Club Run, Saturday 21st November, 2015
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles with 1,004 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Group size: 12 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Wintry
Main topic of conversation at the start: The Prof was bemoaning the breakdown of the padding and insulation in his aged lobster-mitts. He thought they still made him look like a large, benign, marine crustacean, but I suggested the resemblance was more Danny De Vito’s Penguin than something cute and cuddly from Spongebob Squarepants.
He then spotted the Cow Rangers gloves, massive unwieldy mittens that were secured with elastic bungee cords wrapped multiple times and tourniquet-tight around wrists and forearms, and queried what particular sport they were made for. I helpfully suggested boxing, cage fighting or Mixed Martial Arts. The Cow Ranger himself couldn’t clarify, but admitted that, although fantastically warm, they made braking and gear changes a bit of a lottery.
OGL declared we should all be sectioned for turning out on a day like this and for once no one disagreed. One of the guys then rolled up and instantly made everyone feel warmer as he was wearing just a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and shorts. Shorts! Now that’s true madness. It’s as if he helpfully wanted to prove that we weren’t the crazy ones, but that they are most definitely alive, riding bikes and living amongst us.
OGL then mused about how a Belgian-style lock-down here would impact on the Metro Centre and Eldon Square shopping. Personally I’m all for anything that shakes the excessive, mass feeding frenzy and orgy of shopping that now seems de rigueur at Christmas.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: OGL recommended the soup, which he suggested was delicious and warming and just right for a day like this. “Yeah,” Son of G-Dawg countered, “But it isn’t pie is it?” tucking into a massive slice of hot bacon and egg flan.
Meanwhile, at another table, a rival club were served up ridiculously healthy platefuls of grilled bananas on wholemeal toast, with green tea and super-skinny lattes all round. We quietly sniggered at these poor, deluded amateurs – don’t they know real cyclists are fuelled by cake?
We dissected one of last winter’s crashes on the lane just past the Snake Bends, where one of the girls started a domino effect sliding on the ice and bringing just about everyone around her down. G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg were the only ones to survive, sailing carefully on while repeating the mantra – “Don’t stop, don’t look back, don’t brake, don’t even try to steer…”
We then discussed post-ride showers, how long it was possible to stay in the them before the family complained, the pain of blood returning to your extremities and at what point you felt warm enough to actually take some clothes off. The bad days are ones where this is only happens after huddling under the hot water for 15 minutes or so.
G-Dawg has had to give up Sunday rides because he’s committed to looking after two new additions to the family – a pair of young dogs that need constant exercise. Somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind a thin candle of hope still flickers with the improbable idea that they are called G-Dog and Son of G-Dog.
The Waffle: A storm passed through overnight with howling, gale-force winds, accompanied by driving snow and rapidly plunging temperatures. The morning was grey and bitterly cold with strong, capricious and freezing winds still whip-lashing around at irregular intervals.
Temperatures were bumping along just above freezing, but the polar gusts meant a wind-chill of around -2°C or -3°C and it felt like it. Perfect weather … for penguins. Speaking of which:
I dressed accordingly, long-sleeved summer base layer under a long-sleeved winter one, windproof jacket with a gilet over it, buff, headband to keep my ears warm but not overheat my noggin, bib tights, thermal socks and overshoes. On my hands I went for silk glove liners beneath winter weight gloves. I thought I might have overdone it, but just stepping out the door was enough to convince me I’d judged things about right.
The cars parked up around me still had a thick band of snow rimming the bottom of their windshields, like mini barchand dunes, suggesting at least the possibility of ice on the roads. I pushed off and began a very tentative descent of Heinous Hill, a little more confident once a car went past and I heard the reassuring tinny rattle of grit and rock salt bouncing off its undersides. At least the council had been out and treated the roads.
I battled my way across the river, mainly into a strong headwind, occasionally being buffeted from the sides and rear as the wind swirled around me. Any exposed flesh was instantly chilled and I became acutely conscious and a bit pre-occupied with a hairline gap between glove and cuff. Meanwhile, the tops of my thighs, lips, toes and thumbs burned with the cold as an unpleasant prelude to turning numb.
The last mile to the meeting point brought a sudden flurry of stinging, driving snow to slap me directly in the face and I was grateful to roll into the car park head down and find some shelter. A few were waiting already and more slowly trickled through in dribs and drabs.
Impelled by a seeming need for symmetry, Crazy Legs was hoping we’d get an even dozen, but after waiting as long as we felt practical and watching the snow shower pass over, we were an odd eleven who pushed off, clipped in and set out.
At the last moment though, Richard of Flanders saved us, sailing through the traffic to join us and perfectly timing his arrival to minimise waiting time and exposure to the harsh elements. Now a Dirty Dozen formed up to ride.
We’ve reached an uneasy compromise with the Great North Road Cyclemaze and Death Trap, with the inside line of our pairs peeling off to carefully thread their way through the tank-trap like orcas and Rommelspargel, while the others only have to negotiate the much less hazardous surging traffic. Well, at least we use the Cyclemaze until the route throws you up onto the pavement to slalom around a bus stop and then drop back onto the road. It tends to get abandoned at this point.
We rotated the front pair more regularly than usual as the wind continued to batter away at us, finding the road conditions variable with many major roads strangely untreated while some of the minor ones had been gritted. There were occasional patches of ice and some thick deposits of melting snow in the gutters and along the verges, but nothing causing too much concern.
Somewhere down the line a merciful Crazy Legs departed for a shorter route to the café, taking our under-dressed colleague with him in an attempt to beat the onset of hypothermia. I did my stint on the front with Richard of Flanders, finding the wind finally starting to drop and the going not quite so hard.
OGL complained of freezing feet and declared an urgent need to pee – I couldn’t tell if the two were somehow related and whether he wanted to stop to pee on his feet to try and warm things up a little. We prudently left him to his own devices, continuing on to the end of the road and the junction to sit and wait for him to re-join.
On re-grouping OGL and a couple of others turned directly for the café, sticking to the largely ice-free main road, but a half a dozen or so of us decided to risk pressing on for a slightly longer ride as the wind seemed to be dropping away, the clouds were breaking apart and a very low, very bright sun started to bounce blindingly and uncomfortably off the wet road.
We encountered a couple of dangerous patches of ice, and endured a couple of sketchy descents with the sun striking glaringly off the surface of the road so you were never quite sure if it was icy or just wet under the tyres. We pressed on fairly carefully and cautiously and there were no mishaps.
As we turned for the café, Son of G-Dawg suggested a sober, restrained run in to the finish with no sprinting heroics. I was more than happy to agree to a temporary cessation of hostilities, but noted the Cow Ranger was still with us and he would surely want to flex his muscles, so I doubted the truce would be binding.
We dragged ourselves up a steep climb and started to pick up the pace a little around the lake, only to pull up short. Ice hadn’t stopped us, the wind hadn’t stopped us, the cold hadn’t stopped us, the snow hadn’t stopped us. The massive uprooted tree lying across the road though, that was an entirely different matter.
Weaving our way through the blockade of seemingly abandoned service vehicles, we found the local version of Leatherface standing, mute chainsaw dangling uselessly in his gloves as he surveyed the fallen behemoth he had been sent to clear by hand.
Asking for his assessment of the situation and recommendations for how we should proceed were met with an incomprehensible grunt – I think he was struck dumb by the enormity of his task and close to tears.
Taking the initiative ourselves, we hauled our bikes over the fence and battled through thick, entangling undergrowth skirting the massive crater caused when the trees roots were ripped from the earth. Fighting, pushing, slipping and sliding, hauling, tugging and carrying our bikes, we circumvented the fallen giant, clambered over another fence and finally re-joined the road, mounted up and pressed on.
The pace picked up as we swept down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As we hit the final climb the Cow Ranger surprised everyone (no, honestly) with a completely predictable attack, the G-Dawgs bit hard and set off in pursuit, while I just eased back, relaxed and watched the chase unfold.
At the café we picked up young phenom Josher for the return ride. He was showing off his new cyclo-cross bike in a fetching shade of green which perfectly matched his phone case. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d bought the bike to match his phone or vice-versa. Either way it’s an impressive show of dedication to colour co-ordination.
Once again as the pace wound for the Mad Mile before everyone split, I sat back and let them go, content to ride at my own speed as I picked my way carefully homeward.
A good ride, but like last week I felt somewhat heavy-legged toward the end and had an aching back and shoulders. I can’t decide if this was a consequence of some inner huddling to try and stay warm, or tensing up when encountering ice and slippery conditions. I think I’ll have to learn to relax more.
YTD Totals: 5,735 km/ 3,424 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing.