Club Run, Saturday 27h October, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 48 minute
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 8-9-8-7-6-5
Weather in a word or two: Brutal then balmy
Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.
In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.
To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.
As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.
The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.
I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.
Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.
My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.
A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.
I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.
Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.
I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.
Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.
One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.
The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.
G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of Charlie Allinston and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop!
“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.
“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered
“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.
“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”
I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.
“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”
“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.
OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.
With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.
First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.
G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.
“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”
Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.
Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.
“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.
Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.
“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.
Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.
At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.
“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.
“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.
We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.
“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”
Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.
And then there were 5.
As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!
Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1
As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.
Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.
The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.
Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!
“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.
“And dry,” he added.
“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”
Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.
“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.
“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.
For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.
We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.
The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.
Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.
We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.
We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2
Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.
For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.
G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.
Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.
From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.
From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”
The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.
By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.
The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.
After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.
We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.
This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”
We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.
I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.
YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing