Covid-19. The Coronavirus. Just a quick note to acknowledge it’s a serious thing. A deadly serious thing. It might only represent a very minor inconvenience to you, should you be unlucky enough to catch it, but somewhere down the line, with the person you pass it on to, or they pass it on to, or beyond that, the consequences might be fatal.
So don’t be a dick, think about what you’re doing, follow the guidelines and stay well.
That said, we still have to get through this, so hopefully a little gallows humour and the odd, ostensibly cycling-related bit of frivolity might help.
So let’s plunge into Week#2 of The Plague Diaries…
First up, will someone please explain to me why people stared panic buying toilet paper?
Food or water I can at least understand (I still think it’s stupid, but I can understand it.) Antibacterial hand sanitizer, I can understand. But loo roll? Bog paper? Toilet tarp? the Daily Mail™?
What’s the worst that could happen if you run out? How did the … err … run on toilet paper start and why? Will we ever know?
I completed my second-solo ride under lockdown and now that we’re being advised to ride in groups of “fewer than two” I guess everyone else in the club is doing something similar.
I went mostly south, managing about 40,very lumpy miles in chill, but for the most part dry conditions. I only got lost once or twice.
Self-inflicted earworm, accompanying most of the day, was Tenpole Tudor’s “Swords of a Thousand Men.” I guess it could have been worse, I’m just not sure how.
Anyway, regulated and imposed riding on your own is different, but not without a few positives to balance out the negatives, you know, ups and down, snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts, a bit of yin to balance out a smattering of yang.
So, my list so far:
There’s very little traffic (and as a consequence the air is noticeably cleaner.)
If I’m riding solo, I can’t get dropped. Ever.
I can ride at my own pace.
I’m not going to get shouted at (for any reason, or even for no reason whatsoever.)
I don’t have to worry about the rider in front standing up to climb and momentarily stopping their pedalling, so their back wheel suddenly lurches toward my front wheel.
There are no unexpected salvoes of snot rockets to avoid.
I’m not under pressure to leave the house by a certain time to make the rendezvous.
It’s a chance to explore new, or seldom used routes.
I only have to contend with self-inflicted earworms (although on today’s evidence, even that’s an issue.)
I don’t have to worry about the rider behind, so I don’t need mudguards = summer bike, even if it pours. (Yay!)
If I puncture, I wont feel the pressure of a hyper-critical audience watching my every move, as I fumble around trying to change a tube.
There’s a slim chance I could win a non-cafe sprint.
You can stop for a pee almost anywhere and not be disturbed.
No witty, erudite banter and thoughtful insight to entertain me.
No one to draft behind in a headwind.
No cafe’s = no (richly deserved) coffee and cake.
The pressure of having to choose my own route.
(Related) The ease with which I can get lost.
The temptation to take it easy, or just head straight home.
No one to laugh at, or take the piss out of beside myself.
The lack of motivation to get out of bed and actually ride.
The miles seem to crawl by, literally and metaphorically.
I’m sure there’s more. What have I missed?
A Random Ramble …
Words. You know I love words. I feel sorry for them if they’re alone, so always encourage them to cram-up together. Like some kind of wholly unscrupulous, evil, people-trafficker (not that there’s any other kind?) I’ll stuff as many of the poor blighters as I can into any free sentence without a care for syntax, structure, legibility, legality or readability. Well, you know “quantity has a quality all of its own,” as Napoleon once famously didn’t say.
But there are certain words and phrases that seem to get picked up by the media and get used by lazy journalists over and over and over again, ad nasueum, like a stuck record, without even the subtlest hint of variation or variety, or thought behind its use.
I’m sure I’ve already mentioned in this venerable blerg the lazy over-use of the suffix: “gate” to describe any kind of scandal – you know, Pizzagate, Contragate, Deflategate, et al.. This is still true, even though I had to swallow my own distaste when we had our own scandal that could only properly be described as Gategate.
The “so-called Islamic State” was another recent example, used to describe the entity that did actually refer to itself as Islamic State, or could just as easily be referred to as Isis, Isil, IS, or Daesh. It didn’t take too long for the term “so-called Islamic State” to really, really grate.
At the moment the phrase du jour that’s really starting to annoy me is “underlying conditions.” I know, we get it, certain people who have sadly succumbed to corona virus weren’t in the best of health anyway, but with no further information about what these underlying conditions are, it’s a bit spurious, unhelpful and wholly unnecessary.
I also wonder if downplaying the potential, fatal seriousness of the virus is sending the wrong message to those stupid enough to think the threat is overly-exaggerated, or worse yet, a hoax.
Anyway, a new word has just entered my watch-list and I’m sure we’re going to hear more of it in the coming weeks. That word is furlough. I was also surprised to hear a rather well-known BBC presenter exclaim he’d never, ever come across the word, before discussing it with a guest and suggesting it might be related to that agricultural term for leaving a field unplanted for a season … sigh.
And a final note …
So, that thing about people contributing stuff so we could all retain some sense of connection and community and enjoy something mildly diverting at the same time?
Well, it seems that Biden Fecht has bravely picked up his own gauntlet, so keep an eye out for the excellent Fechting Talk, heading your way very shortly.
Cycling in the Time of Covid-19 – week ending 22nd March
Well, that’s typical, no sooner do I start riding again and club runs become verboten.
As the country’s somewhat fumbled response to the Corona Virus continued to evolve haphazardly, gatherings became restricted to six people as we moved toward the weekend and social media was alight with queries and concerns about our regular club runs.
In the face of limited, changing and confusing official guidance, some of our Saturday regulars decided to coalesce around our meeting point as usual, before forming into ad hoc small groups of three or four and heading out for a ride.
I decided it wasn’t worth trekking all the way across to the meeting point and settled on a solo run, largely staying south of the river. Others had similar ideas, while for some the purgatory and self-flagellation of turbo-trainers seemed to call.
Earlier in the week I’d been contacted by one of our club regulars, the estimable Biden Fecht. He described fleeing Scotland as the shutters came down, making his escape sound as dramatic as leaping onto the last Huey just as its skids lifted from the US embassy roof in Saigon. (It would be a great analogy, if the embassy staff had been evacuated on venerable and clanking 1990’s era rolling stock.)
Anyway, now safely under house arrest in Newcastle for the duration, he’s weirdly concerned he’s going to miss us (no, me neither) and is looking at ways we can support each other, stay in touch and maintain some sense of communal spirit.
As an option of last resort, he wondered if I’d throw open the pages of this venerable blog/blerg to any and all contributions, running the whole gamut from A to B. So from braggadocio to venting, from the asinine to extraordinary, any and all contributions are welcome be they inspiration, entertainment, or elucidation.
If you want to add, club member or not, send your contributions to email@example.com and certain fame infamy is sure to follow.
No rules, although at least a tenuous link to cycling is expected. So let us know what you’re doing, how you’re doing and why you’re doing whatever it it that your doing. We might be able to keep each other sane and make it through this yet.
(I will of course take full credit for anything that is well received and goes … err .. viral?)
I’m still waiting for a contribution from G-Dawg, titled “Hills in the North East You Can’t Climb on the Big Ring”. To be fair, he has already sent me an email with an attachment, but both were blank. I’m not sure what’s gone wrong there.
I’m also expecting a top-10 of quarantine themed ear-worms from Crazy Legs, although its my understanding that The Knack’s “My Corona” has already secured top-spot.
In the meantime – this is Biden Fecht’s contribution, a selfie including a wall in Whalton and daringly, breaking social distancing rules with his own shadow.
My own contribution also features a wall, somewhere near Newlands, as I tried to recon a route we could use for the club to venture south of the river … but got hopelessly lost.
I’ll spare you a selfie of my grizzled visage as I’ve taken home-working as an excuse not to shave. As my work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave commented, by the time we come out of the other side of this, I’ll probably look like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway.
Be safe and be good, I’ve got a feeling we’ve a long. long way to go yet.
Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?
Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.
Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.
Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”
Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.
I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.
Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.
The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.
This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.
It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”
Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.
He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.
At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.
The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.
From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.
Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.
The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.
I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.
We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled onthe front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.
Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.
TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.
He didn’t look too sure.
“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.
In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.
We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.
I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.
I wonder how that worked out?
Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”
After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.
Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.
[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]
TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”
“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.
“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.
The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.
And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.
It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.
YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing
I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …
Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.
I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.
I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.
I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.
It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.
It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.
Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.
G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.
Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.
The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.
When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.
“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.
As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)
Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.
I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.
Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.
As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)
Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.
It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”
Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.
We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.
At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.
The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.
If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.
“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.
TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.
“What’s in stollen?”he wondered.
Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …
“Err … marzipan?”me mused aloud.
TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.
“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.
At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.
(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)
OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.
Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.
Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.
Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.
G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.
As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.
Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.
I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.
Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.
Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.
I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.
Correction: as one avid readerthe one avid reader pointed out in response to last weeks blerg, Brian Connolly, he of the remarkable, platinum, flowing locks and erstwhile lead singer of Sweet, died in 1997.
As such, I strongly suspect he is not touring with the band and his probably wasn’t the face I had such a visceral reaction to seeing on a recent tour poster. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of this, but the synapses failed to fire. Again.
Further investigation also suggests there are only two of the original band members left alive and there have been at least 3-different Sweet line-ups active over-time and, confusingly, often concurrently. I have no idea then, who is now touring under the Sweet moniker, or even if they have any legitimate connection to the original group, whose bombast and style so offended my parents and (occasionally) enlivened my Thursday night TV viewing.
Anyway, apologies for the relapse. It will happen again though … I can almost guarantee it.
Well, the weather made no pretence of being anything other than horrendous this week. You’ve got to admire its honesty, at least.
It was raining (hard) when I set out and it was raining (hard) when I returned. In between, it showed remarkable consistency by … raining hard, although OGL was able to remark at one point, “the rain’s eased, it’s just a downpour now.”
Crossing the river, I spotted an 8-man crew shooting the bridge and idly wondered at what point they’d have to stop rowing and bail out their craft. Other than that, the only thing of note on my journey across to the meeting point was a cyclist riding past, blithely sporting a top half clad in naught but a short-sleeved jersey!
By the time I rolled under the protective eves of the multi-storey car park, the constant deluge had just about started to penetrate the extremities – gloves and socks. It was going to be a few notches below a pleasant ride.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
I bumped up the kerb and pulled to a stop beside the redoubtable G-Dawg and settled down to see which other numpties would be crazy enough to join us, numbers slowly assembling until we formed a Hateful 8. I’ve got to admit that was more than I expected.
Once again the Prof was pursuing a solo career, at odds with the rest of the Back Street Boys and chose to join us. After prolonged exposure to our innate musical talents today though, I’m not sure he’ll be back anytime soon. Relatively (flippin’) new guy, Cowboys was out, ostensibly to test the waterproofness of his new waterproof gloves. OGL, Biden Fecht, Aether and Benedict rounded out the numbers.
I confessed that on mornings like this, I would be quite happy to arrive at the meeting point to find nobody else had bothered to show. I could then turn around with good conscience and scuttle away home.
“But, whenever I arrive, this bugger’s already here and waiting,” I complained, gesturing vaguely in the direction of G-Dawg.
“Have you not considered that he’s probably thinking the same thing and you turning up ruins the day for him too?” Aether suggested.
Peer pressure, eh? It’s a terrible, terrible thing.
When challenged, G-Dawg admitted there was no weather he didn’t think you couldn’t ride in. Wind and rain were mere minor inconveniences while, if it was snowing, that was just a great excuse for some mountain bike fun.
“Not even ice?” Benedict asked, perhaps acknowledging that we’d heard Andeven had slipped on ice at the bottom of the Ryals last week and was down and out with a broken elbow for a while.
“If it’s icy, just stick to the bus routes, they’re always gritted,” G-Dawg argued.
“Although, I’ve had a few clatters in my time,” he concluded.
We then reminisced about some of our most famous ice-capades, or “clatters,” if you will, such as the time an eerily prescient OGL had left us to take a different route. The rest of us had immediately taken a right turn and performed a synchronised clatter that a Busby Berkley-directed, Esther Williams would have been proud of, as we toppled in series, one pair after another, like falling dominoes.
Then there was the time heading through Meldon, when I didn’t realise the lane was icy at all, until G-Dawg overtook me, flat on his back, sliding headfirst, rapidly downhill and with his bike trailing several seconds behind him. I’m convinced to this day that it was the shock of his sudden appearance that brought me down, rather than the treacherous ice-sheet we were attempting to traverse.
We were assured we’d have no ice to contend with today, just the rain, which Cowboys assured us would ease. He didn’t specify when. I suspect he was thinking maybe mid-March. With no more likely to join our happy band and no sign of the weather relenting, even a bit, it was time to get on with it.
The plan was no more complicated than to make our way to Stamfordham, where we’d stop to re-assess and decide what to do from there. With that simple goal, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out and into the rain.
We hit our first major flood as we swung past the airport, which coincided with an impatient driver gunning his, or her, engine and swerving around us at high speed. The car flung up a tsunami of cold, dirty water in its wake, that was dumped directly into OGL’s lap, leaving him waving his arms around frantically, spluttering and swearing incoherently, as the car sped away.
I don’t think he appreciated it when I asked if he’d just found out exactly how waterproof his shiny new Madison rain jacket actually was. He would later complain the massive, freezing bow wave had hit him “right in the groin.” Ooph! that’ll wake you up, every time.
After a while, I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg. It was no better and no worse up there. There was less spray thrown up by the wheels, but less shelter from the rain and the wind was particularly stiff and chilling.
Approaching Stamfordham and another big puddle, a car pulled out to work its way past us, just as we rolled into the wide expanse of collected water. Here, at least, the driver was more considerate and didn’t rip past and drown us under a bow wave, but slowed, almost to match our pace, hanging there uncertainly as we rapidly approached a bend and a blind summit.
“It’s not really going to work if he’s only travelling at the same speed we are,” G-Dawg sighed, before easing back a bit to let the car pull ahead and then across to the right side of the road. Bloody cyclists, eh? Never satisfied.
As we reached the outskirts of the village, I suggested it was unlikely anyone was going to go for the longer route today and suspected we’d all be heading straight for the cafe.
“Still, I suppose we’d better stop and ask,” G-Dawg decided, “Just in case.”
So we did.
As predicted, OGL stated he was heading straight to the cafe and everyone seemed in accord, until …
“I wouldn’t mind pressing on for a bit,” Aether tentatively suggested.
And that was that. Peer pressure kicked in (again) and now all but OGL were up for doing the planned route, rain be damned.
Off we went then, minus 1 and buoyed along by a fine selection of appropriate songs from Biden Fecht. It’s Raining Men, Many Rivers to Cross, Singin’ in the Rain, Raining in my Heart, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Why Does it Always Rain on Me? Then, somewhat bizarrely, as rain themed songs seemed to … err… run dry, Here Comes the Sun.
Meanwhile, we adopted an exaggerated, heavily Heinekenised, Biden Fecht style-accent to warn of “wough-tahr” ahead … (the wough-tahr in Maa-yorkerh don’t taste like it ough-tahr.)
Biden Fecht wondered what the Geordie equivalent would be and I was happy to give him my best approximation as “watta.” (Ryhmes with hatter.)
We crossed the Military Road and skirted Whittledene Reservoir. It was eerily quiet. No cars, no fishermen, no swans, no ducks. Huh? Too wet, even for the ducks?
In fact, the only thing for miles around seemed to be a slightly mad bunch of sodden/sodding, singing cyclists, riding around, through and across various puddles, while pointing wildly to either side and calling out to each other “wough-tahr!” and “watta!”
We slogged upwards through some of the oddly named plantations, Foulhoggers and Sparrowietch, Tilehouse and Standingstone.
“C’mon you lot up front, give us a song,” Biden Fecht demanded as we traversed this rather bleak landscape. He was clearly out of suitably rain-themed numbers now, as attested by a return to the sad irony of Here Comes the Sun.
Oh well, they asked for it, so … in a similar vein, I began to bellow out a fantastically tuneless, discordant rendition of The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.
An uncomfortable silence descended on the group following this unprecedented, aural assault, until it was punctured by Benedict.
“Bloody hell, I wish I’d turned off at Stamfordham now.”
Climbing some more, we once again made a dart across the Military Road and begin to home in on Matfen.
Another convergence of impatient driver and flooded road threatened to wash us away. Rather luckily, the drivers over-reliance on his horn served as a flood warning, so at least we were prepared for the rising tide he threw up as he carved his way past us, too fast and too close.
We turned for the Quarry, right into the teeth of howling gale and I was grateful to sit at the back and find whatever meagre shelter was available, as Biden Fecht and G-Dawg tried to batter a way through the wind.
Just before the steepest ramps of the climb there was another section of badly flooded road, so wide there was no way around, so long that you couldn’t freewheel through it and so deep I could feel the water dragging at my wheels. On each downward pedal stroke, the water was well past boot, or overshoe height – no one was coming out of that without seriously wet feet.
At the top of the Quarry, the Prof and Cowboys made a break for the cafe, but, for whatever reason, hesitated at Wallridge crossroads, were caught and subsumed back into the pack.
The pace picked up until, as we turned through the junction to hit the road down to the Snake Bends, Biden Fecht jumped away, immediately opening a telling gap. As the others wound up a belated response, I watched from the back, selecting “This Train is Bound for Glory” as a soundtrack to Biden Fecht’s flight, as he easily outpaced the chasers to claim a fine, sprint victory.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I asked Cowboys how waterproof his waterproof gloves had been. “Not very,” apparently, so he’s now looking to spend more money on perhaps what is just one version of a cycling grail.
Benedict was unsurprised, having spent a small fortune of SealSkinz gloves, that he reported simply didn’t live up to the hype. He’d even contacted the company to tell them their gloves were patently not waterproof, but they’d argued they certainly were, had the research to back this claim up and offered to send him the evidence. Obviously they were waterproof then, just not North East waterproof.
OGL remembered nylon, waterproof over-gloves that used to be available and wondered if they were still around, while various solutions such as Marigold rubber gloves, or latex surgical gloves were suggested.
I’m not convinced there is a good, fully waterproof, cycling glove out there. My own, Galibier Barrier gloves held out for about an hour before I started to feel the water seeping in, which I didn’t think was bad as they aren’t marketed as being waterproof. Their main property is that they are generally windproof and well insulated, so even when wet through, they can keep your hands relatively warm. This I think is the best you can hope for.
Like the gloves, every other item of clothing we were wearing was thoroughly sodden and water-logged and the cafe had provided the usual black bin bags for us to sit on, to protect their furniture. OGL and the Prof seemed intent on trying to dry various items on the fire, something we’d learned was generally futile, often malodorous and occasionally dangerous, with the occasional glove, or hat melting, or spontaneously combusting.
The Prof had even stripped down to his base layer, a bright orange number, emblazoned with the words SuperDry in what must have been the second most ironic statement of the day, topped only by Biden Fecht’s repeated renditions of Here Comes the Sun.
OGL reminisced about one regular cafe stop where all the cyclists used to strip off their wet gear to use a drying cupboard by the fire. Sadly, this cafe is no longer in business, which, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that a group of dirty, pallid cyclists, sitting around in their skivvies is not a major customer attraction.
G-Dawg recalled a particularly nasty mountain-bike expedition, where he and the Colossus had been forced to dismount to cross a stream on foot, as the ford was overwhelmed with floodwater. A bit further along and the Colossus had called a halt insisting there was something caught between his toes. He’d stripped off his socks and shoes to reveal that what was caught between his big toe and third toe, was actually his second toe, white, numb and unfeeling. This, as far as I’m aware is the first recorded incident of Alien Toe Syndrome.
I recounted to all that, after last week’s sodden and water-logged return, Mrs. SLJ had suggested I came in through the back door and immediately drop all my wet gear on the kitchen floor, in front of the washing machine.
I pointed out it probably wasn’t seemingly for me to parade around the house in a nekkid state.
“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I’ll leave your dressing gown out.”
G-Dawg suggested he got even shorter shrift and Mrs. G-Dawg would be putting towels down in anticipation of his soaked return.
“I wouldn’t mind, but these are the same towels I use for the dogs when they come in all wet and muddy” he complained.
“I’ll bet the dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near them once you’ve dirtied them up,” someone quipped. G-Dawg laughed along, but a little uneasily.
I checked the weather app on my phone, which said that for the next hour there’d be a 100% chance of heavy rain in my location, but an hour later, this would fall to just a 99% chance of heavy rain.
I can’t believe we seriously discussed waiting for another hour for a 1% chance the weather might improve, but we decided the odds weren’t good and it was probably best to get going before we became too comfortable or, heaven forfend, almost semi-dry.
Back into the cold and rain, after a while the Prof and Cowboys raced away, I assume in an attempt to warm up. I stayed on the front until the turn for Ponteland where, yet again I decided to lop the corner off my sodden ride.
The bike was behaving itself, running smooth and silent and once again I found an almost Zen-like state, as I pressed for home, soaked through, but comfortably warm, legs spinning automatically and the miles of wet tarmac hissing by, as they unwound beneath my tyres.
I was enjoying myself so much, I could almost have forgiven all those club mates who’d forced me to ride, simply by being there for me.
YTD Totals: 7,148 km / 4,442 miles with 92,512 metres of climbing
I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.
Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.
Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.
I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.
Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.
So I did.
I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.
Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.
The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.
I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:
“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”
2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.
A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.
Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.
And, moving swiftly on …
We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.
Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.
He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”
No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.
OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.
G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.
Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.
A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.
I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.
Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.
It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.
G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.
There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.
At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.
OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.
“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.
I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.
At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:
Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.
“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”
OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.
“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.
Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.
“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.
“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”
Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.
The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.
The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.
G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.
OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.
Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.
Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.
82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.
With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.
The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.
On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.
“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.
“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.
Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!
I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.
Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.
Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.
YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing
On with the rain jacket again, in the face of a chilly start and the forecast foretelling of persistent rain that never quite materialised.
The weather wasn’t dire enough to make a Flat White Ride a necessity instead of a luxury, but Taffy Steve had one organised regardless. He even pre-publicised it on the inter-web thingie, much to the confusion of our Dutch contingent, who read it and instantly became nostalgic for a club run, back in “Het Oude Land” – one totally devoid of any hills. They seemed horribly disappointed to learn a Flat White Ride had more to do with consuming hot beverages, than the topography of the route actually covered.
(Things were further confused by the Hammer misreading the post as promoting a Far Right Ride, leading to expectations that the run might end at the coast, where all “ferriners” would be forcibly ejected from the country.)
I suffered the first needless close pass of the day as I topped the final rise before a gradual descent down to the meeting place. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last, which left me wondering if these things come in batches?
Despite this, I arrived safely and only a few minutes late, having been held up at a level crossing and then seemingly every single traffic light on my run in.
I joined the growing assembly of slightly damp cyclists under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Jimmy Mac was at pains to ensure everyone knew the great sacrifices he had made in order to plan and lead today’s run. He told us that had he known it would coincide with England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, he would never have volunteered and he pleaded for sworn secrecy in the event that anyone was following the score live. I think he even considered confiscating everyone’s mobiles, before the practicality of riding around with jersey pockets stuffed with 20 odd phones struck home.
G-Dawg seemed unfazed by the prospect of hearing the result and confessed that he didn’t like the tension of watching games live. He preferred knowing the result before he sat down to watch a recording, rationalising he could then decide not to watch, if the team he was supporting had lost.
I wondered how this sat with his great love for the Sunderland football team and he ruefully admitted that, if he took this policy to its ultimate limit – and only watched when they won, he might never get to see them play ever again.
“I have a friend who’s a bit of an expert on rugby and he reckons 60/40 in favour of the All Blacks,” Crazy Legs proclaimed.
“He’s predicting a high scoring game then?” Biden Fecht apparently quipped cleverly, or so I found out when I tried out the exact same crack moments later. Sheesh, late to the party again. I was derided, ridiculed and sent to the back of the class.
Crazy Legs then spent some time wrestling with what I took to be a new Garmin device, which apparently had “gone dark” all of its own accord. I wondered, if perhaps it had been the threat of being confiscated by Jimmy Mac that had pushed it into going off grid.
Crazy Legs found that even peering at the dull display through his super-happy, sunny-yellow, sun specs didn’t help, even though said specs usually make him so happy he’ll spontaneously burst out singing his ultimate happy-smiley-song: “Best Day Ever” by a certain Mr. Spongebob Squarepants.
He wondered where our Garmin wizard, the Red Max was, reasoning he would be able to fix the display by pressing some arcane, ambidextrous combination of different buttons. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the time the Red Max set my Garmin up and managed to sync it to his own heart rate monitor. Or what an eye-popping revelation that had been …
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs became distracted by a great universal imponderable…
“What is on the upper floors of this car park, anyway?” he wondered.
None of us had ever had reason to venture up, so we couldn’t help, but he determined he would route his next ride up and down the car park ramps on a brave voyage of discovery. I can’t help thinking there might even be a Strava KOM in it.
Despite the weather and competing attentions of a certain game of rugby, we were twenty-strong by the time we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, with two late arrivals, Buster and Spoons, bolstering our numbers with perfectly timed late arrivals.
I had a chat with TripleD-Bee, resigned to a hilly ride after all, but not appreciating the threat of rain. He confessed he’d rather be in bed, but TripleD-El had shamed him into coming out.
As a bit of a novelty, our route out traced the same roads we travel over on our return leg, which gave us a double-dip into the dangerous overtaking of drivers on Berwick Hill. It also put the cafe at Kirkley Cycles in striking distance of the Flat White Club, who were soon breaking away for their caffeine and cake fix.
We pushed along and, as we started to climb up to Dyke Neuk, I slipped off the front and drifted to the back, determined to take an extremely relaxed approach and safe in the knowledge we’d be stopping at the top.
As we briefly paused, we learned that Mini Miss had taken her new Liv for a bike fit, but hadn’t used it since and now it was safely tucked away for the winter.
Goose recounted how the only thing he got out of his £180 bike fit was a solitary 1mm plastic shim, to place between one shoe and cleat. G-Dawg reasoned it probably served no earthly purpose, but was simply a token gesture by the bike-fitter to justify his high-prices.
A brief discussion about the lottery of being excluded from the clubs official Facebook page could shed no light on the seemingly random and arbitrary bans issued to various, long-standing club members, so we pushed on, just as perplexed as ever.
We dropped down Curlicue Hill and then started the climb back through the Trench. Behind G-Dawg was discussing his fixie and being asked about the gearing he used.
“38-14.” G-Dawg affirmed.
“38-14,” Biden Fecht repeated, in a voice loud enough to carry to the front, where Jimmy Mac was toiling away relentlessly. He paused masterfully, before adding, “Was that the final score, then?”
Ooph! Cruel …
By the time we topped the Trench I was feeling as tired as I had last week. I don’t know why, but I’m just not “feeling it” at the moment and everything seems to be harder than it should.
Things aren’t being helped by my saddle, a relatively new Fabric Line, which I just can’t get away with and seems to be becoming increasingly uncomfortable the more I use it. After years of using the ever-reliable Charge Spoon saddle for a comfortable, budget friendly seat, the (revamped and re-named) company’s replacement, the Line is a sore disappointment (both literally and metaphorically) and likely to be discarded soon.
I was just gathering myself for a hurtful assault of Middleton Bank, when Mini Miss called out that she had a puncture. About half a dozen of us dropped back and got the tube changed without too much fuss. I did most of the heavy lifting, but left G-Dawg to the tricky cryogenics of freezing his fingers to the valve stem, as he deployed Mini Miss’ CO2 canister to quickly inflate the tyre.
With all impetus gone for our assault on Middleton Bank, we rode up it at a relatively comfortable pace and I was able to sit in the wheels until the final drag, where I eased back and let the cafe sprint unfold, participating purely as a spectator.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
There was a lot of adult talk at the table about skiing and different types of snow and chalet’s and resorts and … err, prostitutes, if I was following the conversation correctly. (To be fair, I probably wasn’t.)
Skiing sounds like great fun, but, you know, old dog/new tricks and all that. A combination of age, brittle bones, rickety knees and penury, combined with the opportunity cost of going on holiday somewhere cold instead of somewhere warm, means I’m very unlikely to ever give it a go.
New kid Sid brought me the news that Peter Sagan had agreed to ride the 2020 Giro d’Italia. He then entertained me with a series of photos of Sagan possessively cuddling the Trofeo Senza Fine, while Richard Carapaz looked on, wearing the kind of expression you’d find on a possessive and insecure husband watching a charismatic stranger pawing at his younger wife.
On the way home I dropped in alongside Carlton, who had recently joined a running club, but found the experience rather disconcerting, as no one there shouts at him and everyone seems to rub along without too much hysteria or fuss.
He suggested we were all mature, smart and phlegmatic, Brits (or Dutch), who didn’t need to over-dramatise the most innocuous of incidents and make mountains out of molehills.
As we set of along the lane to Berwick Hill a silver 4×4 swept past in the opposite direction, pointedly too fast and both deliberately and dangerously much too close. That’s what I would typically call a punishment pass, although punishment for what exactly I really don’t know.
He came within millimetres of Goose, whose taken to his steel touring behemoth for the winter, with all the antlers, prongs, pannier racks and cages. Luckily for Goose he was deeply engaged in conversation and the danger he was in didn’t really register until the car screamed past, at which point his eyebrows shot away to cower under his helmet.
Luckily for the driver, he didn’t come closer and tangle with the steel behemoth – it might have been an uneven challenge that he couldn’t possibly lose, but the steel behemoth was likely to inflict considerable damage on his shiny vehicle as it went down fighting.
A bit further along and we had another close call, as the driver of a small hatchback tried to squeeze past in too little space.
“Bloody hell, he’s a cyclist too – he has a bike in the back!” Biden Fecht complained, in a mixture of incomprehension and indignation .
“That’s probably from the last cyclist he hit,” I countered, “Like a serial-killer, he’s collecting trophies.”
Outlandish as this claim was, it was actually a more palatable explanation than “one of our own” going rogue and driving like an arse-hat, with no consideration for fellow cyclists and other road users.
A bit further on and young Sid took a sudden and unsignalled dart into a lay-by, causing a mass application of brakes and a dozen voices crying out “Whoa!” in perfect unison, before pressure was applied to pedals once more and on we whirred.
A fairly phlegmatic and undramatic response to a dodgy manoeuvre. I hoped Carlton didn’t feel too discomfited by our lack of hysteria and hyperbole-inflected ranting…
YTD Totals: 6,644 km / 4,128 miles with 87,130 metres of climbing