Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance 89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 51 minutes
Average Speed: 23.1 km/h
Group size: 5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Turning Arctic
A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.
But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.
Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.
As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.
Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.
Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.
Main topics of conversation at the start.
Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.
Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.
Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.
“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”
As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.
Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:
A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”
And a minute later,
CL: “… Not sure.”
To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”
Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.
G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.
News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.
Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.
We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)
At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered. I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.
As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.
For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.
Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One
Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.
Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.
For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.
The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.
Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.
As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.
Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.
Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.
We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.
As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.
A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.
As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.
G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.
He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel
In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.
Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.
Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.
Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.
Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.
“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.
His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.
We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …
Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.
As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.
Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.
Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.
At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.
Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.
Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.
Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.
Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing