Club Run, Saturday 21st January, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 103 km/64 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed: 23.4 km/h
Group size: 19 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Bitter
The weather had promised a chilly night, down to -2⁰C with morning temperatures flat-lining and barely managing to claw their way into positive figures throughout the day. I was expecting it to be cold … but this!
As I dropped down the Heinous Hill, the wind clawed tears from my eyes and where they tracked down my face they burned. I became instantly aware of every little gap in my clothing and even knew where two layers gave out to one, as every weakness in my defences was quickly found out. I adjusted my gloves to close a miniscule gap between cuff and sleeve and pulled my buff up over half my face as the exposed skin quickly chilled. The tops of my thighs stung in the wind and then slowly went numb. It. Was. Freezing…
And yet the air was dry and there was no ice.
As I sank lower and lower down to the valley floor, the temperature seemed to fall with me. The flood plains either side of the river appeared to be smoking into the still and chilled air and the grass was limned in glittering frost and curled up protectively against the cold.
Every time I stopped my breath coalesced in glittering plumes, like I was vaping oxygen, my lungs ached dully and my nose streamed constantly. C-c-c-c-cold.
I was cheered though by the sight of a three-legged dog, trotting along happily beside his owner, somehow managing to both carry a large ball and smile through his muzzle. I was even more cheered by the sight of the rowing club on the south bank of the river, wearing shorts and running calisthenics in their car park in a futile attempt to warm up before taking to the water. And I thought I was mad.
Even further along, I swear there was a troop of brass monkeys, futilely searching the frozen ground for some spherical objects they’d misplaced, but maybe that was just the cold addling my brain. (As an aside, I couldn’t decide if the collective noun for monkeys was a troop or a troupe, so googled it to find troop was the correct form, but I could also have used tribe, or barrel, or cartload or even, apparently … carload! I can admit to being assailed by a metaphorical car load of monkeys, but it seems a strange expression in relation to the actual animal.)
Anyway, I was either warming to my task, or slowly acclimatising to the cold as I back-tracked along the opposite bank of the river, now heading toward where a dull red sun crept slowly upwards, then clambering out of the valley to pick my way through to the meeting place.
It seemed that for once I’d somehow managed to judge the layers just right, well at least for now: headband, helmet, buff, slightly thicker, slightly itchy merino base-layer, winter jacket, gilet, glove liners, gloves, tights, trusty Thermolite socks and winter boots. All set and good to go.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The BFG was a little surprised to see me and wondered if I’d had to slide down the Heinous Hill sideways, like a deranged speedway rider, Ivan Mauger incarnate. All I could tell him was that it was bloody freezing, but there was no ice and my passage across had been uneventful.
Since I was there, he wanted to know if he’d discovered a new Jewish-Scottish hybrid, having recently met a ginger Hasidic Jew. Having grown up around a large Jewish community in Bensham, I was able to place his “amazing discovery” in the context that it was in fact quite commonplace.
The Garrulous Kid had traded in his Bontrager tyres for a set of Continental 4-Season’s and declared they’d given him both his confidence and mojo back. He was still struggling with his new pedals though, which had solved his old problem of inadvertently unclipping by holding his foot in a vice-like, unbreakable grip. He enlisted the help of the BFG and a multi-tool to slacken the tension enough to allow for a quick release, so he was hopefully a bit less of a liability to himself, or those around him.
As a sign of just how damned cold it was, G-Dawg had resurrected his massive oven gloves. Later, Crazy Legs would demand to know if he was on call at Greggs and might need to disappear at any moment to help lift a tray of pasties out of the oven, while the BFG suggested all the various straps and buckles needed bells attached to the ends for sartorial completeness.
Carlton revealed he’d gone for the £3.99 option of ski gloves bought from his local petrol station. There were suggestions that he should either have saved his money, or bought two or three pairs to wear together, but at least today would be a good test of whether non-cycling specific (i.e. considerably cheaper) kit works just as well.
De Uitheems Bloem rolled up, shielding his eyes from the glare that even a weak winter sun could produce its light bounced off G-Dawg’s impeccably polished frame, wheels and chain. G-Dawg revealed the bike had to be spotless, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to keep it in the bedroom. I think he was joking.
A decent crowd had gathered, before I spotted, but didn’t fully register an unfamiliar spry looking, youngster with his buff pulled up over his lower face. I looked away, looked back and the buff had been pulled down to reveal the bristling white ‘tache of Zardoz. Not quite so young then, but still plenty spry.
I mentioned this first Zardoz sighting of the year to the Red Max, who said he’d had an inkling of his return as, riding in with the Monkey Butler Boy he’d passed a masked, lone cyclist who’d growled, “Don’t you be over-taking me!”
“Was that Zardoz’s voice?” A giggling Monkey Butler Boy had asked. Yep, he’s back.
OGL was celebrating his 70th birthday and had received a bottle of fine, single-malt from G-Dawg. He was keen to reassure us he still had the bottle, but was far less convincing when it came to verifying its actual contents were intact.
A band of 18 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode into the freezing air. Or at least we tried to. For some reason we decided it was a good idea to stop and re-group in front of the traffic lights that were showing green on the Transport Interchange/Bus Station exit. Here we carefully paused just long enough to ensure the lights changed to red as soon as no more than half of us had passed through and rode away, leaving the rest stuck behind.
We finally all got going and the group coalesced to take an alternative route out, as reports had filtered through that the road through Dinnington was a mess of treacherous mud following building works in the village. I rode along with the Red Max for a while, chatting aimlessly while we digested just how cold it was and both wondered where the ice was hiding.
After an hour or so, the Monkey Butler Boy approached to whimper that the extreme cold have overwhelmed his gloves and his hands were frozen. The Red Max offered to sacrifice his spare pair of gloves so he could double-up and they dropped back to make the change.
As we clambered up one hill, a strangled shout rose from behind:
“What was that?” someone asked.
“Speed up, I think,” someone else replied.
So we did.
Later on and more incoherent shouting was translated variously as dog, pots, horse, puncture, accident, stray bird or mechanical and we ground to disordered halt, to find nothing much was happening at all behind. The Prof, who had been pleading for some time about needing a pee stop took the opportunity to wander off in search of a suitable hedge, while G-Dawg revealed that not only were his feet freezing and painfully cold, but he was even more shockingly discomfited by the extreme distress the conditions had imposed on his testicles.
It was at this point that I really missed Crazy Legs, as I felt for sure I could have implanted an irresistible ear-worm that would have him singing a la Bonnie Tyler, all the way to the café: “It’s a ball’s ache, nothing but a ball’s ache…”
A quick query revealed G-Dawg had encased his feet in three pairs of socks and overshoes, but they weren’t helping. I suggested he needed a pair of trusty Prendas Thermolite socks.
“I took your recommendation and bought a pair of those Prenda socks.” Sneaky Pete chipped in. “My feet are still bloody freezing!” Hey, you can please some of the people, some of the time …
Meanwhile, OGL regaled us with a tale of local legend Ron Longstaff, caught gloveless on one winter run and resorting to riding the whole way one-handed, while alternately cupping his warm testicles with first one frozen paw and then the other.
G-Dawg suggested that wasn’t going to help in his situation, but if anyone had any spare gloves he’d be tempted to stick them down his pants for a bit of relief.
I wondered if he could, like a mythical Sumo wrestler retract his testicles back up into his body cavity for a bit of protection, then advised against it in case he had trouble enticing them back out again.
Luckily we were soon underway again and leaving such nonsense firmly behind. Pressing on, we passed a couple out on horseback and I could see G-Dawg eyeing up the long, equine gaiters one of the horses was sporting. Perhaps we’ll see him adopt something similar for our next cold ride – along with a fur-lined cricket box.
We took the back road up to Ryal village where, by utilising the most untraveled, secluded and desolate routes available to us, we did finally manage to find some ice in the deepest, darkest dip. It had taken a hell of an effort, but we finally had something to be wary off. Passage was however safely negotiated and we were away again.
I then chased G-Dawg up the Quarry Climb, the highest point of our route, before we took the left-hand route, the most bombed-out, pot-holed, rough and distressed road to the café. I ceded the front and dropped onto G-Dawgs wheel, while the BFG tried a forlorn hope, long range attack, only to find Caracol firmly glued to his wheel. The BFG twitched left, swung hard right and then swooped left again, but Caracol mirrored each move closely and there was no getting away.
The BFG gave up and dropped in alongside me as the pace began to build, with Caracol and G-Dawg leading the charge.
We hit the final stretch en masse and at high speed, with riders attacking and fading and jostling for position, while I held firm on the wheel in front. The BFG dropped away and I noticed Zardoz and De Uitheems Bloem moving up in the general melee, before a determined OGL surged to the front.
For one brief, glorious moment I thought he was going to roll back the years and win the bunch sprint, before Caracol edged past with one last lunge and then we were braking and diving through the Snake Bends.
We hit the narrow, bombed out lane to the crossroads and I jumped away for one final attack on the last ramp, but G-Dawg was watching and waiting in close attendance and burned me away across the top across the top to lead us into the café.
Main conversation at the coffee stop:
We spotted Crazy Legs’s unmistakable fixie, leaning insouciantly up against a fencepost and found him warmly ensconced inside, having waited an additional, precautionary hour before setting out this morning to give any ice extra time to melt.
He roundly praised the lobster mitts I’d recommended he bought during one of Planet X’s recent sales, admitting if anything they were actually too warm, but a bargain even at their full retail price. See, you can please some of the people, at least some of the time…
While acknowledging the cold outside and in particular G-Dawgs testicular discomfort, Crazy Legs declared it could be a lot worse, having recently returned from Stuttgart where it was a bone-chilling, ball-aching -15⁰.
The BFG enquired if G-Dawg also had a single-speed car to match his bike, leading to reminiscing about the DAF Variomatic and its odd continuously variable transmission. I took this as an indication that the Dutch might have the world’s most impressive gutters, but when it came to motor-vehicle manufacturing they still had some way to go.
Crazy Legs related asking a slightly “large-boned” colleague about progress with a new fitness regime he was monitoring through a Fitbit.
“Over 10,000 steps today and I’ve hardly moved from my chair,” was the enthusiastic verdict, accompanied by that unmistakable Gareth Hunt/Nescafé coffee bean fist pumping, or Battle Tops “it’s all in the wrist action” gesture, if you will.
In turn, I recalled sitting in a cinema listening to a lad behind dismissing an ad for Seiko kinetic watches, declaring, “I had one of those, but it was useless – every time I had a wank it gained 5 minutes …”
For some reason, talk turned to breakfasts and the “Full English Stottie” – an experience I’ve luckily managed to avoid. Crazy Legs tried baiting OGL by suggesting Ready Brek was porridge, while I had to ask if he used a spurtle – a word it’s impossible to say without sounding suitably Scottish.
A “should we/shouldn’t we” moment ensued on leaving the café leading to a little disorganised chaos, as half our number swung to the left, while the rest took the more usual route to the right. I went left too, as we decided the road through to Ogle had a good chance of being a bit icy and a little iffy.
I had another chat with the BFG about Scottish-Jews, revealing that Mrs. SLJ as a schoolgirl had once had a much too detailed encounter with a Jewish student at a yeshiva in Bensham, when he exposed himself as she was walking past.
“How did you know he was Jewish?” someone had asked her.
Quick as a flash, she replied, “Well … he was wearing a skullcap.”
G-Dawg and Caracol ramped up the pace to such an extent that the BFG was soon spluttering, floundering and complaining. When they swung over, I didn’t have the legs to take the front, so Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem took over and the speed increased another notch.
I hung on grimly for a while, swerving to avoid the salvoes of Dutch snot rockets that were occasionally fired back toward me and then I eased and slipped off the back as the group hammered down to swing left well I went straight on for home.
Cooked, both literally and metaphorically, I pulled over and started to strip off a few layers to try and cool down before I continued, remembering the short-cut past the Golf Club that shaved off two or three miles.
The cold on my newly exposed scalp and ears was still surprisingly raw and I soon cooled down. It did however serve to remind me I’d managed to get the layers just about right and I was particularly pleased with the winter boots that had kept my feet reasonably warm along with only a single pair of (trusty Thermolite) socks.
Back at home, I had a brief chuckle at an email from Relive.cc – a free service that takes your Strava or Garmin Connect feed and converts it into a video recap of your ride. They’d been in contact to ask if “I wanted to relive testicular Armageddon.” Be honest, that’s not an offer you get every day now, is it?
YTD Totals: 264 km / 164 miles with 2,842 metres of climbing