Karma Comedian

Karma Comedian

Club Run, Saturday 17th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.3 km/h

Group size:                                         21 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    9°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and brittle


17 feb Kc
Ride Profile

Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.

I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.

Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.

Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.

Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.

8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”

Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.

Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.

Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.

We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.

Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.


I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.

From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.

(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)

This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.

On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?

Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.

Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.

Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.

A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.


REC024 (6)


The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.

A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.

Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.

I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.

I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.

They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.

The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.

The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.

“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.

Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.

“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.

“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.

We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…

The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.

Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.

We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.

Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.


As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.

“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.

The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.

Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.

The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.

Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.

We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.

Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing

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Salty

Salty

Club Run, Saturday 10th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 819 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rotten to start, decent to end


 

feb10
Ride Profile

The start on Saturday morning felt pretty much like a continuation of last week’s weather – temperatures hovering just above freezing and cold wind driven in on a blustery wind. Still, it wasn’t quite wet enough to resort to my rain jacket and was nowhere as bad as my commute into work on Wednesday morning, when it was so cold it had actually hurt, a stark -4°C.

And, while the Prof is still distant and riding with the Back Street Boys tribute band, he’d taken the time out between dance rehearsals to warn us on Facebook that it was going to be “flaky.” It wasn’t.

(Yes, I had to ask too. Apparently, he meant that we might encounter a few snowflakes en route.)

It was while riding across that my slow-witted mind finally understood the glaringly obvious reason why my right foot had been soaked and freezing last week, but my left foot had been relatively unscathed – helped in part by a car that flashed past and dumped a sheet of icy water down my right lower leg. Yeah, I know, a bit slow on the uptake.

This slight discomfort aside, I made decent time and was the first to arrive at the meeting point, where a light rain drove me to seek shelter in the bowels of the multi-storey car park.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The worst kept secret in the club is now out and OGL appeared bright and early to “officially” inform us the 2018 British National Road Championships will now be held in the North East, after the proposed host area backed out.  These races will be incorporated into the Cyclone Festival of Cycling and will see the best of Britain’s pro road-racers and time-triallists battling it out on the roads of Northumberland.

To accommodate this, the Cyclone Challenge Rides have all been pushed back a week or two to the 30th June. There are rumours that these changes have been made solely to allow Crazy Legs to not only lead a group of club renegades in a raid across various French mountain ranges, but also fully participate in the bigliest, bestest, most beloved and wildly participated in sportive event known to man. These rumours are patently untrue, false, deceitful, scurrilous, fabricated. Fake news.

OGL reported some baffled looks and politically-correct hyperventilating when he’d used a Scottish colloquialism to refer to an opportunity “disappearing faster than snow off a dyke.” It didn’t appeal to our childish humour quite so much as Taffy Steve’s recounting of a chainsaw safety course, where he was told you didn’t have to wear chainsaw boots and could substitute a Kevlar strap-on instead.

Crazy Legs is lamenting the lack of Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics, not because he particularly supports them, or condones state-run doping programmes, but simply because he likes their rather martial national anthem, which makes him want to march in circles around his sofa. When I confessed to being unfamiliar with its precise strains, I was instructed to go away and watch the Hunt for Red October on repeat until I got the hang of it.

Biden Fecht pulled up and asked if anyone had any oil on them. Huh? He then decided whatever mechanical he was suffering from probably couldn’t be fettled with the simple application of lubricant salve and dashed back home to undertake some minor repairs, vowing to meet up later. He hasn’t been seen since.

Aether outlined the route for the day, mainly dictated by the freezing conditions and need to stick to main and treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little. As an alternative, Crazy Legs declared early for another multiple coffee-stop ride, he was naming the Flat White Club Run. He had a sizable number of takers, right from the outset.

Much to OGL’s disbelief, Slow Drinker arrived on Zipp deep section, carbon rims that are probably worth more than my entire bike collection combined. “They’re just his winter training wheels,” G-Dawg remarked dryly.

As we stood there a guy came round to check the bike lockers, mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the car park. Wrestling with a key, he opened the door of each to its widest extent, before sticking his head inside to carefully and thoroughly survey the interior. It was obvious from where we were standing a couple of metres away that the lockers were all empty, but each one was subjected to the same close scrutiny, just in case a teeny-tiney micro-bike, or perfectly camouflaged stealth machine had been left inside.


Aether led for the first few miles, until with a tacit, father and son agreement, G-Dawg and the Colossus surged forward to take up position on the front. And there they would stay, up hill and down dale, an epic turn, impressively and selflessly (or so I thought) leading the line for the next 30km or so.

As we pressed on we seemed to be heading toward random patches of blue sky that grew in size, until even Taffy Steve had to admit my optimism for improving conditions was actually in danger of becoming reality. It was till cold, the roads were still soaked and fields water-logged, but at least the rain had stopped falling on our heads.

A dragging (dragon?) climb had us strung out and then came a shouted warning that there was a wagon behind. A couple of seconds later and there was some almighty bellowing, that told us there was a wagon behind and then, just for good measure, shouting and screaming that there was in fact a wagon behind.

We’d actually taken note at the first warning, but the road was narrow and twisting and there was nothing we could do, short of pulling over and hurling ourselves deep into a hedge. At this point, the repeated shouting became more irritating than useful or informative and we responded with our usual childish humour.

“What was that?” someone shouted back, “There’s a dragon behind?”

“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”

“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”

“Ah, does it hold the brew that is true!”

Etc. etc. Well it keep us amused, at least until the dragon, sorry wagon, decided it would be quicker to take an alternate route and turned off at the next junction.


unicycle


We pushed through to Stamfordham, where our usual layby was inconveniently occupied by a parked car. We were forced into using the wrong layby, although there was surprisingly (disappointingly?) no over the top ranting about the “wrong layby.” Here we split, with Crazy Legs luring a surprising number away with promises of an early hot beverage and some manly discourse in Matfen.

Five of us pushed onward to complete the planned route out to the Reservoir, with G-Dawg and the Colossus still powering away on the front, Ovis and Aether following in the wheels, while I tucked in behind. A bit later, we were caught by the Cow Ranger and Benedict and our numbers temporarily swelled.

I did a brief spell on the front and then, as the road swung north and we started to close in on Matfen, the Cow Ranger and Benedict took to the front and imposed an infernal pace, which they held all the way to the turn off for the Quarry. While our front pair continued on to sweep down the Ryals, the rest of us regrouped, recuperated as much as possible and started to winch our way up the Quarry climb.

We then hung a right at the top and pressed on to the café. Finding ourselves in amongst the local hunt, we had to thread our way between a series of parked up 4×4’s coupled to horse trailers and hunt supporters who lined the roads, hoping for a glimpse of who knows what.

I mentioned to G-Dawg that it seemed a particularly unrewarding and futile spectator sport, standing beside a muddy field in the cold, not knowing if you’re actually going to see anything remotely interesting. Then I realised I was talking to a bloke who travelled to the Stadium of Light last week, to stand in the cold beside a muddy field and watch the Sunderland team trying to win a game of football…

Up ahead, Ovis briefly challenged the Colossus in the sprint before falling back, while I was content to roll in alongside G-Dawg.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café queue, I noticed my bibtights were patterned with a silvery, ghostly patina of salt marks, like permafrost polygons. G-Dawg suggested there’d been so much salt on the roads you could taste it and, while we all agreed too much is infinitely preferable to too little, you had to wonder what damage it was doing to bikes and components.

The Colossus also revealed that the pairs epic turn on the front hadn’t been quite as selfless as I’d assumed and was largely designed to get out of the spray being kicked up by the wheels in front. It would appear that, despite the almost universal deployment of mudguards, not all guards are equal.

Hero of the week was determined to be Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who had appeared at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics wearing little more than a shark tooth necklace and a thin sheen of coconut oil. We had naturally assumed he was on a bobsleigh team, where the trend seems to be for one skilled pilot and three make-weight, short-track sprinters who have to be big, fast and powerful, but perhaps not especially gifted  – or, if you’re Jamaican, four big, fast and powerful short-track sprinters who are not especially gifted.

Taufatofua surprised us all though, by qualifying for the cross-country skiing. We couldn’t imagine how, where or when he managed to practice for this in his native, typically tropical Tonga. (He apparently didn’t see snow until he was into his fourth decade on the planet and started out in the sport by strapping planks of wood to his feet and running up and down sand dunes.)

The Matfen Flat White Mob finally materialised and Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve purloined a couple of spare chairs and drew them up to squeeze in around our small table. Then, spotting a group of civilians gathering to leave, they quickly jumped ship, moving to the new, more spacious table and leaving the two chairs tantalisingly and invitingly open.

And then, a double whammy, as the Garrulous Kid shambled across and flumped down on one chair to entertain us with his unique perspective on life, followed a few seconds later by OGL. The latter was already working through story # 32. (I can’t honestly remember which precise tale it was, I’d heard it before and switched off). Meanwhile, across the room I could see a benignly grinning Crazy Legs, comfortably removed and looking on with utter contentment. Bastard.

G-Dawg shared fond memories of the Matfen café the Flat White Mob had stopped at, recalling having turned up there late on a club run as business was winding down for the Christmas holidays. The group of ever-hungry cyclists had been approached by the staff with a massive cake, a handful of forks and what I can only assume was a purely rhetorical question, “Do you think you lot could help us finish this cake? Otherwise we’ll have to throw it away.”

Of the few things that club cyclists are actually good for, cake disposal must be quite high on the list.


The leg home was relatively uneventful until just after Berwick Hill, when we made the turn for Dinnington. There, to everyone’s complete and utter astonishment, the Garrulous Kid actually rode onto the front alongside Benedict, engendering a resounding cheer from our serried ranks behind.

Strangely, a blue moon shone brightly in a sky that remained completely clear of porcine UFO’s, hell refused to freeze over, time ticked on regardless and the Garrulous Kids head did not suddenly explode. Perhaps there’s hope for him (or us) yet.

He took us all the way to the turn-off, where the majority swung away and I took over to lead G-Dawg and Colossus into the Mad Mile. I kept the pace as high as I could manage, not relaxing until they’d jumped away to chase each other home and see who could win first use of the shower.

I dropped to a more sustainable pace and began slowly plotting my own course back.


YTD Totals: 858 km / 533 miles with 9,522 metres of climbing

 

 

Unicycling Club

Unicycling Club

Club Run, Saturday 3rd February, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km/66 miles with 846 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank


3rd feb
Ride Profile

Mother Nature. What a tease, eh?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the weather’s working on two week cycles (as a complete aside, Too Weak Cycles sounds like my kind of club) – one week in the deep freeze, the next week, ultra-mild and prompting crazy talk of shorts and good bikes. After last week’s dry, warm sweat-fest and moist phalanges, I guess I should have been prepared for a swing back toward frigid and Saturday didn’t disappoint, it was ultra-nasty.

Things seemed to start out all right, it was chilly, but the heavy rain of the early hours seemed to have passed and although the roads were awash, nothing else seemed to be falling out of the sky. It didn’t even seem that cold and after the initial shock of stepping out, I was soon warmed up climbing out of the other side of the valley and arrived at the meeting point in good order.

So far, so good.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

As we gathered an absolutely enormous, juvenile herring gull flopped down with a flurry of heavy wing beats, and began to strut around, speculatively eyeing us up, as if pondering which one to carry off for a tasty snack. The Hammer, mused that while seagulls (allegedly) used to taste of fish, he wasn’t certain if this was still true of the modern, urban scavenger-gull, reasoning that finding such rich pickings inland, they might not actually visit the sea for months on end.

Speculating about what today’s gull might taste of, the logical consensus seemed to be Greggs pasties.

This reminded the Colossus that Greggs had been censured for an ad, which featured a nativity in which baby Jesus was (rather cleverly, I thought) replaced by a sausage roll. This he suggested was nothing compared to one nativity he’d seen, which was entirely constructed out of sausages and bacon.

Sad news, as another local bike shop, Cestria Cycles closed its doors for the last time recently. In the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, the venerable Toshi San and a group of cycling vigilantes are bearing witness to the decline of the nation’s traditional bike shops and carefully recording each new demise for posterity.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, we were tracing a causal link between the use of Haribo and the growth in online cycle retailers. This suggests that a cyclists loyalty can be very easily bought for a handful of sticky confectionery. If only Alexander Vinokourov  had been aware of our research, he may well have been able to buy the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a lot less than the 100,000 Euro he’s alleged to have stumped up to Alexandr Kolobnev, although being a cold-eyed, professional mercenary, Kolobnev would probably have held out for a family sized bag of Tangfastics.

The Goose rolled up on his touring bike, which hadn’t seen the light of day since his successful assault on the Lands End to John O’Groats route a couple of years ago. He decided that, instead of it lying around waiting for his next grand adventure, it should be pressed into immediate service as a winter hack. The bike proved to be a steel behemoth with fat, knobbly tyres and all sorts of ironmongery hung off it to carry panniers. We were especially impressed with the front rack, which looked like the antlers of a head-down, 6-point stag in a mid-rut charge, or bike bull bars as one observer quipped.

The final two, forward pointing tines, no more than a few inches from the ground, particularly intrigued G-Dawg, who wondered what earthly purpose they could possibly serve, before deciding each could only be used to transport one individual shoe. He seemed to disbelieve that you could fit bags on these stubby attachments and reasoned they’d have to have casters on the bottom to trail along the ground.

Taffy Steve outlined the planned route, which he suggested would be generally anti-clockwise, much to the Garrulous Kids apparent confusion. I know not why.

As we gathered to set off, a freezing rain swept in and refused to relent, staying with us for the entire ride. I pulled a waterproof over my winter jacket for some added protection from both the cold and wet and off we set.


As we reached Brunton Lane, an approaching lorry braked to a halt, stopped the line of cars behind it and waved us through the junction. Moments later and a car stopped to let us filter onto the lane itself. This was so unusual it was (literally) remarkable.

“What the hell is going on?” Crazy Legs remarked. (See, told you.)

“National Be-nice-to-auld-gits-on-bikes Day?” I suggested, “Or maybe we’ve entered a parallel universe.”

I found myself riding along beside Goose and discussing the limited range of hand signals I had available to me due to my lobster mitts. I demonstrated that I was wholly incapable of the quintessentially English, Churchillian salute, or even flipping the bird.

The Goose did console me though by pointing out Vulcan greetings were an assured doddle, while we tried and failed to recall the Orkan salute and whether this was possible to replicate in lobster mitts. Nanu nanu.

The road up past the Cheese Farm was suitably muddy and dirty and soon bikes and riders were cold, wet and generally bespattered with whatever effluvia was running off the fields. As the road rose, Goose slipped slowly backwards on his steel behemoth.

“Mountain Bike Syndrome,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “He can keep up on the flat, but uphill is a whole different kettle of poisson.”

We regrouped and pressed on, with Crazy Legs eventually drifting back off the front and I took his place at the head of affairs alongside the Cow Ranger.


3REC024_Moment


Through Tranwell and at the first stop the group abruptly fractured, half of us pressing on to complete the planned ride, while the others set off more or less directly to the café. The Garrulous Kid made some pitiful excuse about having to get home to do a science assignment, before plumping for this shorter, easier ride.

A little further on this second group was to split again, with an even closer café luring away a truly miserable bunch who’d lost out badly in the lottery of clothing choices, were soaked through, chilled to the bone and looking for any kind of sanctuary, no matter how temporary. If my inappropriate clothing choices last week were mildly uncomfortable, my clubmates’ choices this week were almost debilitating.

In the longer group, we were soon dropping down into the Wansbeck Valley and fast approaching the violent ascent of the Mur de Mitford. G-Dawg looked around and asked if everyone was ok, even though he was the one on the fixie and without the luxury of smaller gears.

“He’s a glutton for punishment,” Taffy Steve observed, “But I can’t help wondering which is worse, climbing that thing on a fixie, or the fact he’s going to the Sunderland match this afternoon.”

Hmm. Definitely the latter. Despite G-Dawg’s support, they lost.

Again.

The Mur de Mitford successfully scaled,  we headed out on the rolling roads toward the Trench. I found myself riding along with Captain Black, both of us marvelling that Goose was managing to hang on while astride the steel behemoth and wondering if it would still be the bike of choice next week.

We reasoned that if Goose removed all the pannier racks and other trekking accoutrements, he could probably turn it into a relatively svelte climbing machine of, oh, around 18 kilos.

I also had to admit even my winter boots had failed me, or at least the right one had. Water had found its way inside and my feet were probably as wet, chilled and numb as everyone else’s.

Up the Trench we went. The Colossus reflected that in the summer, at least the first part of the climb was usually quite enjoyable. In these conditions though it was just a horrid slog, which I took at a modest pace, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be the slowest. We regrouped over the top and then again after the dip and rise up through Hartburn.

With a choice of Angerton or Middleton Bank, we went for the former and found the road across the exposed moorland actually wind free for a change. It may even have been strangely pleasant, if it hadn’t been so cold and open to the continuous drift of frozen rain.

One last small climb past the lake and then we were lining it out in a dash for the café. I stayed in the wheels as we hurtled through the Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As the road dipped down, Goose used the steel behemoth’s massive gravitational impetus to slingshot around us and burst off the front. He quickly opened a sizable gap, but not a single person reacted.

As the road started to rise again, Goose’s momentum and advantage quickly bled away and we were past him by the time we hit the last corner. The Colossus and G-Dawg charged away, while I led the also-rans through, alongside Captain Black.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Ah, the café on a wet day, a warm sanctuary for weary, wet and begrimed weekend warriors, good cake, hot coffee and a lingering smell that reminds me uncomfortably of wet dog, as cyclists try to warm up, if not actually dry their steaming kit around the two stoves.

“I never thought I’d stay away,” Goose admitted while we stood in the queue, referring to his Forlorn Hope attack.

“No,” I assured him, “Neither did we.”

The Cow Ranger was soon engrossed in involved discussions about functional threshold power, training zones, power outputs, VO2 max and lactate thresholds. You know, stuff serious athletes live by.

“Ah, FTP’s,” I nodded sagely along, but didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. The conversation progressed to discussions about the evolving shape of smartwatches and training trackers, from square to round. Ah, at last, something I could understand and perhaps contribute to…

We tried to keep our eyes averted, but someone cracked, looked up and caught the Garrulous Kids eye. He was on us in an instant. What? I thought he’d scuttled off home early to complete an urgent science assignment?

Anyway, we learned that the Garrulous Kid is all set on joining a unicycling club.

Naturally, everyone was taken aback by this news, reasoning the Garrulous Kid is a big enough liability on two wheels, so goodness knows what dangers he’d present and how bad his bike handling would be on just the one!

Of course, it transpired that the Garrulous Kid had simply expressed himself poorly and he was actually talking about joining a cycling club when he  gets to university in a couple of years’ time. (Well, there’s nothing like planning ahead.)

Still, the idea of a unicycling club did have a certain appeal and we entertained ourselves for a good while imagining what a club run and café sprint would look like with everyone on unicycles.

After the failed attempts by Crazy Legs to shame the Garrulous Kid into sharing some of the work and doing a stint on the front, it was the Colossus and G-Dawgs turn to try. At first, the Garrulous Kid tried to pretend that he spent plenty of time on the front.

“I mean riding with no one in front of you and everyone lined up behind,” the Colossus explained helpfully, “Not riding off on your own.” The Garrulous Kid seemed to be having real trouble grasping the concept at its most basic, fundamental level.

The Kid couldn’t provide any evidence that he’d actually spent any time at all on the front of the group, at any time during the past year or longer that he’s been riding with us. Instead, he changed tack, insisting that riding toward the back of the pack was “chilled” and, that while there, he was representing the heart of the club.

“More like the arsehole of the club,” I suggested.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried out a new mantra he’d been working on, “How many wheels can a dumb suck suck, if a dumb sucker does wheel suck?” Not quite as catchy as our “Half-Wheel Horner Society” ditty, but it could still catch on.

The Big Yin decided it was so horrible out we deserved a third cup of coffee, so went and somehow procured us additional refills.

Taffy Steve decided our experiences riding through all sorts of effluvia on the road meant we were capable of determining if we were travelling through horse or cow muck, simply by taste. Ugh. Maybe the third cup of coffee wasn’t just a luxury, but essential to dilute what we’d been inadvertently digesting.


Off out into the cold and the rain we went. My right foot hadn’t dried any, but had warmed up and I was quite comfortable despite the continuing sleety rain. I was feeling much perkier than last week, although I don’t know why. Maybe it was the shorter distance, the relative lack of wind, or the fact I’d started treating my Friday commute as more of a recovery ride and stopped chasing down every other cyclist, MTB’er, jogger, mobility scooter, dog walker, or pram pushing pedestrian.

Maybe it was simply the power of three coffees?

Either way I was zipping up the hills fairly comfortably and even held on right to the last few metres of the Mad Mile, before swinging away for my solo ride home.

As I dropped towards the valley, squeezing the brake levers, I found cold water oozing up around my fingers – the rain had finally started to penetrate my mighty lobster mitts, but they’d held up remarkably well considering.

There was nothing of note on the way home, other than an overwhelmingly glum looking bloke wearing a bobble hat whose bobble was actually bigger than his head. I’m not sure he appreciated me grinning at him as I zipped past.

And then I was leaving a pile of sodden, muddy, mouldering clothes pooled on the floor and stepping into the very welcome embrace of a hot shower.

Anyway, if the pattern continues, next weeks ride should be in relatively pleasant conditions…

I’ll believe it when I see it.


Year Totals: 699 km / 434 miles with 7,888 metres of climbing

Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Club Run, Saturday 27th January, 2018  

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   115 km / 72 miles with 1,068 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 54 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.5 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Tepid


mphal
Ride Profile

Saturday was set for to be a remarkably mild, late January day and, as soon as I levelled out after rolling down the hill, I realised I’d probably got the clothing choices wrong. Again.

It was already 7°C and while I wasn’t convinced we’d eke that much more warmth out of a pale sun, that would stay largely muffled behind a thick pall of cloud, temperatures were only ever likely to rise. Meanwhile, although the clouds threatened the occasional rain shower, they never quite delivered.

Ultimately, a winter jacket, long-sleeved baselayer and thick gloves would prove too much, even though I’d discarded the headband and buff to let a little cool air circulate. Caught out once again by the eccentric vicissitudes of the Great British weather.

The rowing club looked to be gearing up for another big event as I swung past, the car parks already full and marshals bustling around organising everything. The tide was most definitely out as I crossed over the river though, wide mud banks exposed to either side and only a thin channel of murky water midstream. I guessed they wouldn’t be starting anytime soon.

Things were whirring along nicely, both my legs and bike behaving and it wasn’t long before I was pulling up at the meeting point, to see what another club run would bring.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

One of the first to arrive was the Red Max, back after a long absence, which, according to him, was spent diligently and cheerfully answering each and every whim, no matter how trivial, or spurious, of a seriously incapacitated and post-operative Mrs. Max.

Or, at least that’s the official version and what he told me to write. If pressed, I would have to note the uncertain emergence of other words and phrases in his narrative, such as harridan, nagging, living-hell, demanding and personal anguish.

Not only was the Red Max back, but he was accompanied by the Monkey Butler Boy, whose trying to step-up to some big-time races this season. Because of this, he’s decided his usual Saturday jaunts, out with the youthful ingrates of the Wrecking Crew, are too short, lackadaisical and not demanding enough. They must be a truly soft option if the alternative is riding out with a bunch of auld gits like us…

OGL announced he’s abrogated all responsibility for organising the clubs annual overseas trip as there are now too many, privately arranged and alternative, unsanctioned, unofficial and competing, “other trips.” Similarly, he’s suggesting that he’s voluntarily disconnecting from Facebook as his edicts aren’t always met with immediate, universal approval and compliance. At the same time though, he seems to be voluntarily disconnecting others from Facebook as well. I assume this is a purge to remove any dissenting voices from the posts he no longer reads, or responds to?

Strange times.

Earlier in the week, the Garrulous Kid had spotted the Colossus, encased in headphones and indulging in some syncopated strolling, interspersed with strident moonwalking, as he bopped along the High Street.

“Just how long have you had those really ancient headphones?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know.

“Oh, about 18 hours,” the Colossus replied nonchalantly, before describing his state of the art, best in class, audiophile’s dream, brand new, Sennheiser headphones.

I expressed great surprise that, despite all his banging on about German manufacturing excellence in relation to his Focus bike (#cough# made in Taiwan #cough#)) the Garrulous Kid didn’t actually recognise quality, Teutonic design and engineering when directly confronted with it.

The Colossus was in turn, surprised anyone recognized him in civvies, although maybe he shouldn’t have been, as he then related how Crazy Legs had once ridden past when he was walking along, instantly recognised him from behind and shouted out a greeting. I suggested this was because, for Crazy Legs and us mere mortals, this was the view we most often saw, camped out on the Colossus’s rear wheel, staring fixedly at the back of his head and hanging on for dear life.

Just outside the office block behind us, a random generator spluttered and then banged into life with a long, hacking cough. It then belched loudly and disgorged an explosive, rumbling fart, accompanied by a huge cloud of noxious, greasy, black smoke.

“I think the cleaner’s just plugged her vacuum into the wrong socket.” G-Dawg surmised.

As the dangerous looking fumes threatened to engulf us, it looked like the perfect time to evacuate the area and a sizeable group of 24 of us hurriedly pushed off, clipped in and fled the scene.


I started out riding alongside self-declared scientific genius, the Garrulous Kid. (I’m really looking forward to the day he also describes himself as like, really stable too). Apparently his faith in the superiority of German engineering had been badly shaken when he realised just how utterly useless the family BMW was in the snow last week. It’s obvious now why he’s been spending so much time in the gym, it’s for when he’s called upon to lend manual assistance to his Dad’s lumbering panzerwagen, you know, when a 2.5 litre engine and 240 brake horsepower just isn’t enough.

A shuffling of the pack and I caught up with Ovis, having recently “won” the lottery for inclusion in the Fred Whitton Challenge and not quite sure about what he’s let himself in for. Still, I’m sure he’ll be fine … as long as he manages to avoid the livestock.

Approaching the Military Road and we found ourselves being stalked by an aerial drone that hovered in a field parallel our route. Perhaps it was industrial espionage on behalf of our regular café, having heard of our dastardly defection last week and wanting to keep tabs on customers wandering off to the competitors?

Perhaps GrCHQ SIGINT Division had been monitoring our social media communications and uncovered disturbing levels of insurgency amongst the clubs Saturday morning irregulars, something so disturbing that it required extreme surveillance measures?

Ah, no. It was just a couple of harmless mountain-bikers having fun with a new toy.

Or, at least they looked like harmless mountain-bikers …

Past the reservoir and we stopped to split the group, with OGL, the Red Max and a handful of others choosing a slightly shorter, somewhat less hilly way to the café, while the rest of us went via roads that G-Dawg noted we hadn’t travelled down for a good couple of months.

As we waited to reconvene and ride on, the Hammer sidled across to tell me how much he admired my “pretty and delicately exposed ankles.” Damn, I knew those Diadora winter boots needed to be longer and more concealing, and not just for added protection in extreme weather. I can’t go round enflaming the passions of my fellow cyclists with such wanton displays.

Having returned from the strange delirium of his inappropriate, homoerotic interlude, the Hammer apologised and suggested it was a simple fugue state, induced by not being out on his bike in ever such a long a time – in fact, probably not since we last ventured down these very roads.

He rightfully complained that for us more … ah, shall we say mature, members of the cycling fraternity, form is difficult to attain, impossible to sustain and slips quickly away with a moments inaction and inattention. Nevertheless, having recovered himself, the Hammer was looking forward to the recuperative effects of a hot, invigorating beverage, a modest slice of seed-cake and some sustained gentlemanly banter in the café.

On we pressed, through a series of dragging climbs where I became aware just how tired and heavy-legged I was. To cap it all, we were now hitting exposed areas where a strong headwind seemed to have sprung up and was proving troublesome.

We turned up one lane, swooped down into a valley and started the climb back out, only to notice we were approaching large red road signs and a series of traffic cone barricades.

“Hope the road’s not closed,” G-Dawg muttered as we slowly approached.

The signs did indeed warn: “Road Closed” though luckily not to the degree that would deter your average, intrepid (read: desperate not to turn back and add on more miles) scofflaw roadie.

We insouciantly swished past the Road Closed signs, slalomed freely around the traffic cones and then wondered what all the warnings where about. The road was intact, unmarred and highly passable – although apparently scheduled for some BT cable laying, sometime this millennium, or maybe next.


 

Moment


We pushed on, through small, scattered hamlets, everyone strung out and working hard, before swinging onto the road up to the Quarry Climb and, for a while at least, out of the wind. There we found OGL, all on his lonesome and working to replace a punctured tube.

We wondered what had happened to the Red Max and others who’d been accompanying OGL on the shorter run. The Monkey Butler Boy surmised (and lo! it was so) that the Red Max had attacked wholeheartedly as soon as he sensed someone having a mechanical and had long since disappeared up the road.

We lent what assistance we could to OGL, who’d fallen foul of one of Northumberlands steel-tipped, mutant thorns, which I’m reliably informed were the inspiration behind the Fairburn-Sykes Fighting knife. He was pretty much finished the repairs, so the wait wasn’t long and we were soon on the move again.

I held on up the Quarry Climb and as we pushed through onto the road to the Snake Bends. Then the Colossus went for a long-range attack. The group split in pursuit, but I quickly recognised it was futile. He was long gone, there was no chance of getting back on terms, even if I had the legs for it (I knew for a fact I didn’t). I pulled over, slowed and watched as a long stream of riders zipped past and away.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

“Is this your first ride of the year?” the Garrulous Kid enquired of Biden Fecht as we sat down in the cafe.

“No, I was out last week,” Biden Fecht confirmed.

“But, but … it was snowing and icy last week!” an incredulous Garrulous Kid exclaimed.

“Ah, thanks for telling me. I didn’t realise…”

Biden Fecht was then closely interrogated about his work as a lecturer at Aberdeen University, with the Garrulous Kid suggesting he might apply there and wondering if perhaps Biden Fecht had a spare room going free?

I’ve never seen anyone’s face drain of blood quite so quickly.

We learned that the Monkey Butler Boy’s Samsung phone occasionally syncs with the family Samsung widescreen in the lounge, where the display cuts in to show whatever he’s browsing for on the Internet, something which could lead to embarrassing consequences for a young lad with healthy appetites and an insatiable curiosity.

In fact, he’s already been caught red-handed, cruising for bike porn …

“The Taiwan Bike Show,” he reluctantly confirmed.

“Ooph, you like them exotic,” I suggested, “Slender seat stays, fully curved drop-outs?”

“Bars you can grab a big old handful of,” Rab Dee affirmed. Dangerous, salacious stuff.

Meanwhile the real scandal was with the Garrulous Kid, who was in denial about by his unrequited affections for a red-haired, Upper Sixth Former. An older woman? He seemed baffled by the Red Max’s casual mention of MILFs and PILFs, which he decided to Google on his “Apple phone.”

Having scrolled past the Public Interest Legal Foundation to something a little less salubrious and worthy, he quickly shut down his browser, turned off his phone and dropped it, as if it had just given him an electric shock. I couldn’t help but imagine his unrestricted browsing activities setting of all sorts of alarms and klaxons at home and the disapproving family committee that might be awaiting him on his return.

The Monkey Butler Boy tried to describe the definition of a Mackem he’d found in the Urban Dictionary, but became so convulsed with laughter he was too incapacitated to finish.


Out we went and I did a brief spell on the front with G-Dawg. At one point there was a loud squeal of disk brakes from behind, sounding like a discordant, slightly off-key, rendition of Jesus Christ, Superstar played by a dyspeptic and slightly drunk, brass band.

“Ah, I see Rab Dee is still with us,” G-Dawg concluded.

Up Berwick Hill and I slowly drifted back through the wheels. We charged through Dinnington and then the main group were turning off. The pace then accelerated down the Mad Mile and I was cast adrift, to plug my way home.

At the first opportunity, I stopped to unzip the jacket and take off my gloves – I was overheating and the insides of the gloves were soaked in sweat. It was borderline too cold to go without gloves, but the heavy winter ones I was using were too much. I decided chilled fingers were the better of two evils.

I soon found myself grinding uphill into a headwind for what felt like half an hour of purgatory, or at least it felt like half an hour but was probably only half this time. Trying to take my mind off my struggles, I let it wander, considering titles for this blerg.

As a nod to Postcard popsters, Josef K, one of their song titles, Forever Drone was first selected and then rejected. I then remembered my sweaty hands and the delight Thing#2 took in a phrase that she adopted, and used whenever appropriate (and quite a few times when wholly inappropriate.)

“Moist phalanges,” she would intone with over-precise diction, before collapsing into a fit of evil cackling. Even now, the phrase can still bring a wry smile to her face. So, in honour of Thing#2, I name this blerg entry Moist Phalanges. (May God bless her, and all who sail in her, etc. etc.)

My pain finally ended, the road dipped and I was soon dropping toward the river. Out on the bridge, the downstream side was now crowded with rowing club spectators. I looked and looked again, but there were no boats in sight. Obviously bad timing on my part as I suspect the action was now taking place many miles downstream.

As I started to winch my way painfully up the Heinous Hill,  a young came girl trotting down the road toward me and I slowed, not quite sure where she was heading and surprising myself that I could physically go any slower without immediately keeling over.

“Have you seen a small, black and white dog?” she asked tearfully.

“No, sorry.”

“He’s a bit like a Lurcher-cross,” she explained, rather unhelpfully.

I looked at her blankly, not quite knowing what a Lurcher-cross was meant to look like and suspecting now wasn’t the time to find out.

“Sorry, I haven’t seen any dogs.”

She ran on and I resumed my unfair battle with gravity.

As I started around the next bend in the road and small, shaggy, short-legged and rather non-descript dog burst out from a side-street ahead of me. I turned and looked back down the hill to where the girl was about to disappear out of sight. I really, really didn’t want to chase after her and have to climb the stupid hill again.

“Oi!” I shouted in my best, “get orff my land” voice. Luckily, she heard, stopped and looked back. I nodded my head toward her scampering pooch, and turned to start clawing my way upwards again, giving dog and owner a private moment for their beautiful and no doubt emotional reunion.

I’m no expert, but the damned thing didn’t look like any kind of Lurcher to me…

So the first long ride of the year under the belt, over 70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing. That was hard. I’d like to think it’ll get easier from here on in, but I know I’m kidding myself.


Year Totals: 633 km / 393 miles with 6,227 metres of climbing

Arctic Turn

Arctic Turn

Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018              

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Turning Arctic


Jan 21
Ride Profile

A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.

But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.

Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.

As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.

Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.

Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.

Made it.


Main topics of conversation at the start.

Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.

Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.

Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.

“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”

As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.

Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:

A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”

CL: “Yes…”

And a minute later,

CL:  “No…”

And then,

CL: “… Not sure.”

To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”

Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.

G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.

News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.

Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.

We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)

 At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered.  I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.

As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.

For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.


snow2
You didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble

Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One

Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.

Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.

For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.

The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.  

Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.

As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.


Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.

Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.

We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.


snow1


After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.

As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.

A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.

As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.

G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.

He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel

In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.

Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.

Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.

Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.

Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.

“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.

His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.

We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …


Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.

As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.

Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.

Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.

At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.

Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.

Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.

Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.


Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing

Chattering Classes

Chattering Classes

Club Run, Saturday 13th January, 2018            

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    103 km / 55 miles with 1,082 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.5 km/h

Group size:                                          20 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                     7°C

Weather in a word or two:             Mild


 

2018 1
Ride Profile

A relatively mild, dry and wind free day was promised, as I headed along the valley on my way across to the meeting point for the club run. The open sky was thickly layered and muffled in grey cloud which became suffused in muted, pale colours as the sun slowly leeched away the darkness.

The cloud filtered and muddied the colours, like looking at the world through Old English Spangles rather than just Spangles, although, I’m sure by now most of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I’m talking about …

As I pushed along, two consequences of my pre-Christmas commuting tumble on the ice became evident. The first was that the replacement saddle and new seatpost weren’t quite dialled in right. The saddle in particular looked level, but must have been infinitesimally tilted up at the nose, and I felt like I was constantly slipping off the back and having to adjust my position.

The other was, that somewhere on the ride across, the hairline fissure in the rear mudguard opened to become a yawning chasm as the back half slipped down. Now, whenever the road surface became rough, the two halves would bang together, like the manic chattering of a demonically possessed skull.

It was a sound that unfortunately was going to accompany for the entire ride, an audible indicator of the poor state of Northumberland’s roads, or, another blast-from-the-past, like riding behind someone with an annoying Clackers obsession. No, that’s not a euphemism.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point I raised and adjusted the saddle. It helped a little and would get me round, but it still wasn’t quite right. There was nothing I could do about the infernal chattering of the mudguard though. I’d just have to live with that, along with every other unfortunate rider I shared the road with.

I learned that last week’s ride had been enlivened when, in attempting to unclip from his pedal, G-Dawg had instead managed to detach the entire pedal from his bike, and it came away still firmly latched to the sole of his shoe. His ride home had then been a largely one-legged, imbalanced, lop-sided affair, trying not to put too much force through a hastily jury-rigged repair. This in turn had led to strange muscular aches and pains over the next few days as his body tried to recover from its unusual ordeal.

 I suggested that in the aftermath he must have looked like a drunken sailor, rolling down the gangplank for 4-days shore leave and he confirmed he’d spent several days inadvertently walking round in circles and had to tack to get anywhere.

The rise in temperature from the sub-Arctic to heady, shockingly temperate and mild, encouraged lots of crazy talk of best bikes and shorts. Seriously? I know it was probably 6 or 7° warmer than it had been last week, but the temperature was still firmly sunk into single figures. Surely we haven’t become all that toughened and inured to the cold?

I know for a fact that I haven’t, besides I’m not convinced the winter is quite done with us yet.

OGL turned up, sorely vexed that promising young gun, Jimmy Cornfeed has officially left our club to follow in the footsteps of the likes of zeB and the Monkey Butler Boy. Somehow OGL refuses to see that our “one-speed to suit all” club runs simply aren’t going to be challenging enough for anyone with a modicum of youth and fitness, or the slightest competitive impulses and ambitions.

I told him I thought the move was entirely predictable and I was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, after all what youngster wants to ride with a bunch of auld gits who can remember a world without Doritos, Twister, Tippex or the Toyota Corolla… you know what I mean, don’t you, the kind of person who references Clackers … or even Old English Spangles …

Displaying the patience of a soon-to-be martyred saint, Benedict tried a reasoned approach with OGL, suggesting we have the abilities and capabilities to change things up and could do much more to support youngsters or novice riders. His suggestions were washed away in a tsunami of derision, invective, rose-tinted nostalgia, recriminations and obdurate, self-righteous certainty. Plus ca change …

And so we trundle on and nothing fundamentally changes, besides a rising tide of general disgruntlement on all sides. It would appear we’ve wholeheartedly embraced Einstein’s view of insanity and are doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

Still, showing us it is possible to change and old dawgs can learn new tricks, along with replacement pedals, G-Dawg’s fixie was improbably sporting a brand new set of mudguards! Crazy Legs said he thought hell would freeze over before he witnessed such a thing, while I was simply too shocked to comment, quite literally gobsmacked to use the local parlance. 

G-Dawg’s plan for the day was also to have a novel twist at the end, proposing a much travelled route, right up until the bottom of Middleton Bank, where we would take a sharp right and then climb up by a slightly different route.

The mild weather had drawn a reasonable crowd out, with 20 riders formed up and ready to go. We pushed off, clipped in and rolled out.


Things were progressing smoothly as we spun up Berwick Hill in a compact whirring mass, but a right turn at the top and a shallow, but long and winding descent naturally had the group more strung out. This apparently though translated to everyone being “all over the road” and elicited generally incomprehensible bellows of complaint.

“Oh, we’ll,” the Colossus countered sarcastically, “We’ll just turn gravity off, shall we?

Caracol and Crazy Legs ceded the front to G-Dawg and Zardoz, who in turn, eventually ceded to the Colossus and me and we called a brief pit stop beside Tranwell airfield before pressing on. As another long descent strung us out we zipped past a dog-walker who pulled two massive Rottweilers to the side of the road and swung his legs over them as we zipped past. I’m pretty sure he was simply trying to corral his dogs, but it looked like he was preparing to ride them back up the hill.

I wondered aloud if G-Dawg’s Labradors would make good sled dogs. The Colossus decided they would, but being Labradors, if you harnessed them to a bike, they’d probably take off in two completely different directions at once.

We now found ourselves on the long, hated drag up to Dyke Neuk, where we stopped to split the group, losing a handful to a harder, faster, longer slog up to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us pushed on toward Hartburn. A further splinter group then took a left to head through Angerton, while the rest pushed on to Middleton Bank.

Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs decided to forgo the pleasure of G-Dawg’s route-wrinkle, pressing straight on for Middleton Bank. I found myself joining them on impulse. The Garrulous Kid tagged along and the four of us started the climb as the others turned off at the foot of the hill.

As we swept past Bolam Lake, Crazy Legs asked the Garrulous Kid to do a turn on the front and, very reluctantly, he pulled out, rode up to the front … and then charged off into the distance. Hmm, not quite what Crazy Legs had in mind.

Sneaky Pete took over on the front of our small group and we began to track our errant escapee. As we swept through Milestone Wood, I took over, attacking up the rollers to catch the Garrulous Kid, who immediately sat up and drifted back to latch on to a rear wheel.


rrREC017_Moment2


I pulled us over the last slope, down the dip and up toward the final climb. All the while, my rear mudguard chittered and chattered away, providing a manic commentary to the ride, like chimp on speed. I wasn’t going to be sneaking up behind anyone today.

As I rounded the last corner, the Garrulous Kid, with supreme predictability, jumped away again and I let him go, sliding back onto Sneaky Pete’s wheel as we bounced and jolted our way upwards over the broken and distressed road surface.

As the last few ramps unfolded, I increased the tempo and started to reel in the Kid, but I’d left it too late and ran out of road, so had to sit up just before I caught his rear wheel.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, Crazy Legs tried to explain to the Garrulous Kid some of the niceties of group riding and in particular doing a bit of work to everyone else’s benefit. What others might see as blatant wheel-sucking though, the Garrulous Kid considers as his evil genius and supreme tactical nous.

I can only refer him to Velominati Rule #67 and hope he learns to leave his crass, callow and embarrassing behaviour behind:

Rule #67 // Do your time in the wind.

Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.

At the table, every time the Garrulous Kid tried to interrupt Crazy Legs evoked the spirit of Marcel Marceau and simply mimed being trapped in a glass cube, where annoying external sounds simply couldn’t penetrate to disturb his serenity.

This gave me a chance to trot out the old joke about whether you had to use a silencer if you wanted to assassinate a mime and Crazy Legs countered with the best Dad joke I’ve heard in a long while – how do you kill a circus? Go straight for the juggler. Ba-boom! (See, youngsters like Jimmy Cornfeed just can’t cope with these levels of mature, highly sophisticated mirth. No wonder they have to leave our club.)

Sneaky Pete mentioned he’d found a café called Teacake Max out on the coast and wondered if anyone had visited. We applauded the name, but for me it still doesn’t quite beat Sunderland’s Fausto Coffee cycling café. Meanwhile I warned my fellow riders away from the Pedalling Squares café, as Thing#1 was working there on a trial basis.

Crazy Legs has been told he bears a passing resemblance to the actor Dennis Lawson, a much better shout than some of the wholly improbable, “don’t you think he looks like …” statements that the Garrulous Kid comes up with. The Garrulous Kid tried Googling images of Dennis Lawson, but his phone seemed to take forever to conduct even a simple online search. This, he stated was because he only had “Free G” – I guess that’s what you have to accept when you don’t pay for your phone service…

The acting chops of Samuel L. Jackson came up in conversation and Crazy Legs suggested his greatest movie role (yet) had to be Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

“But, but,” The Garrulous Kid protested, “Wasn’t he in Night at the Museum?”

Finally, as we were leaving, the Garrulous Kid finally managed to pique Crazy Legs’ interest with a fact about the discovery of fossilised bacteria on Mars. I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t fake news to rank alongside his contention that Donald Trump is reinstating national service, and because he was born in Norf Carolina and holds dual passports, the Garrulous Kid is in danger of being forcefully conscripted into Uncle Sam’s armed forces. (Remember, he’s already told me he would excel in the military as he’s, like a very stable, tactical genius.)

Despite it’s uncertain veracity, Crazy Legs determined that the statement about life on Mars was possibly the most interesting thing the Garrulous Kid had ever said – and charged him to come up with another interesting factoid for next week.

There was only time then for the Kid to unwisely insult the Colossus by referring to him as Ginger Ben and then we were out and gathering to head home. A pensioner volunteered to start us off with a wave of her walking stick and away we rolled.


Everything split on the reverse climb back up Berwick Hill and I managed to tag onto the back of the front group as we crested the top, hanging there until we entered the Mad Mile when G-Dawg, Caracol, the Colossus and Cow Ranger lined it out in a last mad dash and I was cut adrift to pick my own way home.

I rattled, clattered, clanged and chattered my way to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before taking a slight detour to call into Pedalling Squares to see how Thing#1 was getting on. They asked her back to work on the Sunday as well, so I guess she did ok.

Then, fuelled by one of Pedalling Square’s excellent espresso’s, I pushed up the hill and home to end my first club run of 2018.


YTD Totals: 215 km / 134 miles with 2,808 metres of climbing

 

Slow Start – An Off-Road Interlude

Total Distance:                                    37 km / 23 miles with 452 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            2 hours 3 minutes

Average Speed:                                   17.9 km/h

Temperature:                                      1°C


 

dw
Ride Profile

I awoke in the pre-dawn dark of early Saturday morning, to find a prolonged hailstorm angrily lashing at the house and plunging the garden into cryogenic deep freeze – ice bound, white and frozen.

Ooph!

I fed the cats and went back to bed.

It’s a shame really, as once the storm passed the day was bright and breezy, if bitterly cold. Had I managed to make it down off the hill safely, I suspect I would have found decent riding conditions once the sun rose and took the edge off.

As it was, while I loafed and malingered in bed, our club run consisted of 8 hardy souls who reported that, despite an occasional snow flurry, they had no issues with the roads, managing to avoid all the reported black ice that everyone else seems so remarkably and consistently adept at finding.

I fully intended to ride on the Sunday instead, but it was if anything even colder and the roads outside the house looked decidedly sketchy. Starting to chafe a little, I decided on extreme measures, waited till the sun transformed the temperature from painfully bone-chilling, to merely numbing, and decided to take to the trails.

With the bike shed over-crowded, my thoroughly beat-up, old and creaking winter-commuter, a Genesis Core, hardtail MTB, is currently languishing in my parent’s garage, waiting to be condemned, or for me to spend a small fortune restoring it to a rideable condition.

My only option then was Mrs. SLJ’s venerable, vintage Specialized Rockhopper, that’s maybe 25 years old and from a time before suspension forks, disk brakes, dropper seatposts, bigger wheels, or other such technical niceties. Hell, it came from a time when aluminium was considered nouvelle and effete, and carbon-fibre was only used by NASA or the US military – it has a solid, workmanlike, Cro-Mo steel frame.

Despite its age, it’s in decent condition, although slightly too small for me, so the (unusually sized) seatpost is extended up way beyond the manufacturers safety limit. I suspect (hope) the seatpost is 30.4mm, so I have a longer one on order. In the meantime, I wasn’t planning on doing anything too brutal or technical on the bike, so felt I would get away with it

I swapped the flat resin pedals out for some Wellgo ones with an SPD clip on one side and was good to go.

Dropping down the Heinous Hill, the fat tyres slapped the tarmac with a buzz like a swarm of angry wasps, reminding me there’s nothing serene about mountain bikes.

I reached the bottom, took a sharp left and found myself on the Derwent Walk, the track-bed of the old Derwent Valley Railway that would take me over 10 miles, up to Blackhill. Part of National Cycle Route 14, this is a much frequented woodland thoroughfare for dog walkers, ramblers, amblers, runners, cyclists and horse riders. The route is off-road for 99% of its length and resolutely and pleasantly car free.

It also rises steadily all the way to the end, making the return considerably easier and faster than the trip out, and giving my Strava activity the kind of profile I haven’t seen since we went up and then came straight back down Alpe d’Huez last June.  I sadly have to admit that this slight and tenuous similarity was the only way that one ride compared to the other.

Oh, well …

It’s an interesting perspective, being the fastest thing on the trail and having a duty of care to give way to pedestrians and runners. I found myself being unfailingly polite to my fellow users, thanking them for briefly corralling their mutts, or giving me room to pass, slowing to a careful crawl when confronted with erratic, over-excited dogs and even more erratic, over-excited small children.

Most were polite in return, although I sensed some disapproval when I startled one or two unwitting walkers as I swept wide around them, especially those who seemed completely unaware of their surroundings, or much too engrossed in their phone screens or ear-buds.

The ride was a great way to get a good cross-section of British dog names too, and I learned that for every Eva, Rosie, Rusty, Kyla and Poppy there was a Kingsley, a Dogmatix, a Reginald and a Benton. Sadly though, nothing to rival Doug the Pug.

There were a couple of points when ice forced a dismount, especially when the trail dipped or climbed to cross a road. At the worst of these, a dog slipping, sliding and just barely keeping its footing as it scrabbled down an ice-slick lane, gave me good warning.  I reasoned that if a four legged critter was struggling, it was going to be dangerously risky, either bipedal, or by pedal.

I clambered off to inch my way down the grassy verge to where the ice seemed less thick, before crabbing carefully across, using the bike as an impromptu Zimmer frame, and then clambering back up the frozen grass on the other side.

The elevation gain was only 100 metres or so, but the further I pressed on, the higher the route climbed and the colder it seemed to get. By the end of the trail at Blackhill my feet had started to feel a little numb and the chocolate-coated cereal bar I refuelled on was hard, grainy and strangely tasteless. My water bottle seemed much less pliable, difficult to squeeze and the contents were so shockingly cold, I have to admit that I unscrewed the cap and checked to see if ice had formed inside.

The ride back, gradually downhill all the way, was good for tired legs, but not so good for any exposed areas of skin which were soon chilled by the rushing air. Some of the dips and rises I’d walked previously seemed to have thawed slightly since I’d passed, so I rode them now, only having to climb off on a couple of occasions. Progress was good and soon I was approaching the end of the trail.

A sharp right, straight up through the woods and I faced one final test to get home: the Clockburn Lonnen climb, around a kilometre at 9% with some of the steeper ramps hitting 18% or more.

According to local history sources, Clockburn Lonnen once formed part of the main highway from the north to Durham and was the route taken by Cromwell’s 16,000 strong army and camp-followers on their march to invade Scotland in 1650. It’s now difficult to imagine the steep, narrow, overgrown and twisting confines of this trail as any kind of major thoroughfare.

The route has been modified since I last rode it a couple of years ago and the stile at the bottom has been removed so thankfully you no longer have to wrestle your bike over the fence and onto the track.

As welcome as this change was, an even greater improvement has been made by removing the steps on the steepest ramp that had been formed using two half buried railway sleepers. It’s still a brutally hard climb, but at least now you don’t have to try and bunny-hop up the terraced steps, or, for those like me who lack a certain finesse, try to carry enough speed to bulldoze your way over the always slippery, railway sleepers.

As the slope eased the surface gave way from hard-packed gravel to icy, churned up mud and narrowed to a single-track, hemmed in by the woods on either side. I tried to keep the pace high and ignore the slipping rear wheel, knowing if I was forced to stop it would be difficult to get going again.

At this point and for the first time ever on this trail, I met another cyclist rattling down toward me. I spotted a route around the far side of a sapling and quickly threaded my way around it, allowing him to slither past on the main trail as we exchanged brief greetings.

Mud finally gave way to a farm lane, a gravelly, rutted, pot-holed and lumpen surface that the bike rattled and banged over, as the climb stiffened around a couple of bends before straightening and finally easing.

Before the top I ducked down a narrow bridleway, traversing across the brow of the fell and trying to thread a path between ice covered puddles, deep frozen ruts and stretches of churned-up mud.

I slipped, slid and wallowed hopelessly sideways around the corners, but kept things upright and more or less always pointed forward on what proved to be the muckiest, most technical and most demanding part of my ride. A quick hop across the pavement and then I was back on smooth roads, climbing to the crest of the Heinous Hill as I made my way home.

As much as I missed the club run, I thoroughly enjoyed my impromptu, off-road adventure which was as good a workout as I could expect in just a couple of hours and might just become a regular alternative ride – just for fun.


YTD Totals: 55 km / 34 miles with 921 metres of climbing