Blow Monkeys

Blow Monkeys

Club Run, Saturday 9th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:87 km / 54 miles with 1,515m climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 58 minutes
Average Speed:21.8 km/h
Group Size:10
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:

Ride Profile

Here we go then, surfing on the ragged coattails of Storm Erik, with the promise of high winds, gusts of up to 60mph and frequent rain. Tally ho!

The conditions have already caused the Hammer and Aether to peek cautiously out from behind their bedroom curtains and declare it’s a “Too Wild to Ride” kind of day. Unfortunate, as the Hammer had planned the route and volunteered to lead.

Still, as I’m buffeted and bashed on the drop off the Heinous Hill, I’m certain that someone with at least half a clue and a workable plan will turn up – in fact I already have a fairly good idea of which of the Usual Suspects will be out and ready to laugh (quite literally) in the face of Storm Erik.

Having been snowbound last week, I feel I particularly need the ride, despite the less than ideal conditions and a streaming cold. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but one nostril was painfully plugged and felt tighter than the sphincter on a deep-diving platypus. Meanwhile, the other was the gift that kept giving and streamed like a cataract.

I took the closer river crossing over a prolonged battle with the elements and soon started to climb out of the valley. I was gently impelled upwards by the wind at my back and made decent time.

This wind must have been blowing in just the right direction and with just the right force to set all the lampposts along Silver Lonnen to a rhythmic, but raucous metallic clanging. I’ve never heard anything quite like it (well, outside the industrial percussion Tom Waits used on Swordfishtrombones) and wondered how the residents had managed to sleep through this startled, constant alarm call.

I had the wind at my back again for the final run-in, slightly downhill on a straight and fast road, where I could freewheel and still watch my speed slowly build: 26 … 27 … 28 … 29 mph.

As I turned on the final approach to the bus station sorry, Transport Interchange Centre, the wind gave me one final shove, like the brakeman on a bobsled team. I whipped around the corner, bumped over the kerb and had to brake sharply before hitting the wall. I’d arrived a whole 10 minutes early.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Buoyed by the invincibility of youth, the Garrulous Kid was out, having survived the previous week when everyone had switched to a mountainbike in the snow, but he’d stuck resolutely to his road bike. I didn’t know whether to commend his bravery or condemn his madness.

It wasn’t long before the Usual Suspects started to show, G-Dawg and the Colossus, Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs, Goose and Caracol.

We were joined by Archie Miades, one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s mini-me’s, who seems to quite enjoy riding with the auld codgers and probably lowered our average age by at least 5 years.

OGL drove up while we were chatting about possible routes, apparently on his way to the gym, having also determined it was Too Wild to Ride. “There are trees down everywhere,” he declared ominously.

Taffy Steve, having already ridden an hour in from the coast, immediately suggested these dire warnings were pure hyperbole and could be safely filed away with other assorted and periodic scare-mongering, such as “glaciers are starting to form in Rothbury” and the Broadway is a car vs. cyclist war zone and utterly deadly.

Still, at least OGL’s arrival entertained Crazy Legs who was delighted by the baggy, bright red, track suit bottoms he was wearing. If the branding is to be believed, these were official team issue to Canadian canoeists for the 2012 Olympic Games.

They were in fact, so red, that I’m not sure that even the admirably eccentric Prof would have allowed them into his wardrobe, despite his penchant for sporting his famous “Nantucket Red” trews on the occasions when he wants to look “preppy” and/or edgy.

Unsightly as they were, at least OGL’s pants gave Crazy Legs one of the trickier trivia questions of the day,

“Name a famous Canadian Olympian …”

“Well, that’s easy …”

Other than Ben Johnston?

“Oh … err … hmm.”

(We couldn’t – well, other than Ben Johnston, although perhaps boxer Lennox Lewis may have won me the point as I had an inkling he’d competed for Canada before being adopted as a “true-Brit”).

We all turned to watch the halting approach of infrequent, irregular, Double Dec, perhaps the tallest rider in the club and ideal for sheltering behind on a windy day.

“We should ask him to carry a door,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably, I thought.

“Then we could all ride behind him in a V-shaped formation, like geese,” the Colossus reasoned, envisaging a spearhead, with Double Dec and his door on the front of a gradually broadening formation, culminating in 8 riders abreast at the back.

We failed to suppress a small, involuntarily cheer as Double Dec drew to a halt in front of us.

“I know what you’re all thinking,” he declared flatly, “Put the big feller on the front and hide behind him all day.”

We all immediately denied we would ever, ever consider such an unfair imposition. I mean, as if …


Off we went, ten brave souls led out by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid. Things weren’t too bad as long as there was a bit of shelter – houses, hedges, or trees, but when we hit the wide-open stretch of road past the Sage HQ we found out just how strong the wind was.

Looking for a slightly easier route, Crazy Legs detached and tried the cycle path. His manoeuvre left me slightly adrift from the group and it took a hell of an effort just to close the gap, head-down and toiling away into the wind.

Meanwhile, on the front, G-Dawg was grinding his massive fixed gear with ponderous slowness, forced out of the saddle and contorting his entire body to keep the wheels turning. I was convinced today was going to be the day when we finally broke him.

Double Dec had already been distanced. If he was a good windbreak to ride behind, it was also true that he represented a massive surface area for the wind to buffet and probably generated more drag than the rest of us combined. He would struggle for the rest of the day.

A still lung-shot Crazy Legs had dropped off the back and was also determined to ride at his own pace, but every time we stopped to wait for Double Dec, Crazy Legs would invariably appear first.

At one such stop, I managed to tell him that I’d been working through our postgraduate course database when a colleague noticed a course with no name.

“What’s that, you say?” I had asked, “A course with no name?”

I left the conversation dangling as we pressed on, but was fairly confident the trap had been masterfully baited and was about to be sprung …



The ride continued in this stop-start way, Crazy Legs would drift off the back content in his own company and travelling at his own pace. Then we’d hit a climb, Double Dec would be jettisoned and, when we pulled over to wait for him, Crazy Legs would invariably appear before our errant windbreak.

At one point G-Dawg and the Colossus dropped back to provide escort duties for Double Dec, as we hit a particularly wild, windy and horribly exposed bit of road and progress slowed to a crawl.

At the crossroads below Meldon, Taffy Steve indicated he was turning left and heading straight on to the cafe, while the rest were heading up through Dyke Neuk, then on to the wind-blasted moorland around Angerton.

I indicated I was going with Taffy Steve, while Caracol hemmed and hawed, between the longer and shorter routes. In his mind he was already at home
curled up on the sofa and ready for an all-day wallow in the rugby.

“Wearing a onesie and wrapped in a slanket,” the Colossus imagined.

“Both feet in a Big Slipper,” I added.

“Sipping a Cup-A-Soup,” the Colossus concluded.

Oddly Caracol didn’t argue, other than to suggest he’d probably still be in his cycling kit, so the onesie was a bit of an exaggeration.

Naturally Crazy Legs arrived before Double Dec.

“I’m please you’re here,” he said to me, “Otherwise I would have asked someone to pass a message forward.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. You’re a complete and utter bastard!” he announced.

From this I understood I had successfully inflicted an irritating earworm on Crazy Legs and he’d been assailed by the America’s (the group, not the country) finest musical opus, as he’d toiled along – alone and behind, where there ain’t no one for to give you no pain. La-la-la – lalalala – la-la-la – la-la …

While the rest pushed on for Dyke Neuk, I went with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs , collecting Double Dec and climbing the always surprisingly sharp, hill to Meldon on a more direct heading to the cafe.

Even slight rises were enough to cast out Double Dec now and I spent much of the time looking back and judging how big a gap he needed to make up as we slowed to wait.

As we reached the bottom of the drop down to Bolam Lake, I looked back again and found the road completely empty. I hung back while Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs pushed on and was just about to start climbing back up the hill, when Double Dec finally reappeared.

I checked how he was doing and made sure he didn’t have any mechanical issues. All was fine, but he was struggling in the wind and had decided to head straight home, foregoing the pleasure of coffee and cake for the opportunity to travel at his own pace.

I left him and caught up with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs. We pressed on with a token increase in pace as we closed on the cafe. Crazy Legs accelerated into the rollers and I tracked him across the first three crests, before poking my nose into the wind and leading our splinter group up to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We hadn’t been sat there long, when the rest of our group were blown in. The Garrulous Kid was heard loudly declaring he weighed more than 80 kilos now, as a result of all of his work in the gym. The Colossus queried if this was remotely possible.

“You have to take into account his giant head, which is filled with material that’s much denser than normal,” I argued.

“Perhaps that explains why he keeps falling over?” Crazy Legs pondered. “I wonder where his centre of balance is?”

Crazy Legs then spent a few moments trying to identify his own centre of balance, before boldly declaring that Henley-in-Arden is the centre of balance for the whole of the British Isles:

“If you put a giant pin through Henley-in-Arden and give the country a quick spin, it will more freely rotate around this point than any other,” he asserted with such conviction that I didn’t dare doubt him.

We discussed some well worn cycling tropes, such as the relationship between drivers and cyclists and the tensions created by awful, often dangerous cycle lanes we, fairly unanimously spurn, to the ire of our motorised brethren.

Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs then compared notes on gesticulating angrily to motorists while wearing lobster-claw mitts. They concluded that the gloves were impressively warm, but their major drawback was they severely restricted the range of your digital eloquence and emasculated the vehemence of your gestures.

In fact, their rather cute, comical design made you look like an agitated rock-hopper penguin having a temper tantrum, while waving them at motorists was akin to threatening someone with a cheery glove puppet.

Talk turned to cult sporting heroes, especially those who had a brilliant career, prematurely cut short by injury. But perhaps it’s better to burn out, than to fade away, as a smart Canadian feller once proclaimed. My, my, hey, hey. (He wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge an Olympian).

As we were thinking about heading home, the Garrulous Kid sidled up to accidentally let slip he’d beaten the Colossus in the cafe sprint. We weren’t there and with no corroborating witnesses, we naturally treated such claims as utterly spurious, fake news.

Then the Garrulous Kid queried where Double Dec was.

“Probably around about Ogle, by now” G-Dawg suggested dryly, glancing at his watch and name-checking the next village a couple of hundred yards down the road.

I explained that Double Dec had been struggling, so hadn’t stopped at the cafe and ridden straight for home. The Garrulous Kid was disappointed, as talking to him was “really interesting.” According to the Garrulous Kid, our missing comrade has at least two claims to fame, having once placed last in a Very Tall Man competition and (allegedly) possessing an uncountable harem of wives. 


I hung at the back, well out of the wind all the way home, before letting Caracol, G-Dawg and the Colossus slip away on the last section of the Mad Mile.

I was then on my own, up the long drag past the golf course, with a cross headwind, strong enough to both impede forward progress and occasionally slap me sideways, so I lurched across the road.

Head down, I didn’t see much of anything as I toiled away, occasionally looking up just to get my bearings and avoid ploughing into any parked cars. I must admit I was always pleasantly surprised by the progress I was making each time I raise my eyes from the road ahead.

In this way I made it to the foot of the Heinous Hill and then, with one last effort, home.


YTD Totals: 840 km / 522 miles with 11,720 metres of climbing.

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Of Ice and Men

Of Ice and Men

Club Run 19th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 103 km/64 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed:24.0 km/h
Group Size:19
Temperature:4°C
Weather in a word or two:Bitter
Ride Profile

Brace yourself, here comes the real winter…

The weather turned much colder, mid-week starting on Wednesday, when I only just managed to make it into work before we were hit with the first snow flurries of 2019.

On Thursday and Friday temperatures plunged further and ice bloomed in oddly random patches, encouraging me to swap the road bike for a mountain bike. This hopefully doubles-up on the amount of rubber in contact with the road surface at any one time. It still wasn’t enough to give me the confidence to ride down one totally ice-sheeted lane I found on my commuting route.

In fact things were looking so bad on Friday that, conscientious fellow that he is, G-Dawg reconnoitred our entire planned route for Saturday and worked out a comprehensive Plan B, based on by-passing those roads he felt were way too sketchy – and there were plenty of those. I should probably clarify that he drove the intended route, he didn’t cycle – I said he was conscientious, not stark staring mad.

So Saturday was cold from the early hours and unlikely to get much warmer as the day progressed. I doubled up on base layers, slapped a rain jacket over my winter jacket and rolled out.

The descent of the hill was great for identifying the weak spots and any chinks in my cold weather armour – the minuscule gap between glove and jacket cuff, everything above the protective buff wrapped around my lower face and the area where the double protection between socks and bibtights petered out.

3°C the flashing LED’s on the factory unit told me, plus (or, is that minus?) the wind chill, the icing on the cake, or maybe the icing on the poor rider in this instance.

Once again though, others perhaps had it worse, as the rowers were already gathering on the river bank as I passed, preparing for the Tyne New Years Head race, 4.5km upstream from Scotswood to Newburn in bitterly cold conditions.

A brief interlude at the traffic lights before the bridge brought me a buzzing from the overhead wires, overlaid with the clomp of many welly-booted feet, as the rowers prepared all their gear. All this was interspaced with the bright, chirruping chatter of a solitary early bird. I’ve no idea why he was so happy, perhaps it was a triumphal anthem as he’d got the worm?

Over the river and climbing out the other side of the valley, I finally began to warm up a little, but I never did feel the need to shed the rain jacket, then or at any subsequent point during the ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

On arriving, I found G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Colossus sitting on the wall, no doubt being entertained by the Garrulous Kid, who had his hands thrust obscenely down the front of his tights to keep them warm.

G-Dawg shuffled uncomfortably on the wall. “My backside’s bloody freezing,” he declared unhappily.

“Is that the real reason all cycling apparel comes with a padded seat, ” I pondered. “Heat insulation?”

“Well, if it is, it’s not working,” G-Dawg affirmed.

“You should do this and put your hands down here,” the Garrulous Kid offered, stretching the groin area of his tights out alarmingly to indicate where me mean’t.

“There’s an offer you won’t get very often,” I decided, “Put your hands down your fellow cyclists trousers to warm them up.”

“That’s not what I mean’t” the Garrulous Kid objected, but it was too late.

“It’s me arse that’s cold, will that fit?” G-Dawg demanded

“Is this our #MeToo moment?” a Taffy Steve wondered laconically.

Oh dear.

Speaking of hash tags, did anyone else see the banner ads for #amazonshitcarshow and read it the same way I did? I was almost going to congratulate Amazon on brutally honest and forthright advertising, until I worked out what they were really trying to say about Mr Clarkson’s latest opus.

OGL took the opportunity to announce that a diary clash means he’s deprived of Jimmy Mac’s services for one of the races he organises and now needs someone else to step up and act as the event doctor.

The Garrulous Kid immediately volunteered and OGL had to patiently explain he actually needed a qualified doctor, not just someone with a scout’s First Aid badge and a willingness to wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

Taffy Steve and I wondered if any qualified doctor would do, perhaps a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of religion would serve? Although they probably wouldn’t be all that good at treating bodily injuries, they could always help you rationalise how you came to be lying bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road, or intercede on your behalf with the highest of authorities.

G-Dawg discussed route options and we agreed that the weather had suddenly and unexpectedly softened a little from late last night, so we could probably revert to the original route.

By contrast, the weather now seemed positively benign – which was saying something.

The Cow Ranger confirmed conditions had been deadly on Friday night, he’d gone out for a run with his dog, only to give up when it kept losing its footing on the ice. This saw it spinning slowly in circles, legs splayed, spread-eagled and out of control through a series of comedy falls.

Richard of Flanders appeared having cancelled the Saturday Go Ride session, which he was mean’t to be coaching, because conditions on Friday had looked so treacherous. The sudden and expected thaw now meant he was free to ride with us and G-Dawg wondered just how guilty he felt for this premature evaluation and cancellation.

To be honest, he didn’t look all that guilty, despite the vast numbers of heartbroken kids left at home and probably even now looking out the window and crying softly, while they wondered why they weren’t allowed to ride their bikes today.

Jimmy Mac offered up his own testimony to support the sudden thaw-thesis, relating how he’d attended the rugby on Friday night and determined conditions were so bad, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride Saturday morning, so felt free to indulge in a few libations to the gods of the oval ball. Now, with conditions radically improved, he was out, though feeling just a little bit fragile.

G-Dawg outlined Route Option A, Route Option B if things proved worse than expected and a Route Option C for the consideration of the Flat White club, including several detours to sate the needs of even the most ardent coffee connoisseur. We agreed to play it by ear once we got out into the frigid countryside but, all things considered, his original route now looked do-able.

We pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I was in line, chatting with Sneaky Pete as we dropped down from Dinnington and pushed on toward Berwick Hill, when, with a clatter of skidding hooves on slick tarmac, a startled deer crashed through the trees, skittered across our path and disappeared again.

Oh deer.


Jets overhead

Through Ponteland and out onto Limestone Lane, we passed two more deer, who stopped briefly to give us the evil eye before bounding away.

“They’re coming down from the higher ground,” Sneaky Pete suggested ominously. Must be cold up there if it’s driving the wild life out, I thought. Oh deer, oh deer. (It’s ok, I’ve finished now.)

Further on and a fusillade of shots rang out from the woods flanking us. perhaps the deer had unwittingly walked into an ambush, or we’d stumbled across the training camp of the Northumberland Patriots preparing for their own private Waco moment.

We survived unscathed and, despite our best efforts and a route that took us along some less travelled back lanes, we singularly failed to find any dangerous, or even vaguely discomforting roads. The only issue we really had was with the Cow Ranger’s chain, which was dropped more times than the bar of soap in a public school shower block.

Strung out a little on the climb up the village of Ryal, we regrouped at the top, inviting the Garrulous Kid to act out his bravado and actually head down the climb. He declined to descend.

Thinking we were of one mind, I rolled away from the group and made my way toward the turn for the Quarry, expecting everyone to catch up in short order. At the junction though, we discovered that our numbers were light and we’d lost a handful of riders.

We pulled up to wait and finally, after long minutes, an estranged quartet of riders finally appeared. They’d realised that the Cow Ranger was missing and retraced our route to the last spot we could remember seeing him, but he remained as elusive as the enigmatic pimpernel. No track, no trace, no sign, no odd stain on the tarmac from a dropped chain.

We pondered where he could have gone – the route straight on led to the village centre before petering into a rough farm track that led nowhere, the right turn would have brought him past us, while a left would see him dropping down the Ryals, which we all agreed was madness in these conditions.

“Perhaps he back-tracked down the same route we took to get up here?” G-Dawg considered.

“Or, he’s hiding behind a hedge, giggling madly at us trying desperately to find him?” I suggested.

After few more minutes of waiting and prevaricating and getting colder, we finally decided the Cow Ranger was a big boy and could probably look after himself. Anyway, we reasoned, if the worst came to the worst, his body would be perfectly preserved in these freezing conditions and we could pick it up next week.

We pushed on to the Quarry, startled by how much colder it seemed at the top of the climb, our highest point of the day, but still only about 200 metres above sea level. No wonder the wildlife were fleeing to lower pastures.

Jimmy Mac and Caracol took us at increasing pace from the top of the Quarry and through Hallington crossroads, then ceded the front. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention, so Caracol had to physically ask if I was going to come through.

Oops. Sorry guys.

I drove the group through the twisting corners, down the descent to the first junction, then halfway up the rise to final turn before I was done and dropping back, leaving the rest to contend the sprint down to the Snake Bends.

Well, that warmed me up a bit.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

The cafe was surprisingly full and, shockingly, not everyone taking up the seats was a cyclist in dire need of a life-saving injection of caffeine and cake. Didn’t these people recognise our needs? (The short answer is a definitive no.)

We finally found a space tucked into a corner, where Caracol was the first to dare the omerta and query my filthy-dirty and anti-social blerging habits, which (if you’re reading this) you’ll know I’ve singularly failed to break.

I explained that I felt I couldn’t possibly give up when there was such a massive public outcry and outpouring of support for further adventures sur la jante – proudly mentioning that two whole (real and not imaginary!) people had urged me to continue. (Thanks Mum, thanks Dad).

I explained that, apart from finding the time to actually write this drivel, my main problem was simply remembering what actually went on during any given ride – which is why I make all of this up, well apart from the bits that actually happened, obviously. I can’t help thinking the older I get, the more challenging this bit might prove.

Caracol suggested I should not only carry a camera, but maybe a dictaphone too, so I had a record of what was being said. The Colossus though was quick to point out that 3 hours of someone panting like an asthmatic dog on a pollen farm, interspersed with an angry bloke bellowing random, only occasionally intelligible imprecations, probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in constructing a record of what actually took place. Think I’ll stick to wild fiction then.

Taffy Steve arrived expounding on the delights of lime drizzle cake – apparently, while lemon drizzle cake is good – its lime-based cousin is simply awe-some, extraordinary, amaze-balls, da bomb, etc. He’d spent time trying to convince the cafe staff that it was the future, but I suspect he was wasting his time.

Call of the search! At some point during our sojourn the Cow Ranger re-appeared, wholly intact and apparently of sound mind – despite that fact that he had indeed taken the freezing plunge down the Ryals. Brave fellow.


I caught up with Cowin’ Bovril on the way home. He has grand plans to not only buy and restore an original Volkswagen Beetle, but then convert it to run on an electric motor.

At this point I realised that, as an odd obsession, blerging was much less of a money and time-sink than many other strange pecadilloes I could have.

And then we were exiting the Mad Mile and the fun and frivolity was over … for another week. Upward and onward.


YTD Totals: 491 km / 305 miles with 6,771 metres of climbing.

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense
Total Distance:100km/62 miles with 1,025 metres climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:26
Temperature: 8°C
Weather in a word or two:Mild

Ride Profile

Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!

It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.

And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.

And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.

The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?

G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.

Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”


We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.

I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.

Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.



With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.

The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to
Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.

The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.

We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.

“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”

“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”

The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”

With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.

“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.

Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.

At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.

We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.

The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.

We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.

The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.

On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.

The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.

I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.

At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.

Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.

He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.

“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”

“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”

We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.

He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.

“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.

There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.

I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.


Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.


Paul Dorman©

I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.

Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining


YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.

Carnival of Sorts

Carnival of Sorts

A Winter Interlude.

Saturday had me missing the club run in order to fetch Thing#2 back from Term#1 at Leeds University. All kudos is due the gallant 10 who did make the ride, in very chilly and quite unpleasant conditions.

As the snow, sleet and freezing rain set in later in the day, there was a further club gathering of a different kind, the Annual Club Christmas Party and Awards ceremony. Or, yet another excuse for an extended period of doing what club cyclists do best – talking complete and utter bolleaux.

This was held in conditions that were actually worse outside than anything experienced on the ride that morning, so kudos to all who trekked through the weather and made it such an entertaining and enjoyable night. Extra kudos, of course, if you did both the morning ride and that evenings soiree.

Despite the weather, it was a well attended event with around 30 riders and their significant others and a good time was had by all. (As far as I’m aware.)

Things I think I learned:

  • The Red Max half-wheels the Monkey Butler Boy, even when they’re training indoors on their turbo’s.
  • The Garrulous Kid’s hair is not resilient to environmental precipitation.
  • Sneaky Pete thinks G-Dawg models his off-bike, civilian style and swagger on Lovejoy, a character in a BBC TV series who is a roguish, swindling, trickster antiques dealer and unrepentant mullet-wearer. According to Sneaky Pete, the resemblance is so acute he’s even lobbying for me to change G-Dawg’s blog name.

The highlight of the night were the Peroni Awards – (The Peroni’s™ – not to be confused with the Oscar’s™ which are far less feted, less important and significantly less controversial).

The Peroni’s were ably hosted by Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, reminding me of two ex-professional footballers turned-pundits (think Gary Lineker teamed with Robbie Savage) and performing as perhaps the finest myopic double-act since the Two Ronnies.

Ticker won a Peroni for having the loudest wheels in the peloton, Aether for the whitest legs, Goose for a voice that could wake the dead and the Red Max for “furious and relentless half-wheeling”.

I was granted an award for what Crazy Legs referred to as my wordsmiffery – the Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse award – demonstrating an innate ability to turn comedy gold into straw. (Then deftly mix it with liberal lardings of bullshit before launching the whole mess blindly into the public domain.)

Taffy Steve received the most acerbic comment award, but unfortunately couldn’t attend and express his overflowing joy at such recognition. No one felt capable of stepping into his shoes to deliver a terse, witty and suitably blistering acceptance speech.

The self-effacing, “I am Richard” Identity Theft award deservedly went to Richard of Flanders, who can now perhaps reclaim his name from all the weekly route briefings.

I think the, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for today” refrain has probably run its course, after being hijacked by a wide variety of impostors and used with impunity for about 6 weeks in a row.

It has also caused some unnecessary confusion, with Jimmy Mac being referred to as “that Dick feller” on a couple of occasions. Of course, in relating this, I’m discounting the (highly unlikely, surely?) possibility that they are acutely aware Jimmy Mac’s actual name and are simply attempting to describe him in the most accurate terms possible.

The Garrulous Kid was kept happy with seven separate awards, including wins in the most likely to crash category, most likely to inexplicably walk away from a crash unscathed, least able to turn left (he only narrowly missed out on the least able to turn right award) and for completing the shortest club ride – ever. Well, quantity has a quality all of its own, no?



In amongst the fun and frivolity there was even the opportunity to bestow the official, club recognised and actual trophy-laden award of Most Improved Rider, thoroughly deserved by the winner, Buster.

There was also a quick salute to the tireless efforts of the behind-the-scenes team, all the Grips, Gaffers and Best Boy’s, whose too often thankless and sterling efforts underlie our seemingly effortless productions:

Crazy Legs for organising the club 10 mile time-trial and the Club Dinner, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Big Dunc for timing and starting duties at said time-trial and the Hill Climb, plus all the marshals at all the events, Rick Rex for organising the club 25-mile time-trial, the Red Max for the midweek Circus Maximus (Natural Selection) ride and the Circuit Maximus (Chain-gang), our volunteer weekly ride leaders: Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Spoons, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Aether, Jimmy Mac, the Hammer and the Red Max and last, but not least, our monthly social nights organisers G-Dawg and Crazy Legs.

Not forgetting of course, the elephant in the room, or in this instance not in the room, the absentee OGL, for all the bits in-between, as well as bringing that extra ray of sunshine into our lives and being so compliant and accommodating of those who think the club could perhaps be run a teeny bit better.

Ahem…

All this just supports the obvious conclusion that a club is the sum of its disparate, different parts and only ever as good as the people it represents.

So onward we go. Next up is the traditional Christmas Jumper, Bling Yer Bike and Fancy Dress ride. Then it’s downhill-with-a-following-wind, all the way to the end of December and a brand-spanking new year.


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.


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

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