The rain that was forecast for Saturday apparently got the bums’ rush and passed through quicker than expected, leaving us with a relatively dry run, well, if you don’t count one or two quick showers and the bedraggled, water-logged landscape and puddled roads left in its wake. I was on the last, downhill leg of my run-in to the meeting point when I picked up James III who has recently moved house and so now follows a similar route to me across the river and out of the valley.
It was most definitely a day for mudguards, but he only had a front one fitted, the rear one being on his other bike that was away at his LBS for a service, so he tried fitting the front guard to the rear of his bike once we’d stopped, but with no success. Ok, that’s one wheel I won’t be trying to follow today.
Various mudguard hacks were discussed, most of which involved liberal quantities of gaffer tape. This was certainly the solution adopted by Brassneck when the screw holding the guard on his front forks had pulled out, stripping the mount. The fork crown was now swathed in gaffer tape which, allegedly, “Blended in quite well, covered an unsightly hole and stopped it from letting in water.”
“Letting in water …” I sang back at him.
“Letting in war-a-ter …” Crazy Legs harmonised.
Brassneck was unmoved and decidedly unamused. Even when we repeated our little acapella side-show. Oh. Heav-ee. Well, he should just be thankful he didn’t have a hole in his shoe, he’d never hear the end of it.
Crazy Legs brought bad news about G-Dawg, who seems to be suffering from a form of arrythmia and has been advised to avoid exercise for the foreseeable. The withdrawal of one stalwart though was marked by the return of another as Ovis re-appeared and after only managing a couple of club rides last year, he’s more hopeful he’ll be joining us more regularly this time around.
“You don’t happen to have the hotline number for Garmin tech support?” Jimmy Mac then enquired. I looked at him deeply perplexed.
“The satellite’s obviously out of position and it’s skewed their universal timing systems badly off, can you call and tell them.”
“Eh? What?” I was being particularly dense and slow this morning.
He indicated the time on his Garmin. 9:08 it read.
Right. Got that?
I must have still looked perplexed.
He pointed to where Carlton stood waiting. Carlton, our regular metronome, who has previously demonstrated the preternatural ability to turn up at 9:15 precisely every Saturday, the exact moment when we send the first group away. In fact, it had reached the point where he was so reliable that we were using his arrival as an official start of ride signal.
Aha! Now I got why he was concerned.
“New year, new rules?” I offered. It was the best I could do, what other explanation could there be for this strange, otherworldly phenomena?
We had enough riders for two sizable groups, so we got ourselves organised and underway.
I pushed out on the front of the second group alongside Brassneck, who had a cunning plan get his stint in the lead out of the way before our route swung west and we became fully exposed to the predicted stiff (and very chilly headwinds.)
“Puddles!” and “Pots!” became our oft-repeated cri de cœur for the day, as every turn we took seemed to set us amidst one or other of these, and more often than not, both of them together. Brassneck decided that Puddles and Potts was probably the name of a bright new folk combo from County Kildare, while we amused ourselves trying to remember the name of the latest Big Thief album.
“It has a mountain and a dragon in it, definitely a dragon and .. and, I’m going to say a cloud?” Brassneck mused.
You can play along at home if you want, and I’ll even give you a clue, the words we needed were: I Believe In You Warm New Mountain Dragon, but not in that order. Now, try and rearrange that into a phrase that makes any kind of sense … Go on … I’ll wait.
We ran through Dinnington, past the Cheese Farm and climbed up Bell’s Hill before Brassneck peeled off, job well done and primary objective achieved. I stayed on the front, chatting and catching up with Ovis. As we approached each new, road-straddling puddle he would generously swing over and usher me through, with a cheery “After you, sir.”
You would have assumed he was just being a gentleman, until he admitted to using me as a crash-test dummy, or a canary in a coal mine if you will: carefully following my wheel tracks, prepared to veer to either side should I suddenly disappear down an unseen pothole lurking in the murky depths of the water. For a while there I felt like Moses, parting the Red Sea to allow his followers safe passage…
My double turn on the front was completed by the time we passed the dip and swoop through Hartburn. The route then turned directly into a howling headwind, but I felt no guilt sitting sheltering in the wheels as best I could while Carlton and Another Paul battered away on the front as we made our way to Capheaton for coffee and cake.
There I was completely unsurprised to find the waiting G-Dawg, imagining he’d been caught pacing relentlessly around the house like a caged tiger, sulking and bemoaning the missed opportunity to ride his bike until being ordered out by a Mrs. G-Dawg desperate for some peace and quiet. Hopefully he won’t be confined to vicariously enjoying the rides through cafe visits for too long and will be out mixing it with the rest of us soon.
At the turn onto the lane for Ogle we actually had to wait for a car coming the other way, which was a bit of a surprising novelty given the motorists penchant for minor-road rat-runs with all their dubious time-savings.
“Unusual,” I noted.
“Surprisng,” Crazy Legs added.
Crazy Legs was just about to accuse me of stealing from The Princess Bride, when Brassneck interjected, but as his words rose up the register so suddenly they were emitted at a pitch that only dogs could comprehend, we still don’t know what he actually said. I’m sure it was funny though.
I left the group just as we entered the mad mile to be assailed by vicious headwinds and cross-headwinds on all the climbs (and even the descents) on my run home. It was a slow grind, but we made it.
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
Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 24.0 km/h
Group size: 31 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Pleasant
You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.
But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.
Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.
Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.
The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.
Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.
It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.
Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.
I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).
Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.
Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.
With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.
A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.
The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.
We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.
We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …
I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.
We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.
We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?
“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”
“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.
“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.
As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.
We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!
Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.
I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.
The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.
Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”
We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.
The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.
We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.
We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.
Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them. Or at least they did – until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.
We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.
Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.
Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.
Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.
(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)
I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.
Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”
“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.
“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”
“Never heard of the feller.”
I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.
“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”
“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”
The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.
I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.
I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.
At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.
I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …
Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?
How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.
Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 101 km / 63 miles with 1,015 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 23.2 km/h
Group size: 18 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Wet and dry
The weather forecast on Friday night was predicting heavy rain throughout Saturday, which was due to last at least until late in the afternoon. Someone must have given the weather systems the bums rush though, as I awoke to find all the rain had seemingly swept right over us during the night.
Consequently, things were looking much, much better than expected, first thing Saturday morning. The problem was though that the rain due to fall in the eight or so hours of daylight had been compressed into a tiny window of a just a few pre-dawn hours. While the sky remained flat, grey and dull and we would escape all but the briefest of showers, the concentrated rainfall seemed to have swollen every watercourse, universally overwhelmed drainage and left the ground thoroughly sodden and saturated.
Our day then was to be punctuated by several notable, unpredictably placed encounters with huge lakes and lagoons of standing water that barred our course from verge to verge and left us no choice but to ford our way carefully through them, slowly, in single-file while hoping their murky, watery depths hid no potholes.
My ride across to the meeting place had proven unremarkable, except for a cluster of un-manned roadworks and temporary traffic lights that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere. There were enough of these to delay me by a good five minutes, while every red light gave me yet another opportunity to wonder just where the accompanying workmen were.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Queries about my debilitating malady last week led to discussions about the best way to slack off work, with the main conundrum being how you could periodically simulate some kind of activity and tap a computer key to stop a screen-saver kicking in and the network connection timing out. Someone suggested perhaps one of those dippy, drinking bird novelties, poised carefully over your keyboard might work …
A group from the club have signed up for the Tour of Ayrshire Gran Fondo in April, a qualifying event for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. Sadly, their hopes of competing as a team have been dashed by the realisation that while they have managed one entrant in each of the age categories, they actually only have one entrant in each of the age categories – so, about as useful as a Venn diagram where none of the quadrants overlap then.
Jimmy Mac suggested the Prof was old enough to be his dad and wondered just how tired he got filling in insurance forms online. In fact, he wondered if, by the time the Prof had managed to scroll all the way down to his birth year, whether he would be suffering from some form of devastating repetitive strain injury to his aged, mouse-working fingers and would perhaps have even forgotten what he was scrolling down to find in the first place.
Spiralling out from this conversation, we learned that G-Dawg had just managed to squeeze his creation date into the 1950’s – something I was amazed to discover as I was unaware cybernetic engineering had been quite so advanced, even late into that decade. “You’re the same age as Sputnik.” Taffy Steve gleefully informed him.
beZ arrived on a newly acquired old Trek that he’d adopted as his winter bike and took some grief from OGL who suggested the stack height above the stem was a potential hazard to his testicles. “Story number#6, please.” I muttered sotto voce to G-Dawg, expecting OGL to dial up the hoary old tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a stem bolt when he crashed at a track meet. Surprisingly though, memory synapses failed to fire correctly and we were spared the full horror of hearing this particularly gruesome tale. Again.
Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried to decide if beZ’s Trek was the same model as Szell had been riding, before he upgraded to his “fat lad’s bike.” He tried turning his back on beZ and occasionally glancing briefly over his shoulder, reasoning that this was how he most often saw Szell’s bike, something he said he hadn’t really had a chance to study before, because you got such a pain in the neck from constantly looking back at it!
“Is it time yet?” Crazy Legs enquired enthusiastically
“It’s only 9:14, official Garmin Time.” I assured him.
“But, you could at least start making a move toward your bike.” Taffy Steve encouraged.
“Gentlemen, start your motors.” G-Dawg intoned and as we prepped for the off, we tried to work out the purpose of that mad scramble to the cars at the start of Le Mans, as it obviously had no bearing on the outcome of the race.
We decided its sole purpose was to create the maximum amount of danger, mayhem and confusion possible and perhaps it’s something that Formula 1 should adopt to spice things up a bit. Along with Son of G-Dawg, I wanted to take this further and have all the pit lane berths unassigned, so cars had to turn into the first space available and the crews had to leg it down the pit lane carrying all their kit and spares. Perhaps we could actually make Formula 1 interesting and exciting again.
With the late addition of a rapidly vectoring in Ovis, 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out for our advanced lessons in water dowsing.
All was progressing smoothly, until we turned off for the Cheese Farm, rounded a corner and were confronted by a mighty puddle, a road spanning lake, an inland lagoon. This mere of muddy brown waters, of indeterminate length and depth – stretched up around the next corner and out of sight.
We picked our way slowly and carefully through this unforeseen obstacle, slowly and in single file, watching as the water began to lap up over bottom brackets and wheel hubs, hoping it would rise no further and we’d avoid any unforeseen potholes or hidden debris luring in the murky depths.
Behind there was loud chorus of disgusted groans as cold water quickly washed through overshoes, shoes and socks, while those of us up ahead, smug and still dry in our winter boots enjoyed just a little bit of schadenfreude. Taffy Steve decided that while he might be riding a thrice-cursed winter bike he could at least enjoy his thrice-praised GoreTex boots and their stout protection from cold wet feet.
At the same time, we also decided that in tribute to many of our rides traversing the outer reaches of Northumberland, we should re-name this blog a blerg, in favour of a local idiom, particularly hoard around Eshington (aka Ashington):
Alert of ferk there know a beut a bared derg that jumped up at a deft kerb, making him furl into a hurl where he boast his fierce. (Rough translation: “A great number of people are aware of a story regarding a misbehaving pet canine that jumped up at a silly young boy scout, causing him to stumble into a cavity and injure his countenance.”)
Clear of the flooding, we were painfully, slowly and very, very cautiously overtaken by large silver 4 x 4, even as we singled-out and waved it through with the road ahead completely clear and empty. As it passed, someone mentioned how unusual it was to find cars on this stretch of road and wondered where they might be heading.
We caught up with the car perched in the middle of the road and halfway across the next junction, where its occupants, two woolly haired, perplexed looking grannies, took time off from myopically turning their map book this way and that to favour us with a sheepish grin. We didn’t know where they were going and I guess they didn’t either.
If anything, the roads appeared to be even more scarred, pot-holed and woe-begotten than we were used to, eliciting a strange, Tourette’s style conversation between OGL and his riding companion: “I use Ultegra wheels … Pots! … during winter, they’ve got … Pots! … cup and cone bearings in … Pots! … the hubs, so you can … Pots! … service them easily.”
A clamber up a hill and then sudden slowing suggested the front of our group had encountered yet another obstacle on the road ahead. This time it wasn’t a flood, but an enormous swan, that slowly unfurled itself, shook out its majestic wings to their full extent and clambered slowly upwards into the air. For several seconds it hung impressively above us, white and bright and magnificent against the grey sky, before tipping over to wheel away from the road.
We pressed on, sometimes slaloming around puddles and occasionally, when there was no way to avoid them, slowing to pick our way carefully through the middle. Several of the unbooted riders started unclipping, lifting their feet off the pedals and out of the water while they freewheeled across, saving their feet from another dousing. Luckily, everyone made it through safely and carrying enough momentum to reach dry road at the other side.
As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, the Big Yin punctured and with nowhere for us to stop safely nearby, he dropped off the back while we pushed on over the crest of the hill before pulling to the side of the road to wait. From this vantage point, we had a grandstand view of the next road-spanning puddle and could watch the way various drivers tackled it. A hot hatch blatted past at ridiculously high speed and we jeered as brake lights flared and he slowed to a mincing crawl to pick his way carefully through the water.
Then a large Transit van serving as a taxi ripped through at high speed, flinging a massive bow wave over the hedgerows and for a brief instant leaving a thin isthmus of dry road through the middle of the puddle, before the water came surging back in again.
Crazy Legs felt that if you got the timing right, you could have followed the taxi through the puddle, “like Mose’s parting the Red Sea” and kept yourself perfectly dry. Luckily, he didn’t try to attempt this, but was intrigued enough to ride down to have a closer look at this latest flood while we waited.
OGL decided he was getting too cold hanging around and set off for the café with a few amblers. The Big Yin finally re-joined and Crazy Legs skipped ahead to line up some action shots of the remaining stalwarts fording the latest flood.
We then took a route through Hartburn and toward Angerton, reasoning this would be the most likely flood- free run in we could find. As we pushed past Bolam, Taffy Steve made up for the Red Max’s absence with an attack of the front. Jimmy Mac responded and all hell broke loose. I hung on as long as I could, wheezing like a pair of punctured bellows, before dropping down to a more sustainable pace and grinding up the last climb to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve resumed his campaign to get Marmite on the café menu, something he feels is indispensable to his enjoyment of toasted teacake. I think he’s ploughing a lone furrow, but you have to give him kudos for persistence.
Removing his helmet and cap the Prof revealed a precisely drawn line circumscribing his forehead, the gleaming pale skin above the line contrasting sharply with the grey and begrimed features below it. I suggested it looked like he’d had a lobotomy, but he was able to assure me this wasn’t the case, otherwise he’d be a much nicer person!
He recalled an ex-military acquaintance with terrible depression and anger issues, who’d pressed the muzzle of his service revolver to his head and blown a hole right through his skull. Waking up afterwards (with what I rather cavalierly suggested must have been “the mother of all hangovers”) the guy had not only survived, but had undergone a complete personality makeover and became kind, generous, patient and considerate overnight. If only we could guarantee the results, I’d willingly buy the bullets and load the gun.
This in turn led to a brief discussion about trepanning, replete with gory tales of people drilling holes in their own heads, both intentionally and accidentally. I can’t help but think the whine of a Black and Decker biting into my skull, replete with the smell of burning bone would probably be enough to dissuade me from such practices. Still, you can’t say we don’t have wide ranging and, well … different conversations when we’re out on these rides.
I don’t know what set if off, but Crazy Legs then embarked on a rant against all things Charlie Brown and Peanuts and he conducted a quick straw poll around the table to find that no one actually liked this turgid, sentimental tosh (IMHO). Crazy Legs then revealed a disturbing, overwhelming desire to rip Linus’s security blanket out of his pathetic, puny hands and set fire to it. Taffy Steve reasoned that if Charlie Brown was a Geordie (Chaz Broon, if you like) he’d probably smash Lucy’s teeth down her throat the first time she pulled that stupid trick with the football and he most certainly wouldn’t fall for it twice.
This led to recollections of another horror inflicted on British kids by our American cousins: Sherry Lewis and Lambchop. Utterly, totally, dreadful and unforgivable – especially at a time when you only had the choice of two TV channels.
Taffy Steve then revealed the deep emotional scarring he suffered when the family switched from a black and white TV to a colour one and he discovered for the first time that Bagpuss was actually pink!
In a discussion about American vs. British humour Crazy Legs revealed how much he’s enjoying “Parks and Recreation,” while I had to admit I was perhaps the only person who failed to see the comic genius of Ricky Gervais and “The Office.”
This reminds me of my reaction to “The Rider” the book by Tim Krabbe, which as a cyclist I think I’m supposed to like, but found hugely disappointing, disjointed, superficial and all a bit, well … meh. Maybe it’s because the book couldn’t possibly live up to the expectation generated by all the glowing and fulsome praise heaped on it. Then again, maybe the Emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes…
At the café we were reunited with Princess Fiona, Mini-Miss, Brink, Kipper and a few others who had set out late to doubly-ensure they missed any lingering rain. They had apparently tried the road up to the Cheese Farm too, but being eminently more sensible had turned back at the first flooded section and found an alternative, drier route. They would now bolster our numbers for the return journey.
This return leg passed without incident and we found the roads largely dry and free from flooding, even in the one or two trouble spots where we were expecting the worst. It looked like the excess water was finally starting to drain away and Sunday looked like being a perfect riding day.
As I turned off for the solo part of my ride home, I even noticed the sky had brightened enough to throw a shadow down alongside me for some unexpected company.
The river, which had been high, full and racing as I crossed in the morning had now withdrawn to the middle of its course and acquired two wide shorelines of gleaming black mud, like giant basking seals. The traffic on the other side was relatively light and I was soon hauling ass up the Heinous Hill, suitably leg weary, but altogether content. That was fun, floods and all, but perhaps my enthusiasm is directly proportional to just how waterproof my winter boots are proving to be.
YTD Totals: 1,086 km / 674 miles with 11,447 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 9 minutes
Average Speed: 22.3 km/h
Group size: 19 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery
Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.
Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.
Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.
Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.
The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.
Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”
Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.
The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.
Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.
This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.
As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.
Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.
Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.
I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.
The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.
At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.
I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.
I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.
With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.
He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.
The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.
We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.
The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.
As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.
The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.
The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.
We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.
I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:
Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.
I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?
OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.
The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.
OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.
I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.
OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.
On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.
We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?
As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.
Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.
Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.
This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?
How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?
I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.
Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?
And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.
YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km/ 67 miles with 984 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 24.9 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, No FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Cool, bright
Another dry and relatively bright Saturday with no hint of rain and I’m beginning to feel rather spoiled. I could definitely get used to this. The stifling humidity of the past couple of weeks had given way to a cooler and much fresher feeling and it was chilly enough early on for me to pull on a pair of arm warmers for my ride across town.
I found a fairly stiff tailwind pushing me along the valley floor, which soon turned into a headwind as I looped back on the opposite side of the river. Nevertheless, a week away and free from commutes had me fairly fresh-legged and at the meeting point long before anyone else arrived.
The micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre suntrap allowed me to shed the arm warmers and it was very pleasant lounging in the sun while 28 lads and lasses assembled before riding out.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Rab Dee appeared, once again without his new BMC Time Machine which still resides in OGL’s workshop for continued tinkering with the internal cable routing. Perhaps only now are we slowly beginning to understand that the unlikely, overstated moniker isn’t a reflection of how fast the completed bike will be, but simply a consequence of how much time it eats away trying to get it into that completed state.
Relief is apparently at hand however, as OGL has conceived of a cunning plan involving superglue. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing but I wouldn’t be comfortable mixing expensive carbon frames, bottom brackets, internally routed cables and superglue.
G- Dawg and Son of G-Dawg fondly reminisced about their own familial bonding over the integrated carbon handlebar and stem set Son of G-Dawg received as a Christmas present. This took them most of Boxing Day to fit and the remainder of the day to take apart and re-assemble once they worked out where the critical spare component they had left at the end should have slotted in at the beginning. Next year, apparently Son of G-Dawg should expect nothing more technical than a bottle cage and bottle.
The BFG wrestled with something inside his jersey and finally, triumphantly revealed a saddle. A spare saddle? Apparently not, this was a gift for the Monkey Butler Boy, who wants a new bike and is perhaps contemplating building it piece by piece from other people’s cast-offs, something he’ll have to keep well hidden from the Prof, who believes he has the right of first refusal on all cast-off components or randomly encountered roadside detritus.
The BFG reflected that the saddle, nothing more than an unforgiving blade of pure carbon-fibre was “actually quite comfortable” but its sharp edges were wearing holes in his shorts. Now the Monkey Butler Boy has the chance to wear holes in his shorts instead.
I dropped to the back of the group as we set off, slotting in alongside Cowin’ Bovril as we threaded our way out of the city and into the countryside, variously discussing daughters and drinking, both electric and eclectic cars and thunderstorms and flash flooding in Cumbria.
A loud clatter announced that my camera had shaken loose yet again from its mount under my saddle and was bouncing and cartwheeling back down the road. I stopped to retrieve it and found this time I was exonerated of all blame for shoddy fixing as the bracket had simply sheared completely away from the case. I can only guess that this was perhaps a consequence of the accumulated stresses from the horrible road surfaces we ride over, or perhaps it’s just an indictment of shoddy Chinese manufacturing and my own cheapskate buying patterns.
Back on the group we turned off for the Cheese Farm, only to be halted when Grover punctured and we stopped for repairs. He deftly swapped out his tube, slotted his chain back onto his chainring and then stood back to contemplate his be-grimed and oily paws and super-pristine, dazzlingly white bar tape in dismay. Oh. There’s a good reason for sticking to black bar tape.
A long descent followed by a sharp, momentum-robbing right hand turn spat us out at the base of the Mur de Mitford, a real shock to the system for anyone who’d never scaled its hoary ramps before – and anyone getting their gearing hopelessly wrong.
I tried standing on the pedals and sweeping up the outside, but the road surface was damp and greasy and my rear wheel was constantly slipping. “Softly, softly catchy monkey,” OGL called and I followed his advice, dropping back into the saddle and spinning upwards in a more restrained way, moving up from the back to the middle of the pack.
We regrouped again at the top, where another puncture was discovered, although this time the rider insisted he was turning off soon and so urged us to keep going.
We split the group further down the road and I went with the amblers as we tackled the Coldlaw Woods climb, avoiding the slightly harder and longer route up the Trench.
Nevertheless, the climb was still long enough and hard enough to split the group and I joined a small selection off the front with G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, the BFG and Cushty. We waited and regrouped at the top, but the next series of short sharp climbs as we started looping back toward the café splintered the group again and the same five of us rode clear.
I had a chat with Cushty who was wondering when the best time to attack would be. I advised him that with just 20 metres left before the café would be a good time and warned that Son of G-Dawg had rather unfairly decided not to turn up hungover and was assuredly feeling more frisky than last week.
I took the lead as we swung down and around Bolam Lake, pushing the pace as hard as I could through Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As we swooped down and started the drag back up toward the café, Cushty put in his attack and for one, brief, glorious moment he had some daylight. Then the BFG with G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg in tow started to grind their way back to him.
I tagged onto the back of the line as we swept upwards, incurring the wrath of a following car, who generously decided to treat us to an unwarranted blast of his horn. Son of G-Dawg coolly and phlegmatically pointed out to the RIM that he had the whole right hand lane available in all its empty entirety if he wanted to overtake us. As the car sped off Son of G-Dawg jumped, quickly burned off the BFG and then opened a big gap on G-Dawg.
With the BFG transitioning quickly and smoothly from “full-on” to “empty” in one brief nanosecond, I swept around him and gave chase, without ever threatening to close the gap on the front two.
I rolled into the café alongside the BFG who felt the need to retch dramatically from the effort and bemoan the decades long bout of pleurisy that seems to be inhibiting his natural potential.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the raddled confusion from sprint-induced oxygen-deprivation, the BFG’s eyes were playing tricks on him as he imagined one of the waitresses was dressed in some sort of fetish wear, French-maid outfit. He managed to shake himself out of his erotic reveries before it had unforeseen, yet highly visible consequences, reflecting that tight Lycra clothing could occasionally be a dangerous impediment to acceptable social mores.
I reassured him that a cycling helmet would not only make a suitable codpiece, but an eminently impressive one too. Word up.
The BFG then received a disparaging, “I thought we were riding as a group” remark from the belatedly arriving OGL. We were riding as a group, just a little bit ahead and a little bit faster than the group that he was part of.
Retreating quickly to the garden, we were joined by G-Dawg who managed to spill enough coffee on his tray to turn the collected sugar cubes he was reserving for his refill into a slowly dissolving morass which he dumped onto the table to act as a “wasp assault course.”
Szell reported that earlier OGL had been stung by a wasp – not for the first time this year (although he claims the first incident was no mere wasp, but an exotic, mutant, killer hornet). We pondered what the attraction might be.
Someone then wondered if a thin smear of jam on his handlebars might enhance his attractiveness and net him even more attentive followers, perhaps encouraging him to trail a cloud of flying insects in a style reminiscent of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. I uncharitably concluded that he’d then never have to complain about being left to ride alone.
The BFG mentioned that his Local Bike Shop (LBS) had managed to destroy one of his wheels while truing the spokes. I surmised that tweaking your nipples was never a good thing, encouraging Szell to recount a tale about his own extreme version of jogger’s nipple suffered during a “fun run” where the abrasion of his vest caused bleeding “like stigmata.” By the time he’d somehow turned the conversation around to include the phrase “light frotting” I’d luckily managed to tune out.
Meanwhile, Richard of Flanders recounted a brief but seemingly serious interaction (can you have any other?) with old Stone-Face himself, Nairo Quintana and a routinely standard blow off by Cav when requesting a photo op (“Sorry mate, not at the moment”) at the recent Toady France.
He then went on to claim that the number of new cyclists was exactly equal to the number of people who’ve recently given up golf, implying a direct relationship between men in the midst of a mid-life crisis switching from a sport where they wear ridiculous clothing and spend far too much money on ultra-expensive equipment with the false promise that it will make them better, to one where they wear ridiculous clothing and spend far too much money on ultra-expensive equipment with the false promise that it will make them better.
While we were talking we saw our first butterfly of the summer, circling among the shiny plastic bikes, before happily alighting on G-Dawg’s chain, proof it ever it was needed that his was the cleanest of them all.
Someone said if it had landed on Szell’s it would probably still be stuck there, while he fantasised about plucking it up and pressing it into his calf so he could have a butterfly shape to complement the sharply defined and impressively delineated dirty chain-ring tattoo freshly applied to his leg this morning.
At the table opposite we watched jealously as the Monkey Butler Boy was press-ganged into service, handed a tray and sent off to secure coffee refills. I think it should be the ambition of every cycling group to have its own designated Monkey Butler Boy.
Having admirably discharged his coffee refill duties, he next swung his leg over a bike and disappeared around the corner, leaving me to surmise that the café had run out of milk and he was off on an errand to the local shops to buy some more. Sadly, he was back much too quickly for this to be the case and had apparently been trying out his dad’s bike. Just for size, honest.
Crazy Legs looked worryingly up at the blue sky and very high, very benign, fluffy white clouds and declared, “You know, I think it might rain.” He quickly scrambled onto his much cossetted-Ribble and was away before I could even say, “Eh?”
I suspect he was only joking and had to be back at a certain time to discharge family commitments, but then again maybe his finely tuned senses detected an infinitesimal increase in atmospheric moisture and a similarly small, but nonetheless threatening increment in the potential for a few random spots of light precipitation.
The return home was punctuated by Red Max trying to convince the Monkey Butler Boy that if he wanted to improve he needed to eat porridge even if he hated porridge, by employing the simple, perhaps flawed, but indisputably strong argument that all cyclists hate porridge!
I swept through the Mad Mile and pushed on for home, catching a favourable tailwind once I’d crossed the river to ease my way back. Good weather, a decent ride, but ever so slightly too short, too slow and too flat to be truly belter. Still, there’s always next week.
YTD Totals: 4,419 km / 2,745 miles with 43,596 metres of climbing