As we hurtle our way toward the shortest day of the year, I was consoled by the thought that, while it was barely dawn out on the road, this was the darkest I’d find it travelling in to the meeting point – from here on in the mornings were going to be getting lighter and hopefully a bit warmer too.
Not that that would be hard given the low starting point, although a slight improvement on last week when the sub-zero temperatures kept me indoors. I wasn’t the only one either, as we had the lowest turnout for an official club run that’s possible, with just G-Dawg and Carlton braving the freezing conditions. (Any less than two and in my mind, it becomes a solo ride, not a club run.) I’d taken one look at the half-inch of frozen snow and glittering roads and decided not to risk it.
As it was, last week’s brave pioneers had found a workable ride, sticking strictly to bus routes in the hope that all the roads would have been treated for ice to keep public transport up and running. This proved a valuable test for this week too, as, with the temperatures hovering barely above freezing we decided to stick to the same route, with hopefully the same results.
G-Dawg had even taken a drive around the intended route the day before just to check the conditions – a sacrifice that’s either above and beyond the call of duty, or indicative of the fact that since retiring he has far too much time on his hands. Maybe both?
Unfortunately, this service didn’t include the roads from my house to the meeting point, so actually getting across was my first major test. I decided to stick wholly to the main roads, travelling out to Blaydon before doubling back with a bit of dual-carriageway surfing to get me to the Scotswood Bridge. I crossed the river there, and then it was just my usual route out of the valley via Denton Burn.
This lopped a couple of miles off and got me to the meeting point a little early, so I started to pootle around a bit until I discovered you didn’t have to travel far off the main arterial roadways to find a whole heap of ice, which somewhat curtailed my random peregrinations.
I retraced my steps carefully and made my way to the High Street, figuring this would be a more sensible approach than cutting through the backstreets. Here the main obstacle were the pedestrians who’d taken to walking in the cycle lanes because all the pavements were ice-bound and slippery. I soon discovered that the area around where we wait was similarly one big ice sheet and stopping, I climbed off gingerly, testing carefully for traction underfoot.
Unsurprisingly G-Dawg was the first to arrive, followed shortly afterwards by Cowin’ Bovril. For a long spell it looked like it was going to be just the Three Unwise Men, until Aether and Biden Fecht finally bolstered our numbers and we had a chat about the coldest temperatures we’d ever experienced, Aether winning hands down with a chilly -17℃ while out in the wilds of Braemar.
OGL drove in, oddly dressed for cycling, but seemingly with no intention of actually riding. He’d apparently shown up just for one of his little inspirational chats which are fast becoming a bit of a winter tradition. This he duly delivered, managing to touch on all the usual tropes we’d predicted, how it was so lethally icy in his street he almost couldn’t get the car out, let alone a bike, how all the roads, no matter which route we took would be dangerously hazardous, that he’d heard news from a vague “out in the country” that conditions were far more treacherous than we could possibly imagine and how we were all certifiably insane. To this he added a new wrinkle – telling us if we crashed we’d probably have to wait 5 hours for an ambulance because of the ongoing industrial action, and A&E would be a nightmare. Great. Thanks for that – it’s always good to spread a little Christmas cheer.
Speaking of which, today was our designated Christmas jumper ride. G-Dawg and Aether had gone the whole hog, while Jimmy Mac, Cowin’ Bovril and me went a bit more half-arsed with festive T-shirts over our usual kit. I’d compounded matters by promptly hiding mine under a waterproof jacket when a sharp shower caught me half way across the river and the jacket remained on for the rest of the ride.
Meanwhile, Carlton and Biden Fecht were relying wholly on their cheerful demeanours to outwardly manifest some form of festive cheer. (Good luck with that!) All in all then, this was a rather subdued Christmas Jumper ride, with no elf’s in hot pants, flowing white Santa Claus beards, no reindeer horns poking out of helmets and no bikes adorned with tinsel, lights or jingling bells.
By the time OGL felt he’d inspired everyone enough that he could leave, Carlton arrived and so it was obviously time to go, so we shuffled carefully across the pavement and then equally carefully across the tarmac of the bus concourse, where a metallic bloom of spilled diesel hinted at other hazards waiting to rob us of traction. I idly wondered if frozen diesel was any more slippery than common or garden black ice, but no one knew … Away we went.
I nudged onto the front with G-Dawg, and had a prime view of a little old lady driver trying to overtake us around a bend and just before a roundabout. She had to brake to a stop as she came almost bumper to bumper with an approaching car. Madness. I wish I could say it was an isolated incident too, but we were later subject to an identical manoeuvre played out at greater speed, the oncoming driver having to brake sharply, while the overtaking lunatic swerved back into his own lane, only a metre or so off our front wheels. We were also subject to the classic overtake, sharp cut in and then sudden braking to a stop to turn into a driveway. Oh joy.
Biden Fecht wondered if this was some kind of special day, when they let all the loons out into the community, but I was able to reassure him it was just a normal day driving around Newcastle.
As we approached Kingston Park we picked up the waiting Jimmy Mac and I ceded the front to him as we worked our way up through Callerton, finding our first patches of slushy ice on the road, enough for a few of us to start the cautionary cyclist’s liturgy,: “Don’t brake. Don’t lean. Don’t accelerate. Don’t breathe. No sudden movements. Nice and easy.”
Heading down toward the River Pont we got the call that Carlton was a bit worried by the pressure in his tyre, so was stopping to top it up, despite my assertion that the lower pressure probably helped with grip – well, at least until the point where he was rolling along on the rim. We reached the junction of the lane and pulled over to wait, which gave Richard Rex the chance to join us, having been delayed traversing the ice sheet in his estate to get to the main road and chasing us ever since.
As the wait lengthened and the cold started to bite, we discussed options for quick puncture repairs in adverse conditions and the perils of using CO2 inflators in cold conditions, when you ran a real risk of freezing your hands to the canister, or the inflator to your valve – in which case I could only recommend peeing on the frozen accoutrements to set yourself free.
Jimmy Mac regaled us with his experiences using Muc-Off BAM! … err, Bottled Air Magic!, if you will. This promised to not only reinflate his tyre, but seal the leak, all in one rather over-sized, over-priced and garishly branded package. After carrying this little burden around for months, he finally got o deploy it while heading home on a very rainy day, when naturally no one wants to spend time at the side of the road fiddling with tyre levers, spare tubes and pumps. Unfortunatley, for Jimmy Mac and Muc-Off, the product didn’t quite work as advertised and Jimmy Mac found himself burning through the rest of his cache of CO2 canisters trying to keep his tyre inflated while he limped home, having become strangely fixated on getting back without having to replace the tube, no matter what the cost.
Carlton finally re-joined us and we were about to get underway again, when Cowin’ Bovril interrupted, “Hold on, hold on. I’ve got shit in my shoe.” This seemed rather novel to us – we’d heard of peeing in a wetsuit to stay warm, but never crapping in your own footwear to ward off frozen toes? We were just trying to decide if the ends justified the means when Cowin’ Bovril clarified that he just had a bunch of crud caught in his cleats. Somewhat relieved, we waited for him to clear it and on we went.
North through Stamfordham we followed the route out to West Belsay, then nipped down the A696 to the cafe stop at Belsay. The cafe was surprisingly jam-packed, all the tables full and there were even one or two cyclists in there, proving we weren’t the only ones braving the conditions. At one point Richard Rex half-jokingly suggested we might have to sit outside, but I had every faith in the glacially slow service and so it proved – by the time we were finally served a few tables had cleared and we were able to nab a seat by the entrance. Here Cowin’ Bovril was put to use as a doorman, even though by all rights anyone who can even vaguely recall Rhoda knows it’s a job reserved for Carlton.
We had an interesting-only-to-us chat about the club website, where apparently the promise of some seasonal rides would be posted, despite the fact that no one actually visits the site. G-Dawg, perhaps sensing the lacklustre response to the Christmas jumper ride was all for designating next weeks club run as a sequel, but it’ll be Christmas Eve, so I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be getting a pass out from the family for that one. In fact the final run of the year will be New Years Eve and that’s not likely either, so my year is probably done.
We shuffled out of cafe and set off for home, eschewing our usual route through the quiet and likely ungritted lanes to Ogle, instead looping through Whalton and Shilvington, then past the cafe at Kirkley. Again sticking to the main roads, we by-passed Berwick Hill to route through Ponteland, so I had company for a bit of the route I usually do solo, before I turned off to head home.
And, in all likelihood, that’s 2022 in the bag, a year which seemed to get a little darker, a little more dangerous and we all seemed to become a little bit more divided. I’m not sure I can do anything much, beyond trying to ride my bike a little more. Anyway, hopefully brighter days are just around the corner, so see you on the other side…
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 17th December 2022|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 06 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||95km/59 miles with 774m of climbing|
|Group Size:||9 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Brrrrr.|
|End of the year:||5,215km/3,240 miles with 57,127m of climbing|