|Total Distance:||104km/65 miles & 1,232m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 7 minutes|
|Average Speed:||25.3 km/h|
|Group Size:||28 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Bright, blowy, breezy|
I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.
I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.
The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …
I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.
The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.
Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.
I get out and get going. Sigh.
A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.
And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.
Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.
He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.
It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.
The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.
With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.
“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)
Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.
“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)
Look at the stars
Look how they shine for yooo
And everything you dooo
They were all … Yell-o!
“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.
I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.
“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.
Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …
“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.
“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.
“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.
We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.
“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.
“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.
“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.
“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.
“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.
In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.
“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.
“Well, my Dad listens to them.”
“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”
Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.
“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”
“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.
Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.
“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”
I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.
“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.
Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.
Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.
I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.
In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.
As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.
I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.
As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.
At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.
“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.
“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.
“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.
Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”
As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.
We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.
“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.
“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”
I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.
Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.
Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.
My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…
“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”
“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.
It was time to leave.
As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.
I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.
Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.
There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.
Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.
Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.
I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.
“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.
“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”
“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.
At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.
Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.
As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.
I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.
That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.
As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.
Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.
We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.
“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.
“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.
Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.
He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.
He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.
I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.
Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.
I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.
The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.
As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.
Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.
YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.