Sunday, August 28, 2016

Epilogue -- On My Boots

Many of my readers are understandably concerned about my boots.

Before departing for England in June, I examined my used boots, and brought with me a pair having sufficient tread to last 600 miles. Quite likely, they are the same boots I wore in 2014 during My Riparian Summer’s 600-mile walk in southern England. Foolishly, I didn’t examine the uppers or the laces.

I noticed the laces were badly worn on Day 1. I reinforced the laces with duct tape, but bought an emergency pair of laces in Grassington on Day 2. On Day 15, the upper on my right boot started to split, so I reinforced it inside and outside with duct tape. The exterior reinforcement peeled off almost immediately (as expected), but the interior reinforcement held tight. By Day 21, the split on the right boot was spreading though, and the upper of the left boot started to split.

Not wanting to replace the boots mid-hike, I mended both boots with glue on Day 23. I strengthened the mend on Day 32, and installed the new laces. The boots have held up well ever since. They now have at least 1,000 miles on them – perhaps 1,200 or more. They have performed well under difficult conditions, but have reached the end of their lives.

How does one retire a faithful pair of boots? Merely tossing them into a dumpster seems disrespectful. A dignified cremation might seem appropriate, but the Vibram soul (pun intended) may release toxic fumes. Tossing them into a shoe-tree would be wonderful, but the only shoe-trees I’ve seen are in America. I don’t think the shoe-tree fad has yet arrived in England, and these boots deserve to stay in England. I’ve decided to donate the laces and insouls (pun intended) to my other needy boots, and respectfully place the remains in a bin, hoping they end up in a landfill which someday will become a park or a golf course. The boots would like that.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 58 -- Looking Back

I strolled around Liverpool today, beset with melancholia, longing for the countryside. The waterfront of Liverpool is quite pleasant, but it’s not really any different from all the other big-city rejuvenated tourist waterfronts I’ve ever seen. There were crowds of people, music, sidewalk cafes, fast food vendors, souvenir shops, arcades, etc.. – the same as in San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans, London, etc. Everything was alive, but there was no life.

Where are the sheep that run away when you get too close?

Where are the cattle that run towards you hoping to be led to a greener pasture?

Or the horses that stretch their necks over a wall to greet you, hoping you will pat their heads.

I did see three horses today, but they weren’t friendly.

Even the people were too busy to talk.

I already miss the countryside roads winding among the hills, leading you to new adventures and new friends.

And I miss the fields of wildflowers that gladden your heart.

I miss the countryside.

I’ve had a great summer, and hope you did too. Good-bye for now.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Day 57 -- Liverpool, 8 miles

I don’t normally need maps because I’ve got an intuitive sense of direction. Even though I can’t possibly get lost – I’m on an island, after all, alongside a large river – I wanted a map to help me decide where to walk. So I asked my smartphone, “Where can I buy a map?” It directed me to Stanfords Book Store – perhaps the best map store in all of England. The nearest Stanfords is in Manchester, approximately 35 miles away. Well, sometimes smartphones aren’t.

I then asked it for the nearest WH Smith bookstore, because I’m smart enough to know they carry maps. The closest WH Smith is about two blocks from my hotel. The walk there was my introduction to Liverpool – perhaps not all of Liverpool, but the relatively new, upscale Liverpool in the vicinity of Albert Dock, with the Tate Museum and all of the other places the beautiful people frequent. WH Smith is located in a modern shopping area – perhaps the largest I’ve seen in years – filled with internationally known specialty shops and restaurants all designed to separate people from their money – and from the looks of it, very well succeeding. WH Smith successfully separated me from some of mine.

My walk along the waterfront started from the Albert Dock, passed by King Dock (home to a large arena), edged a marina with expensive boats and a waterpark, and then followed a seaside promenade alongside the Garston Channel. The waterpark has an ingenious system for wakeboarding (and perhaps water skiing). An overhead cable connected to a tow bar runs back and forth the length of the park, and pulls the wakeboarders (or skiers) through a slalom course or over jumps. At the end of the line, if the skier maintains speed with a wide turn, the cable reverses direction (as does the skier) and the fun continues. I was sorely tempted…

The promenade is nicely decorated with nautically themed objects artfully arranged – ship’s funnels and anchors, pier bollards, and statues. Directional markers along the way guide walkers not astute enough to purchase maps.

The markers pointed to a sculpture of Sitting Bull at the far end of the promenade. I’m a history buff, and the story of Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull fascinates me. Still, I was curious why Liverpool would have a sculpture of Sitting Bull – considering all the famous Britons memorialized in bronze and marble – so I walked the paved promenade to its very end seeking an explanation.

The promenade ends near Cressington Station, and I decided to take the train back to Liverpool. I expected an unstaffed station with an automated ticket machine, common in both the countryside and large city stations. Surprised by the man sitting behind a glassed counter, I asked for “A single senior ticket to Livingston Central.”

He stared at me silently.

Of course, Livingston is a town in central California, famous for its chickens. “I’m sorry,” I continued. “I meant Livermore.”

His stare turned to a scowl.

Of course, Livermore is a city in the San Francisco Bay Area, famous for its research laboratory. “I really mean Liverpool.”

He nodded, pushing a ticket at me. “Two pounds, fifteen. Train leaves in seven minutes. Take the footbridge to the platform on the other side.”

Like I didn’t already know which platform. After all, I do have an intuitive sense of direction.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Day 56 -- Ferry to Liverpool

The ferry moved along at about 38 mph, which is slower than motorcycles travel. But ferries float better than motorcycles, so I chose the ferry. Let's explore Liverpool tomorrow, shall we?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Day 55 -- Port Soderick to Douglas, 7 miles

A sunny, windless day was all the incentive I needed to get back on the footpath. I so much enjoyed the scenery from yesterday’s hike above Douglas Head on Marine drive, that I decided to take the train to Port Soderick and walk back to Douglas on Marine Drive. Indeed, the weather was so nice that I walked to the mile and a half along Douglas’s promenade to the railway station, despite having a bus pass. I’m including all the distance walking through Douglas in today’s mileage.
As always, I met a nice couple on the train – this time from Carlisle, where I started the Cumbria Way so many weeks ago. I was the only passenger to disembark at the Port Soderick station, and, as always, I had difficulty navigating myself off the platform. Once on the road, however, the route was never in doubt. Along the way, I met several Manx residents who were also enjoying the day by walking.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Douglas all too soon; I seriously considered walking back to Port Soderick and catching the next train back to Douglas, but reason prevailed. I’ll be leaving the Isle of Man tomorrow, and I really needed to get back to my hotel and wash my laundry so it will be dry for packing. Tomorrow I take the ferry to Liverpool. I hope the sea remains calm.

View towards Port Soderick Glen

Sea coast northeast of Port Soderick

Wildflowers growing on stone wall

Lighthouse at Douglas Harbour

Logo on Isle of Man Steam Train

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Day 54 -- Around Man

Today was a day filled with a variety of activities. The first thing this morning, Paul picked me up and we drove the 37 mile TT course. The first thing that impressed me is that the course follows a public road. It has everything we see on roads – uphills, downhills, curves, depressions, rough spots, grooves, manhole covers, light poles, fences, potholes, uneven pavement, etc. All of these conditions come at the racers in the blink of an eye, and the racers constantly adjust their riding technique to deal with them. As Paul drove his van at the speed limit, he rehearsed the route in his mind and narrated his thoughts for my benefit.

“Stay wide on this curve. Too tight too soon and you can’t make the second turn.”

“Hug the wall on this turn, but lift your head to miss the pole.”

“Throw the bike right at this point to keep the line. Then throw it left at this marker.”

By the time we reached the 12 mile marker, I was exhausted – and we still had 25 miles to go. The average speed of this year’s TT winner was over 130 mph. (That includes pit stops – they must refuel every two laps.) Top speeds exceed 170 mph. At those speeds, drivers are always thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead. By the time they see something, it’s too late to react. Think about a baseball batter trying to hit a 100 mph pitch. That’s why Paul was rehearsing the course. He’s not going to be driving at those top speeds on Monday’s “Parade Lap,” but he’ll be hitting 100 mph on a winding country road.

He’ll have several more rehearsals. I was honored to have participated in one. Thank you very much, Paul. I wish you all the best.

Back in Douglas, I needed something less taxing. I took the Manx Electric Railway (top speed about 20 mph) to Laxey to see the Great Laxey Waterwheel. I visited its little sibling last week, but the great one is a working machine – water turns the wheel, which operates a piston, that laboriously pumps water from the mine. The wheel is a beautifully designed device, almost hypnotic in its slow, deliberate movements. Its designer may have thought 3 or 4 moves ahead, but he probably dozed off between them.

Yesterday, Rachel, the helpful desk clerk at my hotel, suggested a walk from Douglas Harbour up to Douglas Head, and then along the sea bluffs to Marine Drive. A good walk was the stimulation I needed to overcome the somnambulant stupor into which the Great Wheel and the Electric Railway had put me. What the walk lacked in distance was made up by angle of ascent. 111 stair steps take one from the harbor to the bluff. Views back to Douglas were outstanding. As the route curved with the high bluff, Douglas was left behind and a series of ridges plummeting to the sea came into view, each successive ridge progressively fading into the distant haze. The scenery looked remarkably like the Big Sur coast of California, or the rugged coast of Cornwall. With sufficient time, I may have walked farther, but I still had another item on today’s agenda.

Entrance to Marine Drive
Paul had recommended that watch tonight’s Festival of Motorcycles practice run from a point at the base of Bray Hill, called Agos’ Leap, where the cyclists have their first turn after the descending a hill from the start. Due to the 15-second interval starts, the racers go all out down the Bray Hill straightaway, and hit the first turn at speeds approaching 160 mph, where a small dip in the road causes them to lift off the surface momentarily. One can see the leap on slow motion video, but in real time you will never notice it. As before, I tried to take pictures of the cyclists, but the best I could capture was a blur. As motorcyclists disappeared in the distance, I thought about the rest of the course, and how fast it would be coming at them. That’s another reason I like walking.

Find the blur

Monday, August 22, 2016

Day 53 -- Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycles

Since 1907 the Isle of Man has held an annual international motorcycle racing competition known as the Isle of Man TT (“Tourist Trophy”). Racers come from all over the world to participate. The race is along a 37 mile course of public roads – closed for the event, of course, by act of parliament. The TT is held in May and June, and draws as many as 80,000 visitors to the isle.

In August and September, the isle hosts the Festival of Motorcycles. This is also a race over the same course, but with a broader participant base. There are categories of age, experience, and motorcycle type. Thus, older competitors can compete, as can vintage motorcycles. The actual race is this weekend, but practice runs are being held the next few evenings. (The practice runs are in the evening because the public roads can’t be closed during the day.)

There is a permanent grandstand constructed for the races at the start-finish line – again, alongside a public road. The start-finish is about a mile from my hotel. I’ve never seen a motorcycle race before, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity.

I started my research at the Manx Museum, where there are several previously winning cycles on display.

It was still early in the afternoon, so I decided to scope out the grandstand, return to my hotel for an early meal, and then return to watch the practice runs. To my surprise, there were literally hundreds of motorcycles being prepared to race. They, in turn, attracted so many food and souvenir vendors, that I felt as if I had entered a small city. There was no need for me to return to my hotel, so I went to the beer garden.

That is where I met Paul, a former TT racer who is sponsoring some younger racers. Paul, himself, plans to ride a "parade lap" over the course on Monday. "Parade lap"isn't what it sounds like -- he'll be riding at over 100 mph. As part of his preparation, he will drive the course in his van tomorrow while the road is open to the public, and invited me to come along. He commented that I really can’t appreciate what the drivers face until I’ve seen the route. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

As six o’clock approached I moved to the grandstand to watch the racers start. The race is in a time trial format. Two cyclists start at 15 second intervals. Transponders affixed to the cycles electronically record the time of start and the time of finish each 37-mile lap. Fastest bike wins. The racers completed their first lap in under 20 minutes. They whizzed by the start-finish line so fast that it was impossible for me to take a picture – the slight delay of my digital camera lost the image. But I did capture the speed board for several of the slower racers. Remember, these are only practice runs – the serious speeds will be achieved at race time.


If the weather is nice, I may go back tomorrow. But first I’ll have to find a helmet in my size.