Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Club Hill Climb, Saturday 8th October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  81 km/50 miles with 713 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 06 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                         34 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and cool


 

hill-climb
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Well, it’s that Saturday again, the one all but the very young, very light or insanely masochistic among us seem to hate with equal measure. It’s a day when people who should know better will hurl themselves up a hill, putting more strain on their bodies in that 6 or 7 minutes of unequal battle with gravity and encroaching decrepitude than anything else they’ve done that year. Or, possibly even more strain than everything they’ve ever done that year.

Of course some of us have realised it’s an unequal, unwinnable battle and have waved the white flag, denying themselves the fundamental, innate, inner-truth of the hill climb test.  The rest of us though, well we’ve yet to see the light and are doomed to repeat our past mistakes, like Sisyphus with his rock and there’s a sort of epic heroism in our struggles.

I have to admit the hill climb has been lurking at the back of my mind since late August, with a mixture of unease and trepidation. You recall the pain from the previous year, but after so long it tends to fade just a little, and there’s always the hope that somehow, some way, it’ll be different this time. It never is. The best you can hope for is that it’s worth it and you’re happy with your final time.

Actual preparation began on Wednesday and Thursday, when the commute into work was an opportunity to trial a new pair of shoes before riding out to the hill climb and discovering they’re uncomfortable and crippling. Then on Friday I swapped the single-speed for the winter bike so I could take it a bit easier on the way home and use the gears to avoid my typical gurning, body contorting and leg-straining, out-of-the-saddle grind up the Heinous Hill.

On Saturday morning I drove across to our meeting point, which not only saved my legs a little but also afforded me an extra half an hour in bed –  I like bed, so it’s not a luxury to be sniffed at. It also ensured I was back at about the usual time and didn’t have to worry about night encroaching on my slow and wasted crawl home.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

The ailing BFG defended his decision not to do the hill climb and claimed he had a note from his doctor. “That’s nothing,” The Red Max countered, “I’m not doing the hill climb and I’ve got a note from me Mam.”

The Prof arrived on the Frankenbike rather than one of his myriad, small-wheeled velocipedes, leading to speculation that he must, surely have applied for a BUE.

Crazy Legs was reporting a less than ideal prep, a lingering cold that he’d unsuccessfully tried to burn away with a midweek ride, but felt he was starting to recover now.

The Son of G-Dawg also described less than ideal preparation, when his planned early night was waylaid by the seductive charms of an Indian takeaway, several large drinks and some late night boxing on the TV. Still, he happily concluded that he was becoming used to riding with a hangover and too-little sleep and anything different might have been disconcerting.

The BFG admitted he hadn’t attended our newly convened and hugely successful social night out because he “couldn’t be bothered.” Sigh, doesn’t he realise that apathy is a leading cause of, you know, whatever…


Somewhat fresher than usual then, I joined 30 or so clubmates, a mix of both the doomed and the hill-climb-deniers, as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, starting to wend our way up the Tyne Valley to our destination 25 mile or so to the west: Prospect Hill, just outside Corbridge.

The scene of our self-induced, masochistic debasement is a 1.5km long climb at a 7% average incline with a maximum gradient of 15.5%. It’s a fairly narrow, twisting track that runs upwards through 9 bends and I don’t think it would be fair to describe the road surface as somewhat challenging.

As we set out, I dropped in beside the BFG, who’s had one of his knees condemned and is awaiting micro-surgery. They’re going to drill holes in him and have a bit of a poke around to see what they can find. I think he’s hoping the procedure will not only cure a long-standing injury, but might also produce beneficial weight savings.

Today he was struggling and complaining that his tendons were as taut as harp strings. My sympathy was somewhat tempered by a fascination about what sort of Ennio Morricone, “Fistful of Dollars” type soundtrack he might be able to generate on long descents, with the wind whistling through the holes in his knees and his hamstrings twanging away like a demented, drunken harpist.

He also confided he’d been skipping this blog as he hadn’t been riding with us and he wasn’t interested if he didn’t feature. An understandable attitude, but one that I’m afraid is based on a mistaken assumption.

Lingering discomfort would eventually persuade the BFG to turn for home early, but before this he was delighted to overhear a conversation between the two riders behind him:

“Been riding long?”

“I’m Dutch…”

Cue long, long silence.

Q.E.D?

I glanced behind and, sure enough saw Mellstock Quire riding alongside our new Dutch friend, De Uitheems Bloem, who was once again dressed from head to toe in heavy-duty, black garb, with only a tiny crescent of pale flesh showing between his shades and high collar. I can’t help wondering how much more he can actually don to protect himself once the weather turns really cold and if he might end up resembling a Michelin Man in negative.

Looking at his typical grimpeur frame, Crazy Legs then questioned Mellstock about his weight and concluded glumly that he was not only giving away an advantage of over 20 kilos but probably an equal number of years as well.

We swooped down into the Tyne valley and raced en masse through the villages, where at one point we were greeted by cheers and prolonged clapping. (I can only assume they don’t get out much.)

“What, no cow bells?” Crazy Legs commented and for a brief, dread instant I thought he was channelling his inner Cowin’ Bovril and complaining there were “no cowin’ bells.”

We then became entangled with a bunch of MTB’ers as we all jostled for hedge space at our traditional pee stop – and evidently theirs too. We finally managed to extricate ourselves and made it to the course in good order, where Taffy Steve and the Red Max led the deniers away on a more traditional group ride.

Everyone else was then left to mill around, causing traffic chaos and blocking the road while signing on and building our own version of a modest, chaste and wholly innocent circle jerk in order to pin numbers onto one another’s backs.

Although by no means warm, the weather was much kinder than last year, when a cold, dank and dreary mizzle had engulfed the hillside and chilled us all to the bone. This had not only made hanging around to start almost unbearable, but made a complete mockery of any warm-up attempts. This time I shed my jacket with far less reluctance, and began to empty pockets and unload the bike of bottles and anything else that could be easily stripped off to save that crucial, scintilla of weight.

Zardoz approached as I was shuffling reluctantly toward the start line, clapped his hands on my helmet and dragged my head round so I faced him directly. “Just making sure I can remember how you look with actual blood in your face!” he quipped, before walking away chuckling to himself.

I slotted into line between a pensive looking Monkey Butler Boy and Richard of Flanders, already poised at the timing gate for his roll-out. Crazy Legs was somewhat horrified to see him still in the big ring, but he was gone before anyone suggested he change down – I guessed there was a very good chance he’d realise his mistake fairly early on.

I had a brief chat with the Monkey Butler Boy who was looking forward to catching me and gurning into the camera still slung under my saddle. I asked which side he was going to pass me on, but to be honest I didn’t expect to see him unless I was having an outrageously bad day – always a possibility, but thankfully not a probability.

At the start line we had two volunteers who clamped onto my bike and held it rock steady. Mrs. Prof, press-ganged into helping out with the timing called out at the 30 second mark and I clipped in and waited, exchanging a few words with Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril who were riding on up ahead to provide vocal encouragement to all, but especially Carlton’s young son doing his first hill climb.

10-9-8-7-6. A last deep breath.

5-4-3-2-1. I rocked my weight forward and was off to a chorus of shouts, probably stealing a full second on the “Go!” command, spinning up to a decent speed as the first corner approached quickly and the road started to kick upwards.

I threaded the needle between Cowin’ Bovril and Carlton, out of the saddle with the front wheel snaking extravagantly from side to side. Apparently Cowin’ Bovril pulled a celebratory wheelie as I bundled past, but tunnel vision had already descended and I saw nothing but a flash of hi-viz yellow and heard nothing beyond my harsh panting, each breath resounding in my ears like a damaged steam train pulling a heavy load through a long, uphill tunnel.

But … I was through the steepest and hardest section of the climb and unlike previous years I wasn’t yet getting that hollowed-out, empty feeling in my legs as all the strength drained away. Now the only limit seemed to be how much oxygen I could bundle through to my already burning lungs, yet I couldn’t work out how I could breathe any harder or any faster. Now I understand the allure of EPO or blood-doping if it increases the aerobic capabilities and efficiency of your body – how much faster could you go if you could just stoke more fuel onto the fire?

The rest of the ride was a blur of fleeting images and impressions, punctuated always by my harsh, bellowing, rasping breaths:  a tantalising glimpse of Richard of Flanders just up ahead on the one long, straight section, picking my way carefully through hissing and spitting gravel around a bend, a random mother and child walking up the hill and cheering me onwards, a careful and considerate driver trying to pick their way down the hill and give me as much room as possible, looping across the road to avoid a deep, ugly divot carved out of the apex of a corner and the tiger-striped pattern of tree shadows thrown across the road by a low, bright sun.

Then a clump of colour coalesced into a group of people at the finish line. Hating myself, I clicked down once and then again and tried to pick the tempo up for one last push … and then it was over, I was through and done for another year and could slow to a juddering halt and hang gasping over the top tube, panting harder than a fat, black Labrador locked inside an airless car abandoned in Death Valley at midday.


wlf
Finishing fast and gripped by white line fever. With thanks to Craig Cushing for the photo.

Several minutes seemed to crawl past as I hung there, trying to control seemingly out-of-control panting, until the pain and tightness stated to ebb away and I could look up. A few yards further back Son of G-Dawg hung similarly boneless and loose limbed across his bike, chest heaving, while on the grass verge before him Richard of Flanders lay prostrate and in evident distress. I was just beginning to worry when he started to stir and pull himself together, returning from whatever dark place his efforts had driven him, either that or his prayer session had ended prematurely.

Making my way back to the finish, I saw Crazy Legs ploughing across the line and dropping to the side of the road in a tangle of limbs. I gave him a minute or two to recover and approached carefully. He looked up at me myopically through a fog of hypoxia induced delirium and began to plead, “Paul, you’re my friend. Please, please say you don’t want to do this anymore, so I’ve got an excuse to stop as well.”

Of course, ten minutes later, somewhat recovered and realising he’d smashed his previous best time, he was already planning next year’s assault.

With the conditions near perfect, everyone seemed to be on their game and riding well. Bez won in a new course record of 4.00 – agonisingly close to a sub-4.00 ride and we had two of the youth team crack the top 10. The amount of young talent in the club at the moment is incredible (and somewhat daunting to us old dinosaurs.)

Standout performance of the day however has to go to Zardoz, whose genial, avuncular façade of a twinkle-eyed octogenarian, hides the dark-heart of a cold-blooded assassin. Not planning to ride at all he decided at the last moment to give it a go, completing the course in a hugely credible time of 6:24 while riding stripped down to his string vest, extravagant handlebar moustache bristling magnificently and, tweed plus-fours flapping wildly in the wind.

Although (as ever) employing a questionable degree of artistic licence and hyperbole, it’s worth pausing to note that the estimable Zardoz is a super-fit, hyper enthusiastic, 69 years young and did in fact strip down to a base layer for the climb. Obviously he doesn’t feel the cold like us “young ‘uns” – which is perhaps the legacy of him and his wife partaking in early morning swims in the North Sea every day, all year round – regardless of the weather!

For my own part, I managed a time of 6:00, taking into account the second I may, or may not have stolen at the start. That’s a decent 16 seconds faster than last year and I’m still improving, which is a shame as I’ve convinced myself I can honourably retire as soon as my times start slipping backwards.


hill-climb-times
A progression of sorts.

By the time we’d wound our way back down the hill to the start, the last rider was already off and running. We collected our kit and started to make our way to the café at the Brockbushes Garden Centre, perhaps the least welcoming, unfriendliest place known to cycling kind.

In years past, OGL has called into the café on the morning of the hill climb to let them know we’d be descending en masse afterwards. This common courtesy and guarantee of additional custom however had earned us no consideration whatsoever and we always seem to be an unwelcome imposition that earned service with a snarl.

But first we had to get there, which meant crossing the river and climbing up the other side of the valley, no small feat when even the camber on the bridge hurts legs already brutalised by the hill climb. Still the lure of richly deserved cake and coffee, even in such an unwelcoming venue, was not to be denied.

Access to the garden centre is through a narrow, dark tunnel that dives under the main A69 dual-carriageway. I pulled Crazy Legs back  as a car was barrelling through the tunnel toward us as we approached. Once the way was clear we pushed on through and had almost made it out the other side when the tunnel was filled almost wall to wall with a massive Chelsea Tractor, the driver of which was travelling fast and blind, with no consideration of what might be coming the other way.

She saw us late in darkness that was such a sharp contrast to the bright and low winter sun outside and stamped on the brakes while we swept around to either side. Obviously discomfited by having to slow down and interrupt her journey by a massive 10 seconds, the driver wound-down her window and announced in an incredibly disgruntled, plummy voice, “This is quite ridiculous!”

“Yes. You are.” I heartily agreed with her. Seriously, I would have tugged my forelock if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, what more did she want?

We usually park around the back and enter the café through the rear, but the fence was firmly closed and chained off this time around. If I was cynical I might have felt they’d rushed out to lock us out of this section as soon as they got wind of our arrival, but probably not. As it was we had to make do with sitting perched on a narrow apron of concrete out front, enjoying the beautiful vista of a half-full car park.

We stacked our bikes up and made for the doors while I suggested the piano and all conversation was going to stop as soon as we crossed the threshold and predicted all the in-breeds would turn and fix us with glassy, malevolent stares. Still, cake and coffee wait for no man. Onward, brave cyclists!

 


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Approaching the almost empty counter, Crazy Legs had barely opened his mouth to place his order when the cashier jumped in;

“I’ve already had one lot of youse in here. I’ve got 6 staff off sick and I’m under-manned, you’ll have to wait for your order. We’ll get to it as soon as we can.”

Err, ok then. We just checked they knew where we would be sitting, that they would bring our orders out to us, paid up and beat a hasty retreat. It’s an interesting concept in customer care, but I’m not sure it deserves to catch on.

Mind you, for all that the coffee, when it did arrive was good.

OGL had a laugh at Yoshi as he waddled past like a pregnant duck, his back pockets resembling a lumpy makeshift bustle, so stuffed were they with bottles, spares and tools. His explanation: “Bottle cages are heavy.”

Another weight handicap was discovered when a large, somnolent bee was rescued from Crazy Leg’s back, where it had been hitching a free ride for goodness knows how long. I suspect it was even more debilitating than the bottle cages, or the money spider I was transporting last week, after all bees are notoriously un-aerodynamic aren’t they. Next year, without the uninvited guest he might be able to ride the course even faster.


The ride home was conducted at a fast pace that left little room for talking, as I hung on grimly while one of our racing snakes – Johnny Reb, the King of Spin hammered away on the front. It was an interesting form of warm-down, but at least got us home in good time.

I’m not sure I slept much on Saturday night, rather I think I simply blacked out for long periods. Still recovery is well underway now, the climbers cough slowly diminishing in frequency and force and we now have a full year’s grace before we have to start thinking about that damn hill again.


YTD Totals: 5,533 km / 3,438 miles with 54,079 metres of climbing

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly


ride-profile-oct-1
Ride Profile

The Ride:

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

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

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

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

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

‘How do. Having problems?’

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

‘Let’s have a look, then’

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

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

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

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

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the start:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I Luv the Valley OH!

I Luv the Valley OH!

Club Run, Saturday 30th April, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,044 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 37 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.0 km/h

Group size:                                        24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, bit chilly

 

Main topic of conversation at the start:

The BFG was sporting new and very, very shiny shoes and could be seen occasionally pausing to admire his own smile reflected in their supreme shininess. He ventured some tale about finagling a free tooth-whitening session as part of the process for having dental veneers fitted and I suggested he’d missed a trick and could have taken colour co-ordination to a new level, if only he’d matched his teeth to his wooden rims.

Although forgoing rim-coloured teeth, he had invested a small fortune on just the right colour of new socks, reasoning that nothing in his old wardrobe could quite do the extreme shininess of his new shoes justice.

Taffy Steve unzipped his saddle bag to reveal everything within was individually wrapped in little plastic bags, carefully labelled and incredibly neatly organized. I felt he’d possibly missed his vocation organising handbags for socialites, or maybe stashes for drug lords. He explained that everything needed individual wrapping because his saddle bag wasn’t weatherproof. The BFG suggested copious amounts of silicone sealant on the zip would perhaps make it watertight, if less than functional.

The Prof disappeared around the corner and we speculated he’d spotted more castoff treasure he was now swooping in to claim. “Just watch,” the BFG instructed, “He’ll come back shaking the piss off some old abandoned glove or something.” He returned empty handed however and I don’t know who was the more disappointed, him or us.

G-Dawg surmised that OGL was very unlikely to show as he’d last been seen early on Friday evening be-kilted, supine and already ever so slightly inebriated, during one of the many events in the month long wedding celebrations to honour the King of the Grogs.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The BFG revealed that, in the days long before he determined hair was debilitatingly un-aerodynamic and decided to stop using it, he’d been a 6’6” Goth with hugely spiky hair, commonly referred to as “The Krogan.”

The hairstyle had been achieved using hazardous chemicals on an industrial scale, including a dangerously combustible mix of several tins of hairspray, super-strength hair wax, red hot crimping irons and prolonged backcombing with a garden rake.

He suggested that using these techniques he’d been able to achieve a Sideshow Bob barnet of unsurpassed magnificence, but one that any stray spark might have turned into a towering inferno. “Like Michael Jackson” he prompted, but all I could visualise was a wellhead fire.


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Brewster joined us at the table with a dire tale of how his friend had snapped the steerer tube on his Scott Speedster bike while trying to climb up Heinous Hill. The story was illustrated with photos of the well trashed bike, the rider narrowly avoiding being run over by the following car and managing to escape with only superficial injuries. Luckily the accident hadn’t happened going downhill at great speed – a sobering thought and one that suggests it’s best not to ignore bike recall warnings.

[NB: Scott voluntarily recalled about 8,000 2014 Speedster road bikes worldwide “due to a finding that the steerer tube in the front fork could break, creating a possible fall hazard,” according to a statement issued by the company. Judging from Brewster’s story it would seem the danger is very real.]

We determined that bikes made of graphene and carbon nanotubes were the future, but would requiring chaining up at all times when unattended, in case they blew away.

The Prof sidled up to the table to invite the BFG to join some of them on a longer ride home. The BFG instantly agreed, but then lined up with the rest of us for the normal route back. He was perhaps mindful of a hugely enjoyable ride he’d taken earlier in the week, returning home smiling and full of joie de vivre, only to be confronted by a scowling Mrs. BFG standing arms-crossed, coat buttoned up and foot tapping furiously. Being late for a family appointment = serious buzzkill.


ride 30 april
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

I was almost ready to leave early Saturday morning when a quick and frantic search finally revealed my phone still in my jacket pocket from Friday’s commute and with a battery as flat as a flounder. Wanting to carry it in case of any emergencies, I decided to modify my route and delay the departure long enough to trickle a little life back into it. It had managed to suck up a charge of around 20% by the time I decided it was time to leave – it would have to do.

My revised route cut around 3 or 4 miles off my journey at the expense of a short distance travelling along a dual carriageway. This is usually quiet enough early in the morning, but I guess it only takes one idiot. This time that was exemplified by a racing hatchback that screamed past me, much too close and much too fast, before undertaking and cutting dangerously in front of another car. A nice little adrenaline spike to start the day. Perfect.

Perhaps the jolt helped me scramble up the other side quicker than usual, as the next time I looked at my Garmin it was 8:52 and I’d done 8:52 miles and was closing in on the meeting point. I was one of the earliest to arrive and along with Aveline and the BFG I was able to sit sheltered from the wind and soak up some welcome, warming sun.

With no OGL we left the route up to G-Dawg who quickly gathered consensus for a too rare trip down into the Tyne Valley – quiet roads, a picturesque route, great descents, but of course some serious climbing to get out again.

The only other obstacle was the riverside road that had been undercut and washed out by some recent flooding, but we were assured there was still a narrow path traversable by bike and as an added bonus it was now completely closed to cars.

24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and managed to instantly annoy a bus driver before we’d even cleared the meeting point. He wasn’t prepared to wait for us all to pass, so in an act either born of pure ignorance or simple malice, he pulled out into the middle of our throng, muscling his lumbering double-decker in between us. This left the front of the group squashed up waiting by the traffic lights while the rest were caught behind, being intensely fumigated by the diesel belching out the back of the bus. It seems we have a rare talent for annoying drivers just by occupying a bit of public highway.

Finally, out onto the open roads, fresh air and into a cold wind, we found it was still quite chilly, especially when the sun was occasionally shrouded by high racing clouds which felt like someone leaving the door open in an Arctic weather station. Shut the bloody door!


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At some point I rode with Taffy Steve and we spent some time reminiscing about all things 2000AD: Rogue Trooper, Ace Garp and Strontium Dog et al. Judge Dredd and the League of Fatties seemed to be a particular high point for him.

He then regaled me with the observations about the increasingly shrill exclamations of Geordie women and contrasted this with the surprisingly low, rumbling, bone vibrating timbre of their Scouse counterparts.

We were soon dropping into the Tyne Valley, the road a long sinuous curve of smooth tarmac that encouraged you to build and maintain speed all the way down. A few were bending low and tucking in, but dropping into their slipstream I had no trouble keeping up with minimal effort and without any extreme body contortions.


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A long line of us carved our way down the hill and through the first of the sleepy villages dotted along the river bank. Just before we hit the washed out section of road a pee stop was called and a couple of the girls pushed on down the hill to try and find a “ladies room.”

A few minutes later a rather ashen-faced mountain biker hauled himself past us. “Are those two girls with you lot?” he enquired. I answered in the affirmative, and he shook his head and declared rather unsteadily, “Err, they’re done with whatever they were doing!”

Then he pedalled stolidly past trying to retain some modicum of dignity. “There,” beZ wryly noted, “Is a man who doesn’t live with women.”

The washed out section of the river road was indeed passable, although a little muddy in places and just as advertised, completely free of cars.

Once clear we rolled through a massive Gymkhana, marvelling at the vast array of expensive 4×4’s parked up in a field, each one with its own horsebox. They’re not shy of a bob or two around here. Some kids were having their own event in a separate field and I was astonished at just how round some of the ponies were, like barrels with little legs.

“Aren’t they all incredibly fat?” one of the girls asked, I agreed, suggesting it must be how they were bred. “I didn’t mean the horses!” she countered. Meow.

We clambered up a few hills to reach the junction of the road we could take down into Corbridge and waited for a few backmarkers. A quick headcount determined that Another Engine was still adrift and as we waited dark murmurings about the approaching climb began to circulate, along with worrying and frankly blasphemous rumours that G-Dawg might need to use the inner ring.

Sneaky Pete sneaked back down the road to see if he could locate Another Engine, leaving G-Dawg to wonder who he should send out next if Sneaky Pete didn’t return. Just as he was about to select a new sacrificial lamb though, both riders hauled themselves into view.


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We seemed to snake back and through and around Corbridge, caught in its labyrinthine one-way system for an age, before it spat us out onto Aydon Road, apparently a 4th Category Strava Climb: 1.6km at an average gradient of 6%. It wasn’t as bad as forecast, G-Dawg’s inner ring remained blissfully untroubled and we were soon regrouping and heading back onto familiar roads.

I used the climb out of Matfen to skip from the back to the front of the group. As we turned off for the Quarry Climb we were all strung out and it was decided we’d press on, but regroup at the top of the climb.


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Having crested the Quarry, I pulled over with G-Dawg and Son, but no one else seemed bothered and the BFG set off on a push for the café. I belatedly gave chase, leaving the G-Dawg Collective to handicap themselves even further, before they instigated a two-up team time trial in pursuit of everyone else.

With a sizeable gap to make up I dived downhill after the front-runners, braking late and hard for a junction and sweeping round on the wrong side of the road when the “Clear” call went up. I managed to tag onto the back of the group and then work my way slowly forward.

The smell of coffee must have been in the air as the BFG pushed hard and a gap opened. Taffy Steve pulled me across leaving everyone else behind as we thundered along.

I was now hanging onto the coat tails of two big, powerful units, capable of laying down huge watts and both much faster than me in straight line speed. They also made great wind blocks though and I started surfing the wheels, kicking the pedals hard around 3 or 4 times then freewheeling for a bit in an attempt to conserve energy.

With the BFG skittering all over the road like Ilnur Zakarin contesting a sprint, Taffy Steve started to get nervous and tried nudging ahead. The BFG though seemed to take this as a personal affront and responded. My acceleration to close coincided with the road starting to rise up slightly. I jumped past the two, kicking out of the saddle to attack up the slope and drive up and over the top.

I opened up a small advantage before the BFG closed me down and passed me with the admonishment, “You cheeky beggar, you can’t do that!” But I had – and I’d managed to shake Taffy Steve loose as well. Now there were just the two of us, at high speed, wheels skipping and skittering on the rough surface, rattling and thrumming, my whole body braced and shaking as the pace increased again.

The road dipped a little and the BFG smashed it, stomping hard on the pedals to try and pull away. I was now out of gears and out of breath, with no hope of any freewheeling, fixated on the wheel in front. Slowly the elastic began to stretch and the gap between our wheels grew even as I slid onto the drops and tucked my head down. The gap became a couple of feet as the road slowly levelled and then the faintest of rises took the edge of the BFG’s speed and I clawed back up to him.

The road dipped again and the BFG buried himself in one last massive effort and then sat up slightly to look over his right shoulder to see nothing but empty road. He seemed to hesitate slightly and then slowly looked over his left shoulder to find me sitting there grinning up at him like some malevolent gnome.

“Oh!” he sounded somewhat surprised, “You’re still there.” And then the fight seemed to leave him, he laughed, swore loudly and eased. His speed dropped and I shamelessly and cruelly mugged him, sliding past to open up clear air long before we hit the Snake Bends. A marvellous piece of devilish wheel-sucking skulduggery that only a low-down snake like Simon Gerrans could possibly approve of.

I crossed the junction to ride up the carpet-bombed country lane in splendid isolation, while everyone seemed to take the shorter faster main route. I still made the café just behind the front group spearheaded by the charging G-Dawg tag team.

On the way back there was just time for Taffy Steve and I to ponder if Crazy Legs and The Red Max would make a suitable “Odd Couple” – I had Max pegged as Oscar Madison and Crazy Legs as the neat freak Felix Unger, but then I thought about all of Taffy Steve’s little ordered baggies in his saddle bag…


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For some reason we then decided that Castelli should adopt a more accurate sizing guide based on Lord of the Rings characters, so no longer would you need to order XXXL if you wanted a medium jersey, you would just order an Aragorn. Racing Snakes would need a Legolas, while for those with a fuller figure a Gimli would be required. We both agreed we knew one or two Treebeard’s as well as some “tricksy little hobbitses.”

Our hugely intellectual cogitations were rudely interrupted by a small, ancient hatchback that came beetling along the narrow lane. The RIM obviously thought he was driving a massive, road-hogging Hummer and braked to a stop in the middle of the road, obviously befuddled that we hadn’t immediately pulled over to doff our caps and allow him passage.

As I rode past grinning hugely, the Alpha male driver made one of those furious WTF gestures and I couldn’t resist giving him a very cheery wave back. Somewhat incensed he punched his hand down hard onto the horn and the car emitted a very belated, weak, completely innocuous and comical little, “Parp, parp!” OMG – I nearly rode into Noddy!

I was still chuckling over that many miles later as I dragged myself back up the hill and safely home.


YTD Totals: 2,406 km / 1,495 miles with 22,603 metres of climbing