Vortices of Madness

Vortices of Madness

Club Run, Saturday 19th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  119 km/58 miles with1,280 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          5 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.9 km/h

Group size:                                         17 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    5°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, but the brass monkeys were singing alto.


Ride Profile

The Ride:

But first some exciting news. One considerate reader has kindly developed and sent me a prototype cake spade. I tell you, this thing is going to be huge …

Honestly, who wouldn’t want a cake spade?


The windows of all the parked cars I passed first thing on Saturday morning were opaque with frost, and where windscreens were exposed to the wind they were glittering with fractal diamonds of ice. It was cold, the temperature barely nudging above freezing and a couple of brass monkeys were out searching earnestly for something they’d lost. I was conscious there could be ice still lingering in the shadows and down the sides of the road, hiding amongst the curled up piles of fallen leaves that had their ridges and edges limned in tell-tale white.

I tipped tentatively down the hill, fingers already applying pressure to the brake levers, threading my way between the dully gleaming metal drain covers and trying to remain as upright as possible as I navigated the tight bends. I was going so slow I was even passed by a mountain-biker who looked at me quizzically, obviously trusting his fat, knobbly tyres more than I trusted my own skinny slivers of slick rubber.

Safely down, I noticed that If anything, the air was even colder on the valley floor, the meadows either side of the road frosted white, the grass stiff and unmoving in the wind, while the bursts of water vapour each time I breathed out looked like I was toking on the chill air.

Crossing the river, I saw possibly the same crew as last week had actually got their 8 out into middle of the Tyne, where they seemed to be sitting becalmed, unmoving and broadside to the current. I couldn’t help feel they really needed to do some rowing to stop the rapid onset of hypothermia.

I made it to the meeting point safely, noticing only one slight wheel slip and hopeful that by the time we got out into the country lanes the danger of encountering unexpected ice would largely have diminished.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

I was surprised to find G-Dawg on his best bike, while he rather evasively muttered something about the weather not being all that bad, really. Really? He then announced he was in charge for the day, as OGL was away at the British Cycling AGM. G-Dawg outlined a pre-planned route down into the Tyne Valley and out again and we finally understood the real reason why he’d left the venerable fixie at home. 

Of course, being G-Dawg and particularly averse to social media, he’d not publicised the route, although he had at least warned Son of G-Dawg that there’d be a whole heap of climbing, so he too had taken the opportunity to break his best bike out from its hyperbaric, deep storage chamber for one last fling.

Channelling his inner OGL, G-Dawg then demanded to know numbers for the Annual Club Awards and Boofee and, after much prompting and cajoling, stuck on the traditional tirades we all expect to hear before setting out: club fees are due and if you want to race stick a number on your back etc. etc.

There was also some discussion about when to have a Christmas ride, complete with seasonally naff jumpers, tinsel, baubles, reindeer antlers, fancy-dress and all that malarkey, with the 18th December club run being favoured. While there’s likely to be a Festive Ride on the Saturday of Christmas Eve, the feeling is that only a few are likely to make it out, so the weekend before will allow a greater spectacle and the best chance for as many as possible to make fools of themselves.

I was found winding a rubber band around my camera casing and had to explain it was a safeguard because the catch wasn’t overly secure and could spring itself open on the less than billiard smooth roads we had to negotiate. I also explained rubber bands represented the apogee of my engineering expertise and that I was certain the Prof wouldn’t approve. The Red Max contended that rubber bands, superglue, gaffer tape, zip ties and silicone sealant, were all that was needed to solve most engineering issues and as the Prof joined us, we were able to conclude loudly that all engineers were mentally unbalanced.

The Red Max also told me there’d been a bad crash last Sunday, when a guest rider from Essex had joined us for the day and had managed to plant her wheel into a deep pothole swooping down through Milestone Woods. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or maybe it’s an Essex thing, but Max suggested the guest rider had appeared much more upset about the damage done to her phone than the fact that her front wheel was a write off.

The Prof was eager to get some good miles in today as he was pushing toward his year-end target of 6,000 in total. The Red Max declared he was content to have already gone over 5,000 miles for the year and then the Monkey Butler Boy piped up with “I’ve done almost 14,000 kilometres” to cries of disbelief from the Red Max.

“Well, I meant all time” he concluded lamely.

With the anointed hour of Garmin-time fast approaching, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, each to add to our own personal mileage totals.

Holy sardine! I dropped in beside Taffy Steve to find, exemplary parent that he is, he’d introduced his son to the joys of the original Batman, via the 1966 Adam West movie. The kid had been particularly delighted by Batman climbing the Bat Ladder to the Bat ‘Copter, while being attacked by a massive rubber shark that attaches itself to his leg. Having failed to dislodge it with several roundhouse punches – “BIFF!” … “ZAP!” … “POW!” … Batman reaches for his Bat Utility Belt, plucks out a can of Bat Shark Repellent (obviously) and unleashes a dose in the shark’s face. Pure class.

We stopped at some traffic lights long enough for me to notice Sneaky Pete’s jacket was held together with a few wrappings of gaffer tape – to my eyes precision engineering at its finest.

Having already skipped ahead to expose himself (at a bus stop?) the Plank (aka I.P. Freely) was soon riding back up to the front to negotiate yet another pee-stop, perhaps egged on by the Prof.

He blamed the cold. I blamed an infinitesimally small and weak bladder.

Back in motion, we were soon a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ down into the Tyne Valley, where a few startled inhabitants visibly drew back, looking fearfully at us as we swept through their sleepy villages. We traced our path along the banks of the river, the Tyne to our left looking millpond smooth and placid and then we left the river behind and began cutting inland, starting a series of climbs as we began to work our way back.

And then – Lo! With a shimmering in the air and a fanfare of trumpets a bridge did appeareth beneath our wheels and it vaulted us up and over the four lanes of rushing madness that is the A69!

A bridge? Over the A69? Who’d have guessed such a wonderful thing existed. That’s what you get for looking at maps – they’re dangerous, subversive things. G-Dawg had obviously done his homework, consulted some old dusty grimoire, or almanac and delivered a peach of a route that meant we wouldn’t have to engage in our usual game of real-life Frogger with the speeding cars. Good man.

The climbing though, did go on for quite some time and I began to appreciate why G-Dawg had been reluctant to try this on his winter fixie. Back onto much more familiar roads, we re-grouped as Taffy Steve paced the Monkey Butler Boy back up to us. I naturally told him has job was only half done and he still had to deposit the Monkey Butler Boy at the head of the group before the café sprint.


We pushed through to Matfen and began to pick our way up to the Quarry, where I learned this particular bit of road was one of Son of G-Dawg’s most hated stretches – a broken, heavy and grippy surface that just seemed to be harder to ride than it should be.

We turned off for the Quarry, pausing to regroup and then stopped once again at the top of the climb to make sure everyone was on. Here I caught Richard of Flanders engaged in a foul mouthed tirade, seemingly at himself: “Fugga-rugga-cumba-rah!”

With the speed building down toward the Snake Bends, the group slowly began to be whittled down as riders were cast out the back.

The Garrulous Kid managed to uncleat himself again, lost the wheel in front and drifted away, then Richard of Flanders dropped back. A spirited flogging of the thrice-cursed winter bike wasn’t enough for Taffy Steve to overcome its mechanical and weight disadvantages and then it was my turn and I was slowly distanced as The Plank, Red Max, Jimmy Cornfeed, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg increased the speed with a series of attacks on each other.

Hitting the cracked, lumpy surfaces of the road leading down to the Bends, I eased and sat up. Ovis came through on my inside and I jumped onto his wheel for a tow through the curves and down to the junction.

Heading along the main road for the café I was brought to a juddering halt by the sight of the Red Max rolling on the ground in pain, helmet smashed, glasses splintered and a massive welt forming around one eye and bubbling with blood.

He was able to tell us the Plank and Jimmy Cornfeed had touched wheels in front of him, the Plank had come down and Max had been unable to avoid the danger and had gone over the top. It was just as well he managed to tell us this, because 5 minutes later he was looking around dazed and asking us what had happened. At least we were able to tell him exactly what he’d told us.

The Plank seemed to be there one minute and gone the next, but he didn’t look too bad from the accident, although rather bizarrely his shoe covers were in tatters, flapping around his toes and looking like they’d been fed through a shredding machine.

We got Max off the road and onto the verge and then got him stood up, then back down again as he complained of feeling dizzy. Unable to put his weight down on his right leg, Taffy Steve took charge: he had the Monkey Butler Boy call Mrs. Max for pick-up and sent the Prof up the road try and coerce a good citizen to come back and transport Max to the café.

As the Prof disappeared on his assigned mission, Taffy Steve wondered aloud if he’d sent out the right emissary, thinking perhaps he should have selected someone more recognisably human and was assailed by doubts, perhaps recalling the catastrophic misunderstanding between homo sapiens and aliens during first contact in films such as Mars Attacks and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Prof however did a sterling job and soon arrived back in a car with a selfless, good Samaritan called Paul, who had interrupted his leisurely Saturday morning coffee and cake to help us out. He loaded the Red Max into the car and whisked him to the café, while the Prof rode back on Max’s spookily undamaged bike.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café the Red Max sat grimacing with pain and looking a little lost and bewildered. As the adrenaline ebbed and the pain sharpened, he began to suspect a broken collar bone to go with the nasty clout on the head, concussion and all the collateral damage to hip and knee.

Our table had a discussion about café sprints and how I was surprised we were still riding hell for leather along the main road to the café. I explained how G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs always called the sprint before the Snake Bends and never took it through those dangerous curves, or out onto the main road. Crazy Legs assures me there’s even a white stripe across the road at one point to serve as an unofficial finish line. I think I may even have seen this, but it could just as easily be my fevered imagination.

Taffy Steve decided that once the speed got above 25 miles an hour the Plank “gives off vortices of madness” which are contagious, at this point common sense is abandoned and all bets are off.

I asked Richard of Flanders what had prompted his effusive, foul-mouthed tirade at the top of the Quarry Climb, but he seemed strangely unaware of it. We decided it was just a sudden outbreak of cycling Tourette’s, liable to strike at any time when the pain in your legs gets too great and has to be exorcised orally.

As another group of riders rolled into the cafe, Taffy Steve wondered what it was with ninja cyclists and their affection for wearing black kit on dark and dreary days when they should be making themselves as visible as possible. He proclaimed his new (very orange) gilet, “The Beacon” might amuse Crazy Legs and me, but it served a very useful purpose. I readily agreed, but he knew in his heart he was fighting a lost cause and we’d still rip the piss out of it at every opportunity.

Returning to the theme of great engineering bodges, Richard of Flanders explained how he carefully crafted, machined and fitted an extension to his mudguards, selecting the finest quality tensile steel fittings: nuts, bolts and washers to carefully secure them in place as neatly as possible. Another rider had then achieved pretty much the same effect with none of the effort or craft by simply using two cable ties to fix a bit of old washing up bottle to his guards.

Richard was somewhat mollified when we told him the guy was obviously just a weight weenie and chose the cable tie bodge just to save a few infinitesimal grams on the nut, bolt and washer arrangement.

We watched as the Red Max slowly and gingerly levered himself upright and, wincing all the way, hobbled to the car where Mrs. Max whisked him straight to A&E. It turned out he had no broken bones and they even managed to find and scan enough grey matter in his skull to proclaim a surprisingly intact brain. He’s going to have one hell of a shiner though and the mother of all headaches to go with it.

With the Red Max safely en route, we stopped to thank the cafe staff and all-round good guy, Paul the Samaritan, before a slightly delayed exit and push for home.

I confessed I was feeling the cold after the warm sanctuary of the cafe and Taffy Steve laughed at what he considered my clothing excesses – to him I was ridiculously cocooned in a long-sleeved thermal baselayer, winter jacket and windproof gilet. To be fair though, he has better thermal properties than the very latest, ultra-green Scandinavian eco-home.

He said he thought all Geordies were meant to be tough, you know, “oot on the Toon” in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but a T-shirt or mini-dress. I explained that this was just a particular young, feckless underclass, insulated from reality by copious volumes of alcohol.

He wondered if they were perhaps kept warm by the latent radioactivity of their orange, glowing fake tans, or perhaps it was somehow the high-pitched, dolphin-like squeaking of the female Geordie that was the secret. I confirmed that this was the case, the ultra-high frequencies of Geordie wimmin-speak does in fact causes all particles to oscillate at a much higher frequency and this throws off a surprising amount of heat. “Ah!” Taffy Steve exclaimed, “Like human microwaves – now I understand.”

On the first hill out from the cafe Aether shipped his chain, but everyone seemed eager to get home and there was to be no stopping. I dropped back to wait and ride escort and by the time we got going again everyone else had disappeared up the road. I figured it was a futile effort and we were unlikely to see the group again, but gave chase anyway.

As we turned off into the lanes, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the tail of the pack disappearing around a bend up ahead. Spurred on, I increased my efforts, finally latching on as we started to clamber up Berwick Hill, with Aether managing to make the junction on the descent.

Perhaps it was that effort or perhaps I’d wasted too much energy fending off the cold during our prolonged stop, but I was left feeling totally wasted now.  I yo-yoed off the back on the short, sharp climb up to Dinnington, before catching on again and clinging grimly to the wheels until we hit the Mad Mile. Most of the group then swung off to the left, while G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg skipped lightly away and I began my plodding trek back home alone.

If I wasn’t bonking I was desperately low on energy and running on fumes. I stopped at a garage, but realised I could only afford a packet of Polo’s and those suckers weren’t going to get the job done, so I drained my bottle dry and pressed on.

Every hump now became a hill and every hill a mountain. I seemed to get caught at every traffic light, but instead of an inconvenience this became a boon, affording a few moments of respite while I waited for the lights to change to green.

Luckily the roads were quiet and there wasn’t much traffic to contend with, which may have been just as well as I started to get fixated on the road just beyond my front tyre.

I crawled up the Heinous Hill, the Savage Slope, the Fearsome Fell, almost coming to a freewheeling standstill on the flat sections as I tried to gather my strength for one last effort upwards. Finally, I was home and only half an hour behind my usual schedule.

I’ve now got an extra week to recover, as we are heading up to Edinburgh for the Christmas Markets next weekend. I’m looking forward to it, but probably won’t take up Taffy Steve’s suggestion that the family each adopt the nickname, persona, speech patterns and mannerisms of a different character from Trainspotting for the duration of our visit, fun though that sounds.

I’ll be back, but in the meantime be careful out there.

YTD Totals: 6,398 km / 3,975 miles with 63,917 metres of climbing


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