Do Check That Inverter Is Working!

Jane had to take Lala to be put down shortly before Xmas. We were very sad to lose her – I probably spent more time in her company than anyone else’s over the last year – but she was suffering brief periods of what looked like great discomfort and it was time to say goodbye. She spend much of her last few days trying to get comfy on a chair, she couldn’t curl up any more, or toasting herself by the gas fire ๐Ÿ™

Lala Chair Dec 2012Anyway I decided to put her big, pink, covered, litter tray up in the attic which was my first trip up there for many a month. While I was there I decided to take a look at our solar inverters and saw the red fault light was displaying on one. I’d like to say I was surprised but to be honest I’d been suspicious of our low generation readings for a couple of months and had just been too lazy to check. It has been such a miserable summer of rain, rain and rain that I hadn’t been that surprised to see our readings drop – all the same I’d been justifying poor readings to myself by thinking that despite the sun being out for a change it was at the wrong angle for the arrays and that sort of thing. I do have a power monitor rigged up to the solar AC output via a current transformer so can tell roughly what it’s generating at any particular time.

The inverters have a 10 year guarantee so I emailed Solar PVE who got right back with the suggestion I try power cycling the system. It’s important to turn it all off in the right order, AC isolator first then the DC isolators. I was also asked to give it 10 minutes for the capacitors to discharge before restarting. The fault light was still on after this so, this being just before Xmas, Solar PVE offered either to get someone out after the holidays or, if I felt I could install it myself, they could send me a replacement next day delivery. I went and had a quick look, 4 mounting screws and 3 plug-in connectors, and said I’d do it myself.

InvertersGood to their word a new inverter was sent by fast courier and it took me less than 30 minutes to install – plus the same again to negotiate the unreadable Japanese menus using the manual to set the menu and read-out language to English. The AC output was noticeably higher straight away despite it being a cloudy December day and at midday the first sunny day I saw it was generating 1500W for the first time in ages. I was left kicking myself for not checking and dealing with it earlier.

So the total generation for 2012 was down to 1548 kWh compared to about 2230 kWh for 2011, much of this down to the most wet and dismal year on record but I suspect a couple of hundred kilo-Watt hours lost due to me being too lazy to check the inverters when I first suspected a problem back in September. On the bright side the amount of electric we consumed from the grid was 1311 kWh (this obviously doesn’t include energy we’ve generated and used directly) so we are still generating much more than we are buying.

Share

Andy Reading 2012

Back on my bike for the journey to Chesterton for the Andy Reading 10k having copped out and driven to last weeks event. I’m rather enjoying riding gears regularly again after so long on fixed and my ยฃ125 well used Muddy Fox hack is proving to be fine for rides up to 15 mile or so as well as the commuting and shopping for which I bought it. I gave the remains of my Bob Jackson away via freegle which is what freecycle seems to be called nowadays.

Muddy Fox HackI was expecting cold and windy but actually overheated on the way out and had to stop and remove a layer after Islip. Soon enough though I was stripped down to shorts, shirt and vest feeling the cold in the playing fields where I usually shiver waiting for this race to start. A girl from Reading said she was glad to see a vegan runner and we chatted as the runners jogged towards the start line. Fortunately this race is chip to chip as many of us were still on our way when the race started.

Once round the village then over the M40 and along Akeman Street for a bit into the wind but not as bad as I feared what with forecasts of 15 mph gusting to 30. Onto the airfield and I seemed to be managing my planned 7:45 minute miles which should give a sub-50 and hopefully under 48:33 which would be a season best even if still 2 minutes slower than last year. Lots of airfield and still feeling strong past the halfway point where I decided not to bother with the water.

After the 4th mile we turned directly into the now very strong wind which slowed us right down. I couldn’t manage 8 minute mile pace yet no one seemed to be passing me.Way in the distance the point where we doubled back and re-emerged onto Akeman Street was visible, after that it should be tailwind all the way. I held back a little then back up to speed once we’d turned and kept it going to finish in 48:09 217th of 419 which I was pleased enough with.

My plantar faciitis seems to have improved a lot, though not totally disappeared, what with my reduced mileage and daily stretches which I found here. I’ve got a sore arm instead now but at least that doesn’t effect my running.

Fragile Lala

This is our poor old Lala enjoying a bit of sunshine last Friday. She is very ill and has various tumours we can feel, probably worse further inside her. Just a few days after this photo she is a bag of bones and terribly weak. She has hardly eaten and sometimes struggles to breath. We took her to the vet on Saturday really expecting to say goodbye to her but he gave her a jab of B12 and some pain medicine for us to give daily and said we should report back in a week or sooner if she seems to be suffering badly. She still seems to get some enjoyment from the hot water bottle we’ve put on her chair and from toasting her head by the gas fire. I’ll go and say good night to her now – maybe it will be goodbye ๐Ÿ™

Share

Lincs Leadout 600

The plan for a good 6 hours sleep the night before my first 600km audax in over 3 years didn’t quite work out. Alarm set for 4:15 but an intermittent toothache I really ought to get sorted decided to nag and didn’t let me go to sleep for a while. I was then woken early by Lala howling and, after I dozed off again while Jane dragged herself downstairs to feed the demanding creature, woken again by Lala’s encore as she announced she’d done something very smelly in her litter tray. So somewhat tired I fed myself breakfast and coffee and Jane stirred herself again to give me a lift to the start at Goring.

A cup of tea at Trailblazers bike shop, which had kindly opened up at this early hour to accommodate the start, then 6:00 am and we were off – well a few of us were the others still seemed to be faffing about like there was no hurry. Chatted away the first short leg to Long Crendon where Phil was waiting to stamp our cards. I stopped there a few mins and ate a Veg-Out sausage roll, the secret of these long rides is eat early, eat often.

The next stage to Ross’s place in Earls Barton was the longest and I was expecting to feel the hills around Chearsley and Winchendon even though they are not exactly mountains. A chap called Peter joined me for a bit, a strong rider doing his first 600 as part of his PBP qualification (in fact I think I might have been the only rider who definitely wasn’t going for PBP). He was inquisitive about veganism and I tried to explain why some of us felt consuming milk and honey was bad as it often financed the abuse of the animals producing the stuff and because it meant depriving the creature the food was meant for of nutrition. Like many he didn’t seem to have considered that the honey and milk might not just be going spare. It was pleasant to talk to someone who didn’t seem at all defensive or critical but I don’t think I made a convert. I didn’t really notice the hills.

I stopped for a nibble somewhere after Winslow then stopped again to take a layer off in Salcey Forest as it was getting warm and sunny – unfortunately this precipitated a downpour so effectively that it was raining well before I even got back on the bike! A short shower though and I was soon enjoying beans on toast in Earls Barton at 110k.

We followed pretty lanes along the Neme valley and I made the Oundle control a short stop continuing on towards the next control at Bourne. Another brief shower came and went, then a longer, torrential, deluge which lasted 40 minutes and left me unimpressed by Wet West Deeping and the 7 mile long dead straight King Street (presumably Roman).

A regroup and chat with some other Oxfordshire AUKs outside the shop in Bourne, Jeremy on his first 600 and Pat, the only other fixed rider, on his umpteenth. 185k done and I was ahead of schedule and feeling great. I had a room booked in Scunthorpe to get a couple of hours sleep and thinking of this was a good psychological buffer to dispel any ‘not even a third of the way yet’ type gremlins.

So onwards alone to get another short leg out the way, next stop Grantham. After a brief stretch of A road we followed the East Glen River valley for most of the way and I was increasingly aware that better than expected progress was mostly down to a steady tailwind that had been with us all day, the forecast cross wind was just not there. This was a pretty direct south to north route but then tomorrow we were to retrace 315k back the way we’d come. I decided not to think about this too long.

A quick garage stop in Grantham then good progress to Lincoln, actually about 5k outside Lincoln as the route didn’t go into the city itself, where I stopped at a garage I assumed to be the recommended control. The young guy manning the till spotted my Vegetarian Cycling and Athletics Club shirt and for the second time this ride I had a chance to rattle on about vegetarianism. He was torn between an urge to go veggie and some idea he’d got that beef was ‘strong’ meat and he needed it for muscle. I told him about Rob Bigwood, vegan arm wrestler, and he seemed intrigued enough for me to think he’d do a Google when he got home (alright so the bit about Rob’s biceps being thicker than my waist might have been a little bit of an exaggeration).

Outside the garage stuffing my face I watched 2 AUKs cycle straight past, I whistled but they carried on, I was surprised they hadn’t returned by the time I set off again a few minutes later. Around the corner I spotted their bikes outside MacDonalds which was where I was supposed to have stopped – oh well, near enough!

Flat and fast to Scunthorpe, bag of chips at McDs, and I was in the hotel room (a first for me, I usually just crash wherever on long rides) showered and in bed for 11:00. The ride up had taken 16hr 30m for 315k which was fast for me an an hour up on schedule. Much needed sleep was disturbed first by the toothache crawling back out of it’s lair then later by my blooming phone going off to tell me I needed to spend some money if I wanted more free wotsits. Still a good 2 hour 30 mins actual sleep then stuff my face and I’m back on the bike for 3am.

The start of the road back was dark, quiet, and flat. My iPod decided to play up, I couldn’t actually remember recharging it, and I gave up on it. Soon enough the sleepies were upon me and the time and money spent on the hotel seemed wasted. I crawled along through dawn and Hough on the Hill, seemingly towering up more like a mountain than the molehill it actually is, looked daunting. In fact the climb turned out to be just what I needed and by the top I felt awake and strong and that was the end of the dozies for the rest of the ride.

With day came the wind though, a gentle but constant againsterly, it slowed me and the prospect of over 10 hours into it brought on a dose of misery that lasted a long, long time. Coffee and hash browns at McDs cheered me up for all of 10 minutes. I took the main road route out of Grantham which saved me the 5k retrace but led me to a rather lumpy road to Bourne which I could have done without.

Oundle CarnivalTime was oozing away by the time I reached Oundle where notices told of a carnival. The motor vehicles were all diverted off but I was waved through and soon found myself riding alone down streets lined with people watching and waiting. A lot of noise from round the corner and I reckoned it was time to get out the road sharpish! So 15 mins spent in Oundle with no chance of a cafe stop, I ate a gel and enjoyed the show which was pretty good with kids being green men and majorettes and a weird bike and floats and stuff. I chucked some change in a bucket and forgot about having to ride the bike for a bit.

Oundle CarnivalThe entertainment thinned out and I got back on the bike passing a ocean going yacht being towed on a trailer complete with crew pretending to be a sea which looked huge and laughably out of place. I stopped for a proper eat somewhere on this leg, pulling into a shop forecourt for water before noticing it was closed which didn’t exactly enhance my mood. Pat and Jeremy appeared, I expressed surprised they were behind me and they pointed out there were at least 2 more behind them. I’d forgotten that most had slept at Lincoln, even Grantham, so I’d probably passed as they slumbered. I think my plan made more sense, sleep while it’s dark.

A quick hello to Ross and a water fill up at Earls Barton and I was on my way. I’d been too slow for too long and had little hope of finishing in BRM time, 10pm dead. At the start Matt had made a point of letting me know that a BR brevet would be awarded for a finish within AUKs more generous limits. No excuse to stop then as I’d manage midnight surely!

Somewhere on the long leg to Long Crendon my mood changed drastically upwards, maybe I’d let the blood sugar get low and it was now replenished, maybe the wind shifted or dropped, maybe remembering that my phone played music so I had Muse and the Stranglers for company. Whatever it was I found myself going well through Winslow, honking up Winchendon ok despite an increasingly painful right knee. Alright then – no harm in going for 10pm even if I might not make it!

A chat with Chris at Crendon, he needed BRM and was determined. I phoned Jane to beg a lift back from Goring saying I hoped to be there 10ish. I set off on the last short leg 5 minutes after Chris and found I was going pretty well considering I’d over 350 miles in the legs. The evening sun was good and the scenery was splendid as I span along through Stoke Talmage and Brightwell Baldwin (well it was when I wasn’t hooking greenfly out of my tired eyes). Outside the pub at Ewelme, over 615k into the ride, Chris had his wheel out and was fixing a flat, I stopped and said if ever I’d seen a good reason for an appeal for extra time this was it.

Onwards over a lump after Benson I didn’t remember being there. My knee hurt and I was aware that the last few miles were flatter on the other side of the Thames but wasn’t sure enough of the way to gamble with a diversion. I was going to make it though and sure enough I rolled into Cleeve road, Goring at 9:55 with 626k on the clock. So that was my fixed wheel Super Randonneur* series for 2011 in the bag.

9:58 Chris appeared and as we put our completed cards through the letterbox as requested he said ‘listen’ – we stood there and listened to Goring clock strike ten!

I was knackered Monday despite a good nights sleep so did little. Tuesday I decided to skip my run, Thursday I just ran 3 miles and took it easy. Friday I ran my favourite local 5 mile multi-terrain training route fastest time ever. The wonders of cross training eh ๐Ÿ™‚

*The spell check doesn’t recognise ‘randonneur’ and wants to substitute ‘abandoner’ – bit unfortunate.

 

Share

100km

I had been looking forward to riding a 200k Perm this Saturday, the forecast 20mph wind hadn’t put me off and even seemed to enhance the idea as it offered a ‘training bonus’ to prepare me for tougher rides to come. I should have noticed this was odd thinking at the time and by Thursday, when I had to cut my run from 4 to 2 miles due to a bad cold leaving me with weak legs and a fuzzy head, I realised that looking forward to headwinds is a sure sign of pre-viral delirium. Still, I was feeling better Friday afternoon so rather than give up on the idea altogether I decided I’d ride a windy 100k on Saturday instead.

The planned lie-in and 10am start was thwarted by Lala who woke us at 5:30am for breakfast and then again at 6:00 to tell us the food she’d been given didn’t meet her requirements. Giving up on further sleep I breakfasted myself (while Lala went back to sleep) and was on the bike about 8:30 setting off into light but persistent rain.

Taking it easy the first few k, through Oxford and over Boars Hill, the wind didn’t seem all that bad but it soon hit me as I reached more exposed territory. I could keep a steady 12mph into it heading south but turning west into the lane to Garford the going got tough and I found myself on the drops grinding away at under 10mph as chaffinchs and crows blew here, there and everywhere in their misguided attempts to stay airborne. The ground dropped away to my right and a flock of sheep were wisely huddling in the bit of shelter this provided. A few miles later, heading due south again, at least 100 seagulls sat in a field on my left all pointing in exactly the same direction, I could almost imagine a gentle swell of waves bobbing them up and down. This was hard work but I was enjoying myself.

An energy gel at 30k seemed wise as soon I had the 150 metre climb out of Wantage up Chain Hill and onwards over the Ridgeway. This road is usually appreciated by local cyclists in the other direction as one of the fastest, good visibility, descents in the area. I wouldn’t want to be coming down it today – it was all I could do to stay upright in the crosswind. Fortunately the wind was consistent enough to lean into but I kept an eye on my mirror as I suspect the shelter of an overtaking horse-box would dump me in the road just like whipping the crutch away from an invalid.

Top of the hill and I was soon at both the highest and the most south-westerly point of the ride, turning left onto the Farnborough road my speed jumped and I was soon having to use the brakes to keep my cadence tolerable on the fixie. This road can be tough but today I rolled the ups and downs, including a couple of 1 in 7s, with little strain and was soon descending Streatley Hill with an annoying SUV sitting on my back wheel.

I swung north to follow the dangerously potholed lanes through Ipsden then on better tarmac through Ewelme and Chalgrove, still flying along and beginning to persuade myself the wind hadn’t really been that bad and had dropped now anyway. It had stopped raining at some point and I’d not got uncomfortably wet or cold at any point.

Swinging west again for the final 10k I found the wind was still there and strong as ever. It seemed a bit late to neck another energy gel so I plodded on but was back on the drops and making slow progress. I took a final detour to push the clock over the 100k mark though and was home in time for a late lunch feeling I’d done enough but not too much.

This ride reminded me what a great distance 100k is, I tend to either ride 200k plus events as these give AUK points or to go on shorter, 40 or 50k, ‘training’ rides. Today 100k was just right!

Share

Snow

Oxford has been white for a few days now. Not just a sprinkle of snow but proper snow like kids are supposed to enjoy and the rest of us are supposed to dream of for Xmas. For some strange reason the media don’t seem to have realised how good this is and keep going on about ‘bad weather’. The problem seems to be that, instead of appreciative dreamers, the kids have grown up into people who are so concerned about driving their cars and flying round the world that they are unable to adjust their silly plans a bit and enjoy the beauty and wonder that is proper snow.

Yes of course it’s a bit inconvenient if you’ve planned to fly to America or drive to Scotland or whatever. But that sort of plan is not so clever in the first place unless you are one of those fools who think global warming and peak fuel are fictions made up by the scientific community so they can rip you off and spoil your fun. Even if you are a ‘carry on regardless’ type plans dependent on driving and flying are obviously fragile at this time of year.

So just let it go and put your walking boots and warm coat on and get out there before it all turns to wet muck. If you’ve got kids then drag them away from the TV and find a slope and a sledge, there don’t seem to be many kids out there enjoying it, they’ll miss it when it’s gone, dress them up and take them to the park. Sit in front of the gas fire with a toddy and admire it out the window if you can’t be bothered. Whatever! But don’t go moaning it’s upset your holiday plans – look at the pictures on the front of those Xmas cards, that’s snow everywhere, not heaps of wet, filthy grit and endless, stationary traffic queues.

Snow at this time of year is traditional, if you’ve got so dependent on flying and driving you can’t change your plans and appreciate snow at Xmas then you are one sad case.

I rather doubt I’ll be getting my December 200km audax ride in, in fact I doubt I’ll get a 1okm ride in, but so what. I’ve set the turbo up in the garage and the boredom of half an hour riding it will just make cycling more enjoyable when it becomes safe again.

Running on slippery, lumpy, tarmac is a bit unnerving, particularly since the council has ploughed the snow off the road and heaped it up on the pavement, making their skewed priorities clear in the process. But out there in the snowy woods it’s magic, hard work and slow even in studded shoes, but it’s great and I suspect they’ll only be a few days more before snow becomes ice and the chance is missed so I’ll be running up Shotover again tomorrow.

Some birds seem to be struggling to find food so we are putting out lots of stuff for them (though I’m still not sure buying scones for the sole purpose of feeding starlings is strictly necessary). Other animals are also finding it hard so we don’t turn them away. Our cat Lala isn’t finding it at all hard as we are about, the gas fire is on, and she doesn’t go out when it’s not sunny and warm anyway.

There are no doubt humans suffering genuine hardship as well. The inadequately housed, people who’s plumbing has frozen, those suffering power outages when the lines collapse under the weight of snow. Those who can’t afford suitable clothing or can’t afford to pay for fuel to keep warm.

Now there’s a thought – how about leaving the car at home and giving all that fuel money you saved to someone who genuinely needs it to keep warm – no chance you tell me, got to get to Heathrow and sleep on the floor for 36 hours. Some people have weird priorities!

Share