Club Run, Saturday 10th December, 2016
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 115 km/71 miles with 1,029 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 39 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Better than the best!
Saturday again and if we were spoiled by “the best weather we could possibly hope for” last week, what were we to make of today? This was seemingly better than the best – and a strong case can now be made to suggest we are being over-indulged, coddled and pampered in the extreme. We might even lose our hard-earned patina of rough, gruff, riding-in-all-conditions, professional hard-core Northerners if this softy-Southerner winter keeps on. (BTW Mother Nature, that’s not a direct challenge, I revel in mildness in all its forms).
Saturday morning was calmer, drier, warmer and lighter all around – which for me meant no gilet, no buff, no hat and a thinner gauge of glove, while some of my club mates even took the opportunity to break their best bikes out of hibernation for a rare winter outing.
I feel obliged however to state, for the record, that it was not warm enough to justify the attire of a fellow cyclist who passed in the other direction as I was heading out along the valley. Obviously intent on channelling his inner Jan Ullrich, this fleeting apparition hurtled past in the opposite direction in a blur of pink, resplendent in an old Telekom jersey and shorts. I can only hope this Kaiser wannabe was as … err … insulated as his hero. I mean, shorts? In December? In the North East of England? And a certain Donald John Trump still denies global warming?
Out on the river the boat crews were out in force, a four and a couple of single sculls drifting with the current, with a motor launch or two puttering along with them. I never seem to catch these crews in the act of actually rowing anywhere, but I do admire their dedication – it was still dark enough for me to be riding with lights on and dawn must have been barely a glimmer in the sky when they first fought their way over the mud-banks to reach the chill waters of the river.
Two consecutive festive works do’s had not only curtailed my usual commuting by bike, but left me feeling tired, seriously toxic and badly out of kilter from late nights, coupled with too much alcohol and bad food. Even curtailing the drinking on Friday night and bailing out as soon as my work-colleagues set sail for a Tranny Karaoke bar (again!) hadn’t given me the chance to recover and I was still feeling under the weather and rough around the edges first thing Saturday morning. I really needed this ride and was one of the first to find my way to the meeting place.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Some of Crazy Legs’s regular riding buddies had suggested they try the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive in April next year. Looking at the daunting a 297km trek involving 4,500 metres of climbing, Crazy Legs made the excuse that it was “too early in his season” for such a mammoth endeavour. He seemed quite pleased with his excuse, until I pointed out that it left him vulnerable to being invited to ride the Tour of Lombardy sportive in October instead. Last year this beauty packed 4,400 metres of climbing into just 241km of riding. Of course, he’s probably already planning to play the “too late in the season” card for that one.
Son of G-Dawg reported that his Garmin was officially full, so he’d just completed the twice-annual ritual of uploading all of this year’s data into Strava. (For anyone who has just discovered they’ve lost their prize-KoM segment in March and have only just been informed, much too late in the year to do anything about it, I know who the culprit is and can even furnish address details for a small, compensatory fee.)
Son of G-Dawg also revealed that, as expected his Dinnington Hill KOM has already been under renewed assault, as people see what difference the billiard-smooth surface can now make to their times. Considering it was a real club effort to provide Son of G-Dawg a high-speed lead out to the foot of the climb, we all feel as invested as him in holding onto this particular record – if only so we don’t have to turn ourselves inside out numerous times to try and regain it.
The Prof arrived, also apparently suffering from the excesses of the night before and moved down the line offering gentlemanly handshakes to all. I indulged in a bit of “bro-fist” dapping with him, which I think always looks particularly appropriate between two distinctly white, middle-aged, middle-class blokes with absolutely zero street credibility.
Not to be outdone, Crazy Legs then unfolded himself from his perch atop the wall long enough to offer up one of his patented homoerotic man-hugs, complete with obligatory back patting.
“Well, how are you going to top that?” Crazy Legs enquired of the Monkey Butler Boy, who was next in line for one of the Prof’s eccentric salutations.
“Without using tongues.” I added, as the Prof advanced menacingly and the Monkey Butler Boy looked on with a mixture of deep worry and aghast horror etched onto his face.
Luckily, he was saved by the sudden realisation that it was 9:18 Garmin Time and we were already late. 20-odd lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Waiting at the first set of lights, Crazy Legs enquired about our intended route from a wincing and grimacing OGL, who was getting his excuses in early, complaining of a bad back and suggesting he was unlikely to complete the ride.
“Go up the Cheese Farm. No, don’t go up the Cheese Farm.” Was OGL’s first salvo, closely followed by, “West! Go west!”
“Go west, young man.” Sneaky Pete suggested sotto voce.
“So you’re saying you’re not going to be with us?” Crazy Legs enquired and when the answer came back affirmative, he declared we’d then be going anyway except west … and we were off.
I spent some time catching up with Princess Fiona and then Ovis and Aether, as we wound our way out into the countryside. The riding conditions were as good as expected, the roads relatively quiet and we made decent time. I was just beginning to think we’d travelled a long way without a break and was wondering how the Prof and his infinitesimally small bladder was managing to cope. As if on cue, he slid past alongside the Cow Ranger and immediately enquired if I knew when we would be stopping.
Having just passed the Whittle Dene Reservoir I was able to assure him we were approaching one of our usual split points and had no doubt he’d soon be afforded an opportunity for some relief.
As Crazy Legs drew everyone to a halt he started looking around, somewhat puzzled and wondered aloud where the Prof was. I was quite surprised by this because:
- As soon as we’d stopped the Prof had predictably leapt away from his small-wheeled velocipede and was exactly where we would have expected him to be – out in the hedgerows and irrigating the landscape.
- He was wearing enough bright orange to suggest he was marching for King Billy and Ireland, so wasn’t exactly hidden in the rather drab landscape of rural Northumberland in winter.
A much relieved Prof re-joined the group and was complimented on his all-orange accessorising: base layer, gloves, bottle, club jersey, even the detailing and clasps on his helmet straps – all were recognisably orange and all were also a subtle, ever-so-slightly-different, shade that didn’t quite match.
“I never knew so many different shades of orange existed.” G-Dawg exclaimed as wondered just how many there actually were and how few the Prof needed to complete the entire set.
“It is a bad clash.” Crazy Legs volunteered and then pondered a little before adding, “Is there such a thing as bad Clash?”
“Bankrobber?” I suggested.
“What about Guns of Brixton?” he countered.
“Well, that would certainly be a contender.”
We split the group and the faster, longer, harder bunch set off, for once without the ailing Son of G-Dawg who’d risen from his sick bed just to ride, but was fading fast.
We took a rather lumpy route toward the café, where the same pattern started to repeat itself: a small group would drive the pace off the front, a few of us would hang grimly on the wheels and then Mad Colin would burst past, physically propelling either Princess Fiona or Penelope Pitstop uphill at a remarkably impressive pace.
We hit the Quarry climb and I came unstuck in too big a gear as I got caught behind a struggling Prof and De Uitheems Bloem, quickly losing all momentum and having to wrestle and grind my way to the top with the last of my energy.
A small knot then accelerated away for the café and I held on for as long as I could, before watching the gap slowly widen as they pulled inexorably away. As the road surface worsened on the run down to the Snake Bends I eased and sat up to spare my fillings.
Then, with a whirr and a whoosh, Princess Fiona hurtled past, clinging white-knuckled to her bars as she was pushed along at breakneck speed by Mad Colin. The Prof and a few others were hanging onto the coattails of the Mad Colin Express and he called out gleefully for me to jump on board, but by the time I’d blinked away my surprise they were long gone.
I slid through the Snake Bends and across the main road to chase down the alternate, bombed out lane to the café, slaloming around the series of deep potholes that fractured and cratered the road surface like the Clangers Moon, half expecting a somnolent, gurgling Soup Dragon to emerge from one of them. I just about managed to tag onto the back of the group as we swept into the car park, tired and heavy legged.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop
As I crept into the café, Sneaky Pete was making to sneak out, but realising he’d been caught in the act, he sauntered over and made a big show of declaring he was openly leaving and could not be accused of sneaking off.
“Who was that?” Crazy Legs enquired.
And then, “Oh, has anyone seen Sneaky Pete?”
Both Princess Fiona and Penelope Pitstop agreed that Mad Colin’s, mad pushing was a godsend when keeping up on the hills, but a whole heap of scary in a sprint over broken road surfaces, where everyone is rocketing along at in a super-tight formation and at breakneck speed.
I caught the Cow Ranger peering myopically at the display counter, trying to determine what toothsome treats were on offer and complaining about his failing eyesight. He asked for a coffee first as a distraction and to try and buy a little time, before finally settling on his choice of cake.
As the girl serving him pulled a plate out, he piped up, “Oh and a mug of coffee.” The waitress raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at the cup of coffee already sitting, steaming on the tray under his nose, while I dissolved into a fit of giggles. Perhaps his eyes are actually as bad as he claims.
Rab Dee pondered the slow adoption of disk brakes amongst our group which led to a discussion about whether they were a valuable evolution of technology, or just a cynical marketing gimmick. While opinion was somewhat divided, everyone agreed that the recent fad for gravel bikes was seriously misplaced, I mean, where exactly are you meant to ride a gravel bike in the UK?
Rab Dee suggested things had become so crazy that he’d seen aero-gravel bikes advertised as the latest iteration of this pointless trend. The Cow Ranger was particularly scathing of the fad for fat tyred mountain-bikes, no doubt invaluable for riding in snow or on heavily broken trails, wholly inappropriate where they’re most often seen – on the daily commute through the city centre.
With the round of works parties if not in full swing then immediately imminent, we were just trying to determine if the way Christmas fell this year meant we would have to endure two Black Eye Friday’s, when we started to gather for the ride home.
I was later somewhat disturbed to find our local rag (I always wanted it be called the Tyne Daily) was actually giving good column inches to a story under the headline: “When is Black Eye Friday in Newcastle and are there two this year?”
They even had a helpful poll, because, you know, it’s really good to promote and celebrate drinking to excess and all forms of domestic violence …
As we were preparing to leave, De Uitheems Bloem approached the table, sent as an emissary from the Prof who’s still chasing his year-end distance target and wanted to loop back by a slightly longer route to pad out his mileage.
I was tired and heavy-legged, but Crazy Legs suggested the pace wouldn’t be too high, so off we went.
From a position near the front I now had a grandstand seat for an apparently on-going duel between Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem – the Dutchman firing regular salvoes of lurid green snot-rockets backwards, that Crazy Legs had to jink to avoid, like a ground attack aircraft dodging glowing tracer rounds. I was just pleased he was out on his Bianchi as I didn’t like to think what would have happened if the much-cosseted Ribble had actually caught any of that flak.
I was just about hanging on, but tiring rapidly as we crested the last rise on Stamfordham Road and tipped downwards. The rest of the group swung sharp left, while I continued down, cutting off a big corner of my usual ride home and happy to be able to ride at a more comfortable pace.
I was momentarily distracted from the pain in my legs by a van proudly proclaiming: “Rubbish Removals” and for one glorious moment thought this might be a group of inept, but refreshingly honest furniture removal men, rather than people who simply came to help you dispose of your household waste.
I risked a new route which turned out to be a short-cut around the golf course, trading in a couple of miles for a little more climbing than usual and then dropped down to the river, approaching the bridge just as the traffic lights turned red. A car pulled up behind me and as its eco-drive kicked-in, the engine idled and stopped.
A strangely muted interlude followed, in which the only sounds were a few birds chirruping in the hedgerow and the wind soughing softly through the bare branches of the trees. The quiet was pleasantly, but profoundly unusual and noteworthy and it made me realise just how much extraneous noise we tend to put up with, or simply filter out…
But it was of course only the briefest, transitory and transcendent moment of peace, as a small dog soon started yapping in a nearby garden, seagulls and magpies converged squawking and squabbling over some choice piece of roadkill, a snarling muscle-car pulled up at the lights opposite and a plane clawed its way into the sky with a loud, low rumble.
Peace on Earth?
Not very likely, in any sense of the word.
YTD Totals: 6,972 km / 4,332 miles with 72,567 metres of climbing