Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 112 km/70 miles with 953 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 56 minutes
Average Speed: 22.7 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Positively balmy
A massive band of rain swept through early on Saturday morning, but had cleared by dawn, leaving a freshly scrubbed and largely benign day behind, but with the roads still awash with water and with all kinds of dirt and debris strewn across their surface.
I found myself on quiet, relatively empty roads and hit a nice rhythm as I dropped off the hill and started along the valley floor. The bike was purring nicely, tyres hissing as they sped across the wet tarmac, the chain thrumming slightly and I found an inner calm and peace. Then squeak intruded to break the spell. Birds? A late dawn chorus?
The squeak was just the slightest of murmurs, but definitely there, coming from somewhere on the bike. And then it was gone again, but too late the perfect mood was broken. The annoying squeak would reappear at odd intervals before finally having enough of taunting me and going back to wherever squeaks reside when they’re not plaguing riders. I finally decided the intermittent noise sounded quite friendly, chipper and cheerful sounding and determined not to let it bother me … and then it went away.
As I was crossing over the river I glanced down to see one of the local rowing clubs was out even earlier than I was – a couple of single sculls were being motor paced down the centre of the Tyne and an eight sat waiting at the landing push off. Or maybe it was only a seven and they were caught up waiting for their last crew-member, perhaps even their version of the Prof, still in the clubhouse having been caught short.
One of the single sculls passed under the bridge beneath me and I was somewhat surprised to see the rower appeared to be wearing nothing but a vest and a pair of bib-shorts despite the early morning cold and being fully exposed out on the middle of a big wide river. And you think cyclists looked weird?
I wondered what the common link is between rowing and cycling, and not just in a Rebecca Romero sort of way. I remember being out for a lone ride and being bounced by a well-drilled team of cyclists who were doing through and off in a super-tight formation and passed me like a freight train. Each one was on a matching bike, with identical white helmets and black kit emblazoned across the back with Durham University Rowing Club.
Squeaks notwithstanding, the journey across to the meeting point was otherwise incident free and unremarkable.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
G-Dawg looked like he’d come prepared for the worst, with hiking gaiters on top of shoes and overshoes, a look Taffy Steve felt was akin to a 70’s disco diva in flares. G-Dawg would later become so overheated on the ride that he would strip off his arm warmers, and with just his gilet, and flare-like gaiters, it looked like we were riding with an escapee from the Village People. I’m only grateful he no longer feels the need to participate in “Movember” – with his usual scruffy horseshoe moustache he would just about have nailed the image.
(I still can’t help thinking a decent pair of mudguards (or indeed any) would do much more to protect his feet (and fellow riders) than any number of hiking accoutrements – but would, of course ruin the lines of his beloved fixie.)
OGL’s opening gambit seemed to be, “We were talking about Barbie’s in the pub last night …” and I had to do a quick double-take.
“Woah? What? You were talking about Barbie’s? In the pub?”
“No, no, not Barbie’s … bargains.”
“Oh, that makes more sense.” I was beginning to get a bit worried there.
We were then treated to a rare appearance by Famous Sean’s in what he claimed was his 5th ride of the year. He proclaimed he’d even come prepared with his club subs to try and divert the expected censure. I naturally had to ask if he was paying next year’s very early, or perhaps this year’s very, very late He thought it through for a heartbeat and decided he was paying this years, late and handed over a scruffy, brown paper envelope to OGL. “Hey, papyrus,” Taffy Steve quipped, “I haven’t seen that for a long time.”
Even I could manage the maths that determined £10 annual club fees wasn’t an onerous amount to cough up for our esteemed company on 5 occasions throughout the year.
“Cheaper than golf.” Taffy Steve suggested.
“And much more fun, too.” I agreed. Although we both could see the merits of going to a driving range and occasionally whacking a ball around, just for the hell of it. Taffy Steve recommended a local range decorated with abandoned cars and other “targets” you could take your frustrations out on. I was just surprised no one had yet thought to introduce baseball batting cages and pitching machines to this country, which would be even more fun.
[I am quite amused by the fact that every sports shop in the country seems to do a thriving trade in baseball bats and yet no one actually appears to play the game. I would ask what that’s all about … but I suspect I already know the answer.]
9:15 Garmin time and Crazy Leg’s and Taffy Steve were already pushing off and clipping in when OGL pulled them up short, having spotted another rider weaving their way toward us through the traffic.
To Crazy Legs’ disgust this turned out to be the Prof wearing the most outrageously orange base-layer under his cycling jersey. This wouldn’t have looked out of place on an escapee from some institutional correctional facility in the US of A and I was quite surprised he wasn’t being followed by an armada of blue flashing lights. Blocking out the glare with a raised hand, Crazy Legs wiped his burned retina’s clear of their tears, and complained, “You make us wait and then it turns out it’s only the Prof!”
Negotiating a few encroaching buses, traffic lights, roundabouts and tricky junctions, we finally left most of the traffic behind and headed out into the wilds of Northumberland. I was having a brief chat with the Red Max, who’d thoroughly enjoyed his own, personal Vuelta Espana, when the order was shaken up at a roundabout.
Noticing a lone rider just behind the front two, I skipped up the line to slot in next to the Garrulous Kid and then spent the next 40 minutes or so being talked at, finding I only needed to grunt occasionally to keep the buzzsaw flood of words going. All the while the Red Max rode behind the Garrulous Kid, occasionally calling up, “Breathe!” before dissolving into fits of giggles.
Meanwhile I had a spell riding behind G-Dawg, helping him adjust the thin sliver of plastic he mistook for a mudguard on the fly: “Left a bit, a bit more, a bit more. No , right a bit, right a bit. There! Bernie the bolt.”
An untimely puncture for the Natty Gnat provided my ears with a respite and I found myself grouped with the BFG, Red Max, Monkey Butler Boy and OGL, chatting aimlessly as we waited for repairs to be made.
OGL reminded us that he’d booked a venue for a post-Christmas annual dinner, complete with, in his own words, “a big boofee.”
The BFG wondered if he’d be able to get a glass of boojaloos to go with his boofee, carefully explaining it was the only wine he knew how to pronounce properly.
The Monkey Butler Boy now started complaining about his bars being too narrow at 38cm, which OGL said were good enough for Chris Hoy. He then went on to describe how big, burly lead out man Adam Hansen rides with 38cm bars so he’s not only more aero, but can navigate through tight spaces to position his sprinter at the front of a fluid and moving peloton, something he felt was hugely beneficial in his role as lead out man.
“The important emphasis,” I suggested, “Is your job as lead out.”
“Not chicken out.” The Red Max emphasised.
“Not wimp out.” The BFG suggested.
“Not cop out.” I concluded.
“Not bail out.” Someone else added, helpfully
“Not pull out … bow out … drop out … clear out … ship out … storm out … duck out … flake out or opt out,” the group all agreed, as if we’d been subject to a random attack, assault, incursion, raid, onslaught, ambush, mugging by a Thesaurus. (Other mythical dinosaurs are available.)
Despite all our efforts, I’m still not sure the Monkey Butler Boy actually got the message.
Up and running again, we’d only gone a little further, when while chatting with the Monkey Butler Boy, I felt my rear tire gradually softening and starting to rumble. I pulled out and waved everyone through, urging them to keep going.
I managed to get rid of everyone except Andeven, the comedy value of watching me change a tyre proving too good for him to pass on. I would like to say I nonchalantly dropped the wheel out and slipped effortlessly into repair mode, but in truth I had to wrestle and wrangle the wheel clear of the frame, the geometry of the bike, rear derailleur positioning and mudguards conspiring to make the job much harder than it should be.
I then found the culprit, a massive, steel-tipped thorn driven right through the top and I assume the toughest most protected part of the tyre. A bit of intimate contact with a truly filthy, hacky mucky wheel, some messing about with the connection between pump and valve and a vigorous upper body workout and I was left suitably begrimed and exhausted as I barged, banged and forced the wheel back into the frame. Phew, it was the hardest, most tiring thing I’d done all week, but that was just a precursor to the next 25 kilometres.
While I was glad of Andeven’s company, I now found myself riding alone with someone who’d posted the 3rd fastest time in this years over-60s category at the Haute Route Alps, an 800km ride over 7 stages and across 21,000 metres of climbing.
His idea of a comfortable riding pace was right at the edge of my lactate threshold and I was struggling to maintain a civilised conversation as we raced the others to the café, taking the most direct route and every short-cut we could think of.
At one point, hanging breathlessly off his rear wheel on a series of long, dragging climbs, with my legs burning, my encounter with the intermittent squeak took me to a happier place, riding with a grand old feller called Maurice Patterson who kept very youthful versions of Sur La Jante and Toshi San on the straight and narrow and very royally entertained.
Grey-haired and impossibly ancient to my young eyes, (he was probably only as old then as I am now), the Maurice I recall was one of those old, inexhaustible veteran riders with the typical rounded shoulders and stiff-backed walk of the inveterate cyclist. Yet on the bike he would be transformed, riding with a cadence that never seemed to change much beyond an unhurried and effortless glide, no matter what terrain he was facing.
Unflappable, unpretentious, full of good advice and willing to help anyone and everyone, but best of all, Maurice was a natural raconteur with a deadpan sense of humour and an incredible wealth of hugely entertaining tall tales, including a personal favourite about a shatterproof, indestructible mug that eventually, inevitably got “smashed into a thoosand pieces.”
The particular phrase I was remembering today though was one of Maurice’s perennial’s: “grab ‘em by the clems and squeeze ‘til the pips squeak.” It seemed to perfectly describe my own personal travails at this moment in time and it’s likely the memory was sparked by my own squeak encounter that morning.
We dived through Matfen and Ingoe, dragged ourselves up the Quarry Climb, took the shorter right hand route at the top and burned for the café.
As we hit the final stretch, Captain Black and a couple of other riders blasted past, duking it out for a sprint that surely should have ended a couple of kilometres back up the road? This proved to be the vanguard of the faster-harder-longer group, so we’d managed a pretty good job of making up time and distance to hit the café at around the same time as everyone else.
By the time we reached the café, everyone seemed to be suffering from over-heating and jackets and jerseys were being discarded, leaving a lot of cyclists wandering around in bibs and base-layers, so it looked like something you might find in a cowboy bunkhouse, well if you happened to be there during a particularly bad acid trip.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Seemingly completely out of the blue, the Prof asked me if I’d ever seen a Dutch gutter, with the De Uitheems Bloem sitting beside him and nodding along sagely in encouragement. Seemingly gutters are just one more example of that nation’s natural engineering superiority to the rest of the world – apparently wide and comfortable enough to lie down and sleep in and never needing to be maintained or cleared out.
I think there was then a long, involved lecture about what makes Dutch gutters so irrepressibly fantastic, but I have to admit I zoned out at that point …
Andeven had carefully coiled and carried my discarded inner tube with him, and presented it to the Prof for reclamation in his secret laboratory/lab/lair. Like all good super-villains, he couldn’t help but brag about the process, giving his arch-nemesis time to effect an escape. Apparently, his repair regimen goes far beyond simply slapping a patch over the hole and involves strips from other tyres, clamping and compressing in a vice and then … final buffing and polishing with a spoon!
The Prof took time to promote his bright orange base layer to all and sundry, declaring it was from SuperDry if we wanted to buy one for ourselves. We didn’t. For some reason, he then had to ask if there was a SuperDry store in town. I in turn asked one of the waitresses who’d turned up to clear our table, but she looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as we no doubt set about confirming what she’d expected all along – we were all utterly barking.
She began to look for a way out of the conversation while retaining as much dignity as possible, while the Prof made matters worse by declaring they made good pyjamas too and then his butterfly mind was off, quickly flitting onto the etymology of the word pyjama, which he felt might have been Indian, or possibly Chinese. Holding the tray protectively in front of her the waitress backed slowly away and disappeared around the corner, never to be seen again.
Waiting until everyone was leaving the Prof decided it was time to visit the loo after first making us promise to wait for him. Naturally, as soon as he was out of sight we collected our belongings and scarpered.
The ride back was wholly uneventful, although I did find the roundabout with all the poppies had been supplemented now by a poppy hung from every street sign and lamppost. It’s good to know our council taxes are being well spent funding essential and useful services in these times of extreme austerity. Sigh.
YTD Totals: 6,243 km / 3,880 miles with 62,198 metres of climbing