Club Run, Saturday 17th November 2019
|Total Distance:||111 km/69 miles with 1,095m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 36 minutes|
|Group Size:||22 riders, no FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Wet ‘n’ Wild|
With parts of the country subject to devastating rainfall and numerous homes submerged under floodwater, the North East seems to have escaped relatively intact despite the fact it had been raining heavily, off and on since Wednesday night.
The forecast for Saturday was for extended periods of this rain that started out as an 80% probability, then just increased as the day progressed. Whatever happened it looked like being a wet one. It was however noticeably warmer than it had been last week – so not all bad news, I guess.
There was only the lightest, finest, mist of precipitation as I set out and I did ponder stopping to take the rain jacket off. I hadn’t gone far though when a heavy shower dampened me and any enthusiasm I might have had for peeling away any protective layers. The rain was going to be an infrequent and intermittent companion for the rest of the morning, after which it would stop toying with us and just pour unremittingly.
Other than skirting some newly formed lagoons in unexpected places, testament to the volume of water that had fallen out of the skies in the past few days, my trip across to the meeting point was largely uneventful.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I pulled in alongside Captain Black, sheltering under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and peering out uncertainly into the wet gloom. He hasn’t been out for a good few weeks and certainly hadn’t picked the best of days to mark his return.
The Prof put in a surprise, cameo appearance, declaring his Back Street Boys tribute act don’t actually perform in the rain, which interferes with their hairstyles, or choreography, or some such. He was forced to concede we were a much hardier bunch, although obviously we don’t ride half as hard, half as far, or half as fast as his fair weather friends. (I’m fairly certain he even referred to them as “sugar plum fairies” at one point, but I may have misheard.)
Appropriately enough, our ride leader for the day (and first-time volunteer) was Rainman, who’d posted up a route which he kept insisting was no longer than normal. A more cynical man than I might have concluded he doth protest too much, but, at least it was different.
We discussed various alternatives to avoid potential flooded areas, much to the bemusement of the Hammer, who, in one of his usual declarative, dismissive statements, insisted, “Well, it’s hardly rained at all.”
Crazy Legs appeared out of the gloom, swept past us and, sporting a huge grin, attacked the lower slopes of the car park ramps. G-Dawg hesitated a brief second, before racing to join him, as our two fearless adventurers made good on their promise to find out exactly what was located at the top of the multi-storey car park.
Our intrepid explorers returned, seemingly unimpressed with their discoveries, but further swelling our numbers which were pushing twenty strong by the time Carlton rolled in to join us.
“Happy birthday!” someone called out to him, initiating an impromptu sing-a-long, as twenty, disparate voices were united in some fleeting semblance of harmony, in the dank, echoing confines of a grimy multi-storey. I’m not sure the car park has ever witnessed anything quite so moving, as we serenaded the anniversary of our compadre’s entry into this world some … aah … 25 years, or so ago. (Oh, plus a little bit … yeah, bit more … bit more … getting there … now add in the VAT)
Rainman began briefing in the route, but was stopped mid-flow.
“Who are you?” someone demanded.
“Call me whatever you like,” he suggested magnanimously.
“Oh, we do,” I assured him.
He completed the briefing, once again assuring us it was a very standard length route, but also that there were plenty of turn-off points should we decide to cut the ride short.
Then, at precisely 9:14, one entire minute early, he drove us out of our warm, dark and comforting sanctuary (did I really just write that?) and out onto the open roads.
This I suspect is an underlying reason for the fabled Dutch efficiency in their public transport systems. They cheat, leaving ahead of schedule so as not to arrive late.
I guess it’s just tough luck if you’re not there super-punctual and miss your train and indeed, our early start caught a few out. Ovis was only just arriving as we were leaving, Buster had to dart quickly across 4 lanes of busy traffic to tag onto the back, while Andeven, completely wrong footed and travelling up the opposite carriageway in the wrong direction, had to race away, circumnavigate a roundabout and chase on.
Still we managed to have some semblance of a group formed once we’d collected our stragglers and pushed out into the countryside.
I had a brief chat with the Prof, then found myself alongside Captain Black, who’s winter bike had suddenly developed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, it decided to change gear at the most inopportune times, turning the assault on even the gentlest of slopes into a grind fest as the chain kept skipping down his cassette. It had become so bad, he’s actually going to spend good money on his winter bike and upgrade from a Claris to full 105 groupset.
We took the road up toward the Cheese Farm, with an under-the-weather Crazy Legs making the effort to hang with the main group, solely to watch us make our way through the road-spanning puddles typically found in this lane.
This time around though, the road was disappointingly clear and he didn’t get that big schadenfreude, yuck-yuck-yuck moment, when he could laugh at anyone not in waterproof boots. He rolled off the back after this disappointment, taking anyone looking for a more relaxed ride along with him.
Over the top of Bell’s Hill, I dropped my chain and it was my turn to chase on. Despite, or maybe because of the weather, we weren’t hanging around and it was hard work.
We threaded a thin isthmus between flooded road and sodden fields on the long drag up to Dyke Neuk and there called a brief halt to regroup and determine splits.
Dyke Neuk found Buster and Biden Fecht discussing possibilities for our overseas, mountain-scaling expedition next year, which looks set to feature the Dolomites. Asked what he thought of the idea, Biden Fecht held forth in a lengthy and impassioned exposition in what, to the untrained ear, sounded like credible Italian.
“Was that actually Italian?” an impressed, but still somewhat sceptical Buster asked.
“Si, si,” Biden Fecht deadpanned.
At Dyke Neuk instead of tracing our usual routes north or west, we turned south, dropping down the hill, to then climb back up through Meldon.
As we set off, a group coming up the hill warned us of more floods ahead and sure enough we were soon sloshing through another road spanning puddle. This was made worse by an impatient driver forcing his way through in the opposite direction, which not only pushed us off the crown of the road and into deeper water, but created a bow wave to wash over our feet. Pleasant.
From Dyke Neuk onwards, our numbers were slowly whittled down, as the group splintered and various offshoots took various, shorter routes. This started when we reached Bolam Lake, within maybe a mile or two of the cafe, before inexplicably turning our backs on coffee and cake, as we headed north, through Angerton, Scots Gap, Cambo and Wallington, taking a massive loop around Middleton Bank, before finally approaching it from the west.
By the time we were climbing up toward Cambo, there were only about half a dozen of us left and I was feeling the pace and starting to lose contact. I was also closing in on 50 miles covered, before we had even reached the cafe.
As we finally turned toward Middleton Bank, there was a touch of wheels ahead. I was too far back to see what actually happened, but there was a bit of shouting and a bit of wild manoeuvring, with some grass verge surfing thrown in for good measure. Luckily, no one came down, but everyone stopped to assess the damage.
Well, everyone but me. I wasn’t stopping for anything, or anyone and sailed through the group to keep going, happy to have a bit of a lead onto Middleton Bank.
Caught on the slopes, I finally formed a grupetto with Biden Fecht, Ovis and Andeven (our two apparently chastened wheel-touchers and shunters) and we rode in to the cafe together.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Biden Fecht’s face was so mud besplattered that it even prompted one of the serving staff to ask if he’d been riding behind people all day. ##Cough## Wheelsucker.
I did briefly mention my misgiving about the length of the ride to Rainman and how I was already over 50 miles. He was still insisting it was a standard length, but perhaps he was struggling converting my retard units to kilometres?
I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Stollen scone (is it Christmas already?) and squeezed onto a bench alongside Crazy Legs and G-Dawg.
I ignored what I was certain was a blatant attempt by Crazy Legs to inflict a Lemonheads ear-worm on me, as he declared, enough about us, lets talk about me, I turned the conversation to glam-rockers, The Sweet, or as they were more simply known to me, Sweet.
Having not troubled the music charts since the late 70’s, the band are touring once more, behind a promotional poster that caught my attention as it suggests they haven’t aged well. Lead singer, Brian Connolly’s long platinum locks (or are they just grey now?) return in all their hirsute splendour, but the face they frame is looking decidedly time-ravaged – and he’s perhaps the pick of the bunch.
Anyway, not only did Crazy Legs show an unexpected degree of enthusiasm for seeing the tour, but he also reminded us of one of the Hammers greatest declarative statements: “Sweet, the band Led Zeppelin could have been.”
We chuckled. Again. Richard Rex, joined in too, but was obviously more of a Led Zep fan than Crazy Legs, G-Dawg or me and he seemed to pause to try to determine if the statement was complimentary or derogatory.
For some reason we then found ourselves trying to name Led Zeppelin tunes. G-Dawg was adamant he didn’t know any, while I cited their cover of the Rolf Harris classic, Stairway to Heaven (only kidding Zep fans) and perhaps, maybe the Top of the Pops theme tune. Richard Rex shook his head in dismay at our wilful ignorance.
Crazy Legs seemed to fare much better, with several titles rolling off his tongue: Black Dog(?) Rock and Roll(?) Kashmir(?) Huh? Suspicious …
His flimsy excuse was that his school discos were all carefully inclusive and strictly democratic, therefore, for every new wave/punk/mod or ska record that was played, they were forced to balance it with some metal/prog rock abomination.
We hustled out of the cafe, into the cold and the unrelenting drumming of serious rain, that had settled in to stay. The group was split leaving the car park and never had the chance to reform, as everyone put their heads down and just went, intent on getting out of the foul weather as quickly as possible.
Richard Rex went into full time-trial mode, powering away on the front, so I sat on his wheel for as long as I could hold on. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking, with everyone seemingly intent on just enduring the horrible conditions in silence. Nevertheless, there was enough communication to plan an alternative route through Ponteland, rather than risk the potential of flooded roads leading up to Berwick Hill.
That suited me, I’d already decided to go that way in order to shave a few miles off my total, now at least I’d have a few wheels to follow, even if I was struggling to hold them.
By the time I was swinging away to strike out solo, I accepted I was already as wet as I was ever going to be and was resigned to the weather staying foul. Once I dropped the pace back to something a bit more sustainable, I even found I was actually quite enjoying myself, which might be the kind of positive attitude I’m going to need more of. I get the feeling we’re heading toward more wretched weather and a bad winter.
By the time I reached home, I’d covered almost 70 miles, despite taking the short-cut through Ponteland.
On a heavy winter bike.
In the pouring rain.
And carrying an additional kilogram or two in water-logged clothing
For a perfect day.
YTD Totals: 6,993 km / 4,345 miles with 91,098 metres of climbing