Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

So, for an idea of the weather, take last week’s, but add a little more cloud and then take last week’s wind and add a whole lot more. A pleasant enough day, but a bit blowy.

The JPF were at the meeting point again, taking up the lower tier of seating along the wall, so I joined them along with G-Dawg, although it felt a bit odd being below everyone. G-Dawg revealed he’d had a bone density scan and was declared a-ok, perhaps the only good outcome from his fast, furious and frankly dangerous five-a-side football games.

I must admit the worry about osteopenia and the limited impact and load bearing that makes cycling otherwise ideal for aged and creaking joints like mine was one of the principle reasons I took up running a few years back. (Well, I say running, but it’s actually more of a graceless lumber). Then again, I’ve often wondered if lower bone density equals less weight to haul up a climb – you know, marginal gains and all that …

The JPF left to do whatever the JPF do, then Crazy Legs arrived, and castigated us for sitting so low, so we moved onto the familiar, much more comfortable top of the wall. This is also a much better setting for our three wise monkeys impersonation anyway.

Taking into account the decidedly brisk wind blowing in from the west, G-Dawg’s cunning plan for the ride was to face it head-on, battling out in a northwesterly direction as far as we could given the limitations of time and distance. We would then turn due east to ride the tailwind all the way to Mitford, before picking our way to the cafe at Kirkley.

Sadly, a MTB CX event at Kirkley called for a change of plan and an adjusted route, but one that still retained the eastward charge, although it had to be somewhat shortened so we could call into the Belsay cafe instead.

We actually had a good handful of volunteers for the first group, so I could happily drop into group 2 for a slightly less frantic and frenetic ride. We were all set to go, but G-Dawg hesitated.

“It can’t be time to leave yet,” he said. Scanning the crowd and unable to see Carlton, he naturally assumed it wasn’t quite 9:15.

“I’m here,” Carlton raised his hand to reveal himself, cunningly hidden directly in front of G-Dawg’s nose.

Aha. Time to go!

The Hammer and G-Dawg led our group out and were soon manfully battling the wind as the rest of us tried to hunker down and hide in amongst the wheels. Just passed Dinnington the Hammer dropped back and I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg, just in time for a delightful, windblown grind up Berwick Hill. We were following a lone Tyneside Vagabonds rider doing sterling work and although we were able to close, we never quite caught him.

As we took the right turn G-Dawg was replaced by Brassneck on the front and we pulled the group along until Belsay, when Aether took over from me.

Sometime later and Aether drifted back to complain he was worn out and it was all my fault. Apparently, I’d stayed on the front so long, he’d felt compelled to do the same and was now suffering for it. See what happens when you try to be helpful?

He then called for “a wee stop” in his Scottish burr, leaving me confused about whether we were stopping for a pee, or just a short while…

From Belsay we took the rollers in reverse and dropped down Middleton Bank, a short, innocuous and placid little descent that belies the fact it’s such an awkward sod to climb when going the other way.

We then turned directly west before the hill up to Wallington, which was a first for Brassneck. I reassured him it was a long, but not overly difficult climb that you could usually take with your ass plonked firmly in the saddle, and so it proved, although it was hard enough to splinter the group and we had to reassemble at the top as we reached our most westerly point at Cambo.

Finally, we were in position to turn eastwards and run with the wind, through Scots Gap, the drop and swoop through Hartburn (in reverse, so maybe swoop and drop?) and then track out to Meldon.

It was fun and it was fast. With the wind directly behind us and providing assistance rather than opposition, Zardoz even ventured briefly out onto the front of the group before declaring he’d fulfilled his duties and “done his bit.” I couldn’t help but admire his chutzpah and gave him a MVdP-style thumbs up as he drifted back again.

The Hartburn descent and then climb is definitely harder in this direction and it was the only real impediment to our mad charge. It’s also unforgiving if you get your gearing wrong, as Not Anthony found to his cost, having to grind the last few metres in too big a gear, while I nipped past him, back onto the front with G-Dawg. Heading this way and on the opposite side of the road also gives you a whole new perspective and G-Dwg spotted a large body of water off to our left that I took to be my first ever sighting of Angerton Lake.

Rather reluctantly we broke off our eastward charge at Dyke Neuk, although it was such fun that some wanted to emulate Rommel’s VII Panzer Division and drive to the sea, not stopping until they got their tyres wet.

We passed through Meldon and then Whalton on our route back toward Belsay and coffee and cake. I didn’t know if there was a club-recognised sprint approaching the cafe from this direction, but I kept a tyre width ahead of G-Dawg all the way along the final run in, just in case.

For some mad reason we decided to sit outside at the cafe, although we did try to find some shelter from the wind on the patio rather than the more exposed garden.

“It’s actually pretty cold out here,” Another Engine observed, “But I guess when the pace increases it’ll warm up again.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “Unwrapping those teeny tiny pats of butter is a slow and painful process, but once you get to spreading it on your scone, you will soon warm up.”

Meanwhile, Zardoz complained that one of the standard tests for Alzheimer’s is asking what the date is. “What retired person ever needs to know what the date is?” he complained. He has my sympathy, I seldom know what date it is and I’m not even retired.

We then learned that Another Engine was deeply involved in the formation of one of our club’s (many) splinter groups, the Ee eM Cee. The sly dog, I always thought he was a loyal footsoldier. Hmm, perhaps remembering all the splinter clubs would make a good test for Alzheimer’s?

When then had a long and involved discussion about erratic riders and those in the group who always seemed to be a potential liability … but perhaps it’s best to actually plead Alzheimer’s at this point …

On the return, Not Anthony hit a bit of a mechanical on the climb from Ogle. The group slowed preparing to stop, but I pressed on – I had strict instructions not to be home late in case I missed my mum’s 90th birthday celebration. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t come around too often, so I had to at least be seen to make an effort.

Not Anthony recovered and we regrouped, but I was now close to the front so when, the Hammer accelerated and split the group on the ascent of Berwick Hill, I was able to follow Caracol in pursuit. By the time we made the turn for Dinnington there was just me, Caracol and I think Homeboy behind me. I pushed on through the village on the front, then Caracol took over as we swung past the airport. I managed to stay in his wheel all the way to the turn-off this week, waved the others off and pushed on for home.

It was back to the headwinds on all the climbs, but once across the river, I could harness the tailwind again and get a nice push the final few mile home.

I feel like I’m starting to slowly get back toward pre-COVID fitness levels, so guess I’m about due a setback, so let’s see what next week brings.

Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,078m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:11℃ – 15℃
Weather in a word or two:Repeat plus cloud plus wind.
Year to date:2,006km/1,246 miles with 21,701m of climbing

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash


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