Plague Diaries – Week#19

Plague Diaries – Week#19

[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]

Grupo Compacto

Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.

It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.

I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.

Numbers, Thursday 16th July

Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.

So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.

Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.

We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.

I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.

We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.

We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.

As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.

We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.

This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.

Seven of Clubs – Sunday July 19th

So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.

Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.

At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.

G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it never is and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.

In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”

Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.

According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.

The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.

For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.

We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.

Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.

This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.

Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.

He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.

We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.

Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.

It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.

Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.

We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)

G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.

“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.

“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.

Photo by angello on Pexels.com

“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.

Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.

“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.

Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.

Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.

The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.

Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.

We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.

Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.

Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Kangaroos, Cones and Close Shaves – Saturday July 25th

Salty

Salty

Club Run, Saturday 10th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 819 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rotten to start, decent to end


 

feb10
Ride Profile


The start on Saturday morning felt pretty much like a continuation of last week’s weather – temperatures hovering just above freezing and cold wind driven in on a blustery wind. Still, it wasn’t quite wet enough to resort to my rain jacket and was nowhere as bad as my commute into work on Wednesday morning, when it was so cold it had actually hurt, a stark -4°C.

And, while the Prof is still distant and riding with the Back Street Boys tribute band, he’d taken the time out between dance rehearsals to warn us on Facebook that it was going to be “flaky.” It wasn’t.

(Yes, I had to ask too. Apparently, he meant that we might encounter a few snowflakes en route.)

It was while riding across that my slow-witted mind finally understood the glaringly obvious reason why my right foot had been soaked and freezing last week, but my left foot had been relatively unscathed – helped in part by a car that flashed past and dumped a sheet of icy water down my right lower leg. Yeah, I know, a bit slow on the uptake.

This slight discomfort aside, I made decent time and was the first to arrive at the meeting point, where a light rain drove me to seek shelter in the bowels of the multi-storey car park.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The worst kept secret in the club is now out and OGL appeared bright and early to “officially” inform us the 2018 British National Road Championships will now be held in the North East, after the proposed host area backed out.  These races will be incorporated into the Cyclone Festival of Cycling and will see the best of Britain’s pro road-racers and time-triallists battling it out on the roads of Northumberland.

To accommodate this, the Cyclone Challenge Rides have all been pushed back a week or two to the 30th June. There are rumours that these changes have been made solely to allow Crazy Legs to not only lead a group of club renegades in a raid across various French mountain ranges, but also fully participate in the bigliest, bestest, most beloved and wildly participated in sportive event known to man. These rumours are patently untrue, false, deceitful, scurrilous, fabricated. Fake news.

OGL reported some baffled looks and politically-correct hyperventilating when he’d used a Scottish colloquialism to refer to an opportunity “disappearing faster than snow off a dyke.” It didn’t appeal to our childish humour quite so much as Taffy Steve’s recounting of a chainsaw safety course, where he was told you didn’t have to wear chainsaw boots and could substitute a Kevlar strap-on instead.

Crazy Legs is lamenting the lack of Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics, not because he particularly supports them, or condones state-run doping programmes, but simply because he likes their rather martial national anthem, which makes him want to march in circles around his sofa. When I confessed to being unfamiliar with its precise strains, I was instructed to go away and watch the Hunt for Red October on repeat until I got the hang of it.

Biden Fecht pulled up and asked if anyone had any oil on them. Huh? He then decided whatever mechanical he was suffering from probably couldn’t be fettled with the simple application of lubricant salve and dashed back home to undertake some minor repairs, vowing to meet up later. He hasn’t been seen since.

Aether outlined the route for the day, mainly dictated by the freezing conditions and need to stick to main and treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little. As an alternative, Crazy Legs declared early for another multiple coffee-stop ride, he was naming the Flat White Club Run. He had a sizable number of takers, right from the outset.

Much to OGL’s disbelief, Slow Drinker arrived on Zipp deep section, carbon rims that are probably worth more than my entire bike collection combined. “They’re just his winter training wheels,” G-Dawg remarked dryly.

As we stood there a guy came round to check the bike lockers, mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the car park. Wrestling with a key, he opened the door of each to its widest extent, before sticking his head inside to carefully and thoroughly survey the interior. It was obvious from where we were standing a couple of metres away that the lockers were all empty, but each one was subjected to the same close scrutiny, just in case a teeny-tiney micro-bike, or perfectly camouflaged stealth machine had been left inside.


Aether led for the first few miles, until with a tacit, father and son agreement, G-Dawg and the Colossus surged forward to take up position on the front. And there they would stay, up hill and down dale, an epic turn, impressively and selflessly (or so I thought) leading the line for the next 30km or so.

As we pressed on we seemed to be heading toward random patches of blue sky that grew in size, until even Taffy Steve had to admit my optimism for improving conditions was actually in danger of becoming reality. It was till cold, the roads were still soaked and fields water-logged, but at least the rain had stopped falling on our heads.

A dragging (dragon?) climb had us strung out and then came a shouted warning that there was a wagon behind. A couple of seconds later and there was some almighty bellowing, that told us there was a wagon behind and then, just for good measure, shouting and screaming that there was in fact a wagon behind.

We’d actually taken note at the first warning, but the road was narrow and twisting and there was nothing we could do, short of pulling over and hurling ourselves deep into a hedge. At this point, the repeated shouting became more irritating than useful or informative and we responded with our usual childish humour.

“What was that?” someone shouted back, “There’s a dragon behind?”

“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”

“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”

“Ah, does it hold the brew that is true!”

Etc. etc. Well it keep us amused, at least until the dragon, sorry wagon, decided it would be quicker to take an alternate route and turned off at the next junction.


unicycle


We pushed through to Stamfordham, where our usual layby was inconveniently occupied by a parked car. We were forced into using the wrong layby, although there was surprisingly (disappointingly?) no over the top ranting about the “wrong layby.” Here we split, with Crazy Legs luring a surprising number away with promises of an early hot beverage and some manly discourse in Matfen.

Five of us pushed onward to complete the planned route out to the Reservoir, with G-Dawg and the Colossus still powering away on the front, Ovis and Aether following in the wheels, while I tucked in behind. A bit later, we were caught by the Cow Ranger and Benedict and our numbers temporarily swelled.

I did a brief spell on the front and then, as the road swung north and we started to close in on Matfen, the Cow Ranger and Benedict took to the front and imposed an infernal pace, which they held all the way to the turn off for the Quarry. While our front pair continued on to sweep down the Ryals, the rest of us regrouped, recuperated as much as possible and started to winch our way up the Quarry climb.

We then hung a right at the top and pressed on to the café. Finding ourselves in amongst the local hunt, we had to thread our way between a series of parked up 4×4’s coupled to horse trailers and hunt supporters who lined the roads, hoping for a glimpse of who knows what.

I mentioned to G-Dawg that it seemed a particularly unrewarding and futile spectator sport, standing beside a muddy field in the cold, not knowing if you’re actually going to see anything remotely interesting. Then I realised I was talking to a bloke who travelled to the Stadium of Light last week, to stand in the cold beside a muddy field and watch the Sunderland team trying to win a game of football…

Up ahead, Ovis briefly challenged the Colossus in the sprint before falling back, while I was content to roll in alongside G-Dawg.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café queue, I noticed my bibtights were patterned with a silvery, ghostly patina of salt marks, like permafrost polygons. G-Dawg suggested there’d been so much salt on the roads you could taste it and, while we all agreed too much is infinitely preferable to too little, you had to wonder what damage it was doing to bikes and components.

The Colossus also revealed that the pairs epic turn on the front hadn’t been quite as selfless as I’d assumed and was largely designed to get out of the spray being kicked up by the wheels in front. It would appear that, despite the almost universal deployment of mudguards, not all guards are equal.

Hero of the week was determined to be Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who had appeared at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics wearing little more than a shark tooth necklace and a thin sheen of coconut oil. We had naturally assumed he was on a bobsleigh team, where the trend seems to be for one skilled pilot and three make-weight, short-track sprinters who have to be big, fast and powerful, but perhaps not especially gifted  – or, if you’re Jamaican, four big, fast and powerful short-track sprinters who are not especially gifted.

Taufatofua surprised us all though, by qualifying for the cross-country skiing. We couldn’t imagine how, where or when he managed to practice for this in his native, typically tropical Tonga. (He apparently didn’t see snow until he was into his fourth decade on the planet and started out in the sport by strapping planks of wood to his feet and running up and down sand dunes.)

The Matfen Flat White Mob finally materialised and Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve purloined a couple of spare chairs and drew them up to squeeze in around our small table. Then, spotting a group of civilians gathering to leave, they quickly jumped ship, moving to the new, more spacious table and leaving the two chairs tantalisingly and invitingly open.

And then, a double whammy, as the Garrulous Kid shambled across and flumped down on one chair to entertain us with his unique perspective on life, followed a few seconds later by OGL. The latter was already working through story # 32. (I can’t honestly remember which precise tale it was, I’d heard it before and switched off). Meanwhile, across the room I could see a benignly grinning Crazy Legs, comfortably removed and looking on with utter contentment. Bastard.

G-Dawg shared fond memories of the Matfen café the Flat White Mob had stopped at, recalling having turned up there late on a club run as business was winding down for the Christmas holidays. The group of ever-hungry cyclists had been approached by the staff with a massive cake, a handful of forks and what I can only assume was a purely rhetorical question, “Do you think you lot could help us finish this cake? Otherwise we’ll have to throw it away.”

Of the few things that club cyclists are actually good for, cake disposal must be quite high on the list.


The leg home was relatively uneventful until just after Berwick Hill, when we made the turn for Dinnington. There, to everyone’s complete and utter astonishment, the Garrulous Kid actually rode onto the front alongside Benedict, engendering a resounding cheer from our serried ranks behind.

Strangely, a blue moon shone brightly in a sky that remained completely clear of porcine UFO’s, hell refused to freeze over, time ticked on regardless and the Garrulous Kids head did not suddenly explode. Perhaps there’s hope for him (or us) yet.

He took us all the way to the turn-off, where the majority swung away and I took over to lead G-Dawg and Colossus into the Mad Mile. I kept the pace as high as I could manage, not relaxing until they’d jumped away to chase each other home and see who could win first use of the shower.

I dropped to a more sustainable pace and began slowly plotting my own course back.


YTD Totals: 858 km / 533 miles with 9,522 metres of climbing