It was another chilly start with the promise of bright sunshine later in the day, so once again I set out in a light, windproof jacket, and arm warmers, only this time I’d learned from last week and everything was worn over a layer of protective sun cream.

With some of the club just returned and recovering from overseas adventures, and Crazy Legs leading a small contingent off on a gravel adventure, I wasn’t expecting a large contingent, but the good weather drew quite a crowd and our numbers were bolstered by a couple of FNG’s and Rainman, a temporary refugee from the Judean People’s Front. He recounted how he had recently broken his leg (a story made complete with graphic photos) during an intimate encounter with a concrete bollard while mountain biking in Portugal. I say intimate as there was definitely an exchange of bodily fluids, well, from at least one of the participants anyway.

Brassneck arrived from a new direction and then spent 10 minutes wondering if he was supposed to pick up Mini Miss somewhere along the way, or whether she was away for the weekend. Such are the depredations of old age and befuddled memory.

As we started to spread out across the pavement, I was accosted by a Robert Plant lookalike who’d paused standing looking somewhat wistfully at all the bikes. “I’m just recovering from surgery after being knocked off my bike in Tynemouth,” he told me, “An accident just outside my house after I’d only just returned from cycling all the way through South East Asia without any sort of incident.” There wasn’t a lot I could say to that, I couldn’t even tell him I was remotely surprised by his tale of woe.

Unfortunately, this brief interlude was distraction enough for me to miss the cruise past of the Enigma. Or perhaps, even more enigmatically, he didn’t turn up at all this week?

We had enough for three groups, and I rolled out on the front of the middle group, riding alongside Brassneck as we set out for our planned descent into the Tyne Valley.

Delayed by two sets of lights, the third group was hot on our heels by the time we were turning off Brunton Lane and were held up by unusually heavy traffic. We were in danger of merging into one amorphous blob of riders so, alongside Brassneck, I decided to up the pace and see if we could recreate the buffer between the two groups. We accelerated up the climb towards Dinnington and held the high pace as we scaled Berwick Hill. Ten miles in, we thought our efforts must have restored a decent and sustainable gap, so on Limestone Lane we swung off the front and invited the next pair of riders through.

Fatally though, we hadn’t accounted for the weakest link within our group – our Achille’s heel, or in this instance, our Achille’s bladder, because, despite only being half an hour into our ride, Buster desperately needed a pee.

We stopped. and within a couple of minutes, the third group swooshed cheerfully past to leave us last on the road and, more importantly, usurp our place in any future cafe queue. To compound matters, Famous Sean’s then decided his cleats were loose and had to strip off his overshoes (obviously worn for the 1 in 1,000 chance there’d be a sudden dip in temperature) and then his shoes to get to work with a borrowed multi-tool and tighten everything up. By the time we were set to go again, we were well and truly last on the road.

As ever the descent into the Tyne Valley proved a fast fun fest, and I’ve even mastered completely avoiding the raised brick speed bumps now. From there struck out westwards along the riverside, before turning right and starting the climb out towards the cafe, Rainman pushed onto the front and set an infernal pace that quickly had everyone lined out. I was hanging onto Ovis’s wheel and he was hanging onto Rainman who had his head down now, solely intent on pounding his pedals and every one of us into submission.

Through a hypoxic haze, I spotted the sharp right turn we were supposed to take just as our leader reached it… and sailed past.

“Right, turn right,” I shouted, slowing and losing momentum, but not half as much as Ovis and Rainman who had to stop and double back. I followed Biden Fecht onto the narrow, gravel-strewn path of what Strava determined was Sod Hall Hill, but quickly became Sod All Hill to me. It was a bit of a brute that I don’t remember being quite so hard the only other time I’ve been up it, the uncertain surface discouraging any out-of-the-saddle climbing even as the gradient crept above 16%.

Still, our reward was close at hand, as we soon reached a junction and a short downhill glide to our cafe of choice for the day, Bywell Barn, which surprised us with an added bonus. I had expected to find the place mobbed when we were last to arrive, but somehow, without passing them on the road, we’d reclaimed our second group status. Apparently, the third group had also missed the right-hand turn on the climb and had made it all the way to the top of the hill before they had realised their error. Yep, that’ll do.

I placed my order and wandered out to the patio to find a table.

“Hmm, in the sun, or in the shade?” I pondered.

“In the sun,” Home Boy made the choice for me, “You might as well make the most of our one good day of the year.”

That seemed like good advice, so I took it.

I think our numbers had slightly overwhelmed the cafe, even though G-Dawg had phoned ahead and warned them we’d be swarming the place, and we began to get a bit testy as the orders seemed to roll haphazardly out of the kitchen. We should have just trusted the system, it turned out all right eventually, but, in our defence, a lack of cake and coffee is likely to raise all sorts of irrational reactions in hungry cyclists. The usually mild-mannered Brassneck seemed particularly ‘hangry’ (as the kids say) as he awaited his iced coffee and coke, while I pondered if a double dose of caffeine was exactly what he needed at this moment in time.

My order was the first to arrive at our table, and I had to become quite protective as the rest hungrily eyed up my Dime slice and Brassneck asked for half a dozen forks to go with it. Luckily the other orders followed in quick succession and we didn’t descend into primal bloodlust. It would not have been a pretty sight.

In between the correct etiquette for eating scones (which our Dutch cousins seem to approach in a surprisingly novel way), the (confirmed) lack of asparagus with the bacon sandwiches, and a very attritional Giro d’Italia we kept ourselves amused talking nonsense until it was time to leave.

I had the choice of returning back via the Tyne Valley, or continuing up and across the A69 for a loop around Stamfordham and a longer run home. I went with the latter as it still seemed quite early in the day and it was a chance to make the most of the good weather. The fact it included our own section of gravel riding on the road between the reservoirs and Stamfordham was just an added bonus. (I do hope smothering the road surface in loose chippings is not seen as an actual repair and is just a precursor to something slightly more intricate – but who knows.)

As the group took the turn toward Ponteland, I kept going straight and enjoyed a long, fast descent down to Westerhope, and then swung left to cross the river and home.

Today, two people told me I had a very shiny bike.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 20th May 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Riding Distance:104km/65 miles with 982m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:30 with 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Let the sunshine
Year to date:3,295km/2,047 miles with 32,297m of climbing


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