The rain that was forecast for Saturday apparently got the bums’ rush and passed through quicker than expected, leaving us with a relatively dry run, well, if you don’t count one or two quick showers and the bedraggled, water-logged landscape and puddled roads left in its wake. I was on the last, downhill leg of my run-in to the meeting point when I picked up James III who has recently moved house and so now follows a similar route to me across the river and out of the valley.
It was most definitely a day for mudguards, but he only had a front one fitted, the rear one being on his other bike that was away at his LBS for a service, so he tried fitting the front guard to the rear of his bike once we’d stopped, but with no success. Ok, that’s one wheel I won’t be trying to follow today.
Various mudguard hacks were discussed, most of which involved liberal quantities of gaffer tape. This was certainly the solution adopted by Brassneck when the screw holding the guard on his front forks had pulled out, stripping the mount. The fork crown was now swathed in gaffer tape which, allegedly, “Blended in quite well, covered an unsightly hole and stopped it from letting in water.”
“Letting in water …” I sang back at him.
“Letting in war-a-ter …” Crazy Legs harmonised.
Brassneck was unmoved and decidedly unamused. Even when we repeated our little acapella side-show. Oh. Heav-ee. Well, he should just be thankful he didn’t have a hole in his shoe, he’d never hear the end of it.
Crazy Legs brought bad news about G-Dawg, who seems to be suffering from a form of arrythmia and has been advised to avoid exercise for the foreseeable. The withdrawal of one stalwart though was marked by the return of another as Ovis re-appeared and after only managing a couple of club rides last year, he’s more hopeful he’ll be joining us more regularly this time around.
“You don’t happen to have the hotline number for Garmin tech support?” Jimmy Mac then enquired. I looked at him deeply perplexed.
“The satellite’s obviously out of position and it’s skewed their universal timing systems badly off, can you call and tell them.”
“Eh? What?” I was being particularly dense and slow this morning.
He indicated the time on his Garmin. 9:08 it read.
Right. Got that?
I must have still looked perplexed.
He pointed to where Carlton stood waiting. Carlton, our regular metronome, who has previously demonstrated the preternatural ability to turn up at 9:15 precisely every Saturday, the exact moment when we send the first group away. In fact, it had reached the point where he was so reliable that we were using his arrival as an official start of ride signal.
Aha! Now I got why he was concerned.
“New year, new rules?” I offered. It was the best I could do, what other explanation could there be for this strange, otherworldly phenomena?
We had enough riders for two sizable groups, so we got ourselves organised and underway.
I pushed out on the front of the second group alongside Brassneck, who had a cunning plan get his stint in the lead out of the way before our route swung west and we became fully exposed to the predicted stiff (and very chilly headwinds.)
“Puddles!” and “Pots!” became our oft-repeated cri de cœur for the day, as every turn we took seemed to set us amidst one or other of these, and more often than not, both of them together. Brassneck decided that Puddles and Potts was probably the name of a bright new folk combo from County Kildare, while we amused ourselves trying to remember the name of the latest Big Thief album.
“It has a mountain and a dragon in it, definitely a dragon and .. and, I’m going to say a cloud?” Brassneck mused.
You can play along at home if you want, and I’ll even give you a clue, the words we needed were: I Believe In You Warm New Mountain Dragon, but not in that order. Now, try and rearrange that into a phrase that makes any kind of sense … Go on … I’ll wait.
We ran through Dinnington, past the Cheese Farm and climbed up Bell’s Hill before Brassneck peeled off, job well done and primary objective achieved. I stayed on the front, chatting and catching up with Ovis. As we approached each new, road-straddling puddle he would generously swing over and usher me through, with a cheery “After you, sir.”
You would have assumed he was just being a gentleman, until he admitted to using me as a crash-test dummy, or a canary in a coal mine if you will: carefully following my wheel tracks, prepared to veer to either side should I suddenly disappear down an unseen pothole lurking in the murky depths of the water. For a while there I felt like Moses, parting the Red Sea to allow his followers safe passage…
My double turn on the front was completed by the time we passed the dip and swoop through Hartburn. The route then turned directly into a howling headwind, but I felt no guilt sitting sheltering in the wheels as best I could while Carlton and Another Paul battered away on the front as we made our way to Capheaton for coffee and cake.
There I was completely unsurprised to find the waiting G-Dawg, imagining he’d been caught pacing relentlessly around the house like a caged tiger, sulking and bemoaning the missed opportunity to ride his bike until being ordered out by a Mrs. G-Dawg desperate for some peace and quiet. Hopefully he won’t be confined to vicariously enjoying the rides through cafe visits for too long and will be out mixing it with the rest of us soon.
At the turn onto the lane for Ogle we actually had to wait for a car coming the other way, which was a bit of a surprising novelty given the motorists penchant for minor-road rat-runs with all their dubious time-savings.
“Unusual,” I noted.
“Surprisng,” Crazy Legs added.
Crazy Legs was just about to accuse me of stealing from The Princess Bride, when Brassneck interjected, but as his words rose up the register so suddenly they were emitted at a pitch that only dogs could comprehend, we still don’t know what he actually said. I’m sure it was funny though.
I left the group just as we entered the mad mile to be assailed by vicious headwinds and cross-headwinds on all the climbs (and even the descents) on my run home. It was a slow grind, but we made it.
Early Saturday and after days of a stifling heatwave (typically anything above 20℃ in the North East of England is considered extreme) it was quite pleasant to find myself descending through the cooling, clinging mist that had settled overnight, although my arm warmers, shorts and the lenses on my specs were soon beaded with jewelled dewdrops and I had to ship the latter and store them in my helmet vents.
I had my second time trial lined up for tomorrow, so was conscious of not wasting too much energy as I fumble towards finding the best preparation. With this in mind, I bumbled happily along at a fairly relaxed pace, reaching the meeting point without the need for any round-the-houses diversions to fill in a little time.
When I arrived I was introduced to a returning rider who has officially re-joined the club after a notable absence and in the process became about the 29th member called Paul.
I also learned that last week, in his fairly new, official capacity as Membership Secretary, Crazy Legs had serenaded our latest recruit with his very own new club member welcome song. She’d not returned this week and I’m not sure anyone had altogether enjoyed the experience, so that idea has been shelved. At least for now.
I of course had missed this singing celebration because of my mechanical travails last week. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?
Speaking of last week, Biden Fecht had no sooner condemned me to a 2-up TT and put our official entry in, when the event was cancelled due to a safety issue with roadworks on the course. Everyone who’d signed up expressed their utter dismay, none so forcefully as Captain Black, although his Cheshire Cat grin did somewhat undermine his sincerity.
OGL turned up, I think principally to show everyone the mark on his arm, which he assured us wasn’t just any old, common, or garden insect sting, nor even a spider bite, but the result of a sustained and vicious attack by what he described as “some kind of flesh-eating arachnid.”
“Have you noticed any new superpowers?” Caracol enquired innocently.
Apparently he hadn’t. Or at least that’s what I interpreted from his rather salty reply.
Now the mist had burned off it looked like being a decent enough day, but our numbers didn’t quite match-up and we only just topped 20 riders. There was enough for a split though and we managed to get 8 or 9 into the first group without too much cajoling.
I joined the second group and off we went, heading for a drop into the Tyne Valley and a traipse along the river. G-Dawg and Crazy Legs led us out to Medburn, before ceding the front and I pushed through alongside the Soup Dragon. A little confusion reigned as the group split and took two separate descents down into the Tyne valley, so I found myself waving cheerfully at a bunch of cyclists emerging from the village, until I realised it was the back half of my own group. Not that I felt stupid or anything …
Strung out from both the descent and the split, we used the valley road to try and round everyone up again.
“Shout if you’re not back on yet,” Biden Fecht called out from the front.
We heard nothing but silence, so assumed it was gruppo compatto and pressed on.
Just beyond Ovingham, we passed the Famous Cumbrian, on his own and wrestling with a tyre change. Odd that he’d been abandoned by the first group. I asked if he was ok and got an affirmative, so kept on keeping on, down the steep ramp to the riverside path, where I spotted rest of his group, seemingly loitering with intent, soft pedalling and occasionally looking back. They seemed to assume our arrival relieved them of any responsibility to wait around any longer, quickly picked up speed and disappeared up the road again.
We agreed to stop and wait for the Famous Cumbrian at the Bywell Bridge, where Mini Miss climbed a fence to search for some nettles to irrigate, while the rest of us stood around, talking bolleux and enjoying the warm sunshine.
After a good 10-minutes or so with still no sign of the Famous Cumbrian, Crazy Legs retraced our route to go look for him. A further 5 minutes or so went by and Captain Black had a call from Crazy Legs to say the Famous Cumbrian had a puncture in his tubeless set up, was struggling to now get a tube in as a stop-gap fix and we should just push on without them.
Captain Black and Biden Fecht went back to reinforce the rescue mission and to make sure no one was left to ride the rest of the route on their own, while the rest of us carried on.
Just before Corbridge we took the bridge over the A69 at Aydon and started the long climb out of the valley. Here I played the “TT tomorrow card” to blinding effect, letting the front group go, while I tackled the climb at a much more relaxed pace.
From there it was a short hop to Matfen and then up the Quarry, taking the more straightforward run to the cafe. I tried to give the group some impetus as we wound up for the traditional cafe sprint, then was able to sit up and coast home as the road dipped down and everyone blasted past for the usual fun and games.
It was out into the garden at the cafe on what was turning into another hot day – hot enough for the tables with a bit of shade to be at a premium. Talk turned to various Everesting attempts – a rather bizarre challenge that involves riding one selected climb over and over again, until you’ve ascended a total of 8,848m, or the height of Mount Everest above sea level.
I suppose it’s fair enough to attempt if you have some big hills, or ideally mountains in the area, but the flatter the terrain you choose the more laps you need to complete the challenge. G-Dawg referred to one attempt he’d heard of using the local Billsmoor climb. (I could see his lip curling with disdain even as he said it, as he positively loathes Billsmoor). At just 1.9 kilometres in length and a maximum gain of 138 metres, you’d need to ride up and down this climb 65 times just to complete the challenge. You’d also need to achieve an average speed of 34.6 kph if you wanted to beat the record (a mere 6 hours and 40 minutes, although most riders take close to 24 hours straight to complete the feat.)
This whole thing sounds like a swift path to madness (or zwift path, for those attempting vEveresting) and I can safely say I’ll not be giving it a try. But then you probably could have guessed that based on the fact that a 10-mile TT is challenge enough for me.
If Everesting seems a particularly odd activity, we decided actually climbing Everest is even more so, especially now it has become a fully commoditised and commercialised activity. It seems odd to think of having to queue for summit attempts in one of the most remote places on earth and the cost in both time and money (an estimated average $45,000) appears to be making people somewhat reckless to push the limits of safety, with deathly consequences.
We were of course, reminded that it’s also become the domain of B-list celebrities and we all felt truly sorry for the poor Sherpa tasked with hauling Brian Blessed up the mountain, with his voice booming in their ears the entire way.
Being cyclists, it wasn’t long until the seemingly ever-lachrymose and mentally fragile Victoria Pendleton got a mention, because oxygen deficiency can trigger depression, so it’s only natural that she should have been chosen to attempt to scale the world’s highest peak … I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
We left the cafe in good spirits for the ride back home and I left the group and routed through Ponteland to shave some distance off what was heading for fairly long 70+ mile run, completing the last part at a stress free, relaxed pace.
Then, an uncharacteristically early 06:15 start on Sunday found me driving out toward Cramlington for the Barnesbury CC 10-mile TT. I knew it was uncharacteristically early as the only other traffic out on the road was heading to the rugby club at the bottom of the hill for a car boot sale. I didn’t even realise these were still a thing.
The SatNav got me close enough to the race HQ before deciding to randomly send me the wrong way, but I spotted a shiny TT bike sat atop a BMW and followed this into the actual event car park.
There I found the usual cluster of expensive looking, angular bikes with shiny, solid disk wheels, and all sorts of bars and wings and things jutting out their front ends like stylised, heavily-industrialised antlers.
The owners of these machines are typically ridiculously fit and very, very fast and they take this endeavour very seriously. I haven’t quite developed that level of dedication and I’m still finding the attire slightly odd, from the knee-high aero socks to the gleaming Death Star helmets and ultra tight skinsuits (I swear I’ve seen a few of these advertised on eBay as “fetish wear.”)
These skinsuits typically come without pockets, so a lot of my fellow competitors don’t appear to carry all that much with them (unless they have it stashed internally!) That’s never going to work for me as I think I’d struggle without the reassurance of all the usual crap I carry – keys, phone, pump, tyre levers, multi-tool and wallet, along with a couple of spare tubes on the bike.
I got changed and signed on with about an hour to go before my designated 08:29 start and asking for some directions, took the bike out for a ride around the course. This has the secret-squirrel designation of M102C and is run on a flat and fast dual carriageway. It comprises a straight east bound run, then an equally straight northbound leg up to a big roundabout at the halfway point. You then sail around this in order to retrace your steps back toward the start. Simples.
I should have followed the instructions I had to find the start but saw one of the event directional signs and followed this to find myself on the northbound stretch leading up to the halfway turn. All the way around the roundabout, back over the bridge (avoiding the large, raised divot in the centre of the road) and then back the way I’d come.
The problem was one stretch of dual carriageway looks pretty much like any other and I missed the turn and found myself way off course. At 08:15 I was still looking for the right roundabout and beginning to think I was going to miss my start-time. I finally spotted one of the event marshals and he pointed me toward the finish where the time keeper was able to direct me to the start and I bustled my way there with just a couple of minutes to spare.
I arrived, slightly winded, to take my place in line behind a tall guy from Ferryhill Wheelers. Was that the ideal warm up? Hmm, maybe not.
The marshal asked for the race number of the guy in front as he checked his bike over and made sure he had the requisite lights front and back.
“Number 28,” the guy told him.
Satisfied the marshall looked at me enquiringly.
“Strangely enough, I’m number 29.”
“Well, look at that,” my fellow competitor announced, “Cyclists can actually count.”
He pinged his nail off his rear tyre two or three times, testing the pressure.
“It’s a bit late for that,” I told him and indeed it was, as he shuffled forward to the start line and clipped in.
Half a minute later he was gone and it was my turn … 5-4-3-2-1 … and off we went.
On the flat, fast course I was quickly up to speed and soon travelling at a decent clip in excess of 20 mph. I stayed on the hoods for the first few hundred metres to negotiate the first roundabout and then, as the course proper straightened out before me I tucked in and settled down onto the aerobars.
I might, in my own mind, have been travelling at a decent clip, but my minute man caught and passed me before I’d completed two miles. Like I said there are some very, very fast riders doing this stuff.
The second caught me as I was hesitating and trying to decide whether the approaching junction was the one I needed to take at the halfway point in order to head back. He helpfully shouted instructions to stay on the right all the way around and I managed to keep him in sight and follow onto the right exit back onto the main drag.
The third, and last, caught me on the uphill ramp to the junction where we’d be turning west toward the finish line. This was the only time I recall my pace dropping below 20 mph, though I still went up it quicker than the rider who’d just passed me, as the gap visibly narrowed.
Then it was the final long straight to the finish, pushing as hard as I could for the last couple of miles.
There was a car on the final roundabout and if I’d been 10 seconds later, I may have had a marginal decision to make about whether to brake, or try and nip in front of it. Luckily, I was able to keep my momentum going and sail safely by, long before it closed.
A minute or so more effort and I crossed the line, sat up to freewheel around one more roundabout and started to roll back to the race HQ. Done.
The bars seemed alarmingly wide after riding for almost half an hour crouched over the aerobars, but I was pleased to have been able to maintain the position for most of the ride. I was 31st out of 34 riders, completing the course in 26:45 at an average speed of 22.43 mph. This was exactly 1 minute faster than my only other 10-mile TT way back in 2018, so progress of sorts, although that was on a lumpier and windier course.
So there you have it, my brief race season lasted from just the 31st July to the 14th August, covered two events and lasted a mere 1 hour 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Still, the hook has been set and I’ll aim to try more of this next year – I’m starting from a low base so there’s plenty of room for measurable improvement. If not, then I guess I’ll still hopefully and somewhat bizarrely find this whole thing an enjoyable experience.
Back home by 09.30, I felt I’d earned myself a very lazy afternoon, so settled down to watch the European Road Race, the highlight of which was the possibly dyslexic rider from Iceland grabbing up an Ireland musette. Later that day, someone told me they’d found a cure for dyslexia, which I have to say was music to my arse…
Sorry. Sorry, sorry.
That seems like a very good place to end this now …
On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.
I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.
That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.
So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…
The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.
Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.
It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?
I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.
The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.
The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.
Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.
“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.
“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.
As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)
And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?
An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?
With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.
The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.
TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …
In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …
Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.
We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.
“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”
Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.
Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.
I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.
By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.
Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.
Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.
The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.
It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.
Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.
Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.
As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.
I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.
“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.
“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.
“We don’t have to do everything together.”
TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.
This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.
Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …
… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.
Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.
Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.
Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.
With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.
I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.
“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”
“What,” he countered, “Again?”
Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.
Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.
It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?
By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.
We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.
Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?
Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.
By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …
Yes, he returned with our free refills.
(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)
As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).
On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.
A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.
Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?
A better day all round, cool but never cold and while mostly grey, the clouds had the good manners to hold back any actual rain. It would do, it was a far cry from last weeks meteorological thrashing and dry enough even for a white bike too, a decision which was vindicated when Crazy Legs arrived on the much cossetted Ribble.
It was also a day for the animals to show off their strange local, migratory patterns, a grey squirrel being the first to wander idly across my path, followed by cat, a hare and a weasel. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, like some kind of grim prey-predator processional, but interspersed throughout the ride. All were welcome sights, but the same can’t be said for the stupid, suicidal pheasants, who’d obviously got bored waiting for cars on some of the quieter lanes in Northumberland and so seemed intent on committing seppuku by bicycle instead. That’ll get your adrenaline flowing every time.
Maybe I’m getting a bit faster, as yet again I was the earliest arrival at the meeting point and, indeed in time to catch the insurrectionists of the JPF gather before embarking on a cross-river pilgrimage to Slaley. The exotic spoils on the far side of the Tyne were even enough to tempt a few of our regulars to follow too, with Jimmy Mac, the Ticker and Biden Fecht hitching their wagons to the southbound train.
They disappeared up the road in one large, swarming group, but without Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, who arrived moments later having just missed the caboose. We encouraged them to give chase, thinking it would be an easy task for them to catch up (I wouldn’t even have tired), They umhed and they aahed briefly, before deciding to give it a go and then the chase was on.
Our numbers were growing and starting to spread across the pavement when Crazy Legs glanced up, saw an inbound OGL and (purely coincidentally, I hasten to add) determined we had enough people to get a first group out and away. We bumped down the kerb and were off, our group of six morphing into seven when Buster joined, declaring he had to be home early, wasn’t doing the full ride and therefore he didn’t really count against our numbers. Okay, 6½ then. I pushed onto the front with Crazy Legs and we led out the rest, Buster, Aether, the Big Yin, James III and a recurring FNG.
The first thing we passed of note was Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, pulled to the side of the rode and working furiously to repair a puncture that had seriously derailed their spirited pursuit within only a couple of hundred metres of its start. Even they were going to struggle to catch up with that southbound train now.
I learned that Crazy Legs had abandoned his holiday plans last week because one of the family came down with a bad case of kennel cough, and so he’d been out suffering in the rain with everyone else last Saturday. He concluded it was one of the worst experiences he’d had on a bike. (Still, I’m sure G-Dawg would agree, probably better than not going out at all, though.) Crazy Legs was also at pains to absolve himself of any wrongdoing with regard to the unfortunate Bumping Uglies incident with Aether a few weeks ago, swearing blind it wasn’t his brain fart that caused their moment of unexpected intimacy.
At the top of Bell’s Hill we paused for Buster and James III who needed an impromptu pee stop , evoking memories of the Prof and his unfeasibly small bladder. Crazy Legs then managed to embroil us in his travails with anomic aphasia by demanding to know if could think of any famous Dave’s from Cumbria. We all drew a blank, my suggestion that Melvyn Bragg’s middle name may have been David getting short shrift. In reality, we actually found it difficult to name any famous Cumbrian’s at all, and even Google could only suggest a less than stellar cast (ymmv, of course) consisting of Stan Laurel, Beatrix Potter, Ken Russell and William Wordsworth. Oh, and Postman Pat.
Crazy Legs then explained that he’d been calling the recurring FNG “Steve from Teesside” only to discover he’s actually called Dave and from Cumbria. Crazy Legs now felt he needed a handy mnemonic to help remember the right name, hence the odd request. I explained to the others that he did have form in this area, having confessed to asking Caracol multiple times what his name was until, on about the dozenth occasion, he was told it was “still Nick.” He then told us how Eric became “Not Anthony” after a bad case of mistaken identity. Crazy Legs then went on to suggest that the latter mistake was fully under control now, thanks to his uncle having lived the past 3-years with an adopted raven that just happened to be called Eric.
The Big Yin looked on, mouth agape, bewildered. “Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming this?” he asked no one in particular, “It’s so surreal, it must be a dream.”
Off we went again, still searching for famous Cumbrian’s called Dave and threading our way through multiple fields of violently-bright, painfully-yellow, flowering rape-seed that made me grateful I was wearing polarized lenses. I wonder what Wordsworth would have made of it, I mean this was someone who seemed totally overwhelmed by just a few paltry daffodils after all.
Up the slippery slope of the Mur du Mitford, we then took the route that Buster had proposed for his Altered Carbon ride, replete with the new stretches of silky smooth tarmac that had him so aroused. Strangely, at this point he abandoned us to head for home, driven, I suspect by a simple desire not to bespoil another pair of shorts.
At the last minute the Big Yin decided to “go with” and they both zigged while the rest of us zagged, then, just like that our group was down to just 5. The new tarmac down to Netherwhitton was undoubtedly lush, but there was a hell a lot of climbing to get to it and I was beginning to feel heavy-legged even before we had to scale the Trench.
Crazy Legs patiently explained to Dave-Steve, the FNG that there was a junction at the top of the Trench, the first left hand turn, where we’d all stop to regroup before following the road through to Dyke Neuk. With that, we began to climb, passing a bloke toiling upwards on a time-trial bike with an audibly rubbing brake. “As if this hill isn’t hard enough already,” I told him while he glowered at me for having the temerity to ride without any additional handicaps.
Nearing the top Dave-Steve put in a dig and gained one or two metres on Crazy Legs … and then just kept going, riding straight past the turn we needed to take. Crazy Legs and James III bellowed after him to stop (I didn’t have the breath to join in) but all to no avail and we watched Dave-Steve sail on, blissfully unaware, round the corner and disappear from sight, without once looking back.
We waited a good 5 minutes or so to see if he’d re-appear, while I queried if the Scottish border was closed, otherwise their was a danger he might just keep going. Dave-Steve had truly disappeared though, with no hint of a return and our 5 became 4. Off we went in our reduced numbers, passing through Ogle to take the seldom travelled route through Shilvington – still a novelty to me and adding a little extra distance to our ride To be honest though, I was already approaching 50 miles for the day, so didn’t feel it was strictly necessary, especially as we laboured up what Crazy Legs insisted was a false flat, but which looked (and felt) disconcertingly like a hill to me.
Still, it wasn’t long before we were turning into the café at Kirkley, utterly astonished by our good fortune to find … dan-dan-dah … no queue! We only just made it though as our other groups started to pile in shortly afterwards, having decided the Shilvington loop was a novelty they were happy to take a pass on.
I grabbed a bench and was joined by a bunch from one of the other groups, Captain Black, TripleD-El, Princess Fiona Mini Miss, Cowboys and Zardoz, the latter two causing a stir of slapstick confusion around the rightful ownership of a cheese scone. Cowboy’s fact of possession gave him nine-tenths of an advantage (ably reinforced by the fact that he’d already ingested half of the disputed baked good before its provenance became contentious).
Luckily all was resolved happily when a second scone finally appeared, but the incident seemed to have revealed a slight flaw in the café’s delivery system, with Zardoz confessing to once having picked up his freshly brewed cappuccino and downing half of it before he realised he was drinking someone else’s hot chocolate.
Chatting with TripleD-El, we learned that she hadn’t been able to return to the moederland since the start of the year, but was hoping to get back in the next couple of months. She was immeasurably happier with the news that Tom Dumoulin had announced a return to racing, as she felt he was the Netherland’s only legitimate shot at a medal in the men’s Olympic road cycling (unlike the women’s events, where they’ll probably fill all 3 medal places.) I confessed I didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Greg Van Avermaet, so I could finally see the back of the tacky, tawdry gold helmet that has long overstayed its welcome. (It’s not that I have anything against Greg personally, I felt much the same way about Sammy Sánchez’s gold-themed Orbea and that I didn’t even have to suffer for 6 interminable years.)
TripleD-El went on to say how much she liked our new “not club” orange gilets. “Of course you do,” Zardoz chuckled, “Your Dutch, you’re predisposed to like anything orange.”
Talk turned to the possibility of larger ride groups, once lockdown rules are relaxed next week, when up to 30 are allowed to meet outdoors. While British Cycling had recommended a limit of 15 per ride during lockdown, we’d tried to keep more or less to 6 per group. Now, while no one could se a return to mass roll-out’s of 30 plus, the flexibility of being able to form into 6’s, or 8’s or 10’s will provide a little more welcome flexibility. Zardoz’s eyes lit up at the prospect of larger groups, as even the master of stealth has been finding it a little bit harder to avoid turns on the front in the smaller groups.
As if to put the theory to test, a large group of us left the café en masse to ride home together, with Zardoz safely tucked in, out of the wind amongst the wheels at the back. It looked like we were breaking the Rule of Six early, but we were (probably) still within the confines of British Cycling’s 15 man maximum. I don’t know if it was the novelty of seeing so many cyclists together after so long a time, or maybe some form of subtle intimidation by numbers, but unusually the cars along the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill all seemed happy to pull over so we could slide past.
As we started the climb pushed onto the front alongside Crazy Legs and lifted the pace a little. We were hoping for a rest on the subsequent downhill, but found ourselves riding into a strong headwind and had to keep pushing hard to maintain the speed, relinquishing the front as soon as we turned off toward Dinnington.
Mini Miss and Princess Fiona took over and kept the pace high, even increasing it and slapping on their game faces as they pulled everyone up to and past a lone female cyclists.
Past the airport, into the Mad Mile, the sun started to make itself felt and I was looking forward to a pleasant ride back across the river. Passing over the bridge I was surprised to find Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger approaching from the other direction. Not only had they lost the other group, it seems like they’d managed to lose themselves too.
So, here we are, reaching the end of a second lockdown which, even with the most generous interpretation came along at least 3 weeks too late.
Meanwhile, we are being led by a government that’s proven itself to be constantly two-steps off the pace, knee deep in grubby cronyism and criminal grift and incapable of constructing and effectively executing the simplest of plans. I’m surprised Boris Johnson doesn’t have whiplash from the number of violent U-turns he’s been forced to make.
Now, on top of everything else, we’re facing the real possibility of a no-deal Brexit, not because that’s best for the country in these desperately uncertain times, but to satisfy a group of hard-line, blinkered ideologues, who seem intent heaping more misery on an already beleaguered nation.
Elsewhere, a dissembling, venal, dishonest, self-fixated, xenophobic, morally bankrupt, misogynistic, divisive, incompetent, self-aggrandising, delusional, petulant, whining, vindictive, abusive, loathsome, embittered and utterly ridiculous and corrupt reptile of a man, (love ya really, Donald) spreads blatant lies, incites violence and threatens to derail an entire democracy.
If that wasn’t bad enough, more than 70 million of my fellow human beings somehow thought he was worthy of a second term in office. Despite the blizzard of lies. Despite the negligence that has contributed to over a quarter of a million Covid deaths. Despite the bile and spite and hatred. Despite the greed and the corruption and scams. Despite the fawning over mass murderers and despots. Despite the illegality and fraud. Despite the freeloading family and army of sycophants and toadies. And the lies. Always the damned lies.
What a world we live in.
Now seems like a good time to take a break, recharge the batteries, to impose a blerg lockdown, if you will. Perhaps when I feel the urge to chunter nonsense yet again, things will be better … or if not better, at least a little bit clearer and less uncertain.
Ride, I’m off for a bike ride. See you on the other side.
Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.
It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.
I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.
First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.
It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?
Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.
Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.
At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.
G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.
The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.
With over two-dozen of us, we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.
This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.
Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.
I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.
I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, or pushing onto the front and injecting more speed than I could cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, when Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily. Now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.
We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing on the village of Ryal.
I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.
We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a more sustainable pace.
By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.
On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.
Through Ogle I gained ground, until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.
As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.
I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.
Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.
Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …
“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.
Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.
Yeah, you and me both, mate …
He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idiot went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.
I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.
Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I swung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of our front group somewhere on the climbs where I’d been distanced. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.
We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.
Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.
So, in their infinite wisdom, the British Government is intent on relaxing lock-down rules, perhaps not based on any grand plan, but simply trying to create the illusion that things are moving forward.
Personally, I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do, or that we’re embarking on a safe and measured approach. Quite simply, I don’t trust them.
Leaving aside (if you can, and I’ll understand perfectly if you cannot) their appalling double-standards and hypocrisy, succinctly embodied in one particularly arrogant, rule-violating SpAd – after all, double-standards and hypocrisy seem to be the lingua franca of all governments, regardless of political persuasion. Instead, let’s look at the simple, irrefutable and objective facts. The statistics clearly show that under this governments watch, the UK has suffered the second-highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus in the world.
So while BoJo witters on about British exceptionalism and promulgates the illusion we’re a world-beating country, lets just recall that the thing we actually seem best at is killing our own citizens. With such a fumbled response so far, too many excuses and a host of broken promises, how confident are you that they’ve got it right this time?
Anyway, from Monday, the relaxed rules mean that, amongst other things, people in England will be allowed to meet in groups of up to six, outside, while maintaining a two-metre distance.
Entirely the best thing to come out of this announcement was the outpouring of social media sympathy for S-Club 7, although one commentator cruelly declared that they were probably better off dropping the dopey looking bloke at the back anyway.
Amongst our club socialmediaites, it meant quickly fomenting plans to meet up and run out in groups of six, perhaps starting as early as Wednesday evening.
Personally, I’ll be following British Cycling advice which has all club and group activity suspended until the 4th July, subject to fortnightly review and two weeks’ notice of any change. So, in other words, no group riding yet.
While references to a disappointed S-Club 7 made me chuckle, the biggest laugh of the week had to be the news that someone had developed a mod to sync your home-trainer, Zwift-style, with the Grand Theft Auto video game. Now you can ride around a gorgeously rendered L.A. game-world, while porting a high-powered, personal arsenal in your jersey pockets so you can, should you wish, indulge in the odd pedal-by ass-capping (P-Bac.)
With the promise of glorious sunshine throughout the weekend, for my strictly solo, non-virtual ride, I decided to indulge in a little grand theft larceny myself, pinching bits of bike-touring company, Saddle Skedaddle’s “Giro di Castelnuovo.” route. They billed this as “a challenging guided road ride taking in some of the finest climbs in County Durham, including the infamous Passo di Crawleyside” – and promised around 130 kms (80miles) including 1,500 to 2,000 metres of climbing.
I would be modifying the route somewhat, mainly as I didn’t fancy riding into Newcastle to their start point, the Cycle Hub on the north side of the Tyne, just to ride straight back out again. I also planned a different route out of the Tyne valley to get onto the Whittonstall road, while adding an extra descent, so I could climb Burnmill Bank from the bottom, instead of joining it halfway up.
The bit of the route I wasn’t familiar with led from Blanchland to Stanhope, so, on my phone, I noted the 6 hamlets I’d need to pass through en route to Crawleyside and trusted the road signs would be good enough to see me through.
As promised, Saturday was a clear, cloudless day and already starting to warm up as I set off. I tucked a pair of arm warmers into a back pocket, just in case. I shouldn’t have bothered.
Down the hill, I pushed west through Blaydon, Ryton and Bywell to Crawcrook, where I swung north to cross the river at Wylam. Here I was caught once again behind the level crossing as the (tortuously) slow train to Newcastle rumbled past. I must have been on the road later than last time, or the train was actually running early, as I joined at the back of a small queue of cars and didn’t have to wait too long for the barriers to jerkily raise themselves and clear the way.
I pushed along the north bank of the river, pausing at Ovingham to admire the sudden appearance of a half-dozen or so scarecrows just outside the care home. Apparently, what I saw was only a small portion of the 58 fantastic scarecrows built for the village scarecrow competition. By far my favourite was a Trump figure, complete with MAGA cap and intent on wassailing, with a bottle of bleach to liberally imbibe from.
Back over the river at Stocksfield, I took the Broomley climb up through Shilford Woods. From there it was on to Whittonstall, perhaps the most hateful climb of the day – 2.5km up a slope that appears to get consistently steeper the closer you get to the top. It doesn’t help that, like the Ryals, it’s a straight road and you can see what’s coming from miles away as you approach.
By the time I dragged myself over the top I had all the evidence I needed that I’d left my climbing legs at home today and I began to wonder just how sensible my plan was.
I dropped down the other side into the Derwent valley, pausing just above Shotley Bridge for belated breakfast and quick rest to see if I could recover any.
Then it was back to the climbing, up through Snod’s Edge, noticing that traffic was much busier than I’d seen for a long time and being abused by a car passenger for … well for just being on a bike, I think. “Get off the road” was (I believe) the generally incoherent, but obviously wholly reasonable admonition.
Well, there’s something I haven’t really missed in the past few weeks of quieter, seemingly calmer and saner road usage, let’s welcome back all the arse-hat drivers and their super-witty passengers. Sadly, I didn’t have a pocket-full of Molotov’s to share with them.
I descended to skirt the reservoir, now seemingly open for business, with all the road blocks removed and stay away signs taken down. The Muggleswick silver Toyota pick-up is still there though and remains unsold (if you’re interested.)
The bikers were out in force, nosily running the lanes between Edmundbyers and Blanchland, as well as numerous picnicking older couples, oddly pulled just off the side of the road and reclining on camp chairs and rugs, I guess to watch the traffic pass by – maybe they’ve been missing the smell of exhaust fumes?
There were one or two cyclists out as well, but not as many as I would expect on such a glorious day.
Passing through Blanchland, I picked up signs for my first target, Baybridge and then in quick succession, Hunstanworth and Townfield. At this point I should have followed the signs to Rookhope, but a post knowingly pointed it’s stiff finger toward Stanhope, I knew that was my ultimate destination, so I followed it.
All seemed well for a short-time, before the road doubled-back on itself and I realised I was heading toward Blanchland again and guessed I’d then be climbing Meadow’s Edge in the opposite direction to the way I usually do. From there it made the most sense to head directly back through Edmunbuyers, by-passing Stanhope and the testing Passo de Crawleyside. Oh well, I’ve ridden it a few times before anyway. Maybe next time.
My wrong turn came with two notable features. The first was a long sloping field that, somewhat strikingly, seemed to have been overrun by purple wildflowers that the camera on my phone couldn’t do justice.
The second was being escorted out of the area by a large, white-bodied, black-winged bird that flew 20 metres in front of me for about a kilometre, screeching and jabbering back in disgust. Later investigation suggested I’d been dissed by an angry lapwing, who was apparently telling me in avian terms to “get off the road.”
My intuition proved correct and I was soon climbing up Meadow’s Edge, the first part of which seems much harder than the climb up the other side from Edmunbuyers. It’s also noticeably more barren and empty looking when you’re struggling upwards, rather then zipping down the road. Being relatively high up and endlessly exposed, I now had a stiff wind to contend with too and it was, naturally blowing head-on.
At the last junction and the highest point of the ride, I passed another cyclist I’m sure I seen around 2 hours ago approaching Whittonstall, apparently pondering which way to go next. Then I began my long, long descent toward Edmundbuyers, rattled over the cattle-grid and started to pick my way home.
I hadn’t covered the 80-miles promised by Saddle Skedaddle, but by the time I’d clambered up through Burnopfield, I’d topped 1.500 meters mark and found a few viable options for extending one of my favourite rides south of the river.
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.