Club Run, Saturday 28th October, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 103 km / 64 miles with 1,319 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 10 riders
Weather in a word or two: Windy
With the clocks being turned back on Saturday evening, this was likely to be my last ride across to the meeting point in the near dark for at least a couple. I intend to enjoy the extra hour of morning daylight while I can, it isn’t going to last.
The clocks going back is also the final sign that we’re slipping inexorably toward winter and the weather is likely to become increasingly discouraging. Rider numbers will slowly decline from now until Spring, depending largely on what each Saturday throws at us on a week by week basis.
Based on numbers across the past three years, typically means the average number out on the club runs from November through to February will be less than 20, while for the rest of the year the average is around 27. November then is end-point for those who hibernate over the winter, endure the hellish purgatory of turbo sessions, or switch sports entirely. All seem to give up the club run as the weather becomes less accommodating. The smallest group I’ve been out with has been confined to a Magnificent 7, hopefully that’s as low as we’ll get, but you just never know what Mother Nature has in store.
The declining number of riders were likely to be especially problematic this week, as the “Usual Suspects” – those who can be relied on to turn up in most weathers, were already seriously depleted – the Red Max was enjoying riding in what looked like a beautifully warm Spain, Taffy Steve was off on a visit to the Isle of Man, while Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and the Colossus had taken Rab Dee off toward Kielder on one of their occasional mountain bike forays. I guessed it was going to be a much diminished ride today.
To compound the issue, the wind was strong and gusting and it would be a real grind to push through, with plenty of sudden, capricious gusts and crosswinds demanding a little more care and concentration.
Not only was I expecting a smaller, quieter club run today, but in fact everywhere seemed quiet early in the morning as I set off. The traffic was relatively light and as I crossed the bridge, the oily, black and surprisingly still river was, for once, completely empty of boats and rowers, both upstream and down.
Climbing out of the valley on the other side, a massive stretch of the road surface appeared to have been combed, stripped of its surface tarmac and left coarse and corrugated. Hopefully this will eventually result in a nice, new piece of shiny smooth tarmac, but for now it meant a juddering, jarring, bone-shaking climb.
I knew the 4ZA wheel hubs on the Peugeot desperately need a service, but my LBS is having difficulty sourcing the parts from Ridley. Surprisingly, the hubs haven’t miraculously sorted themselves out through constant riding and the rumbling and shaking on this stretch of “not-road” convinced me to bite the bullet and swap the wheels out for some cheap alternatives I’d bought last week.
The last section of my run in to the meeting place was not only blissfully smooth by comparison, but all downhill, in a straight line and with the wind at my back. Even better, for the first time every traffic light in a series of four or five was burning a solid green for me and I whipped through them non-stop and was soon at the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Rainman, our younger, better-looking, Dutch substitute for the now departed De Uitheems Bloem, was the only one waiting, having just finished his night-shift and deciding the ideal way to relax was with a bike ride into a gale force wind!
After a freezing commute on Friday morning I’d seriously over-estimated how much cold weather gear I needed and the first order of the day on stopping was to strip off glove liners, buff and gilet. Sadly, neither the Rainman or I could do anything much with the thermal base-layers we’d both ill-advisedly chosen.
The Prof rolled up and told us it was windy out on the roads. He’d devised a route for what has become known as “the training ride” – a slightly longer, possibly faster first group that leaves independently of the main club run, but meets up at the café for the ride back. Although the title “training ride” has generated a certain amount of derision in some quarters, whether the name is appropriate or not, doesn’t really matter – it gives us more choice.
I was actually tempted to join the Prof’s early ride this time out, but figured that with key stalwarts missing, the club run could be out-gunned and under-manned in the wind and we’d need as many as possible to share the workload today.
Caracol and Mr. Boom arrived next and told us it was windy out on the roads. The Prof had a cunning plan to find shelter, which he demonstrated by squatting down behind Caracol’s back wheel. Sadly for him, his plan never reached fruition as Caracol too decided he would be doing the normal club ride.
Four intrepid “trainee’s” then slipped away early on their ride, as Princess Fiona rolled up to tell us it was windy out on the roads.
OGL arrived to tell us it was windy and we had another short requiem for all the local bike shops slipping out of business.
We even waited an additional five minutes before leaving, but as expected, numbers were down to a meagre 10 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rolled out. Caracol led the way and had just barely dropped his front wheel off the kerb before he was being lambasted for riding too fast!
“That might be a new club record for the fastest telling off, ever” he declared.
I wasn’t so sure, as I seem to recall the Red Max receiving a similar condemnatory diatribe even as he made to swing a leg over his stationary bike.
I joined Caracol on the front and we battered and battled together against the wind for the first 30km or so, chatting whenever it dropped enough so our ears weren’t overwhelmed by its rushing thrum. In this piecemeal way we discussed, among other things, who would win a stubbornness contest between OGL and Sean Kelly’s bad-tempered Irish donkey and just how long you could defer domestic chores by riding a bike. (Hint: there is no escape and they always come back to bite you on the bum.)
I also found I had a disturbing and distracting gap between boot top and leggings that was becoming naggingly chilled, otherwise our progress was quite pleasant despite the conditions and certainly not too cold, although I did have a shaky moment when swerving around a car on a narrow bridge and feeling my rear wheel sliding out on the mud and leaves at the side of the road.
We stopped at Stamfordham to reassess and plot a new course and Ovis and Biden Fecht took over on the front for the next stretch.
I’d dropped back and was chatting to Princess Fiona as we made our way toward the Quarry Climb. She felt we were going to get the benefit of a tailwind, but remembering how much the approach zigs and zags and just how exposed the landscape was around there, I wasn’t so sure.
Either side of us and a fusillade of shots boomed out. We’d either found a Northumberland shooting party, or the wind had blown us right off course and we were heading toward Raqqa. I finally spotted the ragged line of shotgun toting “sportsmen” and their beaters, but for the life of me couldn’t see what they were blazing away at. Thankfully Caracol, whose eyes are obviously much sharper and younger than mine assured me there were birds in the air (or being blown out of the air) and this wasn’t a vigilante-toff, anti-cycling protest. Relieved there was no need to dive into the nearest ditch, we pressed on.
Slim Michael and Caracol took to the front as we climbed around the first corner and with the wind temporarily at our backs, they started to build the pace. A surprisingly struggling and gasping Zardoz somehow managed to wheeze out a desultory, enfeebled “somebody say something” plea, just before his prayers were answered and OGL issued a stern, “Easy!” directive.
It wasn’t to be though, the boys up front decided it was time to stretch their legs – and off they romped.
Up front, Slim Michael, Ovis, Caracol and Biden Fecht topped the climb and swung left. I eased up after them and then pulled over to wait for the stragglers. Zardoz followed me up and then slipped off to the right, taking the shorter route to the café, while Mini Miss and Princess Fiona turned left without pause.
A while later and a good distance back, OGL finally hove into sight, honking up the climb in a massive gear as usual. “I’m getting to old for this,” he declared, rounding the corner, “I might have to swap out the 26 on the back for a 28.”
Well, if recognition is the first step toward self-awareness, progress of sorts. And in other news, dinosaurs were found to be roaming free and still very much alive in the wilds of Northumberland, while pigs were seen taking to the air (but were sadly gunned down before they could make good their escape).
I dropped in front of OGL and pushed on up the slope toward the junction, where I found the rest of the group had actually stopped and were waiting.
We pressed on toward the café, managing to stay together until the road dipped down and around a sweeping bend. Using this as a springboard, Slim Michael and Ovis charged away and I gave chase, dragging Caracol across the gap.
Down toward a junction and negotiating a sharp right turn, we now had the wind at our backs for the final run in and would be difficult to catch. Biden Fecht confirmed this as he worked hard to try and close the gap, but eventually ran out of road.
Meanwhile Caracol and Slim Michael whirred away off the front, Ovis did a quick calculation and determined he couldn’t live with their pace, so wisely didn’t try. He throttled back just a little and I was happy to cling to his wheel as we pushed on. Ovis kept glancing back, waiting for the sly beggar on his wheel to come around and mug him at the last, but even if I’d wanted to I’m not sure I could have out-sprinted him, so just sat in and let him drag me down to the Snake Bends.
I caught up with Zardoz at the junction with the main road and we ducked down the lane to avoid the main drag and its speeding traffic. Between slaloming around a shocking number of potholes, he confessed he’d been really struggling today and felt having just a couple of weeks off the bike had seen his form almost instantly evaporate.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was just about to upbraid the café for their unseasonable and ridiculously premature Christmas cake, when I noticed the spider and cobweb-decorated cupcakes and realised the figures on the supposed “Christmas” scene were actually meant to be scary ghosts and not fat, jolly snowmen.
Mini Miss rightly contended the crosswinds on the Quarry Climb were nowhere near as bad as those we always seem to find we we take the route up through Angerton, which is exposed and seemingly always windy, even on the calmest of days. It’s always a forceful headwind too – even on the one day we reversed our route and travelled down instead of up its length. How does that work then?
At the table, Caracol remembered the lump of flapjack he’d been hauling around in his back pocket and added that to his energy intake. I wondered if it was home-made and could rival Rab Dee’s recipe. I suspect he uses iron filings and a heavy duty engineers vice to craft something so dense it has its own gravitational field and can bend light. If offered any, I usually politely decline, as I’m sure even the smallest nibble would instantly add two or three kilos. Perhaps though, additional ballast would be good on a day like today.
Caracol took me to task for suggesting Rab Dee would ever sink so low as to use iron filings and he believed the secret ingredient was likely to be more high-tech and possibly titanium.
Unwittingly, Ovis may then have revealed the real reason for his sudden upsurge in fitness and form. He’s been deflecting attention from this by suggesting it’s a result of repeated hill intervals he’s doing through a dodgy area of town (with the extra incentive that he daren’t stop in case his bike gets nicked). Now, he admitted to carrying an entire malt loaf on all his rides, as it’s easily compressed into a solid brick of gooey-goodness. I’m beginning to suspect his new-found strength is fuelled entirely by Soreen and expect it to make the WADA list of banned substances very shortly.
Talking about plans for next year, Ovis has entered the lottery for a place on the Fred Whitton Challenge and suspects the Wooler Wheel, Lakeland Loop and Cyclone are likely to be on his inventory too.
Even more impressive than the Fred Whitton, Ovis mentioned that Princess Fiona’s plans include a first participation in the Barcelona Iron Man Event (Iron Woman? Iron Princess?)
Caracol, Ovis, Slim Michael and Biden Fecht hatched a plan to take a longer route back and I tagged along, although it seemed horribly counter-intuitive to leave the café and turn back into the headwind.
After the first few hills I realised my legs were totally shot and the pace they were setting up front wasn’t sustainable. As we hit Whalton and they took a course heading further north-east, when I needed to be travelling south-west, I baled and started to plug my way homeward, battling the wind on my own terms but, more importantly at my own pace.
The roads still remained relatively quiet and the only accompaniment I had was a grey squirrel darting in front of my wheel as I trekked through Ponteland and the whirling leaves, that scuttered and skittered across the road around me, rats’ feet over broken glass, in our dry cellar … or something like that, anyway.
On the last leg and pushing up Heinous Hill, I found the wind to be an ally at the last, funnelled between the buildings and onto my back, giving me a forceful nudge up the slope. Then it was back to battling head first into its seemingly strengthening force, as I traversed along the hills crest, before the final steep ramp upwards and finally home.
YTD Totals: 6,386 km / 3,957 miles with 73,042 metres of climbing