The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.
With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.
So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.
The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.
There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)
On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.
He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.
I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.
Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.
OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …
Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …
OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)
In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.
Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.
“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.
“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”
I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?
“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …
“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”
It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …
Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.
The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.
Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.
We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.
The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.
We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.
“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)
We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.
Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.
I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.
Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.
Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.
Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.
“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.
“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.
There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.
“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.
We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.
Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.
Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.
Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.
As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.
It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.
“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.
“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.
So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.
“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.
“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.
He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …
“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”
“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.
He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.
“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”
I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …
Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.
“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.
“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”
We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.
I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.
“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.
So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.
Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.
He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.
The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.
We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.
“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.
Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.
Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.
“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.
I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.
We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands, De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)
Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”
On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”
We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.
“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).
Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …
“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.
“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.
“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.
A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.
Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.
Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.
I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.
All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.
“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.
“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.
“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”
“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”
As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.
I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.
I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?
Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.
The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.
The concept resonated with the Red Max:
“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.
“Yes, it was good.”
Something to think about?”
“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”
A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.
What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …
And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.
I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.
“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.
This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)
We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.
“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”
“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.
As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.
I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.
YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.
The weather turned much colder, mid-week starting on Wednesday, when I only just managed to make it into work before we were hit with the first snow flurries of 2019.
On Thursday and Friday temperatures plunged further and ice bloomed in oddly random patches, encouraging me to swap the road bike for a mountain bike. This hopefully doubles-up on the amount of rubber in contact with the road surface at any one time. It still wasn’t enough to give me the confidence to ride down one totally ice-sheeted lane I found on my commuting route.
In fact things were looking so bad on Friday that, conscientious fellow that he is, G-Dawg reconnoitred our entire planned route for Saturday and worked out a comprehensive Plan B, based on by-passing those roads he felt were way too sketchy – and there were plenty of those. I should probably clarify that he drove the intended route, he didn’t cycle – I said he was conscientious, not stark staring mad.
So Saturday was cold from the early hours and unlikely to get much warmer as the day progressed. I doubled up on base layers, slapped a rain jacket over my winter jacket and rolled out.
The descent of the hill was great for identifying the weak spots and any chinks in my cold weather armour – the minuscule gap between glove and jacket cuff, everything above the protective buff wrapped around my lower face and the area where the double protection between socks and bibtights petered out.
3°C the flashing LED’s on the factory unit told me, plus (or, is that minus?) the wind chill, the icing on the cake, or maybe the icing on the poor rider in this instance.
Once again though, others perhaps had it worse, as the rowers were already gathering on the river bank as I passed, preparing for the Tyne New Years Head race, 4.5km upstream from Scotswood to Newburn in bitterly cold conditions.
A brief interlude at the traffic lights before the bridge brought me a buzzing from the overhead wires, overlaid with the clomp of many welly-booted feet, as the rowers prepared all their gear. All this was interspaced with the bright, chirruping chatter of a solitary early bird. I’ve no idea why he was so happy, perhaps it was a triumphal anthem as he’d got the worm?
Over the river and climbing out the other side of the valley, I finally began to warm up a little, but I never did feel the need to shed the rain jacket, then or at any subsequent point during the ride.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
On arriving, I found G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Colossus sitting on the wall, no doubt being entertained by the Garrulous Kid, who had his hands thrust obscenely down the front of his tights to keep them warm.
G-Dawg shuffled uncomfortably on the wall. “My backside’s bloody freezing,” he declared unhappily.
“Is that the real reason all cycling apparel comes with a padded seat, ” I pondered. “Heat insulation?”
“Well, if it is, it’s not working,” G-Dawg affirmed.
“You should do this and put your hands down here,” the Garrulous Kid offered, stretching the groin area of his tights out alarmingly to indicate where me mean’t.
“There’s an offer you won’t get very often,” I decided, “Put your hands down your fellow cyclists trousers to warm them up.”
“That’s not what I mean’t” the Garrulous Kid objected, but it was too late.
“It’s me arse that’s cold, will that fit?” G-Dawg demanded
“Is this our #MeToo moment?” a Taffy Steve wondered laconically.
Speaking of hash tags, did anyone else see the banner ads for #amazonshitcarshow and read it the same way I did? I was almost going to congratulate Amazon on brutally honest and forthright advertising, until I worked out what they were really trying to say about Mr Clarkson’s latest opus.
OGL took the opportunity to announce that a diary clash means he’s deprived of Jimmy Mac’s services for one of the races he organises and now needs someone else to step up and act as the event doctor.
The Garrulous Kid immediately volunteered and OGL had to patiently explain he actually needed a qualified doctor, not just someone with a scout’s First Aid badge and a willingness to wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.
Taffy Steve and I wondered if any qualified doctor would do, perhaps a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of religion would serve? Although they probably wouldn’t be all that good at treating bodily injuries, they could always help you rationalise how you came to be lying bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road, or intercede on your behalf with the highest of authorities.
G-Dawg discussed route options and we agreed that the weather had suddenly and unexpectedly softened a little from late last night, so we could probably revert to the original route.
By contrast, the weather now seemed positively benign – which was saying something.
The Cow Ranger confirmed conditions had been deadly on Friday night, he’d gone out for a run with his dog, only to give up when it kept losing its footing on the ice. This saw it spinning slowly in circles, legs splayed, spread-eagled and out of control through a series of comedy falls.
Richard of Flanders appeared having cancelled the Saturday Go Ride session, which he was mean’t to be coaching, because conditions on Friday had looked so treacherous. The sudden and expected thaw now meant he was free to ride with us and G-Dawg wondered just how guilty he felt for this premature evaluation and cancellation.
To be honest, he didn’t look all that guilty, despite the vast numbers of heartbroken kids left at home and probably even now looking out the window and crying softly, while they wondered why they weren’t allowed to ride their bikes today.
Jimmy Mac offered up his own testimony to support the sudden thaw-thesis, relating how he’d attended the rugby on Friday night and determined conditions were so bad, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride Saturday morning, so felt free to indulge in a few libations to the gods of the oval ball. Now, with conditions radically improved, he was out, though feeling just a little bit fragile.
G-Dawg outlined Route Option A, Route Option B if things proved worse than expected and a Route Option C for the consideration of the Flat White club, including several detours to sate the needs of even the most ardent coffee connoisseur. We agreed to play it by ear once we got out into the frigid countryside but, all things considered, his original route now looked do-able.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I was in line, chatting with Sneaky Pete as we dropped down from Dinnington and pushed on toward Berwick Hill, when, with a clatter of skidding hooves on slick tarmac, a startled deer crashed through the trees, skittered across our path and disappeared again.
Through Ponteland and out onto Limestone Lane, we passed two more deer, who stopped briefly to give us the evil eye before bounding away.
“They’re coming down from the higher ground,” Sneaky Pete suggested ominously. Must be cold up there if it’s driving the wild life out, I thought. Oh deer, oh deer. (It’s ok, I’ve finished now.)
Further on and a fusillade of shots rang out from the woods flanking us. perhaps the deer had unwittingly walked into an ambush, or we’d stumbled across the training camp of the Northumberland Patriots preparing for their own private Waco moment.
We survived unscathed and, despite our best efforts and a route that took us along some less travelled back lanes, we singularly failed to find any dangerous, or even vaguely discomforting roads. The only issue we really had was with the Cow Ranger’s chain, which was dropped more times than the bar of soap in a public school shower block.
Strung out a little on the climb up the village of Ryal, we regrouped at the top, inviting the Garrulous Kid to act out his bravado and actually head down the climb. He declined to descend.
Thinking we were of one mind, I rolled away from the group and made my way toward the turn for the Quarry, expecting everyone to catch up in short order. At the junction though, we discovered that our numbers were light and we’d lost a handful of riders.
We pulled up to wait and finally, after long minutes, an estranged quartet of riders finally appeared. They’d realised that the Cow Ranger was missing and retraced our route to the last spot we could remember seeing him, but he remained as elusive as the enigmatic pimpernel. No track, no trace, no sign, no odd stain on the tarmac from a dropped chain.
We pondered where he could have gone – the route straight on led to the village centre before petering into a rough farm track that led nowhere, the right turn would have brought him past us, while a left would see him dropping down the Ryals, which we all agreed was madness in these conditions.
“Perhaps he back-tracked down the same route we took to get up here?” G-Dawg considered.
“Or, he’s hiding behind a hedge, giggling madly at us trying desperately to find him?” I suggested.
After few more minutes of waiting and prevaricating and getting colder, we finally decided the Cow Ranger was a big boy and could probably look after himself. Anyway, we reasoned, if the worst came to the worst, his body would be perfectly preserved in these freezing conditions and we could pick it up next week.
We pushed on to the Quarry, startled by how much colder it seemed at the top of the climb, our highest point of the day, but still only about 200 metres above sea level. No wonder the wildlife were fleeing to lower pastures.
Jimmy Mac and Caracol took us at increasing pace from the top of the Quarry and through Hallington crossroads, then ceded the front. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention, so Caracol had to physically ask if I was going to come through.
Oops. Sorry guys.
I drove the group through the twisting corners, down the descent to the first junction, then halfway up the rise to final turn before I was done and dropping back, leaving the rest to contend the sprint down to the Snake Bends.
Well, that warmed me up a bit.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
The cafe was surprisingly full and, shockingly, not everyone taking up the seats was a cyclist in dire need of a life-saving injection of caffeine and cake. Didn’t these people recognise our needs? (The short answer is a definitive no.)
We finally found a space tucked into a corner, where Caracol was the first to dare the omerta and query my filthy-dirty and anti-social blerging habits, which (if you’re reading this) you’ll know I’ve singularly failed to break.
I explained that I felt I couldn’t possibly give up when there was such a massive public outcry and outpouring of support for further adventures sur la jante – proudly mentioning that two whole (real and not imaginary!) people had urged me to continue. (Thanks Mum, thanks Dad).
I explained that, apart from finding the time to actually write this drivel, my main problem was simply remembering what actually went on during any given ride – which is why I make all of this up, well apart from the bits that actually happened, obviously. I can’t help thinking the older I get, the more challenging this bit might prove.
Caracol suggested I should not only carry a camera, but maybe a dictaphone too, so I had a record of what was being said. The Colossus though was quick to point out that 3 hours of someone panting like an asthmatic dog on a pollen farm, interspersed with an angry bloke bellowing random, only occasionally intelligible imprecations, probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in constructing a record of what actually took place. Think I’ll stick to wild fiction then.
Taffy Steve arrived expounding on the delights of lime drizzle cake – apparently, while lemon drizzle cake is good – its lime-based cousin is simply awe-some, extraordinary, amaze-balls, da bomb, etc. He’d spent time trying to convince the cafe staff that it was the future, but I suspect he was wasting his time.
Call of the search! At some point during our sojourn the Cow Ranger re-appeared, wholly intact and apparently of sound mind – despite that fact that he had indeed taken the freezing plunge down the Ryals. Brave fellow.
I caught up with Cowin’ Bovril on the way home. He has grand plans to not only buy and restore an original Volkswagen Beetle, but then convert it to run on an electric motor.
At this point I realised that, as an odd obsession, blerging was much less of a money and time-sink than many other strange pecadilloes I could have.
And then we were exiting the Mad Mile and the fun and frivolity was over … for another week. Upward and onward.
YTD Totals: 491 km / 305 miles with 6,771 metres of climbing.
I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.
I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.
The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …
I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.
The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.
Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.
I get out and get going. Sigh.
A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.
And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.
Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.
He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.
It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.
The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.
With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.
“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)
Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.
“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)
Look at the stars Look how they shine for yooo And everything you dooo They were all … Yell-o!
“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.
I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.
“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.
Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …
“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.
“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.
“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.
We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.
“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.
“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.
“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.
“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.
“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.
In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.
“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.
“Well, my Dad listens to them.”
“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”
Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.
“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”
“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.
Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.
“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”
I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.
“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.
Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.
Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.
I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.
In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.
As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.
I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.
As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.
At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.
“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.
“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.
“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.
Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”
As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.
We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.
“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.
“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”
I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.
Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.
Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.
My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…
“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”
“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.
It was time to leave.
As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.
I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.
Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.
There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.
Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.
Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.
I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.
“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.
“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”
“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.
At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.
Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.
As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.
I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.
That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.
As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.
Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.
We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.
“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.
“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.
Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.
He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.
He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.
I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.
Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.
I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.
The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.
As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.
Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.
YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.
Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.
Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.
Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.
I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.
Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.
Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.
I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.
Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.
He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.
For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.
Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.
This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.
“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …
All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)
“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.
G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.
It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.
Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.
By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.
After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.
When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.
Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.
I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.
Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.
“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)
By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.
I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.
I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…
Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.
And he bit.
He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.
G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.
“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.
“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.
“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)
“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.
“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”
(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)
We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.
“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.
Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.
I checked, he was right:
It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam.
I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …
Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.
I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.
He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.
G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.
The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.
It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.
Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.
The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).
2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.
Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!
It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.
And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.
And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.
The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?
G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.
Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”
We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.
I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.
Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.
With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.
The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.
“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.
“Huh?” I asked brightly.
“Gram them,” he repeated.
I still had no idea what he was saying.
“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.
“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”
Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.
The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.
“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.
“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.
We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.
“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”
“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”
The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …
“Ugh! What’s this?”
“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”
“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”
With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.
“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.
“Window.” I told him.
He still had no idea what I was saying.
“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.
“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.
Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.
At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.
We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.
The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.
We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.
The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.
On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.
The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.
I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.
At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.
Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.
He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.
“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”
“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”
We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.
He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.
It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.
“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.
There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.
I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.
Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.
I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.
Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining
YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.
Saturday had me missing the club run in order to fetch Thing#2 back from Term#1 at Leeds University. All kudos is due the gallant 10 who did make the ride, in very chilly and quite unpleasant conditions.
As the snow, sleet and freezing rain set in later in the day, there was a further club gathering of a different kind, the Annual Club Christmas Party and Awards ceremony. Or, yet another excuse for an extended period of doing what club cyclists do best – talking complete and utter bolleaux.
This was held in conditions that were actually worse outside than anything experienced on the ride that morning, so kudos to all who trekked through the weather and made it such an entertaining and enjoyable night. Extra kudos, of course, if you did both the morning ride and that evenings soiree.
Despite the weather, it was a well attended event with around 30 riders and their significant others and a good time was had by all. (As far as I’m aware.)
Things I think I learned:
The Red Max half-wheels the Monkey Butler Boy, even when they’re training indoors on their turbo’s.
The Garrulous Kid’s hair is not resilient to environmental precipitation.
Sneaky Pete thinks G-Dawg models his off-bike, civilian style and swagger on Lovejoy, a character in a BBC TV series who is a roguish, swindling, trickster antiques dealer and unrepentant mullet-wearer. According to Sneaky Pete, the resemblance is so acute he’s even lobbying for me to change G-Dawg’s blog name.
The highlight of the night were the Peroni Awards – (The Peroni’s™ – not to be confused with the Oscar’s™ which are far less feted, less important and significantly less controversial).
The Peroni’s were ably hosted by Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, reminding me of two ex-professional footballers turned-pundits (think Gary Lineker teamed with Robbie Savage) and performing as perhaps the finest myopic double-act since the Two Ronnies.
Ticker won a Peroni for having the loudest wheels in the peloton, Aether for the whitest legs, Goose for a voice that could wake the dead and the Red Max for “furious and relentless half-wheeling”.
I was granted an award for what Crazy Legs referred to as my wordsmiffery – the Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse award – demonstrating an innate ability to turn comedy gold into straw. (Then deftly mix it with liberal lardings of bullshit before launching the whole mess blindly into the public domain.)
Taffy Steve received the most acerbic comment award, but unfortunately couldn’t attend and express his overflowing joy at such recognition. No one felt capable of stepping into his shoes to deliver a terse, witty and suitably blistering acceptance speech.
The self-effacing, “I am Richard” Identity Theft award deservedly went to Richard of Flanders, who can now perhaps reclaim his name from all the weekly route briefings.
I think the, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for today” refrain has probably run its course, after being hijacked by a wide variety of impostors and used with impunity for about 6 weeks in a row.
It has also caused some unnecessary confusion, with Jimmy Mac being referred to as “that Dick feller” on a couple of occasions. Of course, in relating this, I’m discounting the (highly unlikely, surely?) possibility that they are acutely aware Jimmy Mac’s actual name and are simply attempting to describe him in the most accurate terms possible.
The Garrulous Kid was kept happy with seven separate awards, including wins in the most likely to crash category, most likely to inexplicably walk away from a crash unscathed, least able to turn left (he only narrowly missed out on the least able to turn right award) and for completing the shortest club ride – ever. Well, quantity has a quality all of its own, no?
In amongst the fun and frivolity there was even the opportunity to bestow the official, club recognised and actual trophy-laden award of Most Improved Rider, thoroughly deserved by the winner, Buster.
There was also a quick salute to the tireless efforts of the behind-the-scenes team, all the Grips, Gaffers and Best Boy’s, whose too often thankless and sterling efforts underlie our seemingly effortless productions:
Crazy Legs for organising the club 10 mile time-trial and the Club Dinner, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Big Dunc for timing and starting duties at said time-trial and the Hill Climb, plus all the marshals at all the events, Rick Rex for organising the club 25-mile time-trial, the Red Max for the midweek Circus Maximus (Natural Selection) ride and the Circuit Maximus (Chain-gang), our volunteer weekly ride leaders: Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Spoons, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Aether, Jimmy Mac, the Hammer and the Red Max and last, but not least, our monthly social nights organisers G-Dawg and Crazy Legs.
Not forgetting of course, the elephant in the room, or in this instance not in the room, the absentee OGL, for all the bits in-between, as well as bringing that extra ray of sunshine into our lives and being so compliant and accommodating of those who think the club could perhaps be run a teeny bit better.
All this just supports the obvious conclusion that a club is the sum of its disparate, different parts and only ever as good as the people it represents.
So onward we go. Next up is the traditional Christmas Jumper, Bling Yer Bike and Fancy Dress ride. Then it’s downhill-with-a-following-wind, all the way to the end of December and a brand-spanking new year.