Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 13 minutes
Average Speed: 23.1 km/h
Group size: 14 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Manky and murky
Normal service is resumed …
We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.
As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …
The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.
Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?
I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.
The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.
Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.
OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.
“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.
Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.
The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…
We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.
There’d be no loafing today.
That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.
Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.
We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.
One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.
At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.
Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.
The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.
We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.
Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.
A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.
We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.
At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.
As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.
Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.
The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.
We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.
Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.
A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.
Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.
No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …
His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.
I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.
It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.
Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.
Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.
Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.
Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.
“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”
Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.
Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.
As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.
It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.
Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.
On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.
We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.
The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?
Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.
YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing