It Burns

It Burns

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         14 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Manky and murky

march 14
Ride Profile

Normal service is resumed …

We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.

As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …

The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.

Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?

I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.

The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.

Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.

OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.

“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.

Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.

The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…

We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.

There’d be no loafing today.

That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.

Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.

We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.

One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.

At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.

Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.

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The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.

We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.

Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.

A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.

We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.

At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.

As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.


Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.

The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.

We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.

Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.

A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.

Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.

No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …

His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.

I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.

It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.

Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.

Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.

Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.

Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.

“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”

Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.

Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.

As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.

It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.

Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.

On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.

We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.

The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?

Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.

YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing



Beast from the East 1, Sur la Jante 0

Beast from the East 1, Sur la Jante 0

It’s fair to say that, for once the “Beast from the East” actually lived up the hype and was extremely disruptive, with freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall from the Tuesday night, right through to Sunday evening.

[NB: just because doom-laden prophecies about dire weather from the Daily Heil, Daily Suppressed and their ilk were actually correct for once, doesn’t lend them any credibility, or excuse the 1,001 prior occasions when they’ve tried to whip up utter hysteria and shameful scaremongering on any number of topics. These publications remain utter trash.]

The resolute, club stalwarts still turned up for the Saturday club run, with everyone taking to mountain-bikes and going on an off-road for a grand adventure, though sadly without me. I figured a 25 mile or so schlep, by mountain bike, on dodgy roads, just to get me to the meeting point and back again, was probably a little too ambitious. So I stayed home and got some alternative exercise digging Mrs. SLJ’s car out of its snowdrift.

(My own car still remains entombed in its chilling cocoon of snow and ice and it’s being left to thaw out naturally. I’m in no rush.)

G-Dawg described the Saturday club run as the most fun he’s had on a bike in ages and I can understand why – I still managed my usual Wednesday-Thursday-Friday commute en vélo through the worst of the weather and, rather perversely, thoroughly enjoyed myself.


Some lessons learned and random observations:

The road conditions seemed to improve with every ride, so first thing Wednesday morning saw the worst conditions (and most fun) but by Friday evening my journey had became a fairly standard, if cold commute, with only one or two sketchy, skatey stretches.

I wore an old pair of overshoes on top of my winter boots, expecting to be passed by lots of cars dumping ice-cold slush onto my feet. As it was on Wednesday morning I was travelling at least as fast as most of the sparse traffic on the roads and only recall two cars actually overtaking me. My feet never felt cold enough to benefit from the additional layer and the snow wasn’t wet enough to “slush me up” – so I’m still not sure how effective my extreme measures would have been.

The conditions on Wednesday encouraged me not to clip in, so I could quickly dab my feet down in an emergency. The Wellgo flat pedals on my mountain bike, with an SPD clip on one side proved very handy for this.

When I did decide I could risk clipping in, I then found either the pedals or my shoes encased in solid blocks of ice and it proved impossible.

Although perhaps safer, I remembered how much I HATE riding and not being clipped-in. By the time I was heading home on Wednesday I was only unclipping when I hit one or two difficult stretches.

I should have worn a cap. I arrived at work on Wednesday morning with a solid block of ice wedged firmly between my helmet and specs … and a ferociously chilled forehead. Likewise, I had icy-cornrows in my hair caused by the accumulation of snow in my helmet vents.

The few people who actually made it into work were amazed I cycled in and opinion was split between those who thought I was certifiably mad and those who thought I was some kind of dare-devil. In reality, apart from it being hugely enjoyable, I actually felt safer than I would have been in a car, more in control, more aware of my surroundings and with more options if I wanted to bale and walk. I think travelling by car would have been much more difficult and uncertain.

I was especially happy I could get off and take to the pavement on the bank leading down to the Swing Bridge, when I encountered a massive articulated lorry that blew through a red light on the wrong side of the road. (I suppose that technically speaking, because he was on the wrong side of the road, the light wasn’t actually against him.)

Cycling on pristine, white and unblemished snow is fine. Cycling on heavily churned up, grey, dirty and heavily trafficked snow is fine. Somewhere between the two, when the snow varies between slick, heavy and compacted and just a little cut up, is like riding through sand. It takes a bit of concentration, involves a lot of sliding, wheel spinning and fishtailing and is hard work. I soon came to especially dislike this faintly beige snow.

I altered my route to follow some more trafficked, treated bus routes and tried a few alternative roads. Doing this, I occasionally encountered unanticipated traffic speed bumps.

Unanticipated traffic speed bumps hiding under deep snow can take you by surprise and come as a bit of a shock!

When people abandon their cars in the snow, they do so in the dumbest of places; on a blind corner of a long downhill, at the entrance to a busy junction, facing the wrong way on a one-way street and occasionally, slap bang in the middle of the road.

I don’t know what the cycle track over the Millennium Bridge is surfaced with and I expected the worst, but it was always snow and ice free and grippy. I found myself sharing it with more than the usual number of walkers who’d abandoned the slippery, snowbound pedestrian side.

Anyway, enough rambling … so long the Beast from the East, it was fun while it lasted and you had the good grace not to hang around too long. Hopefully things will have returned back to normal in time for next Saturday’s club run. We’ll see.

YTD Totals: 1,195 km / 743 miles with 13,977 metres of climbing

The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Club Run, Saturday 24th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,013 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:           Bright with brass monkeys

2018 1
Ride Profile

As the country braces itself for the imminent arrival of a disruptive winter weather front from Siberia, colourfully labelled the “Beast from the East” – we were served up another cracker for our club run. Almost identical to last week. It was a blend of bitterly cold, beautifully bright and (most importantly) crisp and bone-dry.

Double base layers, lobster mitts with liners and a buff pulled up to cover as much of my face as possible were deployed early on, as the wind had a distinctively chilly, razor-edge to it and any exposed skin rapidly became numb. Nevertheless, it already looked like being a great day as a coppery new sun lent the sky a putty-coloured, green tinge before brightening to form a burnished vault of clear, limitless blue.

I trailed a nervous learner driver down the Heinous Hill, at a speed so slow that it made even my cautious, controlled, half-an-eye-out-for-ice approach, seem positively reckless in comparison. Luckily, they turned right before the bottom, while I swung away left, finally able to release my rictus hold on the brakes and get my legs working to generate a bit of much needed warmth.

The river itself seemed to act as a heat sink, sucking a couple more degrees from already chilled air. Stopped at the lights, my breath plumed out visibly in the air, like a deranged and louche Soup Dragon on the Clangers moon, toking madly on an e-cigarette.  It would definitely be chilly for the rowing crews who were starting to gather on the water for yet another busy day of competition.

Pushing on, for once I was glad to start climbing out of the valley and frigid air that seemed to have pooled in its bottom.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Making decent time, I arrived early enough to watch the Monkey Butler Boy engage in some cosmetic bike tinkering par excellence. First, he reached into a back pocket, extracted a multi-tool kit and carefully assembled a small torque wrench. He then applied this to his seat pin and then, painstakingly eased the seat post up 0.75mm, tightened everything up, disassembled the tool and packed it away.

He eye-balled his work briefly, then took the tool out again, re-assembled it, applied it to his bike and this time, carefully lowered the saddle by 0.5mm, while I looked on with Crazy Legs, both of us totally perplexed.  Apparently, those micro-adjustments hit the sweet spot though and give the optimum riding position – although I’m not sure how you could tell without testing.

“Is that thing on?” the Garrulous Kid asked, bending down to grin and gurn madly into the lens of my sports-cam, “How can you tell if it’s on?” he demanded, prodding at the case with an extended digit. I was reminded of nothing so much as the monkey-selfie, with the Garrulous Kid taking the part of a Celebes crested macaque. They have the same hairstyle and the likeness was striking. Somehow, I doubt that if his grinning, gurning selfie ever sees the light of day, that he’ll have a crowd of people who really should know better, causing a ridiculous stink and defending his claim to receive royalties.

Well, the first hints of spring were definitely in the air, the hedgerows were alive with chattering birds, scattered tulips were poking tentative buds out of the frozen soil and, even at the outset of my ride, the sun was up and well established on its low trajectory across the sky.

Even more telling for any budding amateur climatologist, or observant weather watcher, was the first, elusive sightings of carbon, as conditions were finally deemed good enough to lure out a smattering of good, “summer bikes” – even if it was just for one week. G-Dawg, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac among others, had seized on the opportunity, while, a contrarian to the last, Crazy Legs had swapped last week’s spring/autumn Bianchi back to his winter fixie.

Taffy Steve stayed with the thrice-cursed winter bike, I kept faith with the Pug and the Goose persisted on his experiment with the steel behemoth. Everyone seemed happy enough with their individual choices, all except the Garrulous Kid, who pined for carbon, whinged about his winter bike and, after spending all day avoiding the front of the group, blamed his loss in the café sprint on his “heavy” aluminium Trek.

Leading the ride for the day, Crazy Legs did a swift head count and determined we should split into two. The route was revised slightly to take into account better than predicted conditions, a rendezvous point was agreed for a final coalescing before we split and got ready to roll.

There was just time for a quick double-take at the appearance of a Carlton doppelgänger (it was just a cunningly disguised Two Trousers, but for a moment he had both Crazy Legs and me utterly confused and convinced we were suffering double vision.)

Spirits were high, chatter was on full-bore and the only rude interruption to our contentment came from Taffy Steve’s brakes, which squealed like a badly stuck pig. He confessed he’d tried some WD-40 Motorcyle Dry Lube on his chain, anticipating it to be suitably protective and heavy duty, but discovering in truth that it was horribly thick, gunky, all together messy and capable of getting everywhere it shouldn’t.

He’d spent an age cleaning the gunk off his drive chain, frame and wheel rims, but had missed the brake blocks which whenever applied emitted a protesting, high-pitched warbling banshee scream that directly assaulted the eardrums. The Garrulous Kid in particular seemed directly affected by the “horrible” sound – perhaps the rest of us were insulated from its extreme harshness by our innate presbycusis?

We spent a good while trying to come up with a suitable analogy for the noise – an irate R2-D2 when plugging himself into a power outlet instead of the Death Star security-systems? A rabid, indignant and starving dolphin, demanding fish? The antique, unsettling warble of a computer program loading into a ZX Spectrum from audio-tape?

We finally settled on a juvenile seagull being caught up in the spokes of his front wheel. This segued into Taffy Steve describing his son’s invention of a Geordie seagull, lost on the Isle of Man, starving, unable to find the sanctuary of a Greggs and all the while wondering what all the skinny seagulls were doing, out on the water trying to catch fish. Comic genius and a perfect Viz character just waiting for visualisation.

As we were chatting, Slow Drinker cruised down the outside of the group, resplendent in his black and pink Rapha kit, which Taffy Steve suggested made him look like a Liquorice Allsort. We soon had a marketing campaign licked into shape, complete with epic voice-over, all ready to promote “Bertie Bassets Paris-Roubaix Collection™. (Also available in blue).”

Through Dinnington, we carefully wove our way through the most heavily pock-marked, pot-holed, bombed-out surface that the RAF haven’t tested JP233 runway denial munitions on. Or, maybe they have?

We were briefly heartened by assembled construction equipment, temporary traffic lights and road re-surfacing signs, but should have known better. Hopes for a smooth, new riding surface were immediately dashed when we encountered the solitary, lone workman, patching the road armed with just a single bucket of sticky, rapidly cooling tar.

We also seemed to have stumbled onto National Hedge Trimming Day and found ourselves continually picking our way past massive, yellow tractors, laying waste to the local hedgerows. There’s nothing subtle about the process, they don’t so much trim the hedge as thrash it into submission, liberally scattering a trail of pulverised leaves and twigs and thorns across the road. By some minor miracle, no one punctured.

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As such, our ride progressed without incident until we reached the Gubeon and hauled ourselves into a lay-by to wait for the second group to put in an appearance. The over/under on the second groups arrival was 5 minutes, but they were well inside this, even though Crazy Legs insisted they’d stopped at a café en route for the now traditional and civilising, mid-ride, flat white.

Those seeking a shorter ride then took a left, while the rest of us swung to the right on a route that would pass through Dyke Neuk, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. At Dyke Neuk we paused again to set a longer-harder-faster group on their way, at which point Sneaky Pete and Sneaky Taffy Steve, sneaked off for a bit of a head start on the final run in.

I was beginning to feel the pace and the legs were already heavy as we approached Middleton Bank and I had dropped right to the back of the group as we began to climb. I managed to catch and pass the Goose, manfully wrestling with the steel behemoth, then Cowin’ Bovril struggling with a lack of road miles, before hauling in and passing Mini Miss and Princess Fiona.

I was closing on Rick the Gigolo as we passed over the top of the climb, with the main group still a further 200 or 300 metres up the road. I set about closing the gap, only to discover that a vicious headwind seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and I was working hard just to maintain the distance to the front group.

I plugged away resolutely, finally catching Rick the Gigolo, but up ahead the others had started to ride through and off, increased their pace and soon disappeared from sight.

I was now battering away, pulling a small group through a punishing headwind, thankfully with some help from Mini Miss. She led us through Milestone Woods and up the first of the rollers. Here Rick the Gigolo pulled out of line and into the wind, rolled up alongside me, grimaced, swore fluently, grasped his chest and slipped away again. Bloody hell, did he just have a heart attack?

Down the dip and onto the final climb, I passed Mini Miss. She later said she’d tried to respond, but her legs refused in several different languages. Non, No, Nyet, Nein, Nay, Nope.

I then thought I was clear and away on the last drag, until Rick the Gigolo came whirring smoothly past – for the first time I’ve been fooled by someone faking a mild cardiac infarction.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Garrulous Kid kicked the madness off, leaning across the table and confronting Jimmy Mac.

“You’re German aren’t you?”

“Err … no,” a nonplussed Jimmy Mac replied.

“But you were born in Germany, right?” the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Well, someone was born in Germany.” The Garrulous Kid boldly asserted.

“Quite a few people, I’d imagine,” I reasoned, “There’s that Adolph Hitl …oh, hold on, he was born in Austria.”

G-Dawg came to my rescue with the name of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was definitely born in Germany. This recognisable name seemed to satisfy the Garrulous Kid and we spent a few moments marvelling at Herr Schweinsteiger’s impressively Teutonic moniker.

G-Dawg and the Colossus managed to secure themselves a helping of ham and egg pie, this week without the unnecessary distraction of salad. I congratulated them on ticking off two of the cyclists 5 essential food groups in one meal – pastry and meat. (The others, of course are caffeine, cake and confectionery.)

We reflected on the less than surprising news from the Winter Olympics and the rather inevitable discovery that the Russians, though competing as non-Russian’s, were still doing deeply Russian things and heavily engaged in pharmaceutical skulduggery. It was mentioned that the cross-country skiing biathletes were regularly tested for alcohol, which we felt was a shame – what sport wouldn’t be improved as a spectacle by arming drunkards with guns?

Talk of alcohol, beta-blockers and the like led to discussions about “Big Bill” Webeniuk, the Canadian snooker player who averaged 30 pints of lager a day while competing. Whether it’s true or not, the man became a legend for claims he had a doctor’s prescription to serve as a sort of TUE for his excessive alcohol intake, which was supposedly necessary to control a hereditary nerve condition. Yeah, right. Still better, there were rumours that he even tried to claim tax relief on his “medicinal” lager consumption.

Sneaky Pete expressed huge displeasure with the current state of the scrum in rugby union, which he sees as largely de-fanged, sissified and dull, a travesty of its former glory and in danger of becoming as ridiculous a spectacle as that used by the rugby league lot.

“Why bother,” I agreed, “They should just hold hands.”

“Sing ring-o-rose’s and dance around in a circle,” G-Dawg suggested.

“Cover their eyes and count to 10?” Jimmy Mac, opined, “… No peeking!”

But, the Colossus had the best idea, suggesting they should put their foreheads onto an imaginary pole, quickly spin around it a dozen times until everyone was really, really dizzy, then hoof the ball into the air and see who could catch it and run in the right direction.

From this, the Colossus (quite rightly) concluded, that there wasn’t a sport we couldn’t improve upon and make an even bigger, better spectacle, if we were just given 5 minutes to sort it out.

The manner of Mark Cavendish’s, premature crashing out of the Tour of Abu Dhabi-Doo, within 5 kilometres of starting, astonished G-Dawg. His purely rhetorical question seemed to sum up our thoughts that some kind of organisational idiocy had taken place: “Hmm, I need a car for the commissioner to drive around in extreme close proximity to bunch of tightly packed, speeding cyclists. Ah, here’s one with an automatic braking system, that’ll do. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”

Aside from the nagging headwind, the right home was straightforward and pleasant. The sky remained an unblemished, distant blue, the sun shone brightly, if lacking any warmth and the roads were dry and clear. I even found myself stopping at one point to pull off and pack away the lobster mitts that were simply too effective.

It was perhaps a little too chill to be riding completely without gloves, but I was home before second thoughts and numb fingers changed my mind.

YTD Totals: 1,145 km / 711 miles with 13,007 metres of climbing



Karma Comedian

Karma Comedian

Club Run, Saturday 17th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.3 km/h

Group size:                                         21 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    9°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and brittle

17 feb Kc
Ride Profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the start:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REC024 (6)

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Club Run, Saturday 10th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

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


Ride Profile

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”

“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Unicycling Club

Unicycling Club

Club Run, Saturday 3rd February, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank

3rd feb
Ride Profile

Mother Nature. What a tease, eh?

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

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

So far, so good.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it was simply the power of three coffees?

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll believe it when I see it.

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


Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Club Run, Saturday 27th January, 2018  

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 54 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.5 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Tepid

Ride Profile

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

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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the start:

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

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

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

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

Strange times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Taiwan Bike Show,” he reluctantly confirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, sorry.”

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

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

“Sorry, I haven’t seen any dogs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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