With the UK on track for the wettest May on record, Saturday looked intent on adding to total rainfall with a wet and windy start, despite the BBC weather app assuring me it would be overcast, but largely dry. So rain jacket on, overshoes on, I surfed down the Heinous Hill, just going with the flow of surface water.
The highlight of my journey came just a few miles in, when I spotted a huge of pile of silver balloons discarded by the side of the road in Blaydon, like a bunch of giant metallic grapes, or the droppings of monstrous android sheep. (Do cyclists dream of electric sheep?) I thought this sighting was quite remarkable, that is until I passed a similar pile of balloons, but this time golden ones (Gosforth being, you know, posher than Blaydon) near the end of my journey in Ashburton. Odd.
The only other incident of note was a driver undertaking a car waiting to turn right by barging into a designated bike lane, regardless of the fact it was clearly occupied by a bike and rider. I don’t know, drivers complain when we ignore the bike lanes, then they too ignore them as soon as it suits their purpose and means avoiding being held up for a nano-second. Personally, I think you’re generally better off ignoring that cycling lanes are there and riding as defensively as you would on any normal road.
At the meeting point and ducking under the shelter of the multi-storey car park, I found the JPF gathering before heading out on a long and hilly route planned by Plumose Pappus. Their route-designer himself was already there, peering up at the uncertain weather, before hopefully declaring, “There’s light there!”
“Yes,” I pointed out, “But you’re heading in the other direction.”
“To be fair, there’s light everywhere,” the Hammer interjected, “But, if there’s light everywhere, it also means there’s darkness everywhere too.” Then, such are the major, pressing concerns of club cyclists the world over, we started a philosophical debate following the Hammer’s assertion that if everything is blue, then nothing is blue. We were saved from disappearing into this conjectural rabbit-hole by the sudden appearance of the BFG, who had an urgent need to graphically readjust his genitalia, while warning such incidents were absolutely not suitable for inclusion in random blerg meanderings.
The deficiencies of the BBC Weather app were discussed, with Richard Rex providing the definitive statement, that it was “Crap, because it was outsourced to the lowest bidder, a French company with no connection whatsoever to the Met Office.”
We imagined some disinterested Frenchman, sitting in the Vendée, or somewhere, occasionally glancing out the window before updating the app for North East England: “Il ne pleut pas.” It would explain a lot.
Once the JPF were clear, we set about forming our own sub-groups and I joined the first of these as we pushed out with just 3 others, Caracol, TripleD-Be and Richard Rex. Luckily, the rain seemed to have eased, so I was able to shuck the jacket before departure.
With just the 4 of us it there wasn’t much of a reprieve a rather pesky and persistent headwind, even once you’d slipped off the front. As if just four riders wasn’t bad enough, it was actually more like 3½, as Richard Rex noted ruefully that riding behind TripleD-Be didn’t provide a whole lot of shelter anyway. Nevertheless we seemed to be travelling at a consistently fast pace – one that would get me home early, which was great for watching the Giro take on the might Monte Zoncolan, but would take me two days to recover from.
With TripleD-El having ventured out with the JPF, TripleD-Be explained that after months in lockdown, it was occasionally refreshing not to have to ride together, before turning his attention to Strava segments and excoriating whoever named the stretch through Dinnington as “Terrific Tarmac.” This, he felt was disgracefully false advertising, as the road surface was just as crappy, cracked and pot-holed as most of the roads in Northumberland. I though could remember how bad the road was previously and the completely spontaneous cheer that erupted from our group the first time our tyres kissed the new surface. It might not be Terrific Tarmac now, but compared to the past? Chalk and cheese, mate. Silk and sandpaper. Pebbledash and plaster. You get the picture.
At one stage in our ride I was momentarily distracted from the distress of having to ride uphill at a high cadence, by the racket of two cackling crows ganging up to strafe and harass a much larger, bird of prey, possibly a buzzard, as they chased it out of their territory. Feisty little buggers.
The route up to Rothley crossroads is one that Caracol and I recalled as being a regular fixture on our routes pre-pandemic. Good to learn that it’s still just as horrible now as it was back then, a slow grinding drag over a heavy, broken surface. Even worse for Richard Rex who said it had formed part of his most recent time-trial. That had to hurt.
Then we were through Cambo heading downhill fast past Wallington before hauling on the anchors to try and negotiate the badly worn, but still vicious rumble-strips on the approach to the single lane bridge over the River Wansbeck.
We counted the cars coming down the hill before they dipped out of sight and when four came down, but only three re-appeared, we pulled over to the side of the bridge to let the last one through. We then had a blind, Mexican stand-off as the driver had pulled over to let us cross first, but we couldn’t see him. After an awkward pause, I allowed Caracol to tentatively approach the crest of the bridges humped-back to see what was going on (reasoning he was the most expendable) and only followed once he’d made sure it was safe.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, back out the valley and then a few miles further on rattling over a badly broken surface down to the café at Capheaton.
Another foursome composed of Rab D, Aether, Zardoz and a Chinese FNG had already beaten us there, having taken a slightly different route and they were encamped in the garden with, almost by instinct, Zardoz tucked into a corner of the building and in the space most sheltered from the wind.
I have to say the cakes at Capheaton are the best of all the cafés we frequent and this weeks dark, dusted and dense, chocolate and espresso torte didn’t disappoint.
The others pulled on jackets and gilets, while we sat around, discussing the eternal problem of getting layering just right, with all the options, long or short sleeved jerseys and base layers, full length or three-quarter bibtights, overshoes, arm, leg and knee warmers, jackets and gilets. TripleD-Be expounded the universal truth of cycling: that instead of making things easier when you have different combinations for different weather conditions, the more clothing options you have, the harder the choice of what to wear actually becomes. Amen to that.
As other groups started to come in we started packing to leave, clearing space for the others to grab a seat, but more importantly because we were getting chilled sitting out in the wind and needed to get moving again. Then we were off again, still at the same fast-pace, as we drove all the way through to Ponteland and I swung right over the river while the others pressed on, glad to be able to take the last few miles home at a more sedate pace.
|Riding Distance:||111km/69 miles with 1,127m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 34 minutes|
|Weather in a word or two:||Chill|
|Year to date:||1,660km/1,031 miles with 17,908 metres of climbing|