’d had driving there I thought it may well be in the outer reaches of Karlsruhe, or possibly Paris.

Then I looked on Google and found that this same surgery that had taken almost an hour of stop-go traffic to reach, was ten minutes away by shared use pedestrian/cycle roads and residential streets.

It isn’t supposed to work that way: cycling is supposed to be really inconvenient, fine for a trundle on a summer Saturday but not a serious way to get anywhere you need to go. I know this because I’m told by several people a week. Driving -even allowing for taking wrong turns, shouting at the navigator when it claimed we were at our destination when we clearly were not, and getting stuck in a one way system- must still be faster. Because cars are faster. End of story.

I suppose this has one advantage of making sure the cycleways are empty. If the drivers of Stuttgart collectively notice how much easier it is to cycle even on the paltry facilities we have, then the currently quiet cycle ways may well be filled with ex-motorists all trying to cycle as if they’re driving along an Autobahn, scattering slower cyclists and pedestrians then promptly collapsing in a heap and blocking the way at the slightest hill, and no-one will be able to get anywhere…

Or maybe it will become safe to cycle along those wide, smooth, well-maintained roads and a virtuous cycle will start, of ever improving cycle facilities and ever decreasing car use, causing drastic reductions in urban pollution and traffic deaths, so the only thing visible in the otherwise entirely clear sky will be the flock of pigs flying overhead.

I can dream. Still, cycling is a lot faster and easier than people think. I’m just saying…

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We’re organised. We know where everything is. No, really…

Something to bring joy to a cyclists heart: on a very narrow residential street on the route to work there’s a diversion while the water company makes a big hole along one side. There’s enough space to ride a bike through, so I do: I find it much safer to deal with a hole in the road than frustrated drivers trying to make up the lost seconds on winding residential streets.

After passing the barrier yesterday I was in turn passed by three speeding cars, all -judging by the 3 cm of space they left me- oblivious to mere cyclists or pedestrians. Instead, all three drivers were looking with rapt concentration on the glowing screen of their navigator, trusting that the little black box would find a way through. A few seconds later the road was lit by three sets of brake lights as they realised that you really can’t get a car through a one metre gap between a digger and a concrete wall, and that all the driveways were on the other side of the hole, so there really was nowhere to turn around. As I left them they were jockeying for position to be first to get back out again.

This was tempered by the news brought home by Eldest Son last night, that a friend is in hospital after having his foot run over by a car. Here’s hoping there won’t be any permanent damage.

Suddenly, wearing steel toe capped boots on the morning commute seems less eccentric than I thought…

This week it rained. And rained. And rained. Working in a place where many activities are outside, this can get a little trying. The horses were looking dejected as only a soggy horse can, and the fire pit became a new pond for the geese. We tried all kinds of things to dry the fire pit -even delivering wheelbarrows full of sawdust to try and soak up the water, but the sawdust just floated on the top looking like the largest and least appetising bowl of porridge in the world.

This morning I woke up and found that the weather was raising the stakes, just dropping a small reminder that it is November, and we’re 312m (1023 ft) above sea level.

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About this time of year I look up snow tyres or similar and decide I’m not riding enough/it won’t snow much more/its nearly spring anyway, and spend the rest of the winter skittering about.

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Another view of the farm’s nature kindergarten. Underneath everything, those are two shepherd’s hut wagons, which probably haven’t moved since sometime last century.

This being south Germany, the change from summer to winter took about a week* and suddenly the children have gone from T-shirts and shorts to full cold weather clothing so they look like a procession of small amphibian Michelin men. On occasions when the weather would cause them to lose their etremities to frostbite or vanish in a sea of mud, they have to be packed around the table for some wet weather activities which “Can be difficult” as one of the teachers put it, with a look that suggested her comment was based on some very hard-won experience.

*As opposed to what I’m used to in the UK, where summer lasts about a week.

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At first glance this may look like yet another random picture of the Xtracycle on its travels, but allow me to draw your attention to the orange bike in the background.

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That is a Yuba Mundo, a longbike similar to an Xtracycle, and clearly used as a family transport bike judging by the setup and presence on a tram stop bike rack on a cold and damp October morning, when ‘normal’ people would have used a car.

Despite having a reputation for being a stroppy rebel who goes out of their way to do everything differently to other people, it is very encouraging to know I’m not the only person trying to get around like this…

Since starting at the farm, I’ve lost a certain amount of bulk that had accumulated in recent years. It seems that all this stomping about, dropping hay bales on each other, running after escaped animals, running away from escaped animals, mucking out, and using heavy machinery is combining with a longer cycle commute* to get rid of some of that excess that is the bane of the over 30’s.

We burn calories faster than we can replace them it seems, which explains why any of the staff not involved in any of the activities above can usually be found stuffing our faces. At first the new staffers were all virtuous and only ate cucumbers or bananas or eco-friendly low-calorie muesli bars** but then we realised that this wasn’t cutting it and besides the muesli bars looked suspiciously like what the horses ate. We don’t want healthy stuff: what we want is chocolate biscuits, lots of them. And cake.

This is rather blindingly obvious of course, along with “washing your hands kills germs” but I wonder if the farm could market our ‘new’ discovery as a health plan: lose weight by working on a Real Farm: €150 a day including bike rental. Cake extra.

*And let’s ignore for now the fact that I avoid the hills by riding on the tram, okay?

**Yeah, right…

downdown_01I think I’ve got the ride to work sorted out, apart from a couple of little hiccups we won’t mention like the Xtracycle’s rear gear cable snapping on the one place where I have to ride uphill in traffic*.

I’d originally planned to use the tram for most of the route between our village and the farm, with a bike at both ends to cover the first and last bit, but apart from the security issue, Stuttgart’s tram system mostly goes from the edge to the centre, whereas I wanted to go from one suburb to another, and those trams ran only occasionally, usually before or after I wanted to travel, and often thirty seconds before I got to the station.

After an embarrassingly long time riding into Stuttgart and back out again, it finally occurred to me that I was travelling off-peak in both directions, so I could carry my Xtracycle on the tram for free (British public transport providers take note: this is possible without the sky falling). Now I cycle to the local tram stop, ride the tram to the highest part of the route, which rather conveniently is the last station before it goes down into Stuttgart, and ride the rest of the way. Coming back I catch any Stuttgart-bound tram on the other line, hop off again near the top of the hill, and pootle back through the forest. No bikes are left to the predations of local vandals, and I get to ride the Xtracycle. Everyone wins.

Until it snows, but let’s not worry about that yet.

*It turns out that with some pliers and a lot of swearing I can -just- get a normal, standard-length back gear cable to fit on an Xtracycle. I’m probably the last Xtracycle user to find this out, but I put it out there anyway.

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