I was expecting a dry day, for a final run out on the white bike before packing it up for hibernation and that’s what I got. Well eventually. As it was the first hour of my ride was spent in light drizzly rain that wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but I would have happily missed. Still, the rain did clear and temperatures topped out at credibly perky and comfortable 19℃, not bad for September in North East England.
At the meeting point, Crazy Legs was enthused by Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United the previous night, playing in what he described as a hugely entertaining game that could as easily have ended with 10 goals apiece.
“That’s what you get with two teams that don’t know how to defend,” G-Dawg suggested, perhaps speaking with the hard fought wisdom of a Sunderland fan. Still, despite not being able to score and a complete inability to defend, somehow Crazy Legs seems remarkably optimistic about The Toon’s chances of avoiding relegation (which seems to be the lofty pinnacle of achievement they’ve set themselves.)
Meanwhile, confusion reigned over an Agnes Obel concert at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, which Sneaky Pete and I have tickets for. Originally scheduled for 4th April 2020, but postponed because of COVID, I’d followed the announcements on the Playhouse website and had told Sneaky Pete last week that it was now going to take place this Thursday, 16th September 2021. He’d not been around for the revised date, so had gifted his tickets to his daughter to attend in his absence. Then, last Tuesday I’d checked the rather confused website to find the concert has now been moved to September 2022! Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete’s daughter had undergone some pre-concert investigation, decided she quite likes Miss Obel’s music and is keeping his ticket, thank you very much.
Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait and my yellowed, ageing and sun-bleached ticket will actually be legible enough to use some 27 months later.
OGL arrived inexplicably layered up for winter in bib-tights, a long-sleeve base layer over a winter jersey and topped with a gilet. I know the forecasts have been a little awry of late, but this was taking it to extremes and everyone else was more than comfortable in short-sleeved jerseys and shorts. We wondered if he’d received one of those dire predictions of impending doom that regularly emanate from his contacts, all of whom seemed to be based somewhere just inside the Arctic Circle.
At least he wouldn’t be riding with us, so could take things at his own pace and hopefully not overheat, as with the Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup running next weekend, he’d tasked himself with riding to the top of the Ryals to see if the white prime line was still visible at the top of the slope.
Aether had designated a route that was deliberately less hilly than previous weeks, reasoning everyone deserved a rest from climbing after their travails following the Tour of Britain, or our rash incursion south of the river. It was a nice idea, but I still ended up with over a thousand metres of climbing – the curse of living atop a very big hill.
We had enough for three groups, but after the first bunch got clear, everyone seemed to coalesce into one big clump and stayed that way until just before Stamfordham, when I was tasked with Brassneck to accelerate off the front and force a split. Which I have to say I quite enjoyed.
All the while, as we rode along, the pair of us we entertained ourselves with listing all the bands and artists we could think of that made up a less than inspiring North East music scene, a paltry and anaemic collection in comparison to say Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Glasgow.
Our list ranged from the grudgingly obvious, “ok, but no thanks” picks such as Sting and Mark Knopfler, through to up and coming hopefuls, like The Pale White, and on to the wilfully obscure, Lanterns on the Lake and Punishment of Luxury. (PuniLux anyone? No, thought not.) Like famous Cumbrians though, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about, even though we were convinced we were missing someone completely obvious.
Still, this kept us distracted until we reached Ryal village, were we met OGL heading the other way to check his white lines were (still) as pure as the driven snow. Bay-bee.
From there we regrouped and headed for the Quarry and alongside Brassneck we finally relinquished our lead on the front. I was slotted in behind Captain Black as we began the climb of the steepest part of the Quarry, changed down a couple of gears and was just powering up the legs when my chain seized suddenly and I performed an involuntary “front wheelie” – a stoppie or endo in motorcycling terminology.
Having the tarmac riush toward your face gives you a bit of a turn, so I immediately stopped pedalling, my rear wheel thumped back down to the ground and I climbed off. I spun the pedals by hand and everything worked perfectly. That was an odd, but I couldn’t find the cause and no damage seemed to have been done, so I remounted and finished the climb.
For our final run to the café, Liam, our Chinese rock star, hit the front and started to wind things up, so I plonked myself on his back wheel, happy to sit there as long as I could. This proved to be only until he came into one corner much too hot, swinging wide and engaging in a bit of verge-surfing and grass-cutting that robbed him of all momentum.
Luckily Big Dunc, Brassneck and Captain Black surged through and I was able to drop in behind them without the need to spend too long on the front in the wind.
At the café we joined the back of a long queue, which moved with glacial slowness, so it took us half an hour to get served, eating into our opportunities to sit around and talk utter bolleaux.
When it was finally his turn to be served, Captain Black went for the mint Aero tray bake and was rewarded with what he was told was the biggest slice available. Aether and Brassneck followed suit and even close up inspection couldn’t discern any size advantage for Captain Black. Was this just a a sop to those getting disgruntled after waiting so long to be served, or some sort of clever marketing ploy? If the latter, they really need to speed up the service as we were desperate for any distraction as we waited and carefully comparing the relative size of slices of cake proved mildly engaging at this point.
We hadn’t been sat down for long when the multi-layered OGL turned up, looking slightly hot and bothered, either because of the warm sun that had decided to make an unexpected appearance, or because he’d discovered his white line had faded. Or maybe both.
He declared he was off home to get some fresh white paint and I think it was pure coincidence that immediately after he departed Brassneck started asking around to see if anyone had any black paint, or even paint stripper on them …
We took the slightly longer route home via Saltwick Hill and I swung off for home at the end of the Mad Mile, pedalling along and mulling over earlier conversations. Hold on. The Tygers on Pan Tang! Absolutely not a genre I’m familiar with, so I can’t tell you if they’re any good at all (although I have my suspicions.) Nevertheless worth a mention as not only a North East band, having formed in Whitley Bay, but one with a name that’s almost as stupid as Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Let’s see what other obscurities Brassneck can come up with – he’s got at least two weeks to think about it as I’m working next weekend so no club run for me.
I can’t say I’m at all happy with the Tour of Britain organisers, after excelling themselves by channelling the 2019 edition right past my front door, they decided to spoil things for 2021 with a route that wouldn’t come any closer than 1.7 miles of home. That’s 2.7 kilometres to those not using retard units. What on earth were they thinking?
Clubmates had all sorts of plans for taking in the event, ranging from travelling to the Grand Depart, in Carlisle, to cycling out to meet the race somewhere along it’s sinuous and very lumpy 2,000 kilometres and accompanying 3,000 metres of vertical gain (ulp!) A fun day off, although anticipation and plans were somewhat tempered by poor weather forecasts.
Crazy Legs, our reporter on the ground at the Grand Depart in Carlisle cast Cav and Alaphillipe as a couple of naughty schoolboys amongst the serious and sober adults, while anyone who travelled further out than me were likely to have witnessed the unlikely sight of the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter showing off his climbing chops and leading an early breakaway over some serious hills.
I’d picked out two potential viewing spots for myself, Busty Bank, leading from Rowlands Gill up to Burnopfield, 1.5 km at an average of 9%, or Pennyfine Road, skirting Burdon Moor to the top of Haggs Lane, 1.2km at only 5%, but with long, straight and wide open views. The latter was closest, so that’s what I went for, tracking the race progress on TV before skittering out to watch it go past.
TripleD-El and Triple D-Be had already reported Cav’s break had been caught from where they were stationed on Busty Bank. Minutes later, when the race arrived where I was, a small, select group including Julian Alaphillipe, Wout Van Aert, Dan Martin, and Ethan Hayter were being led by impressive Spanish youngster Carlos Rodríguez and trying to claw back an attack by Mike Woods.
The rest of the field were smashed to pieces and scattered all over the road behind and it must have been a hard stage as I’ve never seen professional cyclists grimacing quite so much on (for them) such relatively benign slopes. Rolling down the bank toward home, I bumped into TripleD-El and Triple D-Be and stopped for a chat as we waited for the remnants of the peloton to roll through, almost 30 minutes behind the leaders.
As usual. it was great to get up close to the action, especially given the stellar field using the Tour of Britain as preparation for the World Championships.
The next day I had planned the long demanded, long delayed (Lazy. Indolent. Remember?) journey south of the river and into the dread lands of Mordor. With my original route covering 125km and close to 2,000 metres of climbing including some steep gradients, I planned an early 8am start, just to make sure I got everyone back home before dusk, come what may. Unimpressed with the thought of getting up at 6am to cycle across to the meeting point, I decided to drive, figuring this would save my legs a well as some time.
The excesses of the day before on the Tour of Britain route knocked out a hatful of contenders for the ride and when Cowboys cried off sick there were just 4 of us plucky, but trepidatious hobbits willing to take on this particular unexpected journey. I met Crazy Legs and Brassneck at the meeting point, with plans to pick up the Ticker en route, at The Sign of the Prancing Pony (I think that’s what he said) somewhere in Wylam.
Our early departure meant we could say hi-and-bye to the Judean People’s Front, also leaving early for their own mini-epic. They we heading north, we were heading south and apparently the Prof was taking a group west. It only needed G-Dawg to take our regular Saturday ride east and we’d have all the cardinal points covered.
Crazy Legs had blackmailed the much-cossetted Ribble out into last weeks rain with whispered promises of a new cassette and had made good on his promises with the cleanest, shiniest set of cogs I’ve ever seen. Sadly though, it just made his chain look tired and dirty. He also hadn’t tested it extensively, but that was fine, as I guessed we’d very quickly know if he couldn’t select the full range of climbing gears.
So away we went, bolstered by the first earworm of the day courtesy of Mr. Iggy Pop as, according to Crazy Legs, we started to ride through the city’s backsides. I knew on the very first climb I was having a jour sans, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I reasoned that was fine as everyone would wait for me if I was too slow – one of the perks of being the designated ride leader on roads nobody else knows.
We seemed to have caught a break with the weather which was pleasantly warm and dry, although a fairly strong wind kept things a couple of notches below ideal and might be a problem once we were out into the exposed North Pennines.
Our trio were soon dropping down toward Wylam and our rendezvous with the Ticker. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Crazy Legs went off in search of a shop while I waited with Brassneck. Moments later the Ticker arrived, but the minutes crawled past and Crazy Legs failed to return.
“What shop did he say he was going to?” Brassneck enquired.
“Fenwick’s,” the Ticker shot back, quickly, naming the venerable department store in Newcastle city centre some 15 miles distant.
While we waited, our attention wandered to a small park across the road where a man was walking a small dog.
“Hold on,” the Ticker exclaimed, “Is’nt that Rudy Giuliani?”
“It looks like Giuliani,” the Ticker insisted, “And walks like Giuliani …”
We peered across the road. You know, maybe he was right.
It did look like Giuliani and certainly the posture and the walk resembled that of the ex-mayor of New York City and ex-President’s lawyer. I mean there was no dye dripping down this fellers face, but then again it was a bit too chill for that and, we concluded, what better place to hide from a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, professional disbarment and general ridicule than a small village in the Tyne Valley? Crazier, more unbelievable things have happened. Well, at least according to Mr. Giuliani and his ilk.
Crazy Legs finally returned from breaking what was perhaps the only card payment system in the entire village and we left Rudy with his cover intact to follow the river out to the bridge at Bywell where we crossed to the south side of the river, Crazy Legs crossing himself, muttering a prayer to the heavens and taking one last gulp of good northern air across with him.
From the top we dropped down a little just to get a good run at the climb to Whittonstall and I had to tell the Ticker to keep pedalling as the noise of his Hope freewheel was scaring the sheep. The climb to Whittonstall reminds me of the Ryals (but without the dip in the middle) the approach road is wide open and draggy and, like the Ryals, you can see it coming from miles away. It hurts about as much too.
From there we had the respite of a nice long descent down to Ebchester, crossing over the River Derwent and heading almost due south until Shotley Bridge, where we crossed back over the river and started the climb of Burnmill Bank.
Half way up the climb, just before the small cluster of houses making up Snod’s Edge, Brassneck recognised the football pitch somewhat incongruously carved into the side of the hill in the middle of nowhere, remembering years back when his work team used to play a rival firm there every week.
Further on, having topped the climb and taken in a long descent down toward the reservoir, we passed Muggleswick and Crazy Legs recalled how his gran had been in service at Muggleswick Hall. She only had half a day off work a week, so every Sunday afternoon she’d walk the 6 or so miles that was either up hill or down, along the route we’d just covered, to Shotley Bridge. There she caught a train to take her to Newcastle and home, where she stayed until leaving to catch the last train back to Shotley Bridge, then retracing her steps, 6 miles up and down hill, often in the dark and in whatever weather was thrown at her.
Much different times and, as Crazy Legs confirmed, his gran had truly been as hard as nails.
To complete the set, the route also stirred some deep-seated recollections in the Ticker too, but these were not quite of the rosy-eyed nostalgia variety. His recall was of the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland” that we were going to be taking.
The road past the reservoir was as busy as I’ve ever known it and we had to single out until we reached Edmunbuyers as a constant stream of traffic squeezed past. Then, somewhat eerily, the traffic just disappeared. In the village we were almost lured into The Baa which, according to its website, “might be the smallest pub in the world, but probably isn’t.” Nevertheless it looked very welcoming, yet we somehow we managed to resist the temptation and pressed on, rattling over the cattle grid to pass out on the wiley, windy moors.
This was going to be our longest climb of the day and on exposed roads along the side of Harehope Hill, just over 5.3 kilometres and with the wind constantly pushing us backwards. This meant that the Ticker could only freewheel intermittently and it wasn’t enough to scare off the sheep who would crowd unconcerned onto the road to watch the idiots grunt and gurn their way past. Well, it was their domain after all.
The Ticker and Brassneck pushed on ahead, while I rode with Crazy Legs as long as I could, before slipping out of the shelter of his back wheel to find a pace I was more comfortable with. We regrouped at the turn off toward Blanchland, climbing to our highest point of of the day before our descent into the village.
Refreshments were taking at the White Monk Tearoom, bacon sandwiches and coffees all round (we like to keep it simple) and we took up residence in the garden along with our bikes, joining a gang of bikers, looking uncomfortably warm and sweaty in their thick leathers.
Unfortunately they left quite soon after we arrived. Before that they seemed to have been doing sterling job of attracting the local wasps, but once they’d gone the pesky blighters decided to harass us instead. Coffee and sarnies were good, if maybe a little too exotically priced for the frugal cyclist at a tenner a head. (I recall G-Dawg observing that cyclists don’t seem to mind dropping £8-£10 grand on a bike, but are super-sensitive when it comes to the spare change they have to cough up for their coffee and cake.)
We manged to escape without annoying the wasps too much and after Crazy Legs managed to recover from an insane and unexpected fit of giggles. Then it was back onto the bikes to take on the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland.”
Crazy Legs complained his current earworm of “Super Trooper” wasn’t really cutting it, but he soon found it could have been a lot worse, as having visited the toilets in the tearoom, the Ticker had been subjected to the Dr. Hook Classic, “When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman” and now had that uncomfortably lodged in his brain. I think I dodged a bullet as my own musical accompaniment to the bathroom was Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I could live with that.
I snuck onto the granny ring on the triple to tackle to 20%+ inclines on Park Bank and managed to spin up plonked firmly on the saddle and without too much effort then, banking off of the northeast winds, we were heading home and all the major climbing was behind us.
We made it back to Whittonstall and enjoyed a short, unspectacular descent that seemed to bear little resemblance to its long, steep and grinding ascent. A swift downhill run to the river placed us back in Stocksfield and we were soon traversing the bridge over the Tyne and celebrating our return to civilisation.
As we approached the end of the bridge we passed another cyclist heading the other way and greeted him warmly, only to be rebuffed by a growling admonition, “Keep to yer lane!” Perhaps it was the trepidation of riding south of the river that made him so tetchy? Maybe we should have told him it wasn’t as bad as people made out?
From there we decided to head to Wylam and climb out of the valley there, rather than taking in the final climb of Hospital Lane up from Newburn. Near the top I was caught and passed by a swift moving white blur that turned out to be Spry, who’d been following the route, but had probably started two or more hours after us.
The Ticker left us at this point to track his own way home, while the rest of us took on the final, relatively flat final 10km back to where we started. We survived and everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, so I’m guessing we’ll be doing it again next year, once the weather starts to pick up.
118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
5 hours 4 minutes
4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
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.
A better day all round, cool but never cold and while mostly grey, the clouds had the good manners to hold back any actual rain. It would do, it was a far cry from last weeks meteorological thrashing and dry enough even for a white bike too, a decision which was vindicated when Crazy Legs arrived on the much cossetted Ribble.
It was also a day for the animals to show off their strange local, migratory patterns, a grey squirrel being the first to wander idly across my path, followed by cat, a hare and a weasel. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, like some kind of grim prey-predator processional, but interspersed throughout the ride. All were welcome sights, but the same can’t be said for the stupid, suicidal pheasants, who’d obviously got bored waiting for cars on some of the quieter lanes in Northumberland and so seemed intent on committing seppuku by bicycle instead. That’ll get your adrenaline flowing every time.
Maybe I’m getting a bit faster, as yet again I was the earliest arrival at the meeting point and, indeed in time to catch the insurrectionists of the JPF gather before embarking on a cross-river pilgrimage to Slaley. The exotic spoils on the far side of the Tyne were even enough to tempt a few of our regulars to follow too, with Jimmy Mac, the Ticker and Biden Fecht hitching their wagons to the southbound train.
They disappeared up the road in one large, swarming group, but without Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, who arrived moments later having just missed the caboose. We encouraged them to give chase, thinking it would be an easy task for them to catch up (I wouldn’t even have tired), They umhed and they aahed briefly, before deciding to give it a go and then the chase was on.
Our numbers were growing and starting to spread across the pavement when Crazy Legs glanced up, saw an inbound OGL and (purely coincidentally, I hasten to add) determined we had enough people to get a first group out and away. We bumped down the kerb and were off, our group of six morphing into seven when Buster joined, declaring he had to be home early, wasn’t doing the full ride and therefore he didn’t really count against our numbers. Okay, 6½ then. I pushed onto the front with Crazy Legs and we led out the rest, Buster, Aether, the Big Yin, James III and a recurring FNG.
The first thing we passed of note was Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, pulled to the side of the rode and working furiously to repair a puncture that had seriously derailed their spirited pursuit within only a couple of hundred metres of its start. Even they were going to struggle to catch up with that southbound train now.
I learned that Crazy Legs had abandoned his holiday plans last week because one of the family came down with a bad case of kennel cough, and so he’d been out suffering in the rain with everyone else last Saturday. He concluded it was one of the worst experiences he’d had on a bike. (Still, I’m sure G-Dawg would agree, probably better than not going out at all, though.) Crazy Legs was also at pains to absolve himself of any wrongdoing with regard to the unfortunate Bumping Uglies incident with Aether a few weeks ago, swearing blind it wasn’t his brain fart that caused their moment of unexpected intimacy.
At the top of Bell’s Hill we paused for Buster and James III who needed an impromptu pee stop , evoking memories of the Prof and his unfeasibly small bladder. Crazy Legs then managed to embroil us in his travails with anomic aphasia by demanding to know if could think of any famous Dave’s from Cumbria. We all drew a blank, my suggestion that Melvyn Bragg’s middle name may have been David getting short shrift. In reality, we actually found it difficult to name any famous Cumbrian’s at all, and even Google could only suggest a less than stellar cast (ymmv, of course) consisting of Stan Laurel, Beatrix Potter, Ken Russell and William Wordsworth. Oh, and Postman Pat.
Crazy Legs then explained that he’d been calling the recurring FNG “Steve from Teesside” only to discover he’s actually called Dave and from Cumbria. Crazy Legs now felt he needed a handy mnemonic to help remember the right name, hence the odd request. I explained to the others that he did have form in this area, having confessed to asking Caracol multiple times what his name was until, on about the dozenth occasion, he was told it was “still Nick.” He then told us how Eric became “Not Anthony” after a bad case of mistaken identity. Crazy Legs then went on to suggest that the latter mistake was fully under control now, thanks to his uncle having lived the past 3-years with an adopted raven that just happened to be called Eric.
The Big Yin looked on, mouth agape, bewildered. “Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming this?” he asked no one in particular, “It’s so surreal, it must be a dream.”
Off we went again, still searching for famous Cumbrian’s called Dave and threading our way through multiple fields of violently-bright, painfully-yellow, flowering rape-seed that made me grateful I was wearing polarized lenses. I wonder what Wordsworth would have made of it, I mean this was someone who seemed totally overwhelmed by just a few paltry daffodils after all.
Up the slippery slope of the Mur du Mitford, we then took the route that Buster had proposed for his Altered Carbon ride, replete with the new stretches of silky smooth tarmac that had him so aroused. Strangely, at this point he abandoned us to head for home, driven, I suspect by a simple desire not to bespoil another pair of shorts.
At the last minute the Big Yin decided to “go with” and they both zigged while the rest of us zagged, then, just like that our group was down to just 5. The new tarmac down to Netherwhitton was undoubtedly lush, but there was a hell a lot of climbing to get to it and I was beginning to feel heavy-legged even before we had to scale the Trench.
Crazy Legs patiently explained to Dave-Steve, the FNG that there was a junction at the top of the Trench, the first left hand turn, where we’d all stop to regroup before following the road through to Dyke Neuk. With that, we began to climb, passing a bloke toiling upwards on a time-trial bike with an audibly rubbing brake. “As if this hill isn’t hard enough already,” I told him while he glowered at me for having the temerity to ride without any additional handicaps.
Nearing the top Dave-Steve put in a dig and gained one or two metres on Crazy Legs … and then just kept going, riding straight past the turn we needed to take. Crazy Legs and James III bellowed after him to stop (I didn’t have the breath to join in) but all to no avail and we watched Dave-Steve sail on, blissfully unaware, round the corner and disappear from sight, without once looking back.
We waited a good 5 minutes or so to see if he’d re-appear, while I queried if the Scottish border was closed, otherwise their was a danger he might just keep going. Dave-Steve had truly disappeared though, with no hint of a return and our 5 became 4. Off we went in our reduced numbers, passing through Ogle to take the seldom travelled route through Shilvington – still a novelty to me and adding a little extra distance to our ride To be honest though, I was already approaching 50 miles for the day, so didn’t feel it was strictly necessary, especially as we laboured up what Crazy Legs insisted was a false flat, but which looked (and felt) disconcertingly like a hill to me.
Still, it wasn’t long before we were turning into the café at Kirkley, utterly astonished by our good fortune to find … dan-dan-dah … no queue! We only just made it though as our other groups started to pile in shortly afterwards, having decided the Shilvington loop was a novelty they were happy to take a pass on.
I grabbed a bench and was joined by a bunch from one of the other groups, Captain Black, TripleD-El, Princess Fiona Mini Miss, Cowboys and Zardoz, the latter two causing a stir of slapstick confusion around the rightful ownership of a cheese scone. Cowboy’s fact of possession gave him nine-tenths of an advantage (ably reinforced by the fact that he’d already ingested half of the disputed baked good before its provenance became contentious).
Luckily all was resolved happily when a second scone finally appeared, but the incident seemed to have revealed a slight flaw in the café’s delivery system, with Zardoz confessing to once having picked up his freshly brewed cappuccino and downing half of it before he realised he was drinking someone else’s hot chocolate.
Chatting with TripleD-El, we learned that she hadn’t been able to return to the moederland since the start of the year, but was hoping to get back in the next couple of months. She was immeasurably happier with the news that Tom Dumoulin had announced a return to racing, as she felt he was the Netherland’s only legitimate shot at a medal in the men’s Olympic road cycling (unlike the women’s events, where they’ll probably fill all 3 medal places.) I confessed I didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Greg Van Avermaet, so I could finally see the back of the tacky, tawdry gold helmet that has long overstayed its welcome. (It’s not that I have anything against Greg personally, I felt much the same way about Sammy Sánchez’s gold-themed Orbea and that I didn’t even have to suffer for 6 interminable years.)
TripleD-El went on to say how much she liked our new “not club” orange gilets. “Of course you do,” Zardoz chuckled, “Your Dutch, you’re predisposed to like anything orange.”
Talk turned to the possibility of larger ride groups, once lockdown rules are relaxed next week, when up to 30 are allowed to meet outdoors. While British Cycling had recommended a limit of 15 per ride during lockdown, we’d tried to keep more or less to 6 per group. Now, while no one could se a return to mass roll-out’s of 30 plus, the flexibility of being able to form into 6’s, or 8’s or 10’s will provide a little more welcome flexibility. Zardoz’s eyes lit up at the prospect of larger groups, as even the master of stealth has been finding it a little bit harder to avoid turns on the front in the smaller groups.
As if to put the theory to test, a large group of us left the café en masse to ride home together, with Zardoz safely tucked in, out of the wind amongst the wheels at the back. It looked like we were breaking the Rule of Six early, but we were (probably) still within the confines of British Cycling’s 15 man maximum. I don’t know if it was the novelty of seeing so many cyclists together after so long a time, or maybe some form of subtle intimidation by numbers, but unusually the cars along the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill all seemed happy to pull over so we could slide past.
As we started the climb pushed onto the front alongside Crazy Legs and lifted the pace a little. We were hoping for a rest on the subsequent downhill, but found ourselves riding into a strong headwind and had to keep pushing hard to maintain the speed, relinquishing the front as soon as we turned off toward Dinnington.
Mini Miss and Princess Fiona took over and kept the pace high, even increasing it and slapping on their game faces as they pulled everyone up to and past a lone female cyclists.
Past the airport, into the Mad Mile, the sun started to make itself felt and I was looking forward to a pleasant ride back across the river. Passing over the bridge I was surprised to find Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger approaching from the other direction. Not only had they lost the other group, it seems like they’d managed to lose themselves too.
Its me again, Face you forever gonna see again, Never been scared of none of dem, No problem, I’m come, come again…
Hmmm. Kind of quiet in here.
Now 56 weeks into the pandemic, the new norm was in danger of becoming just the plain, old norm and dull and boring at that, but finally things seem to be changing. So how’s your world these days? I’m old enough to have come to terms with the fact that nothing ever lasts, things constantly change, evolve and never stand still. As Mr. Tom Hanks has been known to reassuringly intone for the benefit of nervous Wittertainment subscribers the world over, “This too shall pass.”
So, a somewhat fatalistic outlook, but the main question I find myself asking is whether things are on an upward trajectory and getting better, or slipping and spiralling downward.
Today, I’m thinking things appear to be slowly improving. Along with 40 million other UK residents I’ve received my first dose of COVID vaccine (AstraZeneca) and I’m on the brink of starting a new job, or perhaps to be more accurate the same job, but for a different University.
Up until a fortnight ago, cycling in Lockdown Part 2, was confined to solo rides, although refreshingly leavened by ‘accidentally’ bumping into other club members at the Kirkley café, where we’d stand or sit, huddled and shivering in a large freezing field and bellow at each other from a safe social distance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and many claimed these Saturday rides remained the absolute pinnacle of their week.
During these times of shouted discourse we agreed that, despite Bo-Jo’s feckless leadership of a covey of sleazy, grasping shills, rife with cronyism and frequently bumbling through false steps, U-turns and the inertia of inaction, the Govin’mint was somehow going to avoid blame and accountability for the UK’s inflated death rate simply because the mass vaccination programme is seen as a bit of a success. We also discovered that the world is a safer, saner place without the 45th President of the United States, although it’s undoubtedly less entertaining. Oh, yes, we also learned that in the Netherlands, Toilet Duck strongly recommends Toilet Duck and, if you ever happen to be in Nigeria, never, ever refer to someone as a bit ‘Dundee United.’ Hmm.
My mileage, already suffering from the loss of midweek commuting rides has been further hit by a couple of recent weekends of heavy snowfall that kept me off the bike. In fact, things were so bad one particular Saturday that Mrs. G-Dawg even managed to persuade the indomitable G-Dawg that it wasn’t wise to venture outside, even on his mountain bike. This was advice she would later regret however, as he confessed to spending the rest of the weekend sighing glumly and moping around the house with a “face like a smacked arse”. She’ll not make that mistake again and is now likely to usher him out for a weekend rides regardless, even in the face of tempest, hurricane or blizzard.
I have finally fixed the Peugeot winter bike but have been preferring to take my solo rides on my Frankenstein-esque single-speed for its simplicity and Zen-like qualities, although I’ll readily admit there’s nothing at all Zen-like about my final, contorted and agonisingly slow grind up the Heinous Hill after 3 or 4 hours of riding sans gears.
For the past few weeks though, despite the bitter cold, it’s been bone dry and we’ve already passed that glorious epiphany of being able to break the “good bike” out from its winter slumber. (I celebrated my first “summer” ride by getting a bit carried away and ended up chalking up a 104km solo loop.)
Then, a fortnight ago, the Rule of Six was re-instated generally and British Cycling went even further and endorsed group rides of up to 16 at a time. We decided to err on the side of caution and reinstated group rides with a maximum of six per group. I missed out on the first such venture, arriving late to the meeting point, but coincidentally meeting up with an equally tardy Biden Fecht to form an impromptu trio – him, me and his warbling, howling, banshee-like rim brakes that accompanied us in a moving sound-cloud, shrieking like a cadre of scalded cat’s when even the slightest pressure was applied to the brake levers and spooking and scattering wildlife and livestock in its wake.
This week I missed out on the Saturday ride as, somewhat terrifyingly, it was Thing#1’s birthday (22 years already!) – so a rare Sunday ride beckoned, in a group, if we could muster enough bodies groups of 6.
We actually managed a rather awkward 7 with Aether, Biden Fecht, Plumose Pappus, TripleD-Be, myself and 2 FNG’s, so decided to split into a 4 and a 3, all heading to the café at Capheaton.
Things were going smoothly until, as we approached the airport, with a wince inducing crunch, Aether’s rear mech unexpectedly decided to commit a noisy seppuku, detaching itself from the frame and determinedly hurling itself into his spokes. The gear hanger had snapped and we couldn’t immediately tell if it had served its primary purpose, or taken part of his rear dropout with it. We left Aether standing by the side of the road awaiting a hastily arranged voiture balai and still not knowing the ultimate fate of his beloved Bianchi.
Reduced to just six now, we regrouped as one and pressed onwards, through Ponteland and Black Heddon (Bam-A-Lam) toward Capheaton. TripleD-Be warned the FNG’s that things might get a little feisty on the final climb up to the café and they bravely tried to hold the wheels as the pace went from fast to frantic. I was more than content to sit back and let then get on with it, easing up the final climb to roll in to the café sur la jante. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.
The FNG’s doubled-down on precautionary caffeine input (coffee and massive slices of the cafe’s estimable coffee and walnut cake) to fuel the ride home and we all shuffled outside to rest, recuperate and ramble. There we met the Prof surprisingly accompanied by but one single-follower. Someone would later allege that, like Kevin Richardson – (thank you Wikipedia) – the Prof has now split from his Backstreet Boys tribute band, no doubt citing artistic differences.
In our brief conversation the Prof warned me against ever arguing with an idiot, as they always have the advantage of experience. I didn’t argue with him.
It was a quick stop and we were soon ready to leave, with the Prof and his acolyte inviting themselves to tag along for the ride home and making a bit of a mockery of our prior sacrifices to ensure we were never in a group of more than six. Still the acolyte did provide a moment of levity when his bottle was suddenly catapulted out onto the road and Plumose Pappus and I decide he’d “bottled it” – spending the next few miles sniggering in appreciation of our our own juvenile humour.
I decided to route through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill to trim our numbers back toward the seemly, just in case there were any COVID zealots looking for an excuse to (further) disparage cyclists and I enjoyed a very pleasant, incident free ride back across the river and home.
So, there we have it, the first group ride of 2021 is in the books and we can see the small shoots of recovery. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully there’ll be a few more club runs yet, before the next disaster bites.
[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]
Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.
It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.
I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.
Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.
So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.
“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.
Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.
We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.
I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.
We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.
We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.
As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.
We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.
This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.
So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.
Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.
At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.
G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it neveris and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.
In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”
Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.
According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.
The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.
For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.
We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.
Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.
This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.
Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.
He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.
We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.
Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.
It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.
Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.
We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)
G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.
“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.
“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.
“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.
Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.
“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.
Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.
Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.
The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.
Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.
We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.
Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.
So, in their infinite wisdom, the British Government is intent on relaxing lock-down rules, perhaps not based on any grand plan, but simply trying to create the illusion that things are moving forward.
Personally, I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do, or that we’re embarking on a safe and measured approach. Quite simply, I don’t trust them.
Leaving aside (if you can, and I’ll understand perfectly if you cannot) their appalling double-standards and hypocrisy, succinctly embodied in one particularly arrogant, rule-violating SpAd – after all, double-standards and hypocrisy seem to be the lingua franca of all governments, regardless of political persuasion. Instead, let’s look at the simple, irrefutable and objective facts. The statistics clearly show that under this governments watch, the UK has suffered the second-highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus in the world.
So while BoJo witters on about British exceptionalism and promulgates the illusion we’re a world-beating country, lets just recall that the thing we actually seem best at is killing our own citizens. With such a fumbled response so far, too many excuses and a host of broken promises, how confident are you that they’ve got it right this time?
Anyway, from Monday, the relaxed rules mean that, amongst other things, people in England will be allowed to meet in groups of up to six, outside, while maintaining a two-metre distance.
Entirely the best thing to come out of this announcement was the outpouring of social media sympathy for S-Club 7, although one commentator cruelly declared that they were probably better off dropping the dopey looking bloke at the back anyway.
Amongst our club socialmediaites, it meant quickly fomenting plans to meet up and run out in groups of six, perhaps starting as early as Wednesday evening.
Personally, I’ll be following British Cycling advice which has all club and group activity suspended until the 4th July, subject to fortnightly review and two weeks’ notice of any change. So, in other words, no group riding yet.
While references to a disappointed S-Club 7 made me chuckle, the biggest laugh of the week had to be the news that someone had developed a mod to sync your home-trainer, Zwift-style, with the Grand Theft Auto video game. Now you can ride around a gorgeously rendered L.A. game-world, while porting a high-powered, personal arsenal in your jersey pockets so you can, should you wish, indulge in the odd pedal-by ass-capping (P-Bac.)
With the promise of glorious sunshine throughout the weekend, for my strictly solo, non-virtual ride, I decided to indulge in a little grand theft larceny myself, pinching bits of bike-touring company, Saddle Skedaddle’s “Giro di Castelnuovo.” route. They billed this as “a challenging guided road ride taking in some of the finest climbs in County Durham, including the infamous Passo di Crawleyside” – and promised around 130 kms (80miles) including 1,500 to 2,000 metres of climbing.
I would be modifying the route somewhat, mainly as I didn’t fancy riding into Newcastle to their start point, the Cycle Hub on the north side of the Tyne, just to ride straight back out again. I also planned a different route out of the Tyne valley to get onto the Whittonstall road, while adding an extra descent, so I could climb Burnmill Bank from the bottom, instead of joining it halfway up.
The bit of the route I wasn’t familiar with led from Blanchland to Stanhope, so, on my phone, I noted the 6 hamlets I’d need to pass through en route to Crawleyside and trusted the road signs would be good enough to see me through.
As promised, Saturday was a clear, cloudless day and already starting to warm up as I set off. I tucked a pair of arm warmers into a back pocket, just in case. I shouldn’t have bothered.
Down the hill, I pushed west through Blaydon, Ryton and Bywell to Crawcrook, where I swung north to cross the river at Wylam. Here I was caught once again behind the level crossing as the (tortuously) slow train to Newcastle rumbled past. I must have been on the road later than last time, or the train was actually running early, as I joined at the back of a small queue of cars and didn’t have to wait too long for the barriers to jerkily raise themselves and clear the way.
I pushed along the north bank of the river, pausing at Ovingham to admire the sudden appearance of a half-dozen or so scarecrows just outside the care home. Apparently, what I saw was only a small portion of the 58 fantastic scarecrows built for the village scarecrow competition. By far my favourite was a Trump figure, complete with MAGA cap and intent on wassailing, with a bottle of bleach to liberally imbibe from.
Back over the river at Stocksfield, I took the Broomley climb up through Shilford Woods. From there it was on to Whittonstall, perhaps the most hateful climb of the day – 2.5km up a slope that appears to get consistently steeper the closer you get to the top. It doesn’t help that, like the Ryals, it’s a straight road and you can see what’s coming from miles away as you approach.
By the time I dragged myself over the top I had all the evidence I needed that I’d left my climbing legs at home today and I began to wonder just how sensible my plan was.
I dropped down the other side into the Derwent valley, pausing just above Shotley Bridge for belated breakfast and quick rest to see if I could recover any.
Then it was back to the climbing, up through Snod’s Edge, noticing that traffic was much busier than I’d seen for a long time and being abused by a car passenger for … well for just being on a bike, I think. “Get off the road” was (I believe) the generally incoherent, but obviously wholly reasonable admonition.
Well, there’s something I haven’t really missed in the past few weeks of quieter, seemingly calmer and saner road usage, let’s welcome back all the arse-hat drivers and their super-witty passengers. Sadly, I didn’t have a pocket-full of Molotov’s to share with them.
I descended to skirt the reservoir, now seemingly open for business, with all the road blocks removed and stay away signs taken down. The Muggleswick silver Toyota pick-up is still there though and remains unsold (if you’re interested.)
The bikers were out in force, nosily running the lanes between Edmundbyers and Blanchland, as well as numerous picnicking older couples, oddly pulled just off the side of the road and reclining on camp chairs and rugs, I guess to watch the traffic pass by – maybe they’ve been missing the smell of exhaust fumes?
There were one or two cyclists out as well, but not as many as I would expect on such a glorious day.
Passing through Blanchland, I picked up signs for my first target, Baybridge and then in quick succession, Hunstanworth and Townfield. At this point I should have followed the signs to Rookhope, but a post knowingly pointed it’s stiff finger toward Stanhope, I knew that was my ultimate destination, so I followed it.
All seemed well for a short-time, before the road doubled-back on itself and I realised I was heading toward Blanchland again and guessed I’d then be climbing Meadow’s Edge in the opposite direction to the way I usually do. From there it made the most sense to head directly back through Edmunbuyers, by-passing Stanhope and the testing Passo de Crawleyside. Oh well, I’ve ridden it a few times before anyway. Maybe next time.
My wrong turn came with two notable features. The first was a long sloping field that, somewhat strikingly, seemed to have been overrun by purple wildflowers that the camera on my phone couldn’t do justice.
The second was being escorted out of the area by a large, white-bodied, black-winged bird that flew 20 metres in front of me for about a kilometre, screeching and jabbering back in disgust. Later investigation suggested I’d been dissed by an angry lapwing, who was apparently telling me in avian terms to “get off the road.”
My intuition proved correct and I was soon climbing up Meadow’s Edge, the first part of which seems much harder than the climb up the other side from Edmunbuyers. It’s also noticeably more barren and empty looking when you’re struggling upwards, rather then zipping down the road. Being relatively high up and endlessly exposed, I now had a stiff wind to contend with too and it was, naturally blowing head-on.
At the last junction and the highest point of the ride, I passed another cyclist I’m sure I seen around 2 hours ago approaching Whittonstall, apparently pondering which way to go next. Then I began my long, long descent toward Edmundbuyers, rattled over the cattle-grid and started to pick my way home.
I hadn’t covered the 80-miles promised by Saddle Skedaddle, but by the time I’d clambered up through Burnopfield, I’d topped 1.500 meters mark and found a few viable options for extending one of my favourite rides south of the river.
A quick hit before I disappear for a well-deserved (well, in my opinion) holiday on the Costa Blanca…
Saturday was sticky, hot and humid, even under granite coloured skies that promised to live up to the forecast of frequent heavy showers. The air was strangely still and breathless, mirroring the river which was dull, flat and as still as a millpond as I rolled over the bridge.
Last night I’d resorted to some creative bike wrangling to ensure Reg was ready, fully restored and, most importantly back home. I’d ridden into work on the single-speed as usual, but returned via the Brassworks bike workshop at Pedalling Squares, at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. There, I swapped bikes, picking up and paying for the work on the Holdsworth, before riding it home.
I’d then pulled on a pair of trainers, packed my cycling shoes in a rucksack and ran back down the hill to retrieve the single-speed. This was enough to reinforce my long-held belief that biathlon’s and triathlons are the creation of the devil.
Still, it was worth it, the Holdsworth was running true and smooth and as good as new. There’s something reassuring in finding a bike mechanic who’s a perfectionist. Now the potential for rain was about the only thing likely to ruin a good ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The sadomasochistic Buster had volunteered for his maiden role of ride leader, devising a route that was replete with just about all of our signature climbs in one neat package; Bell’s Hill, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Crossroads, Berwick Hill and Middleton Bank. I definitely needed any advantage a good bike could bestow.
The Garrulous Kid was just hoping to get to the cafe as fast as possible, so he could retrieve his sun specs, which he’d managed to leave behind the week before. G-Dawg told me they made the Garrulous Kid look like a bad Roy Orbison impersonator and he had visions of some old feller finding them, slapping them on his head and then walking blindly into all the tables and chairs as he tried to locate the exit.
I reassured the Garrulous Kid that I was certain they’d still be there as, from G-Dawg’s description, it didn’t sound like anyone else would actually want them. He then wondered if his water bottle would still be there too, as that was something else he’d forgotten.
I’m trying to see if we can develop an unofficial club jersey that more than two or three people are happy to wear, so had a chat with a few people about this, including Princess Fiona … which was when I realised I hadn’t considered a female option as (apparently) they’re built a bit different. I think this is going to be one of those projects that sounds easy, but the deeper you dig, the more issues you unearth.
A bunch of our riders had submitted themselves to a British Cycling ride leader course last Sunday, to allow them to officially take groups of youngsters out onto the open roads and introduce them to the mystical, mythical, ever-enduring club ride.
The course was an astonishing 8 hours long and preceded by a 3 hour computer test on general road safety and regulations – a hell of a commitment, that still didn’t get us to where we want to be. Apparently, ride leaders also require an up to date, First Aid certificate too – an additional course and between £15-£25 per person and then it’s only valid for 3-years.
Once we have all this in place, we would still only be allowed 8 junior riders for every fully qualified and certified ride leader and to cap it all, British Cycling charged the club £1,000 to run the course, plus the cost of the venue hire.
From talking to the group, many of the principles, guidelines and requirements they learned sounded rather Byzantine and restrictive and, well, a bit of a ball ache to be fair. I’m in no position to judge if the course teaches the best and safest way to lead a group of youngsters onto our undoubtedly dangerous roads, but the cost and time commitments alone seem to actively discourage clubs from doing this. I’m not sure how well this chimes with the mission statement of British Cycling to grow cyclesport?
With such a large group, we split into two and I dropped into the second group. Talk of enacting course leader principles were quickly shelved and we pressed on in our usual ramshackle manner.
I found myself riding alongside Sneaky Pete as we got underway chatting about Canadian singer-songwriters, the TV adaption of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the right balance between practical colours for a cycling jersey and rider visibility.
I climbed the Mur de Mitford at a fairly relaxed pace and found myself alongside Taffy Steve as we pressed on.
“Ah, the Pigdon Prowler, ” I announced, referring to the Strava segment we now found ourselves traversing. “I wonder where that name came from?”
Taffy Steve agreed it was bizarre, but admitted to being far more interested in the etymology behind a different Strava segment: “Jonny’s Polish Shagfest” – having spend months trying to identify if we had any Jonny’s in the club he could interrogate to try and understand the origin of the Central European Shagfest and what relation it had to cycling.
Next on our list of came the Trench which again we seemed to run at a reasonable pace, before pausing to regroup. Just as we were determining shorter and longer options, our first group clambered up to join us, having been delayed when Caracol inexplicably tried to mate his rampant bike with Rainman’s. The only issue from this most unholy of unions had been a smashed derailleur, which had forced Rainman to abandon and call for the voiture balai to get him safely home.
Crazy Legs urged the front group to keep going at their usual, brisk pace, while the rest of us would trail along behind in our own time. Several defectors though took the opportunity to drop back into the second group, notably Goose and the Big Yin. Good for them, bad for everyone else as it prompted me to unleash my finest nasal, Dylanesque wail; “What’s the point of changing … horses in midstream.”
Having somehow survived my intemperate wailing, we pressed on toward Rothley crossroads, taking the much maligned and hated traditional route, rather than the equally, or even more maligned and hated novel approach that Taffy Steve had recently inflicted on us.
As the gradient bit and the speed dropped, I pushed onto the front alongside Goose to help pace us up and over the cross-roads. We repeated the exercise on Middleton Bank and then started building up the speed for our long run toward the cafe.
Into the final few mile and I attacked on the rollers, just to surprise everyone, figuring they certainly wouldn’t be expecting the move. I then dragged a quite remarkably unstartled, unmoved and unflustered group, who were firmly lodged on my back wheel, up and around the final corner, before swinging aside for the sprinters to burn past.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Although earlier arrivals had all chose to sit inside the cafe, it was so hot and sticky we decide to sit outside in the garden. Zardoz had heard rumblings about a new, alternative jersey.
“Oh, can I have one with my name on it?” he wondered.
“We can all have your name on it,” I assured him.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t know who I was then,” he deadpanned.
I heard from G-Dawg and Crazy Legs that The Silence had been one of those attending the Ride leaders programme, where, by all accounts he’d remained characteristically tight-lipped and taciturn throughout. I’m not wholly convinced keeping mum is great attribute for a ride leader.
We also learned that he has a near fatal attraction for edging toward the kerb, particularly alarming for anyone caught on his inside. He’d make a deadly sprinter in a bunch finish.
Our brief sojourn in the garden was otherwise uneventful and we left in two or three disparate groups to make our way home. By great good fortune we saw no actual rain, but would periodically encounter soaking wet roads, suggesting we’d only just missed being caught in a fearsome shower or two.
This good fortune held all the way home, completing an unexpectedly dry club run and it wasn’t until I parked up the bike and stepped into the house that the heavens opened up and the rain came stottin’ down.
For once, good timing.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,998 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing
The freakishly mild weather has added a new and unwelcome dimension to my personal prevarications, I now not only have to wrestle with critical clothing choices, but even the most basic, fundamental issue of which bike to ride.
I can’t remember ever riding the summer bike in February, but I did last week and once the genie is out of the bottle, it becomes much harder to entice it back in again. Friday night then saw me prepping both the Holdsworth and Peugeot for potential deployment on Saturday, depending on what the morning brought.
10 minutes before leaving I still hadn’t settled on a bike, which was bad news as I didn’t know which shoes to pull on. The ground looked dry and the sky was clear, but it may have rained elsewhere along our route and the forecast highlighted the potential for infrequent light showers.
Aagh! The Master of Prevarication strikes again.
No, come on, you’re a grown man, make a decision and live with the consequences. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen, Reg might get a bid muddy and wet, but he’s not some effete, cossetted Ribble. Beside, if you’re going to flaunt Flandrian colours, you should expect to enjoy a bit of mud and rain occasionally. So two weeks in a row I get an early Easter present and the chance to ride “the good bike.”
While it still seems too early for good bikes, perhaps it really is that time of year already. Alternatively, maybe the flowers too are confused by the freakishly mild weather. Whatever the reason, the verges are already studded with bright yellow, purple and white crocuses and, here and there, a few premature daffodils have raised their frilly periscopes to check out the conditions.
I swooped down toward the river just as the barriers of the level crossing raised their arms in salute, catching and passing a fellow cyclist who somehow seemed offended by my cheery good morning as I slipped past.
He accelerated to sit huffing and puffing away on my rear wheel all the way to the bridge. I stopped as the lights turned red, but he simply accelerated down the span. Each to his own, but I couldn’t help feeling it was more luck than good judgement that he didn’t meet an impatient driver coming the other way, though.
From there it was all plain sailing and it wasn’t long before I was rolling up to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Taffy Steve immediately took me to task for not describing in minute detail the magical epiphany that accompanies the change from winter bike to summer bike – even if I had to repeat everything I said the year before … and the year before that (and potentially even the year before that.)
Even though he knows it’s coming, like me he’s still amazed by the difference in feel and heft when he swaps his thrice-cursed winter bike of pig iron (pig aluminium?) for the lightweight titanium love-child. Such an important stage in the natural, evolution of the cyclists year, he argues, requires the ritual description of the clouds parting, pillars of golden light blazing down and the angelic singing of the heavenly hosts.
Almost as good as swapping winter bike for summer version, the Garrulous Kid has finally had his Focus Cayo serviced and new cassette, chain, bottom bracket, cables and brake blocks fitted. He insisted everyone admire his newly restored bike and, to be fair, given his past record we might as well imprint it on our memories now, because it won’t look this good until after its next service.
G-Dawg wondered why he hadn’t gone for a black chain with red highlights, like Jimmy Mac’s, but why pay for it, in a week or two his chain will be suitably black, once it had the chance to build up that sticky, oily, coating of protective black grunge again.
By way of contrast, the similarly aged Monkey Butler Boy and Archie Miedes spent the first 5 minutes cleaning and polishing off the mud and crud that had accumulated on their bikes just on their way across to the meeting point.
Szell was out (for the first time this year?) prompting Crazy Legs to enquire if the chrysalis had broken and then checking to ensure that Middleton Bank was definitely planned on our itinerary, with instructions to put it in if it wasn’t there already.
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day and had us split into two groups, somehow conspiring to get G-Dawg to take the second group so he could have fun at the front.
As this first group rode out, I tagged onto the back and was joined by Benedict. After the first couple of miles he declared it was a much more civilised and relaxing way to start the ride, rather than giving them a head-start and then hammering away, trying to catch up as we’d done last week.
The boys were feisty today though and we set off at such an infernal pace, I’m not sure we’d have managed bridge across if we had delayed. I netted 14 Strava PR’s in the first 30km alone, as Jimmy Mac, Kermit, Andeven, Rainman and others conspired to propel the group along at breakneck speed.
At one point, as we started to lose riders out the back on a climb, I told Jimmy Mac I didn’t think the pace was sustainable … but we sustained it anyway. In this way the first handful of miles passed under our wheels in a blur, without pause or let-up and no lack of pain.
Just past Mitford, the Garrulous Kid engineered a solo break and, as we started to close in on our traditional stop point at Dyke Neuk, Biden Fecht decided to close him down and piled more speed on top of speed. All this over a road that most definitely resides amongst my least favourites
Still, the catch was made and then we hammered up to the Dyke Neuk Inn to stop, catch our breath and patch our splintered group back together. There we settled in to wait for our second group to join us – given our pace, I suspected it would take much longer than usual.
We were disappointed to find the banana plantations we were secretly cultivating in the area had failed to take root. Still, there’s time yet.
As we waited, we were entertained by the Monkey Butler Boy describing being chased by “the Bizzies.”
“The Bizzies?” we wondered.
The obvious question wasn’t why the Monkey Butler Boy and his associates might find themselves attracting the interest of the boys in blue, but when and how Wallsend had been transported from Tyneside to Merseyside?
The first false alarm in our wait was the appearance of a group of cyclists, who turned out to be an NTR splinter cell. They reported no sign of our second group, despite travelling up the same roads we expected them to use on their approach.
The second false-alarm was the appearance of Big Dunc, who we thought might be the vanguard of the second group, until he admitted he’d left them for a sneaky short-cut.
Finally the second group arrived and I learned I’d missed a round of Leo Sayer ear-worms that Crazy Legs, the Ticker and Taffy Steve had inflicted on each other – You Make me Feel Like Dancing, One Man Band and The Show Must Go On.
Crazy Legs had only managed to banish this insane indignity by recalling the Breakaway song – apparently not the Art Garfunkel/Gallagher and Lyle number, but the advertising jingle for Breakaway Biscuits.
I couldn’t remember that particular ad and my Sutherland’s Spread recollection (Sutherland’s, Sutherland’s scrumptious Sutherland’s, spread on sumptuous Sutherland’s spread …) fell on deaf ears, so I pulled the pin on a “When I Need You” labelled, Leo Sayer grenade, rolled it into the middle of the group and rode off.
Away we went again, almost instinctively falling into the original two groups, causing Crazy Legs to bark with laughter and wonder why the first group had even bothered to wait. Can’t say he didn’t have a point, although we did manage to steal G-Dawg away from the second group.
Around the next corner though, we ran into a surprisingly strong headwind and Carlton, on the front of the second group, put in a huge effort dragging everyone across the gap so they could find a bit of shelter.
We stayed together through the swoop and clamber through Hartburn, before some took a left, while the rest pushed on to Scots Gap and coalesced into two distinct groups.
Archie Miedes then hit the front and seemed intent on shredding the legs of all us old blokes, driving us on towards Scots Gap. “It’s been this mad all morning,” I managed to gasp at G-Dawg as we ripped along.
Archie Miedes ceded the front as we pushed through Scot’s Gap, but as we took the wide, right turn toward Middleton Bank, the speed obviously wasn’t fast enough for his liking, so he pushed onto the front and ramped up the pace again.
Everyone seemed to be going at full gas on the descent to the climb and I tucked in and hunkered down, trying to surf the slipstreams and freewheel enough to recover a little. As we approached the climb itself, I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to hurt and I’d struggle to hang on. Then Archie Miedes pulled up lame … or with a puncture anyway … and suddenly the pace and urgency evaporated.
With enough people back-tracking to help out the puncture victim, I decided to push on to the top of the hill at a more leisurely pace, thinking I’d get it over with before stopping to regroup.
I picked up Biden Fecht on the way and he decided it was a reasonable plan, kicking away up the hill while I took it at a much more considered and relaxed pootle.
Rainman obviously had the same idea and passed me on the way up. “That’s the most pleasant ride I’ve ever had up here,” I declared as I joined the pair now waiting at the entrance to the farm at the top of the hill.
Without the blood-pounding, tunnel-vision and screaming legs of a full on assault of the slope, it was quite a gentle, easy ascent and a completely different experience.
“I could actually hear birds singing all the way up,” Biden Fecht revealed cheerfully.
“And I didn’t even know there was a farm here,” Rainman added.
As we waited, chatting, Kermit clambered past, intent on pushing straight onto the cafe. With repairs well in hand at the bottom of the hill and nothing we could add to proceedings, we decided to follow and joined him.
We pushed on with a slightly ragged through-and-off, building up our speed until once again my legs were screaming, my lungs burning and I was just about hanging on. I was, in the Ticker’s profound words, proper paggered as we hit the bottom of the Rollers …
… so I attacked.
Tradition. It’s not to be taken lightly, so I felt I had no choice in the matter.
I almost had a gap, but couldn’t sustain it over the third and fourth humps, succeeding only in distancing Kermit, battling bravely, but severely handicapped riding his winter bike.
Rainman shot past and away and I tagged onto Biden Fecht’s wheel as he set off in pursuit, hanging there until the final climb, when he put in a big dig to bring back Rainman. It fell just short of its target, but left me trailing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:
Once again we determined that we could probably get away with sitting outside, proof if ever it’s needed that you can’t accurately judge ambient temperature following a mile long uphill sprint.
It was a bit chilly, but after some prevarication we stuck it out. Following our example we were joined by most of the later arrivals until we had two bench tables filled on either side. It was a comradely, misery loves company type of collective suffering and I’m not convinced there was any benefit from shared body heat.
Crazy Legs arrived sat down and then shot up again with cramp in his foot. He kicked off a boot and clambered onto the bench, bouncing on his toes to try and ease the pain. As he towered over me I was waiting for a “O Captain, my Captain” moment, but he wasn’t in the mood for channelling Walt Whitman and all I got was a minuscule, cramp-inspired whimper instead of a mighty, barbaric yawp.
The last group to arrive escorted Archie Miedes home and we learned his tyres belonged amongst the ranks of those that seem almost impossibly hard to remove and replace.
We also learned that Archie Miedes had earned himself an everlasting place in the Hall of Shame, reserved for those who go out for a ride without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture. It’s not a good place to be, but he’s in there with some surprisingly illustrious and esteemed company.
To prove his new found maturity, the Garrulous Kid proudly announced he, at least, was now carrying both a spare tube and tyre levers. No pump though, or CO2 canister, so I’m not exactly sure if that actually makes him more, or less foolhardy.
Crazy Legs recalled the day one of our former riders, Arnold, became inducted into the Hall of Shame. He’d punctured the week before and broken his pump, which was fortuitous timing as it was coming up to his birthday and he was struggling to think of anything he wanted as a present.
The following Saturday he punctured again and, shamefacedly had to admit he didn’t have the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture, flagging down Crazy Legs to ask for a pump to borrow.
“I thought you were getting a new pump for your birthday?” a perplexed Crazy Legs had asked.
“I am. My wife’s already bought it, but I’m not allowed to use it because my actual birthday’s not until tomorrow,” Arnold had ruefully replied.
This reminded me of (surely an urban myth) the story of a new season-ticket holder at Newcastle, who’d been surprised the seat beside him remained empty, game, after game, after game. With a reportedly long waiting list for tickets he’d enquired if perhaps the seat was available to purchase only to be told it definitely had an owner.
When said owner finally turned up, he’d informed his new neighbour not to enquire why he’d missed so many games, but finally relented to reveal he’d his wife had bought the season ticket for a Christmas present …
Just about everything we discussed then paled into insignificance by the highlight of the day, or maybe month, or perhaps even the year. This was the rather startling declaration from the Garrulous Kid – and I quote him exactly here so there’s no misunderstanding –
“I share a bath with my sister.”
Yes, well, hmmm. Moving swiftly on …
After such a blockbuster revelation, everyone was ready to go, with some riders turning left from the cafe for a slightly longer return ride. I took the usual right, keen to get home and catch the start of the Classics and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Proper bike racing has finally started again.
I dropped in alongside Jimmy Mac as we turned off the main road onto the lanes.
My Garmin has just told me it’s battery is low,” he started, “and suggested I switch it to Power-Saving Mode. So I did and it just turned itself off completely!”
Well, we had to admit, that was the ultimate power-saving mode and his Garmin would probably retain its limited charge for days now, if not weeks.
“Let’s keep it together up the climb,” OGL called as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill. As if on cue, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid immediately surged off the front and chased each other up the hill.
I accelerated to track them, pulling those with the legs left to follow upwards. As I caught up with a grinning G-Dawg on the reverse slope, he predicted a Facebook rant about group riding etiquette sometime that night.
He wasn’t to be disappointed.
We pushed on into the Mad Mile side by side, both commenting on the sudden, stiff headwind that appeared to have been lying in wait until just that very moment. So, it’s back to that is it? Great.
Let’s see what next week brings.
YTD Totals: 1,353 km / 841 miles with 18,447 metres of climbing
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.