Gown of Thorns

Gown of Thorns

More storms and the latest, Storm Eunice, gifted us a smattering of snow to nicely frame the newly arrived snowdrops in the garden. Sadly these are not the variety that recently sold for £1,850 at auction, so I’m not sitting on a potential early retirement fund. More luckily, the North East was at least spared the worst of the weather this time around, the snow didn’t last and by Saturday it was a bit blowy but relatively mild (yeah well, considering it’s still February.)

I wasn’t quite so lucky with my legs and my early push along the valley floor felt like much harder work than it should have been. Hmm, this was not the promising start I hoped for and had the makings of a long hard day in the saddle. My lack of vim and vigour meant I made the meeting point right on time, but with little margin for error and no time to meander idly around looking for closed roads today.

Here I found the Judean People’s Front gathering for their own run. Kermit hummed and hawed with his on-bike computer, until it finally beeped confirmation that it had located a signal.

“Ah, good,” he declared, “Seems Putin hasn’t invaded Ukraine quite yet and the satellites are still up.”

Then with a mighty “Hi-ho Silver!” (ok, maybe not) they were away.

While we waited to coalesce, ride leader for the day, Richard of Flanders noted we stood amongst a mosaic of broken glass strewn widely across the pavement, debris that G-Dawg expertly identified as being from 660ml bottles of Becks. Taking his ride leader status and civil duties totally to heart, piece by piece, Richard started clearing up errant shards of glass and dropping them into a nearby bin, while we waited for him to shred his fingers on this somewhat Sisyphean task.

I have to admit, I wasn’t too worried – I don’t recall ever puncturing on broken glass. Thorns on the other hand … well, you know where this is going.

We watched, all the while idly speculating if anyone had ever died of exsanguination on a club run, before concluding Richard didn’t need to brief in today’s route at all, we could simply follow the trail of blood dripping from his fingertips.

We got a small coterie of”proper racing snakes”™ out there as a formative first group, but there was a certain reluctance to join them and we were in danger of having unbalanced groups. Richard of Flanders sacrificed himself for the common good and agreed to join after G-Dawg suggested he was ride leader after all, so if the group was going too fast he could scream, shout and insult them OGL-style to impose a measure of control (and we all know how well that works.)

TripleD-El bumped off the pavement too, and then G-Dawg joined her, once I’d reminded him he wasn’t on his fixie today, so he had no excuse to hang back. That seemed to work and we were finally left with a manageably-sized last group.

We were just about to head off when we spotted the approaching figure of Spoons. “Ah, excellent, he’s here,” Goose exclaimed a little too enthusiastically. Odd. I didn’t realise there was a budding bromance here?

There wasn’t of course, It was just that under a spate of rear-wheel punctures last week, Goose had borrowed a spare inner tube from Spoons and now handed over a replacement. Captain Black suspected that it was the actual punctured tube, newly patched and neatly folded into a spare box rather than a brand spanking new tube, but obviously there was no reason to believe this scurrilous rumour. (Well, other than Captain Black’s long-abiding and close association with, and personal knowledge of Goose’s character …)

Debts repaid, we set off and I settled in alongside Goose on his panzerkampfwagen, steel touring bike to lead the group through Pont and up to Limestone Lane, a decent stint of over 10 miles before we ceded the front and dropped into the shelter of the group behind.

Through Dalton and out to Stamfordham and I was beginning to pay for the earlier efforts and struggling to keep pace with the group.

“It’s going to get horribly windy out toward the reservoir,” I told Goose as we pushed on and the ride got progressively harder. I was right too, even in the middle of the pack it was windy, but even worse, they’d been thrashing the hedges back on either side of the road and the surface was strewn with the splintered and scattered debris. This. Did. Not. Bode. Well.

Sure enough, we had only just cleared the danger area, when my front wheel began to rumble noisily as its air fled outwards. I sat up while urging everyone to continue on, happy enough to fix the puncture on my own and relieved that I could then press on at a slower and more sustainable pace. It took a lot of persuading, but they finally continued, while I set to stripping the punctured tube out of my front tyre.

I was just fishing out a replacement tube when Goose, Captain Black and Ovis returned, ostensibly to help and offer moral support, but really just so they could critique and laugh at my feeble repair efforts. Captain Black offered up something much more valuable than just mocking appraisal though, taking on the role of Daniel to find and remove the thorn from my paw tyre.

I reassembled things, hurriedly squirted enough air into my tyre to roll on, and we got going again. A couple of hundred metres around the next bend we picked up the entire club whose progress had also been sidelined by a spate of punctures. Amongst them, TripleD-El had survived unscathed, but TripleD-Be would later find a monstrous thorn that had somehow punctured through her tyre tread and then out through the sidewall, miraculously all without damaging the tube.

We passed the reservoir while I hung grimly on the back of the group and then had to make an unexpected u-turn when we strayed off route. We’d just corrected this and started to climb when it became Goose’s turn to pull over with a puncture. I dropped back with him in the company of Spoons, Captain Black and Caracol to form the latest puncture-critique panel, while the rest of the group pushed on.

Goose started pulling together the bits and pieces he needed to effect repairs, then paused and looked plaintively at Spoons.

“Ah. Oh. The … err … em … tube that I gave you this morning? …”

Spoons handed it back, while we all marvelled at the clever thinking of having a nominated “domestique” you could trick into carrying your spares around for you until they were needed. Genius.

Despite his best efforts, Goose couldn’t find any obvious cause of the puncture, which was about the third or fourth he’d suffered in as many weeks. To me, this would be all the signs I needed that new tyres were in order, but Goose complained he’d only had this set for about 5 years and he felt there was at least another 5,000 miles to be had out of them!

While he effected repairs I took the opportunity to force some more air into my own tyre, finishing the day with an incredible, awe-inspiring, 65 psi, when I got home and stuck the track pump on my (admittedly) still slightly flabby tyre.

Our small group was on its own now as we finally got going. “Perhaps we’ll have timed it perfectly and there’ll be no queue at the cafe by the time we get there,” Caracol mused optimistically.

“Do you think the cafe at Belsay will take Kirkley loyalty cards,” he then wondered idly.

“Hah!” I laughed back, “The cafe at Belsay won’t even take Belsay loyalty cards.” Something Crazy Legs had inadvertently discovered when he tried to redeem his a few weeks ago.

I struggled mightily up the Quarry climb, but just about managed to hang on over Hallington crossroads and down to West Belsay. Through the Snake Bends, the rest took the back lane through to the cafe, while I cut the corner off and skipped down the main road desperate for the recuperative powers coffee and cake might bestow.

There was, naturally, still a queue to negotiate, but it gave us ample opportunity to dissect and debate the virtues of the food on offer, with Goose extolling the mini quiche’s as a quality, highly recommended precursor to your standard cake of choice, an amuse-bouche if you will, or perhaps in Goose’s case an amuse-gob might be more appropriate.

Caracol decided it was worth a shot and I went along too, figuring I’d need as much fuel onboard as possible for the ride home. It was an interesting (and costly) combination, but not one I’m sure I’ll repeat.

With Goose failing to identify the cause of his recent spate of punctures, Captain Black relayed some sage advice from OGL that running a yellow duster or a bit of cotton wool around the inside of the tyre is a great way of finding any protrusions, as, even if you can’t feel them, they’re likely to catch up a few fibres and be easier to spot.

While eminently sensible, it was noted that people generally don’t usually carry cotton wool or yellow dusters while out on a bike, although I suppose Goose could ask Spoons to carry one for him. Captain Black suggested that, in extremis, you could possibly substitute a sheep for a yellow duster and then imagined the ensuing conversation with a farmer.

“‘Scuse me, do you mind if I borrow a sheep?”

“What the hell do you want that for?”

“Oh, it’s a long and involved story, but if you must know I …”

“Hold, on, hold on! You’re not one of those bloody cyclists are you?”

If this wasn’t surreal enough, the conversation then devolved further when Goose proclaimed he’d had the idea of inventing a bike wash, like a car wash, but on a miniature scale. He couldn’t decide however if you would ride your bike through the rollers, or maybe drive through with your bike on the roof of your car. He then abandoned the idea as impractical when he realised there probably wasn’t enough Polish workers left in the country to man new bike washes. (Apparently, in his neck of the woods, Polish car washes are almost as ubiquitous as Turkish barbers.)

Then, as an alternative to having a permanent tattoo, Spoons pondered that you could use something derived from cuttlefish chromatophores to change the colour of tattoo pigments so they could be turned on and off. Caracol was then all for just strapping a cuttlefish to one arm, a chameleon on the other and declaring the job done. Luckily, we decided it was time to go before things got too outlandish …

I stuck with the group through to Kirkley and then split to route home through Ponteland, pleased to be able to travel at my own (slow) pace.

After crossing the river and turning east I was overtaken by a youth on a small but very noisy motorbike, who blatted past me, then stuck his two legs out to either side and started pedalling the air around. I think I was meant to feel insulted, but it made me laugh out loud and kept me going for the grind up the Heinous Hill and home.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 19th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 41 minutes
Riding Distance:103km/64 miles with 926m of climbing
Average Speed:21.9km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:6℃
Weather in a word or two:All right
Year to date:470km/292 miles with 4,969m of climbing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.