The Hills Are Alive

The Hills Are Alive

Club Run, Saturday 8th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   110 km/68 miles with 1,043 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 14 minutes

Average Speed:                                   25.8 km/h

Group size:                                           32 riders, No FNG’s

Temperature:                                      23°C

Weather in a word or two:              Bright and breezy

The Ride:

Ride Profile 6 August
Ride Profile


Well, I’m off on holiday tomorrow, so this could be quick and dirty – let’s see where it goes…

Saturday was again bright and breezy and looked like another great day for a ride, so I was up in good time and raring to go, but delayed when Cat#2 decided to violently reject his breakfast all over the office floor. Leaving 10 minutes late as a consequence of cat-yark cleaning-up duties, I had the choice of shortening my route in, or just pedalling a little bit harder.

I chose the latter, perhaps unwisely, as I wasn’t feeling super-fit: a lingering but very mild cold (even by man-flu standards) had plagued me all week with a sore throat and seemed to have brought on a visitation from the snot fairy overnight.

Snot Fairy
An Unwelcome Visitation from the Snot Fairy

The happy circumstances of kids’ holidays, fine weather and Mrs. SLJ working from home had also allowed me to commute into work by bike on four consecutive days. I’ve taken to riding the last third of the Heinous Hill climb sur la plaque (although I realise that’s a rather relative term on a mountain bike) and three or four cogs down the cassette to try and build some leg power. Four iterations in a week had left me suitably leaden-legged.

Even worse when I hit the valley floor, the “benign and gentle summer breezes” promised for the day in a series of overly optimistic forecasts, turned out to be a rather stiff headwind. I pressed on with the plan to use my normal route nonetheless, figuring I’d be able to make up some of the lost time once I crossed the river and picked up a tailwind, or failing that on the climb out of the valley.

For such a promising day the roads were surprisingly cyclist free, but there was an increased volume of cars to contend with, perhaps a consequence of the on-going repairs to stop the A1 Tyne crossing slowly crumbling and I found myself queuing behind a long line of traffic to cross the Newburn Bridge, just managing to skip through the lights as they were changing.

Once across the river I picked up the pace and managed a couple Strava PR’s and four 2nd fastest times clambering up the other side of the valley. When I hit my usual checkpoint: 8.42 miles into the ride, the time was only 8.40, I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the ride to the meeting point.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee’s new bike saga has finally reached a satisfactory conclusion and he was out astride his new, super-smart BMC Time Machine, having actually delayed his holidays in order to be able to ride his first club run on it. His only minor gripe was that OGL had charged him more than he expected for help assembly help. We suggested this was just the storage costs for keeping the bike securely in the shop for such an over-extended period of time. It also seems like a small price to pay for the horrible ball-ache involved in routing the internal cabling through the frame and making sure everything worked “just so” – you know, a hap’p’orth of tar and all that.

Crazy Legs politely asked permission and then did the standard, UCI approved weight-test, hefting the bike off the ground on extended fingers. He put it down, slightly perplexed and pursed his lips and shook his head a little. Ah! He fished both full water-bottles out of their cages and set them carefully on the pavement, then picked up the bike again, this time nodding approvingly.

New bikes seemed to be the order of the day and the Monkey Butler Boy was there on his new steed, wearing what the BFG described as a “carbon-fibre cushion smile” courtesy of the saddle he’d donated to the project. I expressed surprise at finding the Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max at the meeting so early and put this down to the simple enthusiasm of the new bike.

Apparently it was even worse than I suspected though, as Max related how the Monkey Butler Boy had been awake dressed and down to the Post Office at 6.30 that morning to pick up a parcel containing his new carbon fibre pedals and then pestered his dad to fix them on immediately – all this from someone that Max says he usually has to pry out of bed with a crowbar.

The Red Max then confirmed the Monkey Butler Boy had blown his entire life-savings on his new bike and now only had only one single penny left to his name. Crazy Legs surmised that weight-saving on bikes must cost about a £1 for every gram lost, perhaps £2 a gram once you get below a certain threshold.

The consensus among the club seems to be that Lizzie Armitstead should not be riding in the Olympics and should accept the sanction imposed for missing three drugs-tests, even though many gave her the benefit of the doubt and suspected she probably wasn’t cheating, but just a bit dopey. Crazy Legs made the valid point of asking what sort of reaction we’d had to Christine Ohuruogu following her series of missed tests. Fair point.

Spry, who has an unrequited love affair with Miss Armitstead (unrequited only because they haven’t yet met, of course) remained silent, but I suspect he wasn’t actually paying attention as he’s lately been much too busy devising ever more labyrinthine plots whereby Philip Deignan would meet a gruesome end in an unfortunate accident with an out-of-control agricultural threshing machine.

The good weather had enticed a large bunch out for the run, so at 9.15 Crazy Legs led a procession of over 30 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I joined him on the front as we spent the first couple of mile at a very gentle pace ensuring everyone negotiated the lights, traffic and roundabouts in good order and we were “all on” as we picked our way out into the countryside and began to pick up speed.



As we started up Berwick Hill, Crazy Legs song of choice for the day was “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” and I wondered aloud about where Kid Creole is now, and if he was living under a witness protection programme after turning state’s evidence. Naturally and as intended, the requisite ear-worm was planted and Crazy Legs started singing “Stool Pigeon” while I added some appropriate “Ha-cha-cha-cha’s!”

Crazy Legs determined that our recent duets – “Rawhide”, “Jimmy, Jimmy” and now “Stool Pigeon” actually helped on the climbs and made them go a little quicker and easier. We decided we needed a song for every hill and he wondered what songs the professional might adopt.

I felt it was obvious Andy Shleck would choose some cheesy Euro-hit and suggested “Barbie Girl” or anything else by Aqua. Crazy Legs disagreed, saying that you couldn’t possibly be expected to complete a long climb Alpe d’Huez or the Hautacam singing “Barbie Girl” over and over, well not without suffering serious psychological repercussions. Hmm, well if the cap fits…


We found the hills were not only alive with the sound of … well I daren’t suggest music, but singing at least … but we were intermittingly riding through clouds of black flies that had been enticed out by the weather and were proving difficult  to both avoid and ingest. Crazy Legs gagged on one particularly meaty example, coughed and spat it out where it ricocheted of the road and pinged solidly off someone’s frame.

We then had a discussion about the collective noun for flies. I suggested swarm would be acceptable, Crazy Legs though thought that given the bullet-like, armour-plated nature of the kamikaze insect that had just dive-bombed his larynx, then perhaps “bolus” would be more appropriate.

Tired of breaking through each new bolus of flies, we ceded the front to Caracol and Moose Bumps and dropped in behind their wheels. Speeding up to the turn-off to Mitford we always take, all was quiet behind as Crazy Legs began a deliberate countdown, “Three … Two… One…Now!”

“Left, left, turn left!” OGL bellowed, but too late – we were well past the junction and there was no turning back. Oh well, that’s one way of finding some slightly less-travelled routes.


Tracing our way back onto the right roads, it wasn’t long before we were climbing up to Dyke Neuk and waving goodbye to G-Dawg who had to zip off home early to look after the family dogs. A few miles further on we stopped to split the group and at this point both the BFG and me were found floundering and wondering what to do in the absence of G-Dawg who we always follow. The BFG admitted to feeling quite bereft now we’d lost our spiritual, if not de facto leader.


While the faster-harder-longer, self-flagellation group set off for a faster-harder-longer, self-flagellation ride, Crazy Legs took charge of the rest and suggested a Hartburn to Middleton Bank route, even getting Szell’s approval for his nemesis climb, as he growled, “Bring it on!” with a just the smallest hint of trembling behind his misplaced bravado.

As we dropped down to the bridge at Hartburn and kicked up the other side I saw the BFG get his gearing all wrong to send his legs spinning in a wild, ineffective blur and I was laughing so hard I could barely climb up the hill after him and dropped to the back of the group trying to recover. I was still there as we began the climb up Middleton Bank, but was happy to take it at my own pace even as a small group broke clear ahead and rode away, reasoning that we always regroup over the top for the race to the café.


Today however was one of those rare days where there would be no re-grouping and I found myself cresting the hill to see the front group disappearing into the distance. I set off in pursuit, eventually catching Carlton and the BFG, but our chase was disorganised and I couldn’t see us catching the leaders, so I eased back, determined to at least win the sprint for the minor placings. I dropped onto the BFG’s wheel as we started the last climb to the café and just waited until his tank inevitably clicked over onto empty and the strength fled his legs. Simple.

“Is that it?” I asked, easing past him.

“Exact same bloody place as last week.” He moaned as I rode away from him.

Well, there’s certainly a virtue in consistency.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Yet more new bikes were noticed at the café, this time belonging to a couple of riders who’d both had Litespeed titanium “bikes for life” that had suffered cracks and frame failures and both concluded their “Lifetime Warranty” was actually worthless.

They now both have shiny new plastic/carbon bikes to look after. This caused Szell no little discomfort, having just recently invested in a top of the line Van Nicholas titanium or “fat lad’s bike” as he described it. OGL assured him that Van Nicholas don’t have the same seemingly desperate reputation that Litespeed seems to be garnering … but then again he is a Van Nicholas dealer.

For some reason the conversation turned to dead pop stars with Crazy Legs lamenting the loss of Prince, who Szell declared he’d hated. When asked why, Szell seemed to suggest it was just pure jealousy as Prince was richer, better-looking, more successful, a better singer, more talented, “Hell,” he concluded, “Prince could probably climb Middleton Bank better.”

This naturally led to us considering what kind of cyclist Prince would be – obviously a grimpeur and Crazy Legs wondering what his climbing song would be and nominating “Starfish and Coffee” a song he’d spent quite some time trying to make sense of, before realising it was quite nonsensical.

So the cycling world missed out on a potential King of the Mountains contender, but as Crazy Legs surmised, you really wouldn’t want to watch a climber who would punctuate every pedal stroke with a “Whoo!” or “Ee-ee!”

As we were gathering everything up to leave the café, Taffy Steve appeared, having snapped his chain on the ride in from the coast that morning and being delayed by a diversion to a bike shop for repairs. He was just sitting down to a well-deserved coffee and cake combo as we were leaving and waved us off.

As we started down Berwick Hill someone was just saying how unusually civilized and orderly the run back had been, when a yellow blur flashed past, Taffy Steve going full-bore having chased us from the café in an epic pursuit and intent on finishing his solo ride in style. All hell then broke loose as a chase began, amidst much futile OGL shouting.

Things seemed to calm briefly for the steep ramp into Dinnington, before disintegrating again and we were soon scattered all over the road in small groups and single riders. I worked my way forwards jumping from wheel to wheel until I hit the roundabout to turn for home and eased, determined to enjoy the sunshine and the ride back alone at a more relaxed pace.

There was still time for the unusual sight of the day, a wedding procession that almost rivalled the 3 massive tractors of a few weeks ago, as I passed an entire wedding party aboard two ribbon-adorned, big red double-decker buses, before I was dropping down toward the river.

Again traffic was queued up and it was busier than I’d ever seen it on the approach to the bridge. This was nothing, however compared to the south side where the line of waiting cars must have been half a mile long, as I guess some sort of diversion was in effect. As I rode past all the frustrated impatient drivers, sweltering in their hot cars, I couldn’t help but feel glad that I was out in the open, moving freely and actually able to enjoy the weather.

YTD Totals: 4,603 km / 2,860 miles with 45,572 metres of climbing


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