Ice Cold in Darras

Ice Cold in Darras

Club Run, Saturday 25th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  89 km / 55 miles with 885 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 55 minutes

Average Speed:                                 22.7 km/h

Group size:                                         12 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


25 nov 2017 icid
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Saturday brought a temperature that was about as low as you could get without the guarantee of encountering huge swathes of ice, lurking on every untreated and shaded surface. It was certainly cold enough to persuade many of my fellow riders that the roads would be too dangerous and the only sensible recourse was the turbo or gym.

I decided that, with a little prudent riding, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, especially if we stayed on treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little (and a positively tropical 6°C was promised by mid-morning!)

It was definitely a day for wrapping up well though, an additional pair of socks, warmest merino base-layer and lobster-mitts to supplement tights, winter jacket and gilet. My hands got a little sweaty at one point, but for once I think I just about chose right.

I picked my way slowly down the Hill, hands constantly on the brakes to kill my speed, trying to stay as upright as possible around the corners and pick a straight line between all the manhole covers. There was a rime of ice in the gutters and banks of leaves, furred and bleached white by the frost, were spread across the pavements like cold ashes.

Dropping down toward the river, my new digital checkpoint on the side of a factory unit, flashed up brightly to inform me it was 8:11 and 2°C and it felt even colder with the wind chill.

The approach to the crossing was crowded with cars, there was a loud burble of voices from either side, accompanied by much clanking and clattering from the riverbanks and swarms of pedestrians were shuffling over the bridge. It looked like being a busy day for the Tyne Rowing Club.

I later learned I was in the midst of preparations for the Rutherford Head of the River Regatta, involving 278 crews and boats from all over the country. The event was still going strong when I returned the same way 5 or so hours later, the surface of the river dotted with boats, both upstream and down.

Reading up on the event, I especially liked the organisers stern warning: CREWS WITH INSUFFICIENT WARM CLOTHING MAY BE REFUSED PERMISSION TO BOAT. Given the prevailing conditions, I’m not sure what sufficient warm clothing would have looked like, or how they could have got it all in those skinny little boats.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I was pleased to see that G-Dawg had followed through on his promise to pack his brand new, fancy-dan, Sidi kicks up until Spring and had resorted to shoes he didn’t feel obliged to display and could cover with overshoes. I suppose his toes were pleased by the decision too.

Talk of overshoes lead to discussions about the knee-high, neoprene Spatz ( overshoes that ex-pro, Tom Barras had developed, that looked like some kind of fetish wear. A snip and a bargain too at only, err £80 – which is more than I paid for my winter-boots. I did wonder if they came with a free gimp mask. There’s always one though – and the Cow Ranger declared he thought they looked ultra-cool and he wanted a pair.

OGL had lifted a pair of Giordana bibtights with wind proof panels from his own shop, much to Mrs. OGL’s chagrin (I think she grips onto the purse strings with a cold fury.) He declared they were exceptionally good, if anyone wanted to buy a pair.

“Yes” I suggested, “Especially now they’ve been broken-in for you.”

(Oops, apparently he didn’t mean the exact pair he was wearing.)

Carlton arrived, declaring himself just that little bit nervous about the ice, but talked himself into believing it was just “first ride nerves” and once he became acclimated to riding once again in frozen conditions he’d be good.

Plans to follow the posted route were abandoned, G-Dawg proposing a rough route, principally down major (well, by Northumberland standards) roads and more directly to the cafe, from where we could take an extended route home if conditions improved.

A fine, dirty-dozen then, in all our windproof, waterproof, winter warming, hermetically sealed, thermally insulated, impermeable but breathable, high-viz, cold weather, protective gear, of wildly variable effectiveness, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. Bugger, but it was cold.

I found myself riding alongside the Garrulous Kid, who passed the time talking at me as we rolled merrily along. It largely went in one ear and out the other, so I can (perhaps mercifully) recall only snippets about Dundee University, perhaps a mention of football here and there, Dennis Wise, Stranger Things, Ant & Dec, foul-mouthed teachers, the worthlessness of history and how the Garrulous Kid could be drafted by the Armed Forces of Uh-merca in the event of  a global conflict. C’mon Trump, you can do it…

We stopped for a pee near the now abandoned Tranwell Airfield and (still) extensive bunker system and received a potted history lesson from OGL, which no doubt the Garrulous Kid deemed worthless.

We learned the airfield had been developed during the Second Big One (WW2) and, according to OGL, had been the joint home to an anti-aircraft training battery and a squadron of the Polish air force. This, he concluded, was why there was so many families of Polish descent now living in Morpeth.

The Colossus wasn’t the only one who sensed the potential flaw in the plan of having  trainee, trigger-happy ack-ack gunners sharing the same air space as foreign pilots, whose native tongue wasn’t English.

“I hope the gunners never got that good,” he remarked dryly.

History lesson complete, off we rolled again, although for the sake of accuracy I have to report that while Tranwell Airfield was used for anti-aircraft training, it housed a French and not a Polish squadron throughout the war. Where the Polish population of Morpeth comes into the picture is anyone’s guess.


We had swung around and were heading straight to the cafe now, realising we were going to be there much earlier than usual and pausing only briefly to check it would actually be open.

At some point, up ahead, Two Trousers slipped, or slid, touched wheels, or shied from a pothole, I’m not sure what happened exactly, but as a result he started careening across the road, narrowly missing the Colossus, who took evasive action, swerved, spun to a stop and, contorting his entire body, calmly unclipped and just stepped smartly off his now prone bike. I don’t think I could explain it any better, even if I could watch it a hundred times in slow motion.

The Colossus ended up stood facing the wrong way, one leg over, one leg through his frame, looking down on his bike, befuddled and wondering how it got there. MeanwhileTwo Trousers carved deep furrows across someone’s pristine grass verge as he swooped up, off the road and toward a waist high fence.

I felt for sure he was destined to explode through the woodwork in a crash of flying splinters, or the bike would just stop dead and flip him over the top, but somehow he wrangled back control and slowed enough to merely smack the fence with a meaty thud, bounce off and topple slowly earthward.

Our unlucky pair stood up, dusted themselves down and determined there was, by great good fortune, no real damage. Two Trousers bashed his handlebars straight again and onward we rolled.

There was a general quickening as we approached the cafe, but no full-blooded sprint today, although I did chuckle when G-Dawg and the Colossus took up primary positions on the front, where they could keep an eye on everyone else, while warily eye-balling each other.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

One benefit of arriving early at the cafe was it was unusually quiet and we were able to dive straight into the queue and grab a seat beside the fire. One major downside however, was that G-Dawg and the Colossus had to forego their traditional ham and egg pie, which was still in the oven and wouldn’t be available for a good time yet. They had to go with the alternative, corned beef option, which apparently is still good … just not as good.

Cowin’ Bovril flashed a newly acquired, 100 trillion dollar bill and for one, brief moment I thought he was going to stand us a round of coffees. I didn’t realise we were in such exalted company and we were being accompanied by an actual trillionaire, although I assume if I ever time-travelled back to Zimbabwe, where his note was legal tender, I could rub shoulders with 16,684,615 more of them – and find Cowin’ Bovril’s note would barely buy a single cup of coffee, let alone a full round.

We found out the Colossus was coveting a new mountain-bike where, with one touch of a handlebar button, he could not only adjust the seat height, but actually change the bike’s geometry.

I suggested this was the kind of thing I’d only ever seen from Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-a-Car in The Wacky Races.

The Colossus  acknowledged the connection and declared all he would need to complete the picture was some hairy, Neanderthal cave-man to ride along behind, trying to bash him repeatedly over the head with a club. I looked pointedly at G-Dawg, possibly the prototype for the original Slag Brothers, but luckily he was pre-occupied fielding inane questions from the Garrulous Kid.

It was then the turn of the Colossus to answer the Garrulous Kids quick-fire questions, which tended to tumble out, one after the other and leaving no space for an actual reply:

“When you were at university, did you play pranks on your flatmates?”

“Were they all Scottish?”

Did you go to the lectures?”

“Did you enjoy the lectures?”

“Were the lectures, like, in a classroom?”

And then, a final zinger …

“Why is Newcastle full of Malaysian students?”

I cracked at the last and had to withdraw from further communication for a while. Luckily I was saved by a discussion about Shane Sutton amusingly colourful description of Bradley Wiggins during a rough period as “flapping like a dunny door in a gale.” This then led to talk of Wiggins’ attempt to secure a place in the British Rowing team for the next Olympics.

In his favour, OGL stated Wiggins knew how to train and prepare to a specific goal, had a great engine and long levers and was capable of changing his body shape, seemingly at will. He also cited the precedent (albeit the other way around) of Rebecca Romero leaving rowing to become a successful cyclist.

The only major negative we could find was his age, but as G-Dawg argued, it hadn’t been a hindrance to Steve Redgrave, you just needed to pick a crew young and talented enough to carry you across the line. (Sorry Steve, only joking).

The Garrulous Kid was having none of it, declaring Bradley Wiggins would be a “rubbish rower” because he only had twig like arms and no upper body strength. We tried to explain that rowing was as much about the legs and lungs and core as arm strength and that the seats in the boats actually slid backwards and forwards so you drove them with your legs.

This seemed too complex a concept to grasp and the Garrulous Kid flatly refused to believe that leg strength was, in anyway, necessary to row fast, or even that the seats moved in a boat.

The Colossus asked if he’d ever been on a rowing machine in the gym.


”Did the seat slide back and forwards?”


What was it called again?”

“A rowing machine…”


”But that doesn’t move … a boat moves on the water!”

I couldn’t quite grasp why this was such a difficult concept for the Garrulous Kid to wrap his head around, so tried to counter his objections in simple terms.

“So, if you’re in a plane travelling at 700 miles an hour and drop a pen, does it just fall straight back down, or fly backwards?”

Luckily as a physics student, the Garrulous Kid was able to correctly identify and apply Newton’s first law of physics. Although I’m not sure if it helped him understand the mechanics of a rowing boat any better, we had great fun imagining the mayhem caused in airplanes if this law didn’t apply and any dropped object would shoot backwards with the velocity of subsonic munitions.

The cafe remained resolutely empty apart from itinerant bands of frozen cyclists, popping in for a brief respite and chance to defrost. I suspected it was going to be a quiet day business-wise and began tormenting G-Dawg with the thought they’d never sell all the ham and egg pie now and maybe, just maybe, they’d let him adopt it and take it home.

It was still early when we left, pie-less,  but it had warmed up a few degrees, so all but the Garrulous Kid took a longer route back. The first few mile were hard and into a particularly chilly headwind that seemed to spring out of nowhere, but afterwards it was plain sailing. After looping round Darras Hall, I was within striking distance of my usual route back and struck out for home on my own.

Soon home, ice avoided, cold conquered and ride complete, it turned out to be not such a bad day, after all.

YTD Totals: 6,962 km / 4,326 miles with 79,909 metres of climbing

Wooler Wheel Borderlands Sportive – Saturday 16th May

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     172.6km/107 miles with 2,593 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             6:58 hours

Group size:                                            8 less 2 (then 5, then 2, then 1)

Weather in a word or two:               Changeable

wooler wheel

No Club Run this week, as a bunch of us found ourselves getting up at an unfeasibly early, God-forsaken hour of Saturday morning to travel Even Further North™ in order to start the Wooler Wheel Borderlands Sportive at 7.30am.

For those who are geographically challenged, or lacking an encyclopaedic knowledge of the hidden rural enclaves of deepest, darkest Northumberland, Wooler, according to the event manual, is located in the far north-west corner of England, “perched perilously between the steep foothills of Cheviot and the Milfield Plain”. Strange, it didn’t seem all that dangerous a place when we got there, and I don’t recall much seismic activity in the Border Region from my Geography ‘A’ Level. Mind you, since I achieved that I think we’ve actually entered a completely new geological time period, so maybe things have changed.

Climbing out of Wooler, the route bends east to the North Sea, then turns quickly north before we get our feet wet, to run parallel to the beautiful Northumbria coastline for a while. Climbing over the border into Jockland, it then runs west along the Tweed Valley, climbing steeply to Scott’s View, dropping down into Teviotdale, and then climbing again, up and over the Cheviots to return to Wooler. Hmm, I’ve used climbing four times in that paragraph – that seems about right.

The Event HQ was located in a cattle market, which, although providing plenty of space and parking, did leave me with a somewhat sacrificial feeling, as we were herded through the dark and empty cattle pens to sign on, slipping and sliding down the same concrete ramps that I’m sure give our hooved bovine friends a similar feeling of nervous uncertainty.

From parking, to sign on, to fitting numbers to the bike, to lining up at the start gate, I managed to find, lose, find again, partially lose, search for and then find all 8 of the club lads and lasses set to ride, as well as a few others who were doing the shorter 100km route. Organising cyclists is an utterly thankless task, much akin to herding spooked cats in a thunderstorm. It was unsurprising therefore that by the time we’d rolled through the start gate minutes later our numbers were already down to 6, with 2 riders AWOL and never to be seen again. Maybe they fell foul of the hidden perils of the Milfield Plain?

The weather was bright and breezy for the most part, occasionally interspersed with sudden heavy showers, and a westerly wind that seemed to gather in strength as the day wore on. This necessitated several stops to pull on and take off rain jackets as the squalls blew past. Other than that the day was warm enough to go without overshoes and just arm and knee warmers.

Out on the road, and one of our number started romping up the first serious hills like a supercharged and enraged Armstrong chasing a Simeoni break, but I wasn’t remotely tempted to join in. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve ridden over a hundred miles so I adopted a much more cautious and conservative approach, dropping to the back and matching pace with our slowest rider as I tried to casually spin out a low gear. It was surprising to find cyclists already walking up the hills, I hope they were on the shorter route.

We hit the coast for some spectacular views of Holy Island and the Farnes, and our first headwind, slowing progress and demanding a bit more grunt, but were still clipping along at a decent pace and chattering merrily as we crossed the border into Scotland.
The first water stop was an opportunity to recharge bottles. Luckily mine was still fairly full as the group taste-test concluded the replacement water was “minging” and tasted heavily of chlorine. The contents of several bottles were summarily jettisoned when we called a quick pee stop.

Our first marker was at around 36 miles, where I reckoned we’d completed the first third of the course. It was at this point that I realised just how far 107 miles actually is and how long the ride was going to take. It was around this time that we lost the first of our number who, deciding the pace was too high, sensibly dropped off the back to continue in a more leisurely manner.

50 miles came and went, and the chatter in the group became less and less while legs became heavier and heavier.

75 miles and we’re mainly riding in companionable silence, occasionally stopping to don or doff rain jackets as the weather couldn’t make its mind up. We’re now faced with a series of ramps that lead us onto the climb up to Whitton Edge and the 301 metre highpoint of the route. Up ahead, in what appeared to be an argyle chequered jersey of white black and purple, a rider was weaving across the road trying to keep his momentum going as he struggled with the incline. He ran out of road and shuddered to a halt on the verge. I rode around him and followed his companion, also clad in argyle like a Garmin-Cannondale negative. This rider had bright pink fluorescent socks (why?) that looked so absurd that I was momentarily distracted from the pain in my legs, and I followed him to the top.

A quick chat with a photographer at the water station there confirms there are only a couple of serious climbs left, and we tip over the summit for a scary-mad, narrow twisting, descent down to the valley floor. For the first time all day I’m in the big chain-ring  with enough momentum to carry me over the a few minor hills without changing down and I take a long pull on the front.

Now I’m fixated on my Garmin and the slow countdown, always having to add 7 to the quick calculation of 100 minus however many miles the computer shows that we’ve done. I’m beginning to really hate those extra 7 miles, and whoever was so untidy or just too lazy to devise a ride with a nice round number, and I’m becoming a little too fixated on them.

Several cruelly hard ascents follow. They would normally be nothing to fear, but given the distance we’ve covered already and the “grippy” road surface, they have us slowing to a sustained and painful crawl. 100 miles come and go under our wheels, and there’s just that awkward, bastard, tail-end, untidy, cast-off, the uncalled for and damned inconsiderate runt of 7 miles left.

I note 102 miles tick past, ride some more, look down and the screen still resolutely shows 102 miles. I ride some more, telling myself not to look, and then I do, and it still says 102 miles. Maybe I’m cracking up?

Finally, agonisingly the screen ticks over to 103 and we’re on the last leg. We’re strung out along the road now, heading in and burning whatever meagre supplies of energy we have left. I’m clinging to the rear wheel of the first rider in our group as the miles squirm past. 104-105-106 miles and now the road is pan flat, but there’s a savage headwind. I’m slowly detached from the wheel in front, but as I turn into the finish strait my companion has slowed and is waiting (what a gent!) and we freewheel across the finish line together reminiscent of LeMond and Hinault conquering L’Alpe in ‘86 – although I suspect our ride was much harder.

The Wooler Wheel – like Alpe D’Huez, only harder.

All that was left was to collect our (rather tasteful) T-shirts (immediately bagged by daughter number#1) and enjoy a traditional pie and peas meal (haute cuisine to us Northerners, and a welcome savoury break from sickly sweet gels and energy bars.)

All in all a great day out, and a fantastically well-organised event with clear sign posting and marshalls on all the major junctions to not only point the way, but control what little traffic we encountered. The countryside was somewhat wild and remote, but beautiful and the weather decidedly changeable – I was very surprised to find I had sunburned calves at the end – thankfully tiredness numbed the pain.

YTD Totals:         2,160km/ 1,342 miles with 23,474 metres of climbing