The Odd Scent of Grapefruit

The Odd Scent of Grapefruit

Cat#2 demanded to be let out of the back door first thing Saturday morning (he has a catflap, but it’s sooo much effort and besides, what else are stoopid humans good for?) and while acceding to his imperial highness, I noted just how chilly it was and pulled out a windproof jacket before setting out. It wasn’t until halfway down the Heinous Hill however that, jacket, fluttering like a moth broken on windscreen, I realised it was not only chilly, but another gusty, windy day. The temperature would rise eventually, but the wind refused to die and would just help make things a little bit harder wherever we went.

As I pushed out along the valley floor I was passed by a regular peloton of riders heading the other way. There must have been over a dozen middle-aged blokes, all dressed in matching white and green jerseys, with some kind of numbers on the front of their bikes, riding in a compact bunch with a couple of support cars trailing, laden with spares. They didn’t look lean and mean enough to be any kind of race team, so I assumed they were on some sort of sponsored ride for charidee. Then again, they were heading for Newcastle and it was the start of the weekend, so maybe this is just the latest stag-do trend?

Odd to think that I typed the above expecting the spellchecker to object to “charidee” – but apparently it’s now a recognised and accepted word!

charidee

NOUN

informal

Conspicuous charity, especially as part of a television promotion, or of an otherwise pointless exercise.

Isn’t English a wonderful, dynamic and ever-changing feast!

Crossing the bridge, nothing was moving on the river or from either boathouse, so it looked like our rowing clubs were away at some competition. The roads however were busy, with more traffic than I’ve seen in a long while, with no particular reason I could think of. Still, I arrived in plenty of time to watch our numbers slowly build until we had 33 riders clustered together and jostling for space across the pavement, the largest turnout for quite some time.

As we waited, Crazy Legs made the startling confession that he now thought Ed Sheerhan was “utterly brilliant”, having been dragged along to see his live show and undergoing some kind of startling, Damascene conversion. Luckily no one in my household is ever likely to drag me to such a show, so I can remain convinced Mr. Sheerhan remains a whiny, wey-faced poltroon with a penchant for bad 6th form poetry.

It was Crazy Legs’ turn to plan the route, which had us heading to the cafe at Capheaton, until we learned it was closed. I really don’t know what’s wrong with these people, thinking they can just waltz off on the pretext that they need a holiday. What about the well-being and mental health of the North East’s cycling contingent? Not to mention their coffee and cake addictions.

Crazy Legs tried to engineer a completely new route, but then decided we’d just use the Belsay cafe instead, so we’d ride past Capheaton, look longingly at its closed and shuttered facade, wipe away a tear and then press on another 9km or so to Belsay. It wasn’t a bad substitute to be fair and we’d need to return that way anyhow.

Crazy Legs was just reaching down to check his Garmin, to see if it was near departure time, when Carlton rolled to a stop. No need for a time-check, then, our metronome (metrognome?) had returned from holidays and was as punctual as ever.

Even better, we handily managed to get 10 or 11 volunteers into our first group and sent them on their way. I joined the second group, rolling up to join them at the traffic lights, where I found Goose confronting Not Anthony and Cowboys, declaring how discomfited he was to discover they were actually two completely different people. Apparently Crazy Legs isn’t the only one who hasn’t realised Not Anthony is not Anthony.

We had noticeable crosswinds for the first part of the ride and then, just as the lead was ceded and I pushed onto the front with Goose, we reached Mitford and turned left instead of the more usual right, finding ourselves running directly west and straight into the wind.

“Have we been duped into doing something stupid,” Goose wondered, as we ducked down low and ground our way onwards. “Ah, well,” he consoled himself, “At least that farm dog doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.”

He was right. The rather ferocious, loud and very active hound that used to go crazy whenever it spotted a passing cyclist (especially if that cyclist happened to be Crazy Legs) was still there, but it stayed slumped and supine, not even bothering to open an eye and glare at us balefully as we sailed serenely past. Like most of our group it looks like old age, complacency and can’t-be-bovveredness has caught up with our canine adversary too – or perhaps the newly acquired muzzle it’s been forced to wear has taken all the fun out of chasing cyclists?

We led the group through Molesden and toward Meldon and were just discussing whether to stop as we rolled through the junction toward Dyke Neuk. Not only were we not stopping, but we were also going the wrong way, so we turned around and chased back on, going from front to back of the group in a few seconds. That, I think, was more than a just reward for our dithering and we could now find some shelter and recovery amongst the wheels.

We jagged north toward Hartburn, then west through Middleton, before finally turning back south again for the run through Capheaton. As we started climbing up toward the cafe and our highest point of the day, James III put in a burst of previously unheralded climbing prowess and the group fractured and became strung out. The last time we’d been up here he’d been struggling right at the back, only trailed by some idiot wrestling a single-speed, so things have definitely changed for the better. I worked my way through the luxury of a gear change, increased the tempo and along with G-Dawg, Goose and the Famous Cumbrian we started to close the gap.

We caught up with James III as we rolled past the cafe.

“There’s a big, big gap,” someone remarked.

“Good,” I replied.

I think they were pausing to let everyone regroup, but I wasn’t waiting and accelerated. At some point I realised I was riding alone and just kept going. It seems such a long time since anyone’s taken a flyer off the front, so I was happy to resurrect the idea of the forlorn hope attack. Anyway, it was only … err… umh … ah … 7km from Capheaton to our traditional cafe sprint-line …

Ok, truth is I really hadn’t thought this through all that well, but what the hell. I pressed on, never looking back, but noticing all the little impediments in my way: the fractured surface on the steep ramp up to the main road that had my wheels skipping and skittering as I barged upwards out of the saddle, the false flat that became a grinding, uphill slog, the wind from the left and right and front, but seemingly never behind me, the new road surface that should have helped, but was rough and heavy and seemed to suck the speed out of my tyres. Still, I’m pretty sure my face wore a stupid-ass grin as I frantically mashed the pedals around and around.

I made it to within maybe 250-300 metres of the imaginary finish line before the Famous Cumbrian buzzed past, with G-Dawg just launching a sprint from out of his slipstream. I managed to bridge across the Famous Cumbrian’s wheel and held on for a moment, but checking back, there was no one else close, so I eased and sat up, coasting to only 3rd, but a highly satisfactory and strangely enjoyable 3rd.

At the cafe I learned more about Tesla batteries than I’ll ever need to know. I also learned that Goose was inordinately proud of the 150,000 or so (and counting) unread emails on his phone that he has no intention of ever reading, or apparently, ever deleting either. Strangely, he’s just had to buy his daughter a new 256GB iPhone because she’s completely filled her original one up with photos, so I suspect the old adage about the fruit not falling far from the tree applies. I guess they have the ultimate solution though, we’ll just keep buying devices with bigger and bigger storage, so we can keep building up all the crap we can’t be bothered to edit and cull.

Recommendations to raise the age a person can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and then increase the age of sale by one every year thereafter prompted G-Dawg to imagine a dystopian, near-future when feral, middle-aged blokes would hang around outside corner shops, begging older folk to buy them cigarettes.

We also had a chuckle at the absurdity of hospital smoking shelters, invariably inhabited by wizened, infirm patients suffering smoking-related illnesses, but braving the British weather while dressed in nothing but a hospital gown and slippers, with a lit cigarette in one hand and IV stand and attached drip in the other.

Alhambra felt people abused the cigarette break excuse too much at his work, so started totting up the time they were taking and subtracting it from his own working week, boldly waving goodbye to everyone as he left early Friday afternoon.

“Here, where are you going?” his manager finally confronted him after a few weeks.

“I’m going home, mate.”

“But, you can’t do that.”

“Well, I’m just taking off the time I would be allowed off if I smoked, like you lot. See you later Dave, have a nice weekend.”

Apparently, his manager hasn’t found an argument against this yet and Alhambra says he’s now started taking note of all the prayer breaks some of his colleagues are getting too, and he could soon be well on his way to a 4-day week.

Heading back, I had a 5-minute catch-up with Taffy Steve, which is more than enough time for him to have me snorting with mirth. He is proudly anti-uniform and even when he was into diving would deliberately swim against the tide (boom-tsk!) and make sure none of his gear matched, while everyone else was carefully colour co-ordinating wetsuits with flippers and masks and snorkels and weight belts and the like.

I wondered if we’s be seeing the return of his old Marmite-branded cycling jersey soon, perhaps the most emblematic embodiment of divisiveness known to man, but he revealed he’d seen a fellow cyclist of a decidedly rotund disposition wearing one, and they’d looked so much like a little pot of Marmite on wheels, that he was now a bit wary of it.

He also revealed he’s been out with the Red Max on their newly introduced Tuesday evening, relaxed rides. Apparently, the Red Max had been a bit hyper on the first few, jumping around and madly chasing after other cyclists and cars and buses, but now Taffy Steve reckoned he’d reined him in and tamed his wilder impulses, so the rides have become quite civilised.

“No!” I protested, “You’ve broken him!”

We were strung out and split up as we crested Berwick Hill and started down the other side with the wind pushing us and demanding more speed. I’d soon rattled down the cassette and ran out of gears, but knew it was a brief reprieve as we’d soon be turning and then I’d be back fighting the wind most of the way home. And so it proved.

Oddly, while passing through Newburn I noticed a fleeting but intense smell of grapefruit. I have to admit the area isn’t one I’d normally associate with sub-tropical citrus fruit, or any other fruit for that matter, so maybe it was an olfactory hallucination. Phantosmia. Who’d have guessed they have a word for that too.

Otherwise, that was a very enjoyable ride, which is good as it’ll be the last club run I do for the next couple of weeks, let’s see what strangeness awaits when I return.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 11th June 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 24 minutes
Riding Distance:114km/71 miles with 1,114m of climbing
Average Speed:25.8km/h
Group Size:33 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:15℃ – 17℃
Weather in a word or two:Cold in that there wind
Year to date:2,492km/1,550 miles with 27,078m of climbing

Photo by Nicola Barts on Pexels.com

Fly Blown

Fly Blown

Oops! … I did it again.

I didn’t learn the lesson last week, so was enticed into the front group again this week, for an even faster run, (although, to be fair this route involved less vertical gain.)

Saturday also saw a further continuation of fairly decent and notably dry weather, with occasional periods of real warmth and bright sunshine, although we were handicapped by what the BBC weather app euphemistically insisted was a gentle breeze, but we found for the most part to be a seriously stiff headwind.

I wondered if the wind was causing a problem out on the river, with an 8-man rowing boat seemingly stuck motionless, and becalmed, athwart the river upstream of the bridge, while a whole host of other boats were racing away from it downstream as if fleeing a sinking ship.

I climbed out of the valley (in the big ring without really realising) and arrived at the meeting point slightly early and slightly surprised to find so many already there. This soon resolved into the Judean People’s Front assembly before one of their rides. They kidnapped Crazy Legs and away they went. (He was later released without any ransom demands, the group seemingly having quickly tired of his schtick.)

I joined up with a slightly under-the-weather Brassneck, who’d been over-indulging in the corporate hostility stakes for 5-days in a row, with clients visiting from South America. It’s fair to say he exuded an earthy-hoppy, beer-induced aroma after a full working week of wassailing and imbibing and was looking forward to a very gentle recovery ride.

The Hammer was our nominated route architect using a tried and tested run taking in Whittledene reservoir. He was also the originator of perhaps the most controversial question of the day … can I clean bike cassettes in the dishwasher? It may have been an absurd, obscure question … except I had form, having tried and achieving decent results cleaning an old groupset in this way, although I’m sure Mr. Zanussi and (especially) Mrs. SLJ would disapprove.

“You can also,” I added, “Cook salmon fillets in the dishwasher, though obviously sans detergent and not at the same time as you’re cleaning bike components.” Just to be clear, this isn’t something I’ve actually tried myself. So far anyway.

We didn’t need to check the time, just as soon as Carlton rode up we knew it was time to go (although, on this occasion, Carlton was a whole 20 seconds early.) Jimmy Mac, G-Dawg and Caracol formed the core of the first/faster group, but, as happened last week, no one else seemed all that keen to join them.

This again?

Really?

#Sigh.

I added my number to their ranks along with a very reluctant Brassneck, who mumbled something about kill-or-cure and then immediately announced he knew was going to regret this. Famous Cumbrians joined us and Captain Black tagged onto the back. I rolled up to the front alongside Caracol and told him it was entirely his fault that no one wanted to ride in the first group, then the lights changed and the less than Magnificent Seven got underway.

It was immediately apparent that we would be battling a headwind most of the morning and in between this and the pace we set, it was a fairly breathless start. Still, I was able to grunt occasionally and even contribute the odd snippet of conversation, as Caracol relayed his ongoing fascination with the “Wagatha Christie” trial.

He was finding this wholly absurd epic of feuding footballers’ wives and girlfriends (or WAG’s in tabloid parlance) hugely diverting and very entertaining light relief amongst all the doom, gloom and suffering in the rest of the news. He’d also happily concluded that, whatever the outcome of the trial, no sentient being was likely to suffer (or be even mildly discomfited) by its outcome.

He was particularly pleased by Marina Hyde writing that, when discussing critical evidence on a mobile phone “accidentally” and very conveniently dropped into the North Sea, and having admitted to the judge that she didn’t know who Davey Jones was, or why indeed he even had a locker, Rebekah Vardy had a “horrendous-whitey moment” when she thought some bloke called Davey Jones may have recovered and cached her mobile.

I was delighted to find that other, much more interesting and amusing group of wags, the Internet wits and commentators were fully across this story which, (much, much better than the Wagatha Christie monicker) was commonly referred to as either Wagnarock, The Scouse Trap, Bleak Scouse or The Tale That Dogs the WAGS. Splendid stuff.

We led the group through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Ponteland. ” I don’t think the wind’s all that bad, you know,” I heard Brassneck say just as we swung away to let him take over on the front, where his strangled groans and spluttering protestations were ample proof that he may have slightly underestimated what we’d been battering against.

Caracol dropped back to chat with Captain Black, while I slotted in between the two riders in the second rank for the ultimate shelter. Just before Stamfordham, we were down to six as Captain Black made a sharp exit stage left.

“What’s up? Is he OK?” I needn’t have worried, he’d had the early departure planned all along as he had a rendezvous with a small dimpled ball he wished to thrash.

“Bastard could have done a turn at the front before he buggered off though!” I concluded.

We pressed on through Stamfordham and out to the reservoir, dogged by large, shiny black and very annoying flies that seemed to be swarming everywhere. This was definitely a day for riding with your gob shut.

“Flies hurt when you collide with them at 50kph,” Jimmy Mac observed, as they pinged off my specs and helmet with annoying regularity

We stopped at our usual point just beyond the reservoirs where, in between wafting flies away, or flicking them off bike and body, I reiterated my displeasure with Captain Black, hiding at the back and then buggering off early.

“Not that you’re going to make a big thing of it at all?” Brassneck prompted

“Me? No, no. Not at all. Probably won’t mention it.”

We discussed whether it would be possible to hand out punishment for such aberrant behaviour, perhaps a double turn on the front next week, or even, as Brassneck suggested, making the culprit wear a special jersey of shame, emblazoned with “Wheelsucker”.

None of the other groups had appeared by the time the swarming flies persuaded us to move on again…

I did another turn on the front through Matfen and up toward the Quarry, where we saw an impressive fly-past by the Tyneside Vagabonds, 20 to 30 riders en bloc, the majority resplendent in their new(ish) blue kit.

We scaled the Quarry and the pace picked up, only to drop off again as we were cruelly robbed of all momentum, slowing for the blind junction at Wallridge crossroads. Caracol lobbied G-Dawg to use his newly-awarded executive powers to see if we could alter the club constitution and get a marshall permanently stationed at the crossroads. Compelling as his case was, I didn’t think it had much chance of succeeding.

We took the drag up to West Belsay and joined the junction of the road down to the Snake Bends. We were travelling pretty fast, but not as fast as Cowin’ Bovril, who appeared out of nowhere and shot past us all. He’d been riding the Red Max’s coattails down the long descent from Kirkheaton and had received the perfect sling shot lead-out to burst past our group – although the Red Max was thoroughly disappointed that he’d only hit 49 mph on the descent, just missing out acheiving the half-century.

Crossing the A696, we ducked down bomb-alley, threading our way through the potholes and then the speed kicked up again as the roads straightened and we charged toward the cafe stop at Kirkley. The Red Max and Cowin’ Bovril were jettisoned and the pace built and built. Through Ogle, past Kirkley Hall, we swung right, accelerating hard out of the bends, driving round the last corner …

And came to a grinding halt at the temporary traffic lights.

Again.

Last week they’d been a bit of a saviour, this week they were just an annoyance, still we were soon at the cafe and it was quiet and there were no queues. Perfect.

The Kirkley bacon sarnies were declared the best in class, even though Brassneck was mightily suspicious of how they turned up so quickly and suggested they may be in some way pre-cooked. Such a distinction didn’t seem to matter one jot to our bacon sarnie connoisseurs.

Jimmy Mac suggested they were nearly, but not quite as good as the terrific bacon pakoras an Asian caterer had served up for breakfast at a recent medical conference he and his colleagues had attended. I naturally wondered if this was one of his Cardiology Department’s healthy hearts initiatives and if it was a wholly appropriate use of health service funds, let alone heart-friendly cuisine.

“Order 31!” – we were interrupted from our musings by the bellowing of the service staff.

“Order 31!” Louder and shriller.

“Order 31! Louder still, more shrill, “Bacon sandwich on white!”

“Oh!” a bloke sitting right next to the server shot his hand up, “That’s me … Sorry, I thought my ticket said number 13!”

We tried to work out how you could possibly mistake 31 for 13 and failed. God knows what he would have made of the upside-down 13’s on my bike.

“If he’s waiting for 13 to be called, he’s in for a long, long wait,” G-Dawg concluded.

Other riders arrived in dribs and drabs, but there were no large groups and it looked like most had taken the opportunity to stop at Belsay much to the disappointment of Brassneck, who thought he’d earned the right to enjoy them all queuing for an age.

Jimmy Mac paused thoughtfully halfway through devouring the massive slab of Mint Aero traybake he’d personally selected.

“Which way are we thinking of heading back?” he wondered.

“Just the usual, Berwick Hill,” G-Dawg confirmed.

“Ah, good. Don’t want to be eating the rest of this if we’re going up Saltwick Hill.”

He must have been feeling pretty chipper, despite the mighty traybake weighing him down, as he applied pressure on the front with Caracol and split the group on Berwick Hill. By the time we were heading to Dinnington there was only me and Brassneck clinging to the wheels and trying to follow in what was a very unequal contest. We did manage to hold on until just past the airport though before a gap slowly opened and we were still held a decent pace up to the junction where Brassneck turned off and I pushed on for home.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:114km/71 miles with 997m of climbing
Average Speed:27.8km/h
Group Size:21 riders
Temperature:11℃ – 18℃
Weather in a word or two:Same again. I’m not complaining.
Year to date:1,876km/1,165 miles with 20,172m of climbing

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Positives and Negatives

Positives and Negatives

I managed to catch a vicious throat infection which kept me off the bike last weekend just as the weather turned momentarily glorious. While COVID infections continue to rise at an alarming rate, repeated testing seemed to show I had managed to catch something entirely unrelated. I don’t know whether to think of this as good or bad? Probably neither.

At least wallowing under the pretence of illness gave me an excuse to watch last Saturday’s La Classicissima, Milan-San Remo in its entirety. It felt like time well spent – all 293 kilometres spread over 6 hours and 30 minutes. By the way, that’s riding at an astonishing, eye-popping 44km/hour average speed. Ooph!

In other news, we held and survived a club EGM, largely thanks to the support of a couple of representatives from British Cycling who (just about) managed to keep things on the rails. The membership voted for a new club secretary, chairman, and treasurer, and just for the novelty of it, decided these roles would not all be embodied in one single individual. (I know, radical isn’t it?)

The members also voted overwhelmingly to adopt the standard British Cycling constitution, to attempt to impose some structure on things and secure the future legacy of the club. Our new board members have taken the draft constitution away to work up and amend before it’s presented back to us for a final vote. It seems like progress to me.

Outside, the sun is up and still shining in a perfectly blue and cloudless sky, the temperature is creeping towards the warm setting, crocuses are beginning to lift their brightly coloured heads out from the soil and I’ve prepped the plastic bikes in anticipation of being able to use one of them tomorrow.

Change.

All of a sudden things are starting to feel a little bit different.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Depleted

Depleted

Back to a more normal start time this week and I wasn’t long into the ride when I realised the forecast for a dry day had surprise, surprise, got it wrong. I persevered for a while, hoping I was only experiencing a transitory shower, but as things started to get a bit damp around the edges, finally admitted defeat and stopped to pull my rain jacket on.

The weather did eventually dry out and improve, but the jacket never left my back from that point onward.

It was a day for meeting under the gloomy shelter at the bottom of the multi-storey car park, where I was early enough to see off the contingent from the Judean People’s Front, planning a ride into the hills south of the river. I was invited along, but explained I’d only just escaped that place and I didn’t think their route was all that suited to an old feller on a single-speed. (Apparently, there are degrees of madness and I’d like to offer this refusal as proof that I’m not completely and irredeemably deranged.)

Anyway, G-Dawg had planned the route, which I was really looking forward to. It was refreshingly shorter than usual and aimed at an early cafe stop at Bywell with the novelty of then descending into the Tyne Valley and having to clamber out again while carrying the full ballast of freshly ingested cake and coffee. I couldn’t decide if this was cruel or inspired, but I was planning to cross the river at Wylam anyway and looking forward to a much shorter, if equally lumpy ride home.

It was G-Dawg’s route, but unfortunately, he was ruled out of participating with a positive COVID test, so Crazy Legs stepped into the breach while making sure everyone was aware this would count as one of his allotted turns to lead. With the rain continuing to fall and the numbers building to the point where we’d need to make use of the outdoor seating area at Bywell, he considered changing the route, but we decided to risk it, something hindsight would suggest was the right choice.

If the weather was guesswork, what did seem certain to us all was the massive upsurge we were seeing in COVID infections, although if we’re not testing, I guess it’s like the ride you forgot to record on Strava (i.e. it didn’t happen). Besides, Bo-Jo the Clown has said everything is fine and, since he’s proven to be completely and utterly trustworthy, we should have no worries. Eh? (It’s about time someone invented a font specifically for sarcasm …)

[You know it’s bad when even that mouthpiece and apologist for the government the Daily Mail Hiel is reporting 91,345 new cases diagnosed between March 15th and 16th up by one-third, while hospital admissions are up by 29% on the previous week and 153 people sadly died – a rise of a quarter on the week before.]

Crazy Legs set the first group up and running around Jimmy Mac, with the usual cajoling and wheedling and negotiation to press-gang enough numbers into what is typically a faster traveling group. He then led the second group up to the traffic lights where we waited to be released onto the open roads. Just before the lights changed though, he declared he was going to lead from the back and pulled out of the line, inviting the startled rider behind to push forward and onto the front to take his place.

Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the startled rider was Zardoz (who my first ever boss would undoubtedly have termed a wiry old fox) who is preternaturally skilled at managing to never ride anywhere near the front when there was shelter to be had amongst the wheels. Now he was left exposed, in more ways than one.

He looked back at me slightly shocked and ashen-faced and I had to ask if he was feeling light-headed or vertiginous, while I quickly checked for blood trickling out of his nose or ears. No, he was good to go. The lights changed and our reluctant vanguard led us out.

I found myself alongside Biden Fecht, his rattler subdued for the time being. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one to remark on the strange noises emanating from his machine last week and one rider had complained all the clanking and clunking had started to bring on their OCD. He’d since checked every nut and bolt and attachment and fitting but had singularly failed to find anything loose or the source of the incessant noise. For now though, the bike was being supremely well-behaved.

“For now,” Biden Fecht emphasised.

We discussed our imminent club EGM and the dread horror of it providing a platform for another excruciatingly, buttock-numbing re-telling on the club’s storied history – as if people could be made to care about it through simple repetition. “Perhaps we should record it, it might make a good podcast?” Biden Fecht suggested.

Hmm, I’m actually looking for a replacement podcast following disappointing news about the imminent dissolution of the Church of Wittertainment, aka Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, but I’m just not sure the history of a provincial cycling club would make a suitable long-term replacement.

Biden Fecht isn’t a fan of Mr Kermode’s film reviews, but I think he’s missing the point, as these are just a vehicle for decent, companionable old gits to talk complete and utter tosh about everything and nothing, much like a typical one of our club runs. So, whether it’s dodgy Tenpole Tudor impersonations, Swedish advice about taking your cow out onto the ice, stinky-pants-wee, or how big a runway Thunderbird 1 would need – the Church will be sorely missed.

At the junction just before Brunton Lane, progress stalled to let a car pass and then Zardoz fluffed his gear change. With his chain failing to instantly engage, he sat up and swung over.

“Ah, very clever,” I had to applaud as he drifted backward.

“No! no!” he blustered and caught red-handed he manipulated the chain back on and then bluffed his way back onto the front with faux enthusiasm

Turning out of Brunton Lane we then began to track a couple of riders ahead of us and Zardoz pushed up the pace a little until we caught them just before the airport.

“We’re just going to sit on for a little while, thanks,” Zardoz called up to them cheerfully and settled onto a rear wheel, pleased as punch to be out of the wind.

Then, half a mile or so up the road, as we approached Dinnington, “We’re going left here,” he called out hopefully. Sadly, his new best friends didn’t seem at all interested in his implied invite, or providing us with further shelter and kept going as we turned off.

I put him out of his misery and took over on the front from Prestwick through to Darras Hall. With my stint in the wind done, I then dropped back and it wasn’t long then until we passed Stamfordham and made our way out to Whittle Dene Reservoir, which OGL informed us was built by Italian prisoners of war. I wasn’t able to find any more information about this, but while the reservoirs were actually completed in 1848, there was a POW camp in nearby Haltwhistle, so it’s a possibility they did additional work

Past the reservoir, OGL left us, complaining he was “breathing out me arse,” that quaint if nonsensical expression I believe was first popularised by Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II. (Although I understand her actual phrase was “breathing out of one’s arse.”)

We then took in a long descent down to the four streaming lines of traffic that formed the A69, where, done with leading from the back, Crazy Legs suddenly appeared at the head of things. He then nipped across the road before everyone else to ensure he won any cafe sprint, but more importantly, secured first place in the queue for cake and coffee.

We all took turns filtering across and for once didn’t receive the typical fanfare of car horns for daring to venture into the motorists domain. Maybe they were asleep at the wheel today?

With the weather having cleared away to bright sunshine, it was still cold, but luckily dry enough for us to take up our usual seats outside the cafe.

James III slumped down and vigorously pulled off a glove, which twanged across the table and rattled Crazy Legs’ coffee cup, although luckily not a drop was spilled.

“Looks like you’re being challenged to a duel?” someone suggested.

“How does that work then?” Crazy Legs demanded, “He’s careless, spills my drink and then he feels insulted.” He wasn’t buying it.

Talk turned to the venue for our imminent EGM and how many of the old guard that we’d never met OGL might be able to coerce out to support him on the night. Not Anthony confirmed that the venue chosen, perhaps deliberately, had wheelchair access, while we envisaged hospital beds complete with drips and monitors being wheeled into the room by attendant nursing staff.

“Maybe a couple of urns strategically placed here and there with proxy votes too,” Captain Black suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mini Miss complained that we needed to see some progress as the continual formation of all the splinter groups such as the JPF, in her words, depleted us, the perfect cue for Biden Fecht to start channeling his inner Keyshia Cole, break into song and start warbling “you deplete me.”

It was interesting to hear Mini Miss and Crazy Legs had completely different perspectives of a club social get-together where they’d been entertained to an impromptu performance by the fledgling Geordie troubadour (not two words I ever thought I’d write together) Sam Fender. “Canny chanter, but he looks sad,” I interjected which is about where my Sam Fender knowledge starts and ends.

Crazy Legs wondered how I was heading home and if I’d be using the Wylam Waggonway. I hadn’t thought of that, but it seemed a good shout, especially as it would get me to the bridge at Newburn without the series of stiff climbs I faced if I crossed the river at Wylam.

Then we were ready to leave and everyone started fumbling for hats and gloves and sunglasses, or as Biden Fecht would tunefully have it the “doing the Oakley-cokie.” Perhaps not the best note to finish on.

We swooped down the rest of the hill to the valley floor and turned eastwards, heading downstream. Here unfortunately, Biden Fecht’s bike decided to accompany his singing, with the dreaded, but forewarned return of its tuneless death rattle.

It was here too that I found, in direct contrast to last week’s cafe stop, this one seemed to have gifted me with an unexpected burst of speed. Perhaps these shorter rides are better for me? On the first climb I pounded on the pedals and surged upwards almost riding over Biden Fecht. Surprised, I tamped it down a bit, but decided it probably wasn’t worth avoiding the hills out of Wylam after all.

There was still time for us to draw the irritation of a 4×4 driver who decided we’d held up his passage by more than thirty seconds, let us appreciate his fantastic horn playing and then tried to overtake in the face of an on-coming car. I suggested, solely through the power of mime, that he was most probably an onanist of the first order. His road rage seemed to overcome any actual sense that he may once have possessed and he even slowed during his ridiculously risky overtake, his window slid down … and then … and then … nothing. Perhaps he realised we weren’t worth it, or it may have struck him that he was heavily outnumbered and accelerated away, cruelly depriving us of his wit and wisdom.

“Cock-womble!” Brasneck concluded, shaking his head in disgust. I couldn’t argue.

I stormed up the hill into Wylam and then swung right as everyone kept going for their climb north out of the river valley. Rolling over the bridge, I was just gathering myself for the first of the steep ramps ahead when Crazy Legs popped up on my right-hand shoulder.

“I don’t know where I am,” he confessed, eyes starting to dart around a little nervously now he’d crossed the river to the dark side. “I thought you were taking the cycleway to Newburn?”

“I changed my mind.” I told him the route we were on got a little hilly, but reassured him it would take him to Newburn too. I then offered to turnaround and ride back with him down the Wagon Way, but he told me just to press on, while he retraced his steps. He later found his pedals had seized and had a death grip on his feet, so had to ride home without clipping in to avoid any embarrassing mishaps. Ooph!

I had much more luck and fun, finding I really was flying after all, collecting 8 Starva PR’s on all the ramps out of the valley and getting home a good hour early and much fresher than I would normally. I really enjoyed that.

Well, it seems only appropriate that I should close with tinkety-tonk, down with the Nazi’s, dictators and autocrats in all forms, and up with the BHF’s and down-trodden masses. Upwards and onwards, perhaps a new dawn awaits, but who can say?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 12th March 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:76km/47 miles with 793m of climbing
Average Speed:22.9km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:789km/490 miles with 8,208m of climbing


Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern

An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?

With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.

The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.

TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …

In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …

Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.

We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.

“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”

Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.

Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.

I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.

By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.

Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.

Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.

The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.

It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.

Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 5th March 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 1,055m of climbing
Average Speed:19.7km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:713km/443 miles with 7,415m of climbing



Immaculate Construction

Immaculate Construction

Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.

A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.

I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.

With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.

Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.

I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.

Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.

Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.

Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.

“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”

Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.

Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …

Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.

Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”

Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.

Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.

With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.

In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.

As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.

“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.

Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.

Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.

Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.

I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.

Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.

While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”

As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”

With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!

Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.

G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.

Better.


Day & Date:Club ride, 12th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 53 minutes
Riding Distance:105km/65 miles with 1,211m of climbing
Average Speed:21.4km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Windy
Year to date:347km/216 miles with 3,777m of climbing


Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Where will we go
When di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?

I always like to start with a little Koffee. Just a bit disappointed no one ambushed me with cake.

So that’s my quarantine ting done and hopefully my last bout of COVID for a while. Call me old-fashioned, but I decided to go with the traditional self-isolation at home, rather than the new government-approved methodology of attending boozy parties with all and sundry.

Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly bad illness, but combined with a lack of exercise (2 weeks off the bike!) I appear to have been left with the lung capacity of an asthmatic canary. On the first day of official release, I went for a run (well, actually more of a graceless lumber) and it was so s-l-o-w and I felt like I was trying to breathe through airways filled with treacle.

Two days later, I tried again and it was only marginally easier and faster. So I approached the club run with a degree of trepidation and armed with the Peugeot and its smattering of gears for when things inevitably turned ugly.

And it was actually a club run. British Cycling have temporarily lifted our club’s suspension, although not without serious consequences. The first of these was that our junior, Go-Ride section broke away to form a separate, autonomous club with immediate effect. This was the only way they could run their sessions and retain their affiliation under the British Cycling Go-Ride banner and all the attendant benefits and safeguards it provides.

Although a serious income generating entity in its own right (and what self-respecting club wouldn’t want to have a popular and thriving junior section?) I doubt the club hierarchy are all that bothered by this loss. There always seemed to be a disconnect between the Go-Ride section and the rest of us and, as far as I can tell, their sole purpose was to serve as a symbolic stick that could be used to beat the senior riders with whenever we questioned … well, anything.

I do have to admit though, I’m going to miss the delicious sense of schadenfreude that occurred whenever OGL proudly anointed one of these youngsters as “the future of the club,” only to find a couple of weeks later that they’d jumped ship to find a more rational, active and forward-thinking group to train and ride with.

As for where this leaves the rest of us, well there’s still been no official communication from the club, but from what I can piece together, talking to people and reading between the lines, the long-term reinstatement of our British Cycling affiliation appears dependent on us adopting a series of simple and reasonable directives in a timely fashion, namely:

  1. Hold an EGM and elect at least two other members to official/governing positions in the club.
  2. Forward an up-to-date set of club accounts to British Cycling.
  3. Adopt a club constitution to ensure good governance going forward.

I’ve no idea why any of this should prove difficult or contentious … oh, hold on … of course I have.

Anyway, back to the ride. Where will we go?

Buster had planned and would lead this week’s group, although he was wavering a little in the morning after reading forecasts for very high winds.

I didn’t think the wind was going to be that much of an issue and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was almost full light as I set off, crossing a flat and placid river where the rowers were out in force enjoying the smooth water. As I approached the climb out the other side of the valley I looked back to check the way was clear and moved out into the middle lane to take the 2nd exit off the roundabout. As I stopped at the lights a heavy wagon rolled up inside me stopped with an explosive hiss of air brakes and the engine rumbled then clanked to a stop. In the near silence, I heard the window whisk down as the driver leaned out to address me. I was wondering what I’d done to incur his ire, but he just wanted to have a chat about changes to the Highway Code!

Surprisingly, he seemed generally supportive of the changes, but concerned about the priority given cyclists riding up the inside and going straight ahead when he was trying to turn left at a junction. That’s actually not much of an issue for me as, except in extreme circumstances, I’d rather sit in the middle of the lane within a line of traffic than risk riding up the inside and having someone drive across my front. I get that this isn’t everyone’s modus operandi, but each to their own.

Up over the first hill and halfway across the next roundabout I was watching the two lanes of approaching traffic, trying to make eye contact with the drivers and reassure myself they’d seen me. The car in the outside lane eased to a stop, but the one on the outside? I slowed instinctively, the car reached the junction and braked sharply, just over the white line. I’ve no way of knowing if he’d not seen me until the last minute or always drove so frantically. I expect he wasn’t at all happy that I was now moving at a snail’s pace though and he had to wait an age until I’d passed.

At the third roundabout, things seemed much more under control. I’d eyeballed the two lanes of traffic I was just about to cross and both cars had slowed and were stopping when the car on the inside suddenly shot forward. I swerved violently into the inside lane, which was thankfully empty and somehow managed to avoid being mown down by an accelerating chunky, grey metallic Nissan Cashcow. I swung my arms about and swore loudly, but despite my blinking lights fore and aft and eye-bleedingly bright hi-viz gilet, I’m not convinced the driver ever noticed me, or realised how close I’d been to being smeared under their wheels.

That’s more than enough excitement for one day and proof, I suspect that no amount of new rules in the Highway Code are going to be proof against driver inattention. Gawd, I hate roundabouts.

To make matters worse, I think the mudguards on my bike had tensed up in anticipation of a collision and now I was riding accompanied by an ever-varying, never-ending cacophony of chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs.

Luckily I made it to the meeting point without further incident and rolled up to join G-Dawg a new guy and a new gal. She was busy unwinding the metres and metres of electrician’s tape that she’d used to cocoon her pump with and hold it on her frame, explaining her boyfriend had stolen the actual mount to use on a separate ride he’d disappeared on. I took pity on her and fished mine out of my back pocket

G-Dawg explained she was one of those swimmer/runners who’d signed up for an Iron Man on the spur of the moment and needed to practice the bikling part. He also told me she’d survived last weeks club run in extreme conditions – despite being blown off her feet and into a ditch while she’d been standing at the side of the road.

I then got the full update on just how wild things had been last week and how lucky I’d been to miss out. The highlights (lowlights?) had been the wind on the road past the Sage building, where G-Dawg reckoned he’d almost been doing a track stand, out of the saddle, straining every sinew and gurning ridiculously as he tried to make even the slightest progress against a ferocious headwind.

Things had been so bad that Brassneck, Spoons and a few others had apparently only made it as far as Brunton Lane before abandoning after just 1km, cruelly snatching the record for the shortest club run in history out of the Garrulous Kid’s hands (at least he’d made it as far as Dinnington).

Not great conditions for a club run, but perhaps ideal for the Tegenwindfietsen, a Dutch cycle race that I remember Rainman telling me about and which sounds as insane as wanting to do an Iron Man. The Tegenwindfietsen is a time-trial ran on city bikes along the tops of the Dutch sea dykes and is only allowed to take place when a gale-force headwind can be guaranteed (7 or higher on the Beaufort Scale!)

Coincidently, it was apparently windy enough for the 7th edition of the Tegenwindfietsen to take place this weekend and it even earned a write-up in The Comic.

It proved mot quite windy enough to deter Buster in the final analysis. Just as G-Dawg was beginning to suspect he’d be a no-show, he rolled up, having taken the time to consult a far more reliable source than the BBC Weather app before venturing out, namely a 30ft conifer in his back garden, which he declared wasn’t moving enough to cause any real worries.

He briefed in the route, we split into two surprisingly equal-sized groups (entirely accidentally I suspect, by the law of averages it had to happen sooner or later) and away we went.

I dropped onto the front of the second group alongside G-Dawg and we’d barely turned off the main road before we got the call to stop. Behind us, whatever remedial work the new girl had attempted with my pump clearly hadn’t worked and half the group were clustered around her upended bike, needing to change the tyre. I wondered if she might use this mechanical as a handy excuse to snatch the brand new shortest club run record and abandon at this point, but apparently, neither punctures nor being blown into a ditch are enough to deter our newest rider.

The repairs did take forever though, and I was beginning to think those in attendance had allowed her to unravel the metres and metres of tape needed to get at her pump.

Finally, we got going again. The wind may not have been strong enough to trouble Buster’s conifer, or quite as bad as last week, but it was still a serious impediment to forward momentum. I hung on through Dinnington and Callerton, until the climb just before the turn to Darras where I ceded the front to Carlton and dropped back to try and find a bit more shelter.

By the time we reached Stamfordham I was conscious of approaching my limits. G-Dawg suggested a shorter route for those who wanted it, which sparked a confusing debate about whether the shorter route was longer, or the longer route was shorter. I determined that, regardless of their comparative lengths, either one was probably too much for me and so, while the rest split and pushed on, I turned to head back and battle the elements solo.

Bizarrely, 5 miles from home my mudguards finally decided they’d annoyed me enough for one day and all the chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs suddenly and magically disappeared. I started the long slow crawl up the Heinous Hill then to just the accompaniment of my own torturous breathing, battling the slope, leaden legs, incipient cramping, a swirling, gusting wind that pushed me dangerously close to the kerb too many times to remember and a rapidly softening back tyre that I was determined to ride all the way home, no matter what.

Brutal. But, I survived. Hopefully next week the conditions (my own and the weather) might make things a little bit easier.

Please.


Day & Date:Club ride, 4th February 2022
Riding Time:70km/43 miles with 792m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:16 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Blustery
Year to date:241km/150 miles with 2,566m of climbing

There’s the Rub

There’s the Rub

Into a new year we stumble and it’s back to the Saturday routine following two consecutive Monday rides during the holidays. The first of these would put a cap on my 2021 efforts in truly dire fashion as I appeared to bonk halfway around a 100km route, dropped off the back of the group and crawled the rest of the way home solo and most appropriately sur la jante.

This meant I also missed our annual pilgrimage to the cabin in the woods – the café at Bolam lake, which is perfectly servicable, reliably open when everything else is shuttered for the holidays, but for some reason, we seldom use if other choices are available.

The first Monday into the new year was much more successful, as we battled a strong headwind along the banks of the Tyne to the café at Bywell. Then, when everyone else had to turn north to climb out of the valley, I went rogue, crossed the bridge at Wylam and had a brilliantly fast, tailwind assisted and hugely enjoyable blast down the south bank of the river and home.

Although a somewhat shortened jaunt, at least it mean’t I had a few miles already banked for my first official club run of 2022.

Except …

Well, except the clubs affiliation to British Cycling has been actively suspended, so we can no longer have official club runs.

We first became aware of this when an eagle-eyed clubmate noticed our listing had abruptly disappeared from the BC website, but we had to wait three or four days before we got any sort of confirmation from the club hierarchy. (Is heirarchy an applicable term when all structures and governance are embodied in the whims of a single, solitary person?)

The official confirmation that the club’s affiliation to British Cycling had indeed been suspended came in the form of a terse, poorly worded and contradictory club communique which raised more questions than it answered, while suggesting the suspension was:

a). An utter shock that was unheralded and completely out of the blue with absolutely no hint of forewarning

b.) Totally and utterly unwarranted, and …

c.) Most importantly of all, somebody else’s fault entirely …

Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced by any of these points and this one is likely to run and run. Oh well, looks like we’re fully earning our subscriptions to the Chinese Curse (may you live in interesting times) to keep us entertained, although sometimes a bit of peace, calm and stability might be nice.

With no club run (ahem) to be planned, G-Dawg posted up a route just to let all his friends know where and when he intended to ride on Saturday and suggest that, if we should just happen to be on the exact same roads at the exact same time, well, that was pure coincidence wasn’t it…

There is, of course, nothing illegal about us riding as a group, it’s simply that this is no longer an official BC club run and as such we have no benefit from the blanket public liability insurance cover for club organised activities. (Or, at least that’s my very poor understanding of how things work, anyway.)

It wasn’t the best day for it either, cold, darkly overcast and with the threat of rain as an almost constant companion. I set off in darkness and swear 5-miles into my ride, it actually started to get darker. Then the rain bounced down, just enough to ensure I was suitably damp around the edges and ever so slightly uncomfortable.

I had to stop a few times to sort out my disapproving mudguards too, as their constant, censorious, tsk-tsk of my riding on every climb started to wear thin. I’ve no idea why mudguards that fitted perfectly last week should suddenly become an irritant. I guess that’s just the way it is.

I arrived at the meeting point to seek shelter in the dark recesses of the multi-storey car park, where we slowly assembled as a six-strong cohort. The weather didn’t seem that bad, so it was a fairly disappointing turnout, although perhaps people had been put off by Rainman’s prediction that violent thunderstorms would be sweeping the region just as we were due to set out. I’m still at a loss to work out where he picked up this idea from and, despite his blerg-moniker, he proved fantastically unreliable when it came to predicting levels of precipitation.

G-Dawg and Crazy Leg were on their fixies, Tri-Guy and me on single-speed bikes and Brassneck and Between were on normal road bikes. This was then perhaps the largest proportion of single-geared velocipedes on a club run in at least a quarter of a century and we estimated that between us we probably only had an average of just 8 gears each to choose from. Oh, wait, it wasn’t a club run at all. Scrub that.

Tri-Guy (it turns out he isn’t a triathlete at all, but a gravel biker) had managed to find some ice on a cycle path on the way across and had slid out. He reported there was no damage done, but he’d managed to plant his mitt in an icy puddle on his way down and his glove was now completely soaked through. It sounded innocuous at the time, but would result in having one seriously cold hand throughout the ride, like Michael Jackson asked to scrape a car windscreen, and he would eventually skip the café stop to head straight home to defrost (once he finally worked out exactly where the hell we had taken him and how to get back).

Crazy Legs declared he was grappling with last night’s curry and was in danger of losing and “doing a Dumoulin”, so set out for a solo ride which included a brief detour home, agreeing to meet up with us again at Kirkley café. The remaining 5 of us set out and just so happened to choose the exact same roads at the exact same time. What a coincidence.

At the top of Berwick Hill and with no sign of ice, we decided to risk at least part of the original route and take the lane through Kirkley Mill and out. Brassneck politely ushered me to the front for the descent as a sort of early warning device, relying on my penchant for finding errant patches of ice and reasoning if he saw me fall over he’d have plenty of time to stop or take evasive action. Charming.

We did find the odd rime of ice lurking in the gutters at the side of the road, which was not enough to cause any problems, but sufficient for us to skip the section planned for the shady lanes around Shilvington.

As we had passed through Kirkley on our outbound leg I’d glanced across at the rather gloomy, still dark horizon and asked G-Dawg if he knew what time sunrise was meant to be today.

It was meant as a rhetorical question, but, as we headed back an hour or so later the sun briefly broke cover to reveal itself skimming along, low on the horizon.

“Aha! There’s your sunrise,” G-Dawg exclaimed.

It seemed like it too, at 11.30 only three and a half hours later than scheduled. Still, I had to do a hard double-take just to convince myself that I wasn’t actually seeing a premature sunset, as our nearest star just didn’t seem to have the energy to clamber any higher into the sky and it was still pretty gloomy.

We eventually made it to the café at Kirkley, where we lost Tri-Guy to his frozen digits, but picked up a now substantially lighter Crazy Legs who’d enjoyed on his own solo ride. He went for the popular Mint Aero traybake as a reward and was gifted with a hugely massive, thick slab of doubly-delicious empty calories that buckled his paper plate as he tried to pick it up.

“That looks more like a block of pavé rather than something you’d want to ingest,” I suggested and Crazy Legs hauled it up triumphantly for all to see, posing as proud and content as Tom Boonen celebrating his fourth Paris-Roubaix win by kissing yet another hunk of stett.

We stepped over a large pooch sprawled bonelessly across the floor and to claim a table in the corner where, for some reason the talk turned to odd names. Crazy Legs was pleased I could confirm that he’d once worked with a guy called Robert Sherunkel (Mrs. SLJ used to be employed in the same organisation) while Brassneck contributed a colleague called Helmut Klingor. Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t there, or we’d have had to include NASCAR driver, Dick Trickle in the conversation too.

We also had some thoughts about the prospects of meaningful change in the club and whether British Cycling’s sanctions would have any effect. I think we were all just as realistic as we were hopeful. Time will tell.

And then, it was time to leave, but … hold on … what was this? Crazy Legs couldn’t finish off his block of pavé? He’s obviously not a proper cyclist. He quietly folded the plate around blocky remains, ostensibly to keep it away from the dog stretched out snoring and completely uninterested beside us, but really just to conceal his inadequacy as a cyclist.

We then had a conversation about the bizarre things our canine friends will eat (G-Dawgs apparently have a very weird penchant for fox scat) while I wondered when chocolate had suddenly become such deadly poison to dogs. I remember my aunt and uncle had a dog that was seriously addicted to KitKats, but always seemed in remarkably rude health, so I remain confused.

We left the café with no clear answers about anything, other than the fact that, someplace, somewhere, Bob Sherunkle’s parents were probably still chuckling quietly to themselves.

I indicated I was heading home via Ponteland and the rest decided to join me for a change of route, so I had company as far as my turn at Twin Farms before I struck out for home alone. Not a bad not-a-club-run after all.

[Update: With the entirety of the rest of the household succumbing to the COVID-19 virus across the past fortnight, the inevitable has finally happened and I’ve just tested positive and embarked on my own period of splendid isolation. This obviously rules out club runs (of both the official and non-official variety) in the near future and pretty much writes off the whole of January for me. Oh well. Later.]


Day & Date:Non-club ride, Saturday 8th January 2022
Riding Time:94km/58 miles with 883m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:3℃
Weather in a word or two:Darkling day-oh
Year to Date:172km/107 miles with 1,774m of climbing

My COVID-themed Jenga Game takes shape.

White Lines (Rang Dang Diggedy Dang Di-Dang)

White Lines (Rang Dang Diggedy Dang Di-Dang)

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.

Oops.

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.

Riding Distance:113km/70 miles with 1,010m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed:24.9km/h
Group Size:28 riders 0 FNG’s
Temperature:19℃
Weather in a word or two:Canny like
Year to date3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Rudy Can’t Fail

Rudy Can’t Fail

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.

Mike Woods in full flight

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?”

We scoffed.

“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.

A right past Stocksfield and then a left and the real climbing began on the single-lane “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) up through Shilford Woods. It wasn’t long before I heard the “Aw fuck!” exclamation of someone who’s just found there already in the smallest gear and there’s nothing easier left. Luckily, at least Crazy Legs had access across the full range of his cassette.

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.


Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
Temperature:15℃
Weather in a word or two:Heads
Year to date:3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing