Plague Diaries Week#70 – Bringing the Heat

Plague Diaries Week#70 – Bringing the Heat

I ended COVID self-isolation with a “celebratory” 10km run on Thursday morning. Probably not the wisest move, but after 10 days of home confinement and little exercise save for a stint on the turbo last Saturday, I felt I needed it.

Just for the record, I still hate running, even though Strava tells me I’ve done it 63 times this year already and racked up close to 350 begrudging kilometres. I’m still waiting for that light-switch moment, that grand epiphany everyone talks about of a “runners high” when the effort transcends being a quick and convenient form of exercise and actually becomes a joy. I’m not convinced it’ll every happen.

It also seems I’m not alone. In a 2020 Why We Run survey, Strava surveyed 25,000 athletes from all over the globe to find out what exactly motivates them and only 8% said they ran because they loved running. Conversely, 50% said they hate it, or merely tolerate it. I’m firmly entrenched in this camp, enduring what Strava dubbed the ‘runner’s paradox’ and even more closely aligned with the 63% of those who said the favourite part of a run was the finish line.

So, onto much, much more enjoyable forms of exercise and self-flagellation, with Saturday shaping up to be an absolute cracker, promising wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures upward of 25℃. About bloody time too!

I was up and out early, enjoying a warm start to the day and pure, unbroken blue skies, arriving at the meeting point ahead of schedule and wandering around the mean streets of Coxlodge for a while to fill in some time. I arrived to wave off the lepers of the Judean People’s Front, heading out to Bellingham. Again. I was surprised to see there were only 3 of them, as I thought the weather would be enticing hordes of cyclists out onto the roads today, but apparently not.

[Apologies to The Leprosy Mission who recently highlighted that leper is a pejorative term whose use has sadly proliferated in the media in connection with COVID-19!]

As the time approached 9:15 there were still only 22 of us gathered and I think we were all a little surprised by how few had ventured out. G-Dawg briefed in the route, which was essentially a tried and tested club run, but in reverse, with just one or two amends due to roadworks and road closures around Ponteland. He then suggested the first group get out and underway, but there was only half a dozen or so pushing off into the road. I hung back a bit, but the numbers weren’t working and we were in danger of having a couple of lop-sided groups, or splintering into three. So, after a moment’s hesitation, I pushed off too and then Aether and a late arriving Plumose Pappus joined to help balance out the numbers.

The pace was fast as I slotted in alongside Spry and we pushed through Dinnington and up Berwick Hill. From there we took over on the front and kept the speed up even as we ground into a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. Leading, we took the group past Kirkley, through Ogle and out to Belsay, maybe 10-15km at the end of which my legs were heavy and beginning to feel empty and I was looking forward to dropping to the back for shelter and a little bit of recovery.

Except it wasn’t going to happen. As the road started to rise toward Wallridge crossroads, Spry rode off the front, going solo (I’m surprised he’d stayed with us mere mortals so long) and it was like a testosterone bomb had been denoted in the middle of our group. The pace went up exponentially as the front engaged in a forlorn chase and I slipped backwards, left exposed and battering upwards into the the wind, trying to keep the gap manageable. So much for taking a moment to try and recover. Even worse off was Aether who was left so far behind I couldn’t even see him when I turned to look back whenever the road straightened.

I finally ground my way to the top and swung left traversing the rolling terrain as I plugged on alone up to the crossroads, where the group were waiting to reform. I pulled over and unclipped, finally able to get a drink and try and rest up a little while we waited for the estranged Aether.

Foolishly, I thought things would calm down after that, but within 400 metres of restarting Aether was of out the back again and I was hanging on. We turned down the Quarry, the pace relentless and being driven up even on the downhill stretches. We seemed to have become overtaken by some kind of grand dick-swinging contest and looked to be winding up for the café-sprint already, less than half-way around the route.

By the time we hit the T-junction at the bottom of the Quarry road I was detached again, once more grinding alone and uphill into the wind. At the village of Ryal, I took the left hand turn, glad to be out of the wind and finally finding the front of the group pulled over and waiting in the shade of a few sparse trees. Channelling my inner-OGL (well, over a decade listening to him bellyache and complain has to have some benefits eventually) I suggested to them it was utterly pointless waiting for people if they were immediately going to piss off again. My pronouncement raised a few chuckles, but sadly little in the way of introspection. I guess that was probably too much to hope for. I didn’t bother stopping and rode straight through the group and continued down the road.

They caught me and Goose pulled up alongside to suggest the pace was a lot more comfortable now, but finding me uncommunicative, he drifted away again. Dave from Cumbria eventually pushed forward alongside me on the front as we passed through Matfen. Then, a mile or so further down the road I wondered what the hell I was doing working on the front again with everyone sheltering, camped out on on my rear wheel. I deliberately dropped back and slotted in behind Dave from Cumbria, expecting someone else would push forward and take my place on the front, but apparently we weren’t doing that anymore.

So for the next mile or so we rode in this strange formation with the front two riders single file and everyone else stacked up behind. That lasted until we were approaching Fenwick when some poor bloke, out for a bit of quiet, solo training on his TT-bike, had the temerity to try and pass us and immediately found a bunch of ill-mannered Yahoo’s swarming all over his back wheel and trying to prove they were faster than he was.

I doubt I could have held onto the group much longer anyway, but I was completely embarrassed by our antics now, so just sat up and let the gap go out. By the time I’d negotiated on-coming traffic while trying to pass a removal van and then got held up for an interminable amount of time by roadworks just outside Stamfordham, I knew there was no chance of catching the group again, even if I’d wanted to.

Not convinced I knew the planned route I started to plot my own course to the cafe, down Limestone Lane and through Ponteland, hoping to find a way through the road closures G-Dawg had outlined.

I found the joy of being out in such fine and novel weather starting to return and somewhere along the way I passed and saluted Taffy Steve riding carefree and solo in the opposite direction. Just past Dalton, hundreds of crows silently lifted out of the field on my left, looped overhead and settled straight down into the field on my right, while I rode under an arch of their beating black wings, starkly silhouetted against the bright blue sky. Gifted the perfect ear-worm for the rest of my ride courtesy of one Roberta Joan Anderson, I pressed on.

The way around the road closures in Ponteland proved simplicity itself and I was soon turning into the café at Kirkley, surprised yet again at how few cyclists seemed to be out in this damn fine weather. The place was relatively quiet and the queues waiting to be served almost non-existent.

I was delighted to find Zardoz holding court at a table having semi-returned from his broken-collar bone and smashed up ribs. I greeted the old rascal by, well by calling him out as an old rascal. It seemed appropriate.

In conversation with G-Dawg later, Zardoz confirmed his collar bone hadn’t quite healed, but his family found him a pain to live with whenever he missed a ride, so the compromise was to let him out, but only under the careful supervision and strict chaperoning of one of his daughters. A thankless task for her and a great sacrifice, but I’m sure the ends justified the means and it helped restore some form of familial harmony.

Comparing recent wounds and treatments, like hoary old fishermen about to tangle with a Great White, G-Dawg and Zardoz reached the conclusion that they are both past the age when the NHS are going to do anything beyond the bare minimum to help with their recovery – so no plate for Zardoz’s collar bone, or pins for G-Dawg’s broken leg. The message is harsh and clear: we’re no longer worth the effort, fuss and expense.

It was a 2 cans of Coke type of day for Brassneck, a measure of just how hot it was. He downed the first in short order and sitting back contentedly, surveyed the vast array of bike porn on offer around him, a shiny selection of the best and newest bits from the catalogues of Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Canyon, Cervélo and the like.

I hated to think just how much all these shiny machines were collectively worth, while G-Dawg found great irony in people dropping £4-£5,000 on a bike just so they could ride to a café and complain about the price of coffee and cake.

Our musings were interrupted by a very brief cameo from OGL, apparently missing from the start this morning due to a serious hangover, but now recovered enough to subject us to a quick drive-by bitching.

A few moments after he’d left a contemporary rolled in, took the table next to us and mentioned he’d just past OGL, but had managed to ignore him, before he was ignored. I think he was implying he’d got his retaliation in first.

“I knew it was him,” he added, “I could see the scowl from 400 yards away.”

“And that,” I suggested, “Was when approaching him from behind, too.”

Last to arrive from our starting group was Homeboy who’d been doing some shepherding, looking after an FNG who’d rocked up in trainers, full-length leggings, football shorts and a long-sleeved, micro-fleece. He’d made it to Belsay before seriously over-heating and only recovered after downing several bottles of water. We left them seeking further hydration opportunities and squabbling over who would pay and I joined a small group of Brassneck, Princess Fiona and Spoons, heading home via Berwick Hill. Others were planning a slightly longer route via Saltwick, but I’d already covered more than 50 miles and, fun as it was, my legs were now pretty much shot.

I managed a good chat with Brassneck about American indie-alt band Throwing Muses along the way, before I was left to pick my way home alone. It was 1:30 and possibly the hottest part of the day as I started up the final drag of the Heinous Hill with over 70 miles under my wheels and for the first time it was starting to get uncomfortable. Still, I’ll take that over the cold and rain any day and I’m not going to complain because we all know it isn’t going to last. In fact, I’m off for a family holiday next week, so an end to the good weather is almost guaranteed.


Riding Distance:116km/72 miles with 946m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed:25.7km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:27 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Scorchio!
Year to date:2,512km/1,561 miles with 26,465m of climbing
Image by peter kellfur from Pixabay 

Plague Diaries Week#68 – Gemini Feed

Plague Diaries Week#68 – Gemini Feed

It was the Cyclone sportive this weekend, but there didn’t seem much appetite for a mass-participation event that would allow gasping strangers to breathe all over you, even if it was in the fresh, open air of Northumberland. Too early. Add to that the Scots and Yorkshiremen amongst us have a natural aversion to paying good money to ride the same roads they ride for free every weekend and there were very few up for participating , although G-Dawg was unluckily roped in to help with the organisation on the day.

That left a good number looking for a normal club run, so Aether planned a ride that would, for the most part, avoid the Cyclone route. Meanwhile Taffy Steve and Red Max were offering up their traditional Anti-Cyclone, a chance to ride parts of the course and take advantage of the numerous market stalls and church halls that were preparing enticing spreads to attract in hungry cyclists and lighten their wallets and purses.

I made it across to the meeting point in good order, where I found Taffy Steve rubbing his hands with glee and already contemplating all the coffee and cake he was going to consume on his Anti Cyclone. I figured he was going to end up dangerously hyperglycaemic and so wired on caffeine he probably wouldn’t sleep for a week. And he happily agreed.

We’d gathered under the eaves of the multi-storey car park, ostensibly to be a little more discrete, but perhaps because of the superior acoustics so we could appreciate the full resonance of the Ticker’s ridiculously loud Hunt freewheel as he rolled up. I heard him coasting in from about a 100 metres away and didn’t even have to turn round to know exactly who was approaching.

Moments later, when Buster arrived with a twin, equally ostentatious freehub, again courtesy of Hunt, I wondered if we could somehow tune and synchronise the pair so they would anti-phase and act like noise-cancelling headphones. The Hunt owners were naturally horrified by such a suggestion.

Aether briefed in the ride, which would take us down the Tyne Valley and out to Corbridge, safely removed from the Cyclone route and following a previously suggested ride that we’d had to alter because of roadworks just before the town. There were around 20 of us gathered and we set off with the intention of forming into two groups, but once the Anti-Cyclone riders were taken into account, we all merged into one single, biggish ride instead.

I took to the front with Caracol and off we went, although initially slowed when Spoons dropped his chain and then by roadworks and traffic lights that had us threading through the streets of the Kingston Park housing estate to avoid long queues.

For a change we had decided to take the Twin Farms turn just beyond the rugby stadium, up the long drag past the golf course that features on all my rides home. From there we started heading west, up the climb of Penny Hill and I dropped into second wheel alongside erstwhile FNG, Brassneck.

Regrouping after the climb, we took a left hand turn to head toward the river and, with a shuffling of the pack, I found myself on the front again. “This is going to work out perfectly,” Brassneck decided, “Up this climb and then it’s downhill all the way to the river. It’s the ideal time to be on the front.”

He wasn’t wrong either.

Our relatively easy stint up front completed, we dropped back just before Ovingham and I was still pretty much there, enjoying the view of our entire group in front of me as we swooped into the quiet market town of Corbridge, in my imagination at least, like wild Visigoths storming the streets of Ancient Rome, or a bunch of dirty, despicable bandito’s raiding a poor Mexican pueblo. I swear one or two of the good denizens of this picturesque burgh looked at us with fear as much as curiosity.

My concerns about being lost in the mean one way streets of Corbridge were unfounded, as we sailed in and then almost immediately out again and began to climb out of the valley bottom up Shibdon Hill. It was here I was treated to the remarkable sight of Spoons unclipping and repeatedly smashing his heel into his recalcitrant front mech, like a motorcyclist trying to kick-start his bike. Whatever works, I guess, as I assume he found his inner ring.

I made my way gradually though the group as we climbed and stayed near the front until I followed Caracol down a wrong turn and we were called back by Aether. From front to back in one easy move. As we entered narrow and overgrown lanes I was chatting to Caracol about Cycling Tips’s Secret Pro and his latest column, which suggested Peter Sagan was disliked in the pro ranks as … well, as a selfish arse, who often caused crashes.

Just then a car sped around the corner up ahead, there was an emergency application of brakes, Caracol nudged into my rear wheel and did a slow motion forward roll across the tarmac. I wobbled but stayed upright and felt I’d perhaps done enough for Caracol to label me a selfish arse, who often caused crashes. Sadly, that’s where any similarity between me and Peter Sagan end.

Caracol picked himself up and dusted himself down. There didn’t seem to be any lasting damage and we pressed on. Past the reservoirs and into Stamfordham, I was surprised when ahead of us, James III seemed to suddenly conquer his natural aversion to inclines and burst off the front, opening a sizeable gap and absolutely killing it on the hill … until he managed to ship his chain and ground to a halt just before the summit, cursing as he was forced to resume his more traditional place toward the back.

Through Ogle and I fell in alongside Plumose Pappus to hear about OGL’s absolutely outrageous claim to have invented the stotty, or stottie cake, the Geordie flat disc of bread, traditionally made from left-over dough and baked on the bottom of the oven. I know OGL is old, but he’s not Methuselah. Local chef Terence Laybourne could recall his mother making stotties during the Twenties and Thirties and I suspect they were around a long time before that.

Then, quite out of left field Plumose Pappus, rather startlingly, started to … well … err, rap? This, I’m assured, is not the typical milieu of a whiter-than-white, masters educated, homeboy and I couldn’t quite take him seriously when he referred to leafy, upscale and distinctly “boujie” Jesmond as his ‘hood, but I have to admit his “rap flow” was pretty smooth.

We decided there was probably a niche in the market for a polite, mild mannered, middle-class, English rapper you could take home to meet your parents, although I wasn’t certain there was much gold to mine complaining about a lack of vegan options on menu’s, or rapping about non-dairy milk products, artisan coffee’s, or the late delivery of organic avocadoes to Waitrose.

Perhaps, like a mayfly, Plumose Pappus the Rapper, burned brightly, but briefly, just for that one, single ride and died a glorious death. Well, if we’re lucky, anyway.

At the café I went for a new Cherry and Almond loaf, which proved filling, but dull and even very careful scrutiny by the Ticker failed to reveal any actual cherries. Brassneck went for the delightful sounding Sicilian Lemon cake, which unfortunately was almost as dull. Meanwhile, James III and Captain Black went for the Mint Aero traybake, which not only seemed a better choice, but gave James III the opportunity to crow that he had two balls, while Captain Black only had one.

Luckily, James III’s attention was drawn away by a strange ringtone emanating from where the bikes were parked and he went to investigate, before returning to tell Mini Miss that her “Wahoo was wringing.” At least I think that’s what he said.

Meanwhile we learned that would-be rapper Plumose Pappus came in from work every evening and felt the need to immediately take a little nap. He definitely wasn’t living up to his bad boy image. Perhaps in an attempt to give his napping habit a bit of edge, he admitted his dog often joined him in bed, but I thought, no matter what slant he tried to put on it his “brand” was irrevocably damaged by these revelations.

A sudden rain shower hastened our departure and looked like being prolonged, so I left the group to route through Ponteland, finding myself amongst a trail of Cyclone riders, a few of whom were soaked through, miserable and pleased when I could tell them they only had a few kilometres left to go. Then once again I was retracing our earlier route, turning off opposite the Twin Farms to find my way down to the river and home.

Two days later, in Sur La Jante Towers, Thing#1 is back from university and has brought a little COVID-19 visitor with her. Now I can hear the ghost of Ian Curtis warming up in the background as the whole family embark on an enforced period of isolation. So no leaving the house for 10-days, not even for exercise, no commute’s to work, no running and definitely no club ride for me next weekend.

Oh well, see you on the other side.


Riding Distance:111km/70 miles with 1,033m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 25 minutes
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:18 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:14°C
Weather in a word or two:Grey to rain
Year to date:2,396km/1,489 miles with 25,519m of climbing
Photo by Judit Murcia on Unsplash

Plague Diaries Week#67 – Pee(r) Pressure

Plague Diaries Week#67 – Pee(r) Pressure

Just case all the fine weather of the past few weeks was in danger of making us soft, we were served up a real stinker this Saturday, a constant, miserable rain that didn’t so much as pour as drift down all around us soaking through everything. As I looked out the window my plans shifted from no jacket, to light jacket to full on rain jacket. I dug it out and pulled it on as I stepped out of the door and it never left my back until I was home, some six hours later.

I slipped down the Heinous Hill as slowly as I could, trying to minimise the spray being kicked up by my tyres, but nonetheless my socks and shoes were soaked by the time I reached ground zero and turned west with the rain now being driven into my face. This. Was. Unpleasant. Maybe I should have just stayed in bed?

Still, once you’re wet, you’re not likely to get any wetter, so I pressed on to the meeting place and took temporary shelter under the eaves of the multi-storey car park.

There, a fine collection of orange rain jackets slowly coalesced, much to the amusement of Mini Miss, who wondered if we’d all been burning up social media like needy teenage girls, just so we could present a co-ordinated look. We hadn’t. Honest. Meanwhile a vaguely recognised, so not really FNG watched a council workman (also nattily dressed in orange) unlock some kind of footlocker just along from where we were gathering.

“I thought he was getting out the salt to grit the road there,” he observed and I have to admit, it felt like one of those grey winter rides when ice was a distinct possibility. Indeed there was a good smattering of winter bikes out and Both G-Dawg and Crazy Legs had gone back to their fixies for the ride.

Another FNG arrived and peppered Crazy Legs with questions about ride length, timings, group sizes, speeds, return times et al. Crazy Legs told me later that he’d naturally wanted to know what level of experience we were dealing with here, so asked the obvious question, “have you ridden in a group before?”

“Extensively,” the FNG had shot back. Oooooh! Extensively!

OGL arrived for the predictable, regular and splenetic vituperation around slights real or imagined. I don’t know which because I’d switched off and wasn’t listening anymore. Then we split into two groups of about a dozen riders each and away we merrily went.

I found myself alongside James III, each taking turns to moan about the horrible weather. He admitted he’d left the house, prevaricated, turned around to head home, paused, prevaricated, turned back, hesitated and then reluctantly dragged his sorry carcase to the meeting point, all the while debating the wisdom of riding in the rain. This, I suggested was one of the reasons to belong to a club, the opportunity to share misery and the encouragement to ride no matter how bad the conditions. Peer pressure, I concluded was a terrible thing.

We’d just exited Brunton Lane and started to climb toward Dinnington when route-planner and leader for the day Richard of Flanders drifted back after a very truncated spell on the front.

“I’m going to lead from the back,” he declared cheerfully, invoking some of those great British generals of Somme-era offensives. “Leading from the back” struck me as almost as good an oxymoron as military intelligence, but I dutifully filled in the gap, going “over the top” to partner Goose on the front and have my ears aurally bombarded for the rest of the day.

Not much further along , Buster’s incredibly weak and leaky bladder got the better of him and he called for an early pee stop. We pulled over and subjected him to some very restrained and refined ribbing, which was still going on as our second group caught and passed us.

Then I was back on the front for an extended spell with Goose, which was fine as the pace wasn’t high and the wind fairly light too. We were on a standard, tried and tested club run, out to Stamfordham, past the reservoirs (where we passed our second group again and restored the rightful order) then climbing up through the plantations toward Stagshaw. Then it was Matfen, the Quarry and on to the café at Belsay, where, by good fortune, they’d just opened up the indoor seating area. Just as well as camping out in the garden in the rain would have been truly miserable and no one likes soggy cake.

I’d finally dropped off the front just as we took the turn for the Quarry and was sat at the back chatting with Mini Miss as we zipped through the Wallridge crossroads. As the road began to descend, things started getting frisky upfront, the speed was ratcheting upwards and gaps starting to grow. I hung back until we hit the grind up toward West Belsay, then started to chase, surfing the wheels, both literally and metaphorically and making it up to third place before running out of road and having to slow and ease into the Snake Bends.

From there it was just a short skip to the café, coffee and cake and a welcome opportunity to wring my seriously water-logged mitts out.

At the table with Goose, Carlton and the Big Yin, discussion turned things that you might find in the city of Norwich. I wish I knew why we were discussing Norwich, but I missed that part of the conversation. “Norwich City football club is in the city of Norwich,” the Big Yin suggested confidently. Then, tongue firmly lodged in cheek, “And Delia Smith, probably the greatest cook the world has ever known and probably the best football club chairman the world has ever known too.”

That was when the Big Yin’s Norwich-Knowledge faltered, which was fine, he’d already far surpassed mine.

At the next table, Crazy Legs was fantasising about developing a bike-sized stinger, spike-system to prevent any and all undesirable’s from joining club runs. I think he actually had a specific person in mind, too. He mimicked repeatedly deploying this device with an under-arm bowling motion, complete with “wick-choo!” sound effects. He was convinced he could organise a cadre of highly trained, volunteer ride-prevention ninja’s to deploy this figment of his imagination and stop unwanted cyclists in their tracks , although he noted that some people ride so slow, you might only ever be able puncture their front tyre with it.

Then G-Dawg confessed that the combination of continued rehabilitation of his broken leg and big-geared fixie had put him in so much pain trying to scale the Quarry, that he’d ended up getting off and walking up. I was going to suggest his dark secret was safe with us and it never happened, but Crazy Legs had different ideas and declared he would bear witness to this extraordinary moment.

“But, your not a credible source,” I argued.

“I have photographic proof!” he countered.

“He’ll obliterate your phone.”

“The photo’s are already uploaded to the cloud.”

“He’ll destroy the Internet!” we both reached this conclusion at the same time, worrying that we’d unwittingly set events in motion for a Skynet type Judgement Day and a Terminator Apocalypse. We decided to head for home before the machines took over.

Outside, into the miserable cold and wet again, sensibly the main bunch didn’t hang around, but I stupidly hung back and asked what the rest of us were waiting for. Buster, apparently. He was off seeing to the needs of his weak and leaky bladder.

We finally got moving and once again I found myself on the front with Goose and we drove the pace up on the road along to Ogle, trying to bring a little warmth back to shivering limbs. We took on the short climb out of the village at an increased pace only to have to ease back as we split the group. We then pushed along and reached Kirkley Hall before someone noticed Buster and the new girl were missing.

We stopped at the junction to wait and let them catch up, chatting somewhat idly, until Mini Miss dropped in a provocative and divisive question about whether we liked tyres with tan sidewalls. This must rank about third on the contentious cycling list, just behind the Shimano vs. Campagnolo and disc vs. rim brakes debates. I nailed my colours firmly to the black sidewalls only mast, others naturally differed.

“Would tan walls look cool on my bike?” Goose wanted to know.

“Nothing would look cool on your bike,” Captain Black instantly responded. Harsh. But then they are practically a married couple, so…

Ten minutes of waiting, with no sign of our errant riders and the chill starting to creep up on us again, tradition dictated we’d waited a sufficient amount of time, but we were still uncertain about what to do. Then, Captain Black played his self-effacing Captain Oates card – “Oh, I’ll just go back and look for them.”

Aagh! Peer pressure again.

So…

Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno, or un pour tous, tous pour un, if you prefer. (Perhaps even WWG1WGA, if you’re not of a classical bent, and just so happen to be a swivel-eyed, bizarre conspiracy theorist completely unmoored from any sense of reality.)

More simply, back we all went.

“You’re alive!” boomed Goose, as we found our lost companions just outside Ogle. Apparently the new girl had suffered a puncture and, as Goose speculated, Buster hadn’t been much help fixing it as he’d been to pre-occupied looking for somewhere to pee.

Reunited, we pressed on and I found myself following Goose and Captain Black as we stormed up the hill and through Dinnington. When I looked back we’d managed to split the group again, but this time there was no waiting and no turning back. Time to head home and get out of this miserable weather. Hopefully it’ll be better next week.


Riding Distance:111km/70 miles with 1,007m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 32 minutes
Average Speed:24.4km/h
Group Size:2 groups of 12
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Ugh
Year to date:2,285km/1,420 miles with 24,486m of climbing
Photo by bady abbas on Unsplash

Plague Diaries Week#65 – Riders of the Lost Ark

Plague Diaries Week#65 – Riders of the Lost Ark

Last week social media on Tyneside blew up with multiple posts detailing random, unexpected encounters with cycling Hollywood actor and fully-fledged “sleb” Harrison Ford. Mr Ford, up in the area to shoot the new Indiana Jones movie at Bamburgh Castle, was spotted on a number of occasions enjoying our fine weather (a rarity) to travel around Northumberland au velo, clad in Pedal Mafia cycling gear and trusting his smart red and black (allegedly £17,000) Colnago to the depredations of our local roads.

I wonder what sort of abuse he got from our local drivers … and how much of it got lost in translation?

Maybe its just me, but I’d prefer to meet his co-star, the whip-smart (see what I did there?) Phoebe Waller-Bridge, still I took his brief cameo to try and convince Thing#1 that no less a person than Indiana Jones had agreed to join us on our Saturday Club Ride. She almost bought it.

Saturday wasn’t quite as good as the previous couple of weeks, it was fairly chill to start with, a cutting westerly slicing a good three or four degrees off the temperature, and arm warmers and gilets were the order of the day, at least until things warmed up a little.

I was out and across to the meeting place in good time, but still behind an ultra-enthusiastic G-Dawg, returning for his first official club run in 7 weeks and quite obviously chomping at the bit. Even Szell turned up for the second week in succession, even as we patiently explained Middleton Bank wasn’t on the route today and he might as well just go home. I must say he took this blow with a surprising degree of aplomb and decided to accompany us anyway, perhaps he too was hoping to ride with a certain Hollywood A-lister?

What route-architect Buster had originally planned was a drop down into the Tyne Valley and a trip westward to Corbridge. Apparently road works now meant we’d be turning before entering the confusing maze of one-way streets that form that particular burg, but there’d still be a long portion of the ride heading due west and directly into the full force of the wind.

G-Dawg determined he wouldn’t be heading into the valley as he wasn’t sure he’d make it out on his still gimpy leg. While he said pedalling was easier than walking, he revealed that one of his hardest tasks was unclipping and sometimes he’d found it easier to just pull his foot out of the shoe and leave it dangling from the pedal, while he hopped around barefoot under the quizzical gaze of bemused onlookers.

With the route briefed in, OGL stepped up to deliver a purely inspirational, empathetic speech, ostensibly addressing last weeks unfortunate accident that had grounded Zardoz for the foreseeable future.

Unrelated as they were, he somehow managed to squeeze in all the old tropes we’ve come to expect: how he’d single-handedly saved the club from dissolution, how there was a time when he was the only member, how we never look back when we ride, look out for each other and are always leaving people behind, that it’s a club run not a race, a social event where we should never push, or test ourselves in any way, shape or form, that if you want to ride fast you should put a number on your back and anyway, he’s the only genuine, experienced and accomplished bike racer amongst us and we are all just feckless dilettante’s who’d never amount to anything.

Perhaps he then finally remembered what it was he was meant to be talking about, as he hurriedly concluded that he wasn’t there when the accident occurred last week, but it didn’t matter because he’d checked and Zardoz hadn’t payed his subs, so wasn’t a club member anyway.

With those bright and inspiring words of encouragement ringing in our ears, the first group formed up and I set off with them, only mildly disappointed at the no-show of Mr. Harrison Ford.

I found myself riding alongside young Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, back from university in the far south-west looking older (not surprisingly) but also much bigger. Arrayed around us were the Cow Ranger, Goose, Crazy Legs, Andeven, Spry, Buster, Biden Fecht, the Big Yin and yet another FNG (YAFNG). A decent sized group which felt manageable, yet large enough so the workload of wind-taming could be shared out enough to keep people fresh.

I had a good natter with Jake the Snake about university life and Tour de France predictions (neither of us being able to see past a Slovenian winner, or at all certain that two of Ineos’s main challengers, Geraint Thomas and Ritchie Porte, would make it to Paris without falling over.) We did our stint on the front, battling the headwind, before the route took a southbound turn and we dropped into the Tyne Valley at Wylam.

There I caught up with Biden Fecht, astride his heavy winter-bike after he’d tired to replace the bar tape on his good bike and found a “penny sized hole” through the top of his handlebars. His LBS determined this was most likely caused by excessively long turbo sessions and Biden Fecht’s sweat eating through his alloy bars like Alien blood.

Worse news was to follow though, as checking the bike over had revealed a much less fixable issue, a crack in the carbon fibre of one of the seatstays. Repair or replace, either option sounds like an expensive remedy.

A little further along and the Big Yin rode alongside me and glanced down.

“Hey, did you design the club kit solely to match your shoes?” he demanded. I didn’t, but, truth be damned, I told him I had. Actually the (strictly unofficial) club kit came first and I just happened to find a pair of shoes on sale that were a remarkably good match (as well as being £100 below list price.)

At this point in proceedings the serious climbing began, as we turned to escape the valley, using the bridge at Aydon to vault over the 4 lanes of rushing traffic on the A69.

I found myself climbing alongside Crazy Legs who’d been chatting with the FNG and reported back that he was a Rupert in the British Army.

“That explains why he’s built like a shit-brickhouse,” I gasped, before realising I’d slightly mangled my words (I blame my legs, they were demanding all my blood in order to to climb and depriving my brain of sufficient oxygen to function normally.)

We paused at the top, mainly we could all share in the Big Yin’s complaints …

“There was a hill and at the top there was another hill and then when we got up there, just for a change, there was yet another hill,” he lamented, while Crazy Legs decided Shit-Brickhouse was an apt nickname for the FNG.

Through Matfen and on to Stamfordham, I took to the front again, alongside Buster, while Crazy Legs negotiated a change of route to take in his favourite bit of fast road, through Heugh down to Limestone Lane. The change was agreed on the fly and we burned down this dragstrip at high pace.

A couple of riders attacked off the front and I toiled away for a while to try and close the gap without much success. My legs and lungs were shot by the time a second group charged past in pursuit and I couldn’t latch on, eventually joining a few other stragglers as we pushed our way out to the café at Kirkley.

I joined the winter ride “nutters” (I prefer stalwarts, but each to their own) Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, the Red Max and Taffy Steve at a table in the bright sunshine.

“Did you watch the football last night?” Crazy Legs enquired.

“A bit of the second half,” G-Dawg conceded.

“I saw the highlights,” the Red Max replied.

“Was there football on?” I wondered.

“Italee vorsus Torkee,” Crazy Legs confirmed.

“Italy versus Torquay?” I pondered, “An entire sovereign state against a small town on the south coast of Devon? That doesn’t sound fair.”

Taffy Steve started chuckling, having had a similar conversation with a broad-Geordie work colleague on first moving to the region:

“Where’ve you been on holiday?”

“Tawkee.”

“Ah great, did you visit Babbacombe model village?”

“Nah man, Tawkee. Tawkee, ye’ knaa, Effasiss an aal that.”

This got us started on indecipherable accents with, naturally the dialect of Eshington (Ashington) being a particular favourite, celebrated in this very blerg (blog) and allowing Crazy Legs to tell one of his favourite Eshingtonian (Ashingtonian) jokes.

“Just failed me driving test. I hit a kerb.”

“Ah, man.”

“Aye. And I didn’t even kner it was berb a jerb week.”

We pondered if paying club subs could somehow magically protect you from serious accident, but then remembered OGL’s speed-wobble crash several years ago which had put him out for several months, so that couldn’t be true. To be fair though, in the re-telling, this been constantly embellished, moving from a 30kph accident to one that took place at terrifying speeds approaching 100kph, so perhaps “club immunity” only works if your travelling within the legal speed limit?

We thought that it was probably worth mentioning to non-club members (officially it seems club members are very, very strictly defined as only those who pay their subs, even if they never, ever ride with us, ever) to carry a spare tenner in their back pocket and if they are mortally injured, whip it out, present it to OGL. Then there’ll (probably) be a blinding flash of light, a chorus of heavenly angels will descend and bike and rider will be miraculously restored to pristine condition. Unless of course the accident happened because you were travelling in speeds in excess of 100kph. (Please check the small print. Terms and conditions apply.)

I mentioned my disappointment that Harrison Ford hadn’t tagged along on our ride today.

“Nah, that was never going to happen,” the Red Max informed me, “Not a club member.”

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve imagined the bragging and points scoring that a Han Solo appearance on a club run might invoke, adopting his best caricature of OGL’s voice and his penchant for exaggeration to declare,

“So what, I made the Kessel run in only 10 parsecs.”

Time to go and we rolled out and formed up in a sizable group. Dropping down the other side of Berwick Hill, Cowin’ Bovril pulled up alongside me and looked down.

“Did you deliberately buy shoes to match your jersey?” he wondered.

I looked at him in astonishment.

“Wait! What? Doesn’t everyone?”

Passing through the Mad Mile, while G-Dawg and Spoons disappeared to the left I swung right, almost immediately finding myself backed up into a long, long line of barely moving traffic outside the rugby stadium. My rambling peregrinations through the housing estates of Kingston Park to try and avoid this backed-up traffic would eventually reveal that the main road was closed (apparently for repair work on the Metro).

I ended up backtracking almost all the way to our meeting point, reversing the route in that I usually take in the morning and, while I didn’t feel the diversion added too much to my trip, I was approaching 80 miles by the time I made it home.

Still, I have plenty of time to recover as I’m not out next Saturday, so roll on July.


Riding Distance:126km/78 miles with 1,089m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 55 minutes
Average Speed:25.6 km/h
Group Size:10
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Not brilliant, not bad
Year to Date:2,150km/1,336 miles with 23,231m of climbing
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#64 – Blood on the Tracks

Plague Diaries Week#64 – Blood on the Tracks

Another warm, dry sunny Saturday beckoned and things were going well as I made my way across to the meeting point, until I got caught behind a bus at traffic lights on a steep hill and was forced to stop and unclip. An uphill standing start is always slightly tricky and this was no exception.

As the bus chugged, lurched and then lumbered forward, I pushed off with my left leg, forced the right hand pedal forcibly downward and, using the slight momentum gained, tried to clip in with my left foot before the bike toppled over. My foot skated across the top of the pedal, failing to engage and slipped off, with the pedal scoring a ragged line up and then down my calf as it spun. That stung. I stopped. Tried again and this time managed to get going, passing through the lights and heading downhill.

As I freewheeled away I looked down to inspect the damage. The edge of the pedal had scored a deep line through my calf leaving a strange looking A-shaped wound in my leg. Even as I watched fat beads of bright blood were forming and dropping behind me and I imagined them bursting like star shells as they hit the tarmac below my wheels.

I figured that if I somehow died of exsanguination even the technical wizardry and combined brain-power of the CSI teams in Miami, New York and L.A. would struggle to identify the cause of the injury, a Look Keo Classic 3 pedal, which apparently comes with its very own razor sharp edges which need filing smooth.

Luckily I didn’t die, the blood flow dried quickly into an unsightly, crusty scab and I made the meeting point without further mishap.

There I had a chat with Caracol, before he disappeared with the other mob, the oppressed, and he predicted there’d be a bumper crowd out today as the weather was so pleasant. He speculated even Szell might be coaxed out of hibernation and the next, obvious question was if Middleton Bank was part of our planned route.

No sooner had Caracol departed with the JPF, than Szell did indeed make an appearance and we had a brief chat about sartorial style and cycling kit, although he claimed that as a drummer he was allowed a certain latitude. I knew scientists had discovered the motor areas of drummers brains are organised more efficiently, but this was the first I’d heard of them getting a pass in terms of dress sense. Still, the contempt for bassists in their “collar, tie and V-necked knitwear” seemed very real. Perhaps band members are an even stranger sub-group than club cyclists?

Is that possible?

Naturally, Szell’s presence implied we would be traversing his personal bête noire, Middleton Bank sometime today and we questioned route planner Aether to discover that this was indeed the case.

“Bring it on!” Szell declared, undeterred, declaring he knew it would be on the route and that’s why he’d turned up today of all days.

Our new girl turned up on a new bike and instantly deflated some of Szell’s bravado. She was already too fast and fit by his reckoning and any thoughts she’d bought a super-heavy clunker and would actually be slower, quickly evaporated when she declared how pleased she was with her new bike and how easy it was to ride.

We decided we didn’t need to travel strictly in groups of 6 anymore (which is probably just as well based on the last few weeks) and after the usual hesitation, persuasion, and evasion we did manage to get the first group out and on the road. I joined up with Captain Black, Crazy Legs, Zardoz, an FNG, Andeven, Not Anthony, and Wallis as we got underway.

On the front with Crazy Legs through Dinnington, he amended the “all the gear, no idea” idiom to “all the gear, half an idea” to apply to a couple of bicyclists ahead of us and, as we caught and passed them, he cheerfully invited them to tag onto the back of our group for a tow.

Half way up a hill we passed a council workman using a strimmer to cut back the road verge and I instantly ended up with The Lion Sleeps Tonight as an unfortunate ear-worm for the rest of the day. Well, it was an obvious connection to my addled senses anyway.

In a world turned upside down, Zardoz did another turn on the front! What is going on? Having completed his stint on the front, dropped past me to the very back of the group as we approached Dyke Neuk. We’d lost the “all the gear” group on the first hill, but somewhere along the way had picked up another passenger who Zardoz recognised and they were chatting happily away.

Then as we pushed our way through Scots Gap, Zardoz appeared alongside me that his usual mischievous glint in his eye.

“Do you know which café we’re going to today?” he asked.

I didn’t, but, “Well, I know we’re taking in Middleton Bank, so I would assume the café at Belsay.”

“Ah, good,” he replied, “It’s just so I can plan my attack!”

Through Scots Gap and on to Cambo, as we started the long descent towards Wallington I dropped behind, intent on not pedalling if I didn’t have to, while the others raced on ahead. Over the vicious rumble strips, we took a sharp left and as I joined onto the back of the group, we pushed on at a fair clip toward the bottom of Middleton Bank.

We were spread across the full width of the open road and I was just behind and on the left of Zardoz as he took a drink and bent low to push his bottle back into the cage at the same time as he ran his front wheel through a rather shallow and innocuous looking pothole. For the briefest of moments he was impossibly balanced, bent low, head and shoulder pushed under his top tube, then gravity took over and he slammed down, going under his wheels as the bike flipped and arced overhead.

Fuck! That was a bad one.

I dropped my bike onto the verge and went running back to find a badly scuffed up Zardoz, shaken and in obvious pain, the back of his jersey ripped to shreds and blood pooling from a deep gash on his right arm. We slowly got him sat up, but it was obvious serious damage had been done and he wasn’t riding any further.

As some of the more medically qualified checked him out, Crazy Legs put his natural volubility to good use firing off a whole series of questions to try and determine if Zardoz had suffered any form of concussion. Luckily, the mind was willing, even if the body was weak.

I checked on the bike, which, apart from a shipped chain looked wholly undamaged, cushioned largely by its owners body as they both hit the deck.

Assured Zardoz was badly damaged, but largely intact, we tried calling for an ambulance, only to find that in the deep folds of land in the Wansbeck Valley there was no phone signal. Andeven determined he would climb out of the valley to get a phone signal and instead of relying on a stressed NHS service, he would lean on his good wife to provide transport to the hospital for bike and fallen rider.

As we waited, we were joined by other club members as our following groups caught up and we were passed by a whole host of other cyclists, with each and everyone stopping to enquire if they could help, one even donating an emergency space blanket to the cause. Sadly, this concern was not mirrored by others, with one White Van Man evidently furious at having to drop his speed below that of the national speed limit. He bustled past us, swearing and gesticulating furiously. Sadly he didn’t stop to discuss his issues any further.

After a long pause, Zardoz slowly levered himself to his feet, but looked pale and unsteady and we finally persuaded him to wander down the road a little, to where a neatly trimmed grass verge bordered the high walls of some no doubt posh residence. This seemed a more comfortable place to sit and wait and he he lowered his battered body down onto the grass, sitting back to back with Aether providing support.

We’d done everything we could, so got the rest of the club moving again. I hung back with Aether, Captain Black and Crazy Legs to wait for the arrival of Andeven and the cavalry.

As we sat and stood quietly around a car pulled up at an entrance cut into the high wall and a woman clambered out to open the gate, pausing to flash us the evil-stink eye on the way. She opened the gate and returned.

“That’s private property, you know,” she declared icily, in an unfriendly, how dare-you and get-orf-my-and kind of way.

Oh shit, one of them.

What did she think we were doing, having a picnic? We explained that there’d been an accident and the person trespassing on her land was seriously injured and not really capable of moving far. She huffed and disappeared, returning a minute or so later to begrudgingly enquire if we needed to call for an ambulance. We told her it was all in hand and she left with the admonishment that we picked up any litter behind us. Ah, the milk of human kindness.

Sadly, I didn’t think there was much we could do about the bloodstains on her carefully manicured grass. Still, I’m sure it’ll wash out.

We passed the time with a sweepstake to guess the time Andeven’s wife might arrive and a contest to guess what car she would be in. Sadly I was well wide of the mark with my suggestion of a Bentley, but Captain Black was spot on guessing both make, model and even the exact colour of our rescue transport.

We loaded Zardoz in the car and his bike in the back for transport to the nearest Emergency Department and thanked Andeven’s wife for giving up her Saturday morning to help a bunch of raggedy-ass cyclists. Zardoz gave us the royal wave as he was carted off, news filtering back that evening that he was fine and enjoying the pain meds, but had a broken collar, cracked rib and multiple cuts and contusions.

The rest of us regathered and made our belated way to the café , with Crazy Legs guessing there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for the café sprint today. Still, at least we dodged the queues.

We heard that it was OGL who had condemned the new girl’s old bike, in Captain Black’s words, “Apparently he said the only thing worth saving was the saddle and even that probably wasn’t worth saving.” This we decided was his modus operandi, he never seemed to just fix the specific problem you took the bike in for in the first place, but would assess every single component. I don’t know if that’s good or bad practice?

Once we were seated, Not Anthony returned Aether’s pump that he’d borrowed out on the road to combat a slowly deflating tyre and then ridden away with. He then returned to borrow it again before we left. I could have told him he was only delaying the inevitable and his best option was have done with it and replace the tube. But he didn’t ask.

Suggesting he needed to borrow Aether’s pump and was riding without the means to fix a simple puncture gains him automatic entry into our Hall of Shame. Crazy Legs remembered how one of our former club members, Arnold, had broken his pump one week, which seemed timely as it was close to his birthday, so he’d asked his missus for a new one. The following Saturday he punctured again and had to beg the lend of a pump because his actual birthday wasn’t until the Sunday, so he wasn’t allowed his present before then. Not that we ever brought this up again, you understand.

I wondered if Crazy Legs had lent him the molto piccolo on that occasion, a fantastically crafted pump, so small it could slip comfortably into a watch pocket, but also so ineffectual it took over a 1,000 strokes to just to make a tyre rideable.

Crazy Legs then speculated that if pumps made a noise then the molto piccolo would probably sound like Warren Barguil throwing a strop after ingesting helium, or a noise that would be pitched so high it would only be audible to dogs. Perhaps they are one and the same thing?

I thought if pumps made a noise it should be like a swanee whistle, but this was too simplistic for Crazy Legs, who wondered if the pumps used by Colombians shouldn’t sound like Inca pan pipes and a Yorkshiremen’s should sound like a brass band.

Moving from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, past British tour winners became a topic for discussion, with Chris Froome engendering a collective, No Shit Sherlock moment with his assertion earlier in the week that he wasn’t going to win the 2021 Tour de France. There was also a healthy dose of opprobrium heaped on both Bradley Wiggins’s appearance and his less than insightful… err… insight on the Eurosport pundits couch. If we had any Sir Brad fans in attendance they were keeping a very, very low profile.

It was good to see G-Dawg put in an appearance in the café and even better to learn he’d ridden there, a mere 6 weeks after breaking his leg. Apparently the doctor had given him the all clear to ride again on Friday, so he’d promptly gone home, got on his bike and gone out. This was his second ride in two days. I expect he’ll keep riding every day now until he makes up for all the time he’s lost.

With G-Dawg in tow we set off for home, passing Not Anthony in one of the lanes alongside some other cyclist he’d corralled into lending him a pump and working to finally replace his leaky tube.

I had a chat with G-Dawg, comfortable with the pace, although he said standing on the pedals to climb still caused a bit of discomfort. His biggest issue was the imbalance in strength between his two legs now, the damaged one having been idle for so long, while the undamaged one had been doing the work of two and so had actually gotten stronger.

“Ah well,” I told him cheerfully, “It’ll be good if you ever need to ride around in a circle.”

We parted at the end of the Mad Mile. “See you next week,” G-Dawg waved cheerily.

So, one back as another goes in for rehab and convalescence. Upwards and onwards.


Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 972m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:25.3 km/h
Group Size:8 with 1 FNG
Temperature:10 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Fine
Year to Date:2,024km/1,258 miles with 22,142m of climbing
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

The sun was being a bit coy early on Saturday morning, hiding behind a veil of cool mist that kept the temperatures down, nonetheless, the few days before had been pleasantly warm and the forecast was for this to continue, with even the shocking possibility of direct sunshine at some point. It was, finally, finally warm enough to tempt me to join those ironmen who seem to have been regularly venturing out in shorts since March.

I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs already in place, but wearing civvies and being chaperoned by a small, four-legged companion. Since he wasn’t wearing cycling gear, or even chaps and his companion, Reggie, wasn’t saddled up, I used my remarkable deductive powers to reason that he probably wasn’t riding today. Naturally I felt compelled to state the bleedin’ obvious anyway.

“Not riding today, then?”

“Hmm, what gave it away?”

It transpired that Crazy Legs was needed elsewhere, having received a last minute request from his daughter to help her move house. Since he’d planned today’s route though, he’d turned up to brief it in to anyone who wanted to stick to the plan – naturally we’re all sticklers to the plan, so by default that was everybody.

One after another, more riders rolled in, each and every one giving Crazy Legs the once-over, before …

“Not riding today, then?”

When enough had gathered, Crazy Legs outlined his chosen route, out through Darras to Stamfordham, before dropping down the Ryals, looping around Hallington Reservoir then heading home. This he explained would put us within easy striking distance of all three of our usual café stops, Capheaton, Belsay or Kirkley, so we could take our pick, or even visit them all! Great for personal choice, but a bit harsh on G-Dawg who is still recovering from his broken leg, but had been showing up at the coffee stops every Saturday to try and live the rides vicariously. Now he’d be playing a kind of Russian Roulette with cafés and with only a 1 in 3 chance of success.

There was only time then for OGL to condemn the stacked spacers above my stem as a clear and present danger to my manhood and idly wonder if I’d heard the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a similar set-up while riding a track meet at Gateshead Stadium. Trust me, I have.

We got our first group underway, well almost, as once again we had just 4 riders pushing off, so we waited a bit at the traffic lights for other volunteers. Then we overshot the mark when 4 became 8 and, just as we were pondering what to do, that 8 became 12. At that point the lights turned green and so we decided to push on before the 12 had a chance to become 18.

James III and Not Anthony led us out and I followed second-wheel alongside Zardoz, uncertain who the other 8 riders were, other than the fact I could clearly (obviously) hear Goose honking and braying behind. The order of things stayed that way until we hit the roundabout outside the airport, when traffic broke the group up and we darted across in ones and two’s.

We partially reformed, but seemed to have left 3 or 4 riders behind and they never caught up. I found myself leading alongside Zardoz as we swung left and the road started to rise slowly on our passage through Darras Hall.

I enjoyed what my old English teacher would have defined as a pregnant pause, leading the group in companionable silence for a short while, before I turned to Zardoz.

“Well,” I said, “This is a rare and momentous day. One that I never thought I’d see.”

“Hmm?”

“You on the front of a group.”

He looked around, mock horror written across his face.

“I wish you hadn’t said that, I hadn’t noticed till you drew attention to it.”

I glanced across. “Don’t worry, no sign of a nose bleed. Yet.”

Zardoz then began to wonder if Taffy Steve was in the group. “I hope so, he’ll never believe this otherwise.”

I did a quick check back. Lined out behind us were Goose and Captain Black, Mini Miss and Wallis and then our early leaders, James III and Not Anthony. So, no Taffy Steve then, but plenty of witnesses.

Somewhere en route the sun finally broke through for good and things began to warm up nicely. Just before Stamfordham, I suggested we’d done a fair turn and we should swing over and let the rest through. Strangely, Zardoz didn’t argue and so we pulled over and waved Goose and Captain Black through and dropped to the back.

From there we made our way out to the Ryals, for a fast, strung out and bumpy descent, then we kept heading west, until we hit the A68, bounced north, before finally angling eastward to pass around Hallington Reservoir. Somewhere along the way I shed my arm warmers as the weather had turned seriously hot and sunny. Beside me Zardoz lamented that even his formidable bike handling skills weren’t enough to allow him to safely remove a long-sleeved baselayer on the fly.

Not Anthony endured a wholly unprovoked, dangerously close punishment pass from an ass-hat driver and then we began climbing again, through Little Bavington and toward Capheaton. I was working on the front when Zardoz slotted in alongside me. I would have raised the proverbial eyebrow, but didn’t get the chance, as he took one sniff of the air, caught the slightest hint of a headwind and disappeared backwards again. Normal service had been resumed.

Having more or less confirmed on the fly an earlier decision to stop at the Belsay café, we then had the usual fast club run down to the Snake Bends and traditional café sprint, enlivened by James III channelling his inner Red Max and going for it from waaaaay too far out.

At the café and having forgotten my facemask, I followed Goose’s lead in threading an arm warmer through my helmet straps for a bit of impromptu, but surprisingly effective facial protection. Meanwhile, Zardoz started to strip in order to remove his pesky baselayer, much to the consternation of all the little old ladies in the queue, one of who almost had a stroke, but she couldn’t quite reach. Ba dum tss!

Masked, dressed and served, we picked our way into the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake and the rather glorious sunshine.

“Is that one of those revolving helmets?” Zardoz asked me. At first I was a bit bemused by the question and wondered if somehow I’d been caught doing a full 360-degree Exorcist head spin, but we finally realised he was talking about a MIPS system.

“No,” I replied, “It’s just big and ugly.”

“Like his head,” Captain Black helpfully supplied.

Try as we might, none of us could then work out what MIPS actually stood for (it’s Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, apparently, I guess MDIPS isn’t as marketable) although I could remember SIPS from long ago and wondered if they were still a feature of Volvo cars.

“Yes, they are,” Goose confirmed, revealing himself to be a rather avid Volvo acolyte, something I should have guessed, as the image fits him perfectly. Bet he smokes a pipe too.

Further revelations ensued when Goose told us about his recent new adventures, when he stripped his rear wheel down to service the freehub springs and pawls and somehow managed the rebuild it again, surprisingly without too many parts left over.

“That’s appawling,” Zardoz noted.

Then, Goose related how Alhambra had snapped the steerer tube, fork crown, or stem of his winter bike. Goose knew exactly which bit had failed, he just couldn’t describe it, but reassured us that although Ahlambra had gone over the handlebars, he hadn’t hurt himself.

This prompted an intervention from OGL at the next table who gave us a long lecture about the importance of applying the correct amount of Newton-Metres to bike components and always using a good torque wrench.

“He can torque,” Zardoz noted.

The lecture turned into a practical demonstration as OGL grabbed Mini Miss’s bike and told us how people even over-tighten the quick release skewers, before flicking at one of hers and disappointingly finding it took only minimal effort to release.

My mind zoned out for a bit, then came crashing back.

“Please tell me he hasn’t just started talking about cock-rings?” I asked the table in some distress.

“No, no, lock rings,” they assured me, “El-Oh-Cee-Kay. Lock rings.”

Oh, thank goodness for that.

As pleasant as it was sitting in the garden, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and I found myself travelling at the back of the group with Goose, talking about new bikes and his half-formed plans to have his existing, 10-year old Boardman stripped and re-sprayed. He didn’t seem to have a particular colour in mind (I highly suspect it will end up black) but he had given considerable thought to some alternative branding and decided he’d like to slap Volvo stickers on it once complete. Now, if anyone else had suggested such a thing I’d have guessed they were just being ironic…

Rab-D attacked up Berwick Hill and I gave chase, dragging the rest of the pack behind me. James III took over the front on the road to Dinnington, but on the sharp climb Rab-D attacked again and this time Goose responded. The increase in pace pulled everyone past James III who was left trailing and railing against us, “Really? Was I really going that slow?”

Into the Mad Mile and heading homeward, I was thoroughly enjoying the glorious sunshine now, not appreciating that I was making a good start cultivating those ridiculous cyclist tan lines, even if they would be temporarily etched in red, sore skin. I didn’t even realise it had been that hot out. Must remember the sun cream next week.


Riding Distance:114km/70 miles with 1,0756m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed:25.9 km/h
Group Size:8
Temperature:12 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect
Year to Date:1,794km/1,115 miles with 19,226m of climbing
Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#62 – Gang of Four

Plague Diaries Week#62 – Gang of Four

With the UK on track for the wettest May on record, Saturday looked intent on adding to total rainfall with a wet and windy start, despite the BBC weather app assuring me it would be overcast, but largely dry. So rain jacket on, overshoes on, I surfed down the Heinous Hill, just going with the flow of surface water.

The highlight of my journey came just a few miles in, when I spotted a huge of pile of silver balloons discarded by the side of the road in Blaydon, like a bunch of giant metallic grapes, or the droppings of monstrous android sheep. (Do cyclists dream of electric sheep?) I thought this sighting was quite remarkable, that is until I passed a similar pile of balloons, but this time golden ones (Gosforth being, you know, posher than Blaydon) near the end of my journey in Ashburton. Odd.

The only other incident of note was a driver undertaking a car waiting to turn right by barging into a designated bike lane, regardless of the fact it was clearly occupied by a bike and rider. I don’t know, drivers complain when we ignore the bike lanes, then they too ignore them as soon as it suits their purpose and means avoiding being held up for a nano-second. Personally, I think you’re generally better off ignoring that cycling lanes are there and riding as defensively as you would on any normal road.

At the meeting point and ducking under the shelter of the multi-storey car park, I found the JPF gathering before heading out on a long and hilly route planned by Plumose Pappus. Their route-designer himself was already there, peering up at the uncertain weather, before hopefully declaring, “There’s light there!”

“Yes,” I pointed out, “But you’re heading in the other direction.”

“To be fair, there’s light everywhere,” the Hammer interjected, “But, if there’s light everywhere, it also means there’s darkness everywhere too.” Then, such are the major, pressing concerns of club cyclists the world over, we started a philosophical debate following the Hammer’s assertion that if everything is blue, then nothing is blue. We were saved from disappearing into this conjectural rabbit-hole by the sudden appearance of the BFG, who had an urgent need to graphically readjust his genitalia, while warning such incidents were absolutely not suitable for inclusion in random blerg meanderings.

The deficiencies of the BBC Weather app were discussed, with Richard Rex providing the definitive statement, that it was “Crap, because it was outsourced to the lowest bidder, a French company with no connection whatsoever to the Met Office.”

We imagined some disinterested Frenchman, sitting in the Vendée, or somewhere, occasionally glancing out the window before updating the app for North East England: “Il ne pleut pas.” It would explain a lot.

Once the JPF were clear, we set about forming our own sub-groups and I joined the first of these as we pushed out with just 3 others, Caracol, TripleD-Be and Richard Rex. Luckily, the rain seemed to have eased, so I was able to shuck the jacket before departure.

With just the 4 of us it there wasn’t much of a reprieve a rather pesky and persistent headwind, even once you’d slipped off the front. As if just four riders wasn’t bad enough, it was actually more like 3½, as Richard Rex noted ruefully that riding behind TripleD-Be didn’t provide a whole lot of shelter anyway. Nevertheless we seemed to be travelling at a consistently fast pace – one that would get me home early, which was great for watching the Giro take on the might Monte Zoncolan, but would take me two days to recover from.

With TripleD-El having ventured out with the JPF, TripleD-Be explained that after months in lockdown, it was occasionally refreshing not to have to ride together, before turning his attention to Strava segments and excoriating whoever named the stretch through Dinnington as “Terrific Tarmac.” This, he felt was disgracefully false advertising, as the road surface was just as crappy, cracked and pot-holed as most of the roads in Northumberland. I though could remember how bad the road was previously and the completely spontaneous cheer that erupted from our group the first time our tyres kissed the new surface. It might not be Terrific Tarmac now, but compared to the past? Chalk and cheese, mate. Silk and sandpaper. Pebbledash and plaster. You get the picture.

At one stage in our ride I was momentarily distracted from the distress of having to ride uphill at a high cadence, by the racket of two cackling crows ganging up to strafe and harass a much larger, bird of prey, possibly a buzzard, as they chased it out of their territory. Feisty little buggers.

The route up to Rothley crossroads is one that Caracol and I recalled as being a regular fixture on our routes pre-pandemic. Good to learn that it’s still just as horrible now as it was back then, a slow grinding drag over a heavy, broken surface. Even worse for Richard Rex who said it had formed part of his most recent time-trial. That had to hurt.

Then we were through Cambo heading downhill fast past Wallington before hauling on the anchors to try and negotiate the badly worn, but still vicious rumble-strips on the approach to the single lane bridge over the River Wansbeck.

We counted the cars coming down the hill before they dipped out of sight and when four came down, but only three re-appeared, we pulled over to the side of the bridge to let the last one through. We then had a blind, Mexican stand-off as the driver had pulled over to let us cross first, but we couldn’t see him. After an awkward pause, I allowed Caracol to tentatively approach the crest of the bridges humped-back to see what was going on (reasoning he was the most expendable) and only followed once he’d made sure it was safe.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, back out the valley and then a few miles further on rattling over a badly broken surface down to the café at Capheaton.

Another foursome composed of Rab D, Aether, Zardoz and a Chinese FNG had already beaten us there, having taken a slightly different route and they were encamped in the garden with, almost by instinct, Zardoz tucked into a corner of the building and in the space most sheltered from the wind.

I have to say the cakes at Capheaton are the best of all the cafés we frequent and this weeks dark, dusted and dense, chocolate and espresso torte didn’t disappoint.

The others pulled on jackets and gilets, while we sat around, discussing the eternal problem of getting layering just right, with all the options, long or short sleeved jerseys and base layers, full length or three-quarter bibtights, overshoes, arm, leg and knee warmers, jackets and gilets. TripleD-Be expounded the universal truth of cycling: that instead of making things easier when you have different combinations for different weather conditions, the more clothing options you have, the harder the choice of what to wear actually becomes. Amen to that.

As other groups started to come in we started packing to leave, clearing space for the others to grab a seat, but more importantly because we were getting chilled sitting out in the wind and needed to get moving again. Then we were off again, still at the same fast-pace, as we drove all the way through to Ponteland and I swung right over the river while the others pressed on, glad to be able to take the last few miles home at a more sedate pace.


Riding Distance:111km/69 miles with 1,127m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 34 minutes
Average Speed:24.3km/h
Group Size:4
Temperature:6 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Chill
Year to date:1,660km/1,031 miles with 17,908 metres of climbing
Photo by Roman Pohorecki on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#61 – Sixes and Sevens

Plague Diaries Week#61 – Sixes and Sevens

A better day all round, cool but never cold and while mostly grey, the clouds had the good manners to hold back any actual rain. It would do, it was a far cry from last weeks meteorological thrashing and dry enough even for a white bike too, a decision which was vindicated when Crazy Legs arrived on the much cossetted Ribble.

It was also a day for the animals to show off their strange local, migratory patterns, a grey squirrel being the first to wander idly across my path, followed by cat, a hare and a weasel. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, like some kind of grim prey-predator processional, but interspersed throughout the ride. All were welcome sights, but the same can’t be said for the stupid, suicidal pheasants, who’d obviously got bored waiting for cars on some of the quieter lanes in Northumberland and so seemed intent on committing seppuku by bicycle instead. That’ll get your adrenaline flowing every time.

Maybe I’m getting a bit faster, as yet again I was the earliest arrival at the meeting point and, indeed in time to catch the insurrectionists of the JPF gather before embarking on a cross-river pilgrimage to Slaley. The exotic spoils on the far side of the Tyne were even enough to tempt a few of our regulars to follow too, with Jimmy Mac, the Ticker and Biden Fecht hitching their wagons to the southbound train.

They disappeared up the road in one large, swarming group, but without Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, who arrived moments later having just missed the caboose. We encouraged them to give chase, thinking it would be an easy task for them to catch up (I wouldn’t even have tired), They umhed and they aahed briefly, before deciding to give it a go and then the chase was on.

Our numbers were growing and starting to spread across the pavement when Crazy Legs glanced up, saw an inbound OGL and (purely coincidentally, I hasten to add) determined we had enough people to get a first group out and away. We bumped down the kerb and were off, our group of six morphing into seven when Buster joined, declaring he had to be home early, wasn’t doing the full ride and therefore he didn’t really count against our numbers. Okay, 6½ then. I pushed onto the front with Crazy Legs and we led out the rest, Buster, Aether, the Big Yin, James III and a recurring FNG.

The first thing we passed of note was Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, pulled to the side of the rode and working furiously to repair a puncture that had seriously derailed their spirited pursuit within only a couple of hundred metres of its start. Even they were going to struggle to catch up with that southbound train now.

I learned that Crazy Legs had abandoned his holiday plans last week because one of the family came down with a bad case of kennel cough, and so he’d been out suffering in the rain with everyone else last Saturday. He concluded it was one of the worst experiences he’d had on a bike. (Still, I’m sure G-Dawg would agree, probably better than not going out at all, though.) Crazy Legs was also at pains to absolve himself of any wrongdoing with regard to the unfortunate Bumping Uglies incident with Aether a few weeks ago, swearing blind it wasn’t his brain fart that caused their moment of unexpected intimacy.

At the top of Bell’s Hill we paused for Buster and James III who needed an impromptu pee stop , evoking memories of the Prof and his unfeasibly small bladder. Crazy Legs then managed to embroil us in his travails with anomic aphasia by demanding to know if could think of any famous Dave’s from Cumbria. We all drew a blank, my suggestion that Melvyn Bragg’s middle name may have been David getting short shrift. In reality, we actually found it difficult to name any famous Cumbrian’s at all, and even Google could only suggest a less than stellar cast (ymmv, of course) consisting of Stan Laurel, Beatrix Potter, Ken Russell and William Wordsworth. Oh, and Postman Pat.

Crazy Legs then explained that he’d been calling the recurring FNG “Steve from Teesside” only to discover he’s actually called Dave and from Cumbria. Crazy Legs now felt he needed a handy mnemonic to help remember the right name, hence the odd request. I explained to the others that he did have form in this area, having confessed to asking Caracol multiple times what his name was until, on about the dozenth occasion, he was told it was “still Nick.” He then told us how Eric became “Not Anthony” after a bad case of mistaken identity. Crazy Legs then went on to suggest that the latter mistake was fully under control now, thanks to his uncle having lived the past 3-years with an adopted raven that just happened to be called Eric.

The Big Yin looked on, mouth agape, bewildered. “Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming this?” he asked no one in particular, “It’s so surreal, it must be a dream.”

Off we went again, still searching for famous Cumbrian’s called Dave and threading our way through multiple fields of violently-bright, painfully-yellow, flowering rape-seed that made me grateful I was wearing polarized lenses. I wonder what Wordsworth would have made of it, I mean this was someone who seemed totally overwhelmed by just a few paltry daffodils after all.

Up the slippery slope of the Mur du Mitford, we then took the route that Buster had proposed for his Altered Carbon ride, replete with the new stretches of silky smooth tarmac that had him so aroused. Strangely, at this point he abandoned us to head for home, driven, I suspect by a simple desire not to bespoil another pair of shorts.

At the last minute the Big Yin decided to “go with” and they both zigged while the rest of us zagged, then, just like that our group was down to just 5. The new tarmac down to Netherwhitton was undoubtedly lush, but there was a hell a lot of climbing to get to it and I was beginning to feel heavy-legged even before we had to scale the Trench.

Crazy Legs patiently explained to Dave-Steve, the FNG that there was a junction at the top of the Trench, the first left hand turn, where we’d all stop to regroup before following the road through to Dyke Neuk. With that, we began to climb, passing a bloke toiling upwards on a time-trial bike with an audibly rubbing brake. “As if this hill isn’t hard enough already,” I told him while he glowered at me for having the temerity to ride without any additional handicaps.

Nearing the top Dave-Steve put in a dig and gained one or two metres on Crazy Legs … and then just kept going, riding straight past the turn we needed to take. Crazy Legs and James III bellowed after him to stop (I didn’t have the breath to join in) but all to no avail and we watched Dave-Steve sail on, blissfully unaware, round the corner and disappear from sight, without once looking back.

We waited a good 5 minutes or so to see if he’d re-appear, while I queried if the Scottish border was closed, otherwise their was a danger he might just keep going. Dave-Steve had truly disappeared though, with no hint of a return and our 5 became 4. Off we went in our reduced numbers, passing through Ogle to take the seldom travelled route through Shilvington – still a novelty to me and adding a little extra distance to our ride To be honest though, I was already approaching 50 miles for the day, so didn’t feel it was strictly necessary, especially as we laboured up what Crazy Legs insisted was a false flat, but which looked (and felt) disconcertingly like a hill to me.

Still, it wasn’t long before we were turning into the café at Kirkley, utterly astonished by our good fortune to find … dan-dan-dah … no queue! We only just made it though as our other groups started to pile in shortly afterwards, having decided the Shilvington loop was a novelty they were happy to take a pass on.

I grabbed a bench and was joined by a bunch from one of the other groups, Captain Black, TripleD-El, Princess Fiona Mini Miss, Cowboys and Zardoz, the latter two causing a stir of slapstick confusion around the rightful ownership of a cheese scone. Cowboy’s fact of possession gave him nine-tenths of an advantage (ably reinforced by the fact that he’d already ingested half of the disputed baked good before its provenance became contentious).

Luckily all was resolved happily when a second scone finally appeared, but the incident seemed to have revealed a slight flaw in the café’s delivery system, with Zardoz confessing to once having picked up his freshly brewed cappuccino and downing half of it before he realised he was drinking someone else’s hot chocolate.

Chatting with TripleD-El, we learned that she hadn’t been able to return to the moederland since the start of the year, but was hoping to get back in the next couple of months. She was immeasurably happier with the news that Tom Dumoulin had announced a return to racing, as she felt he was the Netherland’s only legitimate shot at a medal in the men’s Olympic road cycling (unlike the women’s events, where they’ll probably fill all 3 medal places.) I confessed I didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Greg Van Avermaet, so I could finally see the back of the tacky, tawdry gold helmet that has long overstayed its welcome. (It’s not that I have anything against Greg personally, I felt much the same way about Sammy Sánchez’s gold-themed Orbea and that I didn’t even have to suffer for 6 interminable years.)

TripleD-El went on to say how much she liked our new “not club” orange gilets. “Of course you do,” Zardoz chuckled, “Your Dutch, you’re predisposed to like anything orange.”

Talk turned to the possibility of larger ride groups, once lockdown rules are relaxed next week, when up to 30 are allowed to meet outdoors. While British Cycling had recommended a limit of 15 per ride during lockdown, we’d tried to keep more or less to 6 per group. Now, while no one could se a return to mass roll-out’s of 30 plus, the flexibility of being able to form into 6’s, or 8’s or 10’s will provide a little more welcome flexibility. Zardoz’s eyes lit up at the prospect of larger groups, as even the master of stealth has been finding it a little bit harder to avoid turns on the front in the smaller groups.

As if to put the theory to test, a large group of us left the café en masse to ride home together, with Zardoz safely tucked in, out of the wind amongst the wheels at the back. It looked like we were breaking the Rule of Six early, but we were (probably) still within the confines of British Cycling’s 15 man maximum. I don’t know if it was the novelty of seeing so many cyclists together after so long a time, or maybe some form of subtle intimidation by numbers, but unusually the cars along the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill all seemed happy to pull over so we could slide past.

As we started the climb pushed onto the front alongside Crazy Legs and lifted the pace a little. We were hoping for a rest on the subsequent downhill, but found ourselves riding into a strong headwind and had to keep pushing hard to maintain the speed, relinquishing the front as soon as we turned off toward Dinnington.

Mini Miss and Princess Fiona took over and kept the pace high, even increasing it and slapping on their game faces as they pulled everyone up to and past a lone female cyclists.

Past the airport, into the Mad Mile, the sun started to make itself felt and I was looking forward to a pleasant ride back across the river. Passing over the bridge I was surprised to find Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger approaching from the other direction. Not only had they lost the other group, it seems like they’d managed to lose themselves too.


Ride Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,140m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:7,5,4,14
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Comfortable
Year to date:1,519km/944 miles with 16,095m of climbing
Photo by Kostiantyn Stupak on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#60 – Fish-Tickling, Arse-Foaming, Rain-Sodden, Bone-Chilling Purgatory

Plague Diaries Week#60 – Fish-Tickling, Arse-Foaming, Rain-Sodden, Bone-Chilling Purgatory

Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.

Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.

Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)

We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.

As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.

We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.

That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …

Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.

We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.

Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.

I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.

“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”

Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.

“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”

“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.

“Probably not,” I replied.

Probably?

Probably not?

What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.

Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.

From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.

I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.

I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.

Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.

The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.

Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?


Ride Distance:91km/56 miles with 962m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:6
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Purgatory
Year to date:1,387km/862 miles with 14,700m of climbing
Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#59 – Bumping Uglies

Plague Diaries Week#59 – Bumping Uglies

Saturday found me up and out early for, barring catastrophic bike failure, an early rendezvous with Crazy Legs to hand over his new long-sleeved jersey. This item was rolled into a tight cylinder and stuck into a jersey pocket, taking up so much room that I couldn’t fit a light rain jacket in there too, so decided just to wear it for the ride across to the meeting point. As soon as started to pick up momentum, running down the Heinous Hill, I was glad I had the jacket on, it was much, much colder than it had first appeared and I shivered my way to the bottom.

I made it to the rendezvous with time to spare and perched my backside on the wall, soaking in some early morning sun that, in the microclimate of the Regent Centre Bus Station (sorry) Transport Interchange, at least managed to take the edge off the chill.

Being there early for ulterior motives, both Crazy Legs and I had the pleasure of once again meeting up with our lost brethren of the new splinter cell, the Judean People’s Front, as I think they want to be known. Only half a dozen strong this week and conspicuously sans the Prof.

Crazy Legs referenced a previous splinter cell, the Early Morning Crew, or Ee-Em-Cee and suggested the new rebels could do a lot worse than calling themselves EMC2. I laughed, but they weren’t buying. Oh well, at least it gave me an agreeable Big Audio Dynamite earworm for the rest of the ride.

We then had a bit of an issue explaining to an old new guy, or maybe he was a new old guy? Perhaps a bit of both, exactly what was going on. He apparently used to ride with the club many, many years ago, but had since moved to Scotland. Now back to visit relatives, he’d thought to once again share our ride for old times sake. I’m sure none of these shenanigans came as a particular surprise to him as I’m pretty certain our club politics haven’t evolved at all in the years he’s been absent.

It wasn’t long before we had a group of 20 plus stacked up, including Szell, uncharacteristically breaking his winter hibernation and no doubt supremely disappointed to learn that his his bête noire, Middleton Bank, wasn’t on our route as we’d ridden it last week.

With bikes and bodies stacking up, Crazy Legs chivvied together the semblance of a medium-paced group and we got out of Dodge while the gotting was good.

I joined Crazy Legs, along with Aether, persistent new guy, James III, Taffy Steve, the old new guy and another new guy. There were 7 of us, but who’s counting. A bit further along and while paused at traffic lights, yet another rider tagged onto our group and rounded our number up to eight. Well, if we were going to break the rule of six, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

The interloper would prove good company and we spent a while talking about and admiring his smart, steel-framed (and eye-wateringly expensive) Jaegher Interceptor, apparently Tom Boonen’s bike of choice these days.

Things were going smoothly until one of either Aether or Crazy Legs had a brain fart. One of them went right at a roundabout, the other ploughed straight on and they came together like the bouncing balls of a Newton’s Cradle, or Clackers, if you can remember that far back, bumping together and rebounding violently away again. Luckily both managed to remained upright until they regained control and we pressed on somewhat chastened.

Slight amendments to the route due to road works had us travelling through Ponteland and then up Limestone Lane. Another of our groups caught and passed us just before the junction, where they swung right, while we kept to the planned route and turned left.

We passed them again, just past Stamfordham, heading in completely the wrong direction, and then once again travelling back from the Ryals as we followed the correct route toward them.

“Are they lost, do you think?” Crazy Legs pondered.

“Probably looking at the route map upside down,” Aether chuckled.

We zipped down the Ryals then clambered back through Hallington, where the wet roads suggested we missed a heavy rain shower and provided all the vindication Crazy Legs needed to affirm his decision not to ride the much cossetted Ribble was justified.

We then took the run along the fell side toward Capheaton, with one last, sharp climb to set us us up for the long, fast and slightly downhill run to the café at Belsay. As we swung onto this road we passed Homeboy, out for a ride with a colleague and briefly paused at the side of the road. Crazy Legs directed what was intended as a comradely pat on the back toward Homeboy, but increasing momentum and inaccuracy turned it into a full force rabbit punch to the kidney’s. Ouch, that had to smart.

Rattling along beside Crazy Legs in Taffy Steve’s wake, with the speed slowly building, he nodded his head forward at the muscular exertions going on in front of him.

“He’s going to go for it,” he predicted.

“Definitely,” I agreed, “Now all the pesky hills are out of the way.”

Sure enough it wasn’t long before Taffy Steve jumped away, Crazy Legs responding immediately, the pair quickly opening up a sizable gap.

I tried towing the rest across, but it was hard going and into a headwind and momentum died before the catch was made. Luckily the Interloper swished past, I dropped onto his wheel and we finally bridged over. Past the West Belsay junction and Taffy Steve jumped again, I hauled myself around Crazy Legs and jumped out of the saddle, slowly winding him in, until he faded and I scooted past, only for the old new guy sprang out from where he’d been sheltering on my wheel and nab the glory.

Queuing in a socially distanced sort of way outside the café, we got talking to the 4-Mile FNG and learned he was a both a Texan and in the UK teaching psychology (not that the two are in anyway mutually exclusive.)

Taffy Steve recalled having an office next to the Psychology department on one university campus and how this was when he realised Estate Manager’s could have a sense of humour, when they stuck a big sign up saying, “This Building is Alarmed.”

We talked race positioning and saving energy when the FNG returned, citing Zardoz for our master-class group, Zardoz, while the 4-Mile FNG lauded various Dutch women for perfect positioning in sprint finishes. He didn’t know there names but he was sure there were several van-something-or-other’s in their number.

“Of course,” OGL interjected, “the best sprinters of all time were Dutch…” Barely pausing before adding, “Hertz van Rental and Avis van Hire.”

Badum tish!

Once again G-Dawg had pressed Mrs. G-Dawg into providing taxi service to the café so he didn’t feel too left out of proceedings. He reported that he has new wheels, but I don’t think his NHS cast iron wheelchair is quite up for a club run. Nevertheless, it has allowed him some opportunity to take his two Labradors for their required walks. I had visions of them pulling him along at speed, like Ben Hur in his chariot, but he said the reality was that if he wanted to head north, then one would always run off due east, while the other headed directly west. Sounds like they’re as difficult to control as a bunch of cyclists.

It was cold in the café garden and even colder back out on the road again and halfway to Ogle we were caught in a sudden, sharp shower, just prolonged enough to soak everything and leave us even more chilled. With Crazy Legs complaining about his frozen face, we moved onto the the front on the climb of Berwick Hill and pushed the pace to try and warm up.

We were still there and it was almost working by the time we’d clawed our way past the airport and had thankfully stopped raining by the time I’d pushed on through the Mad Mile and gone solo.

Conditions improved and it was a relatively pleasant ride back, climbing up the Heinous Hill with just a little more energy than usual and finding I’d clocked up over 110km.

While emptying out my pockets I noticed I had a missed call from Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Co. They’d managed to extricate enough of the carbon fibre seatpost on the Holdsworth to get a new one safely installed and now just needed a saddle so they could check and cut the replacement seatpost to size. Bugger. Oh well, no time like the present, so I grabbed the saddle, stuffed it in my back pocket and headed out again. I remounted the bike and dropped back down the Heinous Hill to the workshop at Pedalling Squares, not really looking forward to the prospect of climbing it twice in one day.

By pure chance, the replacement seatpost proved to be exactly the right height, so no cutting was needed and so I now have two serviceable good weather bikes and a shed that is getting uncomfortably crowded. Something will have to go.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com


Ride Distance:116km/72 miles with 1,231m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 44 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:7
Temperature:10℃
Weather in a word or two:Frigid
Year to date:1,295km/805 miles with 13,738m of climbing