A promisingly dry day for a ride was somewhat belied by the faintest hint of rain that hung in the air as I dropped down the Heinous Hill and kicked out along the valley. This thankfully failed to materialise into anything more than the lightest veil of drifting precipitation that was enough to cause the electricity cables by the bridge to buzz, but never had me reaching for my rain jacket and luckily it faded away as I pressed on.
I entertained myself trying to identify if there were any stronger connections between Carrie-Anne Moss (Canadian Film and TV actress) and Marianne Voss (Dutch superstar cyclist and arguably the GOAT) – other than similar sounding names and a superficial facial likeness. It was a spurious and fruitless exercise but served the purpose, distracted me from the climb out of the valley and before I knew it I was pulling up at the meeting point.
There I found Not Anthony, recently voted the clubs Most Improved Rider of 2022 at our awards night and pondering what acronym he could append to his name to celebrate and promote this singular achievement.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs had bitten the bullet and gone full tubeless with an assist from Rab Dee, a process that, against all the odds and the dire warnings of the dozens of YouTube tutorials he’d devoured, he’d found surprisingly straightforward. Today was a test-ride for the set-up, which passed with flying colours and saw him making plans to convert as many of his extensive fleet of velocipedes as possible to run tubeless.
Our route for the day included an early season dive down to the River Tyne, exiting via the climb past the Bywell Barn, perhaps the easiest of the routes back out the valley and something I felt I could manage on the single-speed. We would then work our way out to the cafe at Kirkley to rendezvous with the Red Max and Mrs. Red Max, who are just starting to find their way back into regular rides after the pandemic.
We had a couple of new faces with us, a girl who’d just moved to the area from Cumbria and a guy who’d been out three or four times before and managed to puncture on every single ocassion. That’s not a reputation you’d want to linger around you, at best it’s likely to get you a special Peroni award and an unwanted mention at the end of season bash.
At precisely 9:15 Carlton rolled up with a big grin plastered across his face as we all immediately checked the time. He knew it and we knew it, he’d once again timed his arrival to perfection and it was a signal to head out. Uncharacteristically the 22 riders managed to get organised into two equal groups (surely a first?) and away we went.
In the second group and passing along the bottom of Kingston Park, we just happened to pass G-Dawg, taking his “boys” out for a walk. Crazy Legs suggested he, like Carlton must have timed his dog walking activities to perfection. I thought it was more likely he’d been standing there waiting for half an hour for us to pass, just so he could vicariously partake in at least some of the ride.
A little further on and we passed the front group too, pulled over to the side of the road while a BAM-less Jimmy Mac worked to repair a puncture.
Just past Medburn calls came from the back to slow down, with OGL kvetching that the new girl was struggling and it was all our fault. Crazy Legs checked. She was doing fine, in fact she seemed to be floating up the hills and under no stress whatsoever. Hmm…
On we went.
I was surprised the erstwhile front group didn’t catch up until the start of the climb out of the valley, but it wasn’t until then that Crazy Legs could declare gruppo compatto and we started upwards en masse. I’d deliberately dropped back to take the climb at my own pace, but it wasn’t as hard as anticipated and I started to work my way back forward as it dragged on and on.
At the top, I managed a quick dart to safety across the 4-thundering lanes of traffic on the A69 in true Frogger mode, and found the front riders waiting to regroup before we completed our valley escape. With perhaps the steepest ramps still ahead of us it seemed like a good time to steal a march on everyone else, so I just kept going, dragging Brassneck along with me as we decided to get all the climbing out of the way as quickly as we could.
We reached the top and the turn off toward the reservoir, disentangling ourselves from the front group before they could drop us and waiting to re-unite with our original compadres for the final run to the cafe.
Somewhere along the way both Not Anthony and Brassneck took time to tell me I was certifiably insane to be riding a single-speed bike. I didn’t really have a defence and admitted to Brassneck that last weeks drag up the Heinous Hill almost broke me.
“Was it the little old lady pacing you on her Zimmer frame that got to you?” he wondered.
I admitted it was more the arthritic, asthmatic snail that had overtaken me and then came back down just to check how I was getting on.
We climbed out of Stamfordham toward Heugh, but found the road through to Milbourne was closed, a big wire fence set to deny access. We uhm-ed and aah-ed but decided to risk it, squeezing past the fence and traversing a good distance with a precipitously deep trench off to our right hand side where they had started to lay gas pipes. Judging by the piles of pipe still waiting to be interred and the deep smears of mud across its surface, I guess the road wouldn’t be open again any time soon, so this is probably a route we’re better off avoiding for the time being.
I half expected an impregnable fence at the far end would force us to back-track, but luckily there was space to squeeze through and we were soon back to normal roads, having enjoyed our unscripted little adventure. A bit further on and the new guy surprised us all (really) by announcing he had a puncture. Not Anthony (MIROTY) volunteered to hang back and help with repairs and urged the rest of us to push on to the cafe. It seems the glory seeker’s not banking on being the most improved rider next year, so has already thrown his hat into the ring for the most selfless rider. (He seized the opportunity to cement an early lead in this competition the next day, when he dove out to rescue James III who had become stranded when the seatpost of his new winter bike disintegrated under him.)
The rest of us, truth be told, didn’t need a lot of urging to press on and I led the way to our most nrtherly point, attacking up the last climb to the cafe, only to be pipped at the post by Crazy Legs, who inched past while declaring “a pointless overtake.”
We both knew there was nothing pointless about it …
In the cafe queue I inadvertently put Carlton off the Victoria Sponge by suggesting it looked more like it contained a layer of ham, rather than jam between the two slabs of sponge. I quickly added that it was just a trick of the light, but too late. The damage had been done.
I went for the Mint Aero traybake, that I think had been specially designed for cyclists as it seemed by size, density and weight to be modelled on a typical Paris-Roubaix pavé. It might have been a better choice for the Cow Ranger, who declared it was a two-scone day and felt the need to double-down on his original order when the first was hoovered up without touching the sides.
It was just about warm enough to sit outside and there I learned the disappointing news from the Red Max that both Thng#1 and Thing#2 would be accompanying us on all holidays for the foreseeable future, as his 28-year old daughter still insists on holidaying with them (as well as having her own, exclusive holidays to which they’re pointedly not invited of course.)
I then described the high esteem my children already hold me in, remembering Thing#1’s lovingly crafted first picture of me, showing a spikey-haired, wildly grinning stick-figure with enormous hands and thirteen huge fingers, proudly inscribed with the title: “ma dadda is a poo hed.”
Brassneck suggested his portrayal was even worse, as he was frequently drawn as the only member of the family with a black, scribbled in face. I could only assume his children were responding to the deep, inner darkness they sensed lurking within his avuncular outer shell …
Everyone appeared to have enjoyed the ride despite, or perhaps because of our little adventure down the closed road. Hopefully the new people enjoyed it too and will keep coming and, who knows, maybe one of them might even invest in a new set of tyres.
The Heinous Hill wasn’t so bad this time around and I even managed to spend some time recovering in the saddle on some of its lesser ramps. Progress then. Of a sort.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 4th February 2023|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 42 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||106km/66 miles with 1,014m of climbing|
|Group Size:||21 riders, 2 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Fine.|
|Year to date:||721km/448 miles with 1,352m of climbing|