Hard Graft

Hard Graft

Club Run 8th December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:94 km/58 miles with 1,272 metres climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed:23.4 km/h
Group Size:22
Temperature:10°C
Weather in a word or two:Wildly windy

Ride Profile

In the past few weeks we’ve been pitched into unending gloom, chilled to the bone, soaked to the skin, peppered with hail and half-broiled because of seriously over-dressing. Having survived all this and just for a change, today we would be ceaselessly battered by high winds. Never a dull moment, eh?

I didn’t realise just how strong these winds were, until I was being buffeted sideways and fighting to control the bike as I dropped down the hill. At the bottom I then had the pleasure of turning directly into a headwind, with gusts of 50-60mph, as I tried to pick my way up the valley.

At Blaydon, in a final insult, a mini-twister harried and harassed a pile of dry leaves, animating them to scuttle around and around, faster and faster, before whipping them up and driving them into a gyre that slapped noisily into my chest and face.

Spitting out a mouthful of dry, dusty leaf residue, I called time on trying to forge my way further up river and turned back to cross on a different bridge. The wind fell silent behind me and now, with a more gentle push, was actually impelling me toward my goal.  

This was good … until, turning again, I rode onto the exposed span, high above the river and once again had to battle to steer in a straight line. Luckily the road was quiet and I had the opportunity to tack my way safely back and forth across the empty lanes.

The rest of the ride in was punctuated by cross -headwinds that drained speed and ramped up the effort, or sudden, gusting broadsides, that threatened to pitch me into either the kerb, or the cars. It could be fun riding in a group in these conditions.

Having cut short my route across to the meeting point, I arrived around ten minutes earlier than usual and settled in to wait.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid was the first to arrive, well proud of the fact that he’d achieved a total colour co-ordination, every article of his clothing matching either the red, black, white or grey colour scheme of his winter Trek.

He said he was really looking forward to the Club’s Christmas “Dinner” and annual prize-giving, next Saturday night and was angling to win the “Most Improved Rider” award.

“It’s a bit of a back-handed compliment though,” I argued, “It just means you were crap the year before.”

“Yeah, but it’s still an award, innit?”

Well, yes, I guess so…

The Monkey Butler Boy arrived to deride the Garrulous Kid’s colour co-ordination. Apparently, simply matching your clothes to your bike scheme isn’t good enough now: helmet, specs, gloves and shoes all have to be the exact same colour too. We were all collectively condemned as a lost cause, clueless and completely lacking in style. 

Crazy Legs rolled up with  Chas ‘n’ Dave’s “Sideboard Song” as an infectious, immovable earwig. This was apparently lodged into his head due to the simple “I don’t care” refrain, which nicely summed up Crazy Legs’ attitude to the weather –  although by no means ideal, at least it wasn’t raining or icy.

I joined him for a sublimely beautiful, heart-rending duet, playing Dave Peacock to his Chas Hodges:  “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if ‘e comes round ‘ere, I’ve got my beer on the sideboard ‘ere, let Muvva sor’ it art if he comes round ‘ere.”

At precisely 9:15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time), Crazy Legs clambered up onto the wall to address everyone: “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.” 

He then concluded his briefing with the finest, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus impersonation I’ve heard in years: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”


We rolled out in one big pack and I let myself drift toward the back, figuring it would be a day for sheltering as much as possible from the wind.

The Colossus and the Garrulous Kid took the first thankless battering on the front, setting a scorching pace from the off, as if they could beat the weather into submission. Shouting at them to ease didn’t help, words were immediately snatched away in the strong gusts and head down and ploughing onward, they could barely hear a thing in the rush of air howling around their helmets.

An ailing OGL was soon cast adrift at the back and Crazy Legs and the Red Max briefly conferred and agreed to drop off to ride with him at a less frenetic pace.



Citing a lack of cafe money as an excuse, perhaps combined with a lack of will for a hard ride, the Monkey Butler Boy  was soon dropping off too, to be re-united with the Red Max, or more importantly, the Red Max’s wallet.

Further on and the Colossus also ailing and under the weather and having completed a manful, all or nothing stint on the front, set a course directly for the cafe, as our numbers continued to dwindle.

“We’re dropping like flies,” Aether determined, but we pressed on regardless.

Aether then punctured and my heart sank a little when I noticed he was running Continental Four Season’s tyres, remembering the recent failures we’d had trying to seat Big Dunc’s Conti Grand Prix tyre back on his rims (Trial of Tyres). Luckily, either Four Season’s are more forgiving, or Campagnolo rims are more compatible with the tyres than Shimano rims and we managed without too much effort.

Then, passing a massive, steaming pile of manure, dumped in a malodorous pile at the entrance to a field, the Garrulous Kid identified it as “a big pile of bullshit” and politely enquired if OGL had passed this way recently.  That was dangerously close to being funny.

G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid were back toiling away on the front (for at least the second time) as we started up the horrible, dragging route toward Dyke Neuk. Rab Dee took pity on them and muscled his forward and I pushed through to join him and “do my bit.”

“My bit” probably didn’t last more than a mile or so. Even that was enough to drain any energy I had left and I swiftly went from first in line, back  to last. On we went and I was hanging on now, heavy legged and lethargic, either starting to bonk, worn down by my ride in that morning, over-tired from doing too much mid-week , or simply having another bad day and  yet another jour sans. Or, maybe it was all of those lame and pitiful excuses rolled into one.

Aether dropped back to check on me, but it was just a case of plodding on and enduring, there was no help to be had.

I hung on through the dip and rise around Hartburn, but was distanced on the run in to Middleton Bank and grinding away horribly on the climb. When Rab Dee was the next to drop back to check on me and I told him not to wait and just press on.

“It’s all right, I’m just going to take it easy too,” he replied.

“This. Is not. Taking. It. Easy,” I assured him, grinding past as the slope started to bite.

Over the top and the group upfront had eased so I rejoin. I pushed hard, but it still took an age and Rab Dee had to close the final few metres for me. 

I managed to stay on the wheels through Milestone Wood, up and over the rollers and right up to the final corner of the final climb, before the inevitable. Everyone went skipping away, leaving me to bumble my way to the cafe, very much sur la jante.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The cafe was relatively quiet and I joined the queue behind Goose as we cast our eyes over all the goodies on display and weighed the pros and cons of each. Then Goose spotted some seasonal stollen scones and declared they were just the business. “You know you’ve hit the jackpot,” he explained, “if you manage to find a nugget of marzipan buried in their depths.” I took his recommendation and ordered a stollen scone too. They were good.

Talk turned to how boring it would be to live in a moderate climate without extremes of weather and how dull it must make things! I politely demurred, I think I could go with an eternal summer, although it might make this blerg dull, boring, pointless and redundant … Ahem, apologies … I obviously meant even duller, more boring, more pointless and completely and utterly redundant.

Goose revealed he is being coerced by the family toward becoming a cat owner and was seeking to understand the life-changing implications. Along with the Cow Ranger, I assured him how pleasant it was to be pitied, looked down on and made to feel inferior by small, furry critters, with brains no bigger than a walnut and a permanent air of self-entitlement.

We listed the other advantages, such as becoming much more intimate with nature’s richness in the form of a steady string of mice, voles, frogs, rats, moles, sparrows, magpies, pigeons, starlings, thrushes, goldfish(?), tits and assorted warblers, forcibly introduced into your home.

If you were lucky, I explained, you’d only have to dispose of the corpses, rather than chase, corral and potentially euthanize your small, furry, psycho-killer’s trophy collection.

And, if you were really, really, really lucky, the Cow Ranger added, you’d only have to clean up a single, small, highly polished and expertly excised piece of offal that is typically the only trace of cat-kill left (the gall bladder, I believe). How a cat manages to extricate and isolate this particular organ with such surgical precision remains one of life’s great mysteries.

Looking to understand both the positives and negatives, Goose wondered if his own cat would add to the accumulation of cat crap in his garden. I assured him it was far more likely to use the neighbours’ gardens, ensuring friendly relations were maintained all the households in the area.

And, the Cow Ranger added it would naturally bury the crap, to lie there like an unexploded mine or buried punji stakes, until someone unsuspectingly ran a lawn mower or a strimmer over it.

The Cow Ranger then capped the entire discussion by assuring Goose he probably wouldn’t even have to be wholly responsible for feeding his own cat, as one or more of the neighbours would in all likelihood step in and supplement its diet for him.

I don’t know, but I think we might have sold him on the idea.

With families regrouping for Christmas, Thing#1 returns from University next week and Gooses’ kids are also bound for home from all points south. According to him his son is a serious runner and very fit, but will not be venturing out with our club this holiday, because he hates cycling.

We tried to understand how this sad state of affairs had arisen, having taken it as every father’s sacred duty to introduce their sons and daughters to the exalted joys of cycling. (Yes, yes, I’ve failed horribly too.)

In Goose’s case, he admitted to a bad start, dragging his then 9-year old son out on a mammoth, long ride far from home, which reduced an exhausted kid to tears, long before they made it back.

The second attempt involved and even longer ride conducted over two days, with an impromptu bit of over-night camping thrown in for good measure. I’ve no idea how these experiences could have fail to ignite a burning desire for more.


I left the cafe with the same group I’d arrived with, plus a few others who’d done the shorter ride. As we pulled out of the car park, approaching traffic separated me and the Big Yin from the rest of the pack. Out front a collective madness seemed to have descended and they’d decided it would be fun to surf a momentary tailwind as far and as fast as possible. The hammer went down immediately. There was to be no pause to regroup, or wait for others and no prisoners taken as they thrashed away.

Seeing what was happening, the Big Yin surged to try and cross the gap. I’ve no idea if he made it, I had neither the will, nor the legs to follow, so embarked on my first ever, completely solo ride from the cafe and all the way home – a wholly unequal mano a mano contest, just me against the wind.

Having finally crossed the river, I started to tackled the steep ramp that led up to the main road, passing a sprightly, silver-haired, booted and back-packed walker striding away down the hill.

“Morning!” he boomed in a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met sort of way.

“Good morning,” I replied, “Someone’s very happy today.”

“Well, life is good,” he assured me.

An hour ago, alone and struggling, I might have argued … but probably not. I waved him off, turned left at the junction and picked up a tailwind to guide me home.  


YTD Totals: 7,075 km / 4,396 miles with 86,578 metres of climbing.


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Entropy

Entropy

Club Run, Saturday 1st December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:92 km/57 miles with 605 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:24.4 kph
Group Size:24
Temperature:6°C
Weather in a word or two:Unremittingly bleak

Ride Profile

The amber tinted lenses of my Agu cycling specs can usually make even the bleakest of days appear bright and sunny, but they must have developed a fault and stopped working on Saturday. The sky was sombre-hued and oppressively dark, piled with heavy clouds, while at ground level, a dull, chilly mist hung low, wet and stifling. Still, I thought happily, dank, damp and dreary as it is, at least it’s not actually raining…

Front and back lights on and blinking away furiously in the murk, I dropped off the hill and began to make my way to the meeting point.

I found both sides of the bridge swarming with cars, trailers, boats and over 100 crews, all congregating for the Rutherford Head of the River Race, which promised a pretty full day of competition out on the water.

The Tyne Rowing Club would later describe this event as being held in “excellent conditions” although they did qualify this with the admission that they just meant it was excellent for rowing – i.e. calm and windless. They did acknowledge that crews, launch drivers, marshals and umpires suffered mightily in the freezing cold rain.

This freezing cold rain featured in our ride too, starting almost the moment we left the meeting point and continuing, without pause, for the entire duration of our ride and beyond. Another bleak and brutal day – to be endured as much as it was enjoyed.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I noticed G-Dawg had relocated his big brass bell to the side of his stem.  This, he explained, was not only more discrete, but stopped him sounding like a struck gong whenever he rode through a pothole. Besides, I suggested, he could always ring it with his knee, like the cycling equivalent of a one man band. G-Dawg then fondly reminisced about utterly destroying the down-tube shifter on his old mountain bike, when he kneed it into oblivion during a particularly vigorous, out of the saddle climbing exercise. 

We were hoping that Goose would turn up with the new 1,500 lumen front light he’s been boasting about, but it wasn’t to be. Sensibly he’d decided that his already weighty, steel behemoth of a grand touring bike, burdened under multiple pannier racks, was handicap enough, without adding the additional weight of his new portable searchlight and separate battery pack.

He did suggest the new lamp was good for picking out bombers on a moonless night, communicating with fishing boats far offshore, or just turning midnight into midday. I wondered if it would also be useful for lamping rabbits and badgers, a use Goose hadn’t previously considered, but now began to seriously think about. Perhaps it could even have brightened the gloom of this particular morning …

But then again, probably not. 

Goose sought out OGL for advice about swapping out the cantilever brakes on his steel behemoth for something more effective. The price of this advice was, of course, the standard, ritual condemnation of his bike, this time with the added spice of an assertion that Goose’s rear wheel was, in highly technical terms, fucked. The rim apparently badly worn and the tyre bulging.

“She’s gonna blow,” I think was the exact phrase used, something I never thought I’d hear outside of Hollywood’s hoariest movie cliche’s. (According to the Short List, it belongs in the top 20 most over-used lines in Hollywood blockbusters, having appeared, with scant variation, in 53 different movies.)

Shockingly, it was Garmin Muppet Time +2, before a seriously tardy Aether called for attention and began to address the gathered riders, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.”

The plan was to include an ascent of the Quarry climb, before a general re-grouping, with longer route options around Capheaton and Hallington. 

Crazy Legs outlined the Third Way, a more refined, relaxed and genteel, Flat White Ride, that would once again make use of the excellent cafe facilities at Matfen. I flashed him a quick thumbs up – it seemed like a grand plan.

Although shorn of the actual and original Monkey Butler Boy this week, his Wrecking Crew of Monkey Butler Boy Mini-Me’s all congregated at the start, aiming to set out with us, like a fighter escort for a group of heavy bombers. After brief exposure to their chatter, I’ve decided the most appropriate collective noun for a group of Monkey Butler Boys is a squabble.

Ignoring the squabble, who would we know, abandon us after just a few miles, there were 24 of us and we decided to split into two groups. Numbers looked suspiciously low in the front group as they started to form up, so I bumped down off the pavement and joined up, hoping to even things out a little.


With Jimmy Mac, Kermit, the Cow Ranger and Rainman driving things along on the front, we started fast and just kept going.

The pace was so high that when Caracol dropped back to pull on a waterproof jacket in the face of rapidly intensifying rain, he had a real chase just to catch back on.

Then, once they reached Bingo Fuel, the squabble made off like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. I thought at one point they had managed to abduct the Garrulous Kid in his ruby red jacket. Somehow though he managed to extricate himself from their evil clutches and slowly dropped back and into our group again.



I hung at the back, catching-up with Kermit, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG, Baby Doc, for much of the ride.

With his help I charted the ingress of cold water as it breached my defences, first the waterproof gloves, then the waterproof boots and finally the forearms of my waterproof jacket. I made use of his medical expertise to check out known cures for trench foot, reasoning it could be knowledge I might need before the end of the ride. 

We also discussed why certain drivers, particularly those who struggle to wear a cap the right way round, pay good money to make their cars sound broken. We reached no conclusions.

As we hammered through Matfen, I was tempted to peel off into the cafe and await the appearance of Crazy Legs and the rest of the Flat White Crew, but the opportunity went past long before cryogenically sluggish limbs could respond to my frantic brain signals.

Caracol shipped his chain on the climb, so we had a brief pause to regroup, before the pace was pushed up again, as we drove toward the Quarry seemingly anxious just to get the ride over with.

I was in tight and up close to Rainman, as we made the run to the bottom of the Quarry Climb. Too close, as a matter of fact. He jumped out of the saddle and there was that dreaded micro-pause as he suddenly stopped pedalling and his bike seemed to lurch back at me.

With a loud “bzzzzt” my front tyre butted his rear wheel and was flicked to the right. I twitched it back, through a more prolonged “bzzzzt, zzzzt”  as I  brushed his tyre again, but this time going in the opposite direction. Then he was pulling clear, I steadied the bike, breathed a sigh of relief and, still resolutely upright, on we went.

The top of the Quarry climb was the designated point for everyone to coalesce before splitting into fast and slow, short and long rides. Most of us though had seen quite enough of the foul weather and decided to cut the ride short and head straight for the cafe.

G-Dawg said he would hold back to meet up with the others, while Caracol, Ovis and a few other brave and hardy souls decided to complete the full ride.   

I was left alone with lots of big, powerful and fast units. Oh and Kermit. Jimmy Mac, Rainman, the Cow Ranger and Baby Doc began driving the pace up and up as we closed on the cafe.

I hung on with a bit of late braking and tight cornering, even hitting the front on the grind up to Wallridge Crossroads in a show of ill-conceived bravado. I was helped in my task by members of the local hunt, ambling their mounts up and down the road and causing the racing peloton to briefly slow and give the sometimes skittish horses a wide berth.

As the final sprint wound up I was on Kermit’s wheel until he decided he’d had enough, eased and dropped away. By the time I’d rounded him the gap had blown wide open and there was no closing it, so I rolled into the cafe on my own.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Talking about my touch of wheels, the Cow Ranger declared that, “it caused a ripple through the entire peloton.”

“Well, it caused a ripple through my entire colon, too,” I offered.

Riders kept pitching up to drop new, wet articles on top of the pile of discarded hats, gloves, caps and buffs already laid in a steaming pile on top of the stove. Rainman played Mother, deftly flipping gloves and hats like the world’s best short-order cook, ensuring they were evenly toasted on both sides and encouraging their wet dog smell to pervade the entire cafe.

Kermit, with access to the stove blocked by our “Frying Dutchman”™ took to drying his hat on over his teapot, which wore it like a bad, cycling tea cosy – perhaps something Rapha would make and sell for a small ransom.

His cap was soon steaming briskly and I wondered how he was going to explain away a scalded scalp when he arrived at A&E, having clapped it onto his head without letting it cool slightly.

Then, of course, because I was surrounded by a bunch of medical types, they started to regale us with all the odd insertions they’d recovered from their patients body cavities and all the convoluted excuses used to explain them, such as one unfortunate trying to justify to the Cow Ranger how they accidentally ended up with a toilet brush firmly wedged up their rectum – bristle end first.

Jimmy Mac recalled one particularly delicate operation to remove a broken Coke bottle from an anal passage, after which the medical team were challenged by the supervising surgeon to explain why the patient had used a Coke bottle. 

After a few minutes of rejecting all their wild and inaccurate medical  and anatomical speculation, it was revealed that the correct answer was, “because he couldn’t get 7-Up.” This, I think just goes to show that even the most elevated and refined amongst us aren’t immune to the allure of bad Dad jokes. 

Across the next table a fellow cyclist was brought a plate of steaming poached eggs on toast and a suddenly interested Kermit wondered if he’d be allowed to drop his cap over them, to help dry it out a little more.

I then pulled my buff back on and Kermit told me it made me look like Eton-and Oxford educated, Tory Euroseptic (sic) and Bullingdon Club Grand Poobah, the privileged, bigoted, supremely condescending and quite abhorrent, Jacob Rees Mogg. Kermit, you complete and utter bastard. I. Hate. You.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac wondered why everyone seemed so keen to set their gloves to smouldering on the wet stove. “I think cold and wet is much more preferable to warm and wet,” he declared.

I wondered if this was a general life choice, or only extended to water-logged articles of cycle clothing. He defended his position by referring to the phenomena of boiling water freezing much quicker than cold water, arguing you’d be chilled quicker in warm wet gloves, than in just wet gloves.

Often referred to as the “Mpemba Effect” – Jimmy Mac explained that the most likely explanation for this was “entropy.” I was in no position to argue and took him at his word. (Trying to read up about it later, I would be defeated by the sentence, “hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds but stronger than the van der Waals forces that geckos use to climb walls” – so let’s just leave it there and go for entropy as an adequate enough explanation, ok?)

“See,” Jimmy Mac declared, “I think we’ve genuinely raised the level of cycling club talk to a whole new, stratospheric, super-enlightened height.”

A few breaths later and we were back discussing the value of waterproof socks and neoprene overshoes. I looked across at Jimmy Mac and mimed a plane nose-diving into the ground. Well, he’d tried.


At the cafe early, we set off for home early, in the same small group, again ramping the pace up for the first few miles, just to try and warm up. At the Kirkley junction, I swung away for route through Ponteland and past the airport, making a bee-line for home and not even considering my usual short-cut which grants me quieter roads, in return for a bit more climbing.

As I dropped down toward the river, the valley floor was shrouded in low, wet and clinging cloud – ideal conditions for the dozens of crews scattered across the Tyne? Maybe not.

The same, thick, wet fog served to decapitate part of the Heinous Hill, but I sadly knew it was an optical illusion and the road still dragged all the way up to the top. Despite carrying perhaps an extra 4 or 5lbs in excess water in my sodden clothing, I managed the climb reasonably well, spurred on by thoughts of a hot shower, although dreading the pain it would bring as the blood flooded back into my frozen extremities.

Before disappearing to scream like a girl in the shower, I discarded  a pile of  water-logged outer kit on the tiles in front of the washing machine. It looked as if someone had caught the Wicked Witch of the West in our kitchen, poured a bucket of cold, dirty water over her head and watched her dissolve until there was nothing left but a puddling heap of sad and sodden, dirty clothes on the floor.

So, not the most pleasant of rides, still it had its moments and was suitably entertaining despite everything. Hopefully things will be better when we give it another go, next week.


YTD Totals: 6,936 km / 4,310 miles with 84,684 metres of climbing

Half Man Half Mudlark

Half Man Half Mudlark

Club Run, Saturday 24th November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:96km/60 miles with 981 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 2 minutes
Average Speed:24.3 kph
Group Size:24, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8°C
Weather in a word:Chill

Ride Profile

I missed last week due to a lingering chest infection, but felt I’d just about recovered enough to get back in the saddle, albeit running at around three-quarters optimum efficiency and accompanied by a hacking cough.

Saturday morning turned out to be murky, misty and foggy, first thing and I was pleased to be well-bundled up in my thickest base layer, winter jacket, rain jacket, thermal socks, buff, headband, gloves  and glove-liners, as I dropped down the hill, buffeted by a chill wind.

Turning along the valley, I tracked, but couldn’t catch, a fellow rider, marked by the wan, ghostly glow of bare legs, as much as by the tell-tale flicker of red lights on his bike and helmet. Once again I am humbled by how inured some North East riders seem to be to the biting cold. Perhaps I’m just a wimp.

I was on-time to be held-up at the level crossing by the 8:15 Blaydon to Hexham train, otherwise it was a standard and uneventful ride across to the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Taffy Steve told me I’d missed another massive turnout of near on 40 riders last week. Speculation about whether this was due to OGL’s pre-announced absence remain just that, purely speculative, but that’s 2 bumper winter rides in the pace of a month and quite unusual behaviour. Perhaps this is a cyclists response to climate change?

Part of the high turnout seemed to revolve around the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, who had congregated to ride with us part way, before scuttling away to do their own thing.  The Red Max mentioned Taffy Steve had been bewildered by this troupe of Monkey Butler Boy clones (have I spelt that right? – I’m sure there’s mean’t to be a ‘w’ in there somewhere) – who all shared a certain, raw-boned hungry look, in their all matching, carefully coordinated kit. I suspect William Golding might have found them an endless source of inspiration.

I couldn’t help recalling the moment I first encountered this particular subgenus in the café garden, as they swarmed around a bike, pointing and jabbering excitedly at this, that or the other, before moving on to the next bike to repeat the process and then the next and then the next…

The Garrulous Kid wanted to now why ever-present G-Dawg wasn’t present. “It’s not 9 o’clock yet,” Crazy Legs replied laconically.

“But, it’s nearly 9 o’clock,” the Garrulous Kid answered.

“Yes, but it isn’t 9 o’clock.”

“So, what time’s it now?” Crazy Legs asked after a short while.

“It’s just turned 9 o’clock, official Garmin Muppet Time,” someone replied, glancing down at their Garmin.

“See!” Crazy Legs nodded to where G-Dawg was pulling up, on cue and bang on time, his internal navigation, vectoring protocols and automated targeting systems, whirring and clicking away with mechanised efficiency.  

We were all hugely impressed by the Red Max’s lights, especially the one on the front of his bike, a common or garden, Pifco torch,  mummified in swathes of  gaffer tape that strapped it directly to the underside of his stem. This, the Red Max explained was purely for the Wednesday night chain-gangs, which is the only bit of riding he does in the dark, so he didn’t see the need for actual bike lights with a proper mounting.

The Red Max broke of our conversation to clamber up onto the wall and outline the route. “Hello,” he began, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for the day …”

He then apologised for selecting a rather standard, regular, run-of-the-mill ride, without even any variation in the direction we were running the different segments.

“That’s fine, ” I told him, “If we run another route widdershins, we’ll just end up summoning the devil.”

Two groups were agreed, with a more or less equal split of the numbers and off we went.


I rolled out in the second group, not looking for anything too fast and frenetic and hoping to get through the ride without inducing a mammoth coughing bout.

I fell in alongside Crazy Legs as we rolled out, principally tasked with helping him decipher the lyrics to a Half Man Half Biscuit song that was rattling around in his brain.



It was undeniably chilly out on the roads and I could feel my toes slowly turning numb. As we followed the Red Max out and up Limehouse Lane, I plaintively asked if there was a café nearby. I was only half-joking, but let’s just say the opportunity for the inaugural Winter 2018 Flat White ride didn’t fall entirely on barren soil.  

Crazy Legs suggested a early coffee intervention at Matfen, so we did our stint on the front and pulled the group through to Stamfordham, before turning off the planned route for a shortcut to caffeine succour.

Sneaky Pete joined us and for a moment our desperate trio were united in a co-ordinated bout of coughing, so we sounded like the TB wing of the club, or desperate refugees at the Mexican-US border breathing in a very minor form of tear gas. (Very safe.)

For a time I pushed on at the front alongside Sneaky Pete, with Crazy Legs running along behind and between us, declaring rather contentedly, “It’s nice back here.” 

A few turns along wet and muddy roads though and he became suspiciously solicitous, asking how I was feeling and suggesting I needed a spell off the front. I let him through and he immediately explained he was ok riding behind me, but for some reason Sneaky Pete’s (almost identical) mudguard was spraying him with road crud, so one side of his body was pristine, clean and dry, the other splattered and speckled with mud.

Leading from the front, Crazy Legs guided us unerringly to the hidden jewel of Matfen village store, complete with its own café  and one of those huffing, spluttering, gurgling, steaming, barrista-wrangling, coffee machines, where we went for flat whites all around.

Damn fine coffee.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#1

We decided the the Flat White Club needed a President to promote its life-affirming, ride enhancing, cold alleviating properties and duly proposed, seconded and elected Taffy Steve to the role … in his absence.

We then worked out an impressive number of Flat White ride options, which included potential coffee interludes at Kirkley Cycles, Matfen, the Gubeon, Belsay, Capheaton and Bolam Lake.

Sneaky Pete impressed me with his adoption and familiarity with the Apple Pay digital wallet, something Crazy Legs had recommended to him. I was overwhelmed by his all round tech savvy  and acuity and felt there was hope for us Luddite’s yet …

Then he went and spoiled by becoming the only person in living history to lament the demise of (the dreadful!) Freeserve internet and email service.


Suitably warmed through and refreshed, we left the café  just as our front group charged through the village and swung away up the hill. We were almost, almost, perfectly placed just to drop onto the back, but they were travelling just a little too fast and we would have needed to have left the
café  about 30 seconds earlier to tag on without a supreme effort.

Not to worry, we saddled up and followed as they made their way to the Quarry, at which point they picked the pace up and we wouldn’t see them again until we made the café .

The three of us pushed on anyway, and arrived just behind the front group to join the back of a ridiculously long queue that stretched w-a-a-a-y back.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#2

“Bloody hell! I thought you had a full head of hair under that helmet,” Crazy Legs couldn’t help exclaiming, as we tagged onto the back of the queue, just behind the Ticker, sans helmet. Smooth.

Meanwhile Sneaky Pete carefully assessed the length of the queue, carefully assessed the  likely delay and issues he’d cause by being devoted technocrat,
right on the cutting-edge of digital payment systems and wielding Apple Pay with confidence and impunity. He then, wisely decided he’d rather head for home than challenge the antiquated, antediluvian staff and their convoluted and tortuous till system. So, he sneaked away. 


Oh mi corazón! For reasons unknown, Crazy Legs started singing the Clash song, Spanish Bombs, before declaring the ride had done him a world of good and helped him clear his chest. “I’ve howked up a right load of crap,” he declared happily.

I commended him, not so much on the therapeutic  benefits of the ride, but on his use of a good Geordie word I haven’t heard for years. Howk – a wonderfully onomatopoeic word, suggesting something that’s physically clawed out and expelled violently – most often used in the context of brutal and fierce expectoration.

We finally got served and seated, although not without a few problems with Crazy Legs’ own digital wallet, which needed several attempts to work and proved Sneaky Pete, as well as being an early-adopter, was both prescient and perspicacious.

These travails with digital payments also sadly revealed that we were in a wi-fi black spot, so Crazy Legs couldn’t share the video of creepy, distasteful and oleaginous MP, Michael Gove slipping  and falling on his arse in Downing Street.

It seemed I then only had time to briefly rib the Garrulous Kid for asking what was happening next Fursday, before we were collecting our kit and heading out again.


A decent pace was set for the run home and I found myself on the front as the majority peeled-off left. I accelerated and pushed straight on, into the Mad Mile, expecting at any minute to be passed by a flying G-Dawg and Colossus, racing to be first home and into the shower. But, somehow, I reached my turn-off still leading the group and swung away for home.

Hmm, perhaps the 10-mile less than normal I’d covered on the day, the relatively modest pace, or lack of full-blooded cafe sprint, made all the difference and meant I was fresher than usual and able to hold off any challenges from those behind?

Or, more likely, G-Dawg and the Colossus had already negotiated first use of the shower via a complex, rock-paper-scissors style-challenge and were just cruising home now on autopilot. We’ll never know.

Like my run in, my return was delayed at the level crossing, this time by a train running the opposite way, from Hexham to Blaydon. Still, I was in no hurry, the weather was fine, I felt pretty decent and, like Crazy Legs, I think the run out had actually helped with the chest infection.

That means next week it’s back to the full distance, full-blooded cafe sprint and being ritually expelled, or even howked,  from the back of the group at the end of the Mad Mile.

Unless, of course, someone suggests a Flat White Ride…

Anyone?


YTD Totals: 6,787 km / 4,217 miles with 83,107 metres of climbing

Many a Muckle

Many a Muckle

Club Run, Saturday 3rd November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 106 km / 66 miles with 1,212 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                        38+

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Back to balmy


Many a muckle
Ride Profile


Or to be more precise, mony a mickle maks a muckle, but why let accuracy stand in the way of a good headline …

Our weird fortnightly weather cycle was once again bang-on, last weeks extremes of snow and ice and rain replaced by a temperate, bright and breezy day.

As I dropped off the hill, I spotted a group of 5 or 6 other riders ahead and was (naturally) compelled to give chase. My pursuit was somewhat hampered when the traffic lights intervened between us, just outside Blaydon. As I tried to regain lost momentum, another rider whipped past with a bright and breezy, “Morning!”

This was a Muckle C.C. rider, travelling at high speed and wearing shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. It was warmer than last week, but shorts and a short-sleeved jersey? Perhaps he needed to ride that fast just to keep warm?

I thought he might have been chasing to join onto the group upfront, but he blew straight past them as well. A man on a mission.

As he disappeared up the road, I caught the others as they turned down toward the bridge, sitting in the wheels, until they crossed the river and swung left, while I turned right to pick my way through to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

G-Dawg pondered if the Garrulous Kid’s ride last week had perhaps been the shortest in club history, following his abandonment in a blizzard of sleet just as outside Dinnington.

“What was it,” he pondered, “All of about eight miles?”

The Garrulous Kid himself was better prepared today, on his winter bike with mudguards and the added protection of overshoes. He’d survive better this time out.

Just.

Princess Fiona recounted her epic Ironman Ironwoman Ironprincess experiences which, she concluded, she’d thoroughly enjoyed, despite feeling sick for 5-days afterwards. Apparently this post-event illness is a common occurrence. Throughout her recounting the Colossus looked on in disbelief and mute horror, utterly convinced he was in the presence of someone needing psychiatric help.

On his fixie again, G-Dawg’s new bell drew some attention, with Jimmy Mac finding it rather melodic and pleasing, polite and not insistent. Then he ruined all his good work by comparing it to something he expected to hear on a creaky old sitcom, although he couldn’t quite decide if it belonged on “Open All Hours” or “Are You Being Served?”

For some unbeknown reason, today was building up to be the most popular ride of the year and I kept revising the headcount as more and more rolled in. It was up to over 30 by the time Crazy Legs started outlining the route and he suggested a split start with a re-grouping just before tackling the Mur de Mitford.

He was interrupted by a big bloke on a mountain bike trying to find a way through the dozens of riders and bikes sprawled across the pavement and bellowing for us to make way.

“He needs a nice polite bell,” someone suggested.

Yes, well, I don’t think he did polite.

I counted a decent  15 or 16 heading for the front group, so hung back. In theory this was an equitable split, I just hadn’t counted on people continuing to roll-up right until the moment we left and then, more joining us en route. By the time it all shook out the second group was still about 24 strong.


I dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as we set out, chatting with Sneaky Pete, who insisted there was a very thin line between being committed and needing to be committed. He thought last week’s ride, given the conditions, crossed this threshold and verged into insanity. I couldn’t really disagree, but countered that, despite everything, it had actually been thoroughly entertaining.

As we passed through Dinnington and swept down the hill, I noticed my camera wobbling somewhat precariously. Deciding the bolt might have worked a little loose, I gave it a quick tug to test it. Sure enough, it had worked loose. I was left foolishly brandishing the bolt as it came away in my hands and the camera clattered and bounced away down the road.

I swung over and back-tracked to where Caracol had stopped to pick up the camera, shoved it in a back pocket and then we gave chase, latching back onto the group in short order. Caracol had been one of the riders joining just as we left the meeting place, and had pushed our numbers on the day close to 40.

We made our way past the Cheese Farm, picking up yet another rider behind us. As we approached Bell’s Hill, he nudged forwards to have a chat and we discovered he wasn’t one of ours.

“What club’s this?” he wondered, obviously somewhat bewildered to encounter such a big pack.

I told him and he nodded up toward the middle of the group where OGL was toiling away alongside Brink.

“Ah, should have guessed … seeing him.”

As he said this, I realised that, despite the rather magnificent turnout, there was only one rider amongst us displaying a club jersey. There’s something wrong, somewhere.

“You don’t usually travel in such a large group,” he mused and was even more nonplussed when I told him we’d actually split into two and there was another motley bunch of us further up the road.

Our new back-marker proved to be another Muckle C.C. rider, although he mentioned he was also involved  in the administration of the (relatively new and hugely successful) NTR (North Tyneside Riders.)

“This is your chance,” I urged him, as we approached the bottom of Bell’s Hill, “Attack now and you’ll be able to get past.”

“But you have to do it sitting down, looking cool and barely breathing,” Caracol joked.

“I definitely can’t manage that,” our Muckle rider responded, but took our advice anyway. It was either that, or sit at the back, confined to our pace, until he could find somewhere to turn off.

He worked his way smartly up the outside on the climb and then disappeared over the top. Before we crested the rise, he was followed by yet another lone Muckle rider. They seemed to be everywhere today.

I took the opportunity of the climb to reposition myself in the middle of the pack, just before our ride was interrupted by shouts of what everyone took to be a puncture. The group pulled to a stop in a lay-by, while I turned back to see what was happening.

I met the Cow Ranger coming the other way and he told me someone had punctured, but was really struggling anyway, so had decided to pack in. We rejoined the others, who’d taken the opportunity for an impromptu pee stop and tried to work out who it was that had abandoned.

“A Spanish guy,” the Cow Ranger informed us, ” He was really struggling to keep up, so has decided to call it a day.”

“Tomás?” I enquired, “Swedish-Spanish guy, on an old steel frame?” confusedly thinking about Toledo Tom, our very own colinabo, who is so strong I couldn’t possibly envisage him struggling, even in the last throes of a dire battle with the Black Death.

“Well, Spanish guy on a steel frame, definitely,” the Cow Ranger suggested a little hesitantly.

I was still disbelieving, “Tall, thin, fast?”

“Nope, no, nah, definitely not any of them.”

OGL confirmed that Toledo Tom was in the front group and this was a different Spanish guy. Huh,  we have more than one? Hoodafunkedit.


mamuck


Off we trundled again, until, just past Tranwell, OGL led an early strike off toward the café, while the rest of us pushed on for a rendezvous with our front group, who had pulled up under the main A1 bridge and were waiting patiently.

From there we dropped down into the Wansbeck valley, following the river toward Mitford and the dreaded “Mur.” Oncoming traffic had us stacked up and stopped at the bottom of the hill, so it was a particularly unhelpful standing start, especially for G-Dawg on his fixie.

The lack of run-in momentum had him grinding painfully upwards and I hustled past as fast as I could, thinking I didn’t want to be in the firing line of all the bloody cartilage, sprung steel, wiry tendons, gears and other assorted shrapnel if his cyborg knees suddenly explode under the strain.

We had decided to split the group via natural selection on the climb and I was well-positioned in the front third as we pushed over the top.

More climbing followed, as we ran up through Hag’s Wood.  I was chatting to the Garrulous Kid … well, listening to the Garrulous Kid chatting away, while he rode on my inside. Then, there was a loud, rasping, zzzt-zzzt-zzzt and he suddenly disappeared.

He’d touched wheels with the rider in front and gone head over heels into a grass bank, threading the needle between two massive tree boles with what looked like expert precision, but was simply timely serendipity.

We waited for him to identify to pull himself up and conclude no permanent damage had been done, to bike or rider. He dusted himself down and away we went again.

A little later on, I caught up with him and he happily declared, “Well, I haven’t fallen off in ages!”

We were now tackling the Trench and I was climbing alongside Captain Black, who was bemoaning the fact that he was on his winter bike and we were now competing on a level playing field.

“I hate my winter bike!” the Garrulous Kid added, and once more we patiently explained that this was the entire point of owning a winter-bike.

Out of the Trench and heading toward Angerton and a notoriously exposed road over the moors, I was in the second group and hunting around for  some big bodies to shelter behind. I’d moved smartly up to follow Captain Black and G-Dawg as we turned into a headwind and the road began to climb, when disaster struck, G-Dawg punctured and waved us all through. Despite all my machinations I found myself on the front and leading the second group on the drag up and around Bolam Lake.

As we started our run for the café, Captain Black took over and injected a bit of pace, driving us up over the rollers and down the other side. I pulled up alongside him on the final drag and he shook his head and declared himself “done in.” Fair enough, I was more than happy to give the sprint a miss today. The Garrulous Kid flailed around us and launched himself off the front and no one blinked, there was no reaction and no attempt to chase, as we rolled the rest of the way to the café behind him.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

With around 40 of us, other cyclists and the usual gathering of civilians, the café was full to bursting and late arrivals couldn’t get a seat and ended up eating and drinking where they stood.

I found a small space in the corner alongside Biden Fecht and the Garrulous Kid, pressed up close to the fire. It was hot, but at least it was a seat – a hot-seat if you like.

The Garrulous Kid has had his first offer of a place at university and was already anticipating Freshers. I wondered which part he was looking forward to the most, getting so hog-whimperingly drunk he endangers his own life, bobbing for apples in a bucket of stale urine, or having his head shaved? (Of course, dear reader, this type of initiation “hazing” never actually happens at British universities these days.)

He’s also planning which societies he can get involved him. I tried to warn him off the Rubik’s Society by claiming they were all square (sorreee!) and suggested he take up falconry instead. He looked at me as if I was mad and had just invented the ancient and noble art of hunting with birds of prey simply to trick him. I don’t know if that says more about him, or me.

OGL wandered past and deposited a old race programme for the 1952 Beaumont Trophy on the table. I eyed it warily, like a discarded perfume bottle filled with Novichok. Enticing as it was, I was determined not to go anywhere near it, as I didn’t want the responsibility of making sure this ancient and venerable piece of club history made it back to its rightful owner unsullied.

Biden Fecht did dare a quick look, before swiftly passing it on and was seemingly intrigued by some of the club names, all the Wheeler’s and Couriers, as well as the grandly named VC Electric.

Biden Fecht liked the old style, traditional “Wheelers” as a club name – some of those, such as the Whitley Bay Wheelers no longer exist, but the nearby,  Ferryhill Wheeler’s (founded in 1926) appear to be still going strong. ( I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I like Clarion as a club name and the Sunderland Clarion trace their club back even further, to the late 1800’s!)

Sadly, many of the clubs in the programme, and that I grew up with, appear to no longer be around, including VC Electric, the Cleveland Couriers, Tyne Road Club, the Northern Couriers and possibly (if their dormant webiste is anything to go by) even the venerable Tyne Velo. Sic transit gloria.

(The Garrulous Kid wanted reassurance that some of our long standing, club miffs held at least a grain of truth, but I told him we had no interest in Dutch rabbits.)


Unplanned, but perhaps for the best, we left the café a handful at a time and I joined a group spearheaded by Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger.

They completed their stint at the front as we approached Ogle and I took over alongside Biden Fecht. As we “boolled” along we had a chat about the general desire for some kind of reform within the club and even (shock# horror#) the seemingly far-fetched notion of evolving from an autocracy (some might even say dictatorship) to a democracy.

As someone spending a lot of time shuttling between Newcastle and Aberdeen, Biden Fecht was happy to volunteer to be the clubs representative in Northern Scotia, while I suggested I could be the Warden of the Southern Marches, or all the empty, barren and dangerous lands to the south of the River Tyne, where the club is ever afraid to venture.

One thing we did both agree on, neither of us wanted to be the Keeper of the Stool.

We dragged the group through Kirkley and to the top of Berwick Hill, before Biden Fecht suggested we let someone else batter themselves into the wind. I agreed and we pulled over and waved the next pair through, only at the last minute realising one of these was Plumose Pappus.

“Oh no, we’re not going to be popular,” Biden Fecht observed and true enough, Plumose Pappus hit the front and immediately drove up the pace.

Everyone hung tough until the sharp rise into Dinnington, where Plumose Pappus dropped the hammer, putting in a searing acceleration that splintered the group apart. A small, select knot formed up front and, as the road levelled and straightened, it began to pull away.

Aether tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Captain Black tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Princess Fiona tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

I tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Caracol tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

At the last, Kermit managed to bridge across, but no on could go with him.

Thwarted, we settled into our own little group and pushed on anyway and I followed Caracol’s wheel until everyone else swung away and I pushed on solo, through the Mad Mile and away home.


YTD Totals: 6,416 km / 3,987 miles with 78,593 metres of climbing

Brutal

Brutal

Club Run, Saturday 27h October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 48 minute

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         8-9-8-7-6-5

Temperature:                                    6°C

Weather in a word or two:          Brutal then balmy


brutal
Ride Profile


Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.

In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.

To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.

As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.

The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.

I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.

Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.

My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.

A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.

I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.

Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.

I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.

Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.

One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.

The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.

G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of  Charlie Allinston  and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop! 

“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.

“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered

“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.

“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”

I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.

“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”

“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.

OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.

With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.

First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.


G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.

“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”

Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.

Rather abruptly.

Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to  juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.

“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.

Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.

“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.

Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.

At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.

“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.

“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.

We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.

“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”

Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.

And then there were 5.

As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!

Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.


Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1

As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.

Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.

The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.

Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!

“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.

“And dry,” he added.

“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”

Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.

“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.

“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.

For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.

We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.  


The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.


brut


Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.

We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.

We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2

Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.

For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.  

G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.

Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.

From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.

From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”

The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.


By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.

The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.

After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.

We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.

This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”

We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.

I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.


YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing

Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm

Club Run & Hill Climb, Saturday 13th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km / 65 miles with 536 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 28 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                        8 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Delugional New word alert! 


 

Hill Climn
Ride Profile -(with obligatory Garmin in the rain brain fart)


Friday through to Saturday and Storm Callum was having its wicked way with the British Isles, causing mass disruption, extensive flooding and even loss of life. For the North East of England it meant rain and lots of it, incessant, unrelenting, unremitting and seemingly immovable.

Oddly though, the temperatures remained relatively mild, which gave life to this rather alarming forecast from the BBC, suggesting not only persistent, heavy rain across the entire day, but also the real risk of thunderstorms…


hill climb weather


The forecast appeared just minutes before I set out to begin my journey across to the meeting point for the club run … and not just any old club run, either, but our annual festival of self-flagellation, the Hill Climb.

This is traditionally a last hurrah for carbon summer bikes, before bad weather, rain, wind, ice, mud, frost and salted roads force a swap to something heavier, more sturdy, more easily replaceable and (unless you’re a complete madman and misanthrope) preferably with mudguards.

The horrendous weather then was at direct odds with the aim of selecting the lightest bike possible to hurl uphill in a very unequal battle with gravity. As I opened the backdoor and looked at the rain teeming down, up popped a Messenger feed from Jimmy Mac: “I have never been as confused over which bike to take out….”

I had no such worries, having decided a few weeks ago I wouldn’t do the hill climb this year, feeling a distinct lack of anything approaching “form” that had me toiling on even the most innocuous rides. I’d spent last Sunday engaged in a changing of the guard, putting away Reg and the single-speed and breaking the winter bike out of storage and prepping it for just this kind of day. 13.5 kilos of slab-sided, cold aluminium and steel, the Pug (Peugeot) shrugs at the rain and positively hates good weather.

It was gloomy enough for me to switch on some lights before hissing down the hill and starting to pick my way across to the meeting point. Having swapped bikes around, I’d only remembered at the last moment my pump was still in the tool tub in the Holdsworth’s bottle-cage and I’d grabbed a spare as I ran out the door.

Now approaching the river and 3 or 4 mile into my ride, I realised I’d also forgotten any tyre levers. I weighed up the option of turning around, but I wouldn’t have time to do that and still get to the meeting point on time. I decided to risk it, working through everything I was carrying and determining that, in extremis, I could probably use my house keys as impromptu tyre levers in the event of a puncture.

Luckily this theory was never actually put to the test.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

What a sad, sorry and small, wet and bedraggled group I found, huddling out of the downpour in the bowels of the multi-storey car park and chatting with OGL, who was about to drive up to the start of the hill climb to get things set up.

A (less than) magnificent 7 included our official start team of Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, those of us too cowardly, or too sensible to ride the hill and just three actual competitors, the Garrulous Kid, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac.

We determined that with so few contestants, we could just call the results now and didn’t need to actually venture out into the rain. We even had a contestant in each category, so not only would everyone “podium” for the overall, but they’d also be a guaranteed category winner. Final placings could be determined with a quick game of rock-paper-scissors, and then we could all ride to a warm, dry café and be done with the whole, horrible exercise until next year. Perfect.

Then Buster rolled up, intent on competing too … and he ruined it for everyone.

News had filtered back that triathlon-virgin, Princess Fiona, had successfully completed the Barcelona Ironman Ironwoman Ironprincess event, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride and then a full 26 mile marathon. A fantastic achievement, although not wholly unexpected and all done in a highly respectable time of just over 12 hours. It’s good that she’ll have a target time to beat next time!

We hung around as long as possible, before submitting to the inevitable and making a move to head out into the all-enveloping deluge.

“Don’t worry, it’s eased to just a downpour now,” OGL reassured us cheerily, before climbing into the warm, dry cab of his car and driving off.

Ugh. Oh well, here we go then …


It was bad out on the roads, even protected by a rain jacket, on top of a windproof jacket, over a long-sleeved baselayer and arm warmers, complete with leg warmers and winter boots, gloves and full length mudguards front and rear.

Our would-be competitors, to a man shivered in shorts and were soaked by rain and road spray in equal measure, the only consolation they had was that at least it wasn’t all that cold, otherwise it would have been a truly miserable ride out.

Wracked by indecision, Jimmy Mac had finally resorted to a round of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, before choosing not to ride his all-singing, all-dancing, all-carbon, uber-stealth machine, but an older, slightly less-posh Specialized, complete with clip-on mudguards.

Riding behind him, it didn’t take me long to realise that while the mudguards were doing an admirable job of keeping his posterior dry, they were somehow focussing a concentrated and fierce jet of dirty water directly into my face.

While this was going on, confusingly and inexplicably, the Garrulous Kid’s mudguard-less bike was somehow producing no cast-off spray whatsoever. Odd.

Meanwhile, Buster seemed in two minds about actually riding the event, especially after I told him I would be sitting this one out, so he didn’t have the safety net of at least one person he could comfortably beat. (He did finally do it and managed a cracking time to boot.)

I swapped bike preparation tales with Taffy Steve, vehement hill-climb denier and unapologetically sat astride his ponderous, thrice-cursed winter bike, as good as an excuse as any for not even looking at Prospect Hill, let alone trying to race up it.

Despite carefully cleaning and stowing the winter bike last spring, he reported one of the brake calipers had refused to release and needed emergency remedial work. For my own part, the rear mech on the Peugeot had seized and had needed some coaxing back to life.

We finally arrived at the hill climb course to find our numbers bolstered by a whole host of kids from our Go-Ride section, bright, cheerful and chatty and seemingly looking forward to their ordeal.

In all 23 brave, brave souls would hurl themselves up the hill, including the four condemned we’d escorted to their fate, Ion, who’d ridden up on his own and Kermit, who’d sensibly travelled there by car.

The competitors signed on and I helped Buster pin his number onto his back. There was no escape now. He then realised he couldn’t get his chain onto the big sprocket and enlisted OGL’s help, at the expense of having his wheel bearings roundly and roughly condemned. It’s the price you have to pay.

Ion was wearing strange, waterproof, baggy, knee-length shorts that he insisted were the next big thing. Hmm, I’m not so sure. He wondered aloud if there were any “gamers” present who might steal his title.

I thought he was asking for tips, and gave him my sage advice – “don’t bother”- before suggesting the only gamer was him, having signed up to another club to support his racing ambitions. He now has dual-club membership, much to the (very obvious) and (completely irrational) disgust of OGL.

With final preparations underway and the first rider already off and tackling the climb, I started to ride up the hill to seek out a good vantage point. I found myself following the second rider off, one of the young, Go-Ride girls, and I saw first-hand that this hill was a real and imposing test for some of the youngsters, as she struggled mightily just to keep the pedals turning over on the first and steepest ramps.

About a third of the way up, I stopped at a junction and joined an Irish Dad waiting to support his son’s ride, thinking I could do a bit of traffic control as well as cheer on the riders winching themselves up the slope.

It was great watching some of the young kids tackling the climb, all different shapes, ages, sizes and abilities, some on mountain bikes, some with a parental outrider as escort, some struggling mightily, but refusing to give in and others zipping up, apparently without a care in the world.

One or two were so unaffected by their efforts they had the breath to thank me for cheering them on!


IMG_0392
The future is bright…


Ion went storming up, followed by his only serious contender, junior European triathlon championship winner, Dan-Di who I felt looked more ragged and not as fast. So it was to prove, with Ion pipping Dan-Di to the win, but by only a handful of seconds, proving that appearances can be deceptive.

Irish Dad cheered his son through and set off walking to the top of the hill to meet him at the finish, while I took up the role of impromptu event photographer, achieving several impressive and impromptu close-ups of my own thumb.

As I watched one of the tiny girls struggle slowly upwards, weaving from side to side and with her dad as an outrider, a car approached from behind me, aiming to head down the hill, straight into the riders hauling their way up.

I waved the car to a stop and was relieved when they seemed patient, good-natured and happy to wait, hanging well back from the junction. The girl and dad passed, but Jimmy Mac was in sight and chasing hard after her. I held the car a few more moments to let him past, then waved it on with a big thumbs up. A patient, considerate and amicable driver? What’s the world coming to?

We were into a straight run of seniors now, the Colossus guffawing as I gave him my best Zardoz impersonation, complete with inspirational lying: “You’re catching them!” and “Come on, only one more corner!”

Next up was Buster, complaining loudly that his legs were already shot and his entire ride was a disaster. (They weren’t. It wasn’t).

Kermit whipped through, game-face on and concentrating hard and then it was our last man, the Garrulous Kid, who went past grinning beatifically, as if he was actually enjoying the moment and had entered a transcendent state of grace!

As the last rider disappeared around the bend, I picked my way to the bottom of the hill to find our starting team, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs, chilled through and visibly shivering. Taffy Steve took Crazy Legs off to find a café and pour hot drinks into him, while I waited for the others to coalesce, so we could hand back various bits of “deadweight” they’d jettisoned into our care.

Buster arrived looking like he’d aged 10 years in 10 minutes, perhaps a lesser version of what Crazy Legs sees in my face after the hill climb, when he’s wont to compare me to a wasted, grey-faced, shambling zombie, or John Major – whichever of them you find the most disturbing. (It’s close, but for me John Major just about shades it.)

We then followed G-Dawg to the chosen café – this year thankfully without the extended guided (de)tour around the entire outer suburbs of Corbridge.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A new café means a new choice of cakes and my eye was immediately drawn to a massive slab of Lemon Meringue pie – which turned out to be so big that Crazy Legs felt the need to take a photo of it, giving me flashbacks to almost every family meal out, where my daughters seem compelled to photograph each and every dish that’s put in front of them and woe betide anyone who takes a mouthful before the perfect picture has been composed. I’m simply too old to understand any of this malarkey and, you know what … I don’t care.

The lemon meringue pie was good, but I realised, when I was about halfway through, it was much, much too big for a single person to manage. I finished it anyway and I somehow tucked the last morsel away without initiating a Mr. Creosote moment – sheesh, and those fellers thought the hill climb was hard!

(I chuckled, but was largely unsurprised to later find that the Strava segment leading up to the café was titled Lemon Meringue Pie, Please, in tribute to this monstrosity.)

Talk turned to the clubs Annual Christmas Dinner and awards ceremony, with Crazy Legs happy to point out that since Ion won both our time-trial and hill climb events, OGL would have to acknowledge the “turncoats” achievements through ferociously clenched teeth. I proposed we added to OGL’s chagrin by going for the full sweep of awards and nominating Ion for the most improved rider award too.

Crazy Legs then related a train journey he’d recently made where he’d been royally entertained by a random encounter with a really, really weird fellow traveller. (Trust me, if a regular member of a cycling club describes someone else as really weird, then that person’s weirdness must be truly off the charts.)

Apparently, this particular fellow traveller didn’t get off to a good start when she declared she was a whale aficionado, but challenged to name her favourite, could only come up with an Orca. This, clever fellow that he is, Crazy Legs knew wasn’t actually a whale at all, just a very big, very angry dolphin on steroids.

She then revealed her pièce de résistance though, an odd affection and perverse interest in container ships, which she’d travel far and wide to look at. And just container ships mind you, not all ships, nor merchant ships in general. Not tankers, nor freighters, or ferries, not reefers, or ro-ro’s … just container ships. Apparently, it had something to do with how the containers all align when fully loaded.

Isn’t the world a many splendoured thing?


We left the café to find the rain was actually starting to ease and off we went. “Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac started the mantra a few miles in, soaked through and looking forward to finally finishing the ride and getting in a hot shower.

“Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac repeated yet again and he was partially rewarded when G-Dawg finally acknowledged, “Just one more hill to go.” Well, for some anyway. Everyone slowed to take a sharp left, but my path led straight on and as the road dropped away downhill before starting to climb again, I waved everyone else off and kicked on.

The rain had stopped and the hedgerows seemed alive with chattering birds celebrating, or maybe just idly commentating on the astonishing amounts of rain that had fallen in the past 6 hours.

The rain had stopped, but a troubling wind had sprung up in its place and I watched as a crow hung in the air, beating its wings slowly and ponderously, going precisely nowhere, before giving up, dipping a wing and sliding away to one side.

Oh well, it wasn’t like I was in a rush to avoid any bad weather …


YTD Totals: 5,956 km / 3,701 miles with 71,525 metres of climbing

Fick and Fin

Fick and Fin

Club Run, Saturday 6th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km / 71 miles with 1,091 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 24 minute

Average Speed:                                26.2 km/h

Group size:                                         23 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          Coolly pleasant


 

fik and fin
Ride Profile


This week seemed to be a carbon copy of last week, with one major difference. No wind!

This meant what worked last week, should work this week too, so jersey, tights, arm warmers and a lightweight rain jacket for an extra layer of protection, just until I got across to the meeting point and the morning air lost its chill edge.

I was passed by several cars, elongated with long thin hulls strapped to their roofs, as I made my way down the valley and the rowing club was busy with vehicles parking up and rowers clambering out and about, obviously gearing up for some event or other.

It turned out to be the Tyne Long Distance Sculls, whatever that involves. I guessed they wouldn’t be starting in the near future though as, when I rolled over the bridge, I saw the tide was most assuredly out and the river reduced to just a thin ribbon of dark water between two shiny, featureless mud flats.

I was so busy avoiding aimlessly meandering rowers from the Tees Rowing club that I almost missed the fact that the cable, that had been dragged across the road at the end of the bridge, had been removed, along with its temporary barrow of tarmac. It was all smooth sailing from there on – well, for me anyway.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

I arrived at the meeting place to find Jimmy Mac admiring the Garrulous Kid’s vintage Castelli jersey, a hand-me-down from a benevolent uncle, which Jimmy Mac commended as very retro.

“Yeah,” the Garrulous Kid explained, “It’s good for this weather, as it’s not fick and it’s not fin.”

Despite the need for a not fick and not fin jersey, the Garrulous Kid was still wearing shorts, along with G-Dawg who is flat-out refusing to accept that summer is actually over. At the other extreme and true to his word, the Rainman had already broken out his winter bike, a week before the traditional last hurrah for carbon, our Hill Climb event.

“Sheee-orts!” an arriving OGL exclaimed loudly, in a pitch I had previously thought only attainable by pre-pubescent castrati, caught sucking down a lungful of helium.

Taffy Steve was visibly taken aback by this shocking squeal of outrage, “Remarkable! I didn’t know you could emit that sort of noise, I only ever associated you with gruff bellowing, ranting and swearing…”

The Garrulous Kid contended he was perfectly comfortable in his shorts, even when Taffy Steve declared his legs had the appearance of corned beef. We then had to spend a good few minutes explaining that corned beef and spam were not the same thing and came from completely different animals.

(For those interested in a, “I never knew that” sort of way, the corn in corn beef refers to the salt pellets traditionally used to cure the meat and not niblets of the Green Giant variety. I never knew that!)

The Garrulous Kid then rolled up his shorts legs to, shockingly, reveal his tan-line, or I should say the very, very subtle, almost indiscernible shading between unhealthy and just plain pallid. He was right in a way though, if his lower extremities resembled corned beef, the tops did look a lot like spam.

Needing a distraction, any kind of distraction, Taffy Steve quickly diverted the Garrulous Kid by asking him why 6 was so afraid of 7.

“Huh?” the Garrulous Kid replied brightly.

“I don’t know Steve,” I asked, “Why is 6 so afraid of 7.”

“Because 7-8-9!” Taffy Steve chuckled at his obvious winner in the Dad-Joke-of-the-Week competition.

“Huh?” the Garrulous Kid replied brightly.

“Seven … ate … nine … uh, furgeddaboudit.”

The Hammer took centre stage to outline the intended route for the day, which would take us, down into the Tyne Valley and then out again. He concluded with a set of admonitions that, at first, had everyone nodding along in agreement:

“No profanity, no smoking, no expectoration.  Always be polite to fellow road users, doff your cap to lady pedestrians, signal your intent with clarity and celerity … and no half-wheeling.”

“What?” the Red Max exploded, “Nah, I’m not having that!” The last statement was a bridge too far, the straw that broke the camel’s back and an inimical impediment to the Red Max’s whole raison d’etre.

Arf.

With numbers borderline for split groups, we left en masse, once more picking our way safely along the Broadway “war zone” and out into the countryside.


 

OGL had a bit of a rant about people who only showed up once in a blue moon and dictated our route, but I just let it wash over me. He was luckily distracted by the high pace being set up front, so at least had something else to complain about. Then, as we approached the airport, his phone started ringing loudly and incessantly from his back pocket.

He ignored it.

A bit further on and it started ringing again, he decided he had to answer and dived into the layby on the roundabout, just outside the airport entrance. I caught the others up, told them what was happening and we pulled into a bus stop to wait.

The last of our riders pulled up, someone said OGL wasn’t going to follow and that we should just push on. So we did.

Along the way it was suggested that, like the classic preparation for a blind date, we should all have a pre-arranged call set-up, one that we can answer if the pace of the group is too high and we need an excuse to abandon mid-ride.

At some point I found myself just behind Crazy Legs, already planning a shorter route and, naturally, inspired to sing about it. He settled on a fine version of Fleetwood Mac’s, “Go Your Own Way” and I was able to contribute in small part, with backing vocals for the chorus.

We swung left toward the river and called a pee stop, while Crazy Legs and the Red Max took their splinter group away for a shorter ride, much to the disgust of the Monkey Butler Boy who hadn’t been invited along and now had to face the longer ride with us.

There was only time for the Garrulous Kid to half-inhale a Snickers bar and then we were off again.

For some unknown reason, I indulged in a bit of joyful scat singing with Biden Fecht as we rolled along, “Be-ba-ba-boop-bap-baddaber-ap!”

“Zoober-za-deep-za-boo-da.”

“What? That sounds like Saudi. Why are you singing in Saudi?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know, much to the amusement of Plumose Pappus, who declared he’d never seen me at a loss for words until that moment.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy confessed that he’d spent some time carefully aligning his bar end plugs, following my stinging criticism last week. I had to admit his bike looked much, much better for it.

We enjoyed a swooping drop into the Tyne Valley, on a new, smooth road surface that seemed to have been stripped of its old rumble strips, and I hit the front (and a bit of a pesky headwind) along with Biden Fecht, as we followed the river and then started to climb toward Corbridge.


20170625_131018A


It was a day of scattered road kill and we passed deer, squirrel, rabbit and hedgehog corpses all splayed on the tarmac, or flung carelessly down the side of the road. Apart from obviously being dead, the squirrel in particular looked in rude health, remarkably fat and glossy. I surmised it had probably died of some obesity related disease, but according to Biden Fecht I needn’t have worried too much as “it was one of those ferrin’ grey ones.”

As if keeping to a theme, our stint on the front finally brought us to a road junction marked by some tawny, speckled and formless, feathering pile of a dead bird. Glory be to dappled things, indeed.

We turned left onto the main road and then first right, up toward Aydon, where the bridge took us safely up, up – and over the teeming, car-clogged, A69.

As the road continued to climb, I dropped toward the back of the group, taking it relatively easy and testing how the legs were after my struggles last week.

We regrouped over the top and pressed on toward Matfen. A group eased off the front and I found myself in a small knot of riders following on, with others scattered behind. The Colossus surveyed our little group and declared we’d gone from a dozen and a half riders to just four in little over a mile.

Toledo Tomás, our Swedish-educated-Spanish-newcomer, riding with us while studying for a masters at Newcastle University, joined on to the back of the group. At one point he attempted to bridge across to the front group, he’s fit and fast enough to do it, but he missed a turn and had to backtrack to re-join us. The misdirection seemed to temporarily subdue him and he hung off the back and seemed content just to follow the wheels after this.

We piled up the Quarry climb, swung right and accelerated up and through Wallridge crossroads and then down. I took it up for the last drag up to the final junction, then pulled over to let the Colossus, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid contest the sprint. I expected Toledo to join in, but he hesitated, so I pushed past and followed the others.

Tomás unleashed a devastating sprint, much, much too late, but he latched onto the others, while I managed to re-join only once we had crossed the main road and ducked down the lane for the last 500 metres or so to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

With a large group in front, plus our shorter route followers, along with the Back Street Boys (or Back Door Bikers, as the Red Max has gleefully taken to calling them), already ensconced inside, the café was packed to heaving, leaving little choice but to retire to the garden, where we found it was surprisingly mild and comfortable.

As I wandered out, I bumped into OGL and Another Engine who’d just arrived.

“What happened to you?” I wondered.

“I had to take a call,” OGL.

“We waited.”

“No they didn’t!” Another Engine snorted.

“Well, we did a bit…”

“They went a different way.” OGL insisted.

“No they didn’t!” Another Engine snorted.

Wondering if I’d inadvertently wandered into a panto rehearsal, I left them arguing between themselves and went to find a table, not that it was difficult, the garden being otherwise empty.

Talk of the TV series “The Bodyguard” somehow turned to Theresa May and her party conference “dancing” which I admitted had severely scarred my soul. G-Dawg had quickly realised it was something you sadly couldn’t un-see, which was the single reason he hadn’t plucked his own eyeballs out in response.

(I particularly liked Josh Widdicombe’s take, that she danced like someone trying to move a fridge, with a nod of respect to Stewart Lee’s “like a mantis with an inner ear infection.”)

We decided that, not only was it mild and pleasant out in the garden, but there was an appealing absence of wasps too.

Another Engine declared that wasps got a bad press and then somewhat ruined it by admitting he’d never been stung by one. This was despite once sitting on a wasps nest in Scarborough’s Peasholm Park to watch the miniature naval battle re-enacted on the lake.

To be fair, he said he didn’t realise he was sitting on a wasps nest at the time, although he did wonder why he got such a great spot, with a grandstand view and nobody pressed in beside him.

G-Dawg, a man known to frequently crush wasps with his bare thumbs, carried grim tales of a bus being stopped and evacuated mid-route after half the passengers had panicked when a wasp flew in the window.

Never mind crushing them, Another Engine determined, in polite company you were meant to gently waft them away.

“Ah, like an errant fart?” I suggested, which led to the unfortunate revelation that both Another Engine and the Garrulous Kid suffer from sustained and impromptu flatulence following a long bike ride.

“I’ll bet that’s an excuse that’s worn thin by a Thursday evening,” G-Dawg mused.

OGL complained he’d found some bearings in a MTB bottom bracket that were so esoteric he’d had to ring the manufacturer, Giant for guidance.

Childishly, I couldn’t help but imagine how that particular phone-call might have sounded, intoning: “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Giant headquarters, how can we help you human?”

With just one week to go until the club hill climb, Another Engine fondly recalled his last experience competing.

“Do you remember the time we were waiting to start and those two women on touring bikes with panneers rode by en route to who knows where and asked if they could join in?” he asked.

“Panneers? Are they posh panniers?” OGL demanded.

Panneers, panniers, whatever,” Another Engine continued. “The point is, these two women rode the event, without preparation and on touring bikes loaded down with full panniers.”

“That was the year I was second last,” he concluded, glumly.

There was just time to deride the increasing proliferation of “official” world boxing champions titles, determine Tyson Fury had perhaps the perfect name for a boxer and discuss how after shedding over 122 pounds in weight, from fick to fin, he’s still burdened with the skin of a 385 pound man … and it’s not a good look.


Then we were off and away. Luckily the Backstreet Boys has left earlier, so there was no intermingling of clubs and testosterone levels were capped off well below the danger level. The ride back was fast-paced, but controlled and I swung away at the end of the Mad Mile feeling in good fettle and looking forward to a ride back without having to constantly battle with a headwind.

Perfect timing saw the traffic parting like the Red Sea and I skipped straight over the roundabout on the approach to the Heinous Hill without even having to slow. For once the capricious gods of cycling had aligned everything in my favour, the lights at the bottom of the climb burned green and I was able to carry a bit of speed up the first ramps, before picking my way upwards and home again.


YTD Totals: 5,805 km / 3,607 miles with 71,525 metres of upness