Club Run, Saturday 3rd June, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 95 km / 59 miles with 378 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 56 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2 km/h
Group size: 9 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: S’Winter
Once again the fickle British weather continues to toy with us and swing from one extreme to another, substituting last weekend’s glorious warmth and wall to wall sunshine, with a lumpen mass of oppressive grey cloud. This was due to stay hunched over Northern England for most of Saturday, emitting a constant stream of rain that hardly ever stopped, although it did occasionally vary in intensity – from light shower to a hard, stinging deluge and all points in-between.
Assuming the forecasts were going to be at least part-right, the Peugeot had been prepped the night before and made ready for a day when even cursed and rubbing mudguards would be, not only tolerated, but considered a necessity and a small price to pay for added protection. Luckily they even behaved.
Along with a change back to winter bikes, waterproof socks and my most impermeable jacket were selected for a real field test of effectiveness. (The Santini jacket passed admirably, the Sealskinz socks were an abject failure.)
It was also one of those days when the rain was heavy enough to screw with my Garmin, so the ride profile probably isn’t very accurate. If it is, then not only did I ride off a vertical cliff after 60km, but my home finished the day over 50 metres lower than where it was when I set out in the morning, even though the climb back up the hill was no easier.
Setting out and onto the Heinous Hill, I floated downstream with the current, noticing as I bottomed out on the valley floor just how noisy wet roads make the rest of the traffic, car tyres ripping and hissing past on the water-slicked tarmac.
Across the bridge and the River Tyne was a flat, sullen and grey below, devoid of boats or any other movement. Perhaps it was too wet even for the rowers?
Working back along the other side of the river, the Cobblestone Runway was now flanked by two new sets of traffic lights and temporary road works. At the first of these I queued behind a stream of cars for a good five minutes before the drivers decided the lights weren’t working and started to drive through on red.
Not wanting to come face-to-face with any approaching traffic that had the same idea, I picked out a large, heavy goods vehicle that looked suitably intimidating, tucked in behind it for protection and used it as a lead blocker for my own end-around through the roadworks.
Climbing up, out of the valley on the other side, more temporary lights pulled me to a stop half way up the slope, but this time I had only moments to wait before I was released by the green light.
The rest of the way was plain sailing and I swept through the meeting place and ducked into the shelter on the multi-storey car park just as Crazy Legs rolled in from the other side.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Hammer would be leading the ride today and had proposed a route that included wheat fields aplenty to run through, for those needing to get in touch with their rebellious side. The weather though was going to be the deciding factor and a shorter, more direct route to the café looked considerably more appealing – even if it meant foregoing such total, May-esque frivolity and utterly wicked abandon.
Crazy Legs admitted to being tired after following the extraordinary events of Thursday’s election as they had unfolded across his TV screen like a slow-motion car crash. I suspect he watched with the same glee and satisfaction most of us felt, as the overweening hubris of our elected government was shattered in a completely unnecessary, wasteful election they had brought solely on themselves. Smugness, conceit and presumption put to the sword – empty slogans, a robotic, delusional, uninspiring, empty and arrogant “leader” horribly exposed and a rabidly vicious and horribly twisted, biased press largely ignored.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the great British public can surprise me in a good way.
With world attention seemingly focussed, however briefly on this small island, we did wonder what outsiders might have made of some of our more colourful candidates, such as Lord Buckethead who, on the same platform as our incumbent PM, somehow seemed warmer and more genuine and appealing.
Others included a very large, very red Elmo, Howling “Laud” Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party and one hopeful dressed (and I don’t think even he knows why) as a giant fishfinger.
Crazy Legs in particular liked Lord Buckethead’s manifesto, built on a platform of “strong, but not very stable leadership” it included the pledge of no third runway at Heathrow: (“where we’re going we don’t need runways”) the nationalisation of Adele and a firm public commitment to build the £100bn renewal of the Trident weapons system, followed by an equally private commitment not to build it, the flawless logic being: “they’re secret submarines, no one will ever know. It’s a win win.”
Particularly appealing, Lord Buckethead promised free bikes for everyone, to help combat obesity, traffic congestion and, err … bike theft.
The ever pragmatic Taffy Steve, suggested we didn’t need to an election to negotiate Brexit, we simply had to point at the Norwegian model, say that’s what we want and how much will it cost. The only slight flaw in this argument is the presumption of some that we can somehow leave the EU and they’ll then give us for free everything we used to pay for. I don’t even think Lord Buckethead is that delusional.
European adventures were also under discussion in relation to our upcoming Alpine invasion, with the plan Crazy Legs proposed of riding the Marmotte Granfondo route possibly under threat due to the closure of one of the tunnels. He’d checked out the recommended traffic diversion, but backed out quickly when he found it involved an additional 2½ hours just to drive it!
Latest reports from Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril who are across there this weekend suggest the route is now open and we may yet be spared a circumnavigation of the entire mountain range.
It was a small group of only 9 diehards who pushed off clipped in and rode out into the rain. After some discussion we’d agreed to amend the route and head, more or less directly to the café, the only real contention being which café, with Big Dunc’s suggestion of the Costa, 800 metres away on the High Street getting serious consideration.
I took to the front with Big Dunc as we set out. We hadn’t gone far when the BFG trailing us closely drew our attention to what he thought might be two cycling ghosts up ahead. I suggested they might be the restless spirits of Coppi and Bartali, but received only an uneducated, “Huh?” in response.
As we drew closer we saw it wasn’t the ghosts of long dead, Italian cycling campionissimo’s we were tracking, but a father and son on mountain-bikes and wearing long, white rain ponchos. Hmm, bit early for trick or treat?
As an act of sheer, devil-may-care, rebellion, almost as reckless as running through a field of wheat, we decided to head straight up Brunton Lane, rather than taking the usual route past the Sage HQ.
Unfortunately, rebellion isn’t without consequence and we hadn’t gone far when our path was blocked by hundreds upon hundreds of soaking wet, T-shirt clad kids doing a “fun run” in the most atrocious conditions imaginable. It looked to me like nothing so much as the Pied Piper leading an army of wet and bedraggled rats out of Hamelin. Still, to be fair, despite the horrible weather the kids did actually look to be enjoying themselves.
We turned around and back-tracked toward the Sage HQ, to find the road here was closed as well, but the run had already passed and once the cones had been cleared, we were free to proceed.
Having lost my station at the front I drifted back to find Sneaky Pete, who was starting to wonder what kind of lunacy had tempted him out on a day like this. I tried to convince him it wasn’t so bad and once he was home in his slippers and silk smoking jacket, toasting his feet by the fire while enjoying a cigar and sturdy snifter of brandy, he’d look back fondly on the day and realise how much fun it had been. Honest.
With my socks slowly getting waterlogged and cold water squelching up between my toes on every pedal stroke, we pressed on and out into the rather grey and sodden countryside, occasionally skirting the wide puddles that crept out from the verges and into the road.
We called a pee stop and discussed route options, with the Hammer’s suggestion for a referendum and then a vote, roundly shouted down, before finding a degree of consensus. With it still being too early for a direct run to the café, G-Dawg led us on a route across the top of the Quarry climb.
Loop successfully completed, we started to close in on the café and the pace unconsciously quickened a little, while the BFG specs misted horribly. With the rain now lashing down hard and caught in the spray kicked up from the wheel in front, he started wailing that he was blind and couldn’t see.
Crazy Legs suggested he wasn’t going to be contesting any sprints today as the weather was rank, our run-in was down the horribly potted and rutted surface that led to the Snake Bends and he was conscious of a big week ahead.
This conviction lasted almost as long as the BFG’s sudden attack, as he jumped hard and out of the saddle, briefly opening up a small gap which Crazy Legs almost instantly moved to close down.
I assumed the BFG was just trying to force a Damascene conversion and hoping a bit of clear air and open road might help the scales fall from his eyes. His effort was quite short-lived and he was soon back in the fold. We then reformed and I took to the front alongside G-Dawg, bouncing and rattling down the road and the speed starting to build again.
The Hammer was the next to attack, appropriately hammering down the outside and everyone swept around me to give chase, while I just kept pounding away, not looking to add any speed and just trying to maintain what I already had.
We flashed past a junction where another large group of cyclist were waiting to turn onto the road. Luckily they’d seen us and held back, otherwise it could have become sketchy – our lot were at full bore and unlikely to be happy with anyone riding into their path.
I was too far back and it was too murky to see the outcome of the sprint, but I do know that despite all his protestations Crazy Legs was in the mix right up to the end. No surprise there then.
We regrouped at the junction and then pressed on down the narrow, horribly potholed lane that paralleled the main drag. Here the other group of cyclists caught up and pointlessly forced their way past, while we singled out and everyone had to slalom and weave precariously around the fissures, holes and divots that littered our route.
At the end of the lane they turned right along with us, just before our last hurrah, a short ramp that we traditionally take at full gas as a full-stop to our actual café sprint. Traditions have to be upheld, even though the other group seemed particularly disgruntled and nonplussed as we bustled them out of the way and burst up the outside of their line, before easing and rolling into the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café, with black bin bags to park our water-logged derriere’s on, we pushed a few tables into one long line and convened around it.
The Hammer finished his poached eggs on toast and then started in on a bacon sarnie, suggesting he’d been so hungry in the week he’d eaten an entire box of muesli in one sitting. Crazy Legs mimed upending a large box of cereal and pouring it directly into his mouth, before asking how the Hammer could still manage to talk without constantly coughing out a cloud of muesli dust.
Crazy Legs next suggested drinking down a pint of milk to see if it would cause the Hammer’s stomach to suddenly bulge like an instant pregnancy, or John Hurts chest just before the Alien rips its way out of his innards.
For some reason talk turned to glam-rock legends, The Sweet, as Crazy Legs tried to recall one of their songs that was always on heavy rotation at the ice hockey. I felt anything was good as long as it wasn’t “Love is Like Oxygen” – a song the Hammer would later declare “has an elegiac quality, reminiscent of running alone through a field of wheat.”
He then suggested that The Sweet were the kind of band Led Zeppelin could have been if only … (I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t inadvertently discovered the secret identity of Lord Buckethead and now know who the person is under that … err… bucket.)
The Hammer and Big Dunc became all misty-eyed and nostalgic about prog rock and discussions about the best Pink Floyd album, while both Crazy Legs and I excused ourselves from the discussion and affirmed our Punk, Post-Punk-New Wave, Ska and Mod credentials by declaring we’d never even consider listening to Pink Floyd and would instantly destroy any of their material that might infiltrate our households and taint our music sensibilities.
Meanwhile, as the rain continued to lash down outside and despite our dripping, soaked through gear, we all agreed we were strangely content to live in a moderate if changeable climate and pleased we didn’t have to suffer the extremes of long, baking hot summers, or deep frozen, snowbound winters.
Crazy Legs started toying with his track mitts and I told him it was too late to try and dry them out now. He gave us a fine display of jazz hands and suggested if he could ride home like that, his gloves would probably be dry before he made it back. The Hammer felt he might as well go the whole hog, black up and ride home doing a bad impersonation of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.
And then it was time to leave and with a quick rendition of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye)” make our way out into the rain again, while the rest of the cafe patrons heaved a huge sigh of relief.
As we were making for the exit someone in the café seemed to suggest we were, as my water-logged ears interpreted it, as “mad as otters” – perhaps I misheard, but I have to say that given the wet weather that seemed an altogether appropriate epithet.
I had a chat with Taffy Steve as we rode back and we both agreed the ride had the feel of one of our winter epics – a small band of die-hard compadre’s, gamely battling the elements together, while spouting all sorts of complete and utter nonsense. The only difference was, this time the rain was warm!
This reminded me of the Phineas and Ferb episode where they used a snow-cone machine to create “a unique and logic defying amalgam of winter and summer” or S’Winter. Leaving the others and heading for home, the S’Winter song became deeply lodged in my brain and I found myself pedalling along quite happily, singing:
It’s a S’Winter S’Wonderland,
Unusual and grand,
You can freeze while you get tan,
Because it’s S’Winter.
(Apparently, some people call it W’ummer too!)
YTD Totals: 3,593 km / 2,233 miles with 38,618 metres of climbing