The Big Let Down

The Big Let Down

Club Run, Saturday 3rd December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  96 km/60 miles with1,030 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 6 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         20 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Officially, as good as it gets


ride-3-dec
Ride Profile

Saturday morning proved rather damp and gloomy, a low, wet mist shrouding an already wan light and setting everything to dripping noisily in the still air. With visibility seriously curtailed, I made sure that I had front and rear lights switched on and blinking away and pulled a high-viz gilet over my winter jacket – more for some added conspicuousness than to combat the cold.

I was rolling down the Heinous Hill when the front wheel started to rumble noisily on the rough surface and the steering became loose and rubbery – a front wheel puncture and the poorest of starts to the day. I quickly, but carefully pulled off into the sanctuary of the (rather overgrown) escape lane to effect repairs, well-removed from the cars picking their way downhill in the gloom.

You seldom seen new roads with escape lanes these days, I guess they’re a bit of a holdover from a by-gone era, when car brakes were notoriously unreliable and always likely to fail if over-worked, which I guess added a frisson of excitement and danger to navigating any steep hills.

Mrs. SLJ will often tell the story of her and her sisters sitting petrified in the back of the car while her Dad wrestled with the wheel, having lost the brakes on one steep hill, slaloming crazily down to the bottom before somehow managing to bring the vehicle to a juddering halt. They’d then had to drive back up the hill to pick up her mother, who they found sitting nonchalantly on the kerb, having abandoned the car, husband and kids by hurling herself bodily from the vehicle at the very first sign of trouble. One minute she’d been sitting upfront in the car, the next and her seat was empty and the door was flapping in the wind.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with the slickness of my tyre repair and was soon rolling again, somewhat surprised to find the mist no worse on the valley floor than it had been up top. I now realised I’d managed to knock my Garmin display onto a screen showing altitude gain and no amount of half-arsed prodding with the menu buttons through my thick and unfeeling gloves seemed able to find the “normal” screen settings again.

With my watch well buried under base layer, tight sleeves and glove cuff, I realised that short of stopping again, I had no real idea what time it actually was. Given the conditions, I couldn’t even do that old Native American trick of counting finger widths between the horizon and the sun in order to gauge the passing of time. Not that I would have a clue how to do that anyway.

Determined not to stop, but recognising I was probably running late, I took the shorter, faster route to a different bridge. This is a route I tend to avoid whenever possible because it involves filtering onto a short stretch of dual carriageway, where drivers seem go too fast and are prone to late lane-switching as the road narrows and splits. Still, I reasoned that given the poor visibility in the mist today, the traffic would no doubt be slowing right down.

It’s times like these when I’m still surprised by my own naivety…

Oh well, I survived, without too much puckering and bracing for an impact from behind that never came and I was soon across the river, climbing out of the valley and heading for the meeting point, where I arrived pretty much bang on time and just behind the Garrulous Kid.


Main conversations at the meeting point:

G-Dawg firmly declared that this was officially the best weather we could hope for given the time of year – mild enough for there to be no danger of ice, with not a breath of wind and zero chance of rain. Nonetheless, OGL had been in touch with is contact in the Outer Hebrides and warned that severe weather was just around the corner, so we had to be ever vigilant.

Taffy Steve was somewhat perturbed by the number of cars he’d passed, travelling through the gloom without their lights on and Sneaky Pete wondered why it was invariably the silver, grey or otherwise mist-coloured and perfectly camouflaged vehicles that seemed to feel lights were an unnecessary adornment.

Son of G-Dawg told us a passing one darkened car on a black, black night and thinking that the driver must be completely oblivious to the fact that his headlights weren’t on, only to realise that the cabin of the car was a well of stygian black and there was no way the driver could possibly be unaware his lights weren’t working, or actually see any of his instruments on his utterly dark and powerless dashboard.

As first reported in Winter is coming,  the dispute about our “unsanctioned” club-confined hill climb rumbles on with the CTT. Taffy Steve has even got involved to review their rules and letter of complaint, applying a degree of cogent logic, impartiality, rational thinking and good, all-round common sense. Unfortunately, when it comes to the sport of cycling, I’m not sure that cogent logic, impartiality, rational thinking and good, all-round common sense are qualities that are valued by its governing bodies and I suspect this matter is set to run for a while yet.

With the Prof a no-show, I speculated (incorrectly, it transpires) he might have been at the University Snow Ball last night and feeling a little worse for wear from a night full of fun, frivolity and all-round excess. We then spent a good five minutes trying to determine what the Prof’s favourite tipple could possibly be, finally deciding on some rare, exotic, addictive and hallucinogenic, Dutch moonshine distilled from pickled herring brains, that can only be crafted on the banks of the Zuider Zee during a neap tide. Well, either that or lemonade with the merest splash of Malibu, served in a highball glass with a tasselled swizzle-stick.

Despite his absence, the Prof’s family was at least represented with the unforeseen appearance of beZ, who has actually left us for a rival club, ostensibly because they will give him more race support (although I suspect it might just be that they have a classier jersey).

A slightly chagrined OGL then enquired why beZ wasn’t out training with his new team mates. “Because they’re all too lazy,” we were informed. Hah.

Speaking of lazy, I had a discussion with Taffy Steve about whether the Garrulous Kid shouldn’t be the Loquacious Kid, while the Garrulous Kid looked on, seemingly oblivious to our conversation. I conceded Taffy Steve might well have a point, but explained once a name has been writ, it was to all intents and purposes inviolate, which is a short-hand way of admitting I’m much too lazy to track down and change all the references.

Captain Black arrived astride a very smart, new (new?) winter bike, a Specialized Allez in a glorious shade of orange. From this I naturally concluded that orange was indeed the new black.

Meanwhile, the Red Max was back in the saddle after his accident, having just about recovered enough to ride. I enquired about his injuries and he confided he was still somewhat sore and declared that today he would be taking it easy. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Good one!


At the appointed hour then, 20 or so lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out for parts unknown.

I dropped in beside Sneaky Pete for an erudite discussion about Christmas holidays, over-crowded cities and good and bad TV quiz shows. I revealed one of our club members, Famous Sean’s had made it all the way to the final of the Pointless quiz show, where he lost after (by a very odd and unfathomable coincidence) choosing the topic of Famous Sean’s for his last set of questions.

No doubt Famous Sean’s had picked the category hoping for questions about Sean Yates, Sean Kelly or even Sean Edie, but was ambushed by a set of questions about Sean Penn, Sean Astin and Sean Bean (Seen Been? Shaun Born?) What self-respecting cyclist would confess to knowing anything about second-rate character actors?

Rumours had been circulating all week on Facebook that the route down from the Village of the Damned, a.k.a. Dinnington, one of the most dreadful, broken, rutted, pitted, scarred, scabby and pot-holed sections of road we get to regularly traverse, had been completely re-surfaced.

Sneaky Pete added fuel to the rumours, suggesting that when he’d been out midweek, getting in some sneaky miles, the road had indeed been closed for repairs.

Dare we hope, could it be true?

We swept down from the village onto the super-smooth and silent, gleaming, polished blacktop of freshly laid tarmac, the tyres seeming to sigh as they lightly kissed the surface in delight. The whole group burst into a spontaneous cheer that dissolved into much laughter and loud chatter. We’re simple folk at heart, I guess and easily pleased.

This, one of the most hated stretches of road always contrasted harshly with the next, smooth and fast section, that is known by its Strava segment simply as: “Terrific Tarmac” Now the Terrific Tarmac didn’t feel quite so terrific anymore and will no doubt have to be downgraded and renamed.

I also expect the Strava KoM up to Dinnington is now going to come under renewed assault, as it’s much less likely you’ll rattle your fillings loose as you bounce and skitter up the climb, just fighting to keep your tyres in contact with the road and maintain momentum. I suspect that though times might fall, it will be much less of a challenge and become a sanitised little blip rather than a fierce and testing clamber.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Things were progressing smoothly as we made our way up to Dyke Neuk, where Sneaky Pete sneaked off with OGL and a few others to form the amblers group. Andeven bravely went off with beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed for an even longer, harder and faster, self-flagellation ride, while the rest of us set course for Angerton, via the swoop down and climb up to Hartburn.

I was lingering near the back as we took the descent and as the road began to rise up the other side yet again felt the unwelcome rumble of rough tarmac through a swiftly deflating front tyre. Puncture#2.

I rolled carefully to the side of the road as Taffy Steve and Bydand Fecht were just about to disappear around the corner and adopting my best, stoical Captain Oates, “I’m just going outside and may be some time” demeanour, decided not to call them back.

I replaced the tube (again) and finally, somewhat belatedly started a lone pursuit, with the hope of hitting the café at least before everyone else finished up and set off for home. I was obviously well-removed from any sprinting for the café, but sadly so too was Taffy Steve, who’d noticed my absence, wondered what was going on and hung back as long as he felt reasonable to see if I was going to re-appear. Oops. Next time I’d better announce my intentions to drift slowly off the back in search of my own personal elephant’s graveyard.

I reached the café in time to see Sneaky Pete sneaking off home and apparently before a search party was formed and despatched to look for me.


Conversation at coffee stop:

I found an over-heated Taffy Steve still queuing and waiting to be served and despite the fact the staff knew exactly what he wanted before he placed his order, it didn’t seem to speed up the process. I guess they’re still struggling with the new till, although it’s lost its “Please bear with us, this till is crap” sign.

If he was struggling to remain cool on a winters day like this, I wondered how he was going to cope with global warming. More to the point, I remembered he lived on the coast and suggested the melting of the Polar ice-packs would leave his home several feet under the North Sea, not good, even if the mean water temperature was transformed from utterly freezing and unbearable to almost, but not quite tolerable.

He said he was on high enough ground not to worry too much and always wanted a sea front property, but suggested there were others who would suffer more. We determined that not even the storied and mighty Dutch gutters might be enough to save them in the event of a catastrophic rise in ocean levels.

In a brief discussion of puncture etiquette, we tried to determine what would be worst-case scenario:

#1. Calling up the front that you had a mechanical, only for the rest of the group to studiously pretend they hadn’t heard and keep on riding …

or

#2. Calling out that you had a problem, having everyone turn and acknowledge the fact … and then keep on riding regardless.

Captain Black proudly showed off his designer knitwear hat that bore a label from that well-known Italian brand, “Bastard.” I’m not sure the name is going to catch on in this country. Alternatively, his wife could have made the hat especially for him and decided to personalise it with a tag bearing his pet name.

Although everyone else approved, the Red Max declared there was “too much yellow” in the Captain’s new bike. I suggested he needed to change the lens in his specs from yellow to blue, so the bike would appear an acceptable shade of red to him, but had to point out the drawback was his own bike would then look purple.


I set off for home along Garrulous Kid, in the market for a new bike and not even rejecting Peugeot’s in his quest for a new machine, now that he knows they actually make bikes. I can’t help but feel I’ve done my bit for promulgating the mythology of classic and vintage velocipedes and can now retire happily.

I skipped up to the front to spell Taffy Steve and lead with Caracol up one side of Berwick Hill and then down the other. The reverse route up to Dinnington proved as good as the descent and brought a little spring to Caracol’s legs, who couldn’t resist accelerating away as he gloried in the smooth placidity of its shiny new surface. I let him pull me through the Mad Mile and then I swooped away, off the roundabout and heading for home.

I almost made it to the river when Puncture#3 struck and then managed no more than half a mile before I was stopped by Puncture#4. This one came so fast, I think I could safely blame a rushed and botched change, or a faulty tube, but now I was on my fourth and final spare and wondering whether I’d end up walking the rest of the way home.

Thankfully, I made it back without further incident and now have to decide if the tyre is too worn to be serviceable, or if I was just struck by unaccountable bad luck. I’ve ordered a couple of replacement tyres, just in case and will strip down the front wheel and see if there’s anything lurking in the carcase that I missed during my roadside probing for probable cause.

On the final clamber up the Heinous Hill I’d noticed that my Garmin was still resolutely showing altitude gain rather than distance and speed of travel. I guess this just shows how much attention I actually pay to my bike computer and numbers while I’m riding – no one is ever going to mistake me for a data-fixated Chris Froome type character, so I’ve probably just blown any chance of ever being signed by Team Sky.

I really just carry the Garmin to record where I’ve been and how far, once the ride is complete. Apparently though, I’m not even very good at this according to Strava, who recently emailed to tell me my current distance total for the year is 6,857 kilometres, not the 6,536 kilometres I would have attributed in this blog. I’ve really absolutely no idea where that additional 321 kilometres (almost 200 miles!) came from, or how I managed to misplace it. Maybe it just shows the fallibility of man vs. machine.

So anyway, back to Saturday and all in all, despite reasonable conditions, quite a frustrating ride and one that’s seriously depleted my stocks of spare inner tubes. Still, I bet I’m not feeling quite as deflated as the Prof, who missed out on a veritable bonanza of spent tubes he could have dragged back to his secret lair for resurrection.

Surely next week can’t be as bad? Can it?


(Adjusted) YTD Totals: 6,536 km / 4,061 miles with 71,538 metres of climbing

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