Total Distance: 89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
Average Speed: 21.7 km/h
Group size: 13 riders, 2 MTB’s
Weather in a word or two: C-c-c-c-cold
Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.
As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.
Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.
It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.
Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.
The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.
I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.
I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.
As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.
On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.
Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.
Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point
G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.
None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.
With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.
This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.
There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.
There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.
(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)
Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.
I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.
The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.
We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.
I should have put money on it…
Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.
“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.
Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!
We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles. Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.
While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to skip around the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes, and giving the kids a big thumbs-up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.
With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.
Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)
Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” – Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.
A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.
Crazy Legs declared he was going through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.
Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.
Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.
YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing