Here we go again, one more Saturday, one more opportunity to bash the pedals around ceaslessly and see how tired I can make myself.
By the time I was threading my way around multiple lanes of parked cars, crews and the mob of blindly ambling spectators starting to assemble either side of the bridge, I realised there might just be some boatie-mcboatface, regatta-type-rowing-thingie imminent.
A little post-ride delving revealed I’d been in the midst of a British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) 4s and 8s competition that would run across both Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps, if I’d been more in tune with the sport, I could have lent some support to either my alma mater (if such a concept exists in the UK) and former employer, Northumbria University, or my current employer Newcastle University. As you might expect there’s a certain amount of rivalry and a bit of needle between the two, including some relatively amusing banter…
“Give me a C!”
“Give me a D!”
“Give me an E!”
“What have you got?”
“A place at Northumbria!”
At the meeting point, the relatively pleasant, dry, and refreshingly less windy weather had encouraged clubmates out in larger numbers than in recent weeks and, for some reason, around two dozen of us gathered in a loose circle with a wide-open space left in the, like a giant, nightmare and garishly coloured, fairy ring.
“Plenty room for some street-dance,” Crazy Legs encouraged me to “bust some moves” from where he sat, regally perched atop the wall. He was disappointed by my refusal to breakdance, but not yet discouraged.
“Tap dance, then?”
“Err … No.”
We decided “clogging” was probably more appropriate for someone teetering around in cleated cycling shoes.
“Clog dance, then?”
“No! Let it lie.”
I then learned, Brassneck has a significant birthday galloping toward him next week and has now reached that age where he’s due some extra special treatment and attention from the NHS – his very own, complimentary colonoscopy. The lucky, lucky chap.
OGL arrived and pushed his way into the centre of the circle.
“He’s going for it, he’s going to breakdance,” Crazy Legs announced sotto voce.
And then, wholly unnecessarily …
“He’s going to twerk!”
Aagh! There’s an image that’s going to take weeks to scrub from my imagination.
What actually happened was actually more remarkable than a lycra-clad septuagenarian twerking on a pavement in a suburb of Newcastle on a cold February morning, which actually isn’t as rare as you might think.
“I’ve booked a venue for a club EGM in 2 weeks’ time,” OGL announced. Mic drop. There was no further explanation.
There was though, a long, silent pause.
I looked at Crazy Legs.
Crazy Legs looked at me.
I shrugged. Bewildered.
He blinked slowly.
“I’m actually lost for words,” he declared.
Well, I guess there is a first time for everything.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “It won’t last.”
And it didn’t. Aether stepped in to brief in the route for the ride and we grumbled and demurred and cajoled and extorted our way into three (more or less) equal groups, with the only rule of thumb that TripleD-El and TripleD-Be had to be separated. Then, off we went, each no doubt pondering why, after more than two decades of autocratic and anarchic rule, we were suddenly attempting to behave like a rational, normal and competently run cycling club.
I found myself in the third group, riding with Big Dunc and Sneaky Pete, (temporarily, perhaps) over an unpredictable bout of sciatica. We were bolstered by Aether, TripleD-El, Carlton, Teri TK, and Becker, our newly joined, trainee iron
man, iron woman, iron girl, ironwhatever. The route took in all the usual touch points, Kirkley Mill, Ogle, Belsay, Ingoe, Matfen, Stamfordham, but with the novelty of being in reverse order, so we’d actually be riding down the Quarry climb for a little bit of variety.
It was a ride where we kept passing stray members from the other groups, all stopped at the side of the road. Ion was the first of these, fixing a puncture just past Dinnington, while the entire rest of our first group waited around a bend in the road. I was quite impressed with how long it took for them to actually pass us again. We almost made it to Belsay before the catch was made.
Still, I thought things were going ok, until we reached Ryall village and took a left turn down toward Great Whittington. I know the route up this road, but can’t remember ever having ridden down it, or if I have it was with the benefit of gears. This is my excuse for not realising there was an unexpected and very nasty little hump midway. This is only 200 or 300 metres long, but has grades topping 20% and it managed to bring me to a gurning, grovelling and grinding crawl.
Oh well, at least it gave Carlton and Sneaky Pete the opportunity to question my sanity for not riding a “proper bike” and wonder about my masochistic intent.
En route to Stamfordham, we then passed Cowboys, alone and standing by the side of the road, fiddling with his phone and perhaps having to call for motor assistance. He waved us on as he was either ok, or he’d had a terminal mechanical and there was nothing we could do to help.
Just beyond a short dash up and off the somewhat dangerous A696, and not far from our cafe of choice for the day at Kirkley, we passed Ovis, also alone by the side of the road, having managed to slip everyone else to repair a puncture in splendid isolation and without a critical audience. (Note to self: I must ask him how he managed this impressive feat.)
It was near here, on an especially narrow lane, that we encountered a little grey-haired old lady, peering myopically over the steering wheel as she piloted a wallowing, silver BMW-7 Series right down the middle of the road.
She finally spotted the approaching bunch of cyclists but was obviously such a deep and unsettling shock that her brain seemed to freeze, while she continued to roll uncertainly straight toward us. I was just about to bail out into a ditch, when the car came to a dead halt, slap bang in the middle of the road, pretty much blocking the entire lane. Silly me, I shouldn’t have expected her to actually sully her tyres by pulling onto the grass verge to let us pass, that would have been disastrous.
Slowing almost to a standstill, I saw there was just barely enough room to carefully squeeze by down the right-hand side of the car, so that’s what we had to do, while she sat there, apparently paralysed. Hopefully, she could lip-read, but even if not, she probably managed to more or less divine just what I thought about her driving.
Free of this temporary roadblock and fast approaching the cafe, Big Dunc kicked up the speed and lined us out. I hung with the pace until it hit terminal single-speed velocity at around 36-37 kph, then it was just a case of trying to manage the gap and keep the front runners in sight as we closed rapidly on our (always richly deserved) cake and coffee.
So, back to Kirkley after a long, long absence and back to the interminable queuing. As we waited, Carlton and I reminisced about the good old days when we actually used to complain about the slow service at Belsay. Kirkley makes that operation look like a super-slick McDonald’s by comparison and after half an hour of fruitless delay, Carlton was all for boycotting the place for good.
As we waited a guy pulled up on a very smart-looking, Orbea e-bike. The bike he said had managed to keep him cycling well beyond the time when age and infirmity would have kept him grounded, but it hadn’t really solved his major difficulties getting on and off it – something he had to endure with far less grace than I’m sure he would have liked. Along with Big Dunc I saw an e-bike of my own in the not too distant future and I already have plans to spearhead the “Electric” division of the club.
Strangely, despite an almost pathological hatred of Kirkley, OGL keeps finding excuses for turning up and today was no exception. This visit was seemingly prompted by a need to tell everyone about forthcoming road closures near the route we’d taken today, while the council undertake some “culvert works.”
I declared my full support for this initiative, feeling fairly safe in my assertion that, “culvert’s are a protected species, aren’t they?”
“What did he have to say?” TripleD-El asked as he moved on to repeat what he’d just told us to the next group, “Whenever I see him, I can’t help just tuning out,” she confessed.
I assured her it was nothing important and then we were distracted by Aether and Becker finally rolling in. They’d been so long that we were almost at the front of the queue and were starting to get a bit anxious. Apparently, when the cafe madness had kicked off, Becker had ridden hard through a pothole and snake-bit both front and rear tyres, hence the protracted delay, with Aether the only one around to play the good Samaritan and help out. That was naughty of us and belated apologies are in order.
Finally served and sitting at the table, I asked TripleD-El what she was doing in the evening, two weeks on Monday. She looked at me quizzically.
“The club EGM?” I prompted.
“What? When was this announced?”
“Just this morning, I … oh, yeah, you tuned out?” I guessed.
She then wondered whether she could legitimately contribute to any discussion on the future direction of the club as she and TripleD-Be only have a few months left in the UK before returning to the Netherlands. Great news for them, sad for the rest of us. They’ll be missed.
My ride with the group ended a few hundred metres out of the cafe, when they all turned right, while I pressed on up through Ponteland already considering how many rowing fans I was going to have to avoid on the bridge as I made my way home.
|Day & Date:||Club ride, Saturday 26th February 2022|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 41 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||107km/66 miles with 976m of climbing|
|Group Size:||22 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||You know, it was all right|
|Year to date:||586km/364 miles with 6,070m of climbing|