Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”
I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:
My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
30 Days –by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.
Any other suggestions?
In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.
It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…
As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.
Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!
Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.
From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.
The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.
It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.
I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.
It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.
I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?
By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.
It took 5 weeks, but finally the club tried a group ride on Zwift. I excused myself as soon as I learned they’d chosen to wear orange jersey’s and green socks for easy identification. Read that carefully. They. Chose. Green socks!
Seriously though, I’m with Mikel Landa, last seen on Twitter approaching his turbo trainer with an axe in hand and malicious, black intent in his heart. The indoor trainer is the very last resort for me, it’s there strictly for extreme weather, or if the lockdown ever becomes so stringent that you’re not allowed out for exercise.
Sadly then, I can’t report on the joys, or otherwise of group riding with Zwift, although someone else might step up to the mark if we’re lucky? Anyone? C’mon, don’t be shy …
Judging by the amount of social chatter it generated, it wasn’t the smoothest experience, but everyone seems committed to giving it another go, so there must be some benefit and it’s another way of filling the void.
As a reminder of what we’re missing, here’s another little dip into Thing#1’s survey of a typical North East road club ramshackle collective from her project on community groups, this time, responses to the question:
What makes the cycling community, or your road club special to you?
Camaraderie on rides.
Riding in a group is a shared effort – you put in effort that helps others, others put in effort that helps you. When you ride regularly with a group sometimes, you’re strong and can pull hard for the group, other times you appreciate the shelter of others. Either way sharing hard efforts and unforgiving weather brings people together.
I have made some great friends.
Common interest in cycling, good craic, fun.
Self-deprecation, humour, hiding, people always willing to push themselves.
Knowing that there will be a group to cycle with if I turn up at a certain time and place.
The members of my club, the humour we share and the general disregard of an extremely serious approach to riding (e.g. no endless discussion of gear ratios – boring! Or snobbishness towards those on sub £3k bikes).
The willingness to be critical of those who make decisions and think about what can be offered to those not members of the club.
The endless exploration of Northumbrian roads (often when not on official club rides).
The encouragement I got when I first joined opened up the wider range of disciplines of the sport.
It’s like extended family.
Enjoying the company of others.
I feel protected and loved.
Gosh, that almost brought a tear to my eye …
Saturday morning found me inadvertently going commando as I set out for a ride – I’d somehow forgotten to charge my Garmin and it was declaring a low battery as soon as I turned it on. Not wanting it to crap out halfway around my route, I left it on the kitchen bench and relied on the Strava app on my phone, tucked safely away in my back pocket.
I was riding then with no sense of pace, or distance and just a vague idea of the time of day. It was unusual and a little bit uncomfortable. Sadly, I have to confess I prefer having that sort of information to hand and I’ll make sure the Garmin is fully charged next week.
There was no consensus on the weather, Rainman and Richard of Flanders returned from (separate, I hasten to add!) rides and reported they were happy with their choice of full winter gear, while G-Dawg declared he went out in full summer kit and it was glorious, but we all know he’s not completely human. I tried a Tørm thick(ish) merino jersey, gloves, shorts, arm warmers and knee warmers. It was decidedly chilly on some of the descents and I certainly never felt over-dressed, so guess I got it just about right.
I had vague intentions of heading generally west, with no ultimate destination in mind. I crossed the river and made my way to Heddon-on-the-Wall, which, believe it or not, lies athwart the route of the Hadrian’s Wall, from which it takes its name. I know, hard to believe ….
There are even some remaining blocks of stone, like a knuckled, yellowed spine poking through the earth as a testament to the build quality of Roman fortifications, construction having been completed over 1,894 years ago.
I didn’t quite realise at the time, but the ancient Roman Empire was to provide a coherent theme running through my ride.
Just outside Heddon, I picked up a sign that said Chollerford was 15 miles distant and, in want of an actual plan I decided to make this my destination. I pointed my front wheel in that direction and rolled with it.
I was going to be travelling along the Military Road, something cyclists usually avoid as its typically fraught with HGV’s and speeding reckless motorists. If you’re going to ride it though, this is the perfect time as seemed totally bereft of traffic. Between passing Albermarle Barracks and the junction with the A68, some 20 kilometres later, I was passed by just two cars and a tractor.
All this way, the only company I had was the sun, sitting off my left-hand shoulder and my shadow on the ground to the right. My shadow was intent on remorselessly half-wheeling me, but I’m used to riding with the Red Max, so I’ve learned not to respond to such provocation.
The road was straight and true and heading almost directly westward, as good an example of a Roman road as I could imagine, and I definitely felt I was following in their footsteps. To be fair the signs were a bit of a giveaway too.
I was later surprised to learn the Military Road is not one of those things that the Romans had done for us, having been built in 1746 by Hanoverian soldiers heading up North to squabble with the Jacobites.
I also realised I was missing Taffy Steve, who I’m sure could have kept me entertained with a precisely recalled, pitch perfect rendition of the “what have the Roman’s ever done for us” scene from Monty Python’s, Life of Brian.
The only bit of this route I really recognised was dropping down toward Whittle Dene reservoir. I watched another cyclist anxiously scurry across at the junction ahead of me – the same as we have done on countless club runs, leery of speeding traffic suddenly appearing over the brow of the hills on either side. I could feel his eyes tracking me as I reached the crossroads and didn’t turn to join him, but kept going straight up the Military Road. He probably thought I had some sort of death-wish.
(Oh, and I remember the Vallum café too, which for the past three years has been our traditional stop after the club hill climb.)
Finally, a long fast descent deposited me in Chollerford. To be honest, the journey was more rewarding than the destination. Even if it hadn’t been in lockdown, I’m not sure there’s a huge amount to see or do in Chollerford. I stopped on the bridge for a few pics of the North Tyne, turned round and headed back, looking for a sign that promised the road would take me to Hexham, where I could cross back to the south side of the river and home.
Through the imaginatively titled village of Wall (guess what you can see there?) and through the mean looking streets of Acomb, I picked up a cycle path that ran alongside the A69 before vaulting up and over on a light bridge seemingly enmeshed in chicken wire. I paused halfway across, brought to a stop by the sight of the A69 completely and utterly devoid of traffic in both directions.
It was so quiet, I could probably have ridden it all the way home in complete safety, but I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have endeared me to the few motorists who were actually out and about. It’s their road, don’t you know.
I crossed the river at Hexham and then had a pretty straight route, back down the valley and home, my only regret being the run was into a headwind all the way.
Home again and another enjoyable ride out. I saw less cyclists than I did last week, perhaps because the weather wasn’t as pleasant, and those I did see were riding solo, or from obvious family groups. Who knows, maybe the message is beginning to sink in.
I can’t help feeling better weather is just around the corner. Bring it on.
So, 4 weeks in and so far, so good. The working week has settled into a solid routine and to be I’m still enjoying working from home, even after the novelty has worn off.
One of the main purposes in scrawling this blerg was to celebrate the unique experience that is the club run and it’s diverse pool of characters, endless craic, camaraderie and good humour. I’m thinking all that might be becoming a bit hard to recollect, after all if a week is a long time in politics, then four weeks without a club ride must be an eternity.
Here then is a timely reminder of what the club run means, not to me, but culled from the wise and measured words of my cycling comrades. This is what we’ve got to look forward to when this whole sorry episode is over. It’s taken from research conducting by Thing#1, who’s first assignment at University was to design a flyer to celebrate and promote a local group, or community and for some reason she thought a basket-case cycling club might be a good source of inspiration …
So, the first question of a series went: “outline three qualities of your cycling community that should be celebrated” and the answers were:
Looking out for others, connecting with the local countryside, respecting the environment.
Social interaction to improves sense of community, helping reduce carbon emissions, improving the health of the nation.
Diverse, friendly and supportive.
Friendliness, inclusivity, fun.
Making cycling more visible to the general public, helping the local café network(!), camaraderie.
Social interaction and exercise helping mental health, shared views and belief in promoting cycling.
The enthusiasm to ride as part of an often-marginalised community, the supportive way of treating each other and helping each other out, the appreciation of living and cycling in the North.
Inclusiveness, enthusiasm, high performance.
Sociable. Supportive. Inspiring.
Friendly. Approachable. Accepting.
Shared sense of purpose, fitness and health.
Teamwork – surprising for an individual sport but the team aspect is important. Getting a mate over a big climb, or working together to catch a breakaway are some of the best moments
Healthy – despite our love of cake, we all take our health seriously. Honest. Competition – the rides are just for fun. Except when the cafe is 10km away. Then everyone goes quiet and the speed slowly creeps up. It. Is. On. Race!!
The racing, the friendliness, the whole support from different clubs.
Camaraderie, humour, health and fitness.
More later …
Somehow we’ve survived without more stringent lockdown measures being imposed – no thanks to a small minority out there who obviously can’t stand spending any time alone, I don’t know, perhaps it’s in case they’re forced to confront their own shrivelled, selfish souls?
The weather has ticked up a notch too and Saturday’s forecast was to be as close to “shorts weather” as we’ve seen all year. A few chilly showers swept in overnight though, and the morning was still dank and chill. I paired knee warmers with shorts, light weight gloves and a long sleeved jersey and I was good to go.
I planned on running my favourite, much-travelled loop around the Derwent Reservoir, but didn’t fancy an early and cold tilt down the Heinous Hill to start with, so cut up the Fell to Burnopfield and dropped into the Derwent Valley from there.
Things were going well, other than the fact I had a severe case of earworm featuring, for some unfathomable reason, Dua Lipa. This stayed with me until I was skirting the reservoir and noted that the daffodils look lovely today and then The Cranberries took over.
Half way up Burnmill Bank and it had warmed up enough that I stopped to shed my gloves en route to cresting the top, where I stopped for a quick photo opp, before the fast descent to the reservoir.
The sign here told me I was entering the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and who am I to disagree.
At Edmondbuyers I had a choice of continuing south, up into the hills toward Stanhope, or swinging north and picking my way to Blanchland. The cold, harsh headwind coursing down from the hills decided for me and I turned north, skirting the reservoir as I made for Blanchland.
I stopped again by one of the turn-offs to the reservoir to read the sign. It was clear enough.
I was starting to pass more and more groups of cyclists now, drawn out by the good weather and yet again only around half appeared to be riding solo, the others seemingly needing the security blanket of someone else to ride alongside them.
The early mist had burned off by now, the sun was high in a peerless blue sky and my shadow sharp and clear. It was bright and warm enough to persuade me to doff my casquette. This is not meant to be a euphemism along the lines of bashing the bishop, but it is a testament to the central vent in my Ekoi helmet that provides such a constant cold stream of air over my head, I’ve been wearing a cap under it since late September.
I zipped down into Blanchland and climbed out through the bitching 25% gradients on the other side. I was feeling pretty sprightly and racked up a series of personal Strava PR’s, probably more a reflection on how slowly I’ve grovelled up this slope in the past, rather than anything to crow about.
I turned right at the same point as last week, near the site of the Tunguska Incident, before the long descents of Park Bank and South Tank Woods, where I tucked up low on the bike and zipped down, passing an almost continuous line of cyclists toiling up the other way, (one of who may, or may not have been, my brother-in-law.)
From there I picked my way home, tacking on the climb up to Byermoor, before admitting I’d had more than had my allotted portion of daily exercise and sweeping back home, tired, heavy-legged, but happy.
Week#3 under lock-down and I’m well into the groove of this working from home malarkey. I’m getting up at the same time I would under normal circumstances and then, in the time I would have wasted commuting into work, I have a quick morning run (recklessly burning my allotted “exercise time.) This sets me up for the day and replaces the bike commutes I’m missing on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
I’m not the most accomplished runner, but I can now brag that I’ve already completed a marathon in 2020. (Although for the sake of transparency, I have to admit it’s taken me 94 days to do the required distance.)
I guess I’m lucky that I can work just as effectively from home as I can in the office. Who knows, maybe it’s the future.
One thing I am worried about during our current lock-down is that my barbers are indefinitely closed. This means my ears are no longer regularly subjected to the wild ministrations of a Turkish pyromaniac and may soon be overwhelmed by a carpet of dense, luxurious hair. (I’m not wholly convinced this is an actual possibility, but they do seem to revel in their flamboyantly twirled fire-brands and I don’t want to be a killjoy.)
What is a problem however, is my hair is starting to grow exponentially. outwards. I may need a bigger size in helmet before we see the end of this.
Ultimately, this could, in extremis, lead to some DIY hairdressing and the return of the sort of criminally bad hairstyle I haven’t sported since my early teens.
Contemplation of this horror led me to recollect (with a shudder) the K-Tel Hair Magician – a cheap-looking, white plastic comb with a razor blade clamped between the teeth, a (quote) “precision instrument” that allows “any mother to give her family professional haircuts.” Ahem.
Yes, our family had one. No, it didn’t live up to the hype (you’ll be surprised to learn) – but was excellent at painfully tugging indiscriminate clumps of hair directly out of your scalp.
I often wonder happened to K-tel and Ronco and all those other purveyors of astonishingly crap, cheap consumer products – they must have sold by the millions to afford all those shameless adverts that cluttered up the TV channels.
(I realise Alan Sugar briefly tried to reprise their business model with his Amstrad brands, but surprisingly and despite his best efforts, the products weren’t quite crass enough.)
So, no more K-tel Hair Magician, or Ronco Buttoneer, no more Veg-o-matic, or the much improved (really?) Veg-o-matic II. No more Brush-o-matic, Peel-o-matic, or even, I kid you not, Tie-o-matic. (I’m beginning to sense a clever trend with the product names.)
No more cordless power scissors, or Rotato. I never actually seen a Rotato – the rotating potato peeler, and can’t help feeling my life is poorer because of this omission.
Anyway, no matter how desperate, I will not be scouring eBay for a K-tel Hair Magician, even bolstered by one of my Dad’s (oft-repeated) pearls of wisdom, that there’s only two weeks between a bad haircut and a good one…
Dad wisdom is great. I especially like the epigram espoused by the dad of my work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave. His dad, always insisted that when planning a trip, you should never take an idiot with you, as you’ll easily be able to pick one up at your destination.”
Anyway, Saturday found me once again heading out for a solo ride and, since last weeks run seemed to turn into a bit of a hill-fest, I decided I’d treat myself and head straight down the Tyne Valley, avoiding the lumpy bits on either side.
I realised the drawback with my plan as soon as I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill and struck out up-river, the wind was blowing directly from the west, straight down the valley and I’d be riding into the teeth of it all the way out.
Undeterred, I took my standard route across to the north bank , finding the water flat and completely empty as I rolled over the bridge. I guess both rowing clubs have shutdown for the duration and there were no boats out.
I turned left at the end of the bridge, instead of my usual right and soon found myself on the Sustrans cycleway, heading toward Wylam. I skirted a golf course, as empty as the river had been and I was “gannin like a rocket” as I swept past the cottage where George Stephenson had been born. (Did you notice what I did there?)
At the end of the trail I was bombed by an inattentive mountain-biker sweeping out of the trees and obviously failing to see and/or hear my approach. I took evasive manoeuvres, but despite my best efforts, couldn’t maintain correct social distancing. Luckily the authorities weren’t around to impose sanctions.
I pushed on and was approaching Ovingham when a cyclist from the St. Nicks club swept past without a word, nod or wave of acknowledgement. Pah, how rude, there’s no need for that.
The competitive fires were lit and I gave chase. Please understand, I didn’t want to, but it’s an uncontrollable chemical reaction that simply won’t be denied. I had no choice in the matter, just ask the Red Max.
Try as I might, I couldn’t close the gap, my legs felt heavy and tired and didn’t seem to have any zip in them, something I attributed to my series of morning runs.
It wasn’t until I was approaching Ovington, already 10-mile into my ride, that I noticed a rhythmic sissk-sissk-sissk noise coming from the front end of the bike and discovered my brake pads were rubbing slightly on the wheel.
I stopped to make adjustments and pressed on. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a grind into a headwind and I wasn’t suddenly gifted with an immense burst of speed, but the toiling definitely got easier.
I caught the St. Nicks rider, stopped just before the Stocksfield Bridge and studiously intent on his Garmin screen, so he still didn’t have to acknowledge my existence. I failed to make eye contact and passed him as I swung left and crossed the river back to the south side.
I traced my way through Riding Mill and out past Prospect Hill, venue for our lung-shredding annual hill climb, and just kept going.
The white plumes of the Egger chipboard factory at Hexham were soon in sight, the first time I was aware that chipboard manufacturing was an essential occupation, as the plant was very clearly still operational during our national shutdown.
At this point I was starting to get a bit bored with the relatively flat terrain, wide, straight roads and constantly nagging headwind, so I eenie-meenie-minie-moe’d and swung left at one of several junctions with signs pointing toward Slaley and Blanchland.
My plan was to take in a swift sharp climb out of the Tyne Valley and drop down into the Derwent Valley for the run home. Good plan …
The road I’d chosen climbed stiffly south for a bit, then swung back to the west, running parallel to the route I’d just left, so back into the headwind, but now with the added impediment of a long dragging climb upwards.
I crawled past a lumberyard and garden centre with cafe, that I vaguely recalled stopping at during a midweek ride out with the Tyne Valley Cycling Club. From here, I knew I would get to where I wanted to be if I just persevered. So I did.
Just outside Slaley, I stopped for a cereal bar breakfast and to admire the super-cute, spring-loaded, new lambs, bounding through the air, like miniature fuzzy, four-legged Kung Fu fighters. They were having fun at least.
Dropping down toward Blanchland, I stopped again to try and understand the post-apocalyptic landscape presented by this corner of Slaley Forest. What had once been a dense, towering plantation of dark evergreens’ had now been stripped almost bare, as far as the eye could see, except for a few desultory, skeletal trees, left poking stiffly upwards.
It reminded me of pictures of the devastation in the wake of the meteorite strike at Tunguska. Had someone dropped a nuclear bomb just outside Blanchland? To be fair, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had and no one had noticed.
It had started to rain at this point, so instead of heading down into Blanchland, I swung east, skirting this odd, desolate landscape, heading toward Whittonstall and glad to put the rain at my back.
From there I was able to retrace my steps from a couple of weeks ago and find where my route planning had gone horribly wrong. Encouraged by my success, I then took the Derwent Valley heading eastwards and home, climbing out via Burn Top, as a welcome change from the Heinous Hill.
Again a decent run on pleasingly quiet roads, but still with over a 1,000 metres of climbing sprinkled across my 75 kilometre route. So much for my intention to have a less hilly ride.
Along the way I spotted several cats, squirrels, pheasants and chickens, almost revelling in the quiet roads. There were also many more cyclists out than I saw last week, or maybe that’s jus a consequence of where I decided to ride.
I would have to say that only around half of them were riding solo and very few of the assorted pairs I passed looked like they belonged to the same family/households. Unless there’s been a sudden spate of same-sex marriages in the North East, then I’m not sure there’s been a strict adherence to the social distancing guidelines.
Hopefully no harm will come of it, but in these uncertain times, who knows? Personally, as much as I miss the camaraderie of group rides, I’ll stick to solo ventures until things return to normal.
Footnote: all weekend the media has been full of news of people not complying with social-distancing guidelines, including pictures of some astonishingly large groups of cyclists. This is not going to end well and is inviting the government to implement even tougher guidelines. I’m going to be utterly pissed if even solo rides are curtailed due to the selfish activities of a small bunch of complete and utter dickheads. But I can see it coming.
Covid-19. The Coronavirus. Just a quick note to acknowledge it’s a serious thing. A deadly serious thing. It might only represent a very minor inconvenience to you, should you be unlucky enough to catch it, but somewhere down the line, with the person you pass it on to, or they pass it on to, or beyond that, the consequences might be fatal.
So don’t be a dick, think about what you’re doing, follow the guidelines and stay well.
That said, we still have to get through this, so hopefully a little gallows humour and the odd, ostensibly cycling-related bit of frivolity might help.
So let’s plunge into Week#2 of The Plague Diaries…
First up, will someone please explain to me why people stared panic buying toilet paper?
Food or water I can at least understand (I still think it’s stupid, but I can understand it.) Antibacterial hand sanitizer, I can understand. But loo roll? Bog paper? Toilet tarp? the Daily Mail™?
What’s the worst that could happen if you run out? How did the … err … run on toilet paper start and why? Will we ever know?
I completed my second-solo ride under lockdown and now that we’re being advised to ride in groups of “fewer than two” I guess everyone else in the club is doing something similar.
I went mostly south, managing about 40,very lumpy miles in chill, but for the most part dry conditions. I only got lost once or twice.
Self-inflicted earworm, accompanying most of the day, was Tenpole Tudor’s “Swords of a Thousand Men.” I guess it could have been worse, I’m just not sure how.
Anyway, regulated and imposed riding on your own is different, but not without a few positives to balance out the negatives, you know, ups and down, snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts, a bit of yin to balance out a smattering of yang.
So, my list so far:
There’s very little traffic (and as a consequence the air is noticeably cleaner.)
If I’m riding solo, I can’t get dropped. Ever.
I can ride at my own pace.
I’m not going to get shouted at (for any reason, or even for no reason whatsoever.)
I don’t have to worry about the rider in front standing up to climb and momentarily stopping their pedalling, so their back wheel suddenly lurches toward my front wheel.
There are no unexpected salvoes of snot rockets to avoid.
I’m not under pressure to leave the house by a certain time to make the rendezvous.
It’s a chance to explore new, or seldom used routes.
I only have to contend with self-inflicted earworms (although on today’s evidence, even that’s an issue.)
I don’t have to worry about the rider behind, so I don’t need mudguards = summer bike, even if it pours. (Yay!)
If I puncture, I wont feel the pressure of a hyper-critical audience watching my every move, as I fumble around trying to change a tube.
There’s a slim chance I could win a non-cafe sprint.
You can stop for a pee almost anywhere and not be disturbed.
No witty, erudite banter and thoughtful insight to entertain me.
No one to draft behind in a headwind.
No cafe’s = no (richly deserved) coffee and cake.
The pressure of having to choose my own route.
(Related) The ease with which I can get lost.
The temptation to take it easy, or just head straight home.
No one to laugh at, or take the piss out of beside myself.
The lack of motivation to get out of bed and actually ride.
The miles seem to crawl by, literally and metaphorically.
I’m sure there’s more. What have I missed?
A Random Ramble …
Words. You know I love words. I feel sorry for them if they’re alone, so always encourage them to cram-up together. Like some kind of wholly unscrupulous, evil, people-trafficker (not that there’s any other kind?) I’ll stuff as many of the poor blighters as I can into any free sentence without a care for syntax, structure, legibility, legality or readability. Well, you know “quantity has a quality all of its own,” as Napoleon once famously didn’t say.
But there are certain words and phrases that seem to get picked up by the media and get used by lazy journalists over and over and over again, ad nasueum, like a stuck record, without even the subtlest hint of variation or variety, or thought behind its use.
I’m sure I’ve already mentioned in this venerable blerg the lazy over-use of the suffix: “gate” to describe any kind of scandal – you know, Pizzagate, Contragate, Deflategate, et al.. This is still true, even though I had to swallow my own distaste when we had our own scandal that could only properly be described as Gategate.
The “so-called Islamic State” was another recent example, used to describe the entity that did actually refer to itself as Islamic State, or could just as easily be referred to as Isis, Isil, IS, or Daesh. It didn’t take too long for the term “so-called Islamic State” to really, really grate.
At the moment the phrase du jour that’s really starting to annoy me is “underlying conditions.” I know, we get it, certain people who have sadly succumbed to corona virus weren’t in the best of health anyway, but with no further information about what these underlying conditions are, it’s a bit spurious, unhelpful and wholly unnecessary.
I also wonder if downplaying the potential, fatal seriousness of the virus is sending the wrong message to those stupid enough to think the threat is overly-exaggerated, or worse yet, a hoax.
Anyway, a new word has just entered my watch-list and I’m sure we’re going to hear more of it in the coming weeks. That word is furlough. I was also surprised to hear a rather well-known BBC presenter exclaim he’d never, ever come across the word, before discussing it with a guest and suggesting it might be related to that agricultural term for leaving a field unplanted for a season … sigh.
And a final note …
So, that thing about people contributing stuff so we could all retain some sense of connection and community and enjoy something mildly diverting at the same time?
Well, it seems that Biden Fecht has bravely picked up his own gauntlet, so keep an eye out for the excellent Fechting Talk, heading your way very shortly.
Cycling in the Time of Covid-19 – week ending 22nd March
Well, that’s typical, no sooner do I start riding again and club runs become verboten.
As the country’s somewhat fumbled response to the Corona Virus continued to evolve haphazardly, gatherings became restricted to six people as we moved toward the weekend and social media was alight with queries and concerns about our regular club runs.
In the face of limited, changing and confusing official guidance, some of our Saturday regulars decided to coalesce around our meeting point as usual, before forming into ad hoc small groups of three or four and heading out for a ride.
I decided it wasn’t worth trekking all the way across to the meeting point and settled on a solo run, largely staying south of the river. Others had similar ideas, while for some the purgatory and self-flagellation of turbo-trainers seemed to call.
Earlier in the week I’d been contacted by one of our club regulars, the estimable Biden Fecht. He described fleeing Scotland as the shutters came down, making his escape sound as dramatic as leaping onto the last Huey just as its skids lifted from the US embassy roof in Saigon. (It would be a great analogy, if the embassy staff had been evacuated on venerable and clanking 1990’s era rolling stock.)
Anyway, now safely under house arrest in Newcastle for the duration, he’s weirdly concerned he’s going to miss us (no, me neither) and is looking at ways we can support each other, stay in touch and maintain some sense of communal spirit.
As an option of last resort, he wondered if I’d throw open the pages of this venerable blog/blerg to any and all contributions, running the whole gamut from A to B. So from braggadocio to venting, from the asinine to extraordinary, any and all contributions are welcome be they inspiration, entertainment, or elucidation.
If you want to add, club member or not, send your contributions to email@example.com and certain fame infamy is sure to follow.
No rules, although at least a tenuous link to cycling is expected. So let us know what you’re doing, how you’re doing and why you’re doing whatever it it that your doing. We might be able to keep each other sane and make it through this yet.
(I will of course take full credit for anything that is well received and goes … err .. viral?)
I’m still waiting for a contribution from G-Dawg, titled “Hills in the North East You Can’t Climb on the Big Ring”. To be fair, he has already sent me an email with an attachment, but both were blank. I’m not sure what’s gone wrong there.
I’m also expecting a top-10 of quarantine themed ear-worms from Crazy Legs, although its my understanding that The Knack’s “My Corona” has already secured top-spot.
In the meantime – this is Biden Fecht’s contribution, a selfie including a wall in Whalton and daringly, breaking social distancing rules with his own shadow.
My own contribution also features a wall, somewhere near Newlands, as I tried to recon a route we could use for the club to venture south of the river … but got hopelessly lost.
I’ll spare you a selfie of my grizzled visage as I’ve taken home-working as an excuse not to shave. As my work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave commented, by the time we come out of the other side of this, I’ll probably look like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway.
Be safe and be good, I’ve got a feeling we’ve a long. long way to go yet.
As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.
Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.
Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.
I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.
A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.
I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.
So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…
Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.
Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.
Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.
When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.
I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.
So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.
There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.
At the meeting point:
I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.
He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.
He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”
Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.
Well, it was worth a try.
We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.
The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.
I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.
With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.
I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?
We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.
The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.
I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.
By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.
I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.
At the cafe:
Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.
We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.
“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.
We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.
I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)
I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.
“What now?” I queried.
“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”
I think he was joking.
We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.
The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.
We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.
Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.
I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.
Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.
Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.
I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.
I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)
That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?
PaltryYTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing
Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?
Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.
Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.
Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”
Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.
I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.
Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.
The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.
This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.
It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”
Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.
He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.
At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.
The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.
From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.
Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.
The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.
I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.
We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled onthe front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.
Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.
TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.
He didn’t look too sure.
“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.
In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.
We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.
I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.
I wonder how that worked out?
Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”
After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.
Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.
[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]
TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”
“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.
“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.
The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.
And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.
It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.
YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing
I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …
Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.
I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.
I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.
I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.
It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.
It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.
Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.
G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.
Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.
The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.
When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.
“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.
As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)
Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.
I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.
Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.
As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)
Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.
It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”
Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.
We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.
At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.
The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.
If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.
“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.
TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.
“What’s in stollen?”he wondered.
Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …
“Err … marzipan?”me mused aloud.
TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.
“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.
At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.
(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)
OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.
Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.
Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.
Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.
G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.
As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.
Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.
I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.
Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.
Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.
I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.
Correction: as one avid readerthe one avid reader pointed out in response to last weeks blerg, Brian Connolly, he of the remarkable, platinum, flowing locks and erstwhile lead singer of Sweet, died in 1997.
As such, I strongly suspect he is not touring with the band and his probably wasn’t the face I had such a visceral reaction to seeing on a recent tour poster. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of this, but the synapses failed to fire. Again.
Further investigation also suggests there are only two of the original band members left alive and there have been at least 3-different Sweet line-ups active over-time and, confusingly, often concurrently. I have no idea then, who is now touring under the Sweet moniker, or even if they have any legitimate connection to the original group, whose bombast and style so offended my parents and (occasionally) enlivened my Thursday night TV viewing.
Anyway, apologies for the relapse. It will happen again though … I can almost guarantee it.
Well, the weather made no pretence of being anything other than horrendous this week. You’ve got to admire its honesty, at least.
It was raining (hard) when I set out and it was raining (hard) when I returned. In between, it showed remarkable consistency by … raining hard, although OGL was able to remark at one point, “the rain’s eased, it’s just a downpour now.”
Crossing the river, I spotted an 8-man crew shooting the bridge and idly wondered at what point they’d have to stop rowing and bail out their craft. Other than that, the only thing of note on my journey across to the meeting point was a cyclist riding past, blithely sporting a top half clad in naught but a short-sleeved jersey!
By the time I rolled under the protective eves of the multi-storey car park, the constant deluge had just about started to penetrate the extremities – gloves and socks. It was going to be a few notches below a pleasant ride.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
I bumped up the kerb and pulled to a stop beside the redoubtable G-Dawg and settled down to see which other numpties would be crazy enough to join us, numbers slowly assembling until we formed a Hateful 8. I’ve got to admit that was more than I expected.
Once again the Prof was pursuing a solo career, at odds with the rest of the Back Street Boys and chose to join us. After prolonged exposure to our innate musical talents today though, I’m not sure he’ll be back anytime soon. Relatively (flippin’) new guy, Cowboys was out, ostensibly to test the waterproofness of his new waterproof gloves. OGL, Biden Fecht, Aether and Benedict rounded out the numbers.
I confessed that on mornings like this, I would be quite happy to arrive at the meeting point to find nobody else had bothered to show. I could then turn around with good conscience and scuttle away home.
“But, whenever I arrive, this bugger’s already here and waiting,” I complained, gesturing vaguely in the direction of G-Dawg.
“Have you not considered that he’s probably thinking the same thing and you turning up ruins the day for him too?” Aether suggested.
Peer pressure, eh? It’s a terrible, terrible thing.
When challenged, G-Dawg admitted there was no weather he didn’t think you couldn’t ride in. Wind and rain were mere minor inconveniences while, if it was snowing, that was just a great excuse for some mountain bike fun.
“Not even ice?” Benedict asked, perhaps acknowledging that we’d heard Andeven had slipped on ice at the bottom of the Ryals last week and was down and out with a broken elbow for a while.
“If it’s icy, just stick to the bus routes, they’re always gritted,” G-Dawg argued.
“Although, I’ve had a few clatters in my time,” he concluded.
We then reminisced about some of our most famous ice-capades, or “clatters,” if you will, such as the time an eerily prescient OGL had left us to take a different route. The rest of us had immediately taken a right turn and performed a synchronised clatter that a Busby Berkley-directed, Esther Williams would have been proud of, as we toppled in series, one pair after another, like falling dominoes.
Then there was the time heading through Meldon, when I didn’t realise the lane was icy at all, until G-Dawg overtook me, flat on his back, sliding headfirst, rapidly downhill and with his bike trailing several seconds behind him. I’m convinced to this day that it was the shock of his sudden appearance that brought me down, rather than the treacherous ice-sheet we were attempting to traverse.
We were assured we’d have no ice to contend with today, just the rain, which Cowboys assured us would ease. He didn’t specify when. I suspect he was thinking maybe mid-March. With no more likely to join our happy band and no sign of the weather relenting, even a bit, it was time to get on with it.
The plan was no more complicated than to make our way to Stamfordham, where we’d stop to re-assess and decide what to do from there. With that simple goal, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out and into the rain.
We hit our first major flood as we swung past the airport, which coincided with an impatient driver gunning his, or her, engine and swerving around us at high speed. The car flung up a tsunami of cold, dirty water in its wake, that was dumped directly into OGL’s lap, leaving him waving his arms around frantically, spluttering and swearing incoherently, as the car sped away.
I don’t think he appreciated it when I asked if he’d just found out exactly how waterproof his shiny new Madison rain jacket actually was. He would later complain the massive, freezing bow wave had hit him “right in the groin.” Ooph! that’ll wake you up, every time.
After a while, I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg. It was no better and no worse up there. There was less spray thrown up by the wheels, but less shelter from the rain and the wind was particularly stiff and chilling.
Approaching Stamfordham and another big puddle, a car pulled out to work its way past us, just as we rolled into the wide expanse of collected water. Here, at least, the driver was more considerate and didn’t rip past and drown us under a bow wave, but slowed, almost to match our pace, hanging there uncertainly as we rapidly approached a bend and a blind summit.
“It’s not really going to work if he’s only travelling at the same speed we are,” G-Dawg sighed, before easing back a bit to let the car pull ahead and then across to the right side of the road. Bloody cyclists, eh? Never satisfied.
As we reached the outskirts of the village, I suggested it was unlikely anyone was going to go for the longer route today and suspected we’d all be heading straight for the cafe.
“Still, I suppose we’d better stop and ask,” G-Dawg decided, “Just in case.”
So we did.
As predicted, OGL stated he was heading straight to the cafe and everyone seemed in accord, until …
“I wouldn’t mind pressing on for a bit,” Aether tentatively suggested.
And that was that. Peer pressure kicked in (again) and now all but OGL were up for doing the planned route, rain be damned.
Off we went then, minus 1 and buoyed along by a fine selection of appropriate songs from Biden Fecht. It’s Raining Men, Many Rivers to Cross, Singin’ in the Rain, Raining in my Heart, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Why Does it Always Rain on Me? Then, somewhat bizarrely, as rain themed songs seemed to … err… run dry, Here Comes the Sun.
Meanwhile, we adopted an exaggerated, heavily Heinekenised, Biden Fecht style-accent to warn of “wough-tahr” ahead … (the wough-tahr in Maa-yorkerh don’t taste like it ough-tahr.)
Biden Fecht wondered what the Geordie equivalent would be and I was happy to give him my best approximation as “watta.” (Ryhmes with hatter.)
We crossed the Military Road and skirted Whittledene Reservoir. It was eerily quiet. No cars, no fishermen, no swans, no ducks. Huh? Too wet, even for the ducks?
In fact, the only thing for miles around seemed to be a slightly mad bunch of sodden/sodding, singing cyclists, riding around, through and across various puddles, while pointing wildly to either side and calling out to each other “wough-tahr!” and “watta!”
We slogged upwards through some of the oddly named plantations, Foulhoggers and Sparrowietch, Tilehouse and Standingstone.
“C’mon you lot up front, give us a song,” Biden Fecht demanded as we traversed this rather bleak landscape. He was clearly out of suitably rain-themed numbers now, as attested by a return to the sad irony of Here Comes the Sun.
Oh well, they asked for it, so … in a similar vein, I began to bellow out a fantastically tuneless, discordant rendition of The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.
An uncomfortable silence descended on the group following this unprecedented, aural assault, until it was punctured by Benedict.
“Bloody hell, I wish I’d turned off at Stamfordham now.”
Climbing some more, we once again made a dart across the Military Road and begin to home in on Matfen.
Another convergence of impatient driver and flooded road threatened to wash us away. Rather luckily, the drivers over-reliance on his horn served as a flood warning, so at least we were prepared for the rising tide he threw up as he carved his way past us, too fast and too close.
We turned for the Quarry, right into the teeth of howling gale and I was grateful to sit at the back and find whatever meagre shelter was available, as Biden Fecht and G-Dawg tried to batter a way through the wind.
Just before the steepest ramps of the climb there was another section of badly flooded road, so wide there was no way around, so long that you couldn’t freewheel through it and so deep I could feel the water dragging at my wheels. On each downward pedal stroke, the water was well past boot, or overshoe height – no one was coming out of that without seriously wet feet.
At the top of the Quarry, the Prof and Cowboys made a break for the cafe, but, for whatever reason, hesitated at Wallridge crossroads, were caught and subsumed back into the pack.
The pace picked up until, as we turned through the junction to hit the road down to the Snake Bends, Biden Fecht jumped away, immediately opening a telling gap. As the others wound up a belated response, I watched from the back, selecting “This Train is Bound for Glory” as a soundtrack to Biden Fecht’s flight, as he easily outpaced the chasers to claim a fine, sprint victory.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I asked Cowboys how waterproof his waterproof gloves had been. “Not very,” apparently, so he’s now looking to spend more money on perhaps what is just one version of a cycling grail.
Benedict was unsurprised, having spent a small fortune of SealSkinz gloves, that he reported simply didn’t live up to the hype. He’d even contacted the company to tell them their gloves were patently not waterproof, but they’d argued they certainly were, had the research to back this claim up and offered to send him the evidence. Obviously they were waterproof then, just not North East waterproof.
OGL remembered nylon, waterproof over-gloves that used to be available and wondered if they were still around, while various solutions such as Marigold rubber gloves, or latex surgical gloves were suggested.
I’m not convinced there is a good, fully waterproof, cycling glove out there. My own, Galibier Barrier gloves held out for about an hour before I started to feel the water seeping in, which I didn’t think was bad as they aren’t marketed as being waterproof. Their main property is that they are generally windproof and well insulated, so even when wet through, they can keep your hands relatively warm. This I think is the best you can hope for.
Like the gloves, every other item of clothing we were wearing was thoroughly sodden and water-logged and the cafe had provided the usual black bin bags for us to sit on, to protect their furniture. OGL and the Prof seemed intent on trying to dry various items on the fire, something we’d learned was generally futile, often malodorous and occasionally dangerous, with the occasional glove, or hat melting, or spontaneously combusting.
The Prof had even stripped down to his base layer, a bright orange number, emblazoned with the words SuperDry in what must have been the second most ironic statement of the day, topped only by Biden Fecht’s repeated renditions of Here Comes the Sun.
OGL reminisced about one regular cafe stop where all the cyclists used to strip off their wet gear to use a drying cupboard by the fire. Sadly, this cafe is no longer in business, which, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that a group of dirty, pallid cyclists, sitting around in their skivvies is not a major customer attraction.
G-Dawg recalled a particularly nasty mountain-bike expedition, where he and the Colossus had been forced to dismount to cross a stream on foot, as the ford was overwhelmed with floodwater. A bit further along and the Colossus had called a halt insisting there was something caught between his toes. He’d stripped off his socks and shoes to reveal that what was caught between his big toe and third toe, was actually his second toe, white, numb and unfeeling. This, as far as I’m aware is the first recorded incident of Alien Toe Syndrome.
I recounted to all that, after last week’s sodden and water-logged return, Mrs. SLJ had suggested I came in through the back door and immediately drop all my wet gear on the kitchen floor, in front of the washing machine.
I pointed out it probably wasn’t seemingly for me to parade around the house in a nekkid state.
“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I’ll leave your dressing gown out.”
G-Dawg suggested he got even shorter shrift and Mrs. G-Dawg would be putting towels down in anticipation of his soaked return.
“I wouldn’t mind, but these are the same towels I use for the dogs when they come in all wet and muddy” he complained.
“I’ll bet the dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near them once you’ve dirtied them up,” someone quipped. G-Dawg laughed along, but a little uneasily.
I checked the weather app on my phone, which said that for the next hour there’d be a 100% chance of heavy rain in my location, but an hour later, this would fall to just a 99% chance of heavy rain.
I can’t believe we seriously discussed waiting for another hour for a 1% chance the weather might improve, but we decided the odds weren’t good and it was probably best to get going before we became too comfortable or, heaven forfend, almost semi-dry.
Back into the cold and rain, after a while the Prof and Cowboys raced away, I assume in an attempt to warm up. I stayed on the front until the turn for Ponteland where, yet again I decided to lop the corner off my sodden ride.
The bike was behaving itself, running smooth and silent and once again I found an almost Zen-like state, as I pressed for home, soaked through, but comfortably warm, legs spinning automatically and the miles of wet tarmac hissing by, as they unwound beneath my tyres.
I was enjoying myself so much, I could almost have forgiven all those club mates who’d forced me to ride, simply by being there for me.
YTD Totals: 7,148 km / 4,442 miles with 92,512 metres of climbing