Club Run, Saturday 17th March, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 107 km / 66.6 miles with 1,522 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 21.3 km/h
Group size: 10 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Raw
… or, the Beast from the East 2 – 0 Sur La Jante
It was back, the Beast from the East 2, the Return, or the mini-Beast as some reports dubbed it. This mean’t a Saturday ride in raw, primal weather, snow flurries, hailstorms, a brittle, frigid cold and strong, gusting winds edged with a raw and savage wind-chill.
Surprisingly though, it proved generally dry and ice-free, despite a precursor storm that passed through the night and seemed to drop a month’s rain on our heads in a couple of hours.
I (over)dressed for the conditions – thermal base layer, long sleeve jersey, softshell jacket with a rain jacket on top. It was enough. I was generally comfortable throughout the day and tended more towards overheating than feeling chilled, despite the stark conditions.
At the bottom of the hill, I found the Tyne Valley acting like a massive wind tunnel and turning put the wind at my back pushing me forcibly along. That was great, until I crossed the river and had to back-track down the opposite bank, taking it full on in the face as I battered along, reduced to a painful crawl.
Trying to climb out the other side of the valley I discovered my front mech had frozen solid and I had to stop and apply some less than subtle coercion to drop down onto the inner ring.
Once accomplished, I made reasonable time through intermittent hail and snow showers and was soon pulling to a stop at the meeting point, where a gaggle of half a dozen other beleaguered idiots were already huddled together, and quickly shuffled around to admit me to the shelter of the inner circle.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
My first reaction on pulling up was to berate everyone for being out on bikes on a day like this. I admitted that I’d half hoped to find the meeting place empty so I had an excuse to turn around and head straight back home.
I was particularly impressed that Taffy Steve had made it in, all the way from the coast, but predicted he’d have a real bitch-fight to get home, straight into the teeth of our Siberian-born winter gales.
He felt he couldn’t possibly miss what promised to be a “properly epic” ride … or at least he assured himself that’s how it would appear – once he was safely back home, smoking jacket on, feet up, cradling a snifter of recuperative brandy – warm, dry and able to look fondly back on the day.
Richard of Flanders was dressed for the conditions in a Mavic, quilted winter jacket in their signature bright yellow. Someone thought it looked like a drysuit, but after careful consideration we decided it was more like a HazMat suit.
Taffy Steve felt this was just playing up to Richard’s Smoggie heritage and that such apparel was always au courant on Teesside. He suggested that if Richard of Flander had returned to his hometown in this yellow HazMat suit, it would be seen as extraordinarily unremarkable and no one would bat an eyelid.
Speaking of HazMat suits, everyone agreed that as soon as they saw the teams deployed in Salisbury to investigate the Skripol/Novichok poisoning, a common flashback hadn’t been to Outbreak, Contagion, 28 Days Later, or any other horror/disaster movie, but an almost universal recall of Monsters Inc.
Meanwhile, taking in Jimmy Macs, high, wide, handsome, no doubt expensive and darkly impenetrable Oakley shades, Taffy Steve wondered if we really did face a danger of snow blindness today.
Fiddling with his rear wheel, mudguard, tyre, or whatever, Richard of Flanders wanted to borrow a spanner. I usually carry a small adjustable spanner to use on my mudguards, but they’d been behaving recently so I had left it at home. G-Dawg fished out the mighty spanner he uses for his fixie wheel nuts, but this was, not surprisingly, too big (although I’m still not sure exactly what it was needed for).
Richard then unfolded and disassembled a chunky, bike multi-tool, looking in vain for a simple spanner amongst its perplexing array of different and exotic options. He pulled up a slender cylinder, with a hexagonal-shaped bore.
“Does anyone know what this is for?” he demanded, looking somewhat perplexed.
“Is it no’ used to remove staines from horses hooves?” I wondered, channelling Billy Conolly describing a Swiss Army Knife.
“Maybe some kind of spoke spanner?” the Colossus opined and he probably had the right of it.
“It could also double as a radiator key, though” I added, somewhat unhelpfully.
Taffy Steve declared it was Garmin Muppet Time, cutting through the Garrulous Kid’s whine that his gloves were “too fin” – (I don’t know if they were made from sharkskin, or dolphin, but whatever material they were made from, I can attest that it’s not inflammable).
Heeding the siren-call, we broke our huddle, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Despite the weather, Biden Fecht was in mighty fine fettle and intent on cementing his position as group troubadour in the absence of Crazy Legs. Throughout the day he would keep us entertained with an eclectic selection of songs, starting with the Skids, “Into the Valley” as we dropped down into the latest snow storm.
This progressed through ABC’s “Poison Arrow” – bizarrely directed at a fellow riders ailing bottom-bracket and culminated in the Spinners “Working My way Back to You” complete with attendant dance routine.
My sole contribution was Cabaret Voltaire’s “This is Entertainment. This is Fun.” Was it? I’m not so sure.
After Taffy Steve, the next to go was OGL, fingers so frozen he said he was struggling to grip the bars and decided discretion was the better part of valour, turning off early.
The Garrulous Kid also talked about leaving at this point, but was persuaded to come with the rest of us, I think mainly when we pointed out the café wouldn’t be open for another half an hour or so, and hanging around outside in the cold would actually be worse than riding.
He and the Slow Drinker both did a fine job miming Peruvian Pan pipe players, blowing hard across their fingers, but failing to produce a tune of any note.
We dropped down Middleton Bank in a flurry of wind-driven snow and found ourselves closing in a large, dark, shadowed mass on the road ahead.
“What the hell’s that?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.
“A tank,” I declared assuredly.
It turns out it was a tractor, cunningly loaded with hay bales with one isolated and sticking up in the middle of the pile to resemble a turret. Given the conditions, it was a deception good enough to fool long-range reconnaissance, or they myopic frailties of an ageing cyclist.
At one point we became engulfed in a snowstorm so bad that I suggested we load the Garrulous Kid up with everyone’s Garmins, send him off into the wilds like Captain Oates and then we could all retire early to the café, leaving him to bolster our Strava numbers when he returned. The Colossus gave this serious consideration, before deciding the Garrulous Kid couldn’t be trusted to maintain an acceptable average speed, otherwise it would have been a sound idea.
If last week my Garmin robbed me of climbing metres, this week I think it was adding them back in – or perhaps I really did manage over 1,500 on the day. That and the weather might explain why I was so utterly exhausted. On the final loop around Capheaton, I did a short stint on the front and burned up whatever scant reserves of energy I still had left. I was done.
On the last sharp incline before the road down to the Snake Bends, I was unceremoniously blown out the back and left to find my own plodding way to the cafe. Even worse, once I turned I found myself heading directly into a ferocious headwind and it became a real grind – it was so strong that at times it forced me out of the saddle, just to try and keep some momentum. It was horrid.
At the junction I turned right to head straight down the main road. Meanwhile the front group had darted down Bomb Alley, where (unsurprisingly) a pot and a pinch puncture held them up. Somehow, someway, against all the odds, I actually made it to the cafe ahead of them.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Inside we found a slowly thawing OGL, who entertained us with tales of his latest bike maintenance job, for a man who’d assembled his own bike and managed to put the handlebars on upside down and the brake levers back to front, inside out and the wrong way round.
After sorting everything out, OGL had sent the hapless punter off with a flea in his ear about getting paid professionals to assemble the next bike he bought.
“I bet he found it unrideable, once you’d put everything back the right way round,” I suggested.
“He probably got on and crashed straight into a wall,” Biden Fecht added.
I can’t help thinking either of these pay-offs would have been a much better ending to the story, but it wasn’t to be.
We then descended into word madness when the Garrulous Kid asked Biden Fecht to sum up the morning ride in just one word. Biden Fecht proffered “barmy” – or, at least that’s what I think he had in mind – he couldn’t possibly have meant balmy, could he?
The Garrulous Kid then wondered if the green in Biden Fechts winter jacket was “illuminous.” Biden Fecht demanded to know if the Garrulous Kid was a secret member of the Illuminati, but the Kid didn’t even flinch as the comment wooshed past over his head.
(Interestingly, I typed out illuminous and the MS Word spell-checker didn’t respond with the dreaded wiggly red line. Huh? Were we wrong and the Garrulous Kid correct? I naturally Googled “illuminous” and the Urban Dictionary proffered: “Luminous colours which are particularly bright and garish, resulting in mild nausea for the observer” – which I thought was quite clever. My favourite though was a smart-arse response on Quora:
Q. What’s the difference between illuminous and luminous?
A. Luminous is a word, which means filled with light, shining. Illuminous is not a word.
Apparently though illuminous was once a word, but was declared obsolete by 1913. I’ll call that one a score draw, but it beats me how a word can become obsolete? Fall out of use yes, but you can’t uninvent things, can you? Hold up, is uninvent even a word?
[Hang on … I’ll be back once this pull of madness recedes.]
Our chatter was then cut short as one of the waitresses dashed over and plucked the Garrulous Kids smouldering gloves off the stove. Smoking, red hot and stinking like a singed dog, the gloves were sharply deposited in front of their owner, just as fin as they were previously, but now scorched and brittle too.
I declared the weather was forecast to be even worse tomorrow and learned that Biden Fecht was scheduled to travel up to Aberdeen through the worst of it. I wondered if he’d leave us with a final song to remember him by and tried to test him by asking for one about the fine Scottish city that was his destination.
Rising to the challenge, he dug out the “Aberdeen Blues” – raw, plangent, primitive Delta Blues from Booker White. While applauding, I challenged the choice, suggesting it wasn’t really about the Granite City at all, “but Aberdeen, Kansas or Kentucky or some such.” (I was close, it’s Aberdeen, Mississippi).
Aberdeen is my home,
But the mens don’t want me around,
Aberdeen is my home,
But the mens don’t want me around,
They know I’ll take these women,
An take them outta town…
Booker White – Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
Out we went, into the wind, the snow, the hail and the cold and off we set. I hung in there, struggling and still tired, hoping the speed didn’t increase too much.
We surfed through a road spanning puddle of icy water.
“Water, water, everywhere,” Biden Fecht intoned.
“Nor any drop to drink.” I concluded, as we engaged in a strange call-and-response rendition of Coleridge’s most famous poem.
“Great big, dirty puddle!” G-Dawg warned.
“Huh, I don’t remember that line,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.
“It was probably one of the discarded stanzas, you’ll have to wait for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – Redux for that one.” I told him.
That was pretty much my last interaction with the group. As they turned left into the headwind, I swung right for a shorter route back home, through Ponteland and looping across the top of the airport, happy to drop back to my own, plodding pace.
At one point the cloud fractured to reveal a deep blue sky overhead, even as the snow came swirling down around me in big fat flakes. I was riding in my own snow globe!
Passing the airport, the overbearing stink of jet fuel made breathing almost unbearable. It seemed appropriate as I was running on fumes anyway. I tried to think of quicker, easier routes home, but drew a blank, so just pressed on.
The grind up past the golf course was helpfully impelled by a kind tailwind, but once down and across the river I was battling head-on into the Arctic gusts and taking a beating from the hail being flung directly in my face. At this point by I decided the river valley wasn’t acting as a wind tunnel, but a giant blunderbuss, loaded with hail like grapeshot – and I was right in the line of fire.
I don’t think I’ve ever crawled up the Heinous Hill quite so slowly, most of it out of the saddle to try and keep the legs turning at a reasonable pace. A ride so hard – even my hair was tired.
YTD Totals: 1,535 km / 954 miles with 17,825 metres of climbing