Plague Diaries – Week#21

Plague Diaries – Week#21

A quick one. In all senses of the word.

Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.

It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.

I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.

First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.

It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?

Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.

Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.

At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.

G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.

The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.

With over two-dozen of us we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.

This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.

Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.

I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.

I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, pushing onto the front and injecting more speed that I couldn’t cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, where Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily and now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.

We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing in on the village of Ryal.

I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.

We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a much more sustainable pace.

By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.

On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.

Through Ogle I gained ground until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.

As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, things not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.

I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.

Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.

Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …

“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.

Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.

Yeah, you and me both, mate …

He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idea went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.

I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.

Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I sung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of the front group on the climbs. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.

We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.

Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Ponderosa Glee Boys

Internet oddity of the week was a report in multiple newspapers that Safari park baboons had been armed with knives, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, with keepers suspecting pranksters had tooled up the simians so they could damage visitors’ cars ‘for a laugh’

The best quote from Knowsley Safari Park claimed their park was “just as safe as a McDonalds drive-thru.” Hmm, not tremendously reassuring.

Well, the Met Office confirmed Friday was third hottest day on record in the UK as temperatures reached almost 38℃ “doon sooth” and they weren’t too shabby “oop north” either. Not the best when you’re too pre-occupied with work to step out, but a few of my luckier clubmates managed to enjoy long rides in the sun. Still, even as temperatures began to drop from their record highs, it seemed like things would be just fine for Saturday and so it proved.

In fact it was a very bright early start to the day that slowly started to cloud over, but still a perfectly warm and pleasant for a bit of free-range bikling -and we were even graced by the occasional burst of bright sunshine.

Jimmy Mac had prepared one of those cunning routes that took a tried and tested club run and reversed it, providing something novel that was a bewildering and disorientating surprise and yet at the same time oddly familiar – a sort of collective bike ride powered by déjà vu.

It was also a route that proved fast, flat and fun, lacking any signature big hills, to such an extent that I only just topped a 1,000 metres of climbing for the entire day.

I’d arrived at the meeting point early to find the a newly chunky, Monkey Butler Boy had emerged from a long period of aestevation, complete with a brand new pair of aero-socks, which he claimed would save him an additional 4 watts of energy, before adding the small print, sotto voce: if he could somehow manage to ride at 40kph for 45 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be enough of an advantage for him to survive the ride after neglecting the bike for so long.

As one young ‘un returned, another prepared to depart, this being the last ride of the Garrulous Kid before his return to university. Still, there was one final opportunity for G-Dawg to carry out an impromptu chain inspection. It was no great surprise to anyone when the Garrulous Kid failed the test and G-Dawg spent the rest of the ride with a pore-deep, grungy black smear indelibly tattooed into his thumb pad. It’ll probably still be there when the Kid returns at Christmas.

Captain Black arrived on a different bike, a new Trek to replace his old Trek, the somewhat bipolar, “Old Faithful” or “Twatty MacTwat Face” the name being very much dependent upon how its riders legs were feeling at any given moment. The new bike has in-built vibration dampening and fat 32mm tyres, promising a plush ride, even on the worst of Northumberland’s disintegrating roads.

Once again there were 25 or so riders at the start and we left in groups of six. This time I formed part of the rear-guard, the last group out alongside Captain Black, Big Dunc, Benedict, OGL and Carlton. Suffering from hay-fever, OGL stayed with us until Bolam Lake before bailing to head to the cafe at Belsay, while the rest of us started the route reversal portion of the planned ride.

Around 40km into the ride and approaching a downhill run of Middleton Bank, we caught a glimpse of the next group on the road and began closing. Benedict took a timeout to attend to a call of nature and the rest of us eased onto the climb up to Scots Gap, letting the group ahead pull out a bigger lead until they were safely out of sight again.

We regathered and pushed on, the wrong way through the swoop and dip past Hartburn and then flicking left and right at speed through the bends passing Dyke Neuk, the building on our right instead of the usual left, all the while gathering pace as we went.

By the time we were running through Mitford we’d caught and latched onto the group ahead. This was a problem as we were now travelling in a pack of more than six, but much more importantly, it put would put us at the back of the queue when we reached the cafe at Kirkley.

The overwhelming majority (well, all but one of us, truth be told) seem to have adopted Kirkley as our ordained coffee stop, primarily because it has such a massive outside seating area, with plenty of space for social distancing. On the downside, service is glacially slow and it gets very busy.

Captain Black had a quick consult with the rest of our group and gave me the nod, Carlton and Big Dunc seemed happy to hang back, but the rest of us had permission to push on.

I waited until we hit the climb out of Mitford, before running down the outside of the group and accelerating away, with Captain Black and Benedict in close attendance. By the top of the climb we had a workable lead and it was just a case of maintaining the gap as we closed on the cafe for a bit of sneaky, unadulterated queue jumping.

Safely at Kirkley, Jimmy Mac got lots of deserved kudos for the route, which although all on well traveled roads, had never been put together in that combination or direction before. G-Dawg in particular was well pleased with the speed the front group had managed, clocking a 30 km/hour average throughout, even allowing for his slow amble down to the meeting point that morning.

Crazy Legs revealed that he’d taken to wearing a mask like … well, like a duck to water, the one drawback being that it inevitably provoked him into making comedy wahk-wahk-wahk duck noises.

I suggested it was fun to wear a mask, but I felt it would be even better with a six-shooter holstered on my hip. Yippy-kay-ay. Crazy Legs agreed and said he’d felt like a particularly bad-ass hombre when pairing his mask with a leather stetson, while we touched on the irony of having to wear a mask before you went into a bank these days.

There was also a shout out for Egan Bernal’s comedy effort …

Crazy Legs then said he’d seen that someone had developed an athlete specific mask for wearing during exercise – the major drawback being it closely resembled a horses nosebag. I wondered if it would be useful for holding a handful of oats for mid-ride nutrition, while he suggested a watertight one students could fill with alcohol, needing only to tip their heads back to sup … and we were almost back where we left off last week with his suggestion that students wear a cone of shame …

Finally served and at a table (it was apparently a good scone week, this week, but I’d gone with a flapjack instead) we showed a near preternatural level of forward planning by discussing our options for cafe stops during winter club runs, when the small indoor area here would swiftly be overrun.

This turned into a discussion about how many would actually bother riding throughout the winter when there were “fun” alternatives (their words, not mine) available like Zwift.

Apparently we haven’t quite got the comms set up on the system we’re currently using for collective turbo rides and the only form of communication available is a simple thumbs-up. This seemed mighty limited vocabulary to me and, even if confined to basic hand gestures, I could think of one or two others that might come in useful.

I demonstrated for good effect, making a fist and boldly raising my middle-finger. “Yes,” Crazy Legs confirmed, “That would be useful.”

I then curled my fingers into a loose fist and shook it vigorously up and down in imitation of Gareth Hunt demeaning his craft in order to hock instant coffee, or, if that particular image offends (and I can see why it might) miming the universal sign for an onanistic self-abuser.

“Hah!” Crazy Legs interjected as my actions reminded him of something, “we passed a bloke today blowing up his tyre and he was holding his pump between his legs and furiously making that exact same motion. From a distance I didn’t know whether to offer to help or call the police.”

Crazy Legs then declared he’d just been to see a physio and had happily now regained full movement of his arm. To demonstrate, he lifted his left arm, bent it over the top of his head and touched his right ear. “I couldn’t do that a week ago, it hurt too much.”

“Why on earth would you ever need to do that though?” the Ticker wondered aloud.

“Well, you know, to wash your hair,” Crazy Legs challenged.

The Ticker doffed his casquette, lowered his head and presented Crazy Legs with his perfectly bald pate.

“Ah, right…”

Groups started to form up and drift away, while I stopped to have a quick chat with the late arriving Biden Fecht. I could have tagged onto the last group again, but felt I’d done enough for the day, so as everyone swung left, I tracked right, through Ponteland, heading directly for home.

At Blaydon, traffic was backed up on the roundabout waiting to turn left, either into the shopping centre or the McDonalds. I hope it was the former, but suspect the latter. I caught a rider in the colours of the Blaydon club trying to work his way through the cars on the inside and not getting very far, so I flicked across to the outside and was quickly clear.

As I turned and started up the Heinous Hill the Blaydon rider caught me and swished past, then swung left and then right, past Pedalling Squares. He didn’t, as I expected drop into the cafe, but looked to be taking the exact same route up the hill as me – and there was still around three-quarters of the climb to go.

OK then … game on!

Plague Diaries – Week#19

Plague Diaries – Week#19

[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]

Grupo Compacto

Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.

It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.

I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.

Numbers, Thursday 16th July

Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.

So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.

Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.

We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.

I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.

We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.

We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.

As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.

We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.

This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.

Seven of Clubs – Sunday July 19th

So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.

Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.

At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.

G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it never is and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.

In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”

Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.

According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.

The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.

For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.

We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.

Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.

This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.

Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.

He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.

We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.

Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.

It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.

Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.

We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)

G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.

“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.

“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.

Photo by angello on Pexels.com

“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.

Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.

“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.

Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.

Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.

The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.

Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.

We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.

Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.

Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Kangaroos, Cones and Close Shaves – Saturday July 25th

Plague Diaries – Week#17

Plague Diaries – Week#17

One a Dem

Internet oddity of the week came from reading about a medical scare in late Victorian Britain that saw doctors warning women about the deleterious effect vigorous cycling would have on their health. Apparently, “over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance” was thought to cause bicycle face “hard, clenched jaws and bulging eyes” accompanied by “a flushed complexion, with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes”.

Most agreed that bicycle face could strike anyone, but women were disproportionately affected. Some implied the effects could be permanent, while others maintained that, given enough time away from a bicycle, it would hopefully subside.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and rejoin civilisation, or at least that small portion of civilisation that is (very) loosely embodied in a local cycling club. The hardest part was getting out the door by a set time to get me to the meeting point on schedule. After weeks of a laissez faire, I’ll leave when I’m ready attitude, this was a bit of a shock to the system. Must do better.

Still, I managed somehow and rolled up to the meeting point to find G-Dawg talking to a complete stranger in full Aberdeen University kit, who turned out to be none other than the Garrulous Kid … but all growed-up.

Even more surprising, that elusive, seldom-spotted, Sasquatch-like, Strava-stalker, the BFG was there too and I haven’t seen him out and about on two wheels for over a year. Strange times.

G-Dawg was proudly wearing perhaps one of the gaudiest kits ever inflicted on the pro-peloton, a classic Mapei jersey with it’s jumble of primary coloured cubes, once aptly described by Simon Smythe in Cycling Weekly as “a design that looked like someone had detonated a car bomb beneath a Rubik’s cube.”

He even had Mapei socks and cap, but, “No matching shorts?” I queried.

“I thought they were a little over the top,” he deadpanned.

Hmm. Quite.

The BFG decided we all had the air of survivors from a nuclear war, emerging from the solitude of our bunkers to blink, blearily uncertain into the dim light of the future and wonder what remained of the world we’d once known. I don’t think he was too far off the mark.

By the time we had tamped down the blather and were ready to move, we had assembled a small congregation of 15 riders. G-Dawg had posted up a route he invited everyone to follow, the end point of which was an 11.30 re-gathering at the cafe at Kirkley. He then led the first small, select group of 6 out and away.

We gave them a bit of time and space, then, along with Goose, the Ticker and Fourth Down, we formed a rather unlikely quartet and pushed out to follow. None of us had paid much attention to the proposed route and we deviated almost from the off, being the only group to head out along Broadway, but we all seemed happy to accept our personal deviations from the norm.

We were travelling at a fair clip as we pushed through Ponteland, along Limestone Lane to Stamfordham and then out to the reservoir. From there we climbed up through the plantations to get to the Matfen road, then on to the Quarry and through to Belsay.

At this point we were about 2 hours into the ride and had the choice of stopping at Belsay, or pressing on and meeting everyone at Kirkley. No contest really, even if Goose has severe reservations about the Kirkley scones and their current currant content (or lack thereof.)

Just about everyone else had made it to the cafe in good order, along with those who’d ventured out solo, or in smaller groups from a different start point and it was good to catch up. Even better, Goose found an acceptable alternative to the disappointing scones.

I found a seat next to prognosticator-in-chief the Garrulous Kid, who was predicting the end of all things Chris Froome, in particular any further Grand Tour wins. This was expounded with almost as much conviction and fervour as his frequent proclamations that Germany were a nailed-on certainty to win the last World Cup. (We all know how that turned out, so feel free to put a fiver on Mr. Froome for this years Tour.)

We then learned too much about the wild, debauched drinking parties at university, one of which apparently featured a manly imbibing of … err, Prosecco? It was unclear whether these parties were so extreme, wild and debauched that participants even refused to raise their pinkie finger from the glass while downing their Spumante.

There was just time to catch up on the whereabouts of Taffy Steve via Sneaky Pete (still incapacitated with a severe rotator cuff injury) and the Monkey Butler Boy via the Red Max (apparently developing a severe case of bicycle face while not riding bicycles, per se). Then, with Jimmy Mac’s passionate defence of wearing orange socks still burning my ears, we started to slowly disperse.

Crazy Legs and Sneaky Pete were adding on a slightly longer loop home, up Saltwick Hill and I tagged along, realising as soon as I hit the climb that my legs were well and truly shot.

I dropped back using the ungodly racket of the much cossetted Ribble’s creaking bottom bracket and its assault on my ears as an excuse. Crazy Legs wasn’t kidding when he mentioned his bike was still complaining vigorously, despite all his mechanical ministrations.

Jimmy Mac and G-Dawg blew past us just before we entered the Mad Mile, depositing the Garrulous Kid and a gasping Cowin’ Bovril on our back wheels as they flew by.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested he’d been out for a pleasant, solo ride when they caught him and for some mad reason he determined to hang onto the back of the group for the run home. I think we represented a much more sensible and civilised option for the last few miles.

Minutes later and I was flying solo, picking my way through to the river and home. Luckily there were no wandering Victorian chirurgeon’s around as I began to climb up the Heinous Hill, so I managed to avoid being condemned and confined with what I can only assume by then was my own, very bad case of grimacing bicycle face.

Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Club Run, Saturday 14th March 2020

Total Distance: 96 km/60 miles with 937 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 22.2km/h
Group Size: 19 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two:Hey, I was riding. It would do.

Ride Profile

Oh, W.T.F.

As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.

Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.

Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.

I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.

A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.

I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.

So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…

Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.

Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.

Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.

When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.

I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.

So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.

There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.


At the meeting point:

I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.

He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.

He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”

Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.

Well, it was worth a try.

We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.

The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.

I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.

With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.


I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?

We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.



The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.

I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.

By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.

I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.


At the cafe:

Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.

We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.

“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.

We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.

I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)

I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.

“What now?” I queried.

“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”

I think he was joking.

We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.

The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.

We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.

Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.

I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.


Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.

Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.

I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.

I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)

That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?


Paltry YTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing

Riding in the Buff

Riding in the Buff

Club Run, Saturday 7th December 2019

Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 422 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 38 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3km/h
Group Size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two: Surprisingly mild.

Ride Profile

Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?

Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.

Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.

Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”

Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.

I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.

The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.

Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.

The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.

This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.

It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”

Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.

He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.



At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.

The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.

From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.

Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.

The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.

I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.

We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled on the front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.

Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.

TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.

He didn’t look too sure.

“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.

In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.

We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.

I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.

I wonder how that worked out?

Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”

After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.

Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.

[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]

TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”

“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.

“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.


The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.

And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.

It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.


YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing

Pass the Dutchie ‘Pon the Left Hand Side

Pass the Dutchie ‘Pon the Left Hand Side

Club Run, Saturday 30th November

Total Distance:101 km/63 miles with 945 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average Speed: 22.8km/h
Group Size: 11 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 2℃
Weather in a word or two:Bitterly Cold.

Ride Profile

I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …

Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.

I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.

I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.

I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.

It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.

It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.

Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.

G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.

Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.

The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.

When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.

“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.

As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)

Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.

I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.


Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.

As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)

Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.

It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”

Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.

We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.



At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.

The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.

If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.

“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.

TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.

“What’s in stollen?” he wondered.

Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …

“Err … marzipan?” me mused aloud.

TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.

“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.

At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.

(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)

OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.

Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.

Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.

Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.


G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.

As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.

Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.

I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.

Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.

Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.

I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.

I think perhaps it has to be the latter …

Ba-bong-bong-diddly-bong-bong-diddly-bong-bong-diddly-boik!


YTD Totals: 7,327 km / 4,553 miles with 94,505 metres of climbing

Rinse and Repeat

Rinse and Repeat

Club Run, Saturday 23rd November, 2019

Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 695 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 34 minutes
Average Speed: 23.4km/h
Group Size: 8 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 9℃
Weather in a word or two: It rained. Even more.

Ride Profile

Correction: as one avid reader the one avid reader pointed out in response to last weeks blerg, Brian Connolly, he of the remarkable, platinum, flowing locks and erstwhile lead singer of Sweet, died in 1997.

As such, I strongly suspect he is not touring with the band and his probably wasn’t the face I had such a visceral reaction to seeing on a recent tour poster. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of this, but the synapses failed to fire. Again.

Further investigation also suggests there are only two of the original band members left alive and there have been at least 3-different Sweet line-ups active over-time and, confusingly, often concurrently. I have no idea then, who is now touring under the Sweet moniker, or even if they have any legitimate connection to the original group, whose bombast and style so offended my parents and (occasionally) enlivened my Thursday night TV viewing.

Anyway, apologies for the relapse. It will happen again though … I can almost guarantee it.


Well, the weather made no pretence of being anything other than horrendous this week. You’ve got to admire its honesty, at least.

It was raining (hard) when I set out and it was raining (hard) when I returned. In between, it showed remarkable consistency by … raining hard, although OGL was able to remark at one point, “the rain’s eased, it’s just a downpour now.”

Crossing the river, I spotted an 8-man crew shooting the bridge and idly wondered at what point they’d have to stop rowing and bail out their craft. Other than that, the only thing of note on my journey across to the meeting point was a cyclist riding past, blithely sporting a top half clad in naught but a short-sleeved jersey!

By the time I rolled under the protective eves of the multi-storey car park, the constant deluge had just about started to penetrate the extremities – gloves and socks. It was going to be a few notches below a pleasant ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

I bumped up the kerb and pulled to a stop beside the redoubtable G-Dawg and settled down to see which other numpties would be crazy enough to join us, numbers slowly assembling until we formed a Hateful 8. I’ve got to admit that was more than I expected.

Once again the Prof was pursuing a solo career, at odds with the rest of the Back Street Boys and chose to join us. After prolonged exposure to our innate musical talents today though, I’m not sure he’ll be back anytime soon. Relatively (flippin’) new guy, Cowboys was out, ostensibly to test the waterproofness of his new waterproof gloves. OGL, Biden Fecht, Aether and Benedict rounded out the numbers.

I confessed that on mornings like this, I would be quite happy to arrive at the meeting point to find nobody else had bothered to show. I could then turn around with good conscience and scuttle away home.

But, whenever I arrive, this bugger’s already here and waiting,” I complained, gesturing vaguely in the direction of G-Dawg.

“Have you not considered that he’s probably thinking the same thing and you turning up ruins the day for him too?” Aether suggested.

Fair point.

Peer pressure, eh? It’s a terrible, terrible thing.

When challenged, G-Dawg admitted there was no weather he didn’t think you couldn’t ride in. Wind and rain were mere minor inconveniences while, if it was snowing, that was just a great excuse for some mountain bike fun.

“Not even ice?” Benedict asked, perhaps acknowledging that we’d heard Andeven had slipped on ice at the bottom of the Ryals last week and was down and out with a broken elbow for a while.

“If it’s icy, just stick to the bus routes, they’re always gritted,” G-Dawg argued.

“Although, I’ve had a few clatters in my time,” he concluded.

We then reminisced about some of our most famous ice-capades, or “clatters,” if you will, such as the time an eerily prescient OGL had left us to take a different route. The rest of us had immediately taken a right turn and performed a synchronised clatter that a Busby Berkley-directed, Esther Williams would have been proud of, as we toppled in series, one pair after another, like falling dominoes.

Then there was the time heading through Meldon, when I didn’t realise the lane was icy at all, until G-Dawg overtook me, flat on his back, sliding headfirst, rapidly downhill and with his bike trailing several seconds behind him. I’m convinced to this day that it was the shock of his sudden appearance that brought me down, rather than the treacherous ice-sheet we were attempting to traverse.

We were assured we’d have no ice to contend with today, just the rain, which Cowboys assured us would ease. He didn’t specify when. I suspect he was thinking maybe mid-March. With no more likely to join our happy band and no sign of the weather relenting, even a bit, it was time to get on with it.

The plan was no more complicated than to make our way to Stamfordham, where we’d stop to re-assess and decide what to do from there. With that simple goal, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out and into the rain.


We hit our first major flood as we swung past the airport, which coincided with an impatient driver gunning his, or her, engine and swerving around us at high speed. The car flung up a tsunami of cold, dirty water in its wake, that was dumped directly into OGL’s lap, leaving him waving his arms around frantically, spluttering and swearing incoherently, as the car sped away.

I don’t think he appreciated it when I asked if he’d just found out exactly how waterproof his shiny new Madison rain jacket actually was. He would later complain the massive, freezing bow wave had hit him “right in the groin.” Ooph! that’ll wake you up, every time.

After a while, I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg. It was no better and no worse up there. There was less spray thrown up by the wheels, but less shelter from the rain and the wind was particularly stiff and chilling.

Approaching Stamfordham and another big puddle, a car pulled out to work its way past us, just as we rolled into the wide expanse of collected water. Here, at least, the driver was more considerate and didn’t rip past and drown us under a bow wave, but slowed, almost to match our pace, hanging there uncertainly as we rapidly approached a bend and a blind summit.

“It’s not really going to work if he’s only travelling at the same speed we are,” G-Dawg sighed, before easing back a bit to let the car pull ahead and then across to the right side of the road. Bloody cyclists, eh? Never satisfied.

As we reached the outskirts of the village, I suggested it was unlikely anyone was going to go for the longer route today and suspected we’d all be heading straight for the cafe.

“Still, I suppose we’d better stop and ask,” G-Dawg decided, “Just in case.”

So we did.

As predicted, OGL stated he was heading straight to the cafe and everyone seemed in accord, until …

“I wouldn’t mind pressing on for a bit,” Aether tentatively suggested.

And that was that. Peer pressure kicked in (again) and now all but OGL were up for doing the planned route, rain be damned.

Off we went then, minus 1 and buoyed along by a fine selection of appropriate songs from Biden Fecht. It’s Raining Men, Many Rivers to Cross, Singin’ in the Rain, Raining in my Heart, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Why Does it Always Rain on Me? Then, somewhat bizarrely, as rain themed songs seemed to … err… run dry, Here Comes the Sun.

Meanwhile, we adopted an exaggerated, heavily Heinekenised, Biden Fecht style-accent to warn of “wough-tahr” ahead … (the wough-tahr in Maa-yorkerh don’t taste like it ough-tahr.)

Biden Fecht wondered what the Geordie equivalent would be and I was happy to give him my best approximation as “watta.” (Ryhmes with hatter.)

We crossed the Military Road and skirted Whittledene Reservoir. It was eerily quiet. No cars, no fishermen, no swans, no ducks. Huh? Too wet, even for the ducks?

In fact, the only thing for miles around seemed to be a slightly mad bunch of sodden/sodding, singing cyclists, riding around, through and across various puddles, while pointing wildly to either side and calling out to each other “wough-tahr!” and “watta!”

We slogged upwards through some of the oddly named plantations, Foulhoggers and Sparrowietch, Tilehouse and Standingstone.

“C’mon you lot up front, give us a song,” Biden Fecht demanded as we traversed this rather bleak landscape. He was clearly out of suitably rain-themed numbers now, as attested by a return to the sad irony of Here Comes the Sun.

Oh well, they asked for it, so … in a similar vein, I began to bellow out a fantastically tuneless, discordant rendition of The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.

An uncomfortable silence descended on the group following this unprecedented, aural assault, until it was punctured by Benedict.

“Bloody hell, I wish I’d turned off at Stamfordham now.”

Climbing some more, we once again made a dart across the Military Road and begin to home in on Matfen.

Another convergence of impatient driver and flooded road threatened to wash us away. Rather luckily, the drivers over-reliance on his horn served as a flood warning, so at least we were prepared for the rising tide he threw up as he carved his way past us, too fast and too close.



We turned for the Quarry, right into the teeth of howling gale and I was grateful to sit at the back and find whatever meagre shelter was available, as Biden Fecht and G-Dawg tried to batter a way through the wind.

Just before the steepest ramps of the climb there was another section of badly flooded road, so wide there was no way around, so long that you couldn’t freewheel through it and so deep I could feel the water dragging at my wheels. On each downward pedal stroke, the water was well past boot, or overshoe height – no one was coming out of that without seriously wet feet.

At the top of the Quarry, the Prof and Cowboys made a break for the cafe, but, for whatever reason, hesitated at Wallridge crossroads, were caught and subsumed back into the pack.

The pace picked up until, as we turned through the junction to hit the road down to the Snake Bends, Biden Fecht jumped away, immediately opening a telling gap. As the others wound up a belated response, I watched from the back, selecting “This Train is Bound for Glory” as a soundtrack to Biden Fecht’s flight, as he easily outpaced the chasers to claim a fine, sprint victory.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I asked Cowboys how waterproof his waterproof gloves had been. “Not very,” apparently, so he’s now looking to spend more money on perhaps what is just one version of a cycling grail.

Benedict was unsurprised, having spent a small fortune of SealSkinz gloves, that he reported simply didn’t live up to the hype. He’d even contacted the company to tell them their gloves were patently not waterproof, but they’d argued they certainly were, had the research to back this claim up and offered to send him the evidence. Obviously they were waterproof then, just not North East waterproof.

OGL remembered nylon, waterproof over-gloves that used to be available and wondered if they were still around, while various solutions such as Marigold rubber gloves, or latex surgical gloves were suggested.

I’m not convinced there is a good, fully waterproof, cycling glove out there. My own, Galibier Barrier gloves held out for about an hour before I started to feel the water seeping in, which I didn’t think was bad as they aren’t marketed as being waterproof. Their main property is that they are generally windproof and well insulated, so even when wet through, they can keep your hands relatively warm. This I think is the best you can hope for.

Like the gloves, every other item of clothing we were wearing was thoroughly sodden and water-logged and the cafe had provided the usual black bin bags for us to sit on, to protect their furniture. OGL and the Prof seemed intent on trying to dry various items on the fire, something we’d learned was generally futile, often malodorous and occasionally dangerous, with the occasional glove, or hat melting, or spontaneously combusting.

The Prof had even stripped down to his base layer, a bright orange number, emblazoned with the words SuperDry in what must have been the second most ironic statement of the day, topped only by Biden Fecht’s repeated renditions of Here Comes the Sun.

OGL reminisced about one regular cafe stop where all the cyclists used to strip off their wet gear to use a drying cupboard by the fire. Sadly, this cafe is no longer in business, which, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that a group of dirty, pallid cyclists, sitting around in their skivvies is not a major customer attraction.

G-Dawg recalled a particularly nasty mountain-bike expedition, where he and the Colossus had been forced to dismount to cross a stream on foot, as the ford was overwhelmed with floodwater. A bit further along and the Colossus had called a halt insisting there was something caught between his toes. He’d stripped off his socks and shoes to reveal that what was caught between his big toe and third toe, was actually his second toe, white, numb and unfeeling. This, as far as I’m aware is the first recorded incident of Alien Toe Syndrome.

I recounted to all that, after last week’s sodden and water-logged return, Mrs. SLJ had suggested I came in through the back door and immediately drop all my wet gear on the kitchen floor, in front of the washing machine.

I pointed out it probably wasn’t seemingly for me to parade around the house in a nekkid state.

“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I’ll leave your dressing gown out.”

G-Dawg suggested he got even shorter shrift and Mrs. G-Dawg would be putting towels down in anticipation of his soaked return.

“I wouldn’t mind, but these are the same towels I use for the dogs when they come in all wet and muddy” he complained.

“I’ll bet the dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near them once you’ve dirtied them up,” someone quipped. G-Dawg laughed along, but a little uneasily.

I checked the weather app on my phone, which said that for the next hour there’d be a 100% chance of heavy rain in my location, but an hour later, this would fall to just a 99% chance of heavy rain.

I can’t believe we seriously discussed waiting for another hour for a 1% chance the weather might improve, but we decided the odds weren’t good and it was probably best to get going before we became too comfortable or, heaven forfend, almost semi-dry.


Back into the cold and rain, after a while the Prof and Cowboys raced away, I assume in an attempt to warm up. I stayed on the front until the turn for Ponteland where, yet again I decided to lop the corner off my sodden ride.

The bike was behaving itself, running smooth and silent and once again I found an almost Zen-like state, as I pressed for home, soaked through, but comfortably warm, legs spinning automatically and the miles of wet tarmac hissing by, as they unwound beneath my tyres.

I was enjoying myself so much, I could almost have forgiven all those club mates who’d forced me to ride, simply by being there for me.

Almost.


YTD Totals: 7,148 km / 4,442 miles with 92,512 metres of climbing

Diluvial Denial

Diluvial Denial

Club Run, Saturday 17th November 2019

Total Distance: 111 km/69 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Average Speed: 24.1km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 9℃
Weather in a word or two: Wet ‘n’ Wild

Ride Profile

With parts of the country subject to devastating rainfall and numerous homes submerged under floodwater, the North East seems to have escaped relatively intact despite the fact it had been raining heavily, off and on since Wednesday night.

The forecast for Saturday was for extended periods of this rain that started out as an 80% probability, then just increased as the day progressed. Whatever happened it looked like being a wet one. It was however noticeably warmer than it had been last week – so not all bad news, I guess.

There was only the lightest, finest, mist of precipitation as I set out and I did ponder stopping to take the rain jacket off. I hadn’t gone far though when a heavy shower dampened me and any enthusiasm I might have had for peeling away any protective layers. The rain was going to be an infrequent and intermittent companion for the rest of the morning, after which it would stop toying with us and just pour unremittingly.

Other than skirting some newly formed lagoons in unexpected places, testament to the volume of water that had fallen out of the skies in the past few days, my trip across to the meeting point was largely uneventful.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I pulled in alongside Captain Black, sheltering under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and peering out uncertainly into the wet gloom. He hasn’t been out for a good few weeks and certainly hadn’t picked the best of days to mark his return.

The Prof put in a surprise, cameo appearance, declaring his Back Street Boys tribute act don’t actually perform in the rain, which interferes with their hairstyles, or choreography, or some such. He was forced to concede we were a much hardier bunch, although obviously we don’t ride half as hard, half as far, or half as fast as his fair weather friends. (I’m fairly certain he even referred to them as “sugar plum fairies” at one point, but I may have misheard.)

Appropriately enough, our ride leader for the day (and first-time volunteer) was Rainman, who’d posted up a route which he kept insisting was no longer than normal. A more cynical man than I might have concluded he doth protest too much, but, at least it was different.

We discussed various alternatives to avoid potential flooded areas, much to the bemusement of the Hammer, who, in one of his usual declarative, dismissive statements, insisted, “Well, it’s hardly rained at all.”

Crazy Legs appeared out of the gloom, swept past us and, sporting a huge grin, attacked the lower slopes of the car park ramps. G-Dawg hesitated a brief second, before racing to join him, as our two fearless adventurers made good on their promise to find out exactly what was located at the top of the multi-storey car park.

Our intrepid explorers returned, seemingly unimpressed with their discoveries, but further swelling our numbers which were pushing twenty strong by the time Carlton rolled in to join us.

“Happy birthday!” someone called out to him, initiating an impromptu sing-a-long, as twenty, disparate voices were united in some fleeting semblance of harmony, in the dank, echoing confines of a grimy multi-storey. I’m not sure the car park has ever witnessed anything quite so moving, as we serenaded the anniversary of our compadre’s entry into this world some … aah … 25 years, or so ago. (Oh, plus a little bit … yeah, bit more … bit more … getting there … now add in the VAT)

Rainman began briefing in the route, but was stopped mid-flow.

“Who are you?” someone demanded.

“Call me whatever you like,” he suggested magnanimously.

“Oh, we do,” I assured him.

He completed the briefing, once again assuring us it was a very standard length route, but also that there were plenty of turn-off points should we decide to cut the ride short.

Then, at precisely 9:14, one entire minute early, he drove us out of our warm, dark and comforting sanctuary (did I really just write that?) and out onto the open roads.

This I suspect is an underlying reason for the fabled Dutch efficiency in their public transport systems. They cheat, leaving ahead of schedule so as not to arrive late.

I guess it’s just tough luck if you’re not there super-punctual and miss your train and indeed, our early start caught a few out. Ovis was only just arriving as we were leaving, Buster had to dart quickly across 4 lanes of busy traffic to tag onto the back, while Andeven, completely wrong footed and travelling up the opposite carriageway in the wrong direction, had to race away, circumnavigate a roundabout and chase on.

Still we managed to have some semblance of a group formed once we’d collected our stragglers and pushed out into the countryside.


I had a brief chat with the Prof, then found myself alongside Captain Black, who’s winter bike had suddenly developed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, it decided to change gear at the most inopportune times, turning the assault on even the gentlest of slopes into a grind fest as the chain kept skipping down his cassette. It had become so bad, he’s actually going to spend good money on his winter bike and upgrade from a Claris to full 105 groupset.

We took the road up toward the Cheese Farm, with an under-the-weather Crazy Legs making the effort to hang with the main group, solely to watch us make our way through the road-spanning puddles typically found in this lane.

This time around though, the road was disappointingly clear and he didn’t get that big schadenfreude, yuck-yuck-yuck moment, when he could laugh at anyone not in waterproof boots. He rolled off the back after this disappointment, taking anyone looking for a more relaxed ride along with him.

Over the top of Bell’s Hill, I dropped my chain and it was my turn to chase on. Despite, or maybe because of the weather, we weren’t hanging around and it was hard work.


Water, water everywhere

We threaded a thin isthmus between flooded road and sodden fields on the long drag up to Dyke Neuk and there called a brief halt to regroup and determine splits.

Dyke Neuk found Buster and Biden Fecht discussing possibilities for our overseas, mountain-scaling expedition next year, which looks set to feature the Dolomites. Asked what he thought of the idea, Biden Fecht held forth in a lengthy and impassioned exposition in what, to the untrained ear, sounded like credible Italian.

“Was that actually Italian?” an impressed, but still somewhat sceptical Buster asked.

“Si, si,” Biden Fecht deadpanned.

At Dyke Neuk instead of tracing our usual routes north or west, we turned south, dropping down the hill, to then climb back up through Meldon.

As we set off, a group coming up the hill warned us of more floods ahead and sure enough we were soon sloshing through another road spanning puddle. This was made worse by an impatient driver forcing his way through in the opposite direction, which not only pushed us off the crown of the road and into deeper water, but created a bow wave to wash over our feet. Pleasant.


Nor any drop to drink …

From Dyke Neuk onwards, our numbers were slowly whittled down, as the group splintered and various offshoots took various, shorter routes. This started when we reached Bolam Lake, within maybe a mile or two of the cafe, before inexplicably turning our backs on coffee and cake, as we headed north, through Angerton, Scots Gap, Cambo and Wallington, taking a massive loop around Middleton Bank, before finally approaching it from the west.

By the time we were climbing up toward Cambo, there were only about half a dozen of us left and I was feeling the pace and starting to lose contact. I was also closing in on 50 miles covered, before we had even reached the cafe.

As we finally turned toward Middleton Bank, there was a touch of wheels ahead. I was too far back to see what actually happened, but there was a bit of shouting and a bit of wild manoeuvring, with some grass verge surfing thrown in for good measure. Luckily, no one came down, but everyone stopped to assess the damage.

Well, everyone but me. I wasn’t stopping for anything, or anyone and sailed through the group to keep going, happy to have a bit of a lead onto Middleton Bank.

Caught on the slopes, I finally formed a grupetto with Biden Fecht, Ovis and Andeven (our two apparently chastened wheel-touchers and shunters) and we rode in to the cafe together.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Biden Fecht’s face was so mud besplattered that it even prompted one of the serving staff to ask if he’d been riding behind people all day. ##Cough## Wheelsucker.

I did briefly mention my misgiving about the length of the ride to Rainman and how I was already over 50 miles. He was still insisting it was a standard length, but perhaps he was struggling converting my retard units to kilometres?

I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Stollen scone (is it Christmas already?) and squeezed onto a bench alongside Crazy Legs and G-Dawg.

I ignored what I was certain was a blatant attempt by Crazy Legs to inflict a Lemonheads ear-worm on me, as he declared, enough about us, lets talk about me, I turned the conversation to glam-rockers, The Sweet, or as they were more simply known to me, Sweet.

Having not troubled the music charts since the late 70’s, the band are touring once more, behind a promotional poster that caught my attention as it suggests they haven’t aged well. Lead singer, Brian Connolly’s long platinum locks (or are they just grey now?) return in all their hirsute splendour, but the face they frame is looking decidedly time-ravaged – and he’s perhaps the pick of the bunch.

Anyway, not only did Crazy Legs show an unexpected degree of enthusiasm for seeing the tour, but he also reminded us of one of the Hammers greatest declarative statements: “Sweet, the band Led Zeppelin could have been.”

We chuckled. Again. Richard Rex, joined in too, but was obviously more of a Led Zep fan than Crazy Legs, G-Dawg or me and he seemed to pause to try to determine if the statement was complimentary or derogatory.

For some reason we then found ourselves trying to name Led Zeppelin tunes. G-Dawg was adamant he didn’t know any, while I cited their cover of the Rolf Harris classic, Stairway to Heaven (only kidding Zep fans) and perhaps, maybe the Top of the Pops theme tune. Richard Rex shook his head in dismay at our wilful ignorance.

Crazy Legs seemed to fare much better, with several titles rolling off his tongue: Black Dog(?) Rock and Roll(?) Kashmir(?) Huh? Suspicious …

His flimsy excuse was that his school discos were all carefully inclusive and strictly democratic, therefore, for every new wave/punk/mod or ska record that was played, they were forced to balance it with some metal/prog rock abomination.

Hmm …


We hustled out of the cafe, into the cold and the unrelenting drumming of serious rain, that had settled in to stay. The group was split leaving the car park and never had the chance to reform, as everyone put their heads down and just went, intent on getting out of the foul weather as quickly as possible.

Richard Rex went into full time-trial mode, powering away on the front, so I sat on his wheel for as long as I could hold on. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking, with everyone seemingly intent on just enduring the horrible conditions in silence. Nevertheless, there was enough communication to plan an alternative route through Ponteland, rather than risk the potential of flooded roads leading up to Berwick Hill.

That suited me, I’d already decided to go that way in order to shave a few miles off my total, now at least I’d have a few wheels to follow, even if I was struggling to hold them.

By the time I was swinging away to strike out solo, I accepted I was already as wet as I was ever going to be and was resigned to the weather staying foul. Once I dropped the pace back to something a bit more sustainable, I even found I was actually quite enjoying myself, which might be the kind of positive attitude I’m going to need more of. I get the feeling we’re heading toward more wretched weather and a bad winter.

By the time I reached home, I’d covered almost 70 miles, despite taking the short-cut through Ponteland.

On a heavy winter bike.

In the pouring rain.

And carrying an additional kilogram or two in water-logged clothing

Nice route…

For a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 6,993 km / 4,345 miles with 91,098 metres of climbing

The Puffin Ride

The Puffin Ride

Club Run, Saturday 9th November, 2019

Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 852 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 22.6km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 5℃
Weather in a word or two: Puffin weather?

Ride Profile

I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.

Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.

Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.

I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.

Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.

So I did.

I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.

Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.

The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.

I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:

“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”

2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.

A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.

Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.

And, moving swiftly on …

We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.

Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.

He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”

No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.

OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.

G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.

Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.

A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.


I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.

Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.

It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.

G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.



There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.

At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.

OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.

“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.

I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.

At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:

Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.

“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”

OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.

“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.

Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.

“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.

“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”

Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.

The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.

In circumference.

Each.

The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.

G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.

OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.

Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.

Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.

82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.


With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.

The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.

On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.

“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.

“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.

Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!

I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.

Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.

Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.


YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing