Club Run and Christmas Jumper Ride, Saturday 23rd December, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 100 km / 62 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 23.2 km/h
Group size: 25 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Barmy balmy
What could be better for our traditional Christmas Jumper club ride, than a turn away from the ice-bound Arctic conditions of the past few weeks to real British Christmas weather, fairly windy, fairly mild, occasionally rainy, and all a bit grey and, well “meh” really.
Still, it might not be ideal for the picture-postcard, “White Christmas” but milder weather has the potential to make cycling much more pleasant. Of course, we then have to ruin it by wearing inappropriate, non-breathable, non-ventilated, and hideously garish thick wool jumpers on top of all that windproof, waterproof, technical sports gear …
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – The Club Christmas Jumper Ride.
Lights, tinsel, action …
G-Dawg was once again the architect for this week’s run, which he posted up as “our annual Christmas Jumper ride, and noted “fancy dress! (not compulsory)”.
He then went on to describe the proposed route in forensic detail, noting that “the ridiculously warm weather” would also open up a whole host of minor roads we’d crossed off in the past month or so while in self-preservation and/or ice-avoidance mode.
As well as the route, distance, elevation, grid co-ordinates and precise scheduling, he also included an extensive overview of the weather: minimum and maximum temperatures, barometric pressure, humidity, pollen counts and some impressive four-dimensional variational data assimilation analysis.
… all well and good, and massively impressive attention to detail … but he forgot to mention the wind…
It was unseasonably warm though and my tasteless Christmas jumper was set aside for a tasteless Christmas T-shirt, worn over a thin base-layer and windproof jacket. It would have to do.
I rolled down the hill and started out along the valley floor, immediately finding myself battling into a strong headwind – yes, it was as warm as forecast, but it was also, quite unexpectedly, very, very windy.
It was already up to 9°C as I crossed over the river, turned east and finally got a tailwind to help push me along at a decent clip. I was now heading toward the slightly ominous, deep, furnace glow from where the sun was being incrementally winched up over the horizon. A mile further on and this had faded to a more benign rose-gold glow that stained the clouds pink and picked out the wake of a plane high above, as it dragged silvery contrails across the sky, like a snail on speed.
It shoo was purdy …
Main topics of conversation at the start:
No doubt helped by the mild weather, we had a good turn-out and a high incidence of Christmas jumpers and paraphernalia scattered amongst the gathered throng. This year, the Colossus had gone the whole hog and was wearing an entire Christmas elf onesie, one better than last year’s elf hot-pants. I hoped this time his choice was colourfast, and he wouldn’t dye his saddle that unfortunate shade of (long-lasting) pastel pink.
Crazy Legs had adorned his bike with lights, tinsel and jingling “jingle” bells, the noise of which would eventually drive OGL (in super-Grinch mode) to complain it was “doing his head in”. It’s hard to be a curmudgeon when wearing a garish and tasteless “fun” jumper, but somehow, he managed. Personally, I felt the bells made us sound like a troupe of cycling lepers, which perhaps isn’t too far removed from the truth…
The Hammer arrived for one of his too rare excursions out with us, and in keeping with the Christmas spirit had wrapped tinsel around his stem and his helmet. A sadly absent Szell then missed the perfect opportunity for some of his patented single-entendres, but I’m sure he’ll make up for it in future.
Lying slumped across his bike, preternaturally quiet and with a thousand-yard, glassy stare, the Colossus looked deep in thought and I queried if he was already considering how he could top the elf onesie next year. This was apparently not the case however, he was merely struggling with the mother of all hangovers having been out on one Christmas bash on Thursday that didn’t finish until 6.00 Friday morning, before embarking on the next one, just 8 hours later.
G-Dawg outlined the route and suggested that although the roads would be free of ice, it was likely they could be a bit muddy. He wasn’t wrong.
As 9:17 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) came and passed there was still no sign of Taffy Steve. Crazy Legs was starting to fret a little, having confirmed they’d both be out today and wondering if Taffy Steve had run into problems on his pilgrimage up from the coast.
Nevertheless, time was up and 23 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
We hadn’t gone far, when a late arriving Taffy Steve infiltrated the group, and I rode up and dropped in beside him. I learned he had indeed not only had one or two mechanical issues, but had to manfully batter his way in against a strong and persistent headwind.
Somewhere along the line and for no good reason, our conversation turned to sports stars, and I suggested ex-Detroit Lions quarterback, Chuck Long had perhaps the most appropriate name ever – although given his ineptitude with the deep ball, perhaps it’s actually the most ironic name ever.
Not to be outdone, Taffy Steve suggested NASCAR driver Dick Trickle had perhaps the most inappropriate name ever and we wondered why, given his surname, Mr. Trickle chose to be known as Dick, instead of Richard, Ritchie or Rich. This reminded me of an ex-work colleague of both Crazy Legs and Mrs. SLJ, a certain Mr. Robert Sherunkle, who naturally always insisted on being called Bob…
Swishing through Dinnington, the BFG joined, to swell our ranks with his not inconsiderable size, and on we went, up past the Cheese Farm. At the top of Bell’s Hill, we regrouped, disintegrated and regrouped again, aided by some very festive bellowing. Ho-ho-ho and all that. We dragged our way up toward Dyke Neuk, noting the longer we rode, the harder the wind seemed to be blowing in our faces.
At Dyke Neuk we split and I joined the longer route to the café, pushing directly into a headwind as we ground our way uphill, before finding a little relief as we cut across country to the drop down into Hartburn and clamber up the other side.
Sticking to the original plan we were now heading to Bolam Lake via Angerton, which was notorious for being wide-open and fully exposed, or as Zardoz grimly summed up, “even with a tailwind, it feels like a headwind up there.” Just for the record, I can’t ever remember having a tailwind there.
Here the road dog-legs across an open exposed plateau of high moorland with nothing to provide any shelter, no hedges, no trees, no buildings no fences, just a full-on head wind shushing and soughing through bone dry grass, sparse heather and gorse. The tarmac is rough, pitted and grippy and slopes upwards just enough so you always feel your climbing and need to keep you constantly pressing on the pedals. Throw in the ever-present headwind, or even worse, something approaching todays near gale, and it becomes a horrendous grind.
Jimmy Mac and the Cow Ranger led the way, crouched low and straining over their bikes, as our speed dropped to almost walking pace and I was making huge efforts just to cling to the wheels as we turned into the full force of the wind. The guys on front would later claim the effort was like climbing a steep hill, unrelenting, unforgiving and utterly brutal.
The local hunt was out and horseboxes lined one side of the road, but we discovered they were surprisingly useless as windbreaks, although Jimmy Mac did declare he was considering riding into one … and never coming out.
I let the wheels go as we started up the last, steep ramp to Bolam Lake, safe in the knowledge we’d stop for a little regrouping at the top. I was completely and utterly shattered.
After a brief pause we pressed on, with Jimmy Mac picking up the pace, while I was just about clinging on. We hit the rollers and I tried attacking up the outside, but there was nothing there and I slowly drifted back through the group until I latched onto Zardoz. I let him drag me down the dip and up the last rise to the café, hanging resolutely on his wheel. He kept looking back, I think anticipating I would try to pass him. If I’d had the breath I would have told him not to bother, I was incapable of going any faster and only barely holding on.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café and with all the tasteless Christmas jumpers grouped en masse we looked like a peripatetic Val Doonican re-enactment society, especially the Colossus who was doing a fair impersonation of O’Rafferty’s motor car, his face alone like forty shades of green.
He sat very stiff, very upright and quiet, as if sudden movement might cause him to shatter. Still, despite the mother of all hangovers, I heard he’d still won the sprint from the shorter group ride. Such dedication is commendable.
Crazy Legs was delighted his café nemesis had reappeared, a year after being taken to task for laughing too loud and enjoying himself too much, the old codger had returned, although apparently, he could remember nothing of their previous encounter.
After a random mention of polo shirts, Biden Fecht and I entertained ourselves by wondering how a game played by less than half a hundred, posh horsey-people could have given rise to an item of clothing that just about everyone bloke had in their wardrobe. I decided the only way to make polo watchable was to play it on giraffe rather than horseback. Now I’d pay to see that.
I joined one of the first groups to leave the café for home. The banter started early with Jimmy Mac complaining when he found himself riding behind Biden Fecht and forced to look at a Christmas jumper nightmare.
Even by our low and crass standards, this appeared to be on another level altogether, a navy blue, zip up cardigan with a large felt stocking and teddy bear motif stitched awkwardly on the back. I generously suggested that at least Biden Fecht was manly enough to show he was in touch with his feminine side.
I then asked him if his girlfriend knew he’d borrowed her Christmas jumper and was informed she didn’t even know he’d bought it yet and he had to get it home in one piece so he could wrap it and put it back under the Christmas tree.
The Cow Ranger declared with the tailwind it was an opportunity to try and smash some Strava records on the way back, but first he found himself wrestling with his bike and trying to get the big ring to mate with his chain. Like a couple of love-shy Chinese panda’s they were having none of it.
He swore loudly and fluently at his gears, but strangely this seemed to have no discernible effect. He the tried kicking his front derailleur a few times, again without the desired result and reaching down trying to shift the chain manually was equally fruitless.
Jimmy Mac suggested tugging on the gear wire and while the Cow Ranger tried this, I waited with bated breath to see if the gear cable would cut through his fingers like cheese wire. Luckily it didn’t. Unluckily it didn’t shift his chain either.
With the Cow Ranger’s efforts getting more and more frenetic, we wisely overtook him, leaving a wide berth and he finally admitted defeat and pulled off the road to sort out his bike.
We were onto one of the quieter lanes when the Cow Ranger rejoined, roaring up to the front and immediately driving up the pace. I was okay going up Berwick Hill, but on the descent the big guys on the front put the power down and I was soon hanging on again.
At a right hand turn I was forced to stop to let a couple of cars past and no one was waiting. By the time I made the turn I was well off the back and didn’t have the legs or the inclination to give chase – it looked like my solo strike for home was starting early this week.
I meandered along to the rugby club before stopping to strip off the Christmas T-shirt and direct some Harlequin’s rubes to the nearest pub. I then ground on slowly, mostly uphill and into the wind once more. A bit further on and I stopped at a newsagent, wandered in on surprisingly shaky legs and bought an emergency Mars bar. Devouring this, pretty much wrapper and all, I drained my bottle and then got going again.
Dangerously close to running on empty, I made it across the river and finally put the wind behind me. That helped, and I was soon at the bottom of the hill needing just one last effort to get me home.
And that proved to be that, my last ride of the year. Winter would return with a vengeance the following week, and even if the snow and ice that still covered the top of our hill hadn’t been discouraging enough, a sore throat and headache kept me indoors.
So, now the slates going to be wiped clean, re-set to zero and I’ll start all over again. I wonder what 2018 has in store?
Hope it’s a good new year for all, see you in 2018.
Total for the year: 7,393 km / 4,594 miles with 85,419 metres of climbing