Short. Sharp. Shocked.
I was halfway down the hill, scowling at the bad weather when a burst of hail and icy rain suddenly engulfed me and blew straight through my light rain jacket. I was instantly wet through and cold and, if I hadn’t been closer to the bottom than the top, I might just have abandoned the ride at that point. Once again I felt betrayed by the weather forecasters and knew I’d made the wrong jacket choice.
The river as I crossed it was wide and still and empty, any rowers evidently off competing elsewhere, or doing the sensible thing and staying snug in bed. Or, maybe smug in bed? Hmm, probably both.
I pushed onto the climb out of the valley, warming up a little as the shower passed, the slope bit and I transitioned from wet and chilled to cold and damp and breathing hard. The relief was short-lived and as I reached the highest point on my journey across and started the gradual downhill run to the meeting point, the showers returned, this time with swirling snowflakes mixing it up with the spiteful, stinging hail.
I fantasised that no one would show up at the meeting point and I’d be able to sneak home and go back to bed, but I knew it would be a forlorn hope and I wouldn’t be the only one daft enough to be out in this weather. Still, things looked promising when I first arrived, and taking shelter in the car park I enjoyed a good few minutes of splendid isolation while I danced from foot to foot to try and encourage the blood to return to my toes. Then Rab Dee turned up and spoiled things. He usually rides with Those Thou Shalt Not Call Tardy, but recognised they would all, almost surely, be taking the sensible option of staying indoors today, so he decided to throw his lot in with us.
It wasn’t long before we had gathered quite a cluster of fellow masochists to laugh at our own idiocy and wonder what we were doing out. Our numbers included G-Dawg with a medical all clear and the thought to see if he could somehow recreate his cardiac arrhythmia. Just for scientific purposes you understand.
The new girl turned up, shockingly without gloves. We’d noticed on her first couple of rides the lack of hand protection as she proved she was undoubtedly so much harder than the rest of us, but today, it seemed like gloves were a prerequisite. Perhaps she was intent on just embellishing her reputation a little though, because as soon as she stopped, she was reaching into a back pocket and (thankfully) pulling on a pair of gloves.
Crazy Legs noted the preponderance of peaks today, either on helmet visors, or trusty old casquettes, noting they’d be essential for a bit of “turtling” in the face of wind blown hail and ice.
Then we took a moment to appreciate the form of the enigma as he cruised by, stately and serene and seemingly unruffled by the awful weather, to which his only concession was the swapping the T-shirt for a long-sleeved sweatshirt. Still the same shorts and trainers though, and no gloves or hat or other poncey stuff.
There were eight of us, so no squabbling over groups as we were ready to ride as one, with the exception of Crazy Legs and G-Dawg who were thinking of calling at the Kirkley cafe, or Matfen, or maybe both, as well as the scheduled coffee stop at Belsay.
Away we went, pushing out past the airport and climbing up through Darras Hall to the Stamfordham Road. Dark clouds and rippling, tattered sheets of rain seemed to ring us in, but the weather around us had improved and was holding steady. In fact things were so much better that Crazy Legs moaned that he couldn’t possibly justify three cafe stops, and if things kept improving he might be down to just one.
Just outside the disused Ouston airbase, Crazy Legs called for us to “pull in at the corner for a piss stop” and from the raddled, foggy depths of my brain I dredged up the ghost of my parent’s favourite, Guy Mitchell, and started singing, “There’s a piss stop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” while Crazy Legs looked at me with abject horror and no little concern for my sanity.
At Stamfordham the weather was deemed still bad enough to warrant at least one additional coffee stop and G-Dawg and Crazy Legs wheeled away to complete this rather onerous task. The rest of us pushed on past the reservoir at Whittle Dene. It was too cold for the fishermen to be out and too cold for much wildlife too, well, apart from one very large brown rat busy snuffling around the verges of the road for no apparent reason.
Onto the narrow lanes, and with a loud crack, Captain Black rode over a stick in the middle of the road. It seemed no damage had been done, until he rose out of the saddle on the ensuing climb and heard the dreaded tisk-tisk-tisk of mudguard rubbing tyre. He stopped to make some adjustments but found the mudguard had completely snapped and half of it had flipped over his wheel and was sticking straight up in the air. He removed the back half of the guard, pocketing any bits he thought were salvageable – although I suspect they’re beyond repair.
We got going again and were soon passing through Matfen.I took to the front alongside Ovis and led until the turn for the Quarry when the new girl replaced me. The final ramp of the Quarry was just a touch too steep to be comfortable, but luckily quite short and I ground it out still within the group. Over the top, Rab Dee startled me by politely asking if he was ok to just press on and when I acquiesced, he took Captain Black with him and they rode off the front while the rest of us paused a little to regroup. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me for permission to attack before, it’s quite a novelty. We got ourselves organised, Aether and Ovis took to the front and we followed on.
As we pressed toward the Wallridge crossroads the pace was lifted and we were lined out single file. When the road tracked upwards and the slope began to bite, I accelerated onto the front, slowly working away to reel in Rab Dee and Captain Black. I got within 20 to 30 metres before we passed through the junction, then road dipped down again and I quickly hit terminal velocity and the gap grew out again.
Swinging left at the bottom of the descent and heading toward West Belsay, I again tried using the rising road to claw back the front pair, and yet again manged to get within the same 20 to 30 metres before they passed through the junction and onto the fast road down to the Snake Bends. I made the turn and Ovis skipped past me in hot pursuit, but I was already pedalling as fast as I could and couldn’t latch onto his wheel. Still, that was a blast and it felt like I’d earned my coffee and cake as we finally rolled up to the cafe.
There we were re-united with G-Dawg and Crazy Legs, although the seat they’d secured next to fire wasn’t ideal after we’d worked ourselves to a lather on the run in.
Heading to the loo, I came back to find someone had delivered a bacon sarnie to the table and laid it down rather temptingly where I was sat and dangerously, in view of 5 or 6 very hungry pairs of eyes, which were staring at it intently, like a pack of starving lions circling the old and infirm springbok that had become separated from the herd.
Luckily Mini Miss arrived to claim her bacon sarnie before the predators pounced, but had to field the inevitable question of red sauce, brown sauce, or no sauce at all?
Mini Miss is apparently of the no sauce at all persuasion, which is of course the right choice, although I’m apparently an anomaly in not liking any sauce or condiment, not red, not brown, not mayonnaise, nor mustard, vinegar, salad cream, tartar sauce, barbecue sauce et al.
“Do you like jam on your toast?” Crazy Legs challenged, wondering just how far my seemingly fanatical and Puritanical tastes would stretch, and then, before I could answer demanded, “Which do you prefer, Strawberry? Raspberry? Blackberry? Blackcurrant?” he fired off each option in quick succession.
“Well,” I started, “I prefer boysenberry more than any ordinary jam.” Before adding, “I’m a ‘Citizen for Boysenberry Jam’ fan.” For the second time that day, Crazy Legs looked at me with abject horror and no little concern for my sanity.
The rest of the conversation was then taken up with us agreeing we were an out-of-touch bunch of old duffers not quite up with the nuances of woke culture and LGBTQ+ signalling, from blue hair to rainbow-coloured lanyards.
Ovis had the last word, capping everything with the tale of the 3-hour Equality and Diversity training for dentist’s he’d been forced to undergo. Apparently, uproar had ensued at the end when, asking for any questions from the floor, the bloke next to Ovis had stirred briefly from his slumber to enquire if the new guidance meant he should no longer select his next receptionist based on her being “the blonde with the biggest tits.”
As we ran with the gang on the road home, Crazy Legs reached some kind of personal nadir by briefly giving voice to the Bay City Roller’s “Shang-A-Lang”. I could only look at him with abject horror and no little concern for his sanity. Luckily Biden Fecht righted the ship with a touch of Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come” and the aberration was quickly glossed over.
Leaving the group and pushing homeward bound I was tempted to lose the jacket as things warmed up a little, but I resisted and endured one final shower to prove I’d made the right choice.
These “winter” routes are certainly not getting any shorter, and I was pushing past 70 miles by the time I made it back. Overall the timing was pretty good though, and I caught the last and decisive 30-40km of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Yes, the real cycling season has begun and there was almost too much choice this weekend with mens and women’s Omloop, Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, the UAE Tour, O Gran Camiño (in between the blizzards!) and the Faun-Ardèche and Faun Drôme classics.
Next up Strade Bianche, and then we’re quickly on to the meaningful stage races, starting with Paris-Nice. It should be fun.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 25th February 2023|
|Riding Time:||5 hours 32 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||118km/73 miles with 1,032m of climbing|
|Group Size:||8 riders, 1 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||An icy -1℃ with the wind chill. Brrr.|
|Year to date:||1,215km/755 miles with 11,940m of climbing|