Picking Up the Gauntlet

Picking Up the Gauntlet

Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.

The Easter weekend brought a change in the weather and broke the long streak of successive rainy Saturdays. I can’t help feeling we’ve finally turned a corner. On Good Friday a group planned an excursion south of the river to Blanchland and I volunteered to act as official escort and interpreter. It was a hilly ride under bright but cold conditions and thoroughly enjoyable.

I left the group at Blanchland, facing the stiff 25% climb out of the village Goose demanded along with a route home that included at least one pub stop along the way. Meanwhile, I took the less demanding climb out of the other side of the village for a much shorter and beer-free route back. I was thoroughly enjoying my ride until I somehow managed to snap my chain dropping downhill toward Shotley Bridge and had to call the voiture balai for the drive of shame home.

Armed with a brand-new chain, I found the weather was just as good on the Saturday and it brought out a bumper crop of cyclists. They were still rolling in when we left in three large groups, and I’d already counted 33 of us by then.

Absent the past few weeks with chronic back issues, OGL put in an appearance in civvies, perhaps just to remind us he was still around. Working on the principle that we all secretly love a bit of cosplay, he’d turned up dressed in homage to Major Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, which I’m sure everyone appreciated.

Brassneck had been out for yet another “never again” drinking session and exuded enough alcoholic vapours to have Crazy Legs physically repulsed and warning everyone against using a naked flame in the immediate vicinity. Brassneck swears this is the last time. For now.

The first dry day and sun of the year also brought the first opportunity to perch on the wall and survey the gathering throng. G-Dawg and Not Anthony took pole position, the latter clutching what at first I thought was an extensive shopping list but turned out to be all the key points of our planned route. I suggested to be truly pro this should have been taped to his stem, but I guess even Not Anthony has a stem that long. He also noticeably bore the marks of the past few weeks on his helmet which was heroically mud-caked and grubby. G-Dawg suggested it was in tribute to tomorrow’s Paris-Roubaix and he would only clean it after he’d earned a photo opportunity where he’d hoist a cobble high in victory.

“Well, maybe a pebble would be more appropriate in my case,” Not Anthony suggested, not unreasonably.

Zardoz arrived in a mighty pair of enormous, Hi-Viz gloves, perhaps borrowed from a Landing Signal Officer on a carrier flight deck. I foolishly asked him for a quick show of jazz hands and even when I closed my eyes the bright afterimage was so violently burned on my retina’s that I had to blink several times to clear my blurring vision.

We got ourselves organised and started to split into groups. It wasn’t until the second large group had set out that those of us left realised we’d be last in what could be a very long, very slow-moving queue by the time we’d all reunited at the cafe. Damn, this was bad planning.

Off we went anyway and I dropped in alongside Deuce for the early part of the ride, where we discussed the ultimate absurdity of all sport and sporting endeavours before I pushed onto the front alongside Captain Black as we started to climb Edge Hill and then the road up toward Stamfordham.

From there we took a right before the reservoir to pass the brewery just outside Matfen, before tracing a route from Great Whittington up the hill to the village of Ryal. Somewhere along this route, we passed group 2 working feverishly to fix a puncture and get back into the race for the cafe. I think our group was equally as determined not to let them catch us again and we pressed quickly on.

Regrouping and recovering after the climb to Ryal, it was here that Zardoz noticed he’d lost one of his gloves. Having found them much too hot for the conditions he’d taken them off and because they were too big and bulky to fit inside a back pocket, he’d shoved them up his jersey, with very mixed results as only one remained.

He canvassed for volunteers to ride back down the hill to locate the missing item, but as he couldn’t identify where in the past 10 miles or so he’d lost the glove, volunteers were in the sparse to non-existent category. I suggested it would probably still be there for pick-up next year when we might conceivably use this route again.

“Yeah,” the Hammer agreed, “As long as the Prof doesn’t get wind of it and decide to hunt it down to repurpose as a high-viz posing pouch or something.”

Good to know that several years after leaving the club the Prof and his various eccentric peccadilloes still live on.

A brief pause for our new social media secretary to capture a group photo, then G-Dawg reminded us that group two could be closing in and we needed to get underway again so we pressed on, scaling the Quarry and then turning left. Not Anthony had planned for this to give us a straight, 4 or 5km run to the cafe with, he hoped a tailwind. It was a good idea in theory but swinging out onto the road found us heading into a headwind instead, so it wasn’t going to be all that fast, or much fun either. I pushed onto the front regardless and started to wind the pace up. Ahlambra joined me in towing the rest, until I pushed harder on a grinding false flat, he slipped back and we singled out.

We tipped down toward West Belsay as I ran my chain down the block and just kept going until G-Dawg and Captain Black darted out to contest the sprint and I eased to the back of the small group remaining.

I was wrong, despite the headwind it was still fun.

Mission accomplished – we’d reached the cafe a long way ahead of group 2, who’d suffered two additional punctures on their run and were actually well adrift. In the café, it took some persuading, but we finally got Carlton to risk sitting out in the garden, where we found it had turned into a gloriously sunny and warm day, easily the best of the year so far.

For some reason we decided OGL was probably up on the hill, spying on us through his Six Million Dollar Man bionic eye, but lacking a bionic ear, for some reason we imagined him listening in using an ancient, antique ear trumpet.

Then word filtered through that someone had found and recovered Zardoz’s lost mitt. Anticipation built as Crazy Legs rode in, pulled off his gilet and started going through his jersey pockets. Hmm, if he’d ever had possession of the errant glove it looked like he’d lost it again. He started emptying the pockets, one by one, but to no avail, there was still no glove. He pondered a bit, slapped his forehead, and retrieved his gilet from the bench. There, carefully nestled in that garment’s back pocket was the missing glove which was finally reunited with its owner.

It was with some reluctance that we left the pleasantly warm garden for the run home, which was going well until, G-Dawg announced he had a puncture just as we crested Berwick Hill. Luckily his tyre only seemed to be slowly bleeding air and, having struggled to get the tyre off the rim the last time he’d had a flat, he decided to see if he could make it home without stopping. This added a little will-he-won’t-he tension to the last few kilometres, but he was still rumbling along when I left him, so I’m confident he made it back.

Hopefully, we’ve turned the corner now and broken the string of Saturdays with poor weather. Let’s see.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 8th April 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 37 minutes
Riding Distance:108km/69 miles with 919m of climbing
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:33 plus
Weather in a word or two:About time.
Year to date:2,130km/1,323 miles with23,067m 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 )

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.