Club Run, Saturday 25th March, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 116 km / 72 miles with 1,119 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed: 25.5 km/h
Group size: 29 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Perfect
All the forecasts were pointing to a fine, fine day and didn’t disappoint, although clear skies overnight meant a very chilly start to the early morning. The grass down the sides of the hill was pale and stiff with lingering frost and it didn’t take long for the cold to gnaw through my light gloves to chill and numb my thumbs. Nonetheless, I was certain it was going to warm up quickly, so guessed the choice of shorts, short-sleeved jersey and base layer, arm and knee warmers, would prove wise. Eventually. Wouldn’t it?
Overhead the sky was a washed out blue, mottled with high, gauzy clouds, while a jet plane seemed intent on carving a lazy, chalky contrail from horizon to horizon. As I approached the river a handwritten sign caught my eye, “No Litter! No Rats!” That, I thought is a rather outlandish take on a much-loved, Bob Marley classic.
When I looked over the bridge, bright sunlight splintered and bounced back glaringly from the broken surface of the river below, temporarily dazzling me, so I didn’t even see the deep chasm I smashed through. It felt like someone had created a hole by lifting an entire tombstone-sized slab of the road out of the surface and I hit it so hard I felt the shock right down through my toes. Ouch!
Amazed I didn’t blow out at least one tyre, I spent the next few miles checking everything was intact and in working order, before picking up the pace to hit the meeting point well on time.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I found the G-Dawg Collective sitting on the wall, enjoying the sun, which was such a contrast to last weekend. I naturally enquired how their MTB trip to Kielder had gone and how much they enjoyed slogging around in the mud and freezing rain, while getting hacky-mucky, filthy-dirty. To be honest conditions out on the roads hadn’t been much better, so the smug quotient was non-existent.
They reported that, all in all it had been great fun and an enjoyable off-road, adventure that’s bound to be repeated sooner or later. The only slight blemish on the day was the BFG, with near perfect timing, managing to snap his chain right before one of the day’s heaviest, most prolonged downpours. Ooph!
This week we learned that the club has (allegedly) 259 members registered with British Cycling, of which a grand total of 48 actually pay their membership fees. Since he’s a stalwart of the club and much longer serving member than me, I was interested to find out if G-Dawg had ever met these mysterious 211 “Others”– all of who, incidentally may well have voted illegally for Hilary Clinton in the recent US elections too.
We then wondered what problems it would cause in the highly improbable event that they all decided to turn up for a club run on the same day, although we would of course be rolling in it if they also coughed up for their membership fees at the same time. I did like the idea of getting them to turn up en masse and all hand over their subs in £1 coins to OGL, just before we set out for a ride. At the same time I realised this would be almost impossible to co-ordinate, as we can’t even organise the club members who do show up regularly.
The reasonably warm, bright and dry weather brought out lots of long absent faces, including both Andeven and Richard of Flanders, back from various assorted broken bones. Richard felt he was just about fully healed, but didn’t want to be falling on his fractured elbow again, so if any problems occurred he made it known he would be hurling himself bodily to the left, curled into a foetal ball and whimpering ever so slightly.
He said he didn’t think there would be any long-term side-effects from his injury, although I couldn’t resist suggesting his left arm was now two inches longer than the right.
“You’ll probably find you’ll only be able to ride in a circle now.” G-Dawg warned.
The Red Max rolled up wearing some brand new, super-shiny, carbon-soled road shoes from Planet-X, bagged half price, along with other swag totalling a couple of hundred pounds. He revealed he’d tried to pre-empt and mitigate censure from Mrs. Max, by including some pink bar tape in his order, solely for for her, but sadly she’s too wise to his ways and had seen right through this sop and purely token gesture.
Goose arrived somewhat flustered and seriously over-dressed in a waterproof and windproof winter jacket, having failed to plan ahead and swap out at least some of his winter kit for warm weather gear. Running late, he’d panicked and just grabbed whatever was to hand, hence the jacket. I was somewhat reassured by his explanation, which confirmed he hadn’t acquired secret knowledge of a freak, radical change in the weather heading our way and we could look forward to a pleasant ride. Meanwhile Goose tried to determine if he could ship the jacket in favour of just the short-sleeved jersey he wore under it, but decided it was still too chilly.
With OGL mysteriously absent, we still stuck to the plan, G-Dawg outlining a proposed route and then leading off the first group, while Red Max volunteered to take a second group off a few minutes behind on a slightly shorter run.
So, around two-thirds pushed off, clipped in and rode out, while the second group waited to allow us to get clear, before following on.
I slotted in alongside Rab Dee as the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem led us out, frequently checking that the pace was ok for everyone. At one point, the Prof called back and asked what speed he should set, but typically half a dozen people suggested half a dozen different answers, none of which were particularly helpful, or remotely sensible.
Because I’m a smart arse, I wanted precisely 16.37mph, while Rab Dee wanted us to try and achieve constant angular acceleration. Not getting a reasonable response, the pair just decided to stick to their own pace, which worked for a while, although as the ride progressed their enthusiasm began to get the better of them and they ultimately slipped the leash.
With the bridge leading up to the Cheese Farm temporarily closed, we looped east instead of west and I found myself riding next to Kermit, who’s not from around these parts, so obviously knew far more about local history and the countryside’s assorted attractions than I did. He even engaged his best tourism guide persona to point out the Cale Cross monument as we rode past, transported stone by stone from its original site on the Quayside. It’s now a feature of the Blagdon Hall Estate along with an interesting, if eclectic mix of local art and history that, according to Kermit is open to the great unwashed public “about one day every other year.”
I caught up with Taffy Steve, who confessed to being as giddy as a kid at Christmas at the thought of a ride where numbers were manageable and speed and distance weren’t dictated solely by the weakest. He even admitted to being up extra-early, so brim-full of anticipation to get started that he couldn’t sleep any longer. And so far? So far, it had all gone perfectly well and he was in acute danger of actually enjoying the ride.
We were soon dropping down to the River Wansbeck, but again our route nudged a little east instead of west, to miss the dubious pleasure of the Mur De Mitford climb, skirting around the edge of Morpeth before climbing inland again.
Here the enthusiasm of the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem would get the better of them and they started riding off the front, before taking the wrong turn, or looping back to find us again. I wondered if we weren’t witnessing a movement for Dutch independence, or a “Hexit” if you will, while G-Dawg suggested it was just like taking a couple of loopy young Labradors out for a walk; they’d enthusiastically bound on ahead, only to panic when you were out of sight and come lolloping back briefly, before haring off yet again.
(Their habit of riding up the inside of cars stopped by traffic lights and then holding up the traffic when the lights changed was much less endearing though, and probably not a great way of fostering mutual respect and understanding with other road users.)
After all the shouted warnings of pots, ice, water, mud and gravel that had become such a staple of our winter rides, it was refreshing for a change to hear the warning cry of “squirrel” – what better indication could there be that the weather is at last improving.
We stopped to regroup and outline route options for the rest of the ride, G-Dawg in particular looking to check that Sneaky Pete was ok and knew what was coming up. He then spent a good two minutes scanning all the assembled faces looking for Sneaky Pete, who just happened to be camped two feet in front of G-Dawg, hiding in plain sight directly under his nose. That kind of stealthy anonymity and ability to blend in must be an absolute boon to someone of Sneaky Pete’s sneaky proclivities.
The stop also revealed that the Goose was well and truly cooked and he took the opportunity to finally pack and stow his jacket as, all across the group, zips were inched down and gloves and arm warmers abandoned.
Route options aired and outlined and splinter groups agreed, we set off, climbing the Trench and then began the long, hard and hated haul up Rothley Crossroads. A pause to regroup again and then we set off – all fractured and strung out at high speed, as if the scent of coffee was already hanging in the air.
At one point, I cut a corner, picking up a few quick bike lengths, but finding a car approaching head on, if still some distance off. A quick twitch and I was back into the right lane and slipped easily past.
I can honestly say that the incident didn’t even register as noteworthy, there was no panic, no sudden surge of adrenaline and I never felt even remotely endangered. Everyone around me thought it had been a “close call” though, which I found a bit more disturbing than the actual incident.
We approached Middleton Bank at high speed and, as the climb began, I just had time to acknowledge a flash of black and green as the Monkey Butler Boy whipped past downhill with his new training compadres.
I hit the steepest ramp of the climb and, in an instant, all the strength just drained from my legs, like one of those jointed toys held up by elastic that collapse when you push a button on the base. Someone had just cut my elastic and I was going nowhere fast.
I ground on upwards, managing to just about hold onto Taffy Steve’s wheel over the top – and then we started to chase down the front group.
A mile or so further and Son of G-Dawg cruised past, with Zardoz in tow and we jumped across to this train. Then, as Son of G-Dawg pressed to re-join the front group, Zardoz slowly lost his wheel and declared himself all done. By the time I’d rounded him, Son of G-Dawg was gone and had successfully hooked up with the front group, but we were still adrift.
With what little energy I had left I tried to narrow the gap for Taffy Steve to jump across, pounding away until my efforts became ragged and there was nothing left. At this point, he dropped out of my slipstream and was on his own as he tried to close down the group up front.
I dropped the pace back and sat up until the next train churned past, this time driven by Aether and with a recovered Zardoz sitting on his wheel. Zardoz tapped me on the backside as he passed, a move that, had it occurred in Catalunya would probably have seen us both docked a minute for pushing, as it was I took it as a cue to slot in behind him.
As we hit the rollers, I pushed to the front and dragged the group up and over, then down the final descent and back up toward the café, which we found rammed full of both cyclists and civilians, lured out by the fine weather. Luckily, this was good enough to let us sit comfortably outside, so we decamped to the garden for hopefully just the first of many visits this year.
Before this, I had the fun of watching Zardoz place an order with one of the staff and then attempt to pay a completely different one, who wondered why a strange man was offering her money for no apparent reason. Apparently, “they all look the same.”
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Squeezing onto one of the seriously crowded tables, I learned Buster had nearly-almost joined the club Velogames Fantasy Cycling League for the Spring Classics, but had missed the deadline. I had to admit that three races in we were all doing so badly that there was still a chance he could still sign up and win. I guess the unpredictability of the Classics is part of their appeal and perhaps why the bookies love them.
I mentioned how cold it was starting out this morning, especially on the long chilly drop down to the valley. The Red Max was unsympathetic, suggesting it was a natural consequence of living “across the river” in a land he suggested was always shrouded in black clouds.
“You think I live in Mordor?” I asked.
Apparently so, and not only that the Red Max believes the Tyne Bridge is the Black Gate, which … which means my path home leads through Cirith Ungol! No, man, not spiders, I mean, like I don`t dig spiders…
The Red Max revealed the Monkey Butler Boy is now taller than he is … and still growing. He has also proven surprisingly feral and an adept forager, so even refusing to feed him hasn’t helped.
Max was lamenting that he used to be able to punch, jab or slap the Monkey Butler Boy (one of the abiding, constitutionally encouraged requirements of fatherhood) and elicit the odd, offended yelp, such as: “Aye-ah!” or “Ow!” or “Hoo-man!” Now he says the Monkey Butler Boy just brushes off such rough and tumble horseplay, glares at him stonily and mutters “Soon, Dad. Very soon.”
To cheer himself up he’s off to a fancy dress party tonight as a 70’s porn star. Captain Black wondered aloud if he wasn’t actually going as his barber, which amused half the table and left the other half suitably perplexed.
Meanwhile Zardoz tried to convince the table that we’d deliberately not contested the café sprint because the front group have such fragile ego’s that they would have been crushed if we’d caught and dropped them. It was a good effort, but no one was buying.
Zardoz declared he was going to wait for the arrival of local legend, the indomitable Ray Wetherall – three quarters of a century in and still riding, so we left him behind, sitting out and enjoying the sun while we gathered for the return trip with everyone in high spirits.
The Red Max led from the café at a furiously fast pace, trying to burn up the surfeit of energy that remained after leading the shorter ride. I mentioned to Son of G-Dawg that had been just about the perfect ride, a good route, good group and bright, dry, not too windy and not overwhelmingly hot either. We had to wonder if this was our allotted, one and only perfect ride for the year.
When the Red Max finally faltered, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg picked up the lead and drove us at high speed home. I held on as long as I could, until they hit the Mad Mile and started the race for first use of the shower in earnest, at which point I tailed off and started to pick my own way home.
The roads were surprisingly quiet, the weather remained good and the trip back was supremely pleasant and incident free. I even discovered the chasm in the bridge wasn’t quite as big a hole as I’d assumed, but still deep and steep-sided. I’ve committed its exact location to my fallible memory – hopefully I can avoid it from now on – I’m pretty sure I’ll notice if I don’t.
That was fun. Small steps taken and more to come. Roll-on next weekend.
YTD Totals: 1,520 km / 944 miles with 15,948 metres of climbing