Thursday, 15 March 2018

cycling: video action

I’ve often toyed with the idea of trying to put together a kind of ‘documentary film’ of my bike rides around the New Territories, particularly the long and winding road. However, it was just an idle fantasy, until a few months ago, when Paula decided to buy a suitable video camera. She was not prompted by my idea, which I kept to myself, merely by the fact that it was an old model at a much reduced price. And it took me more than three months to get around to purchasing the necessary mounting device that would allow me to attach the camera to my bike and thus record footage ‘on the go’.

To cut a long story down to manageable proportions, last weekend marked the first trial of the new camera, and I recorded a dozen short clips, some of which I’ve subsequently uploaded to YouTube. I should point out that this is ‘raw’ footage that has not involved any editing, apart from chopping off unwanted footage from the end of some clips.

I’ve included a still from each video, the first four of which feature Paula riding in front. This seems to me to be the best way of conveying what it’s all about. The first involves a typical narrow alleyway, which I originally documented in Serendipity #2:

Next is a short clip that involves a high-speed run through an alleyway that forms part of the long and winding road. It ends with ‘the spiral ramp’, the most exciting few seconds of the entire route:

The third clip features a recent discovery that is part of my efforts not to come back from a ride the same way as I went out. I haven’t yet written about it. There is a signpost near the entrance to this alley to Tung Yuen (‘East Garden’), so I’ve decided to call it ‘oriental garden’:

The fourth clip featuring Paula is also of a short section of the long and winding road. It includes two narrow alleyways separated by a Drainage Services access path. The ramp near the end is quite tricky, especially if you don’t know it’s there (as when I came this way the first time—it’s steeper than it looks):

I’ve also uploaded two clips that I shot while riding by myself. The first shows a journey through the village of Fu Tei Pai, a short distance from where we live. The alleyway that I documented in Fruity Pie starts at around 3 minutes 51 seconds:

The final clip shows part of an area several kilometres east of Fanling that I started to explore just a few months ago. I haven’t written about any of my discoveries in this area yet, but as an indication of how much fun this one is to ride, the path that I’m following towards the end is less than 2 feet wide, with a drop of several feet off one or both sides:

It will undoubtedly take me quite a while to master the editing software that will allow me to join clips, and add still photos, commentary and/or music, so unless I succeed in capturing something completely unexpected in the meantime, I don’t plan to post more YouTube links here. However, I will probably continue to upload videos to YouTube, so if you want to keep up with my latest explorations, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

the way of the dragon

The frontier road was part of the so-called ‘closed area’ until 2013, but it quickly became our regular choice for cycling once it had been opened up. There wasn’t much to explore though. Between the turn-off into the village of Liu Pok at the eastern end and Ha Wan Tsuen at the western end, there was only one road junction—with Ma Tso Lung Road—which merely offered an alternative route back to where we had started. However, there are a number of roads and tracks leading off to the right (west) of this road, although I did think that I’d checked them all out. In fact, I’m certain that I checked them all out, and I drew a blank each time.

So why did I take another look last week? I don’t really know, but because Ma Tso Lung Road—accessed via Liu Pok Hill rather than directly—is now a regular part of our route, and I was on my own, I acted on a sudden impulse to turn right onto this road:

And I could confirm that I’d been this way before, because I knew where to look (almost hidden in the trees straight ahead in the photo) for this sign:

In case you can’t read it:
All the other relevant signs in the area have been removed, but this one appears to have been forgotten.

The road continues for quite some distance, but the smooth concrete of its beginnings soon degenerates into a rough track:

…and I became aware that I was losing height, prompting me to hope that I wouldn’t have to come back this way:

But I could see a concrete path with painted railings at the bottom of the hill:

There was indeed a path to follow. It actually starts about 25 metres to the right of the next photo, but I thought that it was easier to join it here:

The straight-ahead option leads only to the house in the middle difference, the left turn requires serious handling skills and isn’t really a path, but a right turn here has obvious promise:

…and is straightforward to begin with:

…although I did a double take when I first saw the path up to the left:

The slope isn’t excessive and would be easy if there were no steps, but the path alongside the steps is too narrow to be sure that you can hold the line. In any case, it probably just leads to someone’s house, and the path curving round to the right is the obvious way to go:

A group of houses is coming up, and it’s often the case that this is as far as a path like this goes:

However, I had to check, and although it is quite steep for a short distance, the path does continue beyond the houses:

…with another long horizontal section:

The storm drains with cast iron covers are a clue that this is a ‘serious’ path that really is going somewhere. But where?

The previous straight is followed by another short steep section:

…but it’s downhill from here:

…with the path bending to the left after passing the lamp-post in the previous photo:

There is an indistinct path to the right here, which appears to peter out in the trees and is unlikely to lead anywhere that can’t be reached by taking the main path.

The path continues downhill to another group of houses:

…and the first real choice. Which way to go?

At this point, I heard a woman’s voice:

Sin sang! Sin sang!” [Mister! Mister!]

I ignored her to start with, because I assumed that she merely wanted to tell me that I shouldn’t be there in the first place. I turned left, because it looked like a good path, but it quickly became, if not impassable, then very difficult to negotiate. So I turned back.

The turn to the right didn’t look promising:

…but that is the way the woman told me I should go:

She followed me to this point to make sure that I got it right, but on this first visit, I went down to the left, which meant that I had to get off and lift my bike over a water pipe a short distance further on. When I showed this path to Paula a few days later, she noticed immediately that it was possible to remain on the bike if you took the right-hand option:

The rest of the path is a bit ‘rough and ready’. The plastic panels, normally used to cover temporary holes and other works in urban areas, are an indication that this part of the path probably becomes very muddy during the rainy season and are a bit clunky to ride over:

…but after another makeshift bridge over a small stream, I knew where I was:

The frontier road is dead ahead (Shenzhen in the background):

The following satellite photograph shows the terrain negotiated by this path, which starts at the red circle and emerges onto the frontier road at the blue circle. The large built-up area in the top right-hand corner of the photo is the village of Ma Tso Lung, through which it is necessary to cycle (steeply uphill] to get back to where you started.

I had decided to call this adventure ‘the dragon path’ (lung is Cantonese for ‘dragon’), but then I noticed that the character for ‘Lung’ in Ma Tso Lung is the character for ‘dragon’ with an added ‘earth’ radical. No problem, said Paula, it’s the dragon under the earth. And my wife agrees that this path is well worth the effort, so it really must be the way of the dragon.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

traffic jam

You don’t expect to encounter traffic jams out in the country, but that is precisely what Paula and I had to negotiate while out cycling yesterday. The location was the junction of Ma Tso Lung Road and Ho Sheung Heung Road, indicated by the red circle on the map below:

We had approached the junction along the road that joins Ho Sheung Heung Road—the major road here—a few metres southwest of the junction. When I described this road in Serendipity #2), I wrote that there is no traffic on it, but I could see there was a problem ahead.

The proximal cause of the blockage was a truck with a mounted grab bucket on the main road. Oblivious to the chaos it was causing, it was picking up rubbish from a collection point next to the cul de sac opposite Ma Tso Lung Road.

I’m often amazed at how easy it is to dispose of unwanted goods in Hong Kong, at least in the rural areas. Every village has a central collection point with a suitable number of wheelie bins (US: ‘dumpsters’), which are emptied daily, including Sundays. These are used for regular domestic garbage. However, next to the wheelie bins, people can leave stuff they don’t want, including bulky items such as furniture. I don’t know whether this discarded material is cleared at regular intervals, or whether employees of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, who are based at the collection point, simply call head office when a sufficient quantity of rubbish has accumulated and needs to be taken away, but the vehicle used is a high-sided truck with a hydraulic grab bucket.

In my own village, this operation can be carried out without any disruption to traffic, but this is a matter of where the collection point is located. Whoever thought it was a good idea to locate it next to a road that carries a lot of industrial traffic is an idiot. The cul de sac opposite Ma Tso Lung Road, only a few metres away, is the obvious choice.

Of course, this truck was not the only cause of confusion. This is a view of Ma Tso Lung Road from the cul de sac:

The green truck that has turned left cannot proceed, because there is a parked vehicle ahead, and as the photo shows, traffic is backed up on Ma Tso Lung Road, so there is no room to avoid the obstruction. The back of the truck picking up rubbish is on the left.

This is the view looking southwest along Ho Sheung Heung Road:

I’m bound to say that had I been driving the car immediately behind the truck turning left, I’d have tried to drive around it. It looks as if there’s enough room to get through, but as a cyclist encountering cars on narrow roads, my observation is that most drivers in Hong Kong don’t know how wide their vehicles are.

But as the next photo (looking northeast along Ho Sheung Heung Road) shows, the road ahead is clear:

British readers will have spotted the yellow markings on the road, which indicate a ‘box junction’—a throwback to colonial days. I’d be surprised if most drivers nowadays know that they are not supposed to enter unless their exit is clear, although the blue truck in the previous photo is obeying the rule.

Of course, being on a bike, I figured that it should be possible to reach the cul de sac—the start of ‘long tall sally’—without any problems, and in fact the only delay, very slight, was because I wanted to take some photos.

And the only question I have is this: where were the police?

Friday, 23 February 2018

another joke

Although I used to do so at least once a week, I haven’t ridden the journey to the west recently. In fact, when I did it with Paula yesterday, it was the first time since April last year. Naturally, after such a long absence, we couldn’t help but notice a few changes. The first obvious change has been to the link path, the key to the route during its initial exploration. What had once been a rough, nerve-racking section has been resurfaced, so there are no longer any lumpy bits, and the dodgy ‘bridge’, a photo of which I originally posted in Journey to the West: Part 2, has been eliminated entirely. We do not regret its absence.

The road leading to ‘the avenue of the dead’, which I described in Journey to the West: Part 4, has also been resurfaced, so that’s a few more bumps ironed out.

However, by far the biggest development has been the work being carried out alongside the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road leading to Fairview Park (starting from the red ‘X’ in the southwest corner of the map below) and thence to the Kam Tin River. This will eventually become part of the much-trumpeted cycle track connecting Ma On Shan with Yuen Long.

The last time that I came this way, a short section of cycle track linking directly to the Yuen Long network was already under construction, and it is now complete. I thought that we might as well check it out, although I did notice that a few recreational cyclists ignored it and continued on the DSD access road alongside the Kam Tin River. I was almost immediately taken aback by a warning sign, which I made a mental note to photograph on the way back:

Steep road? I don’t think I stopped pedalling, let alone used my brakes. I’m not sure why the cycle track drops below the level of the access road, but the height difference is no more than 1.5 metres, and I would rate the hill as negligible, given that difference.

The previous photo shows the exit from the bridge over a small tributary stream looking north. This is the exit from the same bridge to the south:

The yellow bollards in both photos are probably there to encourage riders to slow down or even dismount but are merely a bloody nuisance. The person whose bright idea it was to install them is unlikely to be a cyclist.

On the other hand, I regularly see people riding bicycles who don’t know how to stop! I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen who, having decided that they want to stop, take their feet off the pedals and slide them along the ground. I wonder what they think their brakes are for. You shouldn’t be putting your feet down until you’ve actually stopped.

But if you think that the recommendation to get off and push is more than a bit silly in those two locations, what about this next example, a short distance to the north?

You may think that this is the joke referenced in the title of this report, but there’s an even bigger joke, and it’s not the least bit funny: this cycle track, from the red ‘X’ to the start of the Yuen Long cycle track network, is unnecessary. Millions of dollars are being wasted here, and on the cycle track running parallel to the Sheung Yue River (northeast of the second ‘X’ on the map above), because the DSD access roads in both places are perfectly capable of handling cycle traffic, particularly if the suggestions that I made in A Dangerous Arrangement for managing the DSD access roads around the Kam Tin River catchment are implemented.

And when the existing construction work is completed, there remains a big gap between the two X’s. I’ve no idea where the cycle track between these points is slated to go, but it must follow the general line of the expressway. There is a route through the large grey area to the south of the expressway, but it is quite mountainous, and “steep road, cyclists advised to walk” signs would be everywhere. But the crucial point here is that even if in the future it is deemed necessary to replace use of the DSD access roads with dedicated cycle tracks, why isn’t the X–X connection being built first?

To conclude, on our ride yesterday, it started to rain as we began our return journey, but we were keen to see whether there were any changes around fish pond alley. The rain became heavier as we rode through this area, so we decided to omit the Tam Mei loop. However, we did want to check whether anything had changed in the area of the snake path, because the last time that we’d come this way, the farmer had told us that major developments were afoot.

This is probably the only time that we’ve done the snake path in the rain, and I have to say that the wet conditions make it harder than usual. The turn onto the penultimate dodgy bridge was particularly harrowing, given that the bridge is bare metal, and the penalty for failure is a three-metre drop into the stream below. However, the really nasty section is shown in the following photo, which I took on our last venture through this area:

I took the photo because even then it seemed harder than I’d remembered. It may not look all that difficult in the photo, but the various surfaces are all at different angles, and the section next to the pond on the right of the tin shack looks like it’s about to subside into the pond. Well, when we tackled it yesterday, I swear that this section is now canted at an angle of 40 degrees or so—I certainly scraped my pedal as I rode across it. Paula was able to ride across via the left-hand section, but I suspect that my handlebar is too wide. Anyway, my wife suggested that next time we pass this way, I get off and push. Being a bloody-minded sod, I’m unlikely to comply, although that could mean that I end up in the pond.

And that would be no joke.