Club Run, Saturday 14th May, 2016
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,1194 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 29 minutes
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 23 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Bright and breezy and chilly to cool
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I found G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, very early arrivals, sitting on the wall and basking in the warm sun as I rolled up to the meeting place. “So where are you taking us today?” I asked, half-jokingly. “Well…” G-Dawg replied, reaching into his back pocket and flourishing a map, “I was thinking…”
A Map! A Plan! An idea of where we’d be going before setting off! This was a novel and banner day for the club. And this wasn’t just any old map randomly torn from a 1:500,000 metre scale atlas of Western Europe, this was a full colour OS map, carefully annotated with precise distances, the alternative routes carefully picked in different highlighter pens and graded according to severity and road surface, the whole precisely folded to fit neatly into a back pocket.
G-Dawg even suggested he should have brought 40 copies of the map and route profile, all carefully laminated to hand to everyone. We gathered round to review and agree the proposed route including some new, uncharted roads marked only with the vague warning “Here be dragons” and a fair amount of climbing with both the Mur De Mitford and Middleton Bank included in the mix.
Taffy Steve did a quick check for deep-section wheels and just to be sure confirmed we wouldn’t be going down the Ryals. Nevertheless, he suggested it was windy enough to keep away from these riders on any downhill sections, although he concluded anything would be safer than riding behind Plumose Pappus on windy descents, reasoning he was “so light he flutters like a moth caught on a windscreen.”
Richard of Flanders arrived and was immediately faced with the consternation of choice, feeling that he’d overdressed for the day and was likely to overheat. He took himself off into a darkened corner to divest himself of one or two layers, or basically as much as he could stuff into his back pocket. I suggested he could just have left his clothes in the grit bin to pick up on his return, reasoning that the Prof was away riding the Wooler Wheel and so they would likely be safe from opportune bin-dippers.
There was only time left then for Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs to make sure their Garmins were perfectly synchronised and neither was reading from a rogue Russian satellite and we were off.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
One of the guys recalled flying into Southampton Airport and noticed how you could tell from the air how affluent the area was by counting all the tennis courts and swimming pools attached to the houses.
Someone wondered what a similar aerial view flying into Newcastle would reveal? Satellite dishes someone suggested, but trampolines according to Taffy Steve, who’d seen an aerial photo provided by the Police of one suburb while investigating an accident. He said everyone had been amazed by the number of trampolines, with seemingly one in every other garden, only differentiated by the more up-market ones’ sporting safety nets.
So there you have it, a handy gauge for reckoning the disposable income of an area from the air is the ratio of swimming pools and tennis courts to trampolines and satellite dishes.
Having flogged himself to death riding on the front into the wind and attacking every hill like an overly excited Labrador puppy, we tried to convince Richard of Flanders to indulge a little more in the fine art of wheel sucking, but apparently to no avail. He’s obviously still much too young and idealistic and hasn’t come to recognise the immutable truth behind the maestro, Il Campionissimo Fausto Coppi’s grand edict; “Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.”
As we indulged ourselves in the café, the Cow Ranger appeared on a new TT bike he was fine tuning for a triathlon up on the coast of Northumberland tomorrow. Someone was curious about his Kask TT helmet, which he’d managed to find at a bargain price of under £200 after spending days scouring the far corners of the internet for the very best deal.
Unfortunately, his comprehension of Dutch small print wasn’t quite as good as his nose for a bargain and he only found on delivery that the helmet was priced so competitively because it came without a visor. He has since bought the visor, is happy with the helmet and though an extra £40 lighter in the pocket, he has perhaps learned a valuable lesson.
The BFG went to look over the Cow Rangers new TT bike, promising not to touch, but to be honest I was more concerned by the trail of drool he was leaving in his wake.
A couple of the guys discussed the impending Greggs sponsored, Children’s Cancer Run, perhaps the only healthy activity where you are rewarded with a less than nutritious cheese pastie. Sounds good to me and beats an energy gel any day.
There was, finally the first stirrings of spring in the air as the verges, roundabouts and public areas were awash with bright, flowering daffodils and tulips and with trees nodding heavily under masses of pink and white blossom. Even the broken glass strewn across one corner of the road looked less than menacing, seeming to wink benignly in the bright sunlight, like a handful of carelessly discarded diamond chips. I prudently picked my way carefully through it anyway.
Despite the signs of spring, it was still bitterly cold at 8.00am as I swung down Heinous Hill to start to wend my way to the meeting point and I was beginning to wish I’d worn warmer gloves. It wasn’t quite cold enough for my thumbs to become frozen and blissfully numb, so they just ached in discomfort.
Loud squawking at one point alerted me to a cat sitting primly amidst a flower bed where, for some unknown reason, it was being roundly berated and screeched at by two very indignant crows. The cat was ignoring them with studied indifference that I found particularly admirable.
At the meeting point we agreed our route and around 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, including several FNG’s who would perhaps have preferred an easier introduction to a club run.
Out into the countryside and signs of spring continued to show, the trees were a soft, vibrant green and the base of one wood of silver birch was threaded with a haze of bluebells. The only discordant note was the seemingly ever more common fields of rape seed, jarring in their too bright colour and filling the air with a somehow alien and over-powering perfume.
The first challenge of the day was the Mur de Mitford, and I found myself climbing well and skipping from the back to near the front of the group as the gradient began to bite and the chatter was replaced with much manly (and occasionally womanly) grunting. Half way up Taffy Steve started deliberately positioning himself on my wheel for an all action photo, but I’m not sure he got the result his consideration deserved.
Over the top we ventured out into the unknown, taking a new route none of us had ever ridden before, although we all agreed if OGL had been present he’d no doubt have claimed a fantastic intimacy with its every rise, pothole and divot. And climb. There were lots of these, in fact so many and with no corresponding descents that at one point we questioned if we were actually caught on an infinite Penrose Stair made real, or trapped within an M.C. Escher lithograph.
Finally, after what seemed an impossibly long time we were at last able to confirm the maxim that what goes up, must come down, with a long, gradual drop down to the River Font. We travelled along the valley floor for a while, before crossing the river and scaling the other side, although thankfully avoiding The Trench and taking a longer but less brutal climb up.
I found myself riding next to Goose and discussing heartrate monitors, which we’d both tried and both rejected as superfluous. I did however tell him how much fun I had when The Red Max helped me set my Garmin up and unwittingly synced it to his own heartrate monitor. Until that point I never knew tachycardia was actually a lifestyle choice.
At some point Aveline’s rear wheel started to unravel, an occurrence eerily similar to the mechanical travails the Prof had suffered the previous week, although she was entirely blameless not having hand-assembled her own wheels from cast-off parts, recycled components and odd bits of flotsam and jetsom.
Regrouping after the sharp climb up to Hartburn, Sneaky Pete volunteered to guide the FNG’s on a shorter route to the café, avoiding Middleton Bank. Aveline decided she was uncertain how long her wheel was going to survive, so opted to tag along on the shorter ride, but Szell somewhat surprisingly decided to stick with us and tackle his own personal bete noir of a climb. He’s game if nothing else.
Unfortunately, the accumulation of all the previous climbing took its toll and Szell was shelled out long before we even started the run up Middleton Bank proper. I hung back long enough for him to appear on the horizon and convince me he hadn’t had a mechanical, then followed everyone else up the hill.
The climb felt strangely unreal and far too easy. When I got to the steepest ramp I stood out of the saddle from force of habit rather than any need and accelerated to start and pass some of the others on my inside. I cleared the steep part, clicked down a couple of gears and pushed on. I was closing on the front group, but running out of hill as I cleared the top in what Strava reckoned was a new PR for the climb. This was however to be one of those times when we decided not to regroup after the hill and I was now facing a long, lonely chase across on my own.
For the first time that day I began to notice the headwind as I pushed hard and slowly began to close the gap on the front group. I passed a detached Laurelan and slowed briefly, but she sensibly didn’t want any part of my futile chase and didn’t take my wheel, so I pushed on.
It was one puny chaser against a headwind and half a dozen others at full tilt and it was a very, very unequal contest. I was making no impression whatsoever and every time they whipped out of sight around a corner I could sense the gap growing a little more. As I hammered down through Milestone Woods I caught up our amblers group and gave up, easing back to exchange a few pleasantries with Sneaky Pete.
Then as we hit the rolling ramps I accelerated and tried to carry my speed across them, almost managing until the final rise caught me pushing too big a gear and grinding a little too much for comfort. As I tipped over and began the descent to the final drag to the café I sensed someone latching onto my back wheel and turned to find I’d picked up the company of Taffy Steve, who suggested he should have guessed a consummate wheel sucker would know immediately when someone was sucking their own wheel. Yep.
We pounded up the last slope to the cafe, discussing whether we might have bridged across to the front group if we’d pooled our efforts. I’m not sure we would have made it, but there’s no doubt it would have been closer.
Suitably refreshed, a small group of us set out for the return home, leaving a few notables still loitering in the café, but aware Richard of Flanders had an impending family deadline. I hit the front with Taffy Steve and we pushed on for the first few miles, before he recognised we were the two with the longest trips back but were the ones battering manfully into the headwind.
He decided we’d shouldered our fair share of the workload and at the next hill we eased across to let the others through. Unfortunately, the Cow Ranger took this as an invitation to smash it and accelerated away in full TT mode with the BFG jumping off in crazy, mad pursuit.
I could only shake my head in disbelief as Richard of Flanders and Goose got drawn into the madness and began pounding away after the others and I didn’t even try to follow, settling back to find a more sustainable pace, but left once again pushing into the wind.
On Berwick Hill we caught Richard of Flanders and Goose and managed to pick up another rider on a TT bike returning from a long solo ride up to Rothbury. She worked with us to set a decent pace and we clipped off the last few miles easily.
On the last sharp hill up to Dinnington Richard of Flanders started to flag from his earlier efforts and dropped off the back. Hopefully he wasn’t too late getting home, so might be allowed out to play next week.
As first the TT’er and then Goose and Taffy Steve turned off I entered the Mad Mile alone for my ride home, reflecting that it’s all a lot easier when you ride in a group.
YTD Totals: 2,759 km / 1,714 miles with 26,349 metres of climbing