Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.
Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.
Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)
We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.
As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.
We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.
That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …
Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.
We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.
Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.
I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.
“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”
Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.
“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”
“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.
“Probably not,” I replied.
What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.
Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.
From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.
I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.
I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.
Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.
The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.
Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?
|Ride Distance:||91km/56 miles with 962m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||3 hours 57 minutes|
|Weather in a word or two:||Purgatory|
|Year to date:||1,387km/862 miles with 14,700m of climbing|