Club Run, Saturday 1st April, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 113 km / 70 miles with 1,068 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed: 25.8 km/h
Group size: 32 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chilly
As I made my way along the valley floor I was passed by a smoothly-whirring, four-man train from the South Shields Velo. Cheekily jumping (wholly uninvited) onto the back, they towed me down to the river in super-fast time, netting me a couple of new Strava PR’s for the section.
While we paused for the lights to change at the bridge, I had a brief chat with this crew, almost causing one of them to choke when he had to break off scarfing down a very dry cereal bar to answer.
Through the spluttering, I learned they were heading for Rothbury and once he recovered I was able to ask if they knew my work colleague Mr. T who is one of their club luminaries (or maybe functionaries would be a more fitting description). Only one of their number would openly admit to knowing “the feller” and, like me, none of them knew how to persuade him to do get out more frequently or do some longer, harder rides.
This blog isn’t quite done with Mr.T (who is also known to me as the Man with the Van and the Plan) and his singular misadventures with what he refers to as fleaBay. You have been warned.
As we exited the bridge, I waved the SSVCC riders off as they swung to the left, while I turned off to the right. I hadn’t gone half a mile before I was held up by a set of temporary traffic lights and some roadworks and whatever time advantage I’d gained tagging along with the group soon evaporated in the long delay that followed.
As I waited, a bloke in civvies on a mountain-bike jumped the kerb onto the footpath, Flanders-style and skipped around the hold up. The lights changed and I wound up the gear as I slowly started to chase the MTB’er down.
With white trainers flashing, baggy tracksuit bottoms tucked into socks and flapping in the wind, he was powering along and I hit 22mph before I slowly started to reel him in. I slipped past, just as we approached more traffic lights and we both braked and came to a stop.
We had a quick chat while we waited and I learned he’d only had the bike – something smart and metallic from Merida – for a couple of months and was loving it, but reckoned he needed “all the kit” to go faster. I suggested he was doing all right without it, then he was off again pushing along the valley floor, while I started the clamber up the other side.
Tows and delays seemed to even out and I arrived at the meeting point at just about the normal time, to find Taffy Steve already waiting as he’d volunteered for the role of group leader for the day.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Today marked the return of the Garrulous Kid, who was also waiting at the meeting point, finally released to ride after putting in enough work to successfully secure a GCSE in Maffs. (Not as much fun, but far more important than a club run). He’d also picked up a new bike, although he was slightly worried he would soon outgrow it and possibly all standard sized frames too!
Careful questioning revealed that a lot his relatives are around 6’3” and he was already heading towards these heights, which he seemed to regard as an outlandish and freaky thing. To reassure him I asked the BFG how tall he was?
“There you go,” I told him, “Six foot three and he can still find a bike that fits.” What I didn’t tell him of course was that the BFG actually is an outlandish and freaky thing – but, I guess he’ll discover that for himself sooner or later anyway.
Unfortunately, The Garrulous Kid has also discovered this humble blog, so I’m expecting to be accused of corrupting minors any day now. He told me he didn’t like the name the Garrulous Kid … just before asking what garrulous meant. On being told it was somehow who talked a lot he couldn’t quite see how that trait could in any possible way be related to him.
“Ok,” The Red Max suggested, “Prove you can stay silent, from now until we leave. Right?”
“Yes, but …”
“No. You’ve just failed the simplest of tests at the very first hurdle.” Red Max informed him.
“Can I not have a different name, though?”
“How about Gob Shite, or maybe Crap Gob?” I asked innocently.
The obscure and eclectic naming conventions of this poor blog and its simple author were then taken to task, simply because they’re … well eclectic and obscure. I will admit they do sometimes reference things many of my contemporaneous club-mates may only have the vaguest, haziest recollection of, while the youngsters have no chance – but then again, surely everyone (with the possible exception of Grover) has access to Google nowadays, even if they aren’t intimately familiar with, say, the legend of Crazy Legs Hirsch?
I did learn that apparently, the “yoof” of today (to me anyone not yet over the 50 threshold) are far more likely to associate Carlton with the dancing side-kick of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, rather than Carlton the Doorman from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but hey, I can’t help it if they’re all callow and unsophisticated. Bet they don’t remember the Andy Williams bear that always wanted milk and cookies either. Their loss.
Anyway, Grover (a weird amalgamation and bit of word association attributed to Washington DC and Grover Washington Junior, if you must know) then turned up for his third ride in a week. Good, stalwart man that he is, he probably remembers the bear on the Andy Williams Show.
True to his word and following his vow to never visit the hacked club forum ever again, he’s taking the unprecedented step of signing up to Facebook – or, to be more precise, of asking his workmates to sign him up to Facebook. He now feels able to announce that he’s finally moved into the 21st Century, even if just tentatively and he’s promising a few fireworks once he’s comfortable using social media.
He’s maybe opened the floodgates a little too wide though, as his workmates have now targeted his ancient and (to them) uproariously funny mobile brick for the next upgrade and are trying to get him to get one of those new-fangled “Android thingies.” This is a move he’s seriously resisting as he feels emotionally attached to his old phone which, according to him, has “a bevelled screen, lights and everything!”
I must admit what happened next was perhaps entirely predictable, but it made me laugh out loud anyway. Just like last week, we announced an intent to split into a faster group and a slightly slower, social group, with the latter holding back slightly until the first group had gone clear. I got to the first set of traffic lights, turned around and saw OGL standing alone, in splendid isolation on a completely empty pavement, devoid of other bikes and riders, while everyone streamed out to join the faster group.
OGL gave a shrug and tagged onto the back as well, so when the lights changed a 30-strong pack of us then pushed off, clipped in and filtered out into the traffic to form a potential rolling road-block of epic proportions. Well that didn’t work as intended, but a valuable lesson learned – don’t dare suggest, or even remotely infer to any club cyclist that they belong in a slow group, no matter how well intentioned the inference is.
A mile or so further up the road and Taffy Steve had us pull into a bus stop, where, amidst some grumbling from the grognards and usual suspects, he held us until a front group of around 15 or so had established a decent lead and disappeared around the next corner. In this way he was able to split us into more manageable groups, even if we’d all be more or less travelling the same route at potentially the same pace.
The only real problem with this was that Carlton’s young progeny slipped away with the front group, while Carlton was held back in the second. This caused a natural degree of paternal consternation, but father and son were safely reunited at the café and no lasting harm appears to have been done. Well, as long as Mrs Carlton doesn’t find out about it.
Now second group on the road, we set off to follow the proposed route, which would include the always fun, wild dip into the Tyne Valley. Once we were up and rolling, Taffy Steve dropped off the front and began patrolling the lines, checking everyone was happy, while I pushed on at the front with Goose, chatting about his plans to develop an app to measure chain stretch.
I tried to keep everything together while we climbed steadily up Stamfordham Road, occasionally swinging wide to check on everyone’s progress behind. At one point I swung over into the far lane to look back and Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril took this as a sign to pull through and onto the front. I’d been quite happy there, but then again I am a natural born wheel-sucker, so I certainly wasn’t going to complain and quickly slotted in behind the new leaders as we rolled on.
A quick desultory shower briefly pecked at us as we dropped down into the Tyne Valley and the temperature seemed to drop a couple of degrees as well, but the rain blew past and it wasn’t too long before we were faced with some serious, prolonged climbing and nobody was complaining about the cold anymore.
Halfway up the last climb, heading towards more familiar and travelled roads, the entire bunch shied in unison across the road, like a school of fish darting out the way of a large predatory shark. The cause of our concern was hulking Range Rover, that had been parked up on the grass verge (obviously testing its off-road capabilities to their fullest extent) but looked like it was going to pull out straight in front of us. We were all too breathless from the climbing to voice much protest and luckily, the driver seemed to see us at the last moment and stepped on the brakes.
A little further on we stopped at a junction to regroup, shuffling out of the way as the Range Rover reappeared and squeezed past. Here we saw the passenger was quite literally riding shotgun, a large bore double-barrelled gun resting casually on his shoulder as he peered out the splattered window at the strange and, perhaps in these parts, exotic sight of a bunch of crazed lads and lasses in a motley of tight, bright clothing with a fine collection of plastic bikes. Maybe it was just as well we didn’t protest too loudly at the Range Rover’s erratic driving.
But crazy and inattentive motorists weren’t done with us yet. We hit a long straight road and in the distance, a bright, intermittent flashing light announced an approaching lone cyclist. He got close enough to make out his rather fetching, celeste green rain jacket, when impatience got the better of a motorist who’d been trailing us for a completely unreasonable 10 or 15 seconds. The car pulled out to overtake, directly into the path of the fast approaching lone cyclist and trundled toward him.
He braked sharply. We braked sharply. The car, seemingly completely oblivious of everyone else on the road, kept trundling on. Somehow, it just managed to swerve into the space where we would have been if we hadn’t slowed, seconds before the lone rider would have felt the need to bail into a hedge or risk a collision.
An unnecessary, much too close call – we could only apologise on behalf of the RIM for the driver’s act of utter stupidity, while the lone rider waved us past with a “seen it all before” expression of weary resignation. I have to say, despite the impressive strobing of his 100 plus Lumen front light, it didn’t seem to make him any more visible to traffic.
We seemed to be elongated and in danger of losing riders as we swept through Matfen and as we turned off for the Quarry Climb I drifted to the back to find Brink had become detached. I hung round long enough to see him make the turn safely and then I gave chase, tagging onto the back of the group as we crested the climb and paused to collect everyone again.
Brink dragged himself up after us and thanked everyone for waiting.
“We didn’t stop for you!” was the laconic reply and then, in a move everyone agreed was straight out of the Prof’s handbook of cycling etiquette, Brink rode straight past us and away.
We all gave chase and then there was a bit of jockeying for position and reforming. Lacking a Red Max to shake things up with a long-range, suicidal, forlorn hope attack, the BFG complained about all the testosterone swilling around in the group, but no one actually going for it. He tried insulting everyone to get a reaction, but we still remained in a fairly compact and well-ordered group as we closed on the café.
The pace started to build, only to dissipate as a massively wide farm vehicle pulled onto the road and headed toward us. As everyone slowed and singled out to pass, Taffy Steve judged the right moment to kick, accelerating past the tractor and away and the sprint began.
As the group splintered Captain Black surged to close on the front group and I followed him across, before easing back and coasting down to the Snake Bends alongside Taffy Steve and Son of G-Dawg.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We arrived at the café before the first group following our split out on the road, suggesting we had taken a slightly shorter route somewhere along the way. Happily reunited with his son, Carlton wanted to know where we had deviated from the published plan and Taffy Steve explained we’d turned left just before we should have and then turned right a little earlier than expected.
No. I was none the wiser either.
We then discussed the shambolic start and how prudent it had been to stop and forcibly split the group once it became obvious it wasn’t going to happen naturally. Taffy Steve concluded that “twenty’s plenty” which seemed a decent guideline for determining group size and might even catch on as a club meme.
I sneaked behind the counter to serve up my own coffee refill and couldn’t help but be struck when I returned by the loud buzz 30 or so happy chattering cyclists generate when we were all crammed together in one room. I even began to feel somewhat sorry for the few civilians jammed in there with us. They seemed totally taken aback by the hooting, hollering and all round guffawing, which reminded me of a Larson cartoon and could yet see me referring to non-cycling civilians as the Hansen’s.
Jimmy Mac seemed quite intrigued to hear about the old feller who’d confronted Crazy Legs in the café after one recent winter ride and actually taken him to task for laughing too loudly and daring to enjoy himself far too much.
Just when things were coasting toward a placid and ordinary café stop, the Garrulous Kid appeared to give the conversation a surreal and absurdist slant.
He first wanted to know why Taffy Steve, was called Taffy Steve. On learning this was because of his Welsh roots, he then unwittingly trampled all over this heritage by declaring he thought Taffy Steve was from “London … or something.” I personally can’t think of worse insult to level at a proud Welshman – or anyone else who’s not from “doon sooth.”
“’Ere mate, yer ‘avin a giraffe, ain’t ya?” Taffy Steve responded, in his best Dick Van Dyke cockney argot.
We then learned that the Garrulous Kid’s mother had instructed him not to squeeze his spots in case it left a scar. I foolishly tried to convince him that women like scars.
“Have you got any scars?” he next asked and then, fumbling with his waistband declared, “I’ve got one, do you want to see …”
“No!” Taffy Steve instantly interjected, recoiling back in horror, hands upraised in surrender.
The Garrulous Kid then suggested he’d been seriously over-heating, having ridden all day in a thick winter and waterproof jacket, before demanding to know how the second group had beaten him and the first group to the cafe. We tried to convince him we’d passed on the road and even waved, wondering why he hadn’t seen us, but I don’t think he was buying.
The café’s steel-haired matron then appeared to give all the cyclists the evil eye as the place was getting even busier and people were starting to queue for tables. Suitably intimidated, we cut short the banter and headed out.
As we stacked up to leave, the BFG nodded at the Garrulous Kid and confessed, “I want a pet one of those for my home, they’re very entertaining.”
Shivering with the cold, despite his winter jacket, the Garrulous Kid then asked through chattering teeth, “You know PSHE?”
I looked baffled enough for ex-teacher, G-Dawg to come to my rescue and explain he was referring to a school lesson: personal, social and health education, or as G-Dawg alternatively described it, a complete and utter waste of time.
Apparently the Garrulous Kid had been learning all about STD’s recently and was keen to tell me one of his classmates had “acne of the groin.”
I know I’m evil and shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist, as we swung out of the car park, I pulled the pin on a verbal grenade and rolled it backwards, by suggesting to the Garrulous Kid that his classmate probably had “a mild fungal infection caused by a bad case of Betty Swollocks.”
Then, leaving Taffy Steve to pick up the pieces, I accelerated away to ride alongside Big Dunc for a civilised chat about the Belgian Classics and the upcoming Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Nevertheless, I kept half an ear on the conversation behind as Taffy Steve was forced to explain Betty Swollocks and other stealth puns which allow you to swear at people without earning a detention, like busy ditch, shaft of wit and sick duck. The conversation then moved on to talk about chlymidia and other STD’s when, I couldn’t help but interject to suggest I preferred Shimano STD’s.
As we climbed Berwick Hill, I found myself riding beside Crazy Legs as G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg set a brisk pace on the front . Dropping down the other side, Crazy Legs nudged me, pointed to the direction I’d soon be taking and chuckled at the thick and threatening, black clouds that were boiling up and massing over the Heinous Hill.
“Bloody hell,” I muttered, “I really do live in Mordor.”
The G-Dawg’s pulled aside as we left Dinnington and I moved to the front alongside Crazy Legs. “Is this the bit that’s straight into a headwind?” I asked.
“I just think they’re preparing for the homeward dash.” he replied.
Sure enough our erstwhile front-runners hadn’t gone far and were now slotted in on our wheels, from where they catapulted themselves toward home and a race for the shower as soon as the rest of the group turned off. I didn’t even try to hang on, but kept to my own pace with the BFG in tow.
He was soon swinging away for home too and it then became just a race between me and the weather to see if I could make it home before the rain washed over me. This mission was successfully accomplished, although I was somewhat surprised to discover I appear to have climbed the Heinous Hill “sur la plaque.” Huh?
YTD Totals: 1,699 km / 1,056 miles with 17,941 metres of climbing