Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.
As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.
I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.
“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.
“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.
“We don’t have to do everything together.”
TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.
This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.
Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …
… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.
Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.
Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.
Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.
With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.
I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.
“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”
“What,” he countered, “Again?”
Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.
Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.
It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?
By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.
We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.
Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?
Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.
By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …
Yes, he returned with our free refills.
(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)
As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).
On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.
A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.
Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?
The club run this week was planned by Richard of Flanders and included some serious hills. By the end I’d managed to clock up over 100 kilometres, with more than 1,200 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure – an acid test of just how suitable a single-speed bike is as the weapon of choice for an auld git on a club run.
The day was dismally overcast, grey and dark throughout, with strong enough gusts for the wind to be a noticeable impediment and a brief interlude of rain thrown in for good measure. This arrived an hour or two earlier than forecast, much to the disappointment of those who hoped they would be home and hosed beforehand. Personally, I was resigned to getting wet, sometime, somewhere out on the roads and was a bit more sanguine about accepting the inevitable.
At the meeting point, I found Crazy Legs extolling the virtues of BBC’s new Brian Cox series, ‘Forces of Nature.’ That’s Brian Edward Cox CBE, the astrophysicist and one-time keyboard player with D:Ream (or N:Ightmare as my mate always referred to them), not Brian Denis Cox CBE, the Scottish actor, best remembered (in my household anyway) for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in the film Manhunter. Anyway, the series had left Crazy Legs feeling rather wistful and apparently he was not looking forward to the sun dying and the collapse of the universe in just a few trillion years time. Somewhat more bizarrely, someone suggested that Mr. Cox should probably have stuck to his burgeoning pop career. Astounded, I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both gave a synchronised shake of the head, before declaring, in flat unison, an emphatic and final, “Eh … no!”
This week, Brassneck and Captain Black were shorts wearers, but Alhambra had gone for full-length tights. We then had a long discussion about the difference in temperature between last week and this week (none) and why shorts were suitable then, but not now. Alhambra put up a sturdy defence of his choices before talk turned to the FNG and his unfortunate rendezvous with the ground.
“Was I out last week?” a bewildered Alhambra then enquired, despite having spent 5 minutes discussing his riding attire moments before.
“Bloody hell,” I complained, “It’s like talking to my mother.”
Jimmy Mac then received a round of applause from Crazy Legs for arriving astride a shiny purple-red Specialized Allez complete with carefully colour-coordinated gloves. This is his Ultegra-equipped winter bike, recently given a new, lustrous special, custom paint-job, which in itself he confessed had set him back a special, custom price of over £450. Looking this good obviously comes with a hefty price tag, in this instance the paint job alone cost more than twice as much as the value of my entire bike.
Speaking of which, you haven’t officially met, so let me introduce you to my single-speed Frankenbike, with its mismatched wheels, cranks, odd-combination of cassette conversion kit and rear derailleur as a chain tensioner and 34 x14 gearing (the Hill!) The is based around an old, aluminium Trek Alpha 100 series frame, secured off eBay in (maybe?) 2009-2010 for a princely sum of £30, which in today’s money is … well, about £30.
Originally liveried in white and blue colours, perhaps to suggest an association with the pro team of a certain Texan gentleman of rather stained reputation, I quite liked the look, but unfortunately, the paintwork was in poor condition and had somehow been completely scraped off one of the chainstays. The first task then was to strip the frame and have it bead-blasted and powder coated in an off-street, (very) industrial manufactory in the badlands out toward the coast. Given a panoply of colours to choose from, I decided on plain, bright white – shockingly inappropriate for a winter bike, but hey, foresight was never my strong point.
The frame was then transported to the venerable Toshi San who built it into a fully working velocipede, using a mix of the few original components that had survived, stock from his extensive stores of parts both old and new, and a few bits and bobs I had to buy in: wheels, STI levers and the like.
This was the bike that eased my transition from sofa-surfer back to road cyclist (via a brief flirtation with mountain-biking) and I completed my first Cyclone Challenge astride – a rather daunting 100km’s for a rather shockingly chubby-faced returnee to the sport.
When n+1 fever inevitably took hold and I bought a new Focus Cayo, the Trek was relegated to winter steed and then eventually usurped from this role with the arrival of the more sturdy Peugeot.
From there it sat and mouldered for a few years until the mountain bike I was using and abusing to commute on finally crapped out. Not wanting to spend good money on a mountain bike that gave me no great pleasure, I opted to have the Trek converted to a single-speed as a cheap commuter option, working on the assumption (correct until now – touchwood) that nobody in their right mind would be interested in stealing such a battered and fugly looking thing when it was chained up outside the office.
So the Trek went back to Toshi San for the refit and the ingenious repurposing of a rear derailleur as chain tensioner, after the more usual off-the-shelf kind proved too weedy to keep the chain on the sprocket. That was four or five years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since, although not until very recently on a club run.
Anyway, enough ancient history. We received news that Richard of Flanders was required at home to nurse a sick child, so Crazy Legs stepped up to the mark to brief in the route and act as substitute ride leader: “a proxy Richard,” as he declared, which sounds a bit like some kind of Shakespearean insult: “Though art nought but a throstle-minded proxy-richard!”
Crazy Legs managed to get a faster first group organised and led out by Caracol, but it was imbalanced, with only half a dozen or so riders. Brassneck claimed/feined a wounded knee, Goose had switched to his pig-iron touring-panzerkampfwagen, the Iron Horse for the winter and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try keeping up on a single-speed. To cap it all, Captain Black had gone out with this group the week before and was still scarred and bitter from the experience, so he too gave it a hard pass.
That left about 20 of us to form 2 groups. Simple maths, you would have thought, but we can always find ways to make things more complex. A much too-large second group started to form with over a dozen riders. I was going to hang back with the third group to try and balance things out a little, but then Crazy Legs declared the inaugural Winter ’21 ride of The Most Fraternal Brotherhood of the Order of the Flat White Club (fraternitas plana album imbibit), with at least two stops planned to offer up libation to the immortal pantheon of the Caffea Rubiaceae. As an uncommitted, part-time-only believer, I was excommunicated forthwith and cast out into the second group. I joined the back of this slightly too-large 14-strong cadre and off we went.
We made it to Stamfordham, passing a lone-riding OGL along the way, toiling as he ploughed a lonely furrow, declaring club runs were now too fast and went much too far these days. (Personally, I’m not aware of any such changes – in 2015 I was regularly riding 110 to 120 kilometres each Saturday that’s what we did this week.)
At Stamfordham we stopped briefly and I noticed Zardoz was prominent in the group, having forgotten his helmet and supplemented his usual Augustus Windsock, walrus moustache with a full, fluffy white beard. He looked like our very own, lean and mean version of Santa Claus.
“Please, can I have an Action Man for Christmas?” I asked politely. Well, it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t realise that Santa knew how to swear quite so fluently.
I took to the front with Brassneck as we exited the village and we both reflected that our timing was especially poor today as we were still there, toiling into the wind on the upward grind all the way to the crest of the Ryals. It was a largely freewheeling descent for me, but I was still up toward the front as we approached the turn we’d take up to Hallington. This is the spot where we usually regroup before starting the climb, but with no gears to help, I wanted a clean run at the slopes, so I just kept going and left the others to catch up. We made it through to the other side and then took in the last bit of serious climbing, Strava’s aptly titled Humiliation Hill, before I finally felt we could afford to stop and reform.
Our run across the top of the fell to Capheaton was interrupted by the 4×4 (surprise!) of a hunt follower, stopped in the middle of the narrow lane (obviously) so they could idly chat with the other hunt followers who had parked a long line of similarly outsized vehicles along the verge. The driver didn’t in any way acknowledge our presence and made no attempt to move, so we were forced to slow, single out and thread ourselves carefully through the ridiculously narrow crevice between the cars. Perhaps if we’d managed to fall and scratch the paintwork of their beloved automobile during our passage we would have received something other than the look of icy disdain that greeted our approach. Maybe we should try that next time?
This obstacle safely negotiated, we were soon at the cafe at Capheaton, with its warm welcome, most splendid cakes and free refills! (Apparently, the utterly terrifying sight of G-Dawg’s ‘pet lip’ last week has forced the cafe at Belsay to reconsider and reinstate free coffee refills!) Good work that man, who’d have thought petulant pouting could be quite so effective.
The Capheaton cake selection was so good that Brassneck was tempted by a second slice to go with his refill and James III even offered to go halfsies with him, if he felt a full serving was too excessive. Somehow he managed to resist, even as I followed him to the counter chanting a “cake, cake, cake” mantra.
We caught up with the Prof in the cafe, discussing our ex-clubmate beZ’s run out with the Ribble Weldtite team during the Nationals. The Prof then started asking unanswerable questions about maximum watts and FTP’s and that was it for me. I’d no idea and no great desire to learn either.
Leaving the cafe, Brassneck umh-ed and aah-ed about putting his jacket on as the cloud lowered and hinted at the rain to come. He eventually decided not to bother, which was as big a mistake as his timing when we took us onto the front. Naturally, a few miles down the road we were all stopping to pull on rain jackets as the downpour arrived and everything became damp and squishy.
By the time I was off on my own, the rain had stopped and the sky had finally brightened a little, so the last part of the ride was moderately pleasant. Although the legs felt heavy as early as the drag up past Westerhop Golf Club, I had a decent enough run back and a passable clamber up the hill and home.
Well, we’ve successfully completed our grand tour of many fine northern cities and their splendid universities and while I’m not sure Thing#2 has reached any sort of decision, we’ve perhaps-maybe managed to eliminate one or two potential destinations from overall contention.
At least visits to numerous points south gave me an opportunity to catch up with the venerable Toshi-san in the Peoples Republic of South Yorkshire. He’s spending a lot of his retirement happily shuttling back and forth from Sheffield to the bleak wilderness of Spurn Point which, according to the local Wildlife Trust is Yorkshire’s very own Lands End! Here he serves as a volunteer crewman on the Humber lifeboat and has also taken it upon himself the Herculean (and rather thankless) task of restoring the RNLI’s fleet of much-neglected velocipedes back to prime working order.
Back home summer has gone and my shiny plastic bikes have been carefully placed into hibernation, but still, the club runs continue. This week Crazy Legs planned the route and decided to change things up by plotting a circuitous route to a café, where we’d stop before diving down into the Tyne Valley and climbing out again. This goes completely against the grain of standard practice – where we would usually drop down to the river and clamber out before finding a café to refuel and try to recover in.
Crazy Legs’ crazy plan opened up the opportunity for me to miss the climb back out of the valley and instead cross the river at Wylam and follow it downstream all the way home. This would essentially shorten my ride and, more importantly, halve the amount of climbing I’d need to do. This in turn opened up the possibility that I could attempt my first club ride on my tatty, Trek Frankenbike.
This is the bike Toshi-san converted to single-speed by cleverly employing an old rear derailleur as a chain tensioner. It’s so beat up, battered, odd and worthless-looking that I like to commute on it and I’m happy to leave it chained up outside the office, knowing that no one in their right mind would bother to nick it. Still, while it looks fugly, I have to admit it’s actually a smooth, pleasurable thing to ride, especially compared to my alternative winter-bike, the clattering-clunking Peugeot.
My reasoning was that if I could survive an entire club run over a shorter, less hilly route without gears and still make it up the Heinous Hill and home without recklessly endangering my knees and sanity, then I could probably handle a standard club run on the Trek. Or, worst-case scenario, I’d at least discover my limits.
So the die was cast and single-speed was prepped for action. Saturday brought a little drizzly rain that threatened to turn heavier later, so it was rain jackets and overshoes all round. There was the usual smattering of winter and summer bikes at the meeting point and, as a consequence a mix of those protected by mudguards and those without. This is perfect for engendering a few fun squabbles as people fight to ride behind a protected rider, rather than subject themselves to the constant dousing of cold water thrown off an unprotected rear wheel.
Crazy Legs had at least a full-length rear mudguard intact, but admitted to wrenching the front one, or, more accurately, “the-mother-trucking-blasted-buzzard-sheet-stinking-piece-of-useless-poor-plastic front one,” off his bike just before setting out, after no end of tinkering could relieve it of the annoying tsk-tsk-tsk where it caught on his tyre.
Ahlambra and Captain Black both decided it was still warm enough to wear shorts. Madness. But at least they’d swapped to winter-bikes, with Captain Black astride his old bi-polar Trek, although uncertain of which incarnation he’d brought out with him. Was it “Old Faithful” or “Twatty-Mac-Twat-Face?” Only time (and the state of his legs) would tell.
Briefing in the route and with particular reference to the weather, Crazy Legs determined the planned café stop with its limited indoor seating was no longer an option, so we’d change plans and head for Belsay instead. Hmm, no shorter ride and reduced climbing for me then.
We had a sizeable turnout of around 14 riders, slightly too large for a single group, but not quite big enough to split and with none of the riders who like to push out at a faster pace present, we decided to travel en bloc. So that’s what we did, pushing off, clipping in, and riding out.
I found myself toward the back of the line alongside an FNG recently relocated from the depths of Mackem-land and together we marveled at the stupidity of anti-vaxers convinced that all doses of COVID vaccine contain a microchip that would let the government (a.k.a. The Deep State) track their every movement. We found it particularly ironic that these are the same people who tend to plaster every detail of their private lives across every available form of multi-media and are always seem umbilically attached to their mobile phones.
At some point the rain turned briefly heavy and I found myself riding off-set from the wheel in front, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to avoid the arc of cold water spraying off the back tyre. I should definitely have fought harder to find someone with mudguards to follow. I was momentarily distracted from this discomfort by some half-heard, but intriguing comments drifting up from behind me, where I’m sure someone was being referred to as the Danish Poirot. Huh?
Then we were heading up the Quarry and I watched G-Dawg pilot his fixie out the pack and take a good long run at the final, steepest ramp. I was similarly restricted to just a single-gear choice, but spinning something much, much lighter, so I didn’t need to take a run at the slope, but I did need to get the revs up and keep them there. I just about managed, with only a little bit of grinding over the final few metres and found myself up near the front as the pace picked up for the final run to the café.
The small gear I needed for the hills was going to be useless in any final sprint, so I bustled my way onto the front on the last downhill section and pushed hard on the lumpy road up to the junction at West Belsay, dodging around the horseboxes of the local hunt and the hulking 4×4 of one of their followers who would periodically overtake us, then stop, slap-bang in the middle of the road, or the apex of a junction to idly chat with other horsey-types milling around for no apparent reason.
As the road unwound down toward the Snake Bends I reached a terminal velocity of about 37 kph, the speed at which my legs were a blur and incapable of spinning around any faster. Still, I made it to within a couple of hundred metres of the imaginary finish line before Captain Black and then Alhambra caught me and whisked past, pushing big gears sur la plaque.
At the café, Crazy Legs curiously queried how many feet there were in a yard, insisting he couldn’t remember as he’s more used to metres these days. We then had the usual quiz about the number of inches in a foot, feet in a yard and yards in a mile, all of which reaffirmed what we already know: that Imperial weights and measures are neither logical or intuitive, or to put it more plainly, suck. Luckily our Dutch friend, TripleD-Be wasn’t there to berate us for still using such retard units.
There was then some discussion about differences between British and American miles (hint: there isn’t any) and British and American pints (British pints are larger), with Crazy Legs insisting that, (even more confusingly) there are actually two different length yards used in the U.S. which results in all sorts of construction issues. I was unable to confirm or deny this, but at least I got a chance to wheel out one of my favourite Dave Barry quotes: “The metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimetre.”
While we were engaged in such deep and philosophical issues, G-Dawg had sidled up to the counter and was standing there silently, empty coffee mug proferred up as, like Oliver Twist, he begged for more. Sadly, just like our fictional orphan, he got the same response and returned to his seat empty-handed. Apparently, while free refills had been reinstated post-pandemic re-opening, they’d now been withdrawn again.
G-Dawg sat and stewed for a while, then decided he really, really did need another cup of coffee, even if he had to pay for the privilege. He picked up his mug again and marched on the counter, before spinning on his heel, as he passed our table to set down his empty mug with a thud.
“If I’m paying for a refill,” he declared, “I’m getting a fresh cup!”
We too felt the need for additional refreshment, and Captain Black generously stood us a round. This gave Crazy Legs the chance to claim that he got a free refill, something he could taunt G-Dawg with all the way home, although I didn’t think was a good idea as he was already angry enough.
And then it was time to go, accompanied by the horror of trying to force fingers into soaked gloves and clap sodden, cold helmets onto bare heads. The first few miles were the usual chilly purgatory until we managed to get the blood flowing again. All was well until we ducked down the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill. I was up near the front so not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect that in reacting to a kamikaze motorist drive-past, the FNG ran out of road and came down (in popular parlance) like a sack of spuds, taking Captain Black down with him.
No great damage seemed to have been done, but the FNG banged his shoulder and didn’t want to put any more weight on it, so called for home pick-up. Crazy Legs and Captain Black formed a rearguard to hang back with him, while the rest of us pushed on for home, thankfully with no further incidents.
It wasn’t at all pretty, but I somehow made it up the Heinous Hill, so guess the question has now moved on from can I complete a club run on my single-speed, to do I really want to?
The seasons might be a man-made abstract, but this Saturday definitely felt like we’d crossed some sharp divide and, as British Summer Time officially came to an end and we nudged into Autumn, the weather underscored the transition. It felt like an overnight change and all of a sudden it was cold.
It was cold enough for my breath to visibly manifest itself as I first stepped out. Cold enough for the “deep” version of the unofficial “club” long-sleeved jersey. Cold enough for thermal socks, gloves, tights and overshoes. Cold enough for me to start out with a windproof jacker bundled on top of everything else. It wasn’t of course, cold enough to persuade G-Dawg that the time for shorts wearing is now past. He reckons he’s got another 3 or 4 weeks at least before that happens.
Then again, he’s mad.
It was also one of those days when it could rain at any given moment and I reckoned we’d be lucky to make it home without a little moistening around the edges.
Heading out on the valley floor, I was greeted by another cyclist as he overtook me and I caught up with him at the traffic lights in Blaydon. We both remarked just how noticeably cold it had suddenly become, but he at least suggested we wouldn’t see any rain until 11.00. At this point in time I’m giving the weather prognostication of random strangers as much credibility as the BBC Weather App, so I was quite buoyed by his forecast.
I rolled up to the meeting place apparently accompanied by a gust of strong-smelling weed which had Rainman sniffing at the air like a bloodhound on the scent. (At the risk of racial stereo-typing, he is Dutch, so perhaps more highly attuned to such things).
I was at pains to point out I was definitely not the source of the rather distinctive aroma, as I’m not quite au fait with the UCI’s stance on recreational drug use and didn’t want run the risk of being banned from club runs. We eventually tracked our phantom toker down to a young goth splayed across the bench in one of the bus shelters.
A spliff for breakfast, we decided was the height of decadence.
With everyone remarking on just how cold it had suddenly turned, we speculated on what OGL would be wearing this time, having throughout the past 3-weeks of remarkably mild weather resorted to more and more protective layers. G-Dawg suggested he’d probably go for a sleeping bag with holes cut out the bottom for his feet to poke through, while I thought yet more layers on top of layers until he could give a passingly good impression of the Michelin Man. I won. Temperatures are still relatively benign though, so who knows, maybe the sleeping bag will be a feature of rides to come.
Random inconsequential trivia interlude: the Michelin Man has an actual name and is called Bibendum, apparently taken from a line in one of Horace’s poems, “nunc est bibendum,” or “now is the time to drink.”
Crazy Legs pointed out the new kid, who he suggested was at bad as cornering as vintage Garrulous Kid. He was surprised to see him back for another round, as they’d guided and coaxed and talked him through every tricky corner on last weeks route, until, lulled into a false sense of security, they’d left him to his own devices and he’d somehow managed to hit the deck on one of the last and most innocuous of turns close to home.
I suggested he needed to learn the Garrulous Kid’s technique of unclipping and dabbing a foot down, like some madly cornering speedway rider. Or, maybe not.
This had us reminiscing about the Garrulous Kid’s penchant for mixing the mundane and highly questionable with the extraordinary and jaw-droppingly astounding, such as cornering so badly he ran off the road, yet somehow mange to retain traction along a wet, slippery embankment, slalom and weave his way around trees, fence-posts, walls, flower beds and gravel filled potholes, before blithely re-joining the back of the group as if nothing untoward had just happened.
In particular, Crazy Legs recalled one of his “complete and utter bastard” moments when he’d run a finger across the Garrulous Kid’s tyres and with an exaggerated “whoosh” flung his arm wide, before declaring how incredibly slippery they were. The poor Garrulous Kid had then spent the entire ride completely fixated on his front wheel, waiting for it to suddenly slide out from under him and he took every corner in painfully slow, carefully considered increments.
For today’s endeavours, G-Dawg had planned a route that took us within striking distance of all three of our regular cafe’s and cake stops and had left himself with the unenviable dilemma of choosing which one to select. He threw it open to the group.
“Why not all three,” Crazy Legs suggested, obviously thinking of getting in some early training before the reintroduction of the Flat White™ club rides. [Coming to a road near you, just as seen as the weather turns grim. Other café stop plans are available.]
In the end Capheaton got the nod, because we hadn’t been for a while and, well … free refills. I didn’t vote as I had strict orders to be home for 1.00 so would be skipping the coffee and cake. Sacrilege I know, but needs must …
With that settled we tried to split into two, but there was a reluctance to join the first group. When Brassneck was forcibly press-ganged into their ranks despite a raging hangover, I bumped off the kerb and joined up too. Misery loves company.
We finally managed a rather uneven split and away we went. I dropped in alongside Cowboy’s for a catch up, as Rainman and Jimmy Mac led us out at a pace brisk enough to finally get the blood flowing and feed a bit of warmth back into cold limbs.
Climbing out of Whalton, the legs were feeling pretty good for a rare change and I stomped on the pedals hard and joined Rainman for a while, a couple of metres off the front, with the others trailing slightly behind.
We had a chat about gravel tracks in the Netherlands and the postponed Paris-Roubaix, which promised bad weather, thrills and spills in abundance and this time really did live up to the hype, including Lizzie Diegnan’s epic and historic win in the first ever women’s version.
We simply couldn’t pick a potential winner for the men’s race and Mathieu van der Poel was probably the only one of the top 5 placed riders we name-checked, before Rainman concluded that about the only benefit of the pandemic was that we now only had to wait 7 months for the next edition of the Hell of the North.
We took a route through Angerton and out past the spring water company, Marlish Water, a road I’d only ever been down once before on one of my solo, lockdown peregrinations earlier in the year. Or was it last year? It’s all starting to blur together now.
The route then took us to the bottom of Middleton Bank, the group turned right, while I decided it was time to take my leave and kept going. I crested the hill and found I now had a delightful headwind to contend with all the way home and no wheels to shelter behind. Still, I was sure I’d left plenty of time to get home before the scheduled deadline so as not incur the wrath of she who must be obeyed.
To go with the nasty headwind, I caught a brief smattering of rain at 12.00, which was an hour later than this mornings passing cyclist forecast, but maybe he was working on Central European Time?
My ride home was on time and uneventful, other than suffering a too close pass by a certain Mr. Parker, (or maybe that should be Mr. P44rk4) in his wallowing, over-sized, battleship-grey, (B-52 style) B.U.F.F. Chelsea tractor with its personalised P44RK4 plate. I can only assume the W44NK4 plate wasn’t available at the time he bought it.
And that’s probably me done with club runs for the rest of October. Next Saturday I’m working the University Open Day and the following weekends are lined up for visits to other universities in Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester, as Thing#2 decides what she wants to study next and where.
By the time I return it’ll be cursed winter-bike time and cold enough to have me speculatively eyeing up the sleeping bag and wondering how big a hole I need to cut in it to poke my feet through.
I was expecting a dry day, for a final run out on the white bike before packing it up for hibernation and that’s what I got. Well eventually. As it was the first hour of my ride was spent in light drizzly rain that wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but I would have happily missed. Still, the rain did clear and temperatures topped out at credibly perky and comfortable 19℃, not bad for September in North East England.
At the meeting point, Crazy Legs was enthused by Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United the previous night, playing in what he described as a hugely entertaining game that could as easily have ended with 10 goals apiece.
“That’s what you get with two teams that don’t know how to defend,” G-Dawg suggested, perhaps speaking with the hard fought wisdom of a Sunderland fan. Still, despite not being able to score and a complete inability to defend, somehow Crazy Legs seems remarkably optimistic about The Toon’s chances of avoiding relegation (which seems to be the lofty pinnacle of achievement they’ve set themselves.)
Meanwhile, confusion reigned over an Agnes Obel concert at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, which Sneaky Pete and I have tickets for. Originally scheduled for 4th April 2020, but postponed because of COVID, I’d followed the announcements on the Playhouse website and had told Sneaky Pete last week that it was now going to take place this Thursday, 16th September 2021. He’d not been around for the revised date, so had gifted his tickets to his daughter to attend in his absence. Then, last Tuesday I’d checked the rather confused website to find the concert has now been moved to September 2022! Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete’s daughter had undergone some pre-concert investigation, decided she quite likes Miss Obel’s music and is keeping his ticket, thank you very much.
Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait and my yellowed, ageing and sun-bleached ticket will actually be legible enough to use some 27 months later.
OGL arrived inexplicably layered up for winter in bib-tights, a long-sleeve base layer over a winter jersey and topped with a gilet. I know the forecasts have been a little awry of late, but this was taking it to extremes and everyone else was more than comfortable in short-sleeved jerseys and shorts. We wondered if he’d received one of those dire predictions of impending doom that regularly emanate from his contacts, all of whom seemed to be based somewhere just inside the Arctic Circle.
At least he wouldn’t be riding with us, so could take things at his own pace and hopefully not overheat, as with the Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup running next weekend, he’d tasked himself with riding to the top of the Ryals to see if the white prime line was still visible at the top of the slope.
Aether had designated a route that was deliberately less hilly than previous weeks, reasoning everyone deserved a rest from climbing after their travails following the Tour of Britain, or our rash incursion south of the river. It was a nice idea, but I still ended up with over a thousand metres of climbing – the curse of living atop a very big hill.
We had enough for three groups, but after the first bunch got clear, everyone seemed to coalesce into one big clump and stayed that way until just before Stamfordham, when I was tasked with Brassneck to accelerate off the front and force a split. Which I have to say I quite enjoyed.
All the while, as we rode along, the pair of us we entertained ourselves with listing all the bands and artists we could think of that made up a less than inspiring North East music scene, a paltry and anaemic collection in comparison to say Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Glasgow.
Our list ranged from the grudgingly obvious, “ok, but no thanks” picks such as Sting and Mark Knopfler, through to up and coming hopefuls, like The Pale White, and on to the wilfully obscure, Lanterns on the Lake and Punishment of Luxury. (PuniLux anyone? No, thought not.) Like famous Cumbrians though, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about, even though we were convinced we were missing someone completely obvious.
Still, this kept us distracted until we reached Ryal village, were we met OGL heading the other way to check his white lines were (still) as pure as the driven snow. Bay-bee.
From there we regrouped and headed for the Quarry and alongside Brassneck we finally relinquished our lead on the front. I was slotted in behind Captain Black as we began the climb of the steepest part of the Quarry, changed down a couple of gears and was just powering up the legs when my chain seized suddenly and I performed an involuntary “front wheelie” – a stoppie or endo in motorcycling terminology.
Having the tarmac riush toward your face gives you a bit of a turn, so I immediately stopped pedalling, my rear wheel thumped back down to the ground and I climbed off. I spun the pedals by hand and everything worked perfectly. That was an odd, but I couldn’t find the cause and no damage seemed to have been done, so I remounted and finished the climb.
For our final run to the café, Liam, our Chinese rock star, hit the front and started to wind things up, so I plonked myself on his back wheel, happy to sit there as long as I could. This proved to be only until he came into one corner much too hot, swinging wide and engaging in a bit of verge-surfing and grass-cutting that robbed him of all momentum.
Luckily Big Dunc, Brassneck and Captain Black surged through and I was able to drop in behind them without the need to spend too long on the front in the wind.
At the café we joined the back of a long queue, which moved with glacial slowness, so it took us half an hour to get served, eating into our opportunities to sit around and talk utter bolleaux.
When it was finally his turn to be served, Captain Black went for the mint Aero tray bake and was rewarded with what he was told was the biggest slice available. Aether and Brassneck followed suit and even close up inspection couldn’t discern any size advantage for Captain Black. Was this just a a sop to those getting disgruntled after waiting so long to be served, or some sort of clever marketing ploy? If the latter, they really need to speed up the service as we were desperate for any distraction as we waited and carefully comparing the relative size of slices of cake proved mildly engaging at this point.
We hadn’t been sat down for long when the multi-layered OGL turned up, looking slightly hot and bothered, either because of the warm sun that had decided to make an unexpected appearance, or because he’d discovered his white line had faded. Or maybe both.
He declared he was off home to get some fresh white paint and I think it was pure coincidence that immediately after he departed Brassneck started asking around to see if anyone had any black paint, or even paint stripper on them …
We took the slightly longer route home via Saltwick Hill and I swung off for home at the end of the Mad Mile, pedalling along and mulling over earlier conversations. Hold on. The Tygers on Pan Tang! Absolutely not a genre I’m familiar with, so I can’t tell you if they’re any good at all (although I have my suspicions.) Nevertheless worth a mention as not only a North East band, having formed in Whitley Bay, but one with a name that’s almost as stupid as Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Let’s see what other obscurities Brassneck can come up with – he’s got at least two weeks to think about it as I’m working next weekend so no club run for me.
I can’t say I’m at all happy with the Tour of Britain organisers, after excelling themselves by channelling the 2019 edition right past my front door, they decided to spoil things for 2021 with a route that wouldn’t come any closer than 1.7 miles of home. That’s 2.7 kilometres to those not using retard units. What on earth were they thinking?
Clubmates had all sorts of plans for taking in the event, ranging from travelling to the Grand Depart, in Carlisle, to cycling out to meet the race somewhere along it’s sinuous and very lumpy 2,000 kilometres and accompanying 3,000 metres of vertical gain (ulp!) A fun day off, although anticipation and plans were somewhat tempered by poor weather forecasts.
Crazy Legs, our reporter on the ground at the Grand Depart in Carlisle cast Cav and Alaphillipe as a couple of naughty schoolboys amongst the serious and sober adults, while anyone who travelled further out than me were likely to have witnessed the unlikely sight of the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter showing off his climbing chops and leading an early breakaway over some serious hills.
I’d picked out two potential viewing spots for myself, Busty Bank, leading from Rowlands Gill up to Burnopfield, 1.5 km at an average of 9%, or Pennyfine Road, skirting Burdon Moor to the top of Haggs Lane, 1.2km at only 5%, but with long, straight and wide open views. The latter was closest, so that’s what I went for, tracking the race progress on TV before skittering out to watch it go past.
TripleD-El and Triple D-Be had already reported Cav’s break had been caught from where they were stationed on Busty Bank. Minutes later, when the race arrived where I was, a small, select group including Julian Alaphillipe, Wout Van Aert, Dan Martin, and Ethan Hayter were being led by impressive Spanish youngster Carlos Rodríguez and trying to claw back an attack by Mike Woods.
The rest of the field were smashed to pieces and scattered all over the road behind and it must have been a hard stage as I’ve never seen professional cyclists grimacing quite so much on (for them) such relatively benign slopes. Rolling down the bank toward home, I bumped into TripleD-El and Triple D-Be and stopped for a chat as we waited for the remnants of the peloton to roll through, almost 30 minutes behind the leaders.
As usual. it was great to get up close to the action, especially given the stellar field using the Tour of Britain as preparation for the World Championships.
The next day I had planned the long demanded, long delayed (Lazy. Indolent. Remember?) journey south of the river and into the dread lands of Mordor. With my original route covering 125km and close to 2,000 metres of climbing including some steep gradients, I planned an early 8am start, just to make sure I got everyone back home before dusk, come what may. Unimpressed with the thought of getting up at 6am to cycle across to the meeting point, I decided to drive, figuring this would save my legs a well as some time.
The excesses of the day before on the Tour of Britain route knocked out a hatful of contenders for the ride and when Cowboys cried off sick there were just 4 of us plucky, but trepidatious hobbits willing to take on this particular unexpected journey. I met Crazy Legs and Brassneck at the meeting point, with plans to pick up the Ticker en route, at The Sign of the Prancing Pony (I think that’s what he said) somewhere in Wylam.
Our early departure meant we could say hi-and-bye to the Judean People’s Front, also leaving early for their own mini-epic. They we heading north, we were heading south and apparently the Prof was taking a group west. It only needed G-Dawg to take our regular Saturday ride east and we’d have all the cardinal points covered.
Crazy Legs had blackmailed the much-cossetted Ribble out into last weeks rain with whispered promises of a new cassette and had made good on his promises with the cleanest, shiniest set of cogs I’ve ever seen. Sadly though, it just made his chain look tired and dirty. He also hadn’t tested it extensively, but that was fine, as I guessed we’d very quickly know if he couldn’t select the full range of climbing gears.
So away we went, bolstered by the first earworm of the day courtesy of Mr. Iggy Pop as, according to Crazy Legs, we started to ride through the city’s backsides. I knew on the very first climb I was having a jour sans, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I reasoned that was fine as everyone would wait for me if I was too slow – one of the perks of being the designated ride leader on roads nobody else knows.
We seemed to have caught a break with the weather which was pleasantly warm and dry, although a fairly strong wind kept things a couple of notches below ideal and might be a problem once we were out into the exposed North Pennines.
Our trio were soon dropping down toward Wylam and our rendezvous with the Ticker. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Crazy Legs went off in search of a shop while I waited with Brassneck. Moments later the Ticker arrived, but the minutes crawled past and Crazy Legs failed to return.
“What shop did he say he was going to?” Brassneck enquired.
“Fenwick’s,” the Ticker shot back, quickly, naming the venerable department store in Newcastle city centre some 15 miles distant.
While we waited, our attention wandered to a small park across the road where a man was walking a small dog.
“Hold on,” the Ticker exclaimed, “Is’nt that Rudy Giuliani?”
“It looks like Giuliani,” the Ticker insisted, “And walks like Giuliani …”
We peered across the road. You know, maybe he was right.
It did look like Giuliani and certainly the posture and the walk resembled that of the ex-mayor of New York City and ex-President’s lawyer. I mean there was no dye dripping down this fellers face, but then again it was a bit too chill for that and, we concluded, what better place to hide from a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, professional disbarment and general ridicule than a small village in the Tyne Valley? Crazier, more unbelievable things have happened. Well, at least according to Mr. Giuliani and his ilk.
Crazy Legs finally returned from breaking what was perhaps the only card payment system in the entire village and we left Rudy with his cover intact to follow the river out to the bridge at Bywell where we crossed to the south side of the river, Crazy Legs crossing himself, muttering a prayer to the heavens and taking one last gulp of good northern air across with him.
From the top we dropped down a little just to get a good run at the climb to Whittonstall and I had to tell the Ticker to keep pedalling as the noise of his Hope freewheel was scaring the sheep. The climb to Whittonstall reminds me of the Ryals (but without the dip in the middle) the approach road is wide open and draggy and, like the Ryals, you can see it coming from miles away. It hurts about as much too.
From there we had the respite of a nice long descent down to Ebchester, crossing over the River Derwent and heading almost due south until Shotley Bridge, where we crossed back over the river and started the climb of Burnmill Bank.
Half way up the climb, just before the small cluster of houses making up Snod’s Edge, Brassneck recognised the football pitch somewhat incongruously carved into the side of the hill in the middle of nowhere, remembering years back when his work team used to play a rival firm there every week.
Further on, having topped the climb and taken in a long descent down toward the reservoir, we passed Muggleswick and Crazy Legs recalled how his gran had been in service at Muggleswick Hall. She only had half a day off work a week, so every Sunday afternoon she’d walk the 6 or so miles that was either up hill or down, along the route we’d just covered, to Shotley Bridge. There she caught a train to take her to Newcastle and home, where she stayed until leaving to catch the last train back to Shotley Bridge, then retracing her steps, 6 miles up and down hill, often in the dark and in whatever weather was thrown at her.
Much different times and, as Crazy Legs confirmed, his gran had truly been as hard as nails.
To complete the set, the route also stirred some deep-seated recollections in the Ticker too, but these were not quite of the rosy-eyed nostalgia variety. His recall was of the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland” that we were going to be taking.
The road past the reservoir was as busy as I’ve ever known it and we had to single out until we reached Edmunbuyers as a constant stream of traffic squeezed past. Then, somewhat eerily, the traffic just disappeared. In the village we were almost lured into The Baa which, according to its website, “might be the smallest pub in the world, but probably isn’t.” Nevertheless it looked very welcoming, yet we somehow we managed to resist the temptation and pressed on, rattling over the cattle grid to pass out on the wiley, windy moors.
This was going to be our longest climb of the day and on exposed roads along the side of Harehope Hill, just over 5.3 kilometres and with the wind constantly pushing us backwards. This meant that the Ticker could only freewheel intermittently and it wasn’t enough to scare off the sheep who would crowd unconcerned onto the road to watch the idiots grunt and gurn their way past. Well, it was their domain after all.
The Ticker and Brassneck pushed on ahead, while I rode with Crazy Legs as long as I could, before slipping out of the shelter of his back wheel to find a pace I was more comfortable with. We regrouped at the turn off toward Blanchland, climbing to our highest point of of the day before our descent into the village.
Refreshments were taking at the White Monk Tearoom, bacon sandwiches and coffees all round (we like to keep it simple) and we took up residence in the garden along with our bikes, joining a gang of bikers, looking uncomfortably warm and sweaty in their thick leathers.
Unfortunately they left quite soon after we arrived. Before that they seemed to have been doing sterling job of attracting the local wasps, but once they’d gone the pesky blighters decided to harass us instead. Coffee and sarnies were good, if maybe a little too exotically priced for the frugal cyclist at a tenner a head. (I recall G-Dawg observing that cyclists don’t seem to mind dropping £8-£10 grand on a bike, but are super-sensitive when it comes to the spare change they have to cough up for their coffee and cake.)
We manged to escape without annoying the wasps too much and after Crazy Legs managed to recover from an insane and unexpected fit of giggles. Then it was back onto the bikes to take on the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland.”
Crazy Legs complained his current earworm of “Super Trooper” wasn’t really cutting it, but he soon found it could have been a lot worse, as having visited the toilets in the tearoom, the Ticker had been subjected to the Dr. Hook Classic, “When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman” and now had that uncomfortably lodged in his brain. I think I dodged a bullet as my own musical accompaniment to the bathroom was Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I could live with that.
I snuck onto the granny ring on the triple to tackle to 20%+ inclines on Park Bank and managed to spin up plonked firmly on the saddle and without too much effort then, banking off of the northeast winds, we were heading home and all the major climbing was behind us.
We made it back to Whittonstall and enjoyed a short, unspectacular descent that seemed to bear little resemblance to its long, steep and grinding ascent. A swift downhill run to the river placed us back in Stocksfield and we were soon traversing the bridge over the Tyne and celebrating our return to civilisation.
As we approached the end of the bridge we passed another cyclist heading the other way and greeted him warmly, only to be rebuffed by a growling admonition, “Keep to yer lane!” Perhaps it was the trepidation of riding south of the river that made him so tetchy? Maybe we should have told him it wasn’t as bad as people made out?
From there we decided to head to Wylam and climb out of the valley there, rather than taking in the final climb of Hospital Lane up from Newburn. Near the top I was caught and passed by a swift moving white blur that turned out to be Spry, who’d been following the route, but had probably started two or more hours after us.
The Ticker left us at this point to track his own way home, while the rest of us took on the final, relatively flat final 10km back to where we started. We survived and everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, so I’m guessing we’ll be doing it again next year, once the weather starts to pick up.
118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
5 hours 4 minutes
4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
So, the week before last I had yet another birthday, which is a bit strange since it’s only seems a year or so since the previous one. Anyway, belated thanks to all those who sent through best wishes and that I was too lazy and indolent to reply to. It’ll have to do.
I know they say age is just a number, but does it have to be such a big one? To counteract this I’ve decided to only count my age in prime numbers and so, by my careful calculation this was my 17th birthday.
Being (as already mentioned) lazy and indolent, and easily distracted too, I never got around to writing up our ride from two weeks ago, so bits of that will probably stray into this particular blerg post, maybe by way of little random cameo’s, but probably in a more organised, chronological fashion as that’s easier to write (and you know. Lazy. Indolent.)
This more elastic, elongated view has made me realise that for the past month and a half our weather has been a remarkably consistent, Russian-roulette coin-flip, offering up just two variations. Randomly flip heads and you get dry, overcast, very occasionally sunny. Flip tails though and you get wet, overcast and frequently delugional. I know, I know, no such word exists. Until now. (Although Mr. Google has just told me Delugional is a font “representing the typeface of a lost civilisation.” Huh?)
So, with our bipolar weather we have experienced, or perhaps endured:
31st July (Droond Rats) = Tails. Cold and miserable with non-stop rain to accompany a miserable grind up the Ryals.
7th August (Venga! Venga! Venga!) = Heads. Ideal weather for taking an unplanned, unexpected adventure (aka getting lost.)
14th August (Hokey Cokey) = Heads. So pleasant it had us talking about tan lines and swapping arm warmers for bare arms willy-nilly.
21st August (Put on the Red Light) = Tails. Wet, wet, wet. The heavens wept. Maybe it was appropriate.
28th August (last week) = Tails. You guessed. Wetness and plenty of it.
4th September (this week) = Heads. No sun, but warm and just one light shower to dampen or ardour.
This list also serves to show just how shit an August we’ve had. What’s even more remarkable is that for every single one of those days the BBC Weather app has given us a copy-and-paste forecast: Overcast they said. Light winds they said. Small chance of light showers they said. All lies. On not one of those days has the weather remotely matched the forecast. Even a broken clock is right with greater frequency.
So, 28th August, (the ride with no name) saw me pulling my rain jacket on and off and on again, until we left the meeting point when it was firmly on and staying in place. It was warm enough, but as wet as an otter’s pocket. Or as wet as an eagle I guess, if you happen to be a Peep Show aficionado.
I travelled out in the third group, which, despite constant carping about the pace from OGL (or maybe because of it) was travelling so fast we had the second group in our sights by the time we passed the Cheese Farm and were closing rapidly. We would have caught them too, had not the curse of Buster’s leaky bladder struck at the top of Bell’s Hill, forcing us into an impromptu pee stop. He’s like a dog with a lampost fixation now, goodness knows what he’ll be like when he’s racked up 17 or more prime numbers in age.
We then had a false start, forced to stop and pull our bikes up onto the grass verge to allow the passage of a giant combine harvester that took up all of the lane and more. Then, a few metres further up the road we were forced repeat the process, this time making way for a tractor transporting the combine’s header unit which took up even more space and was definitely not something you want to tangle with.
It was beginning to look a lot like harvest-time and there was a good chance we’d have close encounters with tractors and combines all day, although I’m certain at that point we didn’t realise just how close.
Our route took us through the outskirts of Morpeth to Netherwitton and up the Trench. Buster chased Young Dinger up the climb at a remarkably furious pace, while the rest of us followed much more sedately. We paused at the top long enough to regroup.
“Aha,” I said, noticing Buster’s new ‘Band of Climbers’ socks, “Did you’re new socks inspire you to ride so furiously up the Trench?”
“No, I was just desperate for another pee,” Buster confessed.
Passing through Belsay and on to Ogle, G-Dawg then ended up playing chicken with an approaching tractor when the driver decided he had the right of way across both lanes and was intent on using the full width of the road, no matter what. He obviously felt no need to slow down while passing other vulnerable road-users either and even gave G-Dawg a sharp horn-blast in reprimand for refusing to cede the metre wide ribbon of tarmac he’d left us which, horror of horrors, made him have to plant his left wheel on the opposite verge.
It was touch and go, but we made the café at Kirkley without any of us being harvested. There, over coffee and cake, I had a good chat with Zardoz about veteran, octogenarian (and more) cyclists. You know the kind, they’re instantly recognisable: rake thin, barely able to stand straight from prolonged crouching over the bars, their stooped shoulders and odd gait giving them the appearance of some awkward, arthritic wading-bird. That is of course until they swing their leg over a bike and take flight, becoming instantly transformed into a tidy figure of grace, speed and power.
Zardoz regularly meets up to ride with his old crew from back home who are all like this and he was happy to confirm their competitive spirit remains undimmed. This gives me the hope that I’ll be able to make my 23rd (prime number) birthday still forlornly chasing people up hills and revelling in the knockabout absurdity of the café sprint.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, pleasant and innocuous sort of ride, where not a lot had happened, either good or bad and everything was chilled and relaxed as we left the café and made the turn onto the narrow lane toward Berwick Hill. Crazy Legs was rolling on the front, the pace deliberately low while we waited for everyone to catch up and he was all for keeping it pegged there as we ambled homeward.
Then, the Nutter appeared, just to remind us how quickly things can turn ugly and how injury or worse lurks around every corner. I was up near the front as we crossed over the river Pont and started to climb, when there was a muffled thud from behind and some incoherent shouting that then transformed into vociferous swearing. The Nutter, on a life and death mission to who knows where and taking a rat-run away from major roads, had decided he wasn’t going to wait behind a group of cyclists clogging up the narrow lane and had tried to squeeze by where there was no room to pass, bringing down one of our number, in what Crazy Legs would later contend was a deliberate act.
He’d then stopped, just long enough to get out of his vehicle, shout and swear some more and accuse the rider of attacking his car, (“He tried to smash my wing mirror off with his face, officer!”) as a prelude to refusing to give any personal details and fleeing the scene of the accident.
Our rider picked himself up, bloodied but thankfully unbroken and, Johnny Hoogerland-style, insisted he was good to press on. So we did, ending what had been a good ride up to that point in somewhat subdued fashion.
So onto another week and another run, with luck one that managed to avoid kamikaze tractor drivers and homicidal motorists. This time we were repeating one of Jimmy Mac’s new routes, crossing over to the south of the river and taking in a scrabble up our hill climb course, Prospect Hill just outside Corbridge. As an added attraction, this included a stop at a new café, the Bywell Coffee Barn. Others had done the same route while I’d been away on holiday and it had been well received and lauded, but not nearly as much as the new café was. The Bywell Coffee Barn had instantly become a favourite – even after just one visit. Hopefully it would live up to the hype.
Our Johnny H. wannabe failed to show, suggesting either bike or rider were more damaged in last weeks Nutter-incident than suspected at the time – although hopefully there’s a more innocent and much less sinister explanation. As a substitute though, the day marked the re-emergence of Dave from Cumbria, last seen ignoring our shouted instructions and ploughing on, straight-past the turn-off at the top of the Trench to disappear up the road. He’d either managed to find his own way home and been avoiding us in a fit of pique since then, or he’d spent the last few weeks circumnavigating the entire globe to return to the spot where he started.
Again our numbers were pushing 30 as we split up and rolled out and I joined the second group. I took a turn at the front alongside Cowboys as we passed through Darras Hall, catching and passing OGL who we’d left behind at the meeting point, but who had obviously taken a short-cut up Broadway. (Yes, the very same Broadway he’d previously refused to ride along and declared an absolute death trap.)
OGL was accompanied by just one solitary rider, who I recognised from other runs, but don’t think I’ve ever spoken to. “Did you see the look on his face?” Crazy Legs would later cackle. “His eyes were already haunted and silently pleading for us to take him away with us.”
I stayed on the front after we’d stopped to don rain jackets in the face of a sudden shower, and I was still there as we started to descend into the Tyne Valley. There my bottle took advantage of the crappy, lumpy road surface to bolt from its cage, performing a graceful double Salchow and twist as it somersaulted and bounced freely away.
I pulled to a stop and luckily Brassneck trailing behind me proved a true gent and retrieved the errant bottle, skidding to a stop just in front of me to hand it back while grinning about how ineffectual his rim brakes are in the wet.
We pushed on to Bywell Bridge were we stopped and G-Dawg asked if anyone wanted to go straight to the café. Luckily it had stopped raining by now, so there was no excuse to alter our route and we all declined. Crazy Legs then got into a conversation about mistaking Not Anthony for Cowboys, while the Big Yin looked on bemused.
“But are you not Anthony?” he asked Cowboys, with furrowed brow.
“Well, he’s not Not Anthony,” Crazy Legs confirmed. The Big Yin looked none the wiser, as we quickly clipped in and pressed on.
We cut through Corbridge, crossed the river and made our way to Prospect Hill, where it was every man for himself as we tackled the infamous 9 hairpins that made up our annual hill climb course. I’ve never ridden the climb at anything other than eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ race-pace, so it was interesting to try it without worrying about “setting a time.” It was still bloody horrible though, especially the first section so churned up and rutted it looked as if a giant hand had crumpled up the road in disgust and then thought better of it and tried to smooth it back into place again.
“I can’t believe we actually try to race up here,” I gasped as I winched myself past G-Dawg who was trying to hide the shame of being caught using his inner ring.
At the top I was commended by Crazy Legs for steadfast fellowship as he recalled the conversation we’d had after his last attempt at the hill climb. “Your my friend,” he’d implored me, “Don’t ever let me do that again.” So far so good, but the way he was talking about specifically training for the event, perhaps the memory of the pain is starting to fade?
We took in a long loop back down to the valley and I nudged ahead of the rest and caught up with Crazy Legs on the descent. “Careful,” he warned, “There’s a car coming.” I’m not sure how he knew, it was a blind bend and I heard nothing. Maybe he has preternaturally acute hearing, or he’s clairvoyant, or maybe he has one of those special radars that allow motorists to overtake cyclists when approaching a bend, safe in the knowledge nothing is coming the other way? I suggested I started calling him Raedar, which he admitted was at least a step up from a similar nickname he had in his schooldays.
On the valley floor we turned east before crossing the river back to the sanctuary of the north side via Bywell bridge, then it was a straight up toward the new cafe.
“Swash-swash-swash,” I chanted rythmically as I pulled up alongside G-Dawg on the long climb.
“Swash-swash-swash,” his deep-rim carbon wheels replied for him, as he stood up, stomped on the pedals and we settled into the climb, thinking it was was the perfect excuse to reward ourselves with coffee and cake. About three-quarters of the way up the hill we swung left for the delights of the Bywell Coffee Barn and our just reward.
First impressions were it was a really pleasant place, the coffee smelled great, the cake display was mightily impressive and the staff seemed genuinely welcoming. The same however can’t be said for the other customers.
“Are there going to be any more of youse?” a tight-faced, twin-set-and-pearls type demanded pointedly, all the while sucking on an imaginary lemon. It gave me great pleasure to politely inform her there was at least one other group behind us, although this strangely didn’t seem to cheer her any.
They served a damn fine cup of Joe (flat white with a default double-shot of espresso), the cake was good and the service friendly and efficient. Hell, even the receipts were printed on thick, luxurious paper. It was while admiring these that we noticed that both Brassneck and G-Dawg had not only placed identical orders, but they’d both been assigned the same order number 12. Hmm, in a straight up, knockdown fight over a lone bacon sandwich, I wasn’t sure which of them I’d back. Luckily it never came to that as both orders were fulfilled at precisely the same time and we were all able to breather a little more easily.
Bacon sandwiches can be an emotive subject at the best of times, but there seemed to be a consensus around the table that there would be many more vegetarians in the world but, well … bacon.
The outstanding feature of these particular specimens was the large, glistening asparagus spear nestled atop the soft, pink rolls of bacon – a decidedly eclectic garnish and perhaps a little-too refined for a bunch of hairy-arsed bikers? In fact, on a quick list of accompaniments to the perfect bacon sandwich, asparagus surprisingly didn’t feature at all amongst popular runners-up such as egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausage, black pudding. It stands to reason then that asparagus had absolutely no chance of toppling the undisputed king of accompaniments: more bacon.
Talk turned a little surreal with discussions about the home-brew fad, that at one point or other seemed to have infected everyone’s parents as they fermented and distilled all sorts of weird grains, berries, fruits and vegetables into largely undrinkable effluvium. Brassneck’s dad took first prize for his attempt at home-brew Malibu. Just. Why?
From home produced effluvium to mass produced, we marvelled at the one-time popularity of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, while Crazy Legs said he knew of a shop renowned for selling every possible type of Lambrini. What? Wait. There are different types of Lambrini? Well, apparently so, according to Wikipedia this “light and fruity perry” has been manufactured (my emphasis) in Liverpool since 1994 and you can enjoy it in original, cherry, peach and strawberry flavours, all the while indulging your desire for the cheapest alcohol in wine measured on a price per unit basis. Yeah, think I’ll pass.
Time to leave and I swear the waiter came out to fondly wave us on our way. We’ll be back, but whether his other customers appreciate that is still a moot point.
We climbed up to the rest of the way to the A69 which has once again returned to 4 thundering lanes of seemingly nose to tail traffic. There’s certain things about the pandemic lockdown I’m actually going to miss. We then spent an age waiting to dart across in ones and twos and then more climbing followed until we could turn off for Whittledene. From there it then it was a straight run through Stamfordham and toward Heddon, where I left the group to travel straight on while they all swung left.
The run for home was good, the route was good, the new café was excellent and no one tried to run us off the roads. That’s a major success in my books.
Saturday marked a full year since friend, clubmate and all-round good guy, Gavin Husband (aka Benedict) collapsed and died on the return leg of one of our club runs. To mark this sombre anniversary, Biden Fecht arranged and publicised a memorial ride that would follow one of Gavin’s favourite routes, before delivering us to Kirkley. Here the café had reserved a section of the field for us to use and Gavin’s widow would be traveling out there to meet us. Biden Fecht had also set up a JustGiving page in Gavin’s memory with the monies being donated to the North East Air Ambulance, as worthy a cause as you can get.
I was a bit uncertain if I’d be able to make the ride, but toward the back end of the week my diary cleared, which is more than can be said for the weather. Saturday morning found me doing a long double take between the weather forecast on my phone, promising relatively pleasant bursts of sunshine interspersed with intermittent showers, and the sky outside, which looked grimly dark and threatening.
Remembering a similar forecast from a few week ago, when “intermittent showers” manifest as continuous, heavy rain, I found myself pulling on my rain jacket and strapping mudguards to the bike before setting off, hoping I was being unnecessarily cautious, but knowing better.
Just before crossing the river I even stopped to take off the jacket, thinking conditions weren’t all that bad and actually looked to be improving. Fat chance. A few miles further and the jacket was back as drizzle gave way to deluge. Then it eased again and I repeated the process of stopping and stowing the jacket, this time getting no more than a few hundred metres before it was called back into service. From that point on the rain would occasionally ease briefly, but never actually relent.
It took a while, but I eventually realised we were being subject to intermittent showers exactly as the forecast had predicted – where I was going wrong was expecting these would be interspersed with dry spells, while what we actually got was intermittent showers with prolonged torrential downpours either side of them.
Still, somehow the dark, miserable weather seemed an appropriate backdrop to such a subdued occasion as we collected together under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park and watched the rain bouncing off the roads.
Despite the horrible weather we had a reasonable turnout of around 30 or so riders, including a few friends of Gavin I didn’t know and several that I did, but hadn’t seen for a long time. This including many of the rebels, strays and outcast, who found OGL’s leadership style, well … let’s say less than endearing and so had long ago made alternative riding arrangements.
G-Dawg outlined our plans for the ride and aftermath, then handed over to Biden Fecht to brief in the route. Without further preamble we split into 3 fairly sizeable groups and pushed out into the rain.
I found myself in the second group, riding with Arnold and catching up now he’s a refugee of the Ee-Em-Cee club and we no longer even work in the same place either. This catch-up naturally included reference to the time he’d punctured and suffered the indignity of having to beg the lend of a pump. His own had broken the week before, so he’d requested a replacement for his birthday. Unfortunately though, this birthday wasn’t until the following day and his wife was unwilling to bend the rules and let him have his present early.
Later on, I found myself riding and chatting with Cowboys while assessing the relative performance of everyone’s rain jackets as water started invading the arms of mine. Arnold’s seemed stout and effective, but I was especially impressed by a Rapha jacket on some guy on the front as the water was visibly beading and running off without soaking through.
We made it through to Dyke Neuk where we split, half the group following the planned route out to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us were happy to chop of a corner and pass through Hartburn and Middleton Bank instead. We splintered on the slopes of Middleton Bank, but regrouped over the top and then enjoyed the super-smooth road surface on a fast run through to Belsay.
We passed a solo OGL emerging somewhat furtively from behind a hedge on the lane just outside Ogle.
“Aye, aye,” the Big Yin enquired, “So that’s what you get up to when you’re off on your own.” I chuckled. Others, well others may not have been quite so amused.
Through to the café at Kirkley, and there we were met by the Garrulous Kid, back from university sans velo, which he he’d been unable to cart on the train with all his other stuff. Without a bike to ride, he’d caught the Metro to Ponteland and then walked the rest of the way in an impressive show of dedication.
After wringing out my waterlogged mitts I somehow managed to wrestle my wet jacket off, somewhat surprised to find I was only a bit damp around the edges, but not wholly soaked through, although everything from the waist down was miserably sodden. In posts afterwards, Mini Miss revealed that even her expensive Rapha jacket had finally been breached by the rain, so perhaps staying dry remains just a cyclists pipedream? Aether later concluded our rain jackets were so called not because they were waterproof but simply because they were what we wore when it was raining.
In addition to his own rain jacket, Aether was also sporting a pair of Spatz, knee-length neoprene overshoes, which he said were excellent – or at least had been until he’d made the mistake of putting them through the washing machine. Now they were just good.
Luckily, the café had also reserved the barn for us in case of inclement weather, so we had some shelter from the driving rain that drummed impatient fingers on the roof. I suspect it wasn’t strictly necessary, as the rain seemed to have washed away all their normal Saturday custom, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.
Gavin’s widow thanked the group for the thoughtfulness of the memorial ride, as well as the “honour guard” of cyclists that had formed outside her home during the funeral, when numbers allowed to attend the actual service had been restricted by COVID.
G-Dawg thanked her in turn for the visit, remarking how everyone seemed to have managed to share their favourite anecdotes about riding with Gavin and he promised we’d do it all again next year. “But,” he joked, “Next time we’ll do it in August, so we can expect better weather!”
People were starting to get chilly and the rain showed no sign of relenting, so we saddled up and skedaddled.
Just after leaving the café we passed our 3rd group, including Princess Fiona, Captain Black and Mini Miss, arriving late after a multiple-puncture outing and looking even more wet and miserable than the rest of us.
I caught up with TripleD-El on the way back. She was already plotting how she could coerce TripleD-Be, newly returned from working abroad, to step up to the mark and clean her bike for her. Personally I couldn’t think of a better welcome for a travel-weary worker.
Then, as we tipped down the other side of Berwick Hill I found myself alongside Cowboys again and nodded toward Aether. I was, I admit, slightly troubled by the glistening appearance of his “wet-look” lycra and latex collection of skin-tight shorts and knee high overshoes. This, I remarked, looked like some strange Bacchanalian fever dream from a sportswear fetish bar. Cowboys wondered if Aether was touting for business, but I just nodded to the dormant tail light under his saddle.
“If he is, he needs to put on the red light,” I suggested and, just like that, I had an earworm to accompany me all the way home, although I have to admit it was definitely more Reggie Hammond in 48-Hours than vintage Gordon Sumner.
So, all in all a good way of remembering and honouring our missing friend, despite less than ideal conditions and with special thanks to G-Dawg and Biden Fecht for making it happen. We even managed to raise close to £1,000 for a good cause, which I think far exceeded expectations.
Another less than stellar summer day, but rain was only a possibility not an eventuality so it would more than do. The roads were quiet on my way across to the meeting point and the river was even quieter too – flat, grey and completely empty, both upstream and down. It looked like the rowers were having a day off or, more likely, were all away at a competition.
At the meeting point numbers slowly built until we were about 30 strong – probably the biggest turn out since all this pandemic malarkey started. It looks like it’s all drawing to a close now (touch wood) so it might even be time to ditch the Plague Diaries prefix?
Early questions were raised over whether we’d ever see our Ecuadorian FNG after a traumatic end to her ride last week. She’d apparently suffered an “irreparable puncture” on leaving the café, somehow managing to completely shred her tyre. G-Dawg and a few others had been on hand to assist and one guy was even carrying a spare tyre, but try as they might even the collected efforts of all those assembled couldn’t seat it on the rim, even after several attempts.
Someone else then provided a patch, which they’d finally fitted, changed the tube, inflated the tyre, reinstalled the wheel, packed up all their kit … then watched in dismay as with a defiant hiss the tyre slowly deflated again. The girl returned to the cafe to see if she could persuade anyone to pick her up, while TripleD-El headed for home to get her car in case no one else was able to help. Luckily rescue was arranged long before TripleD-El made it home. Quite surprisingly and despite these travails, our import all the way from the equator was back for more this week.
Brassneck declared how pleased he was at the return of his good wheelset. One of them had apparently failed him on a previous ride and had been returned to the manufacturer, Hunt Wheels who, from what I could gather had charged him several hundred pounds to have it fixed – or in other words about what I’d pay for a set of brand new wheels.
“So,” I suggested, “They only had to replace the hub, the bearings, the axle, the spokes and the rim then? I’m guessing the rim tape was salvageable.”
Ahlambra suggested the wheel was a bit like Trigger’s broom – famed for its longevity after surviving intact for 20 years during which time it only needed 17 new heads and 14 new handles.
G-Dawg briefed in the route for the day in the absence of the Hammer, who’d planned it out and was going to lead until he’d been “unexpectedly called away.” We were going to be heading mainly west and battering straight into quite a forceful headwind for a lot of the ride. This seemed to confirm an emerging theme. First Buster plans a ride that goes up the hated Ryals and then has to “self-isolate” due to COVID so he can’t accompany us, then Crazy Legs plans a longer than usual ride he suddenly can’t join because his pet pooch is poorly, then the Hammer plans a route directly into a headwind and suddenly he has business elsewhere? If we were a slightly more paranoid bunch we’d probably conclude that they just don’t like us.
We split into three rather unequal groups, but it would have to do. I joined the last group, the remnants of what was left. There were probably about 8 of us at the start, but OGL, the Cow Ranger and Carlton were all planning on splitting off sooner or later, so we’d probably be undermanned at the last.
I started out alongside Carlton and we took our turn on the front as we traced up through Darras Hall and out to Stamfordham, luckily turning away from a route that was being used for a long procession of pot-bellied bikers and their rumbling, grumbling, noise-polluting, filth-spewing “hogs”. From there we routed out to Matfen. After a slight bit of backtracking after missing the turn off for Great Whittington, we were soon turning north and heading toward the village of Ryal, but luckily avoiding its eponymously named climb.
“Where are we now?” our latest FNG wondered.
“Just approaching Ryal,” someone told him.
“Where?” he squeaked.
“Ah, ok. For a minute there I thought you’d said Carlisle!”
Truth be told we had been tracking west, but Carlisle was still a good 50 miles distant.
At around this point we passed our second group who called for a pee stop and I found myself on the very front as we swooped down and then clambered up to the village. At some point on the narrow lanes we found ourselves behind a man jogging while ostensibly supervising the two young kids on wobbly bikes and a hyperactive small dog that trailed him. I say wobbly bikes, but it was probably just the way they were being ridden that gave them the characteristics of a drunken sidewinder with motion sickness.
Every so often the jogger would look back to check on the road and his charges and seeing us approach he tried to corral the pinball-pooch and restrict the kids oscillations to just three-quarters of the width of the tarmac.
We singled out and swung as far to the right of the road as possible, easing our way past a potentially volatile set of obstacles. As we slipped past, the jogger glanced across.
“That,” I acknowledged, “Must be about as much fun as herding cats.”
He didn’t disagree.
I’m not sure he could.
At the top of the climb up to Ryal village I called a halt so we could all regroup and I let G-Dawg’s group take up the vanguard again, much to the dismay of TripleD-El who was concerned about being at the back of the queue when we made the café. This was concerning her so much that she argued for skipping the next bit of the route and heading directly to the café.
She stripped off her arm warmers either in disgust, or because things were warming up and got going again, following in the wake of G-Dawg’s group and still, despite her lobbying, following the proposed route.
From the Quarry it was more or less a standard run back, via Belsay and Ogle to the café at Kirkley, where I lost a fiercely contested café sprint to Not Anthony, but still managed to stow my bike quicker and nip into the queue ahead of him. These things matter.
Luckily fortified by (much deserved) cake and coffee I began fielding questions about new club kit and various demands for matching socks. This one’s a potential Pandora’s box I’m not keen on opening – as colour and design were always going to be contentious enough without introducing the issue of sock length into the equation.
Sock length in cycling is apparently such a complex, hotly contested and personal issue it’s almost up there with the Shimano vs. Campagnolo, disc or rim brake, black or tan tyre walls and which-end-of-the-egg-to-break debates that consume disproportionate amounts of attention. Entire pages of social media are devoted to treatises on “correct sock length” with the governing body, the UCI enforcing a Byzantine rule that “socks used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head” and employing entire legions of inspectors and arcane instruments to ensure compliance. These things matter too. Apparently.
It seems that, within our club anyway, one of the issues with sock length wasn’t performance related, but had to do with tan lines. Mini Miss is already convinced the aero sleeve of the new jersey’s are too long and complained that blending in fake tan to match natural colour was becoming increasingly arduous and time consuming. As an extreme solution she even pondered jerseys with sleeves you could zip off and she was a strong advocate for minimal sock lengths.
TripleD-El confirmed that TripleD-Be ensured his cycling shorts, socks and tops were all the exact same length as his civilian clothes to maintain razor-sharp tan-lines all year around. You have to admire such dedication.
TripleD-El had somehow secured a piece of cake the approximate size, shape and density of a house brick. I couldn’t believe she was going to ingest it all, but I should have known better. She was also trying to decide if she could complete the ride with arm warmers on or off, having changed her mind about them half a dozen or more times already.
I suggested she could compromise. “Maybe ride with your left arm in and your right arm out?” I told her.
“Nah, already tried that!”
Meanwhile, the Big Yin admitted to Zwift-doping by seriously underestimating his actual weight, but apparently it’s no big deal as “everyone does it.” (I’m just putting that out there for those fellow-Zwifters he regularly rides with.)
We returned home via Saltwick Hill, which I think might be ideally placed close to the cafe should you ever feel the need to be quickly reunited with any coffee you’ve recently imbibed.
That slight obstacle survived and crossed off, it was a straightforward run for home.
Next week sees us holding a memorial ride for our friend Benedict who sadly died on a club run last year. I’m not sure I’ll make it, but hope the weather is kind, there’s a good turnout and everyone manages to find some enjoyment from such a sombre anniversary.
I was convinced we were going to be subject to a rinse and repeat of last week, with an unfortunate, heavy emphasis on the rinse, but while we saw only the sparsest glimmer of sunshine, it was pleasantly cool rather than chill and the much forecast rain showers never materialised. I would go as far as saying the conditions were about as perfect as they could be without tipping directly into the “good” weather bracket and I even managed a couple of extended periods with my arm warmers tucked away in a back pocket.
Just over 20 of us gathered for the off where a mountain-bike-riding, casually dressed Crazy Legs briefed in the ride he’d carefully planned, but would not be participating in, citing canine care committals. After what must be the now obligatory weekly-whinge from OGL, we split into two groups, G-Dawg leading out the first, while Not Anthony volunteered to lead the second “from the rear.”
I hung back to join up with the second group, which quickly became the first as, within 500 meters of setting out, we passed Caracol and the Cow Ranger furiously working to repair a puncture, while a bit further on the rest of G-Dawg’s group waited for them to rejoin.
I was chatting with La Pinta as we rode out, comparing notes on a running-cycling balance as she’s a runner whose found the joy of cycling, while I’m a cyclist who has discovered a true-hatred of running. After a quick shuffle in the order I then caught up with Spoons, who is counting down the remaining few days until he retires, the lucky beggar.
Another shuffle and I found myself alongside Szell, who’d originally set off in the first group, but had seemingly now infiltrated ours. I wondered what had happened.
“I looked around and realised there were no fat lads,” he explained, “then I looked back and there was only a racing-snake (Spry) lurking behind me, so realised I was completely out of my depth and on a hiding to nothing.” Discretion being the better part of valour, he’d wisely taken the opportunity of the impromptu puncture to swap groups. I couldn’t blame him, it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
I learned he too was contemplating retirement, but at least his release from work wasn’t quite as imminent as Spoons’ as Szell’s business is still recovering from COVID-19 and he needs to establish new premises with an extended lease in order to sell it as a going concern.
We shuffled yet again and I found myself alongside the new gal and I was relieved to find she is nowhere near being able to retire yet. A student from Ecuador, she was back in the UK to pick things up again after having been forced to abandon her studies and return home during the pandemic.
Ecuador adds another notch in our clubs cycling League of Nations, having already hosted in my time, Dutch, Poles, Spaniards, Basques, Nigerians, Chinese, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Italians, as well as a wide assortment of Brits including Welsh, Scottish, Somters, Devonians, Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies, Yorkies, Cockneys, Cumbrians, Lancastrians, Brummies and Scousers. Sadly, no Eshingtonian’s yet, though I live in hope.
Along with TripleD-El and Taffy Steve, we tried encouraging the new gal to close up on the wheel in front, but she was distracted by all the shouts; car-up! gravel! pots! hor-sezzs! et al. The problem was she couldn’t understand any of them and so kept easing back, horrified in case she was being castigated for doing something wrong.
She particularly couldn’t understand the “warra-ragga-warra-shugga” Tasmanian Devil-like bellowing that was emitted from the back of our group, until it mercifully it went silent as the tail split off to take a differnt route. TripleD-El reflected that even after many, many months she still couldn’t translate what was being shouted from the rear, while I assured her it was probably best to ignore it anyway.
Yet another shuffle and I found myself on the front with TripleD-El comparing the fortunes of the respective British and Dutch Olympic teams to find we were both satisfied with the performances of our compatriots. TripleD-El was however much less sanguine about the muddy stretch of road we then found ourselves on, complaining that she’d only just cleaned her bike last week and didn’t want to have to do it again for at least another month!
Somewhere along the way we picked up Zardoz, out for a solo ride, but more than happy to tag along for some unexpected company. We went up the Quarry and stopped to regroup and then I was joined on the front by Princess Fiona for the last push up to the café at Capheaton.
I was going to suggest to Zardoz that I’d never seen the café quite as busy, until I realised we were the ones who were making it look busy.
Zardoz then queried if he was right in thinking the Vuelta starts next week and I confirmed that he was. This, prompted Taffy Steve to query if we’d ben watching “The Least Expected Day” – the behind-the-scenes documentary about Movistar that was on Netflix. This, he is convinced, shows that he has all the right qualities to be an excellent pro-cycling Directeur Sportif, or at least as good as the example served up by Eusebio Unzué. In other words, never have a plan, pointedly ignore any rider who asks about a plan, swear a lot when things go badly and, if by some chance things do go well and your rider somehow lucks himself into the lead, simply drive up alongside and holler Venga! Venga! Venga! at them non-stop until they’re caught.
In non-cycling related discussion, Brassneck found we all shared his complete lack of sympathy for the “poor” individuals who’d decided to travel over 5,000 miles for a holiday in Mexico and were now having to spend £8 grand for the privilege of flying immediately back home to avoid quarantine. I mean, what were they thinking? Oh, sorry. Obviously they weren’t …
Damn fine cake and coffee, along with the novelty of free refills kept us at Capheaton perhaps longer than planned, but soon we began to move out and form up into various groups for the ride home.
I found myself riding with Taffy Steve who was wondering if G-Dawg is in danger becoming more of a meme than a person, while he chuckled at the fact we’d stuck two small women, Princess Fiona and Mini Miss on the front, while a whole bunch of burly blokes took shelter on their back wheels. What can I say, we’re an equal opportunities club.
Finally Carlton and Not Anthony took over the lead as we routed toward Saltwick Hill. Once there, I took off to burn a little excess energy on the climb and then pushed the gap out a little more along some of the twisting lanes until, at one junction, I spotted a lone cyclist thrashing around by the side of the road. Assuming he had some sort of mechanical, I dropped down the hill to see if he needed assistance, only to find he’d lost one of his wireless earpieces from his headphones somewhere in the deep vegetation. His phone was telling him it was there or there abouts, but I didn’t rate his chances of actually finding the damn thing. It wasn’t until some miles later that I realised his best chance of recovering his earpiece would have been to crank up the volume of some scuzzy death metal to see if he could locate it by sound. Oh well, too late now, maybe he thought of that anyway?
While I’d been rendering no assistance whatsoever to my fellow cyclist, our group had turned at the junction and shouted down that I was heading the wrong way. After a cursory search for the missing earpiece I left him to his quest, turned around and gave chase to the group. Somewhere along the way I must have taken a wrong turn, or missed the right one and I ended up on the cycle path running alongside the A1. From there I had to extemporise a route back onto more familiar roads, an interesting detour, but slightly too urban for my tatstes. I was still thoroughly enjoying myself though, perfectly happy just to be out, rolling along without getting rained on.
I manged to find my way through Hazelrigg, which eventually spat me out onto our regular route just before the Mad Mile and from there it was plain sailing back home, to complete what was perhaps the longest ride of the year so far.