Plague Diaries #Week 31

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Against the Odds

A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.

His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.

These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.

The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.

Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.

Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.

As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.

It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.

Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.

At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.

Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.

A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.

As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.

“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.

“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.

I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.

I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.

It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.

I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.

One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.

G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”

The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.

We quickly summarised the three tiers as:

Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek

Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle

Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.

G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?

As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.

He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?

Maybe.

When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.

“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.

We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.

The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.

The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km/72 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly


ride-profile-oct-1
Ride Profile


The Ride:

So, back in the saddle following last week’s University Open Day visit. I admit I quite enjoyed a brief respite from riding and even more from writing about it, I wasn’t so keen on the 350+ mile round trip though. Anyway, it was worthwhile as Loughborough University has also been added to Daughter#1’s growing list of universities she doesn’t want to go to and I think I only have around 110 others to visit in our national university elimination drive.

Speaking of visits to far off places, the venerable Toshi San was recently holidaying in Devon and paid a visit to Paignton Velopark, which he described as “a grand facility with friendly staff.”

When leaving, he found a fellow cyclist in a spot of trouble and tried to help out and, in his own words this is how the story unfolded …

“I spotted a Pieman in the car park next to his car with his bike upside down, having just unloaded it and clearly having mechanical issues.

Ta Da! Up steps Toshi ‘Bicycle Repair San’!

‘How do. Having problems?’

‘Yes, I can’t get the gears to change.’

‘Let’s have a look, then’

I got close up to a very shiny, very expensive looking carbon Cervelo with Ultegra Di2. Hmmm, not my area of expertise but I had read a few ‘techie’ articles about the gearset.

So, I turned the bike the ‘correct’ way up, found the reset/autotune/fiddle button under the stem and pressed it. The expected system light didn’t come on.

Aha! That must mean a loose/broken connection, an easy fix.

I worked my way, methodically along all the cabling till I got to the seat tube. 2 loose and lonely looking male connectors, but I couldn’t find the corresponding female connectors?

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

‘Ah, they connect to the………………… Oh fuck! I’ve left the battery at home.’

I quite like it when other people prove they’re as forgetful and as fallible as me.

Saturday brought a chilly start to the day, but judging by the number of cyclists I passed on the way out to our meeting place, perfect cycling weather. Well armoured in arm warmers, knee warmers and long fingered gloves, I nevertheless stuck a rain jacket on for an added bit of protection from the wind and to give the raw, early morning chill a chance to dissipate a little.

I made the meeting point to find Rab Dee and Crazy Legs already in situ and we stood around chatting while a vast herd of brightly coloured cyclist slowly built up around us, like exotic wildlife drawn to the only waterhole in a drought-ravaged savannah.

It was a big, group – probably the largest we’d had all year, with a wide array of specimens; the wiry, stilt-legged, skin-and-bones of wide-eyed, young gazelles, a few heavy-weight and powerful pachyderms, grizzled, elderly gnu’s, troops of jabbering primates and a sprinkling of watchful, cold-eyed predators…

… or in other words a big group of lads and lasses of all shapes, sizes, variants and ages, a.k.a. the typical British cycling club, perhaps all drawn out by what promised to be best day of the rest of the year.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee was complaining long and hard about the cold, despite being a hardy Scot, used to frolicking through fields of frozen heather in nothing but a string vest and baggy Y-fronts. When confronted, he merely suggested we’d hopelessly corrupted him with our soft, southern ways.

We then watched as a proper Geordie showed us how it should be done, trundling past with a wheeled suitcase wearing nothing but shorts, a Newcastle United top and flip-flops – seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold.

We speculated he’d just returned from holiday and wondered if he’d been somewhere so chilly he was actually over-heating now he was back in his native, “balmy” North East. I also wondered why grown men feel the need to wear the “costume” of their local football team when travelling to a foreign country. What’s that all about?

The Prof arrived and said how he’d looked forward to a chilly day so he could pull on his new, bargain-buy Assos legwarmers, only to discover they were actually arm warmers!

Mind you, if they were anything like the rather capacious “medium” Pearl Izumi arm warmers I bought last year, he probably could have comfortably worn them on his legs. Annoyed by constantly having to pull them up, I’d admitted defeat and ended up donating them to a rider who doesn’t have quite the same pipe-cleaner/sparrow-leg style arms as me.

As we gathered in ever-increasing numbers, Crazy Legs was distracted by a nearby pooch that was doing a brilliant impersonation of a meerkat, balanced perfectly upright on its hind-legs and constantly scanning the horizon, while his owner looked on nonplussed and possibly somewhat embarrassed.

Down it went briefly, but the forepaws had barely touched the ground when it was back up again, bolt upright, with its tail wagging furiously. Much taken by these antics, Crazy Legs went to have a word with the dog’s owner, but I guess whatever small ransom he offered wasn’t enough and he returned empty-handed.

The Prof prevaricated about peeing before proceeding on our peregrinations and pondered whether he had time, as Official Garmin Time clicked over to 9:12. Along with Crazy Legs I urged him to get on with it, otherwise he’d be calling a stop before we’d done 5 miles.

We assured him we’d wait and we duly did … well at least until he’d disappeared around the corner to attend to his needs and then we were clipping in smartly and leading everyone off…


36 or so assorted riders then, pushed off, clipped in and rode out, and I slotted into line, riding along in my own private world, until a recognisable voice intruded on my thoughts and I looked up to see the Bearded Collie beside me. Or rather I didn’t see the Bearded Collie, because he’d subjected himself to a close shave and completed the transformation into the Naked Collie, out for the second-time this year! I think he might be developing a bit of a cycling obsession.

We had a good, long catch-up, talking about family and work, the evils of social media, boot camps, open-water swimming and the sudden appearance of sink holes wherever the landscape is riddled by old mining activities (which is almost everywhere, given that the geology of the North East must resemble Swiss cheese.)

The Naked Collie then confessed he’d been looking after a family friends guide-dog while they were overseas, but thinks he might have broken it. He had somehow managed to turn the dog from a placid, thoroughly obedient and highly-trained aid to a blind person, into a loopy, loony, canine delinquent and tearaway that now ignores direct commands and disappears for hours at a time. Oops.


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A puncture-enforced stop saw the group split and shuffle and OGL drifted back down the line to cast a critical eye over the puncture repair and vent about another verbal spat with the Red Max.  One of the Old Guard leaned philosophically across his bars and intimated that the only constant in life is change, or at least that’s what I took from his thoroughly phlegmatic, seen-it-all before attitude.

Having paused long enough to fulfil even the Prof’s prodigious micturition needs, OGL announced it wasn’t worth stopping again in order to split the group and we would once again do this on the fly.

Approaching Whittle Dene, half the group was held up by a stream of cars thundering down the Military Road at high speed. Sneakily, Sneaky Pete sneaked across directly in front of hurtling metal boxes, earning himself a series of highly predictable loud horn blasts.

Even though there was absolutely no danger and I’m pretty certain the approaching driver didn’t even momentarily ease the pressure from their right foot, they were looking for the quick dart and we had duly obliged, confirming their prejudices that all cyclists are reckless, kamikaze idiots. Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

The group had no sooner reformed again than we were splitting. With no G-Dawg to faithfully and unerringly follow, I was caught in two minds, especially as Crazy Legs went with the amblers and Taffy Steve made off with the longer, harder, faster group.

Finally, remembering the path of life is paved with indecisive roadkill, I swept left a little late, causing minor chaos as I weaved through everyone turning right. I somehow managed to plant my rear wheel in a muddy divot and had to spin the pedals twice before the tyre bit and I was catapulted out, the back-end yawing outrageously as I fought to remain upright.

Control barely retained, I tagged onto the back of the group as the pace was ramped up over the Stelling and Newton Hall Climbs. The problem was that the usual longer, harder, faster group was all mixed up with the even longer, even harder, even faster self-flagellation ride, which was being whipped to a frenzy by a bunch of young racing snakes who were having a whale of a time battering each other.

As we turned toward Matfen we started shedding riders in a long tail, like a comet skipping too close to the sun, the pace burning them away and casting them aside. Mini Miss churned past, with a claim of, “Bloody hell, this is fast!” and she was right, (I took a Strava PR over this section of the road) but I could only nod in agreement, unable to spare either the effort or the oxygen of replying to her as i dived onto her wheel.

The survivors smashed their way through Matfen, then became strung out on the climb out of the village. I finally caught Taffy Steve and pulled up alongside him where, by unspoken agreement we tried to restore a bit of order, knocking the pace down a notch as we led a small group which slowly grew as we picked up one or two stragglers that were being spat out of the self-flagellation ride ahead.

We dragged the group through to the Quarry Climb, maintaining a pace that was still too fast for me – I knew this because all the blood was draining from my face to my legs and I could feel pins and needles in my chin as it slowly turned numb. I enquired whether the strong riding Taffy Steve had managed three Shredded Wheat that morning, but that was about the limit of my conversational capacity and it was still enough to leave me breathless. On the final, steepest ramp of the climb my legs were empty and I slipped back and off the front.

We turned to the right – the faster group had gone left – and began racing them to the Snake Bends. Another pair took up the front running, but a bit of erratic riding encouraged Taffy Steve to take control of the group again and recovering slightly I pushed up alongside him once more.

As we approached the junction onto the road down from Kirkheaton we saw the long line of riders from the faster group go streaming past, and we swung onto the road behind them, but ahead of our amblers group whose route had also joined the same road higher up.

Taffy Steve burst off the front for the final sprint, but I was already well out of it at that point. There was just time for Mini Miss to glide past and then for Sneaky Pete to sneak around me, before I could sit up and roll through the Snake Bends and push onto the cafe for a much deserved recuperative coffee and cake combo.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We were joined at the table by a relative FNG, who leant across the table to pluck a tiny money-spider off my collar. I didn’t realise I’d been carrying a passenger; all that extra weight and drag – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping up with everyone else!

Crazy Legs admired the FNG’s club kit which was an ultra-fluorescent baby-blue with garish yellow and orange bands, a throwback he told us to his time living and riding in Cincinnati. Emblazoned with the club name: Gear 4 Beer, he deftly explained it as a drinking club with a cycling problem!

I could at least confirm it was better than the jersey of another ex-expat, who’d returned from the States with a jersey sporting the name of a local bike shop, the Montclair “Bikery”. This had confused me no end because I thought a bikery was where Australians bought their bread.

The FNG revealed that our American cousins had inflicted even further vulgar, depredations on the English language and his LBS in Ohio was known not as a bikery, but as a cyclery. Huh?

Sneaky Pete sneaked onto the table with a massive slab of cake smothered in sweet, sticky frosting, which he had no choice but to attack with a cake fork – an implement Taffy Steve and I derided as being far too effete for simple, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type-cyclists.

We pondered what would be a suitable, manly implement for cake shovelling and decided a miniature, but exquisitely proportioned facsimile of a stainless steel Spear & Jackson garden spade would be perfect, both aesthetically and functionally for the task.

We think there’s a massive market for this kind of expensive tat novelty tableware, so expect to see the patented “cake spade” in shops near you in time for Christmas.

I think there’s even a market for a cycling specific, foldaway and pocketable version, perhaps modelled on a U.S. Army entrenching tool. Are you listening Rapha?

Praising the melting, still warm, just-out-of-the-oven goodness of the scones, we then had a bizarre conversation when Crazy Legs suggested cake didn’t agree with him.

“Yes, I do!” squeaked the cake on Sneaky Pete’s plate.

“No. You don’t.” Crazy legs re-affirmed.

An errant single-entendre then had us wondering if Szell was likely to ride again this year, or if he’d already begun his hibernation. Perhaps he’s already started to cultivate the poor form and an extra layer of fat he needs in order to rail and bitch about climbing Middleton Bank when he finally emerges in all his glory, sometime around April next year.

We imagined him cocooned in a dark cave, surrounded by chocolate, cake, beer, and a mountainous pile of Viz back-issues, while he watches constant re-runs of the Benny Hill and Dick Emery shows and stocks up on ever more risqué bon mots.


The sky started to darken as we made our way home and the temperature seemed to dip downwards again, but luckily the rain held off until I was on the last climb for home.

Before that we’d survived an encounter with an idiotic RIM who thought it was hilarious to lean on his horn and accelerate toward us down a narrow lane.

If he felt any of our declamatory declarations or violent gesticulations about his parents, his onanistic tendencies, or exactly what he could swivel on were false or unjust, he didn’t seem at all inclined to stop to debate them with us. Arse hat.

And then, as we were climbing Berwick Hill, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the extraordinary happened all at once, as OGL attacked!

Out of the saddle, churning a big gear and honking upwards old-school-style, he launched himself off the front prompting an instantaneous reaction from Taffy Steve and ripping the group behind to shreds.

Astounded by what we were witnessing, I followed Crazy Legs and skipped quickly forward to enjoy the clash of the titans as they raced to the summit. From where I was sitting it looked like Taffy Steve just won the sprint with a last-gasp lunge, but sadly I was too far back to hear if he offered up his trademark, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

Dropping down the other side, I found a still cackling OGL declaring that, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” Remarkable. Weird, but remarkable.


YTD Totals: 5,396 km / 3,353 miles with 53,366 metres of climbing