Wooler-Wooler-Huh, Tell Me More, Tell Me More…

Wooler-Wooler-Huh, Tell Me More, Tell Me More…

The Wooler Wheel Classic, Saturday 7th October, 2017  

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 1,451 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.9 km/h

Group size:                                         4 riders and 521 others

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and breezy


wooler
The Route
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Ride Profile

The Ride:

A Saturday morning with a difference found me up before the sun, wolfing down a quick breakfast and heading out into the still-dark for an hour long drive into north Northumberland to start the Wooler Wheel Classic sportive.

This was to be my third participation in the event, which this time around was confined to a 100km ride, rather than the early season Borderlands ride of over 170km or 107 miles. The Wooler Wheel events are usually low-key affairs, characterised by good routes and incredibly helpful, friendly and supremely well organised marshals. Combine this with what promised to be bright and dry, if chilly weather and the fantastic scenery of the Cheviots and it had all the promise of a great day out.

All of this, before I even mention the piece de resistance, the real kicker that makes the event almost unmissable – never mind the free T-shirt, but every rider is rewarded with a hot drink and lavish helping of pie and peas on completion. Pure, unalloyed genius.

A Gang of Four planned to meet up to tackle the ride together, Crazy Legs, Ovis, Richard of Flanders and me. As a consequence, the first order of the day was likely to prove the most onerous, locating my ride partners and getting everyone organised to set off at the same time.

As luck would have it, I joined up with a long stream of bike-carrying traffic on the way to the ride headquarters and was fairly certain I’d spotted a celeste Bianchi and a blue Orbea on a car upfront – Crazy Legs and Richard of Flanders travelling up together?

Instinct was correct and directed into a field to park, I found myself pulling up only one car removed from two-thirds of my group. Good start.

We went to sign on, trudging through the livestock pens of the cattle market, where numerous carbon steeds waited placidly to be auctioned for their riders to set them free. Crazy Legs looked around the bleak, basic shed, concrete ramps and gated pens. “It’s depressing, isn’t it?”

I agreed, it was far too easy to see them using it as a set from Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List (or Ark for the bibliophiles amongst us.)

We all signed on, collected our bikes, attached the event numbers and made our way toward the start, eagerly scanning the crowd for the distinctive blue and yellow of Ovis’s Rochdale Tri top as we went.


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A quick stop at the port-a-potties and then we stationed Richard of Flanders outside the main hall, Crazy Legs ducked inside to search for Ovis, while I rode around toward the start gate to see if he was loitering there. Our searches proved fruitless, so Crazy Legs dialled up Ovis on his mobile and we learned he was currently deeply engaged … in the crapper.

“Ah,” Richard of Flanders said, “I thought I heard someone thrashing around in the stall next to mine.”

We all turned our attention to the long line of port-a-potties and watched and waited, as each one disgorged at least one relieved cyclist, all apart from the one slap bang in the middle. Finally, the door swung open and a fellow that looked like Ovis staggered out into the fresh air, breathed deeply, saw our welcome committee and ambled across.

He was difficult to miss in a new, very bright high-viz waterproof, but it wasn’t the electric blue and acid yellow kit we were expecting. Much to Crazy Legs’ relief, he did unzip his jacket to reveal the stalwart Rochdale Tri kit lurking safely beneath.

Bikes were recovered and we made our way through the pens toward the start gate. I swung my leg over the bike, put my left foot on the pedal and pushed off. My foot slipped instantly off the pedal, I stumbled, the crank whirred around and cracked me in the right shin. Ouch.

I tried again. Same result and then again. I now had a large dint and corresponding bruise in my shin. It still smarts and I’ve been wearing one sock at half mast all week now.

Taking note of the slippery state of my cleats, a hangover of the damp grass, mud and assorted animal effluvia, I concentrated hard and very carefully tried again. With a satisfyingly loud click, pedal embraced cleat and we were off, riding through the timing gate to a cacophony of beeps like a short-circuiting answerphone.

Richard of Flanders kicked the conversation off in style, by suggesting that for the Christmas Jumper ride this year we should all wear smoking jackets, or smirking jackets if we are to continue to pay homage to Ashingternean speak in this blog blerg.

Crazy Legs however is nothing if not bang-up-to-date and countered that the more modern, discerning smoker would demand we wear vaping jackets, not smoking jackets. I’ve no idea what a vaping jacket looks like, but it sounds intriguing.

The first hill bit and Richard of Flanders, naturally in full Belgian team kit, slipped slowly off the back to tackle its incline at his own pace. The rest of us waited to regroup at the top, where Crazy Legs waved through other cyclists, declaring we were “waiting for our classics rider” – not all that happy on the hills, but essential later on in the ride for when the echelons formed in the crosswinds.

Indeed, the wind was to be our constant, nagging and awkward companion for much of the ride, although we were anticipating the last few kilometres at least to gift us with a tailwind – the only issue was getting to this point. Luckily Ovis was on a 3-Shredded Wheat day, or in his own understated words, “going quite well at the moment.”

On we went and I started counting the roadkill, but soon ran out of fingers and toes. I wonder what the death toll is for small furry critters on the roads of Northumberland? At one point, passing the seemingly unmarked, unsullied corpse of a grey squirrel, we debated the relative appeal of a Dead Squirrel Club and whether it would sound more interesting than Chris Boardman’s Secret Squirrel Club.

Another, “ah, poor furry animal” quickly turned to a “yeach” moment as a potential, fluffy squirrel-corpse turned out to be a rather large and fearsome dead rat. Then the highlight of the day as Crazy Legs spotted a dead frog, although it wasn’t quite up to the standards of the splattered, flattened and sun-blasted toad we’d seen on the road up the Col du Glandon.

Richard of Flanders kept himself distracted and us entertained with a series of Viz jokes and recollections and suggested we’d know when he was struggling as the constant flow of verbiage would slowly dry up.

As he started singing “Howay the Lads” in a non-regulation Geordie accent, Crazy Legs mused on what a strange group he found himself riding with – a Lancastrian, a Yorkshireman and someone who lives so far south of the river he’s practically a Mackem…

Another hill and climbing past a group of girls, one of them looked across at Crazy Legs and squealed, “Eee! That’s my bike.” For one moment I thought there was going to be a bit of a tussle over the provenance of a certain celeste Bianchi, but it soon became apparent she merely meant she had the same make and model and an unseemly catfight was avoided. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and we pressed on – I’m not sure it was a fight we could have won.

Yet another hill and a marshal guided us down a left turn and told us not to miss the lady with the jelly babies. Sure enough a couple of hundred yards further on and we found the lady with the jelly babies, holding out a large bowl that she proffered to each passing cyclist.

Like a pro in a feedzone, Crazy Legs swept passed, extended a long arm and grabbed up a few treats without stopping. I pulled up long enough to grab an ample fistful and thanked the Jelly Baby Lady for providing “the best part of the ride” – even though I knew it was a lie – jelly babies are good but pie is better.

I set off in pursuit of my comrades, somewhat hindered as I chewed my way through mouthfuls of jellied sweetness that made breathing just a little bit awkward.

Another turn and up onto Branxton Moor and we were climbing up past Flodden Field, the scene of a bloody skirmish in 1513 when a band of belligerent Scots accused an Englishman of stealing one of their classic Italian velocipedes … or some other, equally as heinous transgression.

Ovis suggested a contingent of archers had travelled all the way up from Rochdale for the bash, but confessed he didn’t know how they’d got there. I naturally suggested the Trans-Pennine Express, which was all that was necessary to set Crazy Legs away on a Kraftwerk inspired song cycle.

Luckily I heard him singing “we are the robots” just before he became engaged in some exaggerated, robotic-style arm-waving, otherwise I would have been swerving across the road trying to avoid some imaginary potholes I thought he was trying to point out in a really eccentric style.

More climbing, just for a change and we stopped at a road junction to regroup once again. Here a couple of riders from the Berwick Wheelers swept past, giving Ovis a long appraising look. Crazy Legs suggesting they were just checking out his Rochdale Tri jersey which bore a remarkable resemblance to their own livery.

Back together again, we caught and passed the two Berwick Wheelers, who sat on for a while, before deciding we were going too slow. One of them pulled out, overtook us and suddenly realised just how strong the headwind was, as his pace immediately dropped down to match ours. We naturally had no intention of looking a gift horse in the mouth and piled onto the shelter of his back wheel, happy to have someone to share the workload with.

The other Berwick Wheeler then joined his compadre on the front for a long stint, before ceding the front to Crazy Legs and Ovis again, as we continued in a long arc that would draw us back toward Wooler.

The cohesiveness of our impromptu group was ruptured on the next climb and then lost for good as I punctured on the descent. An audible Phztt…Phztt…Phztt announced a rapidly deflating front tyre, while sounding like a cartoon bomb rolling over and over on its fuse. We stopped and pulled over to make repairs.

Underway again, a long descent deposited us onto the Milfield Plain, where scores of ominous black carrion crows circled us cawing loudly and watching eagerly for any faltering cyclist to provide a quick meal. The seemed to particularly gather around Richard of Flanders, who’d gone ominously silent and was looking perhaps the most likely to give them what they were waiting for.

We were starting to close rapidly on the finish now though and Ovis was happy to announce only two more climbs. I could only remember one of these, where our route took us up onto a narrow track the curved past a farm, a short sharp and very brutal ramp that formed a real, late sting in the tail of the route.

I remembered the climb from the 107 mile Borderlands run as it had almost brought me to a grinding halt. This time the approach seemed different as we swung left onto the climb, whereas I’m sure we approached from the other direction on the longer route.

While the approach was different, the severity of the climb was the same and I chased my chain up the cassette and hauled myself out of the saddle to follow Ovis. The pitted road surface was invisible under a thick blanket of mud, which at least evened out some of the bumps. Luckily it was bone-dry, or traction would have been a real issue.

Nevertheless, the slope claimed its sacrificial victims, one being the rider just in front of us who came grinding to a halt with cramp in both legs and lamenting the fact that this hill always seems to defeat him. As we eased over the first of two ramps another rider approached from behind muttering to himself and swearing like a trooper with Tourette’s – “rugga-fumba-rumba-bashta-gronk!”

“Does it help?” I enquired.

“Yes, I think so,” he politely replied.

He then swung round the corner to the bottom of the next rise and with a full-blooded roar of “Baaastard!” attacked the slope full on. As he winched his way around the corner and out of sight, his voice trailed faintly back down to us, “It definitely helps …”

Ovis was right and there was one more hill of note, but it wasn’t as bad as anything that had gone before and we were now pushing on and eager to finish. A few more miles saw us all through the “Welcome to Wooler” sign and then we were swinging right into the Cattle Market and back over the timing gate to finish.

T-shirt collected (and almost instantly snaffled by Daughter#1 when I got home) and more importantly with “pie vouchers” clasped in sweaty hands, we made our way to the event canteen for our much anticipated reward.

The steak pie was great, the paper plates and pliable plastic forks not so good – perhaps we’ll carry our own cutlery next time? Crazy Legs even went with the healthy option and had mushy peas with his (one of his five a day) and everyone seemed to agree the meal really hit the spot.

There was then just time for a Gang of Four, group picture and we were packing up to head home. As ever the event remains one of my favourites and I’ve no doubt we’ll be back next year for one, or both of the Wooler Wheel rides.

Oh, did I mention the pie?


YTD Totals: 5,888 km / 3,658 miles with 67,189 metres of climbing

 

 

Slaying the Codger

Slaying the Codger

Club Run, Easter Monday 17th April, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 94 km / 58 miles with 829 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         3 hours 40 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                        22 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   11°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dry but cold


 

17 April
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Easter Monday found me back on the road again, a luxurious fifteen minutes later than usual because of a 9.30 start, yet still finding all the roads pleasantly traffic free.

As expected, the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees overnight and I’d planned accordingly by choosing a thicker base layer, winter socks and full length tights. As a novelty, I seemed to get the layers just about right for a change.

The sky was still, clear and blue as I set off out into the best part of the day. Overhead grey cloud would slowly build up throughout the ride, but the rain had the good grace to hold off until much later in the afternoon, when even I’d made it home.

As I crossed the bridge it looked like the rowing club were enjoying a late start too, the doors to their boathouse only just opening and releasing a trail of rowers carrying their upside down hulls down to the river, like a long line of leaf-cutter ants hauling off their collective booty.

I was perhaps a little too relaxed on the way across and had to increase the pace as time slipped quickly by. I pushed a bit harder than usual on the gradual drop down to the meeting point and made it with 5 minutes to spare. I needn’t have worried though, as only the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy were there before me.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I explained to the Red Max that despite resting all Sunday, I felt tired to the core after two club runs already and a full week of commutes on the single-speed. I thought it would be interesting to see how this old codger coped with another long ride and what state I might be in by the time I got home.

The Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max then had a heated 5-minute discussion about the difference between a rubber band and an elastic band, with Max stopping half way through to reassure me that this type of disagreement was pretty much a daily occurrence in their household.

Others arrived, including Crazy Legs and OGL, who had both been out on Sunday, when the return home had become a bit of a trial of strength through a sudden burst of freezing rain.

They also reported a FNG “with the world’s dirtiest bike” had joined up and everyone had been ultra-cautious around him as not only had he ridden in a group before, but his entire frame visibly flexed when he was pedalling.


Only 5 minutes late, off we trundled and I took to the front with OGL for some world-class, all-round grumbling from both the old feller and his bike, which seemingly picking up the demeanour of its rider, was suffering from a bad case of mudguard rub.

A number of our crew had taken the opportunity to ride the Mod Rocker Sportif over the weekend which went over the (typically closed to the public) Otterburn Army ranges and featured (according to the blurb, which was put together without the slightest trace of hyperbole) “Northumberland’s only Alpine style passes.”

This prompted an OGL tale about a group riding up there and ignoring the red flags, only to be intercepted by an apoplectic, foul-mouthed Sergeant-Major, who didn’t seem at all welcoming, or pleased to see them.

The riders finally deciphered his actual message, buried under an avalanche of creative swear-words – the gist of which was that the series of steel sheets, set up about 50 yards from the road, were the target for a currently in-bound flight of ground-attack Harriers carrying live ordnance. With communications finally established, he very politely suggested they haul ass out of there as fast as they could pedal.

Tall-tales told, OGL slipped off the front and I kept going for a while with Caracol for company, before pulling over and letting others set the pace.

I dropped in beside Aether and commented that I thought his bottle looked like it was filled with Muc-Off bike cleaner. I learned that it was actually his own patented, home-made energy drink, made from very weak Ribena with a pinch of sugar and salt – the exact quantities of which are a closely guarded secret, like the Coca-Cola recipe.

He said the Prof had tried some and been very, very impressed.

“Woah, it must be good.” I suggested.

“Oh, I don’t think he cared what it tasted like, or worried if it was effective – I just think he liked the idea of how much money he could save by making his own!”

Shortly after we split the group, OGL taking a few on the direct route through Whalton and on to the café, while a half a dozen or so of us took a wider loop that took in Molesden, Meldon and then Bolam.


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At this last point it was pin your ears bike time, as the pace started to increase. Sitting at the back as we rattled through Milestone Woods I sensed Spry gathering to attack up the rollers and cautiously followed as he surged forward.

For a brief, glorious time I matched his pace as we opened up a small gap and I even seemed to close on him as the gradient on the first ramp stiffened. But then, that ephemeral nano-second passed and I watched him slip away.

On the downslope I was freewheeling and trying to recover, while everyone else was driving on and I slipped to the back again and then watched a small gap eke out until we hit the bottom of the descent. I then started up the last slopes, closing in on the Red Max and Crazy Legs as we rolled to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Everyone seemed to enjoy my retelling of “the Incident of the Puncture from Hell” following last week’s ride (Wall to Wall Sunshine.) They were obviously not there otherwise, like me, they’d still bear the scars and find it much too painful to talk about.

Andeven simply wondered why we hadn’t ridden away and I told him we had jokingly threatened to leave the Garrulous Kid stranded, but he’d promised he’d just be waiting for us to return the following week and make us stop to help him then. It was at this point that Crazy Legs started wondering aloud what other routes we could take home to bypass this very spot –  just in case.

Crazy Legs reported that he’d been asked to help an acquaintance find a new bike within a £2,000 budget – a velophile’s dream, giving him countless hours of guilt-free browsing of bike websites without having to actually spend any money.

Having already established we were talking about a road bike, the obvious questions Crazy Legs had come up with to help narrow the search down were:

“What would you prefer, stylish Italian, dull and soulless Japanese, or a nasty American groupset with a stupid name nobody knows how to pronounce?”

and then:

“So, which of these Bianchi’s do you like best?”

I suggested that you should always start with a bikes colour (yes, I am that shallow) and Crazy Legs agreed to amend his questions to include, “Which colour celeste do you prefer, the original, with its rich heritage and association with classic cycling, or this cheap and tacky Trek rip-off?”

He’ll probably end up recommending a Boardman.


##Spoiler Alert##

Do not read if you’re a fan of Homeland and haven’t seen the season finale.

##Spoiler Alert##


The café was so busy we were sitting with a civilian at our table and a discussion about TV shows, good and bad, led to him asking what we thought of the latest Homeland. I think everyone who watched agreed it was the best series since the original, but I suggested they’d lost their greatest character by killing off Peter Quinn.

“What!!! They’ve killed off Quinn? Great, thanks.” Crazy Legs spluttered.

Ooops! Sorreeee…

He then confessed he’d tried the new series, but had lost interest and given up, so instead of spoiling the ending for him, maybe I just saved him watching after all?

That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.


##Spoiler Alert##

OK, it’s safe again.

##Spoiler Alert##


We’d picked up a host of late arrivals by the time we left the café, including a bunch of Grogs nursing some apparently serious hangovers. Once again, I took up position on the front with OGL as we reached the quieter lanes and regrouped.

The Hammer zipped past, going full bore and apologising that he had an urgent appointments and needed to be elsewhere. OGL said in the past they would have let him get 200 or 300 yards up the road and then organised a through-and-off until they’d dragged the lone rider back. Then they’d have just sat camped on his rear wheel all the way home.

OGL lost contact as we climbed up Berwick Hill and was replaced by the Red Max. A bit further on and he pointed to a spot where a few weeks ago he’d been stopped, helping fix a puncture, when the Monkey Butler Boy had cruised past with his new club training partners.

Max had tried flagging them down, but to no avail and as they had ridden away he’d ran down the road after them screaming, “Come back here, you little shit!” – to the evident delight of the Monkey Butler Boy – who’d barely been able to ride home he’d been giggling so much.

Then the group were turning off and I let Caracol drag me through the Mad Mile before we split at the roundabout and I swung away for home.

The roads were still clear of traffic and relatively quiet. I made good time back, not feeling particularly tired when spinning along at a normal pace, but noticing the lactic acid was much quicker to build up and burn if I pressed the pace too much, or attacked any of hills hard. I was still feeling pretty good though, even as I crested the Heinous Hill – maybe next year I’ll try riding all four days.

That was a great and grand weekend anyway: 3 club runs in 4 days, covering 274kms, with 2,250 metres of climbing, riding with perhaps 40 different people, netting 36 Strava achievements including 27 PR’s, consuming 6 cups of coffee, 2 lemon almond slices, a seasonal, hot-cross scone (I kid you not), collating a hatful of decent (by my standard) photos and disgorging an effluvia of 4,500 or so random words in my usual … err … inimitable style.

I enjoyed myself and the efforts didn’t quite slay the codger. I’ll even ride into work on Tuesday, although I’ll definitely give the clubs inaugural chain-gang a miss on Tuesday night, I do feel I need to rest up and recover just a little bit before next weekend.


YTD Totals: 2,158 km / 1,341 miles with 22,809 metres of climbing

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey and the Ovine Menace

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey and the Ovine Menace

Club Run, Saturday 9th July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   100 km/62 miles with 914 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           3 hours 54 minutes

Average Speed:                                   25.5 km/h

Group size:                                           26 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      20°C

Weather in a word or two:              Overcast, humid

 Main topic of conversation at the start:

Arriving bedecked in vintage CSC team kit, I caused Taffy Steve to enquire if I’d been wasting yet more money on cycling frippery and finery. For once I could plead not guilty as the kit had just been recently excavated from the depths of the Old Lycra mountain.  I explained it wasn’t new, but very, very old, to which he replied, “Ah! Very old. I should have guessed that, coming from you!” Ouch. I think that might have been payback for last week’s suggestion that he resembled a hulking, grumpy, shockingly profane and disturbingly hirsute Tinkerbell.

The kit was actually a gift from the team to the Pacific Vice President of CSC, who had no interest in cycling, so gave it to his brother, who had no interest in cycling, so he gave it to me. It always makes me smile when I pick it up because it’s clearly marked as being an XL size.

After a much too long absence, Grover emerged to a round of incredulous looks, double-takes and even one or two exploratory prods to see if he was indeed a corporeal entity.

“Is it a miradjee?” Taffy Steve enquired in his best Bugs Bunny/Mel Blanc voice.

“Don’t be an ultra-maroon.” I retorted, before we started arguing, while the FNG’s looked on genuinely perplexed and bewildered:

“It’s duck season!”

“No, it’s rabbit season!”

“Duck season.”

“Rabbit season”

Oh well, it made us chuckle.

Meanwhile Crazy Legs rolled up sur la Bianchi, a sure sign that the much-cosseted Ribble has somehow re-gained its protected status and is being held back because there is a chance (no matter how slim) that we might encounter some precipitation on the ride.

Crazy Legs confided that he was actually hoping for rain as his shoes were still “too clean and too white” and he hated them. This was an argument I’d only ever encountered once before, from a deeply fashion-conscious, overly-sensitive, pre-teen daughter when I’d asked her why she wouldn’t wear the very new, very expensive Converse Hi-Tops she insisted we buy her.

Taffy Steve pondered whether Bianchi had ever tried to copyright their signature “celeste” blue-green colour, pretty much like Cadbury had tried with the colour purple and Lindt had apparently attempted with rabbits.

Rabbits? Whatever next, trying to copyright the letter “e?” Wh*r* would that l*av* us?”

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Crazy Legs had to travel all the way from Newcastle to Worcester for his new job, a long and arduous journey, but necessary because the client said they only had one other operating base in the UK he could work from.

“Oh, where’s that then?” Crazy Legs politely enquired on finally arriving in Worcester.

“Cobalt.”

“Err … as in Cobalt Park?”

“Yes.”

Cobalt Park … North Shields?”

“Yeah, wherever that is…”

Oh, dear.

With the execrable, Euro 2016 football somnambulating toward some sort of long-overdue denouement, the only noteworthy revelation seems to be the scrotum stroking, bum crack teasing, finger sniffing antics of German Coach Joachim Löw. Yeugh! It thoroughly delighted Crazy Legs, though.

I was thinking you wouldn’t find a cyclist doing anything like that, when someone mentioned Contador having to change shoes on the fly following his crash and bravely holding his sweaty insoles in his teeth as he plummeted downhill. Yeugh#2! Was this the knock-out blow that finally put paid to El Pistolero’s Tour de France challenge?

For some reason I lost the thread of the conversation and when I returned the group were discussing a female rider who used to train with us, had incredible leg-strength, but couldn’t actually ride in a straight line. She was attributed with prodigious thighs and what I politely suggested we could perhaps describe as “child bearing calves.” Crazy Legs reflected that the enormous thighs might actually be an impediment to childbirth and I couldn’t help think of some imaginary poor baby being extruded between massive quad muscles, like a lump of Play-Doh. Yeugh#3.


 

Untitled 1
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Awaking from too little sleep and feeling quite fuzzy around the edges, Saturday morning found me running on vodka vapours following a too-late Friday night out with work colleagues. This was definitely going to be a kill or cure experience.

I was only moving at half-speed, or perhaps I’m being overly-generous and quarter-speed would be more accurate. I left the house slightly late, taking my occasional alternate route and trading quiet roads for a 5-mile short-cut, managing to arrive with plenty of time to spare.

I was greeted at the meeting point by one FNG enquiring if he was in the right place and I explained he was, but he was at least 15 minutes too early and while our official start-time is listed as 9.00 there’d be no movement until at least 9.15.  He just seemed relieved someone else had turned up as he confided he’d actually been hanging around since 8.45.

Picking up a couple more FNG’s, a fairly large group of 26 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, many threading the needle between two rumbling double-decker buses that suddenly decided to try and blockade our exit with a bit of unnecessary bumper-kissing.


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The weather seems to have settled into an all too familiar pattern, grey and overcast, with a feeling that rain could sweep in at any moment – the wind strong enough to be noticeable when not sheltered by fellow cyclists.

We’d just escaped into more rural areas when Son of G-Dawg punctured and we all huddled into a small lay-by while repairs were effected. One of the FNG’s took the opportunity to ask around for a hex key so he could adjust the release tension on his pedals.

“You should be tightening them, not loosening them.” The Prof, err, proffered.

“I don’t think so,” the FNG countered, “At the moment it’s easier and quicker to actually take my shoe off when I need to stop!”

He then crouched down by his bike, muttering the strange mantra, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as he worked to loosen his pedal binding. The Prof looked on rather befuddled, wondering in his little scientific, engineers-heart what was wrong with plain-old clockwise and anti-clockwise.

Seemingly shaken by this radical, free-form way of thinking, he repeated the mantra aloud to himself, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” paused and then asked in a rather plaintive voice, “So what’s okie-dokie then?”

“Ah,” someone explained “That’s when you’ve done righty-tighty or lefty-loosey just enough.”

As we waited, OGL said that he’d had a clear out and had a load of useless and worn old tools he was going to throw away if anyone wanted them, while looking rather pointedly at the Prof as he made the announcement. Somewhat surprisingly the Prof wasn’t interested, explaining he already had a cache of useless and worn out tools (not that that has ever stopped him picking up other people’s junk before.)

He wasn’t even tempted when OGL offered up a set of files so useless and worn “they couldn’t file paper.”

I suggested there really wasn’t much call to file paper and the Prof quipped, “Especially these days with e-mail.” Ba-boom.

After we’d all finished groaning, Taffy Steve shook his head as he admonished us, “Bring together a bunch of dad’s and sure enough, all you’ll get are dad jokes.”

Someone pointed out that, never mind dads, there were grandads amongst us, but all chatter was silenced when Shoeless revealed he knew a 45-year-old great-grandmother.

Thankfully, Son of G-Dawg had finished his repairs and we were able to mount up and push on again.


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I drifted to the back in the company of Taffy Steve discussing university congregations and the strange (in my mind, unforgiveable) fashion for wearing tan brogues with blue suits.

We dropped onto some narrow, rural lanes. I heard the shout of “car up!” and spotted a Porsche Cayenne – distant, but seemingly hurtling toward us. Surprisingly, it then pulled to the side of the road and stopped to allow us to safely pick our way past.

A little further on and a shiny black Mercedes did the same and then a massive BMW 4×4. I swear on the ride home I even saw an Audi driver pull to the side of the road, stop and wave us through, although Carlton assures me this was actually a Toyota. History and personal experience does tend to suggest he was right and I was mistaken.

Of course not all drivers were quite so accommodating and at one junction we found ourselves being charged by a monstrous black pick-up truck, in a manner that was purposefully meant to be intimidating. Arse hat.

Even greater peril was still yet to strike and I rounded one sharp bend to find everyone stopped and stationary around a supine Princess Fiona, who’d come off and was lying amongst the roadside nettles.

From what I can gather she’d been surprised by the sudden appearance of a panicked sheep on the road, braked too sharply and lost her back wheel. At least I think that’s what happened, but there was no sign of the offending ninja-sheep.

Princess Fiona was slowly helped back to her feet, a bit bloodied, bruised and scraped, but seemingly intact. Meanwhile Shoeless undertook some percussive maintenance on her twisted saddle and slapped her chain back into place.

Suddenly I saw the sheep for the first time, now charging fearlessly down the road between the slalom course of skinny cyclists and plastic bikes. So, not a miradjee then.

Our bleating, woolly friend had obviously wriggled through a hedge and overgrown ditch to escape, collecting a fair bit of greenery along the way.  This was entangled, wound and woven throughout its fleece like some organic, ovine ghillie suit. By using this improvised camouflage, it had been able to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting cyclists, leaping out with a mighty Boo!

Or maybe Baa!

Now it had either overcome its innate fear of cyclists, or something even more terrifying was driving it back through us.

The ground shook as a low rumble became a thunderous roar, and the sheep’s new nemesis appeared; a massive, shiny-yellow, Caterpillar tractor bedecked with white ribbon and driven by a wedding party in pale grey morning suits and pink cravats. I couldn’t see far enough into the cab to confirm it, but suspect there was a plethora of tan brogues on display too.

We all shuffled to the very margins of the road to allow the behemoth to squeeze past, filling most of the lane and bending back branches on either side, while its occupants smiling benignly down on us from their lofty perch.

We then had to push even further back to allow a second and then a third identical tractor to rumble past. Landed gentry wedding, Northumberland-style.

At our split only OGL and Grover left us for the shortest route to the café. Meanwhile the rest waited before embarking on a longer, harder, faster route. And waited. And waited.


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Finally, Crazy Legs demanded some action and called, “Ride ‘em out!” prompting the two of us to belt out a ragged, off-kilter, off-key, call-and-response rendition of Rawhide –unhindered by the fact neither one of us actually know the words. Or should be allowed to sing in public.

We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and swung off to head even further North, splitting the group and waving off the even longer, faster, harder group before we started to loop back.

Our group now included Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve a couple of others and tagging on the back Red Max, the Monkey Butler boy and Szell, as we set course for Szell’s nemesis, Middleton Bank.

I rolled to the front as we approached the hill and started up, climbing out of the saddle and accelerating as we hit the steepest ramp. Sitting down again, I tried to keep the pace at a reasonable level as I sensed someone climbing up on my inside.

I did a quick double-take, but my eyes weren’t lying – it was Taffy Steve, pulling everyone else up the climb with him as if he’d suddenly found some climbing legs. Well, he has been seen lurking around a darkened crossroad bargaining with a shady character.

We drove over the top and sat up to wait for everyone to regroup and because Crazy Legs was feeling particularly benevolent to Szell that day, I do mean everyone. All reformed and back together, Taffy Steve gave me the old UCI timekeeper countdown on his right hand, waved me down an imaginary start-ramp and we started to build up speed.

The pair of us did around 5km on the front trying to drive the pace ever higher, until we rattled down through Milestone Woods and Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Szell burned off the front. Being overtaken by Szell was unthinkable, so as he died on the first slope I drove us past him, up and over the rollers. Onto the final drag I sat up and watched Taffy Steve nip around me while I did a basking shark impersonation and tried to find a little more air for my screeching lungs.

On the return home we were stopped at some temporary traffic lights, when a small kid on a fat-tyred, nondescript, MTB swooped out of a junction and pulled up in the middle of the bunch. As the light turned amber, he sprinted away, through us and the roadworks in an attack so audacious he earned a massive cheer and huge encouragement.

We caught him faltering on the sharp climb up to Dinnington, where Taffy Steve planted a huge hand on his back and drove him, rocket-propelled up the slope and over the top. He might never climb that hill faster in his entire life – and I’ve never seen a grin so wide.

A good run, the perfect hangover antidote and we finally managed a summer ride without getting soaked. Upwards and onwards.


YTD Totals: 3,975 km / 2,470 miles with 39,203 metres of climbing