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Back to a more normal start time this week and I wasn’t long into the ride when I realised the forecast for a dry day had surprise, surprise, got it wrong. I persevered for a while, hoping I was only experiencing a transitory shower, but as things started to get a bit damp around the edges, finally admitted defeat and stopped to pull my rain jacket on.

The weather did eventually dry out and improve, but the jacket never left my back from that point onward.

It was a day for meeting under the gloomy shelter at the bottom of the multi-storey car park, where I was early enough to see off the contingent from the Judean People’s Front, planning a ride into the hills south of the river. I was invited along, but explained I’d only just escaped that place and I didn’t think their route was all that suited to an old feller on a single-speed. (Apparently, there are degrees of madness and I’d like to offer this refusal as proof that I’m not completely and irredeemably deranged.)

Anyway, G-Dawg had planned the route, which I was really looking forward to. It was refreshingly shorter than usual and aimed at an early cafe stop at Bywell with the novelty of then descending into the Tyne Valley and having to clamber out again while carrying the full ballast of freshly ingested cake and coffee. I couldn’t decide if this was cruel or inspired, but I was planning to cross the river at Wylam anyway and looking forward to a much shorter, if equally lumpy ride home.

It was G-Dawg’s route, but unfortunately, he was ruled out of participating with a positive COVID test, so Crazy Legs stepped into the breach while making sure everyone was aware this would count as one of his allotted turns to lead. With the rain continuing to fall and the numbers building to the point where we’d need to make use of the outdoor seating area at Bywell, he considered changing the route, but we decided to risk it, something hindsight would suggest was the right choice.

If the weather was guesswork, what did seem certain to us all was the massive upsurge we were seeing in COVID infections, although if we’re not testing, I guess it’s like the ride you forgot to record on Strava (i.e. it didn’t happen). Besides, Bo-Jo the Clown has said everything is fine and, since he’s proven to be completely and utterly trustworthy, we should have no worries. Eh? (It’s about time someone invented a font specifically for sarcasm …)

[You know it’s bad when even that mouthpiece and apologist for the government the Daily Mail Hiel is reporting 91,345 new cases diagnosed between March 15th and 16th up by one-third, while hospital admissions are up by 29% on the previous week and 153 people sadly died – a rise of a quarter on the week before.]

Crazy Legs set the first group up and running around Jimmy Mac, with the usual cajoling and wheedling and negotiation to press-gang enough numbers into what is typically a faster traveling group. He then led the second group up to the traffic lights where we waited to be released onto the open roads. Just before the lights changed though, he declared he was going to lead from the back and pulled out of the line, inviting the startled rider behind to push forward and onto the front to take his place.

Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the startled rider was Zardoz (who my first ever boss would undoubtedly have termed a wiry old fox) who is preternaturally skilled at managing to never ride anywhere near the front when there was shelter to be had amongst the wheels. Now he was left exposed, in more ways than one.

He looked back at me slightly shocked and ashen-faced and I had to ask if he was feeling light-headed or vertiginous, while I quickly checked for blood trickling out of his nose or ears. No, he was good to go. The lights changed and our reluctant vanguard led us out.

I found myself alongside Biden Fecht, his rattler subdued for the time being. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one to remark on the strange noises emanating from his machine last week and one rider had complained all the clanking and clunking had started to bring on their OCD. He’d since checked every nut and bolt and attachment and fitting but had singularly failed to find anything loose or the source of the incessant noise. For now though, the bike was being supremely well-behaved.

“For now,” Biden Fecht emphasised.

We discussed our imminent club EGM and the dread horror of it providing a platform for another excruciatingly, buttock-numbing re-telling on the club’s storied history – as if people could be made to care about it through simple repetition. “Perhaps we should record it, it might make a good podcast?” Biden Fecht suggested.

Hmm, I’m actually looking for a replacement podcast following disappointing news about the imminent dissolution of the Church of Wittertainment, aka Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, but I’m just not sure the history of a provincial cycling club would make a suitable long-term replacement.

Biden Fecht isn’t a fan of Mr Kermode’s film reviews, but I think he’s missing the point, as these are just a vehicle for decent, companionable old gits to talk complete and utter tosh about everything and nothing, much like a typical one of our club runs. So, whether it’s dodgy Tenpole Tudor impersonations, Swedish advice about taking your cow out onto the ice, stinky-pants-wee, or how big a runway Thunderbird 1 would need – the Church will be sorely missed.

At the junction just before Brunton Lane, progress stalled to let a car pass and then Zardoz fluffed his gear change. With his chain failing to instantly engage, he sat up and swung over.

“Ah, very clever,” I had to applaud as he drifted backward.

“No! no!” he blustered and caught red-handed he manipulated the chain back on and then bluffed his way back onto the front with faux enthusiasm

Turning out of Brunton Lane we then began to track a couple of riders ahead of us and Zardoz pushed up the pace a little until we caught them just before the airport.

“We’re just going to sit on for a little while, thanks,” Zardoz called up to them cheerfully and settled onto a rear wheel, pleased as punch to be out of the wind.

Then, half a mile or so up the road, as we approached Dinnington, “We’re going left here,” he called out hopefully. Sadly, his new best friends didn’t seem at all interested in his implied invite, or providing us with further shelter and kept going as we turned off.

I put him out of his misery and took over on the front from Prestwick through to Darras Hall. With my stint in the wind done, I then dropped back and it wasn’t long then until we passed Stamfordham and made our way out to Whittle Dene Reservoir, which OGL informed us was built by Italian prisoners of war. I wasn’t able to find any more information about this, but while the reservoirs were actually completed in 1848, there was a POW camp in nearby Haltwhistle, so it’s a possibility they did additional work

Past the reservoir, OGL left us, complaining he was “breathing out me arse,” that quaint if nonsensical expression I believe was first popularised by Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II. (Although I understand her actual phrase was “breathing out of one’s arse.”)

We then took in a long descent down to the four streaming lines of traffic that formed the A69, where, done with leading from the back, Crazy Legs suddenly appeared at the head of things. He then nipped across the road before everyone else to ensure he won any cafe sprint, but more importantly, secured first place in the queue for cake and coffee.

We all took turns filtering across and for once didn’t receive the typical fanfare of car horns for daring to venture into the motorists domain. Maybe they were asleep at the wheel today?

With the weather having cleared away to bright sunshine, it was still cold, but luckily dry enough for us to take up our usual seats outside the cafe.

James III slumped down and vigorously pulled off a glove, which twanged across the table and rattled Crazy Legs’ coffee cup, although luckily not a drop was spilled.

“Looks like you’re being challenged to a duel?” someone suggested.

“How does that work then?” Crazy Legs demanded, “He’s careless, spills my drink and then he feels insulted.” He wasn’t buying it.

Talk turned to the venue for our imminent EGM and how many of the old guard that we’d never met OGL might be able to coerce out to support him on the night. Not Anthony confirmed that the venue chosen, perhaps deliberately, had wheelchair access, while we envisaged hospital beds complete with drips and monitors being wheeled into the room by attendant nursing staff.

“Maybe a couple of urns strategically placed here and there with proxy votes too,” Captain Black suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mini Miss complained that we needed to see some progress as the continual formation of all the splinter groups such as the JPF, in her words, depleted us, the perfect cue for Biden Fecht to start channeling his inner Keyshia Cole, break into song and start warbling “you deplete me.”

It was interesting to hear Mini Miss and Crazy Legs had completely different perspectives of a club social get-together where they’d been entertained to an impromptu performance by the fledgling Geordie troubadour (not two words I ever thought I’d write together) Sam Fender. “Canny chanter, but he looks sad,” I interjected which is about where my Sam Fender knowledge starts and ends.

Crazy Legs wondered how I was heading home and if I’d be using the Wylam Waggonway. I hadn’t thought of that, but it seemed a good shout, especially as it would get me to the bridge at Newburn without the series of stiff climbs I faced if I crossed the river at Wylam.

Then we were ready to leave and everyone started fumbling for hats and gloves and sunglasses, or as Biden Fecht would tunefully have it the “doing the Oakley-cokie.” Perhaps not the best note to finish on.

We swooped down the rest of the hill to the valley floor and turned eastwards, heading downstream. Here unfortunately, Biden Fecht’s bike decided to accompany his singing, with the dreaded, but forewarned return of its tuneless death rattle.

It was here too that I found, in direct contrast to last week’s cafe stop, this one seemed to have gifted me with an unexpected burst of speed. Perhaps these shorter rides are better for me? On the first climb I pounded on the pedals and surged upwards almost riding over Biden Fecht. Surprised, I tamped it down a bit, but decided it probably wasn’t worth avoiding the hills out of Wylam after all.

There was still time for us to draw the irritation of a 4×4 driver who decided we’d held up his passage by more than thirty seconds, let us appreciate his fantastic horn playing and then tried to overtake in the face of an on-coming car. I suggested, solely through the power of mime, that he was most probably an onanist of the first order. His road rage seemed to overcome any actual sense that he may once have possessed and he even slowed during his ridiculously risky overtake, his window slid down … and then … and then … nothing. Perhaps he realised we weren’t worth it, or it may have struck him that he was heavily outnumbered and accelerated away, cruelly depriving us of his wit and wisdom.

“Cock-womble!” Brasneck concluded, shaking his head in disgust. I couldn’t argue.

I stormed up the hill into Wylam and then swung right as everyone kept going for their climb north out of the river valley. Rolling over the bridge, I was just gathering myself for the first of the steep ramps ahead when Crazy Legs popped up on my right-hand shoulder.

“I don’t know where I am,” he confessed, eyes starting to dart around a little nervously now he’d crossed the river to the dark side. “I thought you were taking the cycleway to Newburn?”

“I changed my mind.” I told him the route we were on got a little hilly, but reassured him it would take him to Newburn too. I then offered to turnaround and ride back with him down the Wagon Way, but he told me just to press on, while he retraced his steps. He later found his pedals had seized and had a death grip on his feet, so had to ride home without clipping in to avoid any embarrassing mishaps. Ooph!

I had much more luck and fun, finding I really was flying after all, collecting 8 Starva PR’s on all the ramps out of the valley and getting home a good hour early and much fresher than I would normally. I really enjoyed that.

Well, it seems only appropriate that I should close with tinkety-tonk, down with the Nazi’s, dictators and autocrats in all forms, and up with the BHF’s and down-trodden masses. Upwards and onwards, perhaps a new dawn awaits, but who can say?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 12th March 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:76km/47 miles with 793m of climbing
Average Speed:22.9km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:789km/490 miles with 8,208m of climbing


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