Well back to a normal club run affairs after a mischievous and thoroughly enjoyable dabbling with time trials. Well, almost back to normal. This weekend marked the sombre, 2nd anniversary of the untimely death of club mate, Gavin Husband, who collapsed and died while riding home at the end of a Saturday club run.
Gavin occasionally graced this humble blerg in the guise of Benedict, but my inane witterings went no way toward capturing the kindness and generosity of spirit that were the hallmarks of the man. His first memorial ride had passed in a never-ending deluge of Biblical proportions, which somehow seemed appropriate to the occasion and at least made it unforgettable. This time around things looked significantly more agreeable.
Biden Fecht organised the ride utilising one of Gavin’s old routes and had thrown it open to anyone who knew Gavin, regardless of any club affiliation. He’d also set up a Just Giving page to raise money for the Great North Air Ambulance, while Gavin’s widow was set to meet us at the cafe for a moment of remembrance.
I was slightly late leaving the house, so modified my usual route to take in the climb of Hospital Lane. I’d learned from my Clickbait adventures that this would shave about a mile off my route and save me 4 or 5 minutes, at the cost of a stiffer climb out of the valley. This worked to perfection and I reached the meeting point bang on 09.00 to find a fairly large group already assembled.
I had a chance for a long overdue catch up with Kermit, before Biden Fecht briefed in the route and we started to get groups out and away. A sizeable first group was followed by an over-sized second group, so I hung back to join a rather diminished third joining Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve and a handful of others.
Within minutes of our grand depart a couple of drivers saluted our cycling prowess with a stunning duet, a near note perfect rendition of what I believe was Mozart’s 4h Horn Concerto, although I have to admit I’ve always been tone death. Minutes later, white van man’s contribution was less tuneful and slightly more strident. He seemed deeply troubled by something or other on this fine, fine morning, but I couldn’t work out was bothering him.
The aural assaults were bad enough, but then a white ‘hot hatch’ came screaming past us on a bend and nearly lost it on the roundabout ahead, rising up until the two nearside wheels almost lifted off the ground, before slamming down again and fishtailing wildly across the road until control was restored and it roared away.
“Hmm,” Taffy Steve remarked dryly, “Two strident motorists, white van man and then a turbo-nutter bastard? Your blog title almost writes itself.”
And thus, it was so. I mean, who am I to deny the Fates.
I did a decent turn on the front up and through Ponteland and then again through Meldon. We paused momentarily at Dyke Neuk and then cut a corner off to route through Hartburn and out toward Middleton Bank, where we followed another large group onto the climb. From a little distance away this looked to be a contingent from the Blaydon club, riding up the slope impressively en bloc, while we were shattered and scattered down its length. We then took an age to regroup, before settling in for the last push to the cafe.
We were nearly there and slightly ahead of the second group courtesy of our shortcut around Hartburn. They caught us with about 1km to go and our group was sucked along in their slipstream as they sprinted toward the cafe. Despite the injection of pace though, everyone failed to beat the rain, which started to hammer down just as we pulled to a stop.
Cafe service was surprisingly quick and we all gathered in the dark and dank barn to listen to the rain drumming relentlessly on the roof.
The Red Max, Mrs Max and the Monkey Butler Boy were there in mufti, the Red Max being sidelined with a sore elbow, although he disputed my assertion that this was the result of playing too much tennis, golf, croquet, or other bourgeois sporting endeavour.
The Monkey Butler Boy towers over everyone now, so more Silverback Butler Boy than monkey these days. One thing that hasn’t change though is his penchant for bright, white shoes, although we were disappointed to learn he wasn’t quite as obsessive in keeping these as pristine as his cycling slippers and no longer carried baby wipes expressly for this purpose.
We did hear that father and son had momentarily bonded over a joint hacksaw assault on a recalcitrant gear hanger. Red Max suggesting such accord did happen periodically, but only around once every 5-years. I suspect it most usually coincides with some diabolical partnership in controlled engineering destruction.
The interchange between the pair reminded Taffy Steve of a Mark Twain quote – “When I fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Funny feller that Twain guy.
G-Dawg put on his serious specs to deliver a brief eulogy to missing friends, topped with a minutes applause as tribute. We emerged, blinking into the newly-washed sunshine, where Goose assured me I could safely stow my rain jacket for the ride home.
I had a brief moment to admire the perfectly formed chainring tattoo on his less than perfectly formed calf. Such adornments are becoming an increasingly common feature of his appearance, which Goose suggested might be the consequence of him having one calf bigger than the other.
As well as leaving you with disgraceful penchant for chainring tattoo’s, he then told me asymmetrical calves are also potentially symptomatic of an acute pulmonary embolism. Despite the reason we were all out here today though, he seemed blithely unconcerned by this, so I trust he’s had it checked out.
Anyway, he was correct in his assessment of the weather at least, as I enjoyed the rest of my ride home in a pleasant spell of sunshine.
Now, I’m going a way for a while in order to turn 60 (I’ve heard it can be quite a long and taxing transformation) – so see you on the other side.
Day & Date:
The 2nd Gavin Husband Memorial Ride, Saturday 20th August 2022
A decent night’s sleep was fortified by a sterling breakfast where our supremely attractive and very friendly waitress seemed to delight in adjusting her décolletage and pouting into the dining room mirrors solely for the edification of the hotel guests.
By 9:00 the Oberlanders were on the road in the bright sunshine and heading for our rendezvous at the foot of the Alpe. It was a pleasantly warm start on a day when the temperatures would soon climb into the very high twenties. Not quite as scorching as yesterday, but plenty hot enough for pale-skinned Northerners.
I was astonished to find we had a full house, our entire collective was up and ready to go and we were, very briefly, all together as we started to climb. The first few ramps soon took care of that and it wasn’t long before we were scattered all over the road. From this point on we wouldn’t be together again as a group until we sat down for our evening meal.
Big ring, inner ring, granny ring. I dropped down at the front, while the chain inexorably rode up the block at the back. It didn’t take long and then, that was it, I was out of gears. Most of the others stretched away as I settled down to the task of spinning upwards in my own time, knowing I had over an hour of work to do to reach the top.
Despite a full service and a brand new bottom bracket, the bike had developed an annoying creak whenever I put any power through the cranks, which would have been just one more excuse for my light-spinning approach. Or at least, it would have been if I felt I needed one. As it was, I contained the creak to the few moments when I stood out of the saddle, more to keep the blood flowing everywhere than out of any real necessity to climb faster. (The creak seems to have completely disappeared on return to the UK, which is rather confusing.)
Gianni Bugno Smells
The first few hairpins were pleasant, but the higher we climbed the more exposed the road became and the temperature was rising, probably at a faster rate than I was. Around the pair of Gianni Bugno hairpins (#6 and #7) the smell of burning brakes and clutch were unmistakable, although there was very little traffic to account for it.
Unfortunately, much of the traffic that there was, consisted of heavy, construction vehicles, as it looks like more ski accommodation is being thrown up right across the mountain. It made for some interesting overtaking manoeuvres that played out in extreme slow motion.
Steadfast was climbing at around the same pace as me, so was always in sight, but otherwise I don’t recall passing any serious cyclists and can only recall a handful passing me, it was a quiet day on the Alpe.
I was pleased to see the photographers, always camped out near the top, an indication that the end wasn’t too far off and judging by the number of (in)action shots they took of me, I think they were glad to see me too. I still couldn’t summon up a wave or a smile though.
All The Way to the Top
Up through the village, I scanned the cafe’s few occupants, hoping we’d decided to make this our official end point. No such luck, it looked like we were heading to the official Tour finish line higher up the mountain. I joined up with Steadfast going through the underpass and hoping he knew the route – I think I’ve been a different way every time.
His instincts proved right, we found the rest of the gang camped out at the display of past winners. That still wasn’t good enough for them though and they made me climb another 300 metres to the official sign, before we press-ganged a bystander into the obligatory group photo.
Other than Goose’s hilarious positioning and pose for the photo, the strangest sight on the day had to be the girl on a mountain-bike being towed up the climb by an indefatigable Jack Russell. We don’t know if it got a Strava PB, but the Big Yin claimed the pair had overtaken him quite easily.
As for the Big Yin, there was no sign of him. I took a can of cola (Coke to you and me, but maybe the French reserve that term for a certain white powder?) from the snack van and slumped on one of the picnic tables for a rest and to replenish liquids while we waited.
“Watch that doesn’t bite!” the Ticker warned me, pointing at a greenish-yellow insect that had landed on my knee. I flicked it away. Too late, a bright bead of blood bloomed on my skin. Guess the butterfly yesterday was just to lull me into a false sense of security.
Drink consumed and with still no sign of the Big Yin, we rolled back to the cafe in the town, thinking he might have stopped there. Nope, not there either.
“Café au lait, si vous plait?” Crazy Legs asked the waitress.
“Un?” she enquired.
“Deux – trois – quatre – cinq – six – sept,” we all individually added our orders in turn and then she turned to Goose last of all. We waited … tension building … he opened his mouth …
“Huit!” he finally barked. Internally I gave a silent cheer, but then … “Gracias!”
We’re the Fuquari
By the time we’d finished our coffee and were ready to move on, there was still no sign of the Big Yin. I messaged him. He’d been through the village, past the cafe and was (supposedly) on the road to our next destination, the Col de Sarenne.
A little later we received a screenshot of a map location with a red dot in the middle of a featureless nowhere and a plaintive “where am I.” We had no idea either. It turns out that, as we headed east toward the Sarenne, the Big Yin was working his way ever northwards until he reached Lac Besson where a local confirmed that no, he wasn’t on the road to the Sarenne, or indeed anywhere near it.
Down by one, we pressed on. The road was much, much rougher, narrower and more gravel-strewn than I recall. It would have reminded me of home, except I don’t think the clartiest farm track in the outer wilds of Northumberland is quite as bad, or certainly not as consistently bad over such a long distance. Traction around the corners felt like a bit of a lottery demanding caution and I was just waiting for a puncture as we rattled and bounced over pots and fissures and cracks, but it was worth it as the scenery was utterly spectacular. Luckily the route was also quiet and we only encountered a single car and a handful of cyclists as we dropped down and then started the climb up to the col.
The climb split us up again, as everyone took it at the own pace, allowing the Hammer time to clamber up above the road and frame me in splendid isolation against an empty landscape in what he termed his epic Rapha shot.
Behind me, Crazy Legs had run out of energy and said he was climbing so slowly that a butterfly had do-si-doed its way through his spokes totally unscathed. He was delighted to finally reach the Col de Sarenne sign, doubly so when he noticed its height was given as 1,999 metres, so he could taunt the Ticker that he hadn’t managed a climb over 2,000 metres yet.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
The Ticker wandered away to check out some goats in a nearby enclosure and returned fully impressed with just how generously well-endowed they were(?) Meanwhile, in the silent, pale blue high above us, vultures and buzzards circled effortlessly around the peaks.
We didn’t take a group photo around the Col de Sarenne sign, but several shots were added to the collective pool, our favourite resembling the perfect album cover for some moody, mid-80’s synth band, (think Blancmange, or maybe China Crisis.)
Crazy Legs announced he was turning back, ostensibly because his legs were empty, but in reality just so he could enjoy the plush, super-smooth descent of the Alpe. In retrospect, we probably should have done the same. The descent off the Sarenne was awful, a steep, narrow and broken track with multiple tight switchbacks, each one swathed in an unstable delta of loose gravel and melting tarmac. There was no opportunity to let the bike run as I followed the Hammer and Ticker down, almost constantly on the brakes. By halfway I was shaking out my hands and trying to gain some relief from the pressure of pulling hard and long on the levers, while from both above and below me the descent was punctuated by continual warning shouts of “gravel!”
On one uncharacteristically long straight, the Hammer called out for space from a French rider who was grinding his way upwards, head down and on the wrong side of the road. The Hammer appeared to get a mouthful of abuse for his warning. I don’t know, maybe the road was so bad it just made everyone tetchy?
The hairpins eased toward the bottom and things became a little easier and almost enjoyable. Then thankfully we were down, although it took a while to finally regroup and recover. The next order of the day was finding somewhere for lunch, which wasn’t looking all that promising as we sped through a number of small, seemingly shuttered hamlets, before stumbling on Les Filles in Mizoën.
They managed to pull together a table for the seven of us inside and served us excellent and inexpensive quiche and salads along with copious drinks. Duly fortified, we had a fast, much more pleasant descent down to a stunning vista above the barrage at Lac Chambon, before clambering into the next valley and taking the road northwest and back to Bourg d’Oisans.
Bomb the Base
Salt-encrusted, sun-baked and empty-legged, most of us sought out a bar in the town for some liquid recovery, while Goose determined he needed more cycling and set off toward Le Riviere d’Allemont, as if drawn there by some strange, unspoken compulsion …
Sitting down in the shade with a well-deserved beer, I was astounded when Buster unzipped to reveal that even in the extreme heat he was wearing a base layer under his jersey. I expected him to claim some sort of scientific mumbo-jumbo about its benefit in wicking away sweat to maintain core temperature, but he admitted it was just so his chest hairs didn’t poke through his jersey in an unsightly manner. Has any man ever suffered more to try and look good on a bike?
Unmuzzled at La Muzzelle
With remarkable foresight, Goose had booked us into a restaurant in town for the night, La Muzzelle and managed to secure a table for all nine of us. It wasn’t positioned exactly to his liking, but he somehow managed to endear himself to the staff while re-arranging their seating in the middle of a busy dinner service.
He then stress-tested his own claim that everything he says passes through careful filters by declaring his dislike of tattoo’s in front of our heavily tattooed waitress and while completely ignorant of any indelible body art his dining companions might be sporting. He then followed up by positing that bald blokes are much more likely to have accidents where they bang their heads.
In amongst this deluge of “carefully filtered” observation and (rocket) fuelled by our waitress introducing us to the local liqueur, Génépi, we tried to come up with a plan for the next day.
We already knew the traditional Circle of Death (5 cols, 170km and 4,250 metres of climbing) was a no-go because the Galibier was closed for resurfacing prior to the Tour. This had been confirmed by the Collapsing Cyclist group from the previous night, who’d ridden it despite being told it was closed and had to force their way back down through the newly laid tarmac. For their troubles, they’d then said they’d spent hours chipping the dried bitumen from their wheels and tyres with multi-tools, not an exercise we were at all keen to indulge in.
The consensus seemed to be to follow our original plan and ride up to Riviere d’Allemont for ravitaillement, keeping both Crazy Legs and Goose happy, then take in the Glandon/Croix de Fer BOGOF. From there, depending on how people felt, we could split, with those wanting to head out further perhaps taking in Les Lacets de Montvernier before returning by more or less the same route.
Once again we had somehow cobbled together a plan, a rendezvous point and a start time. We were all set for the next day.
Cat#2 demanded to be let out of the back door first thing Saturday morning (he has a catflap, but it’s sooo much effort and besides, what else are stoopid humans good for?) and while acceding to his imperial highness, I noted just how chilly it was and pulled out a windproof jacket before setting out. It wasn’t until halfway down the Heinous Hill however that, jacket, fluttering like a moth broken on windscreen, I realised it was not only chilly, but another gusty, windy day. The temperature would rise eventually, but the wind refused to die and would just help make things a little bit harder wherever we went.
As I pushed out along the valley floor I was passed by a regular peloton of riders heading the other way. There must have been over a dozen middle-aged blokes, all dressed in matching white and green jerseys, with some kind of numbers on the front of their bikes, riding in a compact bunch with a couple of support cars trailing, laden with spares. They didn’t look lean and mean enough to be any kind of race team, so I assumed they were on some sort of sponsored ride for charidee. Then again, they were heading for Newcastle and it was the start of the weekend, so maybe this is just the latest stag-do trend?
Odd to think that I typed the above expecting the spellchecker to object to “charidee” – but apparently it’s now a recognised and accepted word!
Conspicuous charity, especially as part of a television promotion, or of an otherwise pointless exercise.
Isn’t English a wonderful, dynamic and ever-changing feast!
Crossing the bridge, nothing was moving on the river or from either boathouse, so it looked like our rowing clubs were away at some competition. The roads however were busy, with more traffic than I’ve seen in a long while, with no particular reason I could think of. Still, I arrived in plenty of time to watch our numbers slowly build until we had 33 riders clustered together and jostling for space across the pavement, the largest turnout for quite some time.
As we waited, Crazy Legs made the startling confession that he now thought Ed Sheerhan was “utterly brilliant”, having been dragged along to see his live show and undergoing some kind of startling, Damascene conversion. Luckily no one in my household is ever likely to drag me to such a show, so I can remain convinced Mr. Sheerhan remains a whiny, wey-faced poltroon with a penchant for bad 6th form poetry.
It was Crazy Legs’ turn to plan the route, which had us heading to the cafe at Capheaton, until we learned it was closed. I really don’t know what’s wrong with these people, thinking they can just waltz off on the pretext that they need a holiday. What about the well-being and mental health of the North East’s cycling contingent? Not to mention their coffee and cake addictions.
Crazy Legs tried to engineer a completely new route, but then decided we’d just use the Belsay cafe instead, so we’d ride past Capheaton, look longingly at its closed and shuttered facade, wipe away a tear and then press on another 9km or so to Belsay. It wasn’t a bad substitute to be fair and we’d need to return that way anyhow.
Crazy Legs was just reaching down to check his Garmin, to see if it was near departure time, when Carlton rolled to a stop. No need for a time-check, then, our metronome (metrognome?) had returned from holidays and was as punctual as ever.
Even better, we handily managed to get 10 or 11 volunteers into our first group and sent them on their way. I joined the second group, rolling up to join them at the traffic lights, where I found Goose confronting Not Anthony and Cowboys, declaring how discomfited he was to discover they were actually two completelydifferent people. Apparently Crazy Legs isn’t the only one who hasn’t realised Not Anthony is not Anthony.
We had noticeable crosswinds for the first part of the ride and then, just as the lead was ceded and I pushed onto the front with Goose, we reached Mitford and turned left instead of the more usual right, finding ourselves running directly west and straight into the wind.
“Have we been duped into doing something stupid,” Goose wondered, as we ducked down low and ground our way onwards. “Ah, well,” he consoled himself, “At least that farm dog doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.”
He was right. The rather ferocious, loud and very active hound that used to go crazy whenever it spotted a passing cyclist (especially if that cyclist happened to be Crazy Legs) was still there, but it stayed slumped and supine, not even bothering to open an eye and glare at us balefully as we sailed serenely past. Like most of our group it looks like old age, complacency and can’t-be-bovveredness has caught up with our canine adversary too – or perhaps the newly acquired muzzle it’s been forced to wear has taken all the fun out of chasing cyclists?
We led the group through Molesden and toward Meldon and were just discussing whether to stop as we rolled through the junction toward Dyke Neuk. Not only were we not stopping, but we were also going the wrong way, so we turned around and chased back on, going from front to back of the group in a few seconds. That, I think, was more than a just reward for our dithering and we could now find some shelter and recovery amongst the wheels.
We jagged north toward Hartburn, then west through Middleton, before finally turning back south again for the run through Capheaton. As we started climbing up toward the cafe and our highest point of the day, James III put in a burst of previously unheralded climbing prowess and the group fractured and became strung out. The last time we’d been up here he’d been struggling right at the back, only trailed by some idiot wrestling a single-speed, so things have definitely changed for the better. I worked my way through the luxury of a gear change, increased the tempo and along with G-Dawg, Goose and the Famous Cumbrian we started to close the gap.
We caught up with James III as we rolled past the cafe.
“There’s a big, big gap,” someone remarked.
“Good,” I replied.
I think they were pausing to let everyone regroup, but I wasn’t waiting and accelerated. At some point I realised I was riding alone and just kept going. It seems such a long time since anyone’s taken a flyer off the front, so I was happy to resurrect the idea of the forlorn hope attack. Anyway, it was only … err… umh … ah … 7km from Capheaton to our traditional cafe sprint-line …
Ok, truth is I really hadn’t thought this through all that well, but what the hell. I pressed on, never looking back, but noticing all the little impediments in my way: the fractured surface on the steep ramp up to the main road that had my wheels skipping and skittering as I barged upwards out of the saddle, the false flat that became a grinding, uphill slog, the wind from the left and right and front, but seemingly never behind me, the new road surface that should have helped, but was rough and heavy and seemed to suck the speed out of my tyres. Still, I’m pretty sure my face wore a stupid-ass grin as I frantically mashed the pedals around and around.
I made it to within maybe 250-300 metres of the imaginary finish line before the Famous Cumbrian buzzed past, with G-Dawg just launching a sprint from out of his slipstream. I managed to bridge across the Famous Cumbrian’s wheel and held on for a moment, but checking back, there was no one else close, so I eased and sat up, coasting to only 3rd, but a highly satisfactory and strangely enjoyable 3rd.
At the cafe I learned more about Tesla batteries than I’ll ever need to know. I also learned that Goose was inordinately proud of the 150,000 or so (and counting) unread emails on his phone that he has no intention of ever reading, or apparently, ever deleting either. Strangely, he’s just had to buy his daughter a new 256GB iPhone because she’s completely filled her original one up with photos, so I suspect the old adage about the fruit not falling far from the tree applies. I guess they have the ultimate solution though, we’ll just keep buying devices with bigger and bigger storage, so we can keep building up all the crap we can’t be bothered to edit and cull.
Recommendations to raise the age a person can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and then increase the age of sale by one every year thereafter prompted G-Dawg to imagine a dystopian, near-future when feral, middle-aged blokes would hang around outside corner shops, begging older folk to buy them cigarettes.
We also had a chuckle at the absurdity of hospital smoking shelters, invariably inhabited by wizened, infirm patients suffering smoking-related illnesses, but braving the British weather while dressed in nothing but a hospital gown and slippers, with a lit cigarette in one hand and IV stand and attached drip in the other.
Alhambra felt people abused the cigarette break excuse too much at his work, so started totting up the time they were taking and subtracting it from his own working week, boldly waving goodbye to everyone as he left early Friday afternoon.
“Here, where are you going?” his manager finally confronted him after a few weeks.
“I’m going home, mate.”
“But, you can’t do that.”
“Well, I’m just taking off the time I would be allowed off if I smoked, like you lot. See you later Dave, have a nice weekend.”
Apparently, his manager hasn’t found an argument against this yet and Alhambra says he’s now started taking note of all the prayer breaks some of his colleagues are getting too, and he could soon be well on his way to a 4-day week.
Heading back, I had a 5-minute catch-up with Taffy Steve, which is more than enough time for him to have me snorting with mirth. He is proudly anti-uniform and even when he was into diving would deliberately swim against the tide (boom-tsk!) and make sure none of his gear matched, while everyone else was carefully colour co-ordinating wetsuits with flippers and masks and snorkels and weight belts and the like.
I wondered if we’s be seeing the return of his old Marmite-branded cycling jersey soon, perhaps the most emblematic embodiment of divisiveness known to man, but he revealed he’d seen a fellow cyclist of a decidedly rotund disposition wearing one, and they’d looked so much like a little pot of Marmite on wheels, that he was now a bit wary of it.
He also revealed he’s been out with the Red Max on their newly introduced Tuesday evening, relaxed rides. Apparently, the Red Max had been a bit hyper on the first few, jumping around and madly chasing after other cyclists and cars and buses, but now Taffy Steve reckoned he’d reined him in and tamed his wilder impulses, so the rides have become quite civilised.
“No!” I protested, “You’ve broken him!”
We were strung out and split up as we crested Berwick Hill and started down the other side with the wind pushing us and demanding more speed. I’d soon rattled down the cassette and ran out of gears, but knew it was a brief reprieve as we’d soon be turning and then I’d be back fighting the wind most of the way home. And so it proved.
Oddly, while passing through Newburn I noticed a fleeting but intense smell of grapefruit. I have to admit the area isn’t one I’d normally associate with sub-tropical citrus fruit, or any other fruit for that matter, so maybe it was an olfactory hallucination. Phantosmia. Who’d have guessed they have a word for that too.
Otherwise, that was a very enjoyable ride, which is good as it’ll be the last club run I do for the next couple of weeks, let’s see what strangeness awaits when I return.
I didn’t learn the lesson last week, so was enticed into the front group again this week, for an even faster run, (although, to be fair this route involved less vertical gain.)
Saturday also saw a further continuation of fairly decent and notably dry weather, with occasional periods of real warmth and bright sunshine, although we were handicapped by what the BBC weather app euphemistically insisted was a gentle breeze, but we found for the most part to be a seriously stiff headwind.
I wondered if the wind was causing a problem out on the river, with an 8-man rowing boat seemingly stuck motionless, and becalmed, athwart the river upstream of the bridge, while a whole host of other boats were racing away from it downstream as if fleeing a sinking ship.
I climbed out of the valley (in the big ring without really realising) and arrived at the meeting point slightly early and slightly surprised to find so many already there. This soon resolved into the Judean People’s Front assembly before one of their rides. They kidnapped Crazy Legs and away they went. (He was later released without any ransom demands, the group seemingly having quickly tired of his schtick.)
I joined up with a slightly under-the-weather Brassneck, who’d been over-indulging in the corporate hostility stakes for 5-days in a row, with clients visiting from South America. It’s fair to say he exuded an earthy-hoppy, beer-induced aroma after a full working week of wassailing and imbibing and was looking forward to a very gentle recovery ride.
The Hammer was our nominated route architect using a tried and tested run taking in Whittledene reservoir. He was also the originator of perhaps the most controversial question of the day … can I clean bike cassettes in the dishwasher? It may have been an absurd, obscure question … except I had form, having tried and achieving decent results cleaning an old groupset in this way, although I’m sure Mr. Zanussi and (especially) Mrs. SLJ would disapprove.
“You can also,” I added, “Cook salmon fillets in the dishwasher, though obviously sans detergent and not at the same time as you’re cleaning bike components.” Just to be clear, this isn’t something I’ve actually tried myself. So far anyway.
We didn’t need to check the time, just as soon as Carlton rode up we knew it was time to go (although, on this occasion, Carlton was a whole 20 seconds early.) Jimmy Mac, G-Dawg and Caracol formed the core of the first/faster group, but, as happened last week, no one else seemed all that keen to join them.
I added my number to their ranks along with a very reluctant Brassneck, who mumbled something about kill-or-cure and then immediately announced he knew was going to regret this. Famous Cumbrians joined us and Captain Black tagged onto the back. I rolled up to the front alongside Caracol and told him it was entirely his fault that no one wanted to ride in the first group, then the lights changed and the less than Magnificent Seven got underway.
It was immediately apparent that we would be battling a headwind most of the morning and in between this and the pace we set, it was a fairly breathless start. Still, I was able to grunt occasionally and even contribute the odd snippet of conversation, as Caracol relayed his ongoing fascination with the “Wagatha Christie” trial.
He was finding this wholly absurd epic of feuding footballers’ wives and girlfriends (or WAG’s in tabloid parlance) hugely diverting and very entertaining light relief amongst all the doom, gloom and suffering in the rest of the news. He’d also happily concluded that, whatever the outcome of the trial, no sentient being was likely to suffer (or be even mildly discomfited) by its outcome.
He was particularly pleased by Marina Hyde writing that, when discussing critical evidence on a mobile phone “accidentally” and very conveniently dropped into the North Sea, and having admitted to the judge that she didn’t know who Davey Jones was, or why indeed he even had a locker, Rebekah Vardy had a “horrendous-whitey moment” when she thought some bloke called Davey Jones may have recovered and cached her mobile.
I was delighted to find that other, much more interesting and amusing group of wags, the Internet wits and commentators were fully across this story which, (much, much better than the Wagatha Christie monicker) was commonly referred to as either Wagnarock, The Scouse Trap, Bleak Scouse or The Tale That Dogs the WAGS. Splendid stuff.
We led the group through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Ponteland. ” I don’t think the wind’s all that bad, you know,” I heard Brassneck say just as we swung away to let him take over on the front, where his strangled groans and spluttering protestations were ample proof that he may have slightly underestimated what we’d been battering against.
Caracol dropped back to chat with Captain Black, while I slotted in between the two riders in the second rank for the ultimate shelter. Just before Stamfordham, we were down to six as Captain Black made a sharp exit stage left.
“What’s up? Is he OK?” I needn’t have worried, he’d had the early departure planned all along as he had a rendezvous with a small dimpled ball he wished to thrash.
“Bastard could have done a turn at the front before he buggered off though!” I concluded.
We pressed on through Stamfordham and out to the reservoir, dogged by large, shiny black and very annoying flies that seemed to be swarming everywhere. This was definitely a day for riding with your gob shut.
“Flies hurt when you collide with them at 50kph,” Jimmy Mac observed, as they pinged off my specs and helmet with annoying regularity
We stopped at our usual point just beyond the reservoirs where, in between wafting flies away, or flicking them off bike and body, I reiterated my displeasure with Captain Black, hiding at the back and then buggering off early.
“Not that you’re going to make a big thing of it at all?” Brassneck prompted
“Me? No, no. Not at all. Probably won’t mention it.”
We discussed whether it would be possible to hand out punishment for such aberrant behaviour, perhaps a double turn on the front next week, or even, as Brassneck suggested, making the culprit wear a special jersey of shame, emblazoned with “Wheelsucker”.
None of the other groups had appeared by the time the swarming flies persuaded us to move on again…
I did another turn on the front through Matfen and up toward the Quarry, where we saw an impressive fly-past by the Tyneside Vagabonds, 20 to 30 riders en bloc, the majority resplendent in their new(ish) blue kit.
We scaled the Quarry and the pace picked up, only to drop off again as we were cruelly robbed of all momentum, slowing for the blind junction at Wallridge crossroads. Caracol lobbied G-Dawg to use his newly-awarded executive powers to see if we could alter the club constitution and get a marshall permanently stationed at the crossroads. Compelling as his case was, I didn’t think it had much chance of succeeding.
We took the drag up to West Belsay and joined the junction of the road down to the Snake Bends. We were travelling pretty fast, but not as fast as Cowin’ Bovril, who appeared out of nowhere and shot past us all. He’d been riding the Red Max’s coattails down the long descent from Kirkheaton and had received the perfect sling shot lead-out to burst past our group – although the Red Max was thoroughly disappointed that he’d only hit 49 mph on the descent, just missing out acheiving the half-century.
Crossing the A696, we ducked down bomb-alley, threading our way through the potholes and then the speed kicked up again as the roads straightened and we charged toward the cafe stop at Kirkley. The Red Max and Cowin’ Bovril were jettisoned and the pace built and built. Through Ogle, past Kirkley Hall, we swung right, accelerating hard out of the bends, driving round the last corner …
And came to a grinding halt at the temporary traffic lights.
Last week they’d been a bit of a saviour, this week they were just an annoyance, still we were soon at the cafe and it was quiet and there were no queues. Perfect.
The Kirkley bacon sarnies were declared the best in class, even though Brassneck was mightily suspicious of how they turned up so quickly and suggested they may be in some way pre-cooked. Such a distinction didn’t seem to matter one jot to our bacon sarnie connoisseurs.
Jimmy Mac suggested they were nearly, but not quite as good as the terrific bacon pakoras an Asian caterer had served up for breakfast at a recent medical conference he and his colleagues had attended. I naturally wondered if this was one of his Cardiology Department’s healthy hearts initiatives and if it was a wholly appropriate use of health service funds, let alone heart-friendly cuisine.
“Order 31!” – we were interrupted from our musings by the bellowing of the service staff.
“Order 31!” Louder and shriller.
“Order 31! Louder still, more shrill, “Bacon sandwich on white!”
“Oh!” a bloke sitting right next to the server shot his hand up, “That’s me … Sorry, I thought my ticket said number 13!”
We tried to work out how you could possibly mistake 31 for 13 and failed. God knows what he would have made of the upside-down 13’s on my bike.
“If he’s waiting for 13 to be called, he’s in for a long, long wait,” G-Dawg concluded.
Other riders arrived in dribs and drabs, but there were no large groups and it looked like most had taken the opportunity to stop at Belsay much to the disappointment of Brassneck, who thought he’d earned the right to enjoy them all queuing for an age.
Jimmy Mac paused thoughtfully halfway through devouring the massive slab of Mint Aero traybake he’d personally selected.
“Which way are we thinking of heading back?” he wondered.
“Just the usual, Berwick Hill,” G-Dawg confirmed.
“Ah, good. Don’t want to be eating the rest of this if we’re going up Saltwick Hill.”
He must have been feeling pretty chipper, despite the mighty traybake weighing him down, as he applied pressure on the front with Caracol and split the group on Berwick Hill. By the time we were heading to Dinnington there was only me and Brassneck clinging to the wheels and trying to follow in what was a very unequal contest. We did manage to hold on until just past the airport though before a gap slowly opened and we were still held a decent pace up to the junction where Brassneck turned off and I pushed on for home.
Well, looks like Mother Nature has a heart after all. After missing a ride out in the glorious weather a week ago, we got an almost exact replica of conditions this week and a rare, early opportunity to break out the summer bikes, at least temporarily.
The choice of bike might have changed, but it was still extremely chilly when I set out first thing, so the layering was still leaning toward over-dressed – with a gilet, glove liners, cap and potentially even overshoes as optional extras that could be abandoned as the temperature rose.
There was another rowing event on down by the river, but the traffic and crowds weren’t as heavy as usual so there was no major hold-ups. (Later Internet sleuthing suggested this was the Ponteland Junior Head competition, so probably not as big as some of the other events). What did slow me though were the half dozen sets of traffic lights I encountered, which had me wondering if the local council has actually found some money to do a few road repairs. That would be nice.
Traffic lights notwithstanding, I made it to the meeting point bang on the hour and perched alongside G-Dawg on the wall, enjoying the sun as our numbers quickly built.
One of the first to show was Carlton, who unexpectedly arrived a good 10 minutes ahead of his standard only-just-in-time appearance.
“Are you just really, really late for last week’s ride?” a perplexed G-Dawg had to ask.
Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to break out their summer bikes, with the notable exception of Aether. Not that you would know though, as he never mentioned this all that much, even when everyone was nipping past him on the Quarry climb …
James III even had a shiny new bike to show off, which Crazy Legs quickly subjected to the obligatory weight test, scooping it up to see just how light it was, before nodding approval. While he gave the bike the official thumbs-up, the same could not be said about the Ineos Grenadiers jersey James III was sporting, which drew a high degree of ire and approbation. James III was left standing, arms folded defensively across his chest, covering the Ineos logo, like a nun asked to disrobe in front of a lecherous bishop.
“Yeah better,” Crazy Legs suggested, “Can you ride the whole route like that?”
Brassneck had taken the fine weather as the first opportunity to wear his new Wedding Present “Sea Monsters” jersey which he’d acquired toward the back end of next year and had been languishing in his wardrobe unused for too long. This at least got a Crazy Legs stamp of approval, although he did suggest the “Bizarro” one was better. Sadly, there was no sign of TripleD-El’s perfect blue jersey she had bought at the same time and which had been so carefully colour coordinated to match the non-existent blue on her bike.
Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to wear shorts, the only person wrapped up to the same degree as me was Plumose Papuss and his explanation was he was working through the second day of an extreme hangover, the same excuse he gave for declining an invitation to ride with the first group. Naturally, we took the inability to bounce straight back from a heavy drinking session as proof that he was getting old and was already waaaay past his prime – I mean he must almost be approaching 25 now, the old fart.
The good weather had certainly brought everyone out and we had enough for three groups, although as usual take-up of the first, faster group was a little, how should we say it, constrained? To make up numbers G-Dawg sacrificed himself to the Unholy Church of the Racing Snakes. I’m not sure he altogether enjoyed the experience.
I hung back to ride with the 3rd group and for a long catch-up with Taffy Steve, our paths having only crossed very briefly once or twice this year. Naturally, we had all manner of ground to cover, both profound and trivial (but obviously leaning very heavily toward the trivial.) This included at what point bike maintenance and upgrades should outweigh the cost of a new bike, the defeat of school rules through undisputable and unavoidable child logic, the case for, and dangers of e-bikes and whether spin bowlers ever break into a sweat. This latter was prompted by the death of Shane Warne and then led to a conversation with Carlton about the recent death of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. My rule of thumb – if it’s rock and roll and unexpected, then drugs are probably involved (doubly so with regard to a drummer) sadly seems to have been correct.
In such entertaining company the miles sped by quickly, even when we took on a stint at the front through Stamfordham and out toward the reservoir and we were soon clambering up the hill toward the cafe at Capheaton. The fine weather had worked its charm here too and the place was absolutely mobbed with cyclists drawn out by unseasonable conditions and it was standing room only outside.
Here I caught up with Ahlambra, looking forward to some time off having worked all the hours and over-time the pandemic had offered up. One benefit of this was he’d saved up a tidy sum of surplus money that he was thinking of spending before he lost it all to rising fuel bills. He confessed his original intent had been to replace all the interior doors in his flat, but was now leaning towards getting himself a new winter bike, reasoning he was the only one likely to be sitting in his flat staring blankly at the doors and a new bike would give him so much more joy.
Now though, Caracol was up and running with the idea of having different winter and summer doors, swapping between something heavy, sturdy and practical in winter for something flasher, lighter and more expensive when the weather improved. (You know, I often wonder if other cycling clubs have much more normal conversations?)
Meanwhile, across the other end of the table, Crazy Legs was distressed to learn that the popular confectionery line he knew as Midget Gems throughout his youth had been renamed Mini Gems after a disability academic raised concerns about the use of the word “midget” offending people with dwarfism.
“They’ll always be Midget Gems to be,” Alhambra confirmed, “I mean, I still call a bleedin’ Snickers bar a Marathon!”
“Snickers!” he snorted derisively. “Bloody ridiculous!”
Perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of cyclists the coffee wasn’t all that good today and I didn’t bother with a refill before joining up with one of the groups heading back. We picked up OGL from one of his solo rides just outside Belsay and I rode with him on the front until I turned off for Ponteland and began to thread my way home.
Inspired by Brassneck’s ongoing homage to all things the Wedding Present, I entertained myself along the way trying to think of album covers that could translate into a good cycling jersey. My own rules were that it would have to be something graphical and abstract, rather than photographic, it had to be original and it had to be something I would like and listen to. This of course immediately ruled out Pink Floyd’s somewhat iconic album cover “Dark Side of the Moon”, not so much because it’s already been done, but because Crazy Legs and I have a mutually supportive compact where neither of us will even allow any Pink Floyd material into our homes, let alone listen to it.
This exercise proved much, much harder than I anticipated – perhaps suggesting that 99% of album covers are just naff? I thought perhaps Television’s eponymous third album might work, but unfortunately it reminded me too much of a chainring tattoo, the Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” would at least be colourful (but would you wear it?) unlike the Redskins “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” and AFI’s “Decemberunderground” which were a bit too monochrome. Early REM cover “Reckoning” I reckoned might work, while the Comsat Angels “Fiction” would give you something akin to the glorious and classic Mapei colour explosion.
The best I could come up with though was Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” This I think could be made into a classy and stylish bit of kit, so if you’ve got the wherewithal, set me up and I’ll buy one.
I’m still not totally satisfied though, so this is likely to keep me exercised on future rides too. Hey, it’s maybe self-indulgent, but it’s no worse than the venerable Toshi San who used to spend his rides calculating gear ratios in his head … I mean.
An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?
With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.
The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.
TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …
In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …
Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.
We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.
“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”
Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.
Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.
I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.
By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.
Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.
Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.
The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.
It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.
Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.
I started the day with perhaps the slowest ever descent off the Heinous Hill in the cold, damp and dark of Saturday morning, as I found myself catching and then trailing a massive JCB with backhoe down the bank. I was wondering whether to try and squeeze past when the driver involuntarily brake-tested me one of the corners and I felt my rear wheel lose grip and fishtail. This I took as fair warning that the road surface was either icy or greasy, so I scrubbed off the speed and dropped back to pick my way carefully down hoping to avoid becoming the hood ornament on an approaching car.
As I trundled over the bridge a short while later, a still-rising sun cast the river in a warm, rosy glow, smooth, glassy and featureless except in the distance where an 8-man crew was scything a rowing boat upstream, its wake resembling a huge zipper being pulled open across the surface of the water.
There was no one to chase and scare on the climb up to Denton Burn, but I still made good time and was early to the meeting place, so I did a quick peregrination around the area, meeting up with G-Dawg around Fawdon and riding in with him.
There we found TripleD-El, who couldn’t help but think she’d turned up unfashionably early, mainly because she was unfashionably early.
Our route architect this week was Crazy Legs and he’d gone for an all-time classic club run, predicated mainly on local bus routes where, hopefully, the roads would be gritted in case of ice. Our route then was through Ponteland, up Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen, the Quarry and then the café. The only novel wrinkle this time would be our choice of café, with Capheaton getting the nod for their very last weekend of operating before their Christmas break.
G-Dawg explained that Crazy Legs was actually on dog watch this weekend (i.e. actually dog watching, rather than in the nautical sense of an early evening shift), so wouldn’t be riding, but he would pop along to brief in the route.
Brassneck arrived, mightily pleased with himself for having secured a new Seamonsters cycling jersey to supplement his Bizarro one. Mini Miss looked on, perplexed.
“What’s that?” she wondered.
“A Wedding Present jersey,” he replied enthusiastically.
“But … but it’s not your wedding?” She was even more confused now.
“The Wedding Present are a popular beat combo,” Brassneck explained patiently, before dredging up one of those facts that are so random and inconsequential, that they simply have to be true, “They’re the only popular beat combo to match Elvis’s record of having 12 top 40 UK hits in a single year.”
“Ah. Right. Yeah.” Mini Miss pondered briefly, “Never heard of them!”
“Anyhow, the only problem is, I’ve now got the jersey just in time to put it away for the summer,” Brassneck lamented.
“I’ve just done the same,” TripleD-El informed us proudly, “I found the perfect jersey in Start Cycles, but it was a men’s one, but then I found they did a women’s version and I actually found one in my size, but it had a fault in it, so I thought they probably don’t have another one, but they did, so I bought that and now I’ve got it packed away until the summer. It’s the perfect blue to match my bike,” she added.
I looked at her Liv bike, then at her, then back down at her bike. From where I was standing, all I could see was a black bike frame.
“But your bike’s black?”
“It has blue highlights,” she insisted.
I looked again and still couldn’t see any blue. Maybe it was the flat lighting on an admittedly dull and grey day and in bright sunlight the bike would look completely transformed? Maybe the bike’s like one of those Magic Eye tricks that you have to stare at for long minutes before a secret picture is finally revealed? (They never work for me either). Maybe I just lack imagination, or just maybe I was being set-up in some sort of elaborate Dutch con game?
“I can’t see any blue,”
She looked down exasperatedly, but couldn’t seem to find any blue herself, then pointed determinedly at her bartape which had tiny holographic snowflakes etched into its surface.
Ok, I guess if the light catches those in a certain way they maybe-might appear blue …
I think the moral of this story is to never imply criticism of a woman’s attempts at colour-coordination. Ever.
Crazy Legs failed to show up to wave us off. (It’s understandable, the trauma of seeing others ride away while you’re not allowed to could break any man.) So G-Dawg briefed in the route, then chivvied, arm-twisted and cajoled us into two roughly even-sized groups. Group#2 was the most popular this week, I suspect because Jimmy Mac was with Group#1, so it would probably feature an unrelenting pace. As a result slightly more chivvying, arm-twisting and cajoling than usual was needed. Still, we got there in the end. Ish.
And off we went…
I fell alongside Zardoz and learned about further devastation that Storm Arwen had wrought on the region, forcing some re-jigging and the curtailment of a portion of the Winter Wonderland event his wife organises each year at Kielder Forest. (Zardoz still denies that he’s grown his fluffy white beard in anticipation of being given a starring role in Santa’s Workshop there, but no one believes him.)
We also had a chat about mountain climbing and how so many people have now climbed Everest that it’s just not all that remarkable anymore and yet they’re still dying while making the attempt. I suggested that climbing the mountain was firmly off my bucket-list and Zardoz helpfully introduced me to the concept of the anti-bucket-list, or fuck-it list. Splendid. Climbing Everest is definitely going in my fuck-it list.
At this point we were traveling along Limestone Lane, our original front pairing had peeled off and G-Dawg and Cowboys were now on point and in the wind, while we followed just behind.
“We’re getting awfully close to the front?” Zardoz suggested, starting to get twitchy.
“Do you want to call a pee-stop?” I wondered.
“Oh, am I that transparent?”
I re-assured him that it being G-Dawg on the front we were probably good until well after Stamfordham and so it proved and we made it to the top of the Quarry before the front was ceded. I took up the lead alongside Brassneck, as at that point Zardoz had somewhat mysteriously disappeared back into the pack, and we led the rest of the way to the café.
Having been served, I arrived at the table in time to hear Goose declare that the Moderna COVID vaccine was undoubtedly and irrefutably the best, because:
A. It was the vaccine he himself had received and,
B. It was the most expensive.
He was naturally implying that Moderna’s price was an indicator of quality and not simply the avarice of the faceless pharmaceutical conglomerate that produced it.
He illustrated his point with the example of two pairs of shoes, one pair costing £10 and the other £100.
“Which do you think would be better quality?” he challenged.
“Well, you wouldn’t get far in £10 shoes,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably.
“No, but you’d have 9 other new pairs to change into,” Goose surmised, undermining his own argument and somewhat missing the point that someone who bought £10 shoes instead of £100 ones was unlikely to be able to afford to spend £100 either on a single, or multiple pairs.
I think at this point he was suggesting that quantity has a quality all of its own. Perhaps the greatest thing that Napoleon never said.
Hold on, that’s not right is it – the greatest thing Napoleon never said includes everything everyone else has ever said, including things like, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” or “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I think I mean the greatest thing attributed to Napoleon that he never actually said.
I was momentarily distracted by G-Dawg’s choice of cake, coffee and ham and pease pudding sandwich.
“Lunch?” I wondered.
By the time I tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table, Goose had moved on to speculating about why the French demand swimmers wear Speedo-style budgie smugglers in public pools. This, in turn, reminded him of the TV-series, Man from Atlantis, who Goose accused of wearing skin-tight, bright yellow, budgie smugglers.
I countered that they definitely weren’t Speedo’s, but shorts and I thought they were the sort of blue that would match TripleD-El’s bike. To be fair, at this point and not having actually seen the blue in question, I felt I could get away with matching it to practically any hue.
Anyway, Mr. Google later informed me that we were both right. And we were both wrong too. The Man from Atlantis did indeed wear shorts, not budgie smugglers. The shorts were indeed bright yellow and not blue.
We then tried to recall the actual premise for the show, which someone suggested was about crime-fighting, a bit like Batman, but set underwater. We then tried to imagine the types of underwater crime the Man from Atlantis could tackle, but other than someone plotting to rob Dogger Bank (boom tsk), we drew a blank.
Perhaps, someone then suggested, he was employed by French municipal authorities to ensure no one went swimming in pools while wearing shorts. Plausible, but surely scant material for the ensuing 2-series and 17 episodes?
By this time we’d pinned the show to around the early 80’s, identified its main star as Patrick Duffy and Brassneck had clarified that the Man from Atlantis had webbed feet, which he demonstrated by helpfully waggling his fingers in the air.
“Webbed feet? He must be from Norwich,” Captain Black quipped.
“Was Patrick Duffy from Norwich?” Goose enquired in all seriousness and above the whooshing noise Captain Black’s remark made as it sailed way over his head.
“Hold on, hold on,” Goose finally interjected, “Isn’t Patrick Duffy dead?”
We assured him that, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn’t.
“Oh, ok. I thought he was shot in the shower or something…”
Things were starting to get a little surreal, which Brassneck added to by suggesting Man from Atlantis was all well and good, but not a patch on Manimal.
“Manimal,” he explained, “could transform into various animals like a hawk or a jaguar.” He recalled it starred an English actor, which Google then confirmed as Simon MacCorkindale.
Most of us could vaguely remember the title of Manimal, but nothing else about the series. No one could remember Simon MacCorkindale, either, but strangely we all knew of his second wife, Susan George.
Even Brassneck was now struggling to remember which animals Manimal transformed into.
“A squirrel,” someone suggested, “And then at the end, he gets run over by a car.”
“A rabbit,” I suggested, “trying to sneak into an armed camp, he’s caught in a searchlight and freezes for the rest of the episode?”
None of our mockery seemed to have any effect on Brassneck and I’m convinced he went home and spent an age reconnecting with Manimal on YouTube
When next I looked up Zardoz was standing over Goose, brandishing his Rapha rain jacket in front of him like a matador’s cape, while Goose struggled with his phone and after an age of fiddling, took a photo of the inside of the jacket.
“No, no, that didn’t work,” Goose exclaimed.
“You need a photo of the outside,” someone suggested.
More fiddling with the phone, another unsuccessful photo and then more fiddling as Goose tried to work out how to turn his flash on. Kid’s and their phones, eh? They just won’t leave them alone.
Finally, Goose got the flash to work and showed us the resulting picture, the flash lighting up Zardoz’s jacket and transforming its dark purple appearance into a glowing, iridescent masterpiece. Quite impressive, but to my mind not a patch on the retina-burning reflective qualities of Proviz kit.
With enough nonsense disgorged to last us for another week, off we went again, following a standard route home. The first part back was cold, the second half was wet and somewhere along the way, Aether apparently claimed a sprint win that only he was contesting.
The miles passed without incident and I was soon heading off solo. A bit of pavement surfing got me through a closed stretch of road without having to detour and I started to climb the Heinous Hill just as the rain began in earnest. I was quite looking forward to a hot shower when I got home, but it wasn’t until I’d fished through all my jersey pockets three times that I realised I’d gone out without my keys.
I checked on the whereabouts of Mrs. SLJ, but she was off across town with Thing#2 who had a hair appointment and they were not due back for at least an hour or so. With the rain settling in, I did the only thing sensible and retired to Pedalling Squares for light refreshments and a chance to watch Wout van Aert ride away with another cyclo-cross race.
I think I’m really lucky to have a cycling cafe on my doorstep (even better with an LBS attached too) but it did mean a double assault on the Heinous Hill. Still, caffeine fuelled and ably bolstered by a fruit scone, the second ride up actually proved significantly easier than the first.
I finally got home in time to get ready and head out to a club social that evening. This involved too many poppadoms, a damn fine chicken Dhansak and numerous bottles of Cobra, while a grand time was had by all.
Dear me, we talk more than enough bolleaux after just a cup of coffee, adding large quantities of alcohol into the mix has a quite, quite startling multiplier effect.
After a lost weekend spent infiltrating Thing#1 into London, I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary and serenity of a club run, only to have my intentions cruelly dashed by Storm Arwen’s untimely arrival on these shores.
With the wind howling through the trees, filling the air with all manner of flying debris and detritus and hurling spiteful handfuls of rain to rattle against the windows, I might yet have ventured out first thing Saturday morning, but I woke to find our water supply had been cut off and that seemed a solid enough excuse to send me scurrying back to a still-warm bed.
In the event, we had the smallest club run that’s physically possible, with just two brave souls daring to venture out au vélo. (I contend that any less and it would officially have been a solo ride.) So hats-off, but straight-jackets on for our dynamic duo of G-Dawg and Brassneck. I’ve convinced myself they spent half the ride telling each other it was all perfectly fine and if they’d realised just how warm it was beforehand, they both would have worn shorts.
Another mild inconvenience for me was the Trek was still with my LBS for some much needed TLC after years of neglect and hard pedalling. This involved a new bottom bracket, headset, brake cables and chain and finally a replacement for the rear cog. Over time I’d manage to wear this latter item sharp enough so that I could have adopted it as a makeshift shuriken. (You know, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or some other civilisation ending catastrophe). Anyway, this meant if I was going out it would have to be astride the unloved Peugeot and, to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it.
A week later and the strong winds of Storm Arwen had thankfully passed, but not before leaving a noticeable and notable mark on the countryside. The sides of the road were littered with leaves and broken branches and down almost every country lane we found multiple raw tree stumps and broad swathes of sawdust from where fallen and damaged trees had been cut down and hauled away. The National Trust site at Wallington Hall near Morpeth, alone reported the loss of “thousands of trees” in what was described as “worst destruction caused by a storm in 40 years.”
This Saturday promised to be calmer, but just as c-c-c-cold and while temperatures weren’t low enough to have to worry about ice, the wind chill kept them down to low single-figures and prompted me to go for the full-on cold-weather gear. So back to the trusty Thermolite socks, thick overshoes, tights, headband and Galibier Colombière quilted jacket. This is insulated enough that I could get away with just a light base-layer and short-sleeved jersey underneath (and even then, the jersey was only needed so I had some pockets to stash bits and bobs in.)
I pondered whether it was cold enough to justify the mighty lobster mitts, but decided to just go for heavier gloves. It was a decision I regretted briefly, halfway through my ride across when my thumbs went numb, but they finally recovered enough that I felt comfortable. The opposite held true for G-Dawg, who ended up removing his lobster mitts and engaging in a bare-knuckle contest with the cold for the last hour before the café, as he was seriously overheating.
The bike was back too and running silky smooth and near silently. Astride it about the only thing I can hear is the slight whisk of tyres kissing tarmac. The only issue I had was the LBS only had a 15t cog to hand to replace my worn one. I’d had them fit that instead of delaying further to order in a new 14t one, reasoning it probably wouldn’t make all that much difference and even if it did, it was an easy fix I could handle myself. Theoretically, getting up hills would be slightly easier, but I was a bit concerned about what it might do to my top-end speed.
Over the river and starting the long, meandering climb up toward Denton Burn, I spotted a couple of cyclists toiling uphill ahead of me, an incentive to test my legs and see if I could catch them. Mission accomplished, as the road straightened toward the crest, I passed the first one.
“Good morning,” I called out chirpily, desperately trying to sound nonchalant and not at all out of breath.
“Jesus Christ!” the rider shrieked back in shocked surprise, obviously startled by my sudden, silent appearance on her shoulder.
“Sorry!” I called back as I slipped past her companion, who was now struggling to ride through his laughter.
Oops! Note to self – the bike is really, really quiet.
I made it to the meeting point without terrifying anyone else, where the usual madness enfolded: Crazy Legs danced around some to “Eye of the Tiger” – we know not why, G-Dawg entertained us relating his encounter last week with a teeny, tiny, vociferously swearing jockey, futilely engaged trying to help workmen move a massive fallen tree from the road because he was running late and supposed to be riding the 12.20 steeplechase at Newcastle Racecourse and OGL, castigated us for failing to sign up for his veteran cyclist get-together, despite the fact we were only ever invited as an afterthought once he realised the numbers didn’t quite stack up.
Buster briefed in the route and got set to lead the first group out. There was then an unseemly scramble to join him, which was in danger of leaving a seriously undermanned second group. This forced G-Dawg to invoke his special, super-hero power – the Teacher’s Voice™ – to bring order to chaos. Not heard since his retirement, but an ability he still retains full command of, it worked on unruly and recalcitrant pupils back then and worked just as well un unruly and recalcitrant cyclists now, as he quickly shamed Carlton and Cowboys out of their attempt to try and sneak away and join the front group.
Our second group finally got underway, 6 of us temporarily bolstered by the Flat White devotees who were already looking forward to their first coffee-stop of the day.
I slotted in for a spell beside Taffy Steve to hear how he’d survived the depredations of Storm Arwen (largely intact except for one fence panel smashed to flinders) but he reported the weather had been particularly spectacular, with boiling, raging seas all along the coast.
Our Flat White bretheren departed around Kirkley and we pressed on, catching sight of our first group up ahead and then, as they were seriously handicapped by Buster’s minuscule bladder, passing them when they were forced to stop for a pee break.
We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and paused long enough for the first group to join us. G-Dawg invited them to lead out again, so rightful order was fully restored and we got an extra minutes rest too.
The minor impediments of Hartburn and Middleton Bank were dispensed with and I took to the front alongside Cowboys as we started the long burn for the café. All good, except I was soon on the absolute limit, as I struggled to push past 35kph, my legs were a ridiculous spinning blur and I was scared of looking down in case they were smoking.
I wish I could treat the loss or gain of just a single tooth with the same aplomb as recently shown by Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, but it’s not to be. I never would have thought the addition of just one extra tooth at the back would make such a difference, but I’m going to have to revert back to the 14t cog.
Luckily, I managed to hold on until the road finally started to rise and a more seemly cadence could be established and then pushed past the final bend before sliding across to try and recover while everyone else darted past to contest the sprint.
At the café, before donning a facemask, I stripped off my gloves, helmet and headband, revealing, much to the delight of Crazy Legs, a very bad case of helmet-hair, what I assume was a ridiculous fin standing up to attention across the top of my head. I joined the back of a very long, very slow-moving queue to jeers of “baby shark!” while I tried to batter my errant hair down into something slightly less preposterous.
On sitting down I then became embroiled in the deep, philosophical question that had seemingly been exorcising the Flat White Club throughout their entire ride: Is it possible to fart while actively pedalling a bike?
Crazy Legs believed he had amply demonstrated this ability out on the road, but Taffy Steve contended that the squeaking, squelching noise he’d heard could have come from any part of Crazy Legs’ anatomy, if not indeed from his bike itself. He seemed particularly disappointed by the volume of the flatus, although I wasn’t sure if his protest was related to the millilitres, or decibels that had been produced. In an attempt to adjudicate, I suggested that a fart is a fart.
“Anyway,” I asked, “What were you expecting an excerpt from Flight of the Bumblebee, Trumpet Voluntary or something?”
Taffy Steve remained unconvinced and I’m sure this one will … err … rumble on.
The fact that one of Sting’s former bandmates (and a former club member) would be engaged to play at OGL’s veteran cyclist reunion that evening, gave Taffy Steve the opportunity to vent about just how dull, joyless, self-absorbed and pompous Mr. Sting appears to be these days. Then he had us guess at how much you’d need to pay to secure a ticket to see Sting play live at the London Palladium next year. Even our wildest guesses came nowhere close to tickets that range in price from an outrageous £387 in the “cheap” seats, to a frankly unbelievable £1,905!
As well as being a conspicuously dull man, Taffy Steve demanded to know if Sting had ever written a good, solo song “other than that alien one.”
“Russians?” I suggested.
“Oh yeah, I quite like that one,” Taffy Steve conceded, “So, name me a good Sting song other than Russians and that alien one?”
“Fields of Gold,” Crazy Legs volunteered.
“Okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold and that alien one, name me a good Sting song?”
“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free?” someone else came up with.
“Okay, okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and that alien one …”
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You…”
Taffy Steve sighed, deeply troubled.
Meanwhile, one table along, the Chinese FNG who’d joined us for the first time that morning had brought one of his wheels into the café and was quietly working to fix a puncture. He seemed happy enough just getting on with it, but OGL declared he does “about 80 puncture repairs a day” and couldn’t resist “lending a hand.” You’d think someone who spends what must be at least half of their entire working life apparently changing tyres would welcome a break from same, but apparently not.
Looking on, Crazy Legs wondered how I’d be able to assign the Chinese kid a pseudonym in the blerg without offending the gods of political correctness, or insulting an entire nation of 1.4 billion people. He then decided that I wouldn’t need to, as the kid’s name was already cool enough and is apparently Cypher. (This is according to a quick conversation the two had had at the meeting point and based on the assumption that Crazy Legs both heard correctly and remembered the details. I’m not sure we can trust either of these faculties – just ask Still Nick and Not Anthony.)
While we blethered on, Captain Black followed a dad and small child toward the toilet where it looked like a prolonged nappy change was the order of the day in the men’s cubicle. Captain Black dutifully waited, but was still there 5 minutes later, when I suggested the toilets were pretty much non-binary and he might as well use the ladies cubicle. Naturally, as soon as he decided I was perhaps-probably right and disappeared inside, a stern-looking, middle-aged matron appeared and, much to our delight, followed him into the lobby.
Sometime later an abashed Captain Black emerged looking suitably chastened and admitting he’d been subject to “that look” the one only women can achieve that can easily shrivel a man’s soul and remind him of just how base and worthless he is. We naturally thought the entire episode was quite hilarious.
Outside once again and heading home, I caught up with Brassneck, who insisted the 60-70mph winds last week weren’t all that bad, as they were constant rather than gusting! I suggested he wasn’t really selling the ride particularly well. He then revealed that both he and G-Dawg had suffered a series of punctures late on, had limped through to the cafe at Kirkley and then both had phoned home for a lift back. So, there you have it, not only the smallest club run in history but the only one with a 100% abandonment rate too!
With Brassneck pondering how much of a mess the lane through from Kirkley to Berwick Hill might be following the passing of Storm Arwen, I decided I was tired enough that I didn’t want to find out, so gave it a miss and I left the group to route through Ponteland and shave a few miles off my trip home.
Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.
As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.
I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.
“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.
“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.
“We don’t have to do everything together.”
TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.
This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.
Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …
… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.
Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.
Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.
Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.
With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.
I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.
“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”
“What,” he countered, “Again?”
Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.
Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.
It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?
By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.
We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.
Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?
Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.
By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …
Yes, he returned with our free refills.
(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)
As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).
On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.
A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.
Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?
Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.
Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.
Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)
We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.
As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.
We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.
That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …
Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.
We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.
Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.
I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.
“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”
Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.
“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”
“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.
“Probably not,” I replied.
What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.
Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.
From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.
I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.
I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.
Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.
The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.
Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?