Club Run, Saturday 17th September, 2016
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 109 km/68 miles with 1,039 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed: 25.2 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Cold then warm, but always breezy
Rain and wind overnight had scrubbed the sky clean, leaving behind a bright blue and sunny Saturday morning. A “Battle of Britain Sky,” an old mate used to call this type of day and I couldn’t help looking around to see if I could spot the odd contrail from a lone Spitfire or two.
Despite benign looking weather, stepping outside to prep the bike revealed that it was actually surprisingly chilly and the wind was stiff and cold. Remembering last week, when the morning had been considerably warmer, but my fingers were still numb as I dropped down the hill, I stepped back inside and picked up a pair of light gloves and some arm-warmers.
That did the trick, now the only thing feeling chilled were my toes where the wind was whistling through vents and mesh on my shoes. Perhaps I need to dig out those seriously odd-looking toe-covers I bought and haven’t used and add those to my arsenal of early morning, flexible wardrobe accoutrements.
Otherwise, the journey across to the meeting point was remarkably unremarkable and the bike was running smoothly, silently and properly. Cause in itself for celebration after the past two weeks or so.
I arrived at the Meeting Point with plenty of time to clamber up onto the wall and sit and wait for the gathering, enjoying the crack and the sun and the warmth that finally persuaded me I could safely swap my gloves for mitts, although the arm-warmers, for the time being at least remained in place.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Crazy Legs told us he’d unwittingly emulated Isaac Newton and been bonked on the head by a falling apple as he rode in this morning. Sadly, it didn’t seem to engender any great eureka moment for him, but it did have me singing, “Newton got beamed by the apple good… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” for the rest of the day.
As good as his word, the FNG with a snapped gear cable from last week had returned, and was there extra early to introduce himself to everyone. Dressed from head to toe in heavy, black and heat absorbing garb, I took in the full length leggings, long-sleeved jersey and long-fingered gloves, tied his clothing choices to a somewhat exotic and alien accent and, with Sherlockian intuition deduced he must be from somewhere with a much hotter climate and must still struggling to adjust to the North East “summer.”
“I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts then?” I confidently ventured.
“No,” he replied, “I’m from Amsterdam-via-Oxford.”
Hmm, not the sub-tropical paradise I had assumed then, but I guess Oxford is closer to the equator than Newcastle and maybe it’s warmed by the Gulf Stream. Or something. I did wonder how our visitor was going to cope with the real North East winter when it starts to rear its ugly head, probably in the next 2-3 days or so.
Perhaps making up for lost time, the Monkey Butler Boy had recovered from his serious, debilitating boy-flu and ventured out early with the Red Max, having already clocked up a dozen miles or so. Like me, they’d marked the chilly start to the day and layered up accordingly, although with perhaps less flexibility in mind.
Noticing his tights, I queried whether Max’s legs had been put away until next summer, which he agreed was pretty much the case, although the family did have a week or so in Spain to look forward to, so the poor people of Andalucia may need to brace themselves and learn to look away.
Unfortunately, the logistics of getting both his bike and the Monkey Butler Boys out there with them was proving a little problematic. He’d bought two hard-shell bike boxes, only to find he was struggling to fit them both into even his impressively spacious Škoda Octavia estate.
This then meant a re-think of hire car options at the other end and a necessary upgrade to a van with more carrying capacity, which hadn’t proved particularly popular with Mrs. Max.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy had been studying the local maps and declared he’d identified several massive climbs that had featured on La Vuelta. Now Max has the additional problem of careful route planning so he can skilfully avoid all of these hilltop challenges.
At the anointed hour, OGT (Official Garmin Time) Crazy Legs invited me to take to the front with him and we pushed off, clipped in and led a handily-sized group of 30 or so lads and lasses out from the suntrap and oddly sheltered micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre: a haven which is no doubt warmed by the gentle throbbing of badly tuned diesel engines and the subtle insulating properties of noisome fumes.
We were horribly splintered at the start and took a good while to regroup, but finally we got all formed up and pushed on.
As we rode through Dinnington a young kid at the side of the road lifted a pretend machine-gun and sprayed the entire peloton “rat-ta-ta-tat!” At least, I think it was a pretend gun, but it was Dinnington after all, so anything’s possible.
I melodramatically clutched at the imaginary, gaping bullet wounds stitched across my chest, while beside me Crazy Legs emitted the strangled cry of a gunshot victim and slumped down as we rode past our grinning assassin. Little did I know he would only be the first of several out to do me harm today.
Somehow making a miraculous recovery from “being plugged” or, more accurately “having his ass capped” (which I believe is the more common argot of today’s youth) – Crazy Legs wondered if the Monkey Butler Boy had squealed like a girl when he saw someone pointing a gun at us. Perhaps though he’s remarkably fearless in the face of firearms and its only buzzing insects and itsy-bitsy spiders that reduce him to a terrified, quivering wreck?
We climbed out past the Cheese Farm, but the Prof was with us, so naturally we had to stop at his favourite bush for a pee before we could really get going. Crazy Legs took the opportunity to relinquish his place on the front to Son of G-Dawg and we pressed on.
We were having one of those days when route communication was utterly random and seemed to be on a delayed feed, with OGL playing the part of a cranky and oddly recalcitrant sat-nav. Crazy Legs had pre-empted any problems by relaying a call back for directions as we were approaching each junction, but once he’d rotated off the front and I was joined by Son of G-Dawg, information seemed to suddenly dry up.
Once again we started a game of “guess the route” – but like playing Russian Roulette, you know that sooner or later you will lose. We finally reached that point, sailing straight on at a junction instead of taking a sharp left and just like that, we had slipped from the front to the back of the group before we had a chance to recover.
A few miles further on and we found the road blocked by what we at first thought was a herd of skeletally-skinny, pale, stilt-legged sheep, but transpired to be one of the local hunts with a full pack of foxhounds. Is it that time of the year already? We slowed and trailed them awhile, until the huntsmen found a space by the side of the road to corral the dogs, allowing us to single out and slip past.
Somewhat taken aback by the size of our group, I heard one of the huntsmen-toffs turn to his companion to query bemusedly, “Ay say, is it the Tawdee Fronce?”
Things had warmed up substantially by now and it was turning into a really pleasant day. Along with many others I took the slight drop in our pace to strip off my arm warmers and tuck them away.
We split, with the self-flagellation ride disappearing off to Rothley Crossroads, while the amblers and the longer, harder, faster group again found themselves travelling the same roads for the second week in succession.
A badly judged and executed gear change on the run up through Hartburn left my legs spinning uselessly, whirring around with no traction or momentum and I once again dropped back through the group, but slowly recovered the lost ground as we plummeted toward Middleton Bank.
I hung back until the steepest ramp began to bite, then spun the revs up and, still seated, pushed up the outside and past everyone to pull clear. As the slope eased I changed up and tried to keep a consistent tempo while, through all my strenuous wheezing my lungs did a remarkably apt impersonation of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner in desperate need of a bag change, singularly failing to deliver enough oxygen, no matter how rapid my panting became.
I’d only intended to put a bit of hurt in the legs of everyone for the final sprint to the café, but the twinkle-eyed, avuncular and cold-calculating assassin that is Zardoz was the first to catch up with me. “Through and off?” he suggested rather innocently and instead of waiting for everyone to regroup, a small selection was soon pressing on and building momentum.
A couple of the younger and stronger FNG’s jumped off the front and opened a sizable gap. “Too early?” I asked Crazy Legs and, “Too early” I affirmed to my own question when he didn’t answer. But it wasn’t and they continued to work well together to build their lead.
There were 5 of us pushing hard in pursuit, myself, Zardoz, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, but we all seemed flat-out and our efforts didn’t mesh and were becoming ragged.
Further along, we lifted our pace again, but Zardoz was taking longer and longer to fight his way past me and then he blew. I tried filling in the gap he’d left and managed to pull just about parallel to Crazy Legs but no further. I hung there awkwardly for a while, like a human cannonball whose trajectory carries him briefly up alongside a jet plane, until gravity re-exerts its cruel grip and plummets him back down to earth once more. That time quickly arrived for me and I waved goodbye to the pilot, peeled off and dropped away.
Finding a second-wind, Zardoz charged past me to cling to the back of our group while they slowly but inexorably pulled away from me. I hammered down through Milestone Woods, sweeping round the corners while planted right in the middle of the road, only to encounter a motorcyclist similarly occupying the middle of the road, which I wouldn’t usually mind, but he was on my side while travelling in the opposite direction.
He had come thundering around the corner too fast, too wide and barely in control, sweeping right across the white line into my lane and nearly into my face. I instinctively twitched away as he swept by, much, much too close for comfort. If I’d been a car, further across the road, or even a few centimetres wider, it might have ended in disaster.
Perhaps fuelled by a sudden kick of adrenaline I hammered over the rollers, catching and immediately dropping Zardoz and trying to recover as the road tipped down to the last drag up to the café.
Even as I began the last climb, the terrible-triplets of G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already rounding the bend up ahead, where a supreme effort by G-Dawg pulled him past the first, but not up to the second FNG escapee.
We rolled into the café, to congratulate the FNG’s, equal parts exhilarated by the chase and utterly spent. At least Son of G-Dawg couldn’t complain that we’d followed the exact same formula this time and it had produced the same result. All we then had to ponder was how we could replicate the mad chase next time.
Comparing notes, it seemed Zardoz also had a too-close encounter with the suicidal motorcyclist, but Crazy Legs and the others hadn’t even noticed him through their hypoxia-induced tunnel vision.
I obviously hadn’t been thinking clearly either, as Crazy Legs convinced me that I should look on the advantages a crash could have brought, as at least I would have had an excuse to stop pedalling!
On that point we retreated to the garden, for a continuation of our on-going battle with our deadly enemy, wasp-kind.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was pondered (not all seriously, I hasten to add) if setting rollers up at an angle would simulate climbing a hill and if so, would it be possible to emulate the whole of the Tour de France route without ever leaving your garage. Taffy Steve even suggested that with a bit of creative thinking and enough time and money you could probably get a disgruntled Frenchman to scream abuse in your ear and douse you in urine – for that added touch of authenticity.
He then took me to task for attacking up Middleton Bank and depriving him of his weekly pleasure of mugging me on the line in the sprint, all the while screaming something incoherent, which he actually claimed to have been, “Dip for the line, bitch!”
We mourned the loss of one of the regular waitresses, who had left for a job in Sunderland and I pondered if she’d gone to the cycling café there which bears the very witty title: “Fausto Coffee.” We all agreed it was a great name, but wondered how well it translated in the mackem dialect.
Talk of the new £5 plastic notes seemed to focus on the fact that they would survive being washed with your clothes. Son of G-Dawg claimed than American dollars were already capable of surviving repeated washes without recourse to plasticizing the shit out of them. To illustrate he said he’d found a $5 bill buried in the pockets of his walk-in trousers, having survived several years and numerous washes in pristine condition.
Or at least I thought he said walk-in trousers, imagining something rather roomy and capacious that you never had to struggle into, even after a big meal out and several pints.
By the time I’d been corrected and we knew he was talking about walking trousers, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already off and running with the thought of Son of G-Dawg wearing Wallace and Gromit style techno-trousers.
“They’re the wrong trousers, Gromit and they’ve gone wrong!”
Caracol looked down at his plate to find a wasp trapped and struggling under his great slab of Snickers tray bake, looking for all the world like it had been trying to lift the cake and make off with it. We urged him to crush it flat under the cake and then, like a true man, eat the cake, smeared wasp and all, but being a gentle soul (or maybe just a wimp) he set the critter free.
The conversation then pinged randomly around starting with double-decker bikes: how unsuitable they are for riding over river bridges with low-railings and how even with a novelty bike you need to keep your chain clean. Are you listening hipsters?
This led on to decorators in stilts so they can paint ceilings (how do they pick up a dropped paintbrush?) and the dark arts of plastering, with all of us DIY-ophobes convinced magic was involved in getting a smooth finish.
Taffy Steve’s eminently sensible solution for patching plaster-work: mix up copious amounts of filler, smear it into and all around the offending hole, let it set hard and then smooth to a nice finish with an orbital sander. Works for me.
We then ended up talking about rugby players and how even the weedy looking ones, like Rob Andrew were actually all built like reinforced brick outhouses. This seems to be the reverse impressions cyclists generate, you see a Marcel Kittel or Andre “The Gorilla” Griepel and you immediately think of a big hulking bloke, but in a crowd they’d look remarkably normal if not malnourished. You could then take a weedy rugby player like Rob “Squeaky” Andrew, put him in a crowd and he’d look like a hulking man-beast, or Master of the Universe. Very different sports, very different worlds.
I guess the conclusion I drew was that we’re all reflected and framed by the company we keep. Looking around the table at my fellow club cyclists, that’s not an entirely comfortable or reassuring thought. (But don’t tell them I said that.)
I caught up with the news from an assortment of riders as we made our way home, revelling in the glorious weather and particularly enjoying Mini Miss questioning what on earth had possessed Red Max to wrap up as if he was on a Polar expedition … and then compound his error by pressuring the Monkey Butler Boy to similarly over-dress. She claimed this came perilously close to systematic child abuse.
A bit further on, I found our exotic flower from Amsterdam, who professed to have thoroughly enjoyed his ride, even going as far as declaring Northumberland even more beautiful than the Yorkshire Dales. Even he though, was forced to admit he was just a trifle over-dressed for the occasion.
As we entered the Mad Mile I had a bit of a gap to make up to the front of the group, where the G-Dawg boys had already started battling for the rights to first shower and to avoid the booby prize of having to clean the bikes. I flew past Cowin’ Bovril, suggesting he jump onto my wheel and hang on, but he sensibly demurred, as I shot across the gap, netting myself a Strava PR for my efforts.
Latching onto the tail of our racing front-runners, I used my momentum to slingshot me across the roundabout as they pulled a hard left. Here another cyclist, perhaps mesmerised by the rest of our group piling off down the left-hand exit at full bore, rode directly out and into my path without even looking.
I slammed the brakes on and swerved around him letting out the cyclist’s universal WTF roar of “Whoa-ah!” I’m not convinced he ever saw or heard me, but I hope he did and learns to pay a little more attention.
I climbed uphill to drop down into the valley again, slaloming narrowly around a car door that an inattentive driver flung open in my path and arrived at the bridge over the river. Still enjoying my ride, despite a seemingly unending litany of people wanting to do me harm, I decided on a slight extension, so I turned and just kept going up the valley.
The road was heavy, a constant uphill drag and straight into a headwind, so it quickly wore me down, but I made it as far as Heddon-on-the-Wall, before I swung around for a rapid downhill descent all the way back down to the bridge and home.
Had I kept going I would eventually have hit Wylam and I could have crossed the river on a different bridge and looped home that way as well. Perhaps a choice for the next glorious day, whenever that will be.
I do know it’s not going to be next Saturday though, I’m off for a University Open Day visit with Daughter#1, so if I don’t get out next weekend at least I had a perfect blast to carry me over until the next ride.
YTD Totals: 5,242 km / 3,257 miles with 51,883 metres of climbing