Coffee Rush

Coffee Rush

Another Saturday, another brush with early morning rain that had me stopping to pull on a rain jacket halfway across to the meeting point.

There, with a new order of unofficial club kit imminent, people were still trying to get a grip on Santini’s Italian sizing, which, while not quite as severe as Castelli’s, still lends a bit of a gamble to any order. You know when normal-sized blokes are ordering in XXL that something’s been lost in translation. To counteract this we had an intense round of “what size are you wearing?” and even some physical swapsies as people tried on various bits of kit for fit.

I took my queue from the Cow Ranger and removed my rain jacket once he’d determined the worst of the rain had passed. A few minutes later he pulled his back on, but I decided to stand pat. One of us at least would get it right. (Surprisingly it was me and we had to have an unscheduled jacket doffing stop an hour or so into the ride.)

OGL didn’t sound all that sympathetic when discussing Aether’s tumble last week, implying it was his own fault for riding with too much pressure in his tyres. He then prefaced a comment with that immortal phrase involving grandmothers and egg-sucking, which invariably means you’re going to be told something you already know, much in the same way someone saying “no offence, but …” is just about to mortally insult you.

This time we received a lecture on wheel wear, with instruction for anyone riding Shimano wheels to periodically “run their finger over their rim hole.” Well, whatever floats your boat.

For some the rain had prompted an early return to the purgatory of winter bikes, which found Richard of Flanders pitting his steel-framed, pannier rack-equipped Genesis in a weigh-off against Goose’s Raleigh Panzerkampfwagen™ touring bike. I could have told him he would lose before he managed to grunt the Raleigh a couple of inches off the ground as, not only is it replete with innumerable racks and rails and cages and fittings for bags, but its also cast entirely from pig iron.

Jimmy Mac briefed in the route which had to avoid a closed Berwick Hill. I picked out the most important bits, the climbs of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench, then missing Middleton Bank en route to a cafe stop at Capheaton. I completely ignored the bit about getting home again, but in the end, as Chester Bennington once observed, it didn’t even matter.

We’ve been having a remarkably consistent 20 or so riders each week for the past month or so, and this Saturday was no different. Two groups were called for, but this time we struggled with numbers in the first group, so after a bit of hesitation I leant myself to the cause and 8 of us formed the vanguard for the day.

I dropped onto the back alongside Not Anthony who was hoping we wouldn’t be called to the front until we found a tailwind, but things obviously don’t work like that and we were called into action soon after scaling a very slimy and slippery Mur de Mitford.

Onto the Trench and the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac rode off the front while the rest of us followed at a more sustainable pace. There was a fluffed gear change and a bit of a shuffle and kerfuffle behind me, but at this point I was fully invested in the climb, so just kept going without looking back.

About half way up, Biden Fecht passed me and I dropped onto his wheel and clung on. When the slope bit again and he changed up, I returned the favour, pushing past to pace the rest of the way up the climb. We regrouped at the top, where Richard of Flanders was found to be suffering an extreme case of winterbikitis – a debilitating disease that can cause all sorts of aches, pains and a feeling of weakness in the legs. It catches up with us all, sooner or later.

We pushed on, through the Hartburn dip and swoop, skirting the base of Middleton Bank toward Wallington, and then shimmied across the A696. As we started the final climb to the cafe I managed to hang onto Jimmy Mac and the Cow Ranger over the steepest, first section, before being cast adrift and breathless as the slope ground on, and they slowly pulled away.

In the cafe we found a convalescing Buster, not yet allowed out au velo following a major operation, but obviously hopelessly missing our bravura banter and brilliant bursts of bolleaux. (The only other explanation is that he’s slightly stir crazy from being confined at home for so long that even our testing and irritating company is some kind of welcome relief. But come on, no one is going to believe that.)

We did our best to keep him royally entertained, none more so than Goose, who is obviously in the market for a new casquette, so was trying everyone else’s helmet on and taking a bunch of selfies of himself trying to look serious.

Either that, or he just likes trying other peoples things on.

We brought Buster up to speed on Aether’s crash last week and OGL’s reaction that it was a self-inflicted consequence of over-inflated tyres. Unsurprised, he reminded us of the official reaction to Zardoz’s tumble, which had been dismissed as largely inconsequential because he hadn’t paid his membership fees at the time.

At some point almost our entire table stood as one and swarmed the counter for coffee re-fills, only to be sent away for overwhelming the service, returning with disgruntled, hang dog expressions. They cheered up instantly though when one of the waitresses brought a coffee jug across and we were treated to the luxury of table service. That was very civilised, I could get used to it…

I felt it was chilly coming out of the cafe, so pushed on while others seemed to dawdle. I had a decent gap by the bottom of the descent from Capheaton and was only just beginning to warm up. I was also enjoying a rare, good day where the legs were turning more or less effortlessly, so I just decided to press on and see how far I could get before I was caught.

If I’d been thinking, or even paying attention, I would have realised they were probably taking a completely different route home to avoid Berwick Hill, while I was doing my standard routing through Ponteland from Kirkley.

So, I guess everyone took a right at West Belsay, while I followed our usual Belsay-Ogle-Kirkley trail. As a consequence, I didn’t see anyone else until Not Anthony popped up briefly on my back wheel just past the airport. That was fine though, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and don’t think my speed had dipped much below 20mph at any point of the run back.

It also meant I was a little more attuned to the environment, and was able to add to Sam-Aye-Am’s discovery of the scent of watermelon around Ogle with the not so unusual smell of freshly turned earth then, somewhat more bizarrely, bourbon biscuits and then boiled rice.

Unfortunatley, I wont have the opportunity to discover other odd, olfactory occurrences next week as I’ll be depositing Thing#2 at University and then seeing how well me and Mrs. SLJ cope as empty-nesters.

With luck, I might make it out on the Sunday though and, if not, I can always defy British Cycling’s spectacularly, misguided and ill-judged advice and actually dare to ride my bike on the day of the queen’s funeral.

#Shock #Horror not all of us are all that interested in the replacement of one supremely privileged, unelected head of state with yet another.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 10th September 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 28 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,087m of climbing
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:20 ish riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Occasionally drizzly
Year to date:3,933km/2,443 miles with 44,629m of climbing

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com
Advertisement

Breakaways

Breakaways

This is becoming something of a theme, the weather on Saturday was warm (again), occasionally bright (again) and a bit blustery (again). We’re in danger of having remarkably consistent weather, week in and week out, which would obviously be a bit of a disaster as we’re British and would lose such a mainstay of our everyday conversations.

Still, it makes for pleasant riding conditions, so here we go again.

It was an uneventful run across to the meeting place where our club mingled with a few members of the JPF who , I must say, seem to be getting a bit tardy setting off these days. Crazy Legs wondered if we’d ever get a breakaway from a breakaway, which naturally led him to sing the song from the Breakaway biscuit advert … except … except he got it confused with the (frankly much catchier) theme song from the kid’s TV programme, Playaway – so instead of “Don’t take away my Breakaway” we got:

It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine
Just as long as you’ve got time
To B-R-E-A-K breakaway-break, breakaway,
Break-a-break, breakaway. Breakaway.

Well, It almost worked …

“Can you still get Breakaways?” he pondered.

I confirmed that I had been offered one while visiting elder relatives recently, while the Hammer surmised you could probably still buy them at Nisa (other typical corner shops are available), being sold individually in one of those wrappers that clearly states “Part of a multi-pack: Not to be sold individually.”

“What colour were the wrappers, anyway,” Crazy Legs continued.

“Orangey-yellow?” I suggested.

“Hmm, I was going to say yellowy-orange. This just confirms it, we’re polar opposites.” That’s some irrefutable logic and not worth arguing with.

We then tried to find a shade of yellowy-orange, or even orangey-yellow in the collected jerseys of the two cycling groups, but no one had quite nailed it. There’s entertainment in small things.

“What time is it?” Crazy Legs asked suddenly. Apparently, his new Fitbit has decided that if he’s fully engaged in any cycling activity, then he doesn’t need to know what time it is. He dropped down off the wall to consult Captain Black’s bike computer and find the answer to his question.

It was 9:14. He looked up, just as Carlton appeared, drawing a sharp intake of breath. Why was he so early? As Carlton rolled to a stop, Crazy Legs looked down again to verify the time and was just about to castigate Carlton for being premature when the display clicked over to 9:15.

Time we were away.

Den Haag had planned the route this week which included a rare (but not rare enough) pilgrimage up the Ryals. There were 24 of us, but we were back to struggling to get enough numbers in the first group, so I did that thing where you look to see if you’ll be the slowest rider and a drag on the rest. Being second worst is okay, but you definitely don’t want to be the worst. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but I gambled that, all things being equal, I probably didn’t quite represent the nadir of the group assembling, so somewhat reluctantly joined them. A bit of cajoling and encouragement from G-Dawg and we made it up to 7, but that would have to do, so away we went.

We hit Ponteland and then turned almost due west through Dalton, Stamfordham, Fenwick, Matfen and Great Whittingdon, before turning north for Bingfield. Taco Cat expressed her trepidation that we were now approaching the Ryalls, although apparently she’s ridden them many times before, so it wasn’t fear of the unknown.

“That and the Quarry are the only climbs we have on the route though,” Den Haag assured her, just as we started the climb to Bingfield. Apparently this hadn’t registered as a climb to Den Haag, but my legs vociferously disagreed.

A quick descent and then we were on the horrible, draggy run up to the Ryalls, looming like a wall ahead of us. I dropped into the smallest gear, along with a pace I felt I could sustain. The front runners raced on ahead, so, as I crested the first of the climbs dual humps, they’d already pushed through the “easier” section and were halfway up the the final steep ramp.

Movement in the field to my right distracted me from the pain in my legs and I watched a dark brown shape cutting a V-shaped wake through the crops. It materialised into a sheep-sized, potentially roe(?) deer that hesitated for the briefest of moments, looking me directly in the eye, before realising I was moving much too slow to be any kind of threat. In an effortless, graceful bound it cleared the wall, dashed across my path, hooves skitterring on the road surface and leapt again. Traction on tarmac obviously wasn’t all that good for this take off and it audibly rattled the barbed wire strands across the top of the wall as it sailed over, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

That, I decided, was obviously the Johnny Hoogerland of the Britsh deer community, capable of lacerating themselves on barbed wire and then shrugging it off and continuing on their way as if nothing had happened.

It was also the kind of chance encounter that almost made up for the stupid brutality of the Ryalls – a climb our group then decided should feature more regularly on club runs. What? No!

We regrouped once clear of the climb, quickly scaled the Quarry and then clambered our way up to Capheaton for well-earned coffee and cake.

There was some discussion about whether Capheaton was “the best cycling cafe.” Personally, now that we’ve broken the edict that we can only ever stop at Belsay, I like the choice and the route flexibility the various stops deliver and to be honest, each place has its merits and, shall we say, wrinkles.

Caracol was wrestling with his inner demons trying to decide whether he should be looking at a new bike or not. I thought this was a very unfair and unequal contest as he had no significant other to argue against and suggested he might like to borrow Mrs. Sur La Jante for this purpose.

Jimmy Mac insisted that Mrs. Mac was even more ideally suited for the role as she had experience and came pre-programmed with a whole host of stock responses and challenges, such as:

“This is a garage, not a bike showroom.”

“What do you need another bike for?”

“How many bikes can you actually ride at any given time?”

She had, he confessed, even sussed out the trick of him covertly buying all the individual components and assembling them into a new bike and was no longer buying the “it’s just an old frame I’ve had resprayed” gambit either.

For some reason, Caracol declined both our kind offers, suggesting he’d best just wrestle with his conscience alone, thank you very much. His loss, I’m sure …

We left the cafe with pretty much the same group and were soon chasing after Flat Eric, who apparently had an urgent need to get home early and was intent on ramping up the pace. I bailed at Kirkley, starting to feel sorry for my legs and enjoyed a more sedate pace as I picked my way home. Hopefully that’s the Ryalls done for another year.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 28th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:109km/68 miles with 1,077m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃ – 14℃
Weather in a word or two:Err … lacking variety? (It’s not a complaint!)
Year to date:2,135km/1,327 miles with 22,868m of climbing

Photo by Nicky Pe on Pexels.com

Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

I started the day with perhaps the slowest ever descent off the Heinous Hill in the cold, damp and dark of Saturday morning, as I found myself catching and then trailing a massive JCB with backhoe down the bank. I was wondering whether to try and squeeze past when the driver involuntarily brake-tested me one of the corners and I felt my rear wheel lose grip and fishtail. This I took as fair warning that the road surface was either icy or greasy, so I scrubbed off the speed and dropped back to pick my way carefully down hoping to avoid becoming the hood ornament on an approaching car.

As I trundled over the bridge a short while later, a still-rising sun cast the river in a warm, rosy glow, smooth, glassy and featureless except in the distance where an 8-man crew was scything a rowing boat upstream, its wake resembling a huge zipper being pulled open across the surface of the water.

There was no one to chase and scare on the climb up to Denton Burn, but I still made good time and was early to the meeting place, so I did a quick peregrination around the area, meeting up with G-Dawg around Fawdon and riding in with him.

There we found TripleD-El, who couldn’t help but think she’d turned up unfashionably early, mainly because she was unfashionably early.

Our route architect this week was Crazy Legs and he’d gone for an all-time classic club run, predicated mainly on local bus routes where, hopefully, the roads would be gritted in case of ice. Our route then was through Ponteland, up Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen, the Quarry and then the café. The only novel wrinkle this time would be our choice of café, with Capheaton getting the nod for their very last weekend of operating before their Christmas break.

G-Dawg explained that Crazy Legs was actually on dog watch this weekend (i.e. actually dog watching, rather than in the nautical sense of an early evening shift), so wouldn’t be riding, but he would pop along to brief in the route.

Brassneck arrived, mightily pleased with himself for having secured a new Seamonsters cycling jersey to supplement his Bizarro one. Mini Miss looked on, perplexed.

“What’s that?” she wondered.

“A Wedding Present jersey,” he replied enthusiastically.

“But … but it’s not your wedding?” She was even more confused now.

“The Wedding Present are a popular beat combo,” Brassneck explained patiently, before dredging up one of those facts that are so random and inconsequential, that they simply have to be true, “They’re the only popular beat combo to match Elvis’s record of having 12 top 40 UK hits in a single year.”

“Ah. Right. Yeah.” Mini Miss pondered briefly, “Never heard of them!”

“Anyhow, the only problem is, I’ve now got the jersey just in time to put it away for the summer,” Brassneck lamented.

“I’ve just done the same,” TripleD-El informed us proudly, “I found the perfect jersey in Start Cycles, but it was a men’s one, but then I found they did a women’s version and I actually found one in my size, but it had a fault in it, so I thought they probably don’t have another one, but they did, so I bought that and now I’ve got it packed away until the summer. It’s the perfect blue to match my bike,” she added.

I looked at her Liv bike, then at her, then back down at her bike. From where I was standing, all I could see was a black bike frame.

“But your bike’s black?”

“It has blue highlights,” she insisted.

I looked again and still couldn’t see any blue. Maybe it was the flat lighting on an admittedly dull and grey day and in bright sunlight the bike would look completely transformed? Maybe the bike’s like one of those Magic Eye tricks that you have to stare at for long minutes before a secret picture is finally revealed? (They never work for me either). Maybe I just lack imagination, or just maybe I was being set-up in some sort of elaborate Dutch con game?

“I can’t see any blue,”

She looked down exasperatedly, but couldn’t seem to find any blue herself, then pointed determinedly at her bartape which had tiny holographic snowflakes etched into its surface.

Ok, I guess if the light catches those in a certain way they maybe-might appear blue …

I think the moral of this story is to never imply criticism of a woman’s attempts at colour-coordination. Ever.

Crazy Legs failed to show up to wave us off. (It’s understandable, the trauma of seeing others ride away while you’re not allowed to could break any man.) So G-Dawg briefed in the route, then chivvied, arm-twisted and cajoled us into two roughly even-sized groups. Group#2 was the most popular this week, I suspect because Jimmy Mac was with Group#1, so it would probably feature an unrelenting pace. As a result slightly more chivvying, arm-twisting and cajoling than usual was needed. Still, we got there in the end. Ish.

And off we went…

I fell alongside Zardoz and learned about further devastation that Storm Arwen had wrought on the region, forcing some re-jigging and the curtailment of a portion of the Winter Wonderland event his wife organises each year at Kielder Forest. (Zardoz still denies that he’s grown his fluffy white beard in anticipation of being given a starring role in Santa’s Workshop there, but no one believes him.)

We also had a chat about mountain climbing and how so many people have now climbed Everest that it’s just not all that remarkable anymore and yet they’re still dying while making the attempt. I suggested that climbing the mountain was firmly off my bucket-list and Zardoz helpfully introduced me to the concept of the anti-bucket-list, or fuck-it list. Splendid. Climbing Everest is definitely going in my fuck-it list.

At this point we were traveling along Limestone Lane, our original front pairing had peeled off and G-Dawg and Cowboys were now on point and in the wind, while we followed just behind.

“We’re getting awfully close to the front?” Zardoz suggested, starting to get twitchy.

“Do you want to call a pee-stop?” I wondered.

“Oh, am I that transparent?”

I re-assured him that it being G-Dawg on the front we were probably good until well after Stamfordham and so it proved and we made it to the top of the Quarry before the front was ceded. I took up the lead alongside Brassneck, as at that point Zardoz had somewhat mysteriously disappeared back into the pack, and we led the rest of the way to the café.

Having been served, I arrived at the table in time to hear Goose declare that the Moderna COVID vaccine was undoubtedly and irrefutably the best, because:

A. It was the vaccine he himself had received and,

B. It was the most expensive.

He was naturally implying that Moderna’s price was an indicator of quality and not simply the avarice of the faceless pharmaceutical conglomerate that produced it.

He illustrated his point with the example of two pairs of shoes, one pair costing £10 and the other £100.

“Which do you think would be better quality?” he challenged.

“Well, you wouldn’t get far in £10 shoes,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably.

“No, but you’d have 9 other new pairs to change into,” Goose surmised, undermining his own argument and somewhat missing the point that someone who bought £10 shoes instead of £100 ones was unlikely to be able to afford to spend £100 either on a single, or multiple pairs.

I think at this point he was suggesting that quantity has a quality all of its own. Perhaps the greatest thing that Napoleon never said.

Hold on, that’s not right is it – the greatest thing Napoleon never said includes everything everyone else has ever said, including things like, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” or “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I think I mean the greatest thing attributed to Napoleon that he never actually said.

I was momentarily distracted by G-Dawg’s choice of cake, coffee and ham and pease pudding sandwich.

“Lunch?” I wondered.

“Probably not.”

Fair enough.

By the time I tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table, Goose had moved on to speculating about why the French demand swimmers wear Speedo-style budgie smugglers in public pools. This, in turn, reminded him of the TV-series, Man from Atlantis, who Goose accused of wearing skin-tight, bright yellow, budgie smugglers.

I countered that they definitely weren’t Speedo’s, but shorts and I thought they were the sort of blue that would match TripleD-El’s bike. To be fair, at this point and not having actually seen the blue in question, I felt I could get away with matching it to practically any hue.

Anyway, Mr. Google later informed me that we were both right. And we were both wrong too. The Man from Atlantis did indeed wear shorts, not budgie smugglers. The shorts were indeed bright yellow and not blue.

We then tried to recall the actual premise for the show, which someone suggested was about crime-fighting, a bit like Batman, but set underwater. We then tried to imagine the types of underwater crime the Man from Atlantis could tackle, but other than someone plotting to rob Dogger Bank (boom tsk), we drew a blank.

Perhaps, someone then suggested, he was employed by French municipal authorities to ensure no one went swimming in pools while wearing shorts. Plausible, but surely scant material for the ensuing 2-series and 17 episodes?

By this time we’d pinned the show to around the early 80’s, identified its main star as Patrick Duffy and Brassneck had clarified that the Man from Atlantis had webbed feet, which he demonstrated by helpfully waggling his fingers in the air.

“Webbed feet? He must be from Norwich,” Captain Black quipped.

“Was Patrick Duffy from Norwich?” Goose enquired in all seriousness and above the whooshing noise Captain Black’s remark made as it sailed way over his head.

“Hold on, hold on,” Goose finally interjected, “Isn’t Patrick Duffy dead?”

We assured him that, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn’t.

“Oh, ok. I thought he was shot in the shower or something…”

Things were starting to get a little surreal, which Brassneck added to by suggesting Man from Atlantis was all well and good, but not a patch on Manimal.

“Manimal,” he explained, “could transform into various animals like a hawk or a jaguar.” He recalled it starred an English actor, which Google then confirmed as Simon MacCorkindale.

Most of us could vaguely remember the title of Manimal, but nothing else about the series. No one could remember Simon MacCorkindale, either, but strangely we all knew of his second wife, Susan George.

Even Brassneck was now struggling to remember which animals Manimal transformed into.

“A squirrel,” someone suggested, “And then at the end, he gets run over by a car.”

“A rabbit,” I suggested, “trying to sneak into an armed camp, he’s caught in a searchlight and freezes for the rest of the episode?”

None of our mockery seemed to have any effect on Brassneck and I’m convinced he went home and spent an age reconnecting with Manimal on YouTube

When next I looked up Zardoz was standing over Goose, brandishing his Rapha rain jacket in front of him like a matador’s cape, while Goose struggled with his phone and after an age of fiddling, took a photo of the inside of the jacket.

“No, no, that didn’t work,” Goose exclaimed.

“You need a photo of the outside,” someone suggested.

More fiddling with the phone, another unsuccessful photo and then more fiddling as Goose tried to work out how to turn his flash on. Kid’s and their phones, eh? They just won’t leave them alone.

Finally, Goose got the flash to work and showed us the resulting picture, the flash lighting up Zardoz’s jacket and transforming its dark purple appearance into a glowing, iridescent masterpiece. Quite impressive, but to my mind not a patch on the retina-burning reflective qualities of Proviz kit.

With enough nonsense disgorged to last us for another week, off we went again, following a standard route home. The first part back was cold, the second half was wet and somewhere along the way, Aether apparently claimed a sprint win that only he was contesting.

The miles passed without incident and I was soon heading off solo. A bit of pavement surfing got me through a closed stretch of road without having to detour and I started to climb the Heinous Hill just as the rain began in earnest. I was quite looking forward to a hot shower when I got home, but it wasn’t until I’d fished through all my jersey pockets three times that I realised I’d gone out without my keys.

I checked on the whereabouts of Mrs. SLJ, but she was off across town with Thing#2 who had a hair appointment and they were not due back for at least an hour or so. With the rain settling in, I did the only thing sensible and retired to Pedalling Squares for light refreshments and a chance to watch Wout van Aert ride away with another cyclo-cross race.

I think I’m really lucky to have a cycling cafe on my doorstep (even better with an LBS attached too) but it did mean a double assault on the Heinous Hill. Still, caffeine fuelled and ably bolstered by a fruit scone, the second ride up actually proved significantly easier than the first.

I finally got home in time to get ready and head out to a club social that evening. This involved too many poppadoms, a damn fine chicken Dhansak and numerous bottles of Cobra, while a grand time was had by all.

Dear me, we talk more than enough bolleaux after just a cup of coffee, adding large quantities of alcohol into the mix has a quite, quite startling multiplier effect.

Just as well I’m sworn to secrecy then …


Day & Date:Saturday 11th December 2021
Riding Time:107km/66 miles with 1,071m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 46 minutes
Average Speed:22.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:2℃ to 7℃
Weather in a word or two:Dissociative identity disorder
Year to Date:4,716km/2,930 miles with 50,464m of climbing

Coffee and scone supplied by Pedalling Squares

Plague Diaries Week#73 – Venga! Venga! Venga!

Plague Diaries Week#73 – Venga! Venga! Venga!

I was convinced we were going to be subject to a rinse and repeat of last week, with an unfortunate, heavy emphasis on the rinse, but while we saw only the sparsest glimmer of sunshine, it was pleasantly cool rather than chill and the much forecast rain showers never materialised. I would go as far as saying the conditions were about as perfect as they could be without tipping directly into the “good” weather bracket and I even managed a couple of extended periods with my arm warmers tucked away in a back pocket.

Just over 20 of us gathered for the off where a mountain-bike-riding, casually dressed Crazy Legs briefed in the ride he’d carefully planned, but would not be participating in, citing canine care committals. After what must be the now obligatory weekly-whinge from OGL, we split into two groups, G-Dawg leading out the first, while Not Anthony volunteered to lead the second “from the rear.”

I hung back to join up with the second group, which quickly became the first as, within 500 meters of setting out, we passed Caracol and the Cow Ranger furiously working to repair a puncture, while a bit further on the rest of G-Dawg’s group waited for them to rejoin.

I was chatting with La Pinta as we rode out, comparing notes on a running-cycling balance as she’s a runner whose found the joy of cycling, while I’m a cyclist who has discovered a true-hatred of running. After a quick shuffle in the order I then caught up with Spoons, who is counting down the remaining few days until he retires, the lucky beggar.

Another shuffle and I found myself alongside Szell, who’d originally set off in the first group, but had seemingly now infiltrated ours. I wondered what had happened.

“I looked around and realised there were no fat lads,” he explained, “then I looked back and there was only a racing-snake (Spry) lurking behind me, so realised I was completely out of my depth and on a hiding to nothing.” Discretion being the better part of valour, he’d wisely taken the opportunity of the impromptu puncture to swap groups. I couldn’t blame him, it seemed like the sensible thing to do.

I learned he too was contemplating retirement, but at least his release from work wasn’t quite as imminent as Spoons’ as Szell’s business is still recovering from COVID-19 and he needs to establish new premises with an extended lease in order to sell it as a going concern.

We shuffled yet again and I found myself alongside the new gal and I was relieved to find she is nowhere near being able to retire yet. A student from Ecuador, she was back in the UK to pick things up again after having been forced to abandon her studies and return home during the pandemic.

Ecuador adds another notch in our clubs cycling League of Nations, having already hosted in my time, Dutch, Poles, Spaniards, Basques, Nigerians, Chinese, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Italians, as well as a wide assortment of Brits including Welsh, Scottish, Somters, Devonians, Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies, Yorkies, Cockneys, Cumbrians, Lancastrians, Brummies and Scousers. Sadly, no Eshingtonian’s yet, though I live in hope.

Along with TripleD-El and Taffy Steve, we tried encouraging the new gal to close up on the wheel in front, but she was distracted by all the shouts; car-up! gravel! pots! hor-sezzs! et al. The problem was she couldn’t understand any of them and so kept easing back, horrified in case she was being castigated for doing something wrong.

She particularly couldn’t understand the “warra-ragga-warra-shugga” Tasmanian Devil-like bellowing that was emitted from the back of our group, until it mercifully it went silent as the tail split off to take a differnt route. TripleD-El reflected that even after many, many months she still couldn’t translate what was being shouted from the rear, while I assured her it was probably best to ignore it anyway.

Yet another shuffle and I found myself on the front with TripleD-El comparing the fortunes of the respective British and Dutch Olympic teams to find we were both satisfied with the performances of our compatriots. TripleD-El was however much less sanguine about the muddy stretch of road we then found ourselves on, complaining that she’d only just cleaned her bike last week and didn’t want to have to do it again for at least another month!

Somewhere along the way we picked up Zardoz, out for a solo ride, but more than happy to tag along for some unexpected company. We went up the Quarry and stopped to regroup and then I was joined on the front by Princess Fiona for the last push up to the café at Capheaton.

I was going to suggest to Zardoz that I’d never seen the café quite as busy, until I realised we were the ones who were making it look busy.

Zardoz then queried if he was right in thinking the Vuelta starts next week and I confirmed that he was. This, prompted Taffy Steve to query if we’d ben watching “The Least Expected Day” – the behind-the-scenes documentary about Movistar that was on Netflix. This, he is convinced, shows that he has all the right qualities to be an excellent pro-cycling Directeur Sportif, or at least as good as the example served up by Eusebio Unzué. In other words, never have a plan, pointedly ignore any rider who asks about a plan, swear a lot when things go badly and, if by some chance things do go well and your rider somehow lucks himself into the lead, simply drive up alongside and holler Venga! Venga! Venga! at them non-stop until they’re caught.

In non-cycling related discussion, Brassneck found we all shared his complete lack of sympathy for the “poor” individuals who’d decided to travel over 5,000 miles for a holiday in Mexico and were now having to spend £8 grand for the privilege of flying immediately back home to avoid quarantine. I mean, what were they thinking? Oh, sorry. Obviously they weren’t …

Damn fine cake and coffee, along with the novelty of free refills kept us at Capheaton perhaps longer than planned, but soon we began to move out and form up into various groups for the ride home.

I found myself riding with Taffy Steve who was wondering if G-Dawg is in danger becoming more of a meme than a person, while he chuckled at the fact we’d stuck two small women, Princess Fiona and Mini Miss on the front, while a whole bunch of burly blokes took shelter on their back wheels. What can I say, we’re an equal opportunities club.

Finally Carlton and Not Anthony took over the lead as we routed toward Saltwick Hill. Once there, I took off to burn a little excess energy on the climb and then pushed the gap out a little more along some of the twisting lanes until, at one junction, I spotted a lone cyclist thrashing around by the side of the road. Assuming he had some sort of mechanical, I dropped down the hill to see if he needed assistance, only to find he’d lost one of his wireless earpieces from his headphones somewhere in the deep vegetation. His phone was telling him it was there or there abouts, but I didn’t rate his chances of actually finding the damn thing. It wasn’t until some miles later that I realised his best chance of recovering his earpiece would have been to crank up the volume of some scuzzy death metal to see if he could locate it by sound. Oh well, too late now, maybe he thought of that anyway?

While I’d been rendering no assistance whatsoever to my fellow cyclist, our group had turned at the junction and shouted down that I was heading the wrong way. After a cursory search for the missing earpiece I left him to his quest, turned around and gave chase to the group. Somewhere along the way I must have taken a wrong turn, or missed the right one and I ended up on the cycle path running alongside the A1. From there I had to extemporise a route back onto more familiar roads, an interesting detour, but slightly too urban for my tatstes. I was still thoroughly enjoying myself though, perfectly happy just to be out, rolling along without getting rained on.

I manged to find my way through Hazelrigg, which eventually spat me out onto our regular route just before the Mad Mile and from there it was plain sailing back home, to complete what was perhaps the longest ride of the year so far.


Riding Distance:123km/76 miles with 1,019m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours 14 minutes
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:22, with 1 FNG
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Oddly pleasant
Year to date:2,647km/1,645 miles with 27,789m of climbing
Trek Segafredo suggest they are planning a major heist in La Vuelta ciclista a España. We’ll soon be able find out if this is true.

Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

The sun was being a bit coy early on Saturday morning, hiding behind a veil of cool mist that kept the temperatures down, nonetheless, the few days before had been pleasantly warm and the forecast was for this to continue, with even the shocking possibility of direct sunshine at some point. It was, finally, finally warm enough to tempt me to join those ironmen who seem to have been regularly venturing out in shorts since March.

I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs already in place, but wearing civvies and being chaperoned by a small, four-legged companion. Since he wasn’t wearing cycling gear, or even chaps and his companion, Reggie, wasn’t saddled up, I used my remarkable deductive powers to reason that he probably wasn’t riding today. Naturally I felt compelled to state the bleedin’ obvious anyway.

“Not riding today, then?”

“Hmm, what gave it away?”

It transpired that Crazy Legs was needed elsewhere, having received a last minute request from his daughter to help her move house. Since he’d planned today’s route though, he’d turned up to brief it in to anyone who wanted to stick to the plan – naturally we’re all sticklers to the plan, so by default that was everybody.

One after another, more riders rolled in, each and every one giving Crazy Legs the once-over, before …

“Not riding today, then?”

When enough had gathered, Crazy Legs outlined his chosen route, out through Darras to Stamfordham, before dropping down the Ryals, looping around Hallington Reservoir then heading home. This he explained would put us within easy striking distance of all three of our usual café stops, Capheaton, Belsay or Kirkley, so we could take our pick, or even visit them all! Great for personal choice, but a bit harsh on G-Dawg who is still recovering from his broken leg, but had been showing up at the coffee stops every Saturday to try and live the rides vicariously. Now he’d be playing a kind of Russian Roulette with cafés and with only a 1 in 3 chance of success.

There was only time then for OGL to condemn the stacked spacers above my stem as a clear and present danger to my manhood and idly wonder if I’d heard the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a similar set-up while riding a track meet at Gateshead Stadium. Trust me, I have.

We got our first group underway, well almost, as once again we had just 4 riders pushing off, so we waited a bit at the traffic lights for other volunteers. Then we overshot the mark when 4 became 8 and, just as we were pondering what to do, that 8 became 12. At that point the lights turned green and so we decided to push on before the 12 had a chance to become 18.

James III and Not Anthony led us out and I followed second-wheel alongside Zardoz, uncertain who the other 8 riders were, other than the fact I could clearly (obviously) hear Goose honking and braying behind. The order of things stayed that way until we hit the roundabout outside the airport, when traffic broke the group up and we darted across in ones and two’s.

We partially reformed, but seemed to have left 3 or 4 riders behind and they never caught up. I found myself leading alongside Zardoz as we swung left and the road started to rise slowly on our passage through Darras Hall.

I enjoyed what my old English teacher would have defined as a pregnant pause, leading the group in companionable silence for a short while, before I turned to Zardoz.

“Well,” I said, “This is a rare and momentous day. One that I never thought I’d see.”

“Hmm?”

“You on the front of a group.”

He looked around, mock horror written across his face.

“I wish you hadn’t said that, I hadn’t noticed till you drew attention to it.”

I glanced across. “Don’t worry, no sign of a nose bleed. Yet.”

Zardoz then began to wonder if Taffy Steve was in the group. “I hope so, he’ll never believe this otherwise.”

I did a quick check back. Lined out behind us were Goose and Captain Black, Mini Miss and Wallis and then our early leaders, James III and Not Anthony. So, no Taffy Steve then, but plenty of witnesses.

Somewhere en route the sun finally broke through for good and things began to warm up nicely. Just before Stamfordham, I suggested we’d done a fair turn and we should swing over and let the rest through. Strangely, Zardoz didn’t argue and so we pulled over and waved Goose and Captain Black through and dropped to the back.

From there we made our way out to the Ryals, for a fast, strung out and bumpy descent, then we kept heading west, until we hit the A68, bounced north, before finally angling eastward to pass around Hallington Reservoir. Somewhere along the way I shed my arm warmers as the weather had turned seriously hot and sunny. Beside me Zardoz lamented that even his formidable bike handling skills weren’t enough to allow him to safely remove a long-sleeved baselayer on the fly.

Not Anthony endured a wholly unprovoked, dangerously close punishment pass from an ass-hat driver and then we began climbing again, through Little Bavington and toward Capheaton. I was working on the front when Zardoz slotted in alongside me. I would have raised the proverbial eyebrow, but didn’t get the chance, as he took one sniff of the air, caught the slightest hint of a headwind and disappeared backwards again. Normal service had been resumed.

Having more or less confirmed on the fly an earlier decision to stop at the Belsay café, we then had the usual fast club run down to the Snake Bends and traditional café sprint, enlivened by James III channelling his inner Red Max and going for it from waaaaay too far out.

At the café and having forgotten my facemask, I followed Goose’s lead in threading an arm warmer through my helmet straps for a bit of impromptu, but surprisingly effective facial protection. Meanwhile, Zardoz started to strip in order to remove his pesky baselayer, much to the consternation of all the little old ladies in the queue, one of who almost had a stroke, but she couldn’t quite reach. Ba dum tss!

Masked, dressed and served, we picked our way into the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake and the rather glorious sunshine.

“Is that one of those revolving helmets?” Zardoz asked me. At first I was a bit bemused by the question and wondered if somehow I’d been caught doing a full 360-degree Exorcist head spin, but we finally realised he was talking about a MIPS system.

“No,” I replied, “It’s just big and ugly.”

“Like his head,” Captain Black helpfully supplied.

Try as we might, none of us could then work out what MIPS actually stood for (it’s Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, apparently, I guess MDIPS isn’t as marketable) although I could remember SIPS from long ago and wondered if they were still a feature of Volvo cars.

“Yes, they are,” Goose confirmed, revealing himself to be a rather avid Volvo acolyte, something I should have guessed, as the image fits him perfectly. Bet he smokes a pipe too.

Further revelations ensued when Goose told us about his recent new adventures, when he stripped his rear wheel down to service the freehub springs and pawls and somehow managed the rebuild it again, surprisingly without too many parts left over.

“That’s appawling,” Zardoz noted.

Then, Goose related how Alhambra had snapped the steerer tube, fork crown, or stem of his winter bike. Goose knew exactly which bit had failed, he just couldn’t describe it, but reassured us that although Ahlambra had gone over the handlebars, he hadn’t hurt himself.

This prompted an intervention from OGL at the next table who gave us a long lecture about the importance of applying the correct amount of Newton-Metres to bike components and always using a good torque wrench.

“He can torque,” Zardoz noted.

The lecture turned into a practical demonstration as OGL grabbed Mini Miss’s bike and told us how people even over-tighten the quick release skewers, before flicking at one of hers and disappointingly finding it took only minimal effort to release.

My mind zoned out for a bit, then came crashing back.

“Please tell me he hasn’t just started talking about cock-rings?” I asked the table in some distress.

“No, no, lock rings,” they assured me, “El-Oh-Cee-Kay. Lock rings.”

Oh, thank goodness for that.

As pleasant as it was sitting in the garden, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and I found myself travelling at the back of the group with Goose, talking about new bikes and his half-formed plans to have his existing, 10-year old Boardman stripped and re-sprayed. He didn’t seem to have a particular colour in mind (I highly suspect it will end up black) but he had given considerable thought to some alternative branding and decided he’d like to slap Volvo stickers on it once complete. Now, if anyone else had suggested such a thing I’d have guessed they were just being ironic…

Rab-D attacked up Berwick Hill and I gave chase, dragging the rest of the pack behind me. James III took over the front on the road to Dinnington, but on the sharp climb Rab-D attacked again and this time Goose responded. The increase in pace pulled everyone past James III who was left trailing and railing against us, “Really? Was I really going that slow?”

Into the Mad Mile and heading homeward, I was thoroughly enjoying the glorious sunshine now, not appreciating that I was making a good start cultivating those ridiculous cyclist tan lines, even if they would be temporarily etched in red, sore skin. I didn’t even realise it had been that hot out. Must remember the sun cream next week.


Riding Distance:114km/70 miles with 1,0756m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed:25.9 km/h
Group Size:8
Temperature:12 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect
Year to Date:1,794km/1,115 miles with 19,226m of climbing
Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#62 – Gang of Four

Plague Diaries Week#62 – Gang of Four

With the UK on track for the wettest May on record, Saturday looked intent on adding to total rainfall with a wet and windy start, despite the BBC weather app assuring me it would be overcast, but largely dry. So rain jacket on, overshoes on, I surfed down the Heinous Hill, just going with the flow of surface water.

The highlight of my journey came just a few miles in, when I spotted a huge of pile of silver balloons discarded by the side of the road in Blaydon, like a bunch of giant metallic grapes, or the droppings of monstrous android sheep. (Do cyclists dream of electric sheep?) I thought this sighting was quite remarkable, that is until I passed a similar pile of balloons, but this time golden ones (Gosforth being, you know, posher than Blaydon) near the end of my journey in Ashburton. Odd.

The only other incident of note was a driver undertaking a car waiting to turn right by barging into a designated bike lane, regardless of the fact it was clearly occupied by a bike and rider. I don’t know, drivers complain when we ignore the bike lanes, then they too ignore them as soon as it suits their purpose and means avoiding being held up for a nano-second. Personally, I think you’re generally better off ignoring that cycling lanes are there and riding as defensively as you would on any normal road.

At the meeting point and ducking under the shelter of the multi-storey car park, I found the JPF gathering before heading out on a long and hilly route planned by Plumose Pappus. Their route-designer himself was already there, peering up at the uncertain weather, before hopefully declaring, “There’s light there!”

“Yes,” I pointed out, “But you’re heading in the other direction.”

“To be fair, there’s light everywhere,” the Hammer interjected, “But, if there’s light everywhere, it also means there’s darkness everywhere too.” Then, such are the major, pressing concerns of club cyclists the world over, we started a philosophical debate following the Hammer’s assertion that if everything is blue, then nothing is blue. We were saved from disappearing into this conjectural rabbit-hole by the sudden appearance of the BFG, who had an urgent need to graphically readjust his genitalia, while warning such incidents were absolutely not suitable for inclusion in random blerg meanderings.

The deficiencies of the BBC Weather app were discussed, with Richard Rex providing the definitive statement, that it was “Crap, because it was outsourced to the lowest bidder, a French company with no connection whatsoever to the Met Office.”

We imagined some disinterested Frenchman, sitting in the Vendée, or somewhere, occasionally glancing out the window before updating the app for North East England: “Il ne pleut pas.” It would explain a lot.

Once the JPF were clear, we set about forming our own sub-groups and I joined the first of these as we pushed out with just 3 others, Caracol, TripleD-Be and Richard Rex. Luckily, the rain seemed to have eased, so I was able to shuck the jacket before departure.

With just the 4 of us it there wasn’t much of a reprieve a rather pesky and persistent headwind, even once you’d slipped off the front. As if just four riders wasn’t bad enough, it was actually more like 3½, as Richard Rex noted ruefully that riding behind TripleD-Be didn’t provide a whole lot of shelter anyway. Nevertheless we seemed to be travelling at a consistently fast pace – one that would get me home early, which was great for watching the Giro take on the might Monte Zoncolan, but would take me two days to recover from.

With TripleD-El having ventured out with the JPF, TripleD-Be explained that after months in lockdown, it was occasionally refreshing not to have to ride together, before turning his attention to Strava segments and excoriating whoever named the stretch through Dinnington as “Terrific Tarmac.” This, he felt was disgracefully false advertising, as the road surface was just as crappy, cracked and pot-holed as most of the roads in Northumberland. I though could remember how bad the road was previously and the completely spontaneous cheer that erupted from our group the first time our tyres kissed the new surface. It might not be Terrific Tarmac now, but compared to the past? Chalk and cheese, mate. Silk and sandpaper. Pebbledash and plaster. You get the picture.

At one stage in our ride I was momentarily distracted from the distress of having to ride uphill at a high cadence, by the racket of two cackling crows ganging up to strafe and harass a much larger, bird of prey, possibly a buzzard, as they chased it out of their territory. Feisty little buggers.

The route up to Rothley crossroads is one that Caracol and I recalled as being a regular fixture on our routes pre-pandemic. Good to learn that it’s still just as horrible now as it was back then, a slow grinding drag over a heavy, broken surface. Even worse for Richard Rex who said it had formed part of his most recent time-trial. That had to hurt.

Then we were through Cambo heading downhill fast past Wallington before hauling on the anchors to try and negotiate the badly worn, but still vicious rumble-strips on the approach to the single lane bridge over the River Wansbeck.

We counted the cars coming down the hill before they dipped out of sight and when four came down, but only three re-appeared, we pulled over to the side of the bridge to let the last one through. We then had a blind, Mexican stand-off as the driver had pulled over to let us cross first, but we couldn’t see him. After an awkward pause, I allowed Caracol to tentatively approach the crest of the bridges humped-back to see what was going on (reasoning he was the most expendable) and only followed once he’d made sure it was safe.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, back out the valley and then a few miles further on rattling over a badly broken surface down to the café at Capheaton.

Another foursome composed of Rab D, Aether, Zardoz and a Chinese FNG had already beaten us there, having taken a slightly different route and they were encamped in the garden with, almost by instinct, Zardoz tucked into a corner of the building and in the space most sheltered from the wind.

I have to say the cakes at Capheaton are the best of all the cafés we frequent and this weeks dark, dusted and dense, chocolate and espresso torte didn’t disappoint.

The others pulled on jackets and gilets, while we sat around, discussing the eternal problem of getting layering just right, with all the options, long or short sleeved jerseys and base layers, full length or three-quarter bibtights, overshoes, arm, leg and knee warmers, jackets and gilets. TripleD-Be expounded the universal truth of cycling: that instead of making things easier when you have different combinations for different weather conditions, the more clothing options you have, the harder the choice of what to wear actually becomes. Amen to that.

As other groups started to come in we started packing to leave, clearing space for the others to grab a seat, but more importantly because we were getting chilled sitting out in the wind and needed to get moving again. Then we were off again, still at the same fast-pace, as we drove all the way through to Ponteland and I swung right over the river while the others pressed on, glad to be able to take the last few miles home at a more sedate pace.


Riding Distance:111km/69 miles with 1,127m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 34 minutes
Average Speed:24.3km/h
Group Size:4
Temperature:6 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Chill
Year to date:1,660km/1,031 miles with 17,908 metres of climbing
Photo by Roman Pohorecki on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries – Week#19

Plague Diaries – Week#19

[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]

Grupo Compacto

Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.

It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.

I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.

Numbers, Thursday 16th July

Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.

So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.

Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.

We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.

I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.

We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.

We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.

As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.

We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.

This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.

Seven of Clubs – Sunday July 19th

So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.

Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.

At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.

G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it never is and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.

In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”

Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.

According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.

The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.

For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.

We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.

Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.

This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.

Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.

He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.

We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.

Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.

It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.

Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.

We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)

G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.

“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.

“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.

Photo by angello on Pexels.com

“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.

Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.

“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.

Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.

Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.

The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.

Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.

We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.

Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.

Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Kangaroos, Cones and Close Shaves – Saturday July 25th

Anti-Cyclone

Anti-Cyclone

Club Run, Saturday 30th June, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 118 km / 73 miles with 1,242 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.2 km/h

Group size:                                       7 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   24°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot


anti
Ride Profile


I couldn’t summon up even a single jot of enthusiasm for doing the Cyclone this year, so while the majority discussed their 106-mile, 90-mile and 64-mile ride options, I cast about for other, like-minded club members to see if we could have a normal-ish Saturday club run.

The Red Max and Taffy Steve seemed up for doing something “not-different” – so we put it out there as an alternative to see who else we might entice along.

Saturday morning was grey and overcast, seeming to promise a brief interlude to all the hot, sunny weather we’d been experiencing all week. It was still indecently warm and a dry day seemed guaranteed, so I gave the weather no more thought as I clipped in and pitched down the Heinous Hill.

After two week absence, I was pleased to find the bridge at Newburn still closed to cars, although less pleased that the ramp over the washed out section of road had collapsed somewhat. I grounded my chain coming off it and decided it was probably best if I no longer used it as an impromptu time-trial start gate.


Main topics of conversation at the start

I arrived at the meeting point just in time to spot the backside of Richard of Flanders disappearing out of sight as he attacked the ramps leading up to the top of the multi-storey car park. I wondered if he had a secret Strava KOM up there. He suggested he’d just never been up before, so wanted to see what it was like. Hmm.

Slowly a small knot started to coalesce and by the time we’d rolled out, we were 7 strong – the Anticyclone Seven, as Taffy Steve would dub us.

The Red Max has been organising regular Wednesday evening runs, a leg-shredding, set 30-mile loop run at full-bore, on-the-rivet, balls-to-the-wall, maximum speed. This Darwinian, survival of the fittest has already reduced grown men to tears, including the likes of Carlton (who vowed never to do it again, before promptly turning up for another go a few weeks later).

I’ve started referring to the rides as the Circus Maximus and suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Red Max turns up with scythes attached to his wheels.

Richard of Flanders has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this madness, apparently shouting “Have it!” as he continually attacks off the front, is caught and immediately attacks again.

I suggested what he was probably shouting was actually “Havoc!” as a prelude to letting slip the dogs of war…

Now Max suggested that Taffy Steve might enjoy the Circus Maximus experience too.

“What ride 10 mile in from the coast after work, red-line my heart, shred my legs, burn out my lungs for an hour and then ride 10 mile back to the coast?” Taffy Steve enquired.

“Yes!” a gleeful Red Max insisted, his evident enthusiasm over-riding any perceived negatives in this plan.

“Err .. No, thanks.”

Richard of Flanders described downloading an Irish narrator/navigator to his Sat-Nav, hoping for some soft, lyrical, lilting and calm directions. I was only at the start of a very long road trip that he belatedly discovered what he’d actually selected was a rampant, rabid, Ian Paisley/Nationalist Ulsterman.

“I think yeell find ye don’t want to go dine thar!” it shouted, before declaiming loudly, “Ye should just go dine sighff!”

Luckily, we had no need of a Sat-Nav today as the Red Max had something in mind, which thoughtfully included several stops for coffees.

As we started the countdown toward Garmin Muppet Time, the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to shed and stow the arm warmers. This was the start of what would be a long and sustained bout of unexpected sun, which would see me getting home with bright red, burned kneecaps. Where’s the cloud when you need it?


The ride was progressing well as we traversed the Mitford Steads. I was on the front with Richard of Flanders when we rounded a corner and startled a young roe deer casually ambling across the road. The deer’s flight instincts kicked in so hard that it lost all traction on the tarmac and I could hear its claws skittering and skeetering across the top of the slick road as it did a quick Bambi on ice impersonation, before finding its feet and crashing away into the woods.

We paused at Dyke Neuk, which was a mistake as we were now on the route of the Cyclone and had to wait for a break in the stream of passing cyclists before we could get going again. When we did, the Red Max switched to full-on, loopy-Labrador mode and started chasing down anything that moved, gradually working his way up the stream of riders by jumping from wheel to wheel.

Luckily, the Cyclone was routed up the next right hand turn and we were able to regroup before howling down the Hartburn dip and up the other side. We started plugging our way toward Scot’s Gap, catching and passing a lone cyclist. Rab Dee glanced round, saw the Cyclone number on the rider’s bars and told him he had missed a turn and was off course. The Cyclonist turned around to retrace his steps and hopefully, find the right route.

In the distance, Rab spotted another lone cyclist and took off to see if they too were riding the Cyclone and had gone astray. Accelerating to catch her, we found that she too had missed the turn and was heading in the wrong direction. She had apparently started out in a group of friends, but had been dropped and left to her own devices. The Red Max provided instructions for her to re-join the course without having to backtrack and we pressed on.

Through Scot’s Gap and on to Cambo, the Red Max sniffed the air and decisively declared, “Coffee!” We swung left off the road and into one of the Cyclone feed stations, where the welcoming local residents had opened up the Church Hall to sell cakes and coffees.


Coffee Interlude#1

We grabbed coffee and cake and wondered outside to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun.  Here we discussed unequal wear of pedals and cleats, which was largely dependent on which foot you tended to release when you clipped out. Most of us were left-footers, but Rab Dee was a right footer. With his right pedal worn out from over-use, but the left almost as good as new, he wondered if there was the potential for a pedal-exchange programme with a suitably discomfited left-footer.

As we preparing to leave, one our earlier strays turned up, having failed to follow the Red Max’s explicit instructions. She’d done about 26 miles of the 64-mile route and had less than 20 still to do. Still, on the positive side, she was well ahead of the people she’d been riding with and had a chance to either beat them home, or wait around to join them, fresh for the last leg.


cyc2


We were back on the Cyclone route for the bad descent down through Wallington (high speed, vicious rumble strips and a narrow bridge make this a bit tricky for the unwary) but we were ahead of most cyclists at this point.

We then left the route as it headed for the Ryals and had a fast run toward Capheaton. At the junction, Richard of Flanders and Slow Drinker set off for home and Rab Dee went off for a longer ride out. I pushed on with the Red Max, Taffy Steve and Zardoz toward more coffee at the Capheaton Tea Rooms.


Coffee Interlude#2

“The problem with multiple coffee stops,” the Red Max explained, “Is multiple coffee stop sprints.”

We got coffee and cake and found a table on the tearoom balcony. Here we heard all about the Monkey Butler Boy, lavishing all the money from his new Call Centre job on bike bits – much to the disgust of an old timer sitting next to us, who couldn’t work why anyone needed a power-meter. (I had a lot of sympathy for his view).

The Red Max outlined a plan to take Coffee Interlude#3 at Stamfordham and then pick up the tail-end of the Cyclone route, once all the riders had an ascent of the Ryals in their legs, at which point he conjectured they’d be easy pickings!

We left our shady sanctuary and took to the sunny roads again, stopping to try to work out what the odd machine perched in the bed of a truck was. After careful examination, Zardoz and the Red Max concluded it was a vintage, steam powered, electrical generator. I bowed to their superior engineering expertise, quite frankly I didn’t have a clue.

For a refreshing change, we went down the Quarry climb, joined the Cyclone route just after the Ryals and pushed on for Stamfordham.


Coffee Interlude#3

The Red Max and Zardoz stopped for coffee and ice cream, but I decided it was getting late and it was time to head for home. Taffy Steve agreed and we set off at a decent clip, working our way around a steady stream of tired Cyclonists as we pushed on.

Just before Callerton, I split from Taffy Steve and the Cyclone route and started my drop down toward the river and home.

I was back just a couple of minutes later than usual, having had a thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable alternative Cyclone.


YTD Totals: 3,914 km / 2,4,32 miles with 49,186 metres of climbing