Plague Diaries Week#72 – Droond Rats

Plague Diaries Week#72 – Droond Rats

So, back from holiday, back to a Saturday club run and, yes, back to crap weather and unrelenting rain.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The forecast suggested light, intermittent showers and to be fair, it was fair, well at least to start with. This though lasted only as long as it took me to wrangle my way down into the valley, cross the river and climb up to the meeting point. There, as we sat shooting the breeze and waiting to coagulate into the slow moving clot, the cycling club thrombosis so beloved of motorists, the rain started in earnest and then it didn’t relent for more than a few minutes at a time until I was crossing back over the river and heading home 5 hours later.

While the forecasts got the persistence and volume of rain spectacularly wrong, they were at least right to suggest we were at the mercy of raw weather fronts bearing down on use from out of the Arctic circle and correctly predicted a corresponding drop in temperatures. As a consequence I’d risked going with a thicker, long-sleeved jersey, which I was having second-doubts about on my way over, but which proved a good choice once the chill rain set in and the temperature dipped toward single figures. Others didn’t prove quite so lucky with their clothing gambles.

At the meeting point I caught up with Kermit before he departed for Judean People’s Front Ride. He knew I’d been on holiday up the Northumbrian coast at Guyzance and took great delight in telling me I’d found a place so remarkably unnoteworthy that its only claim to fame was being close to where 10 soldiers drowned while taking part in a military exercise on the River Coquet in 1945. According to Wikipedia, the river was in full flood and their boat was swept over Smeaton’s weir, after which it capsized and the men had all been so weighed down by their gear, they couldn’t escape. An extreme example of poor gear choices leading to unfavourable outcomes?

G-Dawg briefed in the route which would include an ascent of the Ryals and a coffee stop at Capheaton. He then put out a polite appeal for volunteers to undertake the British Cycling accredited marshal scheme, quickly followed up by OGL inviting us all to partake in our very own existential crisis and contemplate how useless we are. This is all beacuse he’s desperately short of marshals and drivers for an event next week that the majority had no idea was actually taking place. We were then roundly berated for not having stepped forward to help as apparently ignorance is no excuse, even when the radio silence from the club hierarchy is deafening.

At some point, mid-diatribe, Richard of Flanders rolled up, saw what was happening, turned tail and furtively scuttled away. Who can blame him?

One last rant about the excessive length of Saturday rides (largely unchanged in my almost decade with the club) and then we were off. I pulled out a rain jacket, zipped it up and left the shelter of the car park to join battle with the elements.

I slotted in alongside Captain Black and we hadn’t gone more than half a mile when he started cursing his Castelli rain jacket, which he said was meant to be at least showerproof, but apparently had all the water repellency properties of kitchen roll, and not even the quilted posh stuff either.

At the first corner we created a squall of wet disk brakes and I warbled along with their discordant song. My own rim brakes were mercifully silent, but lacked the same stopping power.

“Did you see that report on the local news about the increase in trespassing on British Rail train tracks,” I asked Captain Black. He hadn’t. “One of the drivers of an InterCity 125 said that if he pulls the emergency brakes on at top speed, the train’ll come to a halt in about a mile. I think that about matches my stopping distance today.”

Captain Black asked about our holiday, which I told him had been good, despite running into Goose on a remote Northumbria beach. I also mentioned Thing#1 and Thing#2 had especially enjoyed swimming in the frigid North Sea as they’re too young to know any better.

He shuddered inwardly. “It’s not Nice,” he affirmed.

“No. It’s not even nice,” I agreed.

This ride was proving to be both not Nice and not nice as well, but on we pressed under unrelenting rain, until we hit Matfen, where the roads were eerily dry for the briefest of respites. Then, as soon as we left the protective bubble over the village, undoubtedly built by some rural super villain, we were back to our earlier drenching.

Climbing up through Great Whittington we were assailed by a small yapping dog that hovered annoyingly around Cowboys spinnning pedals. I checked, but the general consensus was it would be considered bad form to knowingly run the dog over. Maybe that was just as well because I didn’t notice its potential protector, a massive bull watching us warily from the field opposite. Then again, maybe the bull wasn’t its protector and it might have approved if I removed the yapping irritant from its life.

We soon reached a junction with the A68, or Dere Street as my Strava route map euphemistically names it, a horrid stretch of winding, undulating road with a bad reputation for speeding, inattentive motorists and multiple accidents.

We were only going to be traversing it for 500 metres or so, but were understandably a bit cautious, especially given the wet surface and low visibility conditions and the fact we’d be travelling some distance in the middle of the road in order to take a right-hand turn. We decided to drop down its steep slope in pairs, giving each other plenty of space, like fugitives in a prison break, except we were desperate to be visible, not remain hidden.

This obstacle was negotiated safely and we pressed on to the next one, the climb of the Ryals, always difficult, never remotely pleasant and I swear the surface is getting worse each passing month. It’s especially challenging when slick with rain and on the steeper lower slope my back wheel slipped horribly and I lurched forward rapping my thigh against the end of my handlebars hard enough to tear a hole through my best shorts and leave me with an almost perfectly round bruise. I wobbled, but luckily remained upright and managed to drag my way to the top spinning the lowest gear I could find.

From there we negotiated a route around a rather sodden, but cheerful bunch from the Tyneside Vagabonds, turned up to the Quarry climb, were passed in turn by the Vags, then had to pick our way around them again as they pulled up when one of their number punctured.

The steep bit of the Quarry proved no challenge at all after the warm-up of the Ryals and then, a few more miles and a few more hills later, we found the welcome refuge of the Capheaton café and hustled inside to enjoy temporary sanctuary from the rain and some well earned coffee and cake.

We looked like a sorry bunch of drowned rats, trailing puddles of water behind us. I peeled off my Agu rain jacket, after a couple of hours I’d felt the water start to seep through a little on the sleeves, but I was damp rather than wet. No such luck for Captain Black who determined his Castelli rain jacket had failed so badly it would henceforth be know simply as his Castelli jacket.

Brassneck suggested his jacket had been impermeable to the rain, but he was still uncomfortably moist as the water seemed to have travelled up from his shorts by osmosis. I wondered if the purpose of pads in cycling shorts was just to act like a big sponge and soak up water.

“But at least no one was foaming at the arse this week,” Brassneck concluded.

Perhaps worst affected of all of us was G-Dawg, who’d ventured out clad only in shorts and a short sleeved jersey and felt the chill as soon as we’d stopped riding. He now found the radiators in the hall were on and glued himself to one of them, while TripleD-El commandeered the other one in a futile attempt to dry out some of her gear.

“It’s like a Belgian Spring Classic, but in August.” he noted dryly. (Or, perhaps wetly, depending on your point of view.)

He then declared it would be one of the rides when you step off the bike and straight into the shower.

“Or, just ride straight into the shower,” someone suggested.

“I only ever did that once!” G-Dawg protested, “Eeeh lad, it’s funny how that kind of reputation will stick to you!”

Meanwhile, TripleD-El found a current satellite image of the weather that seemed to show thin ribbons of rain running almost exactly along our route, the implication being that 50 metres either side and we might find dry weather.

We finally manage to peel G-Dawg off the radiator and reluctantly saddled up. Perhaps not surprisingly no one was interested in the slightly longer return home originally planned into the route. Still, things almost bearable once we got going and managed to warm up again and by the time we hit Kirkley the rain had all but passed.

I left the group and struck out on my own toward Ponteland, thinking I’d at least dry out around the edges before I got home, but dreading the state of the bike and the major clean-up job I had ahead of me.


Riding Distance:115km/71 miles with 1,013m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours
Average Speed:23.0km/h
Group Size:12
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Appalling
Year to date:2,647km/1,645 miles with 27,789m of climbing
Image by Konevi from Pixabay

Entropy

Entropy

Club Run, Saturday 1st December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:92 km/57 miles with 605 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:24.4 kph
Group Size:24
Temperature:6°C
Weather in a word or two:Unremittingly bleak

Ride Profile

The amber tinted lenses of my Agu cycling specs can usually make even the bleakest of days appear bright and sunny, but they must have developed a fault and stopped working on Saturday. The sky was sombre-hued and oppressively dark, piled with heavy clouds, while at ground level, a dull, chilly mist hung low, wet and stifling. Still, I thought happily, dank, damp and dreary as it is, at least it’s not actually raining…

Front and back lights on and blinking away furiously in the murk, I dropped off the hill and began to make my way to the meeting point.

I found both sides of the bridge swarming with cars, trailers, boats and over 100 crews, all congregating for the Rutherford Head of the River Race, which promised a pretty full day of competition out on the water.

The Tyne Rowing Club would later describe this event as being held in “excellent conditions” although they did qualify this with the admission that they just meant it was excellent for rowing – i.e. calm and windless. They did acknowledge that crews, launch drivers, marshals and umpires suffered mightily in the freezing cold rain.

This freezing cold rain featured in our ride too, starting almost the moment we left the meeting point and continuing, without pause, for the entire duration of our ride and beyond. Another bleak and brutal day – to be endured as much as it was enjoyed.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I noticed G-Dawg had relocated his big brass bell to the side of his stem.  This, he explained, was not only more discrete, but stopped him sounding like a struck gong whenever he rode through a pothole. Besides, I suggested, he could always ring it with his knee, like the cycling equivalent of a one man band. G-Dawg then fondly reminisced about utterly destroying the down-tube shifter on his old mountain bike, when he kneed it into oblivion during a particularly vigorous, out of the saddle climbing exercise. 

We were hoping that Goose would turn up with the new 1,500 lumen front light he’s been boasting about, but it wasn’t to be. Sensibly he’d decided that his already weighty, steel behemoth of a grand touring bike, burdened under multiple pannier racks, was handicap enough, without adding the additional weight of his new portable searchlight and separate battery pack.

He did suggest the new lamp was good for picking out bombers on a moonless night, communicating with fishing boats far offshore, or just turning midnight into midday. I wondered if it would also be useful for lamping rabbits and badgers, a use Goose hadn’t previously considered, but now began to seriously think about. Perhaps it could even have brightened the gloom of this particular morning …

But then again, probably not. 

Goose sought out OGL for advice about swapping out the cantilever brakes on his steel behemoth for something more effective. The price of this advice was, of course, the standard, ritual condemnation of his bike, this time with the added spice of an assertion that Goose’s rear wheel was, in highly technical terms, fucked. The rim apparently badly worn and the tyre bulging.

“She’s gonna blow,” I think was the exact phrase used, something I never thought I’d hear outside of Hollywood’s hoariest movie cliche’s. (According to the Short List, it belongs in the top 20 most over-used lines in Hollywood blockbusters, having appeared, with scant variation, in 53 different movies.)

Shockingly, it was Garmin Muppet Time +2, before a seriously tardy Aether called for attention and began to address the gathered riders, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.”

The plan was to include an ascent of the Quarry climb, before a general re-grouping, with longer route options around Capheaton and Hallington. 

Crazy Legs outlined the Third Way, a more refined, relaxed and genteel, Flat White Ride, that would once again make use of the excellent cafe facilities at Matfen. I flashed him a quick thumbs up – it seemed like a grand plan.

Although shorn of the actual and original Monkey Butler Boy this week, his Wrecking Crew of Monkey Butler Boy Mini-Me’s all congregated at the start, aiming to set out with us, like a fighter escort for a group of heavy bombers. After brief exposure to their chatter, I’ve decided the most appropriate collective noun for a group of Monkey Butler Boys is a squabble.

Ignoring the squabble, who would we know, abandon us after just a few miles, there were 24 of us and we decided to split into two groups. Numbers looked suspiciously low in the front group as they started to form up, so I bumped down off the pavement and joined up, hoping to even things out a little.


With Jimmy Mac, Kermit, the Cow Ranger and Rainman driving things along on the front, we started fast and just kept going.

The pace was so high that when Caracol dropped back to pull on a waterproof jacket in the face of rapidly intensifying rain, he had a real chase just to catch back on.

Then, once they reached Bingo Fuel, the squabble made off like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. I thought at one point they had managed to abduct the Garrulous Kid in his ruby red jacket. Somehow though he managed to extricate himself from their evil clutches and slowly dropped back and into our group again.



I hung at the back, catching-up with Kermit, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG, Baby Doc, for much of the ride.

With his help I charted the ingress of cold water as it breached my defences, first the waterproof gloves, then the waterproof boots and finally the forearms of my waterproof jacket. I made use of his medical expertise to check out known cures for trench foot, reasoning it could be knowledge I might need before the end of the ride. 

We also discussed why certain drivers, particularly those who struggle to wear a cap the right way round, pay good money to make their cars sound broken. We reached no conclusions.

As we hammered through Matfen, I was tempted to peel off into the cafe and await the appearance of Crazy Legs and the rest of the Flat White Crew, but the opportunity went past long before cryogenically sluggish limbs could respond to my frantic brain signals.

Caracol shipped his chain on the climb, so we had a brief pause to regroup, before the pace was pushed up again, as we drove toward the Quarry seemingly anxious just to get the ride over with.

I was in tight and up close to Rainman, as we made the run to the bottom of the Quarry Climb. Too close, as a matter of fact. He jumped out of the saddle and there was that dreaded micro-pause as he suddenly stopped pedalling and his bike seemed to lurch back at me.

With a loud “bzzzzt” my front tyre butted his rear wheel and was flicked to the right. I twitched it back, through a more prolonged “bzzzzt, zzzzt”  as I  brushed his tyre again, but this time going in the opposite direction. Then he was pulling clear, I steadied the bike, breathed a sigh of relief and, still resolutely upright, on we went.

The top of the Quarry climb was the designated point for everyone to coalesce before splitting into fast and slow, short and long rides. Most of us though had seen quite enough of the foul weather and decided to cut the ride short and head straight for the cafe.

G-Dawg said he would hold back to meet up with the others, while Caracol, Ovis and a few other brave and hardy souls decided to complete the full ride.   

I was left alone with lots of big, powerful and fast units. Oh and Kermit. Jimmy Mac, Rainman, the Cow Ranger and Baby Doc began driving the pace up and up as we closed on the cafe.

I hung on with a bit of late braking and tight cornering, even hitting the front on the grind up to Wallridge Crossroads in a show of ill-conceived bravado. I was helped in my task by members of the local hunt, ambling their mounts up and down the road and causing the racing peloton to briefly slow and give the sometimes skittish horses a wide berth.

As the final sprint wound up I was on Kermit’s wheel until he decided he’d had enough, eased and dropped away. By the time I’d rounded him the gap had blown wide open and there was no closing it, so I rolled into the cafe on my own.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Talking about my touch of wheels, the Cow Ranger declared that, “it caused a ripple through the entire peloton.”

“Well, it caused a ripple through my entire colon, too,” I offered.

Riders kept pitching up to drop new, wet articles on top of the pile of discarded hats, gloves, caps and buffs already laid in a steaming pile on top of the stove. Rainman played Mother, deftly flipping gloves and hats like the world’s best short-order cook, ensuring they were evenly toasted on both sides and encouraging their wet dog smell to pervade the entire cafe.

Kermit, with access to the stove blocked by our “Frying Dutchman”™ took to drying his hat on over his teapot, which wore it like a bad, cycling tea cosy – perhaps something Rapha would make and sell for a small ransom.

His cap was soon steaming briskly and I wondered how he was going to explain away a scalded scalp when he arrived at A&E, having clapped it onto his head without letting it cool slightly.

Then, of course, because I was surrounded by a bunch of medical types, they started to regale us with all the odd insertions they’d recovered from their patients body cavities and all the convoluted excuses used to explain them, such as one unfortunate trying to justify to the Cow Ranger how they accidentally ended up with a toilet brush firmly wedged up their rectum – bristle end first.

Jimmy Mac recalled one particularly delicate operation to remove a broken Coke bottle from an anal passage, after which the medical team were challenged by the supervising surgeon to explain why the patient had used a Coke bottle. 

After a few minutes of rejecting all their wild and inaccurate medical  and anatomical speculation, it was revealed that the correct answer was, “because he couldn’t get 7-Up.” This, I think just goes to show that even the most elevated and refined amongst us aren’t immune to the allure of bad Dad jokes. 

Across the next table a fellow cyclist was brought a plate of steaming poached eggs on toast and a suddenly interested Kermit wondered if he’d be allowed to drop his cap over them, to help dry it out a little more.

I then pulled my buff back on and Kermit told me it made me look like Eton-and Oxford educated, Tory Euroseptic (sic) and Bullingdon Club Grand Poobah, the privileged, bigoted, supremely condescending and quite abhorrent, Jacob Rees Mogg. Kermit, you complete and utter bastard. I. Hate. You.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac wondered why everyone seemed so keen to set their gloves to smouldering on the wet stove. “I think cold and wet is much more preferable to warm and wet,” he declared.

I wondered if this was a general life choice, or only extended to water-logged articles of cycle clothing. He defended his position by referring to the phenomena of boiling water freezing much quicker than cold water, arguing you’d be chilled quicker in warm wet gloves, than in just wet gloves.

Often referred to as the “Mpemba Effect” – Jimmy Mac explained that the most likely explanation for this was “entropy.” I was in no position to argue and took him at his word. (Trying to read up about it later, I would be defeated by the sentence, “hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds but stronger than the van der Waals forces that geckos use to climb walls” – so let’s just leave it there and go for entropy as an adequate enough explanation, ok?)

“See,” Jimmy Mac declared, “I think we’ve genuinely raised the level of cycling club talk to a whole new, stratospheric, super-enlightened height.”

A few breaths later and we were back discussing the value of waterproof socks and neoprene overshoes. I looked across at Jimmy Mac and mimed a plane nose-diving into the ground. Well, he’d tried.


At the cafe early, we set off for home early, in the same small group, again ramping the pace up for the first few miles, just to try and warm up. At the Kirkley junction, I swung away for route through Ponteland and past the airport, making a bee-line for home and not even considering my usual short-cut which grants me quieter roads, in return for a bit more climbing.

As I dropped down toward the river, the valley floor was shrouded in low, wet and clinging cloud – ideal conditions for the dozens of crews scattered across the Tyne? Maybe not.

The same, thick, wet fog served to decapitate part of the Heinous Hill, but I sadly knew it was an optical illusion and the road still dragged all the way up to the top. Despite carrying perhaps an extra 4 or 5lbs in excess water in my sodden clothing, I managed the climb reasonably well, spurred on by thoughts of a hot shower, although dreading the pain it would bring as the blood flooded back into my frozen extremities.

Before disappearing to scream like a girl in the shower, I discarded  a pile of  water-logged outer kit on the tiles in front of the washing machine. It looked as if someone had caught the Wicked Witch of the West in our kitchen, poured a bucket of cold, dirty water over her head and watched her dissolve until there was nothing left but a puddling heap of sad and sodden, dirty clothes on the floor.

So, not the most pleasant of rides, still it had its moments and was suitably entertaining despite everything. Hopefully things will be better when we give it another go, next week.


YTD Totals: 6,936 km / 4,310 miles with 84,684 metres of climbing