Plague Diaries – Week#33

Plague Diaries – Week#33

I hear the sound of an abundance of rain

Dear Lord, I’m getting tardy with these things and I’m running about a week behind. Busy times, folks …

Anyway, here we go again, surfing the fringes of Storm Aidan, I was prepared for another wet and windy Saturday, still on the single-speed in anticipation of the widely forecast rain dumping itself on my head. Plus ça change.

On the river, the rowing clubs were out with a full complement of boats, including several 8-man crews, something I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Not sure how the Rule of Six applies in a rowing hull, but there you go. I wish I could say this was a harbinger of a return to some form of normality, but we all know that’s not how this is going to work out.

Despite the obvious drawback of being without gears, I decided I couldn’t restrict my route too much, otherwise I’d be forced to trudge around the same circuit, over and over again, like some sort of two-bit, enfeebled cycling Sisyphus. This is Northumberland after all, so you don’t have to go too much out of your way to find hill or two. With this in mind I aimed vaguely toward Whittle Dene Reservoir, happy just to see how hard the going was and adjust as needed.

Just outside Dalton, I passed Aether heading in the opposite direction, I think that was my first sight of another cyclist since setting out. I cut through Stamfordham and out to the Reservoir. Here the water was an inky, impenetrable black, but there were more fishermen out than I’d seen in a long time, all clustered under the southern embankment to escape the wind and hopefully provide a bit of shelter when the rain arrived. Would it, I wondered – I’d already enjoyed a much drier ride than anticipated.

Clambering up through the plantations towards Stagshaw, I made it onto the road for Matfen when that moment arrived and the rain suddenly cut in. I stopped to pull on a jacket before continuing, passing Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril just outside the village, heading the other way and already looking wet and suitably miserable.

The rain was enough to dissuade me from further wandering, so I started to plot a route toward Kirkley – cake, coffee, comrades, craic and a little bit of shelter in the big, chill barn.

En route I passed a solo OGL, seemingly heading home and then, a few moments later a solo Dabman, seemingly just heading out, off into the downpour and putting a brave face on things.

At the café and in a break with tradition, I ordered a piece of corned beef pie, before grabbing a coffee and wandering off into the big chill barn to find Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Sneaky Pete and Aether already comfortably ensconced.

The corned-beef pie arrived on a plate covered with a tea towel. We wondered if this was for the big reveal when the tea towel was whisked away to display the fabulous dish beneath.

“Nah, it’s just to keep the rain off,” the waitress told us bluntly. Oh well, so much for theatre.

The pie was actually worth a bit of a fanfare and a reveal though. They’d obviously decided they weren’t going to get too many customers today, so served up a piece that would have covered a third of a large dinner plate.

It was good, too, although I’m not sure I could eat that amount every week.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We then engaged in a game of one-upmanship that was like an enactment of the scar-bragging scene from Jaws, just with all the noteworthy cicatrices replaced with troublesome small, furry rodents.

G-Dawg started it off, complaining that “the cat” – he won’t admit to actually owning it, climbs up onto the bedroom windowsill outside and howls to be let in at night. Nervous of the awful racket disturbing the neighbours, G-Dawg eventually relents and opens the window so the small feline harridan can clamber in. Bad enough that his sleep is so disturbed, but last week when he opened the window, the cat, like a swashbuckling pirate carrying a dagger, had a live mouse clenched between its teeth . The cat hopped in and immediately released its prey into the bedroom. Cue instant mayhem.

I described being woken in the middle of the night to find one of our cats prowling around a basket in the hallway. I’d unthinkingly moved the basket to investigate and a large rat had scurried out, ran down the hallway and disappeared into the darkened bedroom, where a blissfully unaware Mrs SLJ was about to get a rude awakening.

Turning the lights on revealed no intruder, so I figured it must be hiding under the bed. I ventured downstairs to retrieve a red, plastic handled mop and after, several minutes of waggling it under the bed managed to cause the rat to flee.

I followed in mad pursuit, the cat at my heels, stark-bollock naked, swearing loudly, while wildly swinging the mop at the rat, only for my weapon of choice to start to disintegrate into red shiny splinters with every errant blow.

Down the hallway, down the stairs, by the time we got the rat cornered in the lobby I was holding a rather short, rather useless stump of the mop handle. Still, while the rat was distracted, actually attacking the cat, I managed to apply the coup de grace with a cycling shoe to the head. Now I know why they’re made with super stiff soles – and all this time I’ve been thinking it was for an efficient transfer of power from foot to pedal!

“Well, that’s nothing,” Crazy Legs began, telling of a fated holiday in Greece when, one night, they discovered a mouse scurrying around the apartment. Once again the stark naked man in the story picked up a broom and gave chase, round and round the apartment while an equally naked Mrs. Crazy Legs leapt up onto the middle of the bed shrieking like a Tom and Jerry character.

“Out the door, get it out the door,” Mrs. Crazy Legs had screamed, so Crazy Legs flung the door wide open, only to be confronted by his neighbours returning from a late night out.

Uncomprehendingly, they took in the naked screaming woman on the bed and the panting, naked man brandishing a broom.

“Oh, hello there,” Crazy Legs finally ventured as a way of breaking the rather uneasy silence.

“Err, hi,” the neighbours finally responded, trying to shuffle quietly away, as Crazy Legs nodded solemnly, just the once … and slowly closed the door on the unfortunate scene.

Even Richard of Flanders’ tale of a holiday complete with a snake in the toilet couldn’t top that one.

Slowly and reluctantly we set out to leave in ones and two’s. Still chomping my way through the mammoth pie I was the last one standing, when Mini Miss arrived with a runner turned newly-minted cyclist in tow, the change in sport prompted by brutalised knee-joints.

I had a brief chat with them, before joining the exodus and heading for home.

This proved a bit of a struggle through intermittent showers, a buffeting headwind, slick and slippery roads, waterlogged clothing and desperately tired legs. I didn’t so much climb the Heinous Hill as grovel my way upwards, still I’d ridden where I wanted, my ride total topped the usual 1,000 metres of climbing and the single-speed had proven itself a reliable alternative.

One day I’ll fix up the Peugeot.

Plague Diaries – Week#32

Plague Diaries – Week#32

Rinse & Repeat

Another weekend and this time the weather forecast wasn’t toying with us, but had gone for the nuclear option – a 73% chance of heavy rain showers from 9.00 onwards and a strong, blustery wind.

I took the warnings seriously, which meant a proper waterproof jacket stashed in my back pocket, a spare pair of gloves to change into if the original pair became waterlogged and an acknowledgement that I’d be back on the single speed bike with its reassurance of full mudguard cover.

So, prepared for the worst, I set off, dropping down the hill and pushing along to the river. From the bridge I noticed the rowing clubs seemed to have found consensus on groups and there were a fair number of fours out on the river, alongside pair and singles.

Although I’m still not there yet, people within our cycling club also seem to be gravitating back to group riding. I know this not only because of their social media posts, but also because I caught a glimpse of some familiar forms picking their way up Brunton Lane as I passed the junction. Then I spotted another group just disappearing over the hill ahead of me, assumed they were also from the club, so gave glorious chase.

Picking up the pace as we passed through Dinnington I closed, but started losing ground on the descent as my legs spun out.

Still, by the time the group ahead had turned onto Berwick Hill, I’d reduced the gap enough to recognise the upright figure of OGL on the back and so knew that, as suspected, I was pursuing a group of clubmates.

I thought I’d be able to overhaul them on the climb, but ran out of road. Still, I was close enough to dive down the inside as we all took the right hand turn, doffing my cap and greeting the reprobates with a hearty, “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Ahead of the group now, I just had to make sure I stayed away and not suffer the embarrassment of being caught, so the work wasn’t done yet. I pushed on, not slacking until I’d passed the café at Kirkley, when I thought I’d bought myself enough breathing space to ease back a little. I had, somewhat perversely, thoroughly enjoyed my little escapade and managed to clock 8 Strava PR’s across 14-15 km’s of tiring, madcap pursuit.

I now followed a similar route to last week, but this time decided to swing north at Whalton, catching a tailwind that pushed me up the hill with a vanguard of dry scuttling leaves leading the way, skittering along like rats’ feet over broken glass (if I may steal a phrase.)

As I ran past Bolam Lake, I passed and saluted an equally solo G-Dawg heading in the opposite direction. We managed a quick shouted conversation, the gist of which was “see you at the café” and then he whipped past and away.

I took the bombed out back lane toward the Snake Bends with half a mind to travel down the Quarry climb, before heading homeward. Despite the forecasts, the weather so far had been glorious, dry and bright if a little chill and although the wind was indeed blustery, there was no sign of the forecast rain. I was enjoying my ride and looking to extend it.

At the next junction though, I paused and looked north. The sky overhead had turned black and ominous, while in the middle distance a veil of grey rain was obscuring the fields and rushing unstoppably toward me.

I pulled on my jacket and turned back around. The Quarry could wait for another day, it was now full steam to the café racing the rain I had no hope of beating.

And so it proved, suddenly lashing down, chill, heavy and stinging, driven into my face by the wind and at one point being briefly peppered and pummelled with icy hail.

My gloves and leggings were soon soaked through and while the jacket held, it only took one road-spanning puddle to wash through my overshoes and soak my feet.

It was grim and the bike had picked up all sorts of debris and was beginning to grind and complain almost as much as my shivering body. It was a relief to reach the café and scuttle into the shelter of the only slightly porous barn.

Here I found G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve, recently arrived from where they too had been driven by the rainstorm, strangely it seemed we’d all been within a few kilometres of each other, as had Aether who arrived a short time afterwards.

We joined a table with the King of the Grogs and Jimper, both of whom had the sense to seek shelter as soon as the sky darkened and had the luxury of being mainly dry.

The highlight of our conversation revolved around the King of the Grogs revealing OGL was busily promoting a guaranteed certainty that the entire region would be in Tier 3 lockdown by next Friday. This he claimed to have on the authority of an impeccable source, otherwise known as “a bloke from the gym.”

(Props to Sneaky Pete for rather quaintly referring to the local David Lloyd as a gymnasium).

Not willing to take anything at face value, the King of the Grogs had Googled the “impeccable source” to discover … not a world-leading epidemiologist … nor a high-ranking National Health Service administrator … or even a local government official … but, err … a joiner?

Childish though it was, this became the dominant theme in the rest of our conversation. Need a door hanging? I know an epidemiologist who can do that for you. Problems with your computer operating system? I know a joiner who can fix that.

Such nonsense kept us amused until the weight of the rain blew past and we reluctantly, in ones and two’s, wrestled damp gear back on to various complaining bodies parts and reluctantly left our temporary sanctuary.

The rain had eased mightily by this time and it didn’t take long before I warmed to the task in hand and actually started to enjoy the ride home (in a decidedly moist sort of way.)

Chapeau to anyone who does long club rides on a fixie, or single-speed, I was utterly exhausted by the time I’d hauled my sorry carcase up the Hill and home, to tick off another entertaining excursion.

Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Against the Odds

A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.

His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.

These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.

The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.

Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.

Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.

As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.

It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.

Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.

At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.

Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.

A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.

As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.

“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.

“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.

I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.

I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.

It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.

I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.

One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.

G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”

The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.

We quickly summarised the three tiers as:

Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek

Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle

Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.

G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?

As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.

He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?

Maybe.

When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.

“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.

We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.

The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.

The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.

Plague Diaries – Week#29

Plague Diaries – Week#29

Among My Swan – still continuing an extremely tenuous avian theme.

When even the so-called “world’s most powerful man” (not for much longer if we’re lucky) isn’t safe from the Covid-19 pandemic, then who is?

Then again, most of us have changed our behaviour to try and mitigate the risk, both to ourselves, but even more importantly, to those we may come into contact with who are potentially more vulnerable. I would never rush to wish ill-health on anyone, but there’s a certain Karmic retribution at play whenever a Covid-denier and especially the world’s most powerful Covid-enabler, the Obfuscator-in-General himself, gets hoist by their own petard.

I have to admit, it also provided a few moments of real levity. Trump’s tweet about testing positive was met with an immediate response that this was probably the only positive thing he’d ever tweeted (twet? twatted?) – while it was noted that his test was probably the only one where he hadn’t felt compelled to cheat.

Someone else revealed they’d tested positively as wholly unsympathetic, while another reminded us an underlying symptom of Covid-19 was a complete lack of taste … and wondered what excuse Trump had for all the other blighted lifestyle choices he’d made before falling ill.

Anyway, back to more important stuff. Saturday, 3rd October, summer is officially over and the day is a complete washout.

It started raining late Friday night and hadn’t stopped and didn’t look like stopping anytime on Saturday. If there been a club run I would have been out sharing the misery, but there wasn’t. So I didn’t.

Sunday then, and there may have been water, water everywhere (nor any drop to drink) but there were patches of blue in the sky and a much better day beckoned for a little bikling.

Heading out for a jaunt up the Tyne Valley, I dropped toward Wylam to cross the river. It might have been a Sunday, not a Saturday, and I might have been arriving at an unusual time, but my timing was still impeccable synchronised to coincide with a long freight train of gravel-filled hopper cars, that trundled slowly by while I was caught at the level-crossing.

I crossed the river, high, roiling brown with soil and debris and buckled into angry white-capped waves, pressing on on out of the village, only to have to turn back as the road along the river to Ovingham was completely closed for repair.

Ooph. Plans already scuppered, I climbed out of Wylam up the same hill we usually come screaming down and ended up on the Military Road, heading for Whittledene Reservoir for the third week in a row. I’m getting predictable.

The reservoir looked high and bloated with rainfall, which seemed to have attracted a ballet, a bevy, a drift, a herd, a regatta, or a whiteness of swans, depending on your collective noun preference. Well, possibly not a whiteness, as a couple of these were youngsters and still a soft, fuzzy brown rather than pristine white.

From the reservoir, I took my usual route toward Stagshaw and through to Matfen. Climbing out the village and looking to change things up a little, I then took the first turn I came to and ended up on the Reivers Cycleway for a spell. This dropped me off at Ryal village and it seemed churlish at that point not to take advantage and drop down the Ryals.

Whoosh …

Fun over, I turned to climb up through Hallington.

Just past the village the road was flooded and I picked my way carefully through, knowing just how rutted this road was and fearing submerged potholes or worse.

I then took the road toward Capheaton and eenie-meenie-miney-mo’d whether to call in to the café there, or press on to Kirkley. Kirkley won (just) and I routed through Belsay and straight down the main road until I’d by-passed Ogle, before turning onto quieter lanes.

I found our Dutch tag-team, TripleD-El and TripleD-Be, comfortably ensconced in the café, having smartly eschewed riding yesterday in the deluge.

Shortly after they left I was joined by Ahlambra and, in wide ranging and hugely entertaining discussion covering Covid-19, local lockdowns, the CIA, light-bulb inventors, US Presidents, the Clinton Foundation, false flag operations, Benghazi and a race of intergalactic, shape-shifting, immortal reptilian overlords (ok, I may have made that last one up) I realised I was in the presence of the clubs premier conspiracy theorist – and not everything is as it seems.

Sadly though, even hardened conspiracy theorists aren’t immune to the cold and while Ahlambra was warming to his topic, he was also beginning to feel the chill. Enough was enough, so we packed up and went our different ways – mine leading to a comfy seat in front of a double screened computer to simultaneously watch Stage 2 of the Giro and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Not a bad day at all.

Plague Diaries – Week#28

Plague Diaries – Week#28

Day of the Condor – Continuing a tenuous avian theme established by last weeks cameo from a stool pigeon. Ha cha cha cha.

For those of you who hate cliff hangers and are too lazy to look things up on Strava (yes, I’m looking at you, Monsieur Crazy Legs) then yes, I managed to snatch back my Strava KOM and everything is good with the world.

I actually quite enjoyed my little extra-curricular challenge last week and since I have no need to be at a particular meeting point at a given time for the foreseeable future, I might try further Strava segment smash and grabs.

It’s a bit like the cycling equivalent of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – once you’ve smashed it open and snaffled one segment, you always want more.

There’s one in particular KOM that ends almost practically outside my front door, so I feel obliged to give that one a go next. The trouble is, its a very short, steep ramp with a brutal speed bump half-way, ideally placed to disrupt your rhythm just as things turn nasty. It’s also so short a segment that the record is just 16 seconds, so I suspect you have to be travelling at maximum speed before you hit the start and then slam on the brakes before you hit the end – a junction onto a busy main road. There’s absolutely no margin for error.

Three guys and one girl have done it in 16 seconds, while my best is a whole second slower, good enough for a top 5 place along with a whole slew of others. By my reckoning, if I can hit and hold 50 kph for that short, handful of seconds it takes to get to the top, I should be in with a shout.

Today’s first effort was woeful. The gear I chose was too big and I ran out of momentum before the top, finishing in a totally unconvincing 20 seconds. Still, maybe next week.

Today was a chilly but bright day, so I venured out wearing both a long sleeved baselayer and armwarmers, legwarmers, thermal socks, a cap and long-fingered gloves. For once I got it about right and never felt over-dressed.

Following my lung and leg shredding failed KOM effort, I dropped down into the valley, crossed the river and started climbing out the other side again.

I pretty much followed the route I’d taken last week up Hospital Lane, before taking a quick detour, following the signs for Chapel House on a whim. I expected a picturesque village built up around a small kirk, but found nothing but a long loop through a modern and rather uninspiring housing estate. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a place by its name for that matter.

Through Callerton and approaching Penny Hill, I was stalking another cyclist who seemed to be travelling at least as fast as I was on the flat, but slightly slower on the hills. As we started up the climb I closed on him – a tall, slender man, on a tall slender, steel-framed bike. Just before I caught up, a blocky-burly-beardy-bloke bustled past. I dropped onto his wheel and he pulled me past Slender Man, then I overtook Blocky Burly Beardy Bloke as the climb stiffened and his bustle degenerated to a slow grind.

The road levelled and I kept going toward Stamfordham. About 10km later, Slender Man slid past me, with a nod and a garbled message.

“I didn’t realise it was going to be quite so windy,” he’d apparently said, words instantly snatched away by that very wind, obviously looking to prove a point. It wasn’t until he repeated what he said that I got their gist and could agree with him.

I tagged along behind him for a while, not quite in his wheel, but within a socially restrained 3 or 4 metres that still gave me a little drafting benefit. Then, on the rise just before Stamfordham I eased past and onto the front again.

Passing Whittle Dene Reservoir and I slowed for a cyclist stopped by side of road, checking he was ok and Slender Man caught me and we rolled along on either side of the road, chatting for a while.

He asked if I too was heading toward Corbridge, his intended destination and I confessed I was just wandering aimlessly, then we discussed old bike brands, the sorry demise of Holdsworth and his trust of steel-frames not to catastrophically fail like carbon, while I admired his pristine Condor.

We climbed to the top of the road to Newton and then parted, as he swung left to dip into the Tyne Valley and I pushed on toward Stagshaw and then Matfen. Through Matfen, I was half-minded to drop down the Ryals, but the wind put me off, so I routed up past the Quarry again and then down to Belsay.

From there I headed toward Whalton, instantly regretting my choice as I found they were cutting back the hedges along this stretch of road. I say cutting back, but it’s more like they thrash them into submission, scattering a wide swathe of detritus across the road surface. This almost invariably contains a large serving of the infamous Northumbrian steel-tipped thorns – which add a super high likelihood of you picking up punctures.

I picked my way through the debris as best I could, breathed a huge sigh of relief when I exited the zone of destruction with both tyres intact, then instantly cursed myself for inviting disaster with such reckless self-congratulatory thinking. I was inviting disaster.

I found that, like a lot of the roads in this area, the stretch from Belsay to Whalton has also been given that heavy, rough and grippy, open-textured and horrible, fresh surface that seems to have become the new norm. I think I preferred the old one, even with all its potholes and fissures.

At the Gubeon, I turned for home, calling in for a quick stop at Kirkley to re-fuel and on the off chance of bumping into a familiar face or two. I found G-Dawg on one of the benches, pressed up against the wall to try and find some shelter from the biting wind. Other than one other auld feller riding on his own, the place was otherwise deserted, so plenty of space for social distancing and no issues getting served quickly. Even chill weather has to have some benefits.

By the time I got from the serving hatch to the bench, my coffee had gone cold and OGL had arrived, probably just stopping by to see who was mad enough to be out.

He rolled off after singing the virtues of his new Vittoria tyres (he was preaching to the choir) while I gulped down cold coffee and a large if uninspiring serving of carrot cake. After 20 minutes the chill was starting to bite and I was packing up to leave. G-Dawg was determined to brave the elements for a few more minutes to see if anyone else was out and also because if he fears if he gets home too early, he thinks he’ll be expected to get back at that exact same time every week.

I had the wind firmly behind me most of the way home and was feeling good, the pedals seeming to float around on their own. It was a decently fast run back and I found I was home an hour before my usual arrival. Luckily no one else was in the house.

I think I got away with it.

Plague Diaries – Week#27

Plague Diaries – Week#27

A licky boom, boom down

So following discussion, the investigation of all possible loopholes, wormholes and arseholes, no end of reading and research, questioning British Cycling and the Police and anyone else who’d listen, there was no clarity and no certainty, but it looked like club runs, even in groups of 6 were verboten. Sigh.

It seemed clear cut to me that we’d be back to solo rides and that’s what I planned for, even as the debate continued. Finally “the Amorphous We” called off the club ride for the weekend, although G-Dawg did suggest that if everyone just so happened to be at the cafe at a certain time and we strictly enforced social distancing, we could at least benefit from such a serendipitous and guileless coincidence.

So then, I had a start point and I had an end point complete with a rendezvous time. It was just a case of filling in the middle. Before all that however, I had a bit of unfinished business, a side mission to reclaim a Strava K.O.M. that I’d lost while on holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a hotly contested segment that hundreds of people are striving to capture, but a quiet stretch of road I use on my commute’s home. I’d set the record somewhat inadvertently coming back from work on my single-speed and, since it’s the only K.O.M. I’ve ever had, or I’m likely to ever have, I have a certain attachment to it.

My thinking was that if I tackled it at the start of my ride and on my good bike, and made a deliberate run at it, there was a reasonable chance I could snatch it back, even if it was just for a week or two. So, I took a circuitous route down the Heinous Hill, circled around my target, found the right gear and bashed my way upwards.

It felt fast, but I wouldn’t know if I’d been successful until I got home and downloaded the file to Strava.

I got back on course, crossing the river at Newburn and tackling the climb up Hospital Lane, before taking a left through Westerhope instead of my usual right. I found myself climbing Penny Hill from top to bottom for the first time. I was just over half way up when the unmistakable figure of G-Dawg in his multi-coloured Mapei jersey emerged from a side road ahead of me.

I accelerated to greet my clubmate and slowly began to close, until he looked back, saw he was being stalked by another cyclist, raised himself out of the saddle, stomped forcefully on the pedals … and rode away.

I’d already been climbing for about 5-minutes and had no response as G-Dawg disappeared around a corner in the distance ahead, probably not even realising who was trying to ride across to him just to say hello.

Then again, maybe he knew exactly who was chasing him …

I rounded the corner to find G-Dawg momentarily stopped by some temporary traffic lights and I arrived just as they turned green. I used my momentum to nip past, complaining loudly about the length of the hill I’d just been forced to climb and pushed on toward Stamfordham. I assume G-Dawg took a different route by dint of the fact that he didn’t catch and pass me somewhere along the way.

From Stamfordham I took the road to Whittle Dene reservoir, then followed the signs for Stagshaw. Climbing up through the plantations I had an awkward encounter with a black-eared hare that decided to belt straight down the road in front of me, instead of simply stepping to one side and disappearing into a hedge.

Every time my momentum saw me catch up with it I tapped my brakes and every time the hare heard the zissing of the pads it started to jink erratically, zig-zagging crazily across the tarmac in a manoeuvre obviously designed to make a predator miss.

This happened three or four times and I was getting embarrassed for the poor critter, until the light finally dawned in its little brain and it stepped off the road and into cover.

I pushed on through Matfen, turned for the Quarry and ran slap bang into a stiff headwind that was going to dog me pretty much the rest of the ride, as I routed through Belsay, Ogle and on to Kirkley and our low key club rendezvous.

The cafe was quiet today. I got served quickly and there was more than enough space for everyone to sit 3 or 4 metres apart.

Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, TripleD-Be and Triple D-El were already widely spaced around a table and it wasn’t long before Aether joined our impromptu collective, with a few others rolling up later.

Everyone seemed to be fully enjoying the Tour, little knowing at that point that the rather inevitable procession toward Paris was due a further surprise twist, one that would upend the Rog and Pog show to supplant it with the Pog and Rog show. Incredible.

Considering the Giro and Vuelta are generally more open and entertaining than the Tour – and we have both yet to come, it could be a vintage year for cycling’s Grand Tours, despite everything.

Even better, we have almost a full suite of Classics to look forward to, including, as Crazy Legs reminded us, an autumn Paris-Roubaix with a strong possibility of atrocious weather to spice things up even further.

Not everyone is a fan though, G-Dawg admitting he couldn’t see the novelty of riding on gravel, or cobbelstones, be it the pavé of Paris-Roubaix, or the sterrati of the Strade Bianche. His argument was that there were perfectly good roads leading to the same destination, so why would you use something inferior and from ages past. He does, I concede have a point, after all no one is competing in these races on ancient steel-framed clunkers. Secretly I suspect he’s just averse to the thought of all those nice shiny bikes getting trashed beyond even his cleaning and restorative prowess.

Crazy Legs informed us that he’d been well into his ride, when he determined his shorts were unbearably uncomfortable and it was a good while longer before he realised why – in a faux pas previously only committed by the Garrulous Kid, he found was still wearing his underpants. He then had to seek out a private and secluded stopping spot in order to more or less completely disrobe to remove the offending article.

Now, like an unrequited Tom Jones fan, he was carrying around his pre-worn knickers in his back pocket and offering them as an extra thermal layer to anyone who complained it was a bit chilly outside. As far as I’m aware there were no takers.

This got me wondering if there was an opposite to “going Commando” – perhaps “going Home Guard” or maybe “going Quisling?” Yeah, I know, it’ll never catch on.

Crazy Legs then asked everyone, “Would you grass your neighbours up for breaking quarantine rules?”

TripleD-Be looked mightily confused. “Grass?” he queried.

“Grass. Snitch. Nark. Fink?”

“Huh?”

“Become a stool pigeon?” I suggested, thinking that Kid Creole and the Coconuts perhaps-maybe could have troubled the Eurocharts back in the day?

TripleD-Bee looked even more bewildered now.

“Stool pigeon?” He mulled the alien phrase over, “As in a stool you sit on and pigeon like the bird?”

“Err – yes.”

“Informer,” someone suggested and that seemed to do the trick, he at least knew what we were getting at.

“But, why stool pigeon, where does this term come from?” he returned to the topic of Kid Creole’s 15-minutes of fame.

I had to admit I had absolutely no idea, perhaps leaving him even more confounded by the absurdity of the English language.

(The most plausible explanation I can find after additional research is that the term derives from the French estale, a pigeon used to entice a hawk into a net.)

Talk then meandered its way to the club time-trial.

“When is it?” TripleD-El queried.

“Next August,” Crazy Legs informed her.

“Ah, good, I don’t have to start training yet,” –

“Yeah, you do,” Crazy Legs shot back.

Ooph. Burn.

TripleD-El was left speechless, while TripleD-Be collapsed in a fit of giggles.

We left soon afterwards, before Anglo-Dutch relations became more fractious, each going our separate ways.

I routed home through Ponteland, finding I now had Snow’s “Informer” as the soundtrack to my ride. Stopped at the traffic lights just past the airport car pulled up behind and blasted me with a snarky sounding horn. I was stopped at a red light, standing perfectly still and composed, what could I possibly have done to earn the ire of this particular motorist? I decided to ignore it and pushed on when the lights changed.

The car pulled up alongside, the passenger window slid down and I braced myself for a stream of invective, or worse.

“Halloo there!” I glanced across to see the BFG leering at me from behind the wheel of his mini.

“Oh, hi.”

He doffed an imaginary hat and sped away. Oh well, looked like I was going to avoid ugly confrontations with arse-hat motorists. This week at least.

Plague Diaries – Week#26

Plague Diaries – Week#26

The Joy of Six

Woah! Week#26 of this stuff already – half an entire year and still no end in sight.

Oh, if you’re at all concerned at the loss of week#24 and #25, they were taken up by a deserved holiday in North Yorkshire. I’ve never seen so much rain. This was then followed by an entire weekend decorating Sur La Jante Towers while trying to dry out.

In the time I’ve been away from club riding, the pandemic has tightened its grip on the UK, cases are rising again and tighter restrictions on social gatherings are about to be implemented – the so called Rule of Six, which sounds to me like Bo-Jo the Clown channeling the ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anyway, since it doesn’t look good to have up to 30 cyclists hanging round, talking bolleaux, guffawing loudly and generally cluttering up the pavement,we decided on collective, pre-emptive action.

Orchestrated through various social media channels, everyone was encouraged to wear masks at the meeting point, wait under the eaves of the multi-story car park instead of out on the pavement and, as soon as we we could form each group of 6, we determined they should head straight out and not wait for the usual 9:15 collective start time. It seemed like an obvious, eminently practical and sensible variation on how we usually do things and would allay any negative perceptions that we were flouting social-distancing procedures.

For reasons that I might get around to explaining one day, this was the first time I’d ever done a club ride with a knapsack on my back. Val-deri, val-dera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha and all that. This was fine when I started out fresh and it was empty, but as the day wore and I filled it with more and more of my clubmate’s jersey’s, it seemed to get heavier and heavier, bulged more and became more of an aerodynamic drag, a literal and metaphorical anchor on my back. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (It was only loaded with 1.9 kgs of stuff, but it felt like so much more!)

I’ve also just swapped out my venerable, chunky Garmin Edge for a sleek, Decathlon Van Rysel bike computer and this was its first outing (it does pretty much the same things as the Garmin, but for half the price).

Unfortunately, I was too lazy/impatient to set it up properly and format the displays, which was something I didn’t discover until 10-minutes into my ride, when I realised I could see my maximum achieved speed, but none of the various screens I flicked through showed me what time it was.

I guess I could have stopped and checked the time on my phone, but … well, where’s the fun in that? So, I pressed on, picking up the pace just to make sure I wouldn’t be late. I needn’t have worried, I made it in plenty of time and joined earliest arriving rider, Richard Rex in the car park. We masked up, before shooting the breeze about the Tour: young tyro-cyclists like Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar, sly, old cyclists Like Alessandro Valverde and, for a change of pace, the unpredictable weather in the Lake District

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg arrived in tandem, but sadly not on a tandem. They quickly gathered four others and away they went. Smooth as you like, our first group were out on the road and we were up and running. Another group quickly formed up and followed, before our newly organised Newbie group got underway too.

Then OGL arrived, found half of us had left already and embarked on an epic, apoplectic rant about us leaving in small groups, not waiting until the allotted time and apparently running roughshod over all sorts of long-held club mores, traditions and values.

And the reason for all the vituperative ire? In the biggest self-own imaginable, apparently he wanted to get us all clustered closely together so he could address the gathered masses and tell us we needed to reconsider our social-distancing arrangements.

Aether took the brunt of the attack and simply tried to explain that it was down to individual choice and that we had all, collectively arrived at a practical, pragmatic and much needed decision, that had been widely discussed and agreed across a range of social media. This did not, he admitted when challenged, include the “official” channels of the club Facebook page or website, because a large number of legitimate and fully-paid up club members have been arbitrarily excluded from actually accessing them.

I’ve never been good arguing with incoherence and lack of logic, so stood politely, if rather awkwardly aside until the storm blew itself out to dark mutterings. I never did quite grasp what his suggestions actually were for improving our response to social-distancing guidelines, other than some scare-mongering about our chosen coffee stop and some random, non-cycling people being fined in, err … Salford was it?

The furore interrupted our efforts to set everyone off in groups, rather than have us mingling and potentially raising the ire of Priti Vacant Patel, but we finally hustled the last few groups out onto the road. I joined up with route architect Aether, root architect Ovis, Famous Sean’s and Sneaky Pete to form a quality quintet and, somewhat belatedly, we got underway too.

Aether confided he was confounded beyond belief that OGL hadn’t taken the opportunity to congratulate us on our pre-emptive initiative and well-thought out social distancing rules enacted for the benefit of all club members. Ha ha.

I had a catch up with Famous Sean’s who I hadn’t seen for a good while. In the middle of our chat I almost fell into the trap of talking about how borderline chilly it was, but then I looked over and noticed that, as usual, Famous Sean’s was almost completely mummified in layers of clothing – a long-sleeved jacket, buff, tights and overshoes. I reasoned he probably didn’t have the faintest inkling of what the weather was like outside his protective carapace, so I let it slide. “I was going to put my winter gloves on,” he later confided, “But thought people might laugh at me.”

Still, at least he wasn’t wearing his entire wardrobe all at once, like the time he made it onto one of our winter rides with a silhouette resembling a bomb-disposal expert in full blast armour.

Halfway up Berwick Hill we passed one of our earlier groups, wrestling with Captain Black’s tyre after an unfortunate puncture. We zipped past and pressed on, swapping turns on the front until we reached the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and Sneaky Pete sneaked away rather than face the steep drag up.

The second group having made the necessary repairs were right on our heels as we tackled the climb and Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, attacked from that group and whooshed past as we dug into the climb.

“Ah, the exuberance of youth,” Ovis remarked wistfully, although he was gliding up the steep slope without apparent effort.

I asked how he was doing. “Ouh, a’m not gowin’ too bad att’a moment,” he replied modestly, before confiding he’d recently ridden the entire Marmotte route on Zwift. Just because he could.

With only the four of us to swap places on the front and battling a surprisingly stiff breeze, we somehow stayed ahead of the group behind, but as we took the climb parallel to the Trench, the Dormanator was once again flitting past to attack the slope with gusto.

Aether was flagging a little as we made it over the top. “I still haven’t found my climbing legs,” he confided, pausing in contemplation before adding, “and it’s been fifteen years now.”

Up past Dyke Neuk, we dropped down the other side and were just making our way toward Meldon and more climbing, when Aether pulled over with a puncture. We got things sorted pretty niftily and were almost done when the group behind churned past, putting us firmly into last place on the road again. I hoped this might play to our advantage and let the cafe queue die down a little before we got there.

My wishes were semi-granted, the queue wasn’t too long and we were served without the usual interminable wait. Armed with coffee and yet another crumbling scone on a paper plate, I meandered across the grass looking for a bench to perch my posterior on.

Spotting me approaching the table where he was sitting with G-Dawg and the Colossus, Crazy Leg hooked his leg around the spare chair beside him and drew it in under the table and out of reach. The. Bastard.

I moved toward the next table to join a couple of furious wasps who were dive-bombing it’s surface in apparent agitation, but at least appeared more welcoming. Crazy Legs relented though and invited me to sit with the cool kids after all, although he did check that I wasn’t carrying jam or anything else that might attract flying pests’ having been caught out before when sitting next to Szell and his wasp-magnet confiture.

This remembrance did gift us a quick sing-a-long round of “K-K-K-Kenny and the wasps” but luckily it wasn’t enough to gift either of us an Elton John ear-worm.

I wondered how the Colossus had been faring in the sneakily gusting wind, riding his TT bike with the solid disc wheel and he admitted it certainly made life a little interesting.

As a counterpoint to this discussion, a capricious gust of wind then picked up my plate and hurled it away, jettisoning my scone, which grazed Crazy Legs’ temple as it spun past. He looked up in pained surprise, but luckily it didn’t have the concrete hardened crust of a stale pork pie, because if that had caught him in the eye, Crazy Legs would have bit the dust.

I retrieved my scone from several metres away where it had finally come to rest. They may be flat and they may be crumbly, but they are impressively aerodynamic for baked goods.

I then commended everyone for making an early start this morning and missing out on an epic OGL rant, as he complained about the further Covid-19 precautions we’d taken, because he wanted to discuss taking further Covid-19 precautions. Still, I needn’t have worried as he turned up out of nowhere for the singular purpose of delivering a full-throated reprise of his earlier rant, just so no one felt left out.

Never. A. Dull. Moment.

With everyone gathering their gear to leave I told Captain Black not to wait as I was thinking of heading straight home through Ponteland. Ovis though was hanging back to wait for me and I was coerced into joining up with him, Aether, Captain Black, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg on a more circuitous return up Saltwick Hill.

At one point everyone else dropped back to wait for Aether, but I was flagging, so I kept plugging along, tiring rapidly and with the rucksack starting to give me a sore back. It’s ok for 20km round commuting trips, but not so comfortable on extended club runs.

The group caught me once again just past the airport and I tagged onto the back for a while, but it wasn’t long before I was on my own again and this time for the rest of the ride. Crawling up past the golf course into a direct headwind wasn’t much fun, but it was largely downhill to the river from there and once across I had a tailwind to usher me to the foot of the Heinous Hill. A last clamber up and I was done for another week.

STOP PRESS: The entire North East is now subject to tighter lockdown restrictions. We (or, “the amorphous we” as OGL has disparagingly named us) have decided to suspend group rides for now, so it’s back to solo undertakings for the time being and until further notice.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Plague Diaries – Week#21

Plague Diaries – Week#21

A quick one. In all senses of the word.

Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.

It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.

I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.

First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.

It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?

Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.

Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.

At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.

G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.

The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.

With over two-dozen of us, we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.

This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.

Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.

I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.

I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, or pushing onto the front and injecting more speed than I could cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, when Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily. Now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.

We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing on the village of Ryal.

I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.

We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a more sustainable pace.

By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.

On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.

Through Ogle I gained ground, until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.

As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.

I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.

Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.

Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …

“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.

Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.

Yeah, you and me both, mate …

He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idiot went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.

I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.

Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I swung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of our front group somewhere on the climbs where I’d been distanced. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.

We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.

Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Ponderosa Glee Boys

Internet oddity of the week was a report in multiple newspapers that Safari park baboons had been armed with knives, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, with keepers suspecting pranksters had tooled up the simians so they could damage visitors’ cars ‘for a laugh’

The best quote from Knowsley Safari Park claimed their park was “just as safe as a McDonalds drive-thru.” Hmm, not tremendously reassuring.

Well, the Met Office confirmed Friday was third hottest day on record in the UK as temperatures reached almost 38℃ “doon sooth” and they weren’t too shabby “oop north” either. Not the best when you’re too pre-occupied with work to step out, but a few of my luckier clubmates managed to enjoy long rides in the sun. Still, even as temperatures began to drop from their record highs, it seemed like things would be just fine for Saturday and so it proved.

In fact it was a very bright early start to the day that slowly started to cloud over, but still a perfectly warm and pleasant for a bit of free-range bikling -and we were even graced by the occasional burst of bright sunshine.

Jimmy Mac had prepared one of those cunning routes that took a tried and tested club run and reversed it, providing something novel that was a bewildering and disorientating surprise and yet at the same time oddly familiar – a sort of collective bike ride powered by déjà vu.

It was also a route that proved fast, flat and fun, lacking any signature big hills, to such an extent that I only just topped a 1,000 metres of climbing for the entire day.

I’d arrived at the meeting point early to find the a newly chunky, Monkey Butler Boy had emerged from a long period of aestevation, complete with a brand new pair of aero-socks, which he claimed would save him an additional 4 watts of energy, before adding the small print, sotto voce: if he could somehow manage to ride at 40kph for 45 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be enough of an advantage for him to survive the ride after neglecting the bike for so long.

As one young ‘un returned, another prepared to depart, this being the last ride of the Garrulous Kid before his return to university. Still, there was one final opportunity for G-Dawg to carry out an impromptu chain inspection. It was no great surprise to anyone when the Garrulous Kid failed the test and G-Dawg spent the rest of the ride with a pore-deep, grungy black smear indelibly tattooed into his thumb pad. It’ll probably still be there when the Kid returns at Christmas.

Captain Black arrived on a different bike, a new Trek to replace his old Trek, the somewhat bipolar, “Old Faithful” or “Twatty MacTwat Face” the name being very much dependent upon how its riders legs were feeling at any given moment. The new bike has in-built vibration dampening and fat 32mm tyres, promising a plush ride, even on the worst of Northumberland’s disintegrating roads.

Once again there were 25 or so riders at the start and we left in groups of six. This time I formed part of the rear-guard, the last group out alongside Captain Black, Big Dunc, Benedict, OGL and Carlton. Suffering from hay-fever, OGL stayed with us until Bolam Lake before bailing to head to the cafe at Belsay, while the rest of us started the route reversal portion of the planned ride.

Around 40km into the ride and approaching a downhill run of Middleton Bank, we caught a glimpse of the next group on the road and began closing. Benedict took a timeout to attend to a call of nature and the rest of us eased onto the climb up to Scots Gap, letting the group ahead pull out a bigger lead until they were safely out of sight again.

We regathered and pushed on, the wrong way through the swoop and dip past Hartburn and then flicking left and right at speed through the bends passing Dyke Neuk, the building on our right instead of the usual left, all the while gathering pace as we went.

By the time we were running through Mitford we’d caught and latched onto the group ahead. This was a problem as we were now travelling in a pack of more than six, but much more importantly, it put would put us at the back of the queue when we reached the cafe at Kirkley.

The overwhelming majority (well, all but one of us, truth be told) seem to have adopted Kirkley as our ordained coffee stop, primarily because it has such a massive outside seating area, with plenty of space for social distancing. On the downside, service is glacially slow and it gets very busy.

Captain Black had a quick consult with the rest of our group and gave me the nod, Carlton and Big Dunc seemed happy to hang back, but the rest of us had permission to push on.

I waited until we hit the climb out of Mitford, before running down the outside of the group and accelerating away, with Captain Black and Benedict in close attendance. By the top of the climb we had a workable lead and it was just a case of maintaining the gap as we closed on the cafe for a bit of sneaky, unadulterated queue jumping.

Safely at Kirkley, Jimmy Mac got lots of deserved kudos for the route, which although all on well traveled roads, had never been put together in that combination or direction before. G-Dawg in particular was well pleased with the speed the front group had managed, clocking a 30 km/hour average throughout, even allowing for his slow amble down to the meeting point that morning.

Crazy Legs revealed that he’d taken to wearing a mask like … well, like a duck to water, the one drawback being that it inevitably provoked him into making comedy wahk-wahk-wahk duck noises.

I suggested it was fun to wear a mask, but I felt it would be even better with a six-shooter holstered on my hip. Yippy-kay-ay. Crazy Legs agreed and said he’d felt like a particularly bad-ass hombre when pairing his mask with a leather stetson, while we touched on the irony of having to wear a mask before you went into a bank these days.

There was also a shout out for Egan Bernal’s comedy effort …

Crazy Legs then said he’d seen that someone had developed an athlete specific mask for wearing during exercise – the major drawback being it closely resembled a horses nosebag. I wondered if it would be useful for holding a handful of oats for mid-ride nutrition, while he suggested a watertight one students could fill with alcohol, needing only to tip their heads back to sup … and we were almost back where we left off last week with his suggestion that students wear a cone of shame …

Finally served and at a table (it was apparently a good scone week, this week, but I’d gone with a flapjack instead) we showed a near preternatural level of forward planning by discussing our options for cafe stops during winter club runs, when the small indoor area here would swiftly be overrun.

This turned into a discussion about how many would actually bother riding throughout the winter when there were “fun” alternatives (their words, not mine) available like Zwift.

Apparently we haven’t quite got the comms set up on the system we’re currently using for collective turbo rides and the only form of communication available is a simple thumbs-up. This seemed mighty limited vocabulary to me and, even if confined to basic hand gestures, I could think of one or two others that might come in useful.

I demonstrated for good effect, making a fist and boldly raising my middle-finger. “Yes,” Crazy Legs confirmed, “That would be useful.”

I then curled my fingers into a loose fist and shook it vigorously up and down in imitation of Gareth Hunt demeaning his craft in order to hock instant coffee, or, if that particular image offends (and I can see why it might) miming the universal sign for an onanistic self-abuser.

“Hah!” Crazy Legs interjected as my actions reminded him of something, “we passed a bloke today blowing up his tyre and he was holding his pump between his legs and furiously making that exact same motion. From a distance I didn’t know whether to offer to help or call the police.”

Crazy Legs then declared he’d just been to see a physio and had happily now regained full movement of his arm. To demonstrate, he lifted his left arm, bent it over the top of his head and touched his right ear. “I couldn’t do that a week ago, it hurt too much.”

“Why on earth would you ever need to do that though?” the Ticker wondered aloud.

“Well, you know, to wash your hair,” Crazy Legs challenged.

The Ticker doffed his casquette, lowered his head and presented Crazy Legs with his perfectly bald pate.

“Ah, right…”

Groups started to form up and drift away, while I stopped to have a quick chat with the late arriving Biden Fecht. I could have tagged onto the last group again, but felt I’d done enough for the day, so as everyone swung left, I tracked right, through Ponteland, heading directly for home.

At Blaydon, traffic was backed up on the roundabout waiting to turn left, either into the shopping centre or the McDonalds. I hope it was the former, but suspect the latter. I caught a rider in the colours of the Blaydon club trying to work his way through the cars on the inside and not getting very far, so I flicked across to the outside and was quickly clear.

As I turned and started up the Heinous Hill the Blaydon rider caught me and swished past, then swung left and then right, past Pedalling Squares. He didn’t, as I expected drop into the cafe, but looked to be taking the exact same route up the hill as me – and there was still around three-quarters of the climb to go.

OK then … game on!

Plague Diaries – Week#17

Plague Diaries – Week#17

One a Dem

Internet oddity of the week came from reading about a medical scare in late Victorian Britain that saw doctors warning women about the deleterious effect vigorous cycling would have on their health. Apparently, “over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance” was thought to cause bicycle face “hard, clenched jaws and bulging eyes” accompanied by “a flushed complexion, with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes”.

Most agreed that bicycle face could strike anyone, but women were disproportionately affected. Some implied the effects could be permanent, while others maintained that, given enough time away from a bicycle, it would hopefully subside.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and rejoin civilisation, or at least that small portion of civilisation that is (very) loosely embodied in a local cycling club. The hardest part was getting out the door by a set time to get me to the meeting point on schedule. After weeks of a laissez faire, I’ll leave when I’m ready attitude, this was a bit of a shock to the system. Must do better.

Still, I managed somehow and rolled up to the meeting point to find G-Dawg talking to a complete stranger in full Aberdeen University kit, who turned out to be none other than the Garrulous Kid … but all growed-up.

Even more surprising, that elusive, seldom-spotted, Sasquatch-like, Strava-stalker, the BFG was there too and I haven’t seen him out and about on two wheels for over a year. Strange times.

G-Dawg was proudly wearing perhaps one of the gaudiest kits ever inflicted on the pro-peloton, a classic Mapei jersey with it’s jumble of primary coloured cubes, once aptly described by Simon Smythe in Cycling Weekly as “a design that looked like someone had detonated a car bomb beneath a Rubik’s cube.”

He even had Mapei socks and cap, but, “No matching shorts?” I queried.

“I thought they were a little over the top,” he deadpanned.

Hmm. Quite.

The BFG decided we all had the air of survivors from a nuclear war, emerging from the solitude of our bunkers to blink, blearily uncertain into the dim light of the future and wonder what remained of the world we’d once known. I don’t think he was too far off the mark.

By the time we had tamped down the blather and were ready to move, we had assembled a small congregation of 15 riders. G-Dawg had posted up a route he invited everyone to follow, the end point of which was an 11.30 re-gathering at the cafe at Kirkley. He then led the first small, select group of 6 out and away.

We gave them a bit of time and space, then, along with Goose, the Ticker and Fourth Down, we formed a rather unlikely quartet and pushed out to follow. None of us had paid much attention to the proposed route and we deviated almost from the off, being the only group to head out along Broadway, but we all seemed happy to accept our personal deviations from the norm.

We were travelling at a fair clip as we pushed through Ponteland, along Limestone Lane to Stamfordham and then out to the reservoir. From there we climbed up through the plantations to get to the Matfen road, then on to the Quarry and through to Belsay.

At this point we were about 2 hours into the ride and had the choice of stopping at Belsay, or pressing on and meeting everyone at Kirkley. No contest really, even if Goose has severe reservations about the Kirkley scones and their current currant content (or lack thereof.)

Just about everyone else had made it to the cafe in good order, along with those who’d ventured out solo, or in smaller groups from a different start point and it was good to catch up. Even better, Goose found an acceptable alternative to the disappointing scones.

I found a seat next to prognosticator-in-chief the Garrulous Kid, who was predicting the end of all things Chris Froome, in particular any further Grand Tour wins. This was expounded with almost as much conviction and fervour as his frequent proclamations that Germany were a nailed-on certainty to win the last World Cup. (We all know how that turned out, so feel free to put a fiver on Mr. Froome for this years Tour.)

We then learned too much about the wild, debauched drinking parties at university, one of which apparently featured a manly imbibing of … err, Prosecco? It was unclear whether these parties were so extreme, wild and debauched that participants even refused to raise their pinkie finger from the glass while downing their Spumante.

There was just time to catch up on the whereabouts of Taffy Steve via Sneaky Pete (still incapacitated with a severe rotator cuff injury) and the Monkey Butler Boy via the Red Max (apparently developing a severe case of bicycle face while not riding bicycles, per se). Then, with Jimmy Mac’s passionate defence of wearing orange socks still burning my ears, we started to slowly disperse.

Crazy Legs and Sneaky Pete were adding on a slightly longer loop home, up Saltwick Hill and I tagged along, realising as soon as I hit the climb that my legs were well and truly shot.

I dropped back using the ungodly racket of the much cossetted Ribble’s creaking bottom bracket and its assault on my ears as an excuse. Crazy Legs wasn’t kidding when he mentioned his bike was still complaining vigorously, despite all his mechanical ministrations.

Jimmy Mac and G-Dawg blew past us just before we entered the Mad Mile, depositing the Garrulous Kid and a gasping Cowin’ Bovril on our back wheels as they flew by.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested he’d been out for a pleasant, solo ride when they caught him and for some mad reason he determined to hang onto the back of the group for the run home. I think we represented a much more sensible and civilised option for the last few miles.

Minutes later and I was flying solo, picking my way through to the river and home. Luckily there were no wandering Victorian chirurgeon’s around as I began to climb up the Heinous Hill, so I managed to avoid being condemned and confined with what I can only assume by then was my own, very bad case of grimacing bicycle face.