Another weekend and this time the weather forecast wasn’t toying with us, but had gone for the nuclear option – a 73% chance of heavy rain showers from 9.00 onwards and a strong, blustery wind.
I took the warnings seriously, which meant a proper waterproof jacket stashed in my back pocket, a spare pair of gloves to change into if the original pair became waterlogged and an acknowledgement that I’d be back on the single speed bike with its reassurance of full mudguard cover.
So, prepared for the worst, I set off, dropping down the hill and pushing along to the river. From the bridge I noticed the rowing clubs seemed to have found consensus on groups and there were a fair number of fours out on the river, alongside pair and singles.
Although I’m still not there yet, people within our cycling club also seem to be gravitating back to group riding. I know this not only because of their social media posts, but also because I caught a glimpse of some familiar forms picking their way up Brunton Lane as I passed the junction. Then I spotted another group just disappearing over the hill ahead of me, assumed they were also from the club, so gave glorious chase.
Picking up the pace as we passed through Dinnington I closed, but started losing ground on the descent as my legs spun out.
Still, by the time the group ahead had turned onto Berwick Hill, I’d reduced the gap enough to recognise the upright figure of OGL on the back and so knew that, as suspected, I was pursuing a group of clubmates.
I thought I’d be able to overhaul them on the climb, but ran out of road. Still, I was close enough to dive down the inside as we all took the right hand turn, doffing my cap and greeting the reprobates with a hearty, “Good morning, gentlemen.”
Ahead of the group now, I just had to make sure I stayed away and not suffer the embarrassment of being caught, so the work wasn’t done yet. I pushed on, not slacking until I’d passed the café at Kirkley, when I thought I’d bought myself enough breathing space to ease back a little. I had, somewhat perversely, thoroughly enjoyed my little escapade and managed to clock 8 Strava PR’s across 14-15 km’s of tiring, madcap pursuit.
I now followed a similar route to last week, but this time decided to swing north at Whalton, catching a tailwind that pushed me up the hill with a vanguard of dry scuttling leaves leading the way, skittering along like rats’ feet over broken glass (if I may steal a phrase.)
As I ran past Bolam Lake, I passed and saluted an equally solo G-Dawg heading in the opposite direction. We managed a quick shouted conversation, the gist of which was “see you at the café” and then he whipped past and away.
I took the bombed out back lane toward the Snake Bends with half a mind to travel down the Quarry climb, before heading homeward. Despite the forecasts, the weather so far had been glorious, dry and bright if a little chill and although the wind was indeed blustery, there was no sign of the forecast rain. I was enjoying my ride and looking to extend it.
At the next junction though, I paused and looked north. The sky overhead had turned black and ominous, while in the middle distance a veil of grey rain was obscuring the fields and rushing unstoppably toward me.
I pulled on my jacket and turned back around. The Quarry could wait for another day, it was now full steam to the café racing the rain I had no hope of beating.
And so it proved, suddenly lashing down, chill, heavy and stinging, driven into my face by the wind and at one point being briefly peppered and pummelled with icy hail.
My gloves and leggings were soon soaked through and while the jacket held, it only took one road-spanning puddle to wash through my overshoes and soak my feet.
It was grim and the bike had picked up all sorts of debris and was beginning to grind and complain almost as much as my shivering body. It was a relief to reach the café and scuttle into the shelter of the only slightly porous barn.
Here I found G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve, recently arrived from where they too had been driven by the rainstorm, strangely it seemed we’d all been within a few kilometres of each other, as had Aether who arrived a short time afterwards.
We joined a table with the King of the Grogs and Jimper, both of whom had the sense to seek shelter as soon as the sky darkened and had the luxury of being mainly dry.
The highlight of our conversation revolved around the King of the Grogs revealing OGL was busily promoting a guaranteed certainty that the entire region would be in Tier 3 lockdown by next Friday. This he claimed to have on the authority of an impeccable source, otherwise known as “a bloke from the gym.”
(Props to Sneaky Pete for rather quaintly referring to the local David Lloyd as a gymnasium).
Not willing to take anything at face value, the King of the Grogs had Googled the “impeccable source” to discover … not a world-leading epidemiologist … nor a high-ranking National Health Service administrator … or even a local government official … but, err … a joiner?
Childish though it was, this became the dominant theme in the rest of our conversation. Need a door hanging? I know an epidemiologist who can do that for you. Problems with your computer operating system? I know a joiner who can fix that.
Such nonsense kept us amused until the weight of the rain blew past and we reluctantly, in ones and two’s, wrestled damp gear back on to various complaining bodies parts and reluctantly left our temporary sanctuary.
The rain had eased mightily by this time and it didn’t take long before I warmed to the task in hand and actually started to enjoy the ride home (in a decidedly moist sort of way.)
Chapeau to anyone who does long club rides on a fixie, or single-speed, I was utterly exhausted by the time I’d hauled my sorry carcase up the Hill and home, to tick off another entertaining excursion.
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
Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.
Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.
Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.
I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.
Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.
Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.
I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.
Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.
He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.
For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.
Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.
This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.
“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …
All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)
“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.
G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.
It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.
Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.
By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.
After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.
When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.
Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.
I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.
Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.
“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)
By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.
I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.
I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…
Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.
And he bit.
He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.
G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.
“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.
“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.
“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)
“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.
“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”
(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)
We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.
“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.
Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.
I checked, he was right:
It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam.
I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …
Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.
I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.
He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.
G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.
The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.
It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.
Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.
The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).
2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.
Total Distance: 106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.3 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and brittle
Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.
I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.
Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.
Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.
Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.
8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”
Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.
Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.
Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.
We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.
Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.
I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.
From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.
(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)
This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.
On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?
Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.
Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.
Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.
A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.
The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.
A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.
Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.
I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.
I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.
They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.
The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.
The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.
“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.
Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.
“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.
“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.
We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…
The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.
Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.
We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.
Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.
As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.
“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.
The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.
Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.
The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.
Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.
We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.
Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.
YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 1,114 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.1 km/h
Group size:20 riders
Weather in a word or two:Dry and windy
Early forecasts for this weekend promising wall-to-wall rain, encouraged a lively Facebook debate about mudguards, breaking winter bikes out of storage and making sure they’re fully prepped and ready for the club run and hard winter ahead. Someone even posted a very apposite illustration of fender zones, apparently the work of a Canadian designer and cyclists Jeff Werner:
Yet again though, the weather was to play tricks on us, a band of rain sweeping across the country overnight, but disappearing with the dawn. We were left with wet roads, lots of mud and gravel and puddles to negotiate but, most importantly, a day when no more rain was going to fall on our heads. As I headed out I even noticed big gaps in the broken cloud cover, limned in light with the edges suffused in a rose-gold glow from the rising sun. This was a direct contrast to last week’s unremitting and suffocating blanket of grey and it actually promised to be a pleasant day.
The weather was also relatively mild, so after an initial shock and once I started to pedal with some intent, the windproof jersey, long sleeve base layer, gloves, tights and winter boots became only marginally appropriate.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I reached the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid bounding between his brand-new (eh?) “winter-bike” and anyone who turned up, just so he could tell them he had a brand new winter bike.
In-between times he was fiddling around with the saddle, trying to get the position “just so” – or perhaps “just barely tolerable” – who knows?
“I’ve got a new bike,” he announced as Crazy Legs rolled up on his venerable winter fixie.
Crazy Legs looked across, semi-interested “It’s a Trek?”
With sharp censorious exhalation, Crazy Legs shook his head in dismay, “Not much precision German engineering there, mind …”
As if to prove the point, the Garrulous Kid continued to wrestle with the saddle he seemed to be giving him all sorts of fits and conniptions.
Our group had a moment of silence to mark the demise of local bike shop, M. Steels Cycles after 120 years of operation, with OGL reporting that current owner and local cycling legend, Joe Waugh, has now lost not only his livelihood and pension nest-egg, but possibly the family home too. Grim times for bike shops he concluded, drawing parallels with the not-so-recent-now spate of pub closures and concluding that the entire business seemed to be struggling. I guess the moral of the story is to enjoy your LBS while you still can, I think they’re fighting a losing battle and can’t see how they possibly hope to compete with the convenience, vast choice and squeezed margins of the Internet.
G-Dawg started describing the route for today in fine detail, “So, Brunton Lane, through Dinnington, up past the Cheese Farm…” I saw Zardoz sidling closer with barely concealed intent.
“Tranwell … well, Tranwell Village not the Woods, up the Mur de Mitford for those with the legs and inclination … there’s a turn-off beforehand if you want to avoid the climb … “
Zardoz now had a mischievous glint in his eye and his moustache was twitching in anticipation.
“Pigdon, that climb that’s up the turn before the Trench, on to Dyke Neuk, then we’ll run a bit of the Cyclone route in reverse, Meldon, Whalton …”
Zardoz was now standing directly in front of G-Dawg, almost bursting with excitement.
“A right turn to Belsay and then a slightly different, uphill finish, into the village and on to the café,” G-Dawg concluded, drawing in a big breath.
Zardoz took just a second to compose himself and acquire a mask of guileless sincerity. “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t listening, could you repeat all that again?” he enquired innocently.
Meanwhile, someone finally took pity on the Garrulous Kid and helped him fix his saddle.
Off we went then, 20 lads and lasses, pushing off, clipping in and riding out in one big group.
I started out chatting with Crazy Legs, who was revelling in the ultra-smooth and silent ride delivered by his fixie. He was planning nothing more than a gentle roll around today, prior to jetting off to Spain avec velo for some winter warmth. He admitted to feeling run down and strangely listless, in need of a break and he’ll hopefully return more enthused – after all someone has to keep us entertained with off-kilter and off-key singing.
The sudden appearance of the Plank on the front of the group suggested we would need to be stopping for a pee soon – well to be fair to him, we had been riding for at least 15 minutes already. It was actually the Garrulous Kid though who called it, with an impeccable Blockbusters/Bob Holness impersonation, “Can I have a P please, Bob?” – even though he’s probably much too young to get the reference.
We pulled over at the top of Bell’s Hill, where the Garrulous Kid (“I’m always hungry!”) was soon seen devouring a pack of sports jelly beans which he declared, “has got electrolyte!”
I fell in beside him as we pushed on and was rather astounded to find out that not only do we have a club run in Kenya, but the Garrulous Kid is almost unique among cyclists because only he can do pull ups. Honestly, I don’t know where this stuff comes from.
Trying to steer the conversation onto slightly less fantastical and outlandish grounds, I enquired about his new Trek.
“When did you get your bike?”
“What? Wait … so, you’ve had the bike for 3 days – say at least 84 hours and you didn’t think about making sure everything fits and is working, until 15 minutes before you’re due to use it on a club run.”
The range of lame excuses he then trotted out were astonishing … homework – (“You’re off school all of next week”) … a telephone call (“What, lasting 3 whole days?”) … I had to go to the gym (!!! speechless !!!) … “I needed an emergency pedicure.”
OK, he didn’t actually use that last one, but might as well have.
I told him he was a complete and utter pillock and I’d be laughing my socks off when his saddle collapsed half-way around the ride due to his hurried, gimcrack fixing and fiddling. The Garrulous Kid assured me it would never happen and besides, the Plank helped him secure the saddle the second time around – i.e. after the first time, when having finished and declared the job sorted, he merely brushed the top and it fell with the force and speed of a greased guillotine.
A bit further along and I caught up with Taffy Steve, who started telling me how the Garrulous Kid had got his new bike on Tuesday, but waited right up until Saturday morning to actually make sure it fitted and was road ready. When Taffy Steve called him out on it, the Garrulous Kid had then reportedly come up with all sorts of lame excuses as to why he didn’t have time to sort the bike out, leading Taffy Steve to conclude he was dealing with a complete and utter pillock.
Déjà vu all over again … or, groundhog day with bikes.
“I’ve just been having exactly the same conversation,” I told him.
Taffy Steve punched the air with delight, “Yeah! Grouches unite!”
“But still,” he warned, “I feel a great disturbance in the force …”
Crazy Legs and Brink slipped quietly away off the back as we pushed closer to the foot of the Mur de Mitford. Unlike G-Dawg, Crazy Legs had no intention of tackling this lump on his fixie today.
For some unknown reason I found myself pedalling along, whistling “Be kind to your web footed friends” – or if you want to be more formal (but much less fun) – The Stars and Stripes Forever.
“Have you taken over the mantle of unfailingly cheery, chirpy and chipper-chappie now Crazy Legs has left us?” Taffy Steve wondered.
We stopped again under the echoing, concrete viaduct that carried the thrumming, traffic laden, A1 Great North Road over our heads.
“Stopping!” G-Dawg called and I added a “Pping, ping, ing” for effect.
“Is everyone all right?”
“Right, ight ght…” I added.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Go, go, oh!”
Sorry, childish I know, but I don’t get out much.
G-Dawg moved up to the front as we approached the Mur de Mitford, hoping to take the corner at speed and carry as much momentum onto the climb as possible. A lone cyclist had come down the hill and was stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as G-Dawg thundered toward him, wondering whether to stand his ground, push on, or just dive out of the way.
G-Dawg swooped inside the stationery cyclist and then jinked sharp left, as a descending car now appeared around the first bend. Robbed of speed he was now engaged in a battle royalé with his single massive gear, the gradient and gravity.
I spun up behind, following his slow-motion, measured flexing and making sure I left enough room in case he needed to zig and zag a little to keep the momentum going. He didn’t and with one final push he was over the summit of the hill and could relax. Well, as much as a fixie will allow you to relax.
As we pushed along the main road toward Netherwhitton a young buck came flailing past in the opposite direction.
“That’s one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s wrecking crew,” the Garrulous Kid informed me, “J.”
“What, first you want a P. and now you want a J? Do you think we’re playing hangman or something?”
“No, no. His name’s Jay – J-A-Y.”
I feigned incomprehension, which is probably at the point the Garrulous Kid decided he’d had enough of all the auld grouches for one day and declared he was taking his new bike off to test it on Middleton Bank.
Nobody thought to stop him and nobody thought to go with him, instead, the rest of us took the left before the Trench and started up the much more prosaically named, but we all agreed, seemingly tougher, Coldlaw Woods climb.
Working our way to Dyke Neuk we turned down the hill we usually scramble up, but any fun in the descent was lost when we had to slow for a horse and rider and allow another group of cyclists climbing upwards to ease past (the Tyneside Vagabonds club run, I think).
We then took a surprisingly sharp and leg-sapping climb up the “Meldon Massif” before Ovis (“oh, I’m going quite well at the moment, aren’t I?”) and Caracol ramped up the speed, encouraged by the faintest whiff of coffee and cake in the air. We arrived at the café via a road we seldom travel up, with no real sprint, just a general quickening of the pace that had everyone strung out and left us all overheated.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg wondered why it took so long for them to cut and serve a couple of slices of ham and egg pie and we decided they were probably using lasers, the like of which haven’t been seen since Goldfinger threatened to bisect James Bond with one. Like Goldfinger’s, we also assumed these lasers moved … i–n–c–r–e–d–b–l–y s–l–o–w–l–y … which is great in a film when you want to give the resourceful super-spy ample opportunity to escape, but not so good when you’re waiting for some ham and egg pie.
The Colossus was identified as the person with the most interest in odd, barely functional gadgets and most likely to have a laser pie cutter – an impression reinforced seconds later when he started to wax lyrical about pizza scissors – apparently a perfect, synergistic hybrid of cutter and server combined – and an absolute must for every middle-class home.
Reunited with us at the café, Crazy Legs complained it was actually too mild and wasn’t surprised we were all over-heating. It reminded him of the Christmas Jumper ride, where we’d suffered like fat Labradors left in a sun-blasted, parked car and we all learned that day that wool and synthetic yarns are no substitute for high-tech, high-performance sportswear.
Remembering last year’s elf costume, the Colossus promised something even better this year. Hopefully this isn’t going to be something that’s going to turn his saddle an unseemly shade of pink again. Even so, I’m a little bit worried that he’s already planning so far ahead.
Captain Black mentioned that Alfa Romeo had just released a new model called the Stelvio. My interest was momentarily piqued, until I learned that unlike the Holdsworth Stelvio, the car wasn’t available in an eye-wrenching combination of red, yellow and black. How disappointing.
And then the Garrulous Kid came in, having been picked up and escorted in by the early morning ride group. He shamelessly admitted he had, after all needed to stop, as his saddle had worked its way loose yet again.
So then, Auld Grouches 1, Garrulous Kid nil.
Talk of loose saddles reminded me of the I’d had to swerve around something lying supine in the middle of the road and been convinced I was going to hit some weird, hairless and defenceless mammal. This turned out to be the Prof’s saddle which he’d somehow managed to completely jettison while riding serenely along.
Someone asked casually if this was the same Prof who frequently build up his own bikes and whether such absent mindedness, or mechanical ineptness could ever be conducive to ride safety …
On the way back I noticed my chain started to grind and I found it was as dry as sticks. Looks like three days of commuting in the rain had washed out all the oil. Easily fixed, but it made for a truly unpleasant last few mile. The only sound from a bike I can imagine being worse is the grinding rasp of cruddy brake blocks eating through your wheel rims. Shudder.
I don’t know if it was the change to the heavier Peugeot, the pace and climbing of the ride, or accumulated fatigue from commuting, but I was utterly exhausted by the time I crawled up the Heinous Hill to home. Still, not bad for a first winter ride.
YTD Totals: 6,207 km / 3,857 miles with 70,748 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 113 km/70 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 52 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and brisk
Garmin Muppet Time … or perhaps much better titled as a Series of Unfortunate Events, which is what Carlton dubbed this ride on Strava. (Don’t you hate it when someone proves themselves much wittier and cleverer than you?)
Commuting to and from work on Friday, I had been ambushed by some astonishingly mild weather and had quickly found myself over-dressed and over-heating. This suggested getting the clothing right for Saturday was going to be a challenge.
Temperatures had dropped overnight though, perhaps driven down by a belt of heavy rain that had evidently swept across and over us in the dark before being blown away into the North Sea.
The rain had left its mark, with puddles and pools of standing water dotting the roads, and the tarmac was still wet, slick and shining. The rainfall had also scoured the sky clean, high and empty, cloudless and oddly colourless in the pale and watery light of a newly risen sun.
Mixing and matching, I’d chosen a heavy base layer under a lighter jacket and thinner gloves with liners. It was to prove a little too cold for the first couple of hours, but comfortable afterwards and I never got over-heated. Then again, this week we didn’t get to enjoy the mad, heart-pounding, pell-mell and balls-to-the-wall dash to the café that is the traditional highlight of our usual Saturday morning rides.
The great thing was it was bright enough as I set out to be able to dispense with the lights, and the sun had already hauled itself well above the horizon as I crossed the bridge, turning the remarkably still and placid river into a burnished, pale gold mirror all the way downriver and toward the east.
After riding with mismatched wheels following an unprecedented spate of front-wheel punctures (SLJ: The Big Let Down) that had seen me abandon one (seemingly errant) Fulcrum 7, I’d finally got round to matching the replacement wheel to its estranged partner.
Now on two seemingly lighter, maybe in Mr. Brailsford’s world … rounder, wheel’s, inherited from my crashed and trashed Focus (a.k.a. the Prof’s Frankenbike) everything was smooth and thrumming and all was well with the world.
The new-old wheels, recovered from the depths of my man-cave/bike shed are Forza (4ZA) Cirrus, the in-house components brand for Belgian’s Ridley bikes. As such I’m hoping their Flemish/Classics heritage has delivered something that is rugged and robust enough to stand up to a few North East winters.
Even after the Christmas seasonal debauchery, I’m well inside their 95kg recommended limit for the wheelset and don’t think I’m as harsh on my bike and equipment as some others. Assuming they’re structurally good then, the only major drawback I can see is that the rims are white. Not exactly ideal for winter riding on these muddy and filth strewn roads. Keeping them gleaming and pristine is the kind of challenge G-Dawg would embrace with glee, we’ll just have to see how long my slipshod cleaning regimen will put up with them.
Across the river and climbing out of the valley, the bright sun struck me directly from behind and threw a huge exaggerated shadow onto the road in front, where it appeared someone with a tiny pin-head was riding a bike while wearing ridiculously long stilts. Either that, or there was a mutant daddy-long legs stalking me all the way to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg arrived, full of tales of Biden Fecht’s ride home after I left the group last week. Usually when someone tells you their brakes aren’t working, what they really mean is that their brakes aren’t performing as well as they could and they’re having problems coming to a quick stop. They then usually drop off the back of the group to give themselves a little more time to react to unforeseen circumstances and proceed as slowly as practical.
When Biden Fecht announced his brakes weren’t working, he actually meant that his brakes weren’t working. At all. Even slightly. He then proved this by shooting away from everyone on one downhill section just past Black Callerton, accelerating rapidly toward where an alarm was sounding, bright lights were flashing a warning and descending barriers announced the approach of an unstoppable Metro train.
Just when G-Dawg thought he was going to be smeared across the front of the train and with tyres squealing in protest, foot down and smoking on the tarmac and the bike leaning over at an impossibly acute angle, he somehow managed to swerve uncontrollably up a service road parallel to the tracks and come to a shuddering halt.
That would have been enough for me and I’d have been calling home for the voiture balai, but an undaunted Biden Fecht had pressed on, occasionally using his feet for braking, occasionally – when things got too out of control, simply swooping blind through junctions where he was always forced to turn left with the traffic, no matter which direction actually led home.
In this way, and by carving out a series of ever-decreasing circles we suspect he made it home, although no one could confirm it and he wasn’t out today.
We imagined him getting up this morning, picking up his bike and having a moment when he desperately tried to remember what it was he’d promised he’d do before riding it again. Drawing a complete blank, we then had him swinging a leg over his still brake-less bike and …
Crazy Legs told us he’d been away visiting a Mini factory in Germany, which Son of G-Dawg correctly guessed, “Ironically, wasn’t all that mini.” It was agreed that in actual fact Mini’s themselves aren’t all that mini anymore, while we all learned the Garrulous Kid’sdad drives a BMW.
The Red Max pulled up with the Monkey Butler Boy in tow and wearing identical specs to match their identical wheels. I wondered just how far they were likely to take this matching, bikes, jerseys, shorts, helmets, shoes … the possibilities were endless.
“Yes, but he’ll never be able to match my talent.” The Red Max suggested.
The Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes heavenward, while Son of G-Dawg suggested this was something else to add to the list of remembered father-son slights, a list I suggested that was already unmanageably long.
Zardoz put in a second appearance of the year and I caught him pulling a bright orange floral buff over his head.
“Does your wife know you’ve borrowed her headscarf?” I asked.
Apparently he’s misplaced his own buff and had to make do with whatever he could find.
“What’s wrong,” he enquired, “do the colours clash?”
“No, not at all.” Taffy Steve reassured him smoothly, “And your bum doesn’t look big in it, either.”
“Time to go … It’s 9.15 GMT.” The Red Max announced.
“Garmin Muppet Time!” Taffy Steve quipped, and we were off.
I dropped into line beside Captain Black for an extended chat about life, children, jobs and just about everything else under the sun, until our wide-ranging discourse was interrupted by a puncture that had us all bundled into an innocuous, narrow side-road. This proved to be perhaps one of the most over-used junctions in the whole of Northumberland and we had to constantly shuffle out of the way of turning cars. I couldn’t decide whether we’d pulled up on a track into some extensive, much-used allotments, or just happened upon a popular all day dogging-site.
“You’re looking very svelte.” Zardoz opined and I had to confess it was simply the constraining power of Spanx. We then had a mild flight of fancy regarding cycling corsets and wondered if Lycra and whalebone were a good combination.
Meanwhile, Goose informed us he’s booked his first eye-test in over thirty years, although it was suggested he always receives an annual reminder, he just can’t read it. We then learned that the Red Max’s dad had a huge collection of old, worn-out and knackered hoovers, none of which worked properly and which he insisted on keeping, wouldn’t part with for anything and indeed he was actively looking for more.
I tried to work out who had punctured by trying to see who was missing. Failing miserably, OGL back-tracked to see what was going on. He returned to report G-Dawg was busy trying to repair his puncture, while the Prof hovered in close attendance, like a buzzard over a dying animal, or a seagull circling a trawler, hoping for some cast-offs – a pricked inner tube, empty CO2 canister or any other discarded bits and pieces.
Finally, we were back underway and I picked up with Captain Black again as if nothing had interrupted our earlier conversation.
At some point we lost OGL, cutting his ride short as he’s off to enjoy some “corporate hostility” at the Falcons vs. Bath rugby game this afternoon. The rest of the group made it to the reservoir at Whittle Dene, where we called a halt to split, only to discover no one wanted to be an ambler and everyone was up for a longer, harder, faster ride. Well, everyone except the Monkey Butler Boy, who again rolled his eyes in disbelief as he was nudged away from the shorter route.
Zardoz pleaded extreme fatigue and made me promise not to leave him behind as we pressed on, even though I suspected that as usual he would soon be on the front and whipping up the pace. And indeed, he was soon on the front and whipping up the pace.
At one point we passed G-Dawg making some running repairs to his slipping seatpost, which he’d removed (probably because it was the only way he could polish the bottom part that sits inside his frame) and hadn’t quite tightened up enough. Catching up, he was quick to inform me that riding side-saddle wasn’t comfortable and not at all recommended. Giving his Testicular Armageddon of a few weeks past, it looks like he’s continuing to search for new ways to emsaculate himself.
The first few climbs revealed Taffy Steve to be struggling with un jour sans, or perhaps feeling the effects of grinding into the wind on the front earlier and I dropped back to keep him company. A few miles further on and our little group had picked up Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy.
I then saw Carlton detached from the front of the main group, relayed up to him and invited him to ease and join our impromptu gruppetto.
The Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy became a little distanced across the rolling roads and we made plans to stop and wait for them at the top of the Quarry Climb. Halfway up the climb however we found G-Dawg walking back down, carefully scanning either side of the road. A large group were then found waiting at the top, where Crazy Legs’s fixie lay, mortally wounded after he’d snapped the chain on the steepest part of the climb.
Son of G-Dawg explained it had exploded like a frag grenade, with everyone diving out of the way to avoid the flying shrapnel. This seemed entirely plausible given that G-Dawgs forensic examination of the climb failed to yield any sizable fragments of the chain, which had seemingly disintegrated.
If Crazy Legs had been on a standard bike we could have simply made the chain a little shorter and had him moving again, albeit with a limited range of gears. His fixie however meant that this wasn’t an option and there was no obvious solution. Not even the darkest, remotest corners of the portable workshop buried in in the depths of the Red Max’s bottomless bag of tricks held a suitable, intact chain.
Finally, Carlton suggested we should push Crazy Legs to the café, where he could re-assess his options and, if worst came to the worst, call for the dreaded voiture balai and earn himself the dreaded “Le Taxi” stigmata to his name.
We quickly agreed this was the best option, so Crazy Legs remounted, took a few foot-slapping strides a la Fred Flintstone … and we were off.
Freewheelin’ as much as a young Bobbie Dylan, whenever gravity worked against him and momentum dropped, Crazy Legs found a stalwart brother or two on either side, ready to lend a hand, with Taffy Steve, Rab Dee, The Red Max and Carlton all manfully pitching in and pushing as needed.
Half-way to the café and G-Dawg pulled over with another puncture, but waved the rest of us on. A quick shouted conversation revealed his early puncture had left him short of supplies, so I relayed his need up to Son of G-Dawg. This is a roundabout way of saying I shouted for him to come back, realising that Son of G-Dawg was obviously on domestique duties for this ride and carrying all the necessary bits for spares and repairs.
I followed the group, impressed that Crazy Legs never felt the need to pedal, something I feel I would have tried, even knowing it was completely useless. We proceeded at a regal pace, oftentimes three-abreast and blocking the entire road as we sailed serenely on, dropping Crazy Legs at the bottom of the last ramp, where he could easily walk to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café we found Richard of Flanders, sitting in almost the exact spot the Red Max had occupied after crashing down in mid-November (SLJ: Vortices of Madness) with the same white face and pained expression, while awkwardly nursing the same right arm, elbow, shoulder and rib combination.
Apparently a bad coincidence of corner, car and slippery surface had seen Richard kissing the tarmac and having to have (in his own phlegmatic words) a quick lie down by the side of the road. This brief nap it would later transpire had caused a nasty, fractured elbow. Ouch and Ooph! Take care and get well soon Richard, I hope you’re back before too long and bring the better weather with you.
With Richard of Flanders out for the count and waiting for his good wife to transport him to A&E, I suggested Crazy Legs could perhaps help both himself and Richard out by riding his bike home for him. A plan was quickly hatched and agreed despite incompatible cleats and an aborted attempt to swap over pedals: Crazy Legs found secure storage for his bike at the café and took Richard’s mount for the ride home, while Richard’s wife could bundle him into the car without having to worry about having to fit a dirty, wet bike in there as well.
Taffy Steve had a quick prod at the Velo Culture, Cake Stop Caddy purse that both Crazy Legs and I use and which are made from recycled inner tubes. He suggested we didn’t let the Prof see them, otherwise he’d probably be press-ganging Mrs. Prof into manufacturing something similar from his vast array of (spoon polished) used inner tubes.
Crazy Legs has upgraded his Motorola and now has the latest hand-sized model. This he declared wasn’t as bulky or awkward to carry as he thought it would be and he reckoned the bigger screen was a great boon for his deteriorating eye sight when he didn’t have his swanky Nooz Optics to hand.
The Garrulous Kid swung by to enquire why Crazy Legs insisted on calling him “fresh trim.” I suggested it might have something to do with his convoluted hair-cut arrangements, while Taffy Steve recommended he just use his youthful initiative and Google it. But not before warning him darkly not to do it at school, or on a restricted and monitored computer, just in case.
Meanwhile, the Red Max revealed his bike has had a litany of failings since his own unfortunate accident and that he suspects his crank is now in danger of falling off and it would need nursing home. He’s already started to assess new bikes and “quite likes the look” of the new Trek Madone – ## Cough ### How much?
He’s also begun talking about a radical break with tradition and not necessarily buying a red bike, as long as it has “red highlights.” I’m not so sure he isn’t still suffering from post-crash concussion.
Anyway, he’s grimly determined to see the winter out on his current bike and just needs to somehow coax a few more weeks and rides out it before allowing it to disintegrate totally. Not at all dissimilar to flogging a dead horse then.
So, off we set for home, with Crazy Legs astride Richard of Flanders’s bike, the front of his cleats at least partly wedged into the pedals and his brain slowly getting to grips with freewheeling and the shock of having to use Shimano gears. He professed it was a good ride, but the frame is slightly too small for him, so hopefully Richard will get his bike back.
I was chatting with the Red Max who was bemoaning the genetic traits he’d passed on to the Monkey Butler Boy, both powerful diesels on the flat who struggle when the road rises. On more than one occasion in the hills I’ve found the Red Max roundly cursing Sir Isaac Newton for ever inventing gravity.
At least, I suggested he didn’t need a paternity test to prove the Monkey Butler Boy was his own, close progeny. This also got me thinking about the genetic disposition that compels one man to collect assorted useless hoovers and yet another to build a massive ziggurat of worn out bottom brackets …
Up through Dinnington and the Monkey Butler Boy began to show signs of his genetic fallibilities and struggle on the climbs. I dropped back to provide a bit of shelter and to pace him, as a gap opened up to our group in front and slowly filled with cars.
We soon reached his turn off and I was out on my own for the ride home. It was a long day, covering just over 70 miles and our series of unfortunate events had delayed us enough so I was half an hour later back than usual.
Still, a hugely memorable ride and one where the weather had actually been kind to us for once. A few less incidents wouldn’t have gone amiss though and I’m looking forward to the ride when nothing much happens at all.
YTD Totals: 670 km / 416 miles with 7,201 metres of climbing
The weather had promised a chilly night, down to -2⁰C with morning temperatures flat-lining and barely managing to claw their way into positive figures throughout the day. I was expecting it to be cold … but this!
As I dropped down the Heinous Hill, the wind clawed tears from my eyes and where they tracked down my face they burned. I became instantly aware of every little gap in my clothing and even knew where two layers gave out to one, as every weakness in my defences was quickly found out. I adjusted my gloves to close a miniscule gap between cuff and sleeve and pulled my buff up over half my face as the exposed skin quickly chilled. The tops of my thighs stung in the wind and then slowly went numb. It. Was. Freezing…
And yet the air was dry and there was no ice.
As I sank lower and lower down to the valley floor, the temperature seemed to fall with me. The flood plains either side of the river appeared to be smoking into the still and chilled air and the grass was limned in glittering frost and curled up protectively against the cold.
Every time I stopped my breath coalesced in glittering plumes, like I was vaping oxygen, my lungs ached dully and my nose streamed constantly. C-c-c-c-cold.
I was cheered though by the sight of a three-legged dog, trotting along happily beside his owner, somehow managing to both carry a large ball and smile through his muzzle. I was even more cheered by the sight of the rowing club on the south bank of the river, wearing shorts and running calisthenics in their car park in a futile attempt to warm up before taking to the water. And I thought I was mad.
Even further along, I swear there was a troop of brass monkeys, futilely searching the frozen ground for some spherical objects they’d misplaced, but maybe that was just the cold addling my brain. (As an aside, I couldn’t decide if the collective noun for monkeys was a troop or a troupe, so googled it to find troop was the correct form, but I could also have used tribe, or barrel, or cartload or even, apparently … carload! I can admit to being assailed by a metaphorical car load of monkeys, but it seems a strange expression in relation to the actual animal.)
Anyway, I was either warming to my task, or slowly acclimatising to the cold as I back-tracked along the opposite bank of the river, now heading toward where a dull red sun crept slowly upwards, then clambering out of the valley to pick my way through to the meeting place.
It seemed that for once I’d somehow managed to judge the layers just right, well at least for now: headband, helmet, buff, slightly thicker, slightly itchy merino base-layer, winter jacket, gilet, glove liners, gloves, tights, trusty Thermolite socks and winter boots. All set and good to go.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The BFG was a little surprised to see me and wondered if I’d had to slide down the Heinous Hill sideways, like a deranged speedway rider, Ivan Mauger incarnate. All I could tell him was that it was bloody freezing, but there was no ice and my passage across had been uneventful.
Since I was there, he wanted to know if he’d discovered a new Jewish-Scottish hybrid, having recently met a ginger Hasidic Jew. Having grown up around a large Jewish community in Bensham, I was able to place his “amazing discovery” in the context that it was in fact quite commonplace.
The Garrulous Kid had traded in his Bontrager tyres for a set of Continental 4-Season’s and declared they’d given him both his confidence and mojo back. He was still struggling with his new pedals though, which had solved his old problem of inadvertently unclipping by holding his foot in a vice-like, unbreakable grip. He enlisted the help of the BFG and a multi-tool to slacken the tension enough to allow for a quick release, so he was hopefully a bit less of a liability to himself, or those around him.
As a sign of just how damned cold it was, G-Dawg had resurrected his massive oven gloves. Later, Crazy Legs would demand to know if he was on call at Greggs and might need to disappear at any moment to help lift a tray of pasties out of the oven, while the BFG suggested all the various straps and buckles needed bells attached to the ends for sartorial completeness.
Carlton revealed he’d gone for the £3.99 option of ski gloves bought from his local petrol station. There were suggestions that he should either have saved his money, or bought two or three pairs to wear together, but at least today would be a good test of whether non-cycling specific (i.e. considerably cheaper) kit works just as well.
De Uitheems Bloem rolled up, shielding his eyes from the glare that even a weak winter sun could produce its light bounced off G-Dawg’s impeccably polished frame, wheels and chain. G-Dawg revealed the bike had to be spotless, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to keep it in the bedroom. I think he was joking.
A decent crowd had gathered, before I spotted, but didn’t fully register an unfamiliar spry looking, youngster with his buff pulled up over his lower face. I looked away, looked back and the buff had been pulled down to reveal the bristling white ‘tache of Zardoz. Not quite so young then, but still plenty spry.
I mentioned this first Zardoz sighting of the year to the Red Max, who said he’d had an inkling of his return as, riding in with the Monkey Butler Boy he’d passed a masked, lone cyclist who’d growled, “Don’t you be over-taking me!”
“Was that Zardoz’s voice?” A giggling Monkey Butler Boy had asked. Yep, he’s back.
OGL was celebrating his 70th birthday and had received a bottle of fine, single-malt from G-Dawg. He was keen to reassure us he still had the bottle, but was far less convincing when it came to verifying its actual contents were intact.
A band of 18 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode into the freezing air. Or at least we tried to. For some reason we decided it was a good idea to stop and re-group in front of the traffic lights that were showing green on the Transport Interchange/Bus Station exit. Here we carefully paused just long enough to ensure the lights changed to red as soon as no more than half of us had passed through and rode away, leaving the rest stuck behind.
We finally all got going and the group coalesced to take an alternative route out, as reports had filtered through that the road through Dinnington was a mess of treacherous mud following building works in the village. I rode along with the Red Max for a while, chatting aimlessly while we digested just how cold it was and both wondered where the ice was hiding.
After an hour or so, the Monkey Butler Boy approached to whimper that the extreme cold have overwhelmed his gloves and his hands were frozen. The Red Max offered to sacrifice his spare pair of gloves so he could double-up and they dropped back to make the change.
As we clambered up one hill, a strangled shout rose from behind:
“What was that?” someone asked.
“Speed up, I think,” someone else replied.
So we did.
Later on and more incoherent shouting was translated variously as dog, pots, horse, puncture, accident, stray bird or mechanical and we ground to disordered halt, to find nothing much was happening at all behind. The Prof, who had been pleading for some time about needing a pee stop took the opportunity to wander off in search of a suitable hedge, while G-Dawg revealed that not only were his feet freezing and painfully cold, but he was even more shockingly discomfited by the extreme distress the conditions had imposed on his testicles.
It was at this point that I really missed Crazy Legs, as I felt for sure I could have implanted an irresistible ear-worm that would have him singing a la Bonnie Tyler, all the way to the café: “It’s a ball’s ache, nothing but a ball’s ache…”
A quick query revealed G-Dawg had encased his feet in three pairs of socks and overshoes, but they weren’t helping. I suggested he needed a pair of trusty Prendas Thermolite socks.
“I took your recommendation and bought a pair of those Prenda socks.” Sneaky Pete chipped in. “My feet are still bloody freezing!” Hey, you can please some of the people, some of the time …
Meanwhile, OGL regaled us with a tale of local legend Ron Longstaff, caught gloveless on one winter run and resorting to riding the whole way one-handed, while alternately cupping his warm testicles with first one frozen paw and then the other.
G-Dawg suggested that wasn’t going to help in his situation, but if anyone had any spare gloves he’d be tempted to stick them down his pants for a bit of relief.
I wondered if he could, like a mythical Sumo wrestler retract his testicles back up into his body cavity for a bit of protection, then advised against it in case he had trouble enticing them back out again.
Luckily we were soon underway again and leaving such nonsense firmly behind. Pressing on, we passed a couple out on horseback and I could see G-Dawg eyeing up the long, equine gaiters one of the horses was sporting. Perhaps we’ll see him adopt something similar for our next cold ride – along with a fur-lined cricket box.
We took the back road up to Ryal village where, by utilising the most untraveled, secluded and desolate routes available to us, we did finally manage to find some ice in the deepest, darkest dip. It had taken a hell of an effort, but we finally had something to be wary off. Passage was however safely negotiated and we were away again.
I then chased G-Dawg up the Quarry Climb, the highest point of our route, before we took the left-hand route, the most bombed-out, pot-holed, rough and distressed road to the café. I ceded the front and dropped onto G-Dawgs wheel, while the BFG tried a forlorn hope, long range attack, only to find Caracol firmly glued to his wheel. The BFG twitched left, swung hard right and then swooped left again, but Caracol mirrored each move closely and there was no getting away.
The BFG gave up and dropped in alongside me as the pace began to build, with Caracol and G-Dawg leading the charge.
We hit the final stretch en masse and at high speed, with riders attacking and fading and jostling for position, while I held firm on the wheel in front. The BFG dropped away and I noticed Zardoz and De Uitheems Bloem moving up in the general melee, before a determined OGL surged to the front.
For one brief, glorious moment I thought he was going to roll back the years and win the bunch sprint, before Caracol edged past with one last lunge and then we were braking and diving through the Snake Bends.
We hit the narrow, bombed out lane to the crossroads and I jumped away for one final attack on the last ramp, but G-Dawg was watching and waiting in close attendance and burned me away across the top across the top to lead us into the café.
Main conversation at the coffee stop:
We spotted Crazy Legs’s unmistakable fixie, leaning insouciantly up against a fencepost and found him warmly ensconced inside, having waited an additional, precautionary hour before setting out this morning to give any ice extra time to melt.
He roundly praised the lobster mitts I’d recommended he bought during one of Planet X’s recent sales, admitting if anything they were actually too warm, but a bargain even at their full retail price. See, you can please some of the people, at least some of the time…
While acknowledging the cold outside and in particular G-Dawgs testicular discomfort, Crazy Legs declared it could be a lot worse, having recently returned from Stuttgart where it was a bone-chilling, ball-aching -15⁰.
The BFG enquired if G-Dawg also had a single-speed car to match his bike, leading to reminiscing about the DAF Variomatic and its odd continuously variable transmission. I took this as an indication that the Dutch might have the world’s most impressive gutters, but when it came to motor-vehicle manufacturing they still had some way to go.
Crazy Legs related asking a slightly “large-boned” colleague about progress with a new fitness regime he was monitoring through a Fitbit.
“Over 10,000 steps today and I’ve hardly moved from my chair,” was the enthusiastic verdict, accompanied by that unmistakable Gareth Hunt/Nescafé coffee bean fist pumping, or Battle Tops “it’s all in the wrist action” gesture, if you will.
In turn, I recalled sitting in a cinema listening to a lad behind dismissing an ad for Seiko kinetic watches, declaring, “I had one of those, but it was useless – every time I had a wank it gained 5 minutes …”
For some reason, talk turned to breakfasts and the “Full English Stottie” – an experience I’ve luckily managed to avoid. Crazy Legs tried baiting OGL by suggesting Ready Brek was porridge, while I had to ask if he used a spurtle – a word it’s impossible to say without sounding suitably Scottish.
A “should we/shouldn’t we” moment ensued on leaving the café leading to a little disorganised chaos, as half our number swung to the left, while the rest took the more usual route to the right. I went left too, as we decided the road through to Ogle had a good chance of being a bit icy and a little iffy.
I had another chat with the BFG about Scottish-Jews, revealing that Mrs. SLJ as a schoolgirl had once had a much too detailed encounter with a Jewish student at a yeshiva in Bensham, when he exposed himself as she was walking past.
“How did you know he was Jewish?” someone had asked her.
Quick as a flash, she replied, “Well … he was wearing a skullcap.”
G-Dawg and Caracol ramped up the pace to such an extent that the BFG was soon spluttering, floundering and complaining. When they swung over, I didn’t have the legs to take the front, so Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem took over and the speed increased another notch.
I hung on grimly for a while, swerving to avoid the salvoes of Dutch snot rockets that were occasionally fired back toward me and then I eased and slipped off the back as the group hammered down to swing left well I went straight on for home.
Cooked, both literally and metaphorically, I pulled over and started to strip off a few layers to try and cool down before I continued, remembering the short-cut past the Golf Club that shaved off two or three miles.
The cold on my newly exposed scalp and ears was still surprisingly raw and I soon cooled down. It did however serve to remind me I’d managed to get the layers just about right and I was particularly pleased with the winter boots that had kept my feet reasonably warm along with only a single pair of (trusty Thermolite) socks.
Back at home, I had a brief chuckle at an email from Relive.cc – a free service that takes your Strava or Garmin Connect feed and converts it into a video recap of your ride. They’d been in contact to ask if “I wanted to relive testicular Armageddon.” Be honest, that’s not an offer you get every day now, is it?
YTD Totals: 264 km / 164 miles with 2,842 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 930 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Group size: 7 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Storm chasing…
Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs rolled up lacking his usual ebullience and by-passing all form of normal greeting, to darkly intone one dread word: “Hangover.”
He did however manage to rouse himself briefly for a spirited round of “wheel wars” – loosely based on the successful “thumb wars” model, but this week pitting his Continental Gatorskin shod Campagnolo wheels against my Fulcrum’s with Schwalbe Durano tyres. “One, two, three, four, I declare a wheel war!” was accompanied by him bashing repeatedly at my front wheel until our bikes became locked together in rampant combat like two rutting stags. Sadly, this was to be his only meaningful action on the day.
OGL pulled up in his automobile with much head-shaking, to check which idiots were intent on heading out into the storm, before he himself sought safety in the gym. In his best, “We’re all doomed” voice, he went on to outline a litany of cancelled events, postponed sporting fixtures and general catastrophes, as Storm Desmond, 80 mph winds and torrential rain continued to batter the North.
A quick conference concluded that we’d be pretty much heading straight to the café and home again, it certainly wasn’t the day for longer rides or routes unknown.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: It was black bin bags all round as we made it to the café completely soaked through and dripping relentlessly. Sitting on the bags kept the chairs nice and dry, but couldn’t stop the flow of water, which pooled and seeped and ran until we were all seated in the midst of a big puddle of water that expanded slowly but remorselessly across the tile floor. I have to admit the surprising amount of water I was able to wring out of my waterproof logged gloves didn’t help matters.
Still, as necessity (or, perhaps adversity in this case) is the mother of invention, at least it led to us designing a cyclist mangle – you feed wet riders in one end, turn the (Kranken) handle and pull slightly creased and flattened, but much drier cyclists out the other end. We’re convinced there’s a market for this one…
Never mind the aerodynamic benefits of a hard, clip on helmet shell, beZ declared a far better, much under-appreciated quality was that it kept your hair dry and neatly in place. The various manufacturers are obviously missing a huge marketing opportunity by not pushing this particular feature.
Another club was also in the café, en route to their Christmas get together and they helpfully added their own offerings to the expanding pool on the floor. In a vain attempt to dry out various bits of kit they also took up much of the space around the wood-burning stove with steaming piles of gloves, hats, helmets, scarfs and other bits and pieces.
The Prof resorted to trying to dry his gloves directly on the black iron top of the stove, where they started to steam and then smoke alarmingly, and were rescued by beZ before they completely melted and we were all overcome with noxious fumes.
True to form, the ever absent-minded Shoeless bemoaned forgetting his protective specs, as he blinked furiously, each time exfoliating his stinging eyeballs of one more layer of cells. The collected grit and road crap that had been washed into his eyes formed a rich abrasive paste which beauty companies would pay a small fortune for, if they could only bottle and sell it as an exotic facial scrub.
Midway through a normal series of SMS exchanges, the Prof received one that was displayed entirely in Chinese characters. In an attempt to decode it, beZ took control of his old man’s phone with the intent on running the text through Google translate or something similar, but he had to give up when the signal was too weak to get a connection.
Unfortunately while playing with the phone he unwittingly opened up the Emoji menu. “Hey” the Prof declared in surprised delight, “What are all these hieroglyphics?”
Realising his mistake and at our urging beZ quickly wrestled the phone away again and turned the keyboard back to display just normal characters – we have trouble interpreting the Prof’s text messages, social media interactions and forum postings as it is, without letting him loose with a whole new wave of characters and icons.
Our Faecesbook page was surprisingly active first thing on Saturday morning, as Shoeless checked out the storm damage and weather forecast and posted up an interrogative, “Who’s riding today?” There were lots of negative responses, but seemingly enough affirmatives from the crazies to reassure him it was worth heading out.
I made my way to the meeting point through the collected debris of the night’s storm, fences, road signs, trees, bins and traffic cones all dragged down and scattered by the wind, while the roads were an obstacle course of broken branches and massive pools of standing water.
True to his word, Shoeless was there, waiting at the meeting point early, having decided even battling the elements in potentially dangerous conditions was better than the painful grind of another turbo-session.
A small nucleus of seven of us eventually pushed off, clipped in and headed out, the foreshortened roll of honour comprising: Shoeless, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, The Prof, Crazy Legs, beZ and me.
The much hungover Crazy Legs – usually one of the first to ride on the front, drifted right to the back early on and made it to the first set of lights, maybe a mile up the road, before calling it a day and turning back for home, conquered either by the weather or last night’s alcoholic excesses. Everyone seemed surprised and not a little disappointed that he hadn’t at least drilled it a couple of mile on the front for us before abandoning.
We pressed on regardless, swapping the front riders frequently as we battered our way out into the wilds of Northumberland. Conditions weren’t too bad, the day was at least fairly mild and it would have been pleasant if it hadn’t been for the gales.
Pointing out obstacles to following riders became a bit of a gamble and an exercise in how quickly you could reach out, stab a finger down at the ground and then regain your death grip of the bars.
Turning left or right now came with the luxury of power-steering, sticking an arm out to signal gave the wind something to push against and almost automatically dragged the wheel in that direction.
We managed to eke out a little shelter from hedges, embankments and buildings as we trundled along, but we seemed to spend a lot of time riding inclined and leaning over at about a 10° angle.
Every gap in the hedges brought a sudden gust of capricious wind that would push or pull us sideways and every time this generated a chorus of maniacal and very nervous cackling. Just for a change of pace it also decided to rain and we were soon thoroughly doused and soaked through.
At some point we passed and exchanged a few words with a shooting party, who looked particularly miserable, perhaps because as soon as their beaters flushed a bird it rose up and was immediately snatched away at supersonic speed by the wind, making targeting it almost impossible.
Either side of the road leading to the Quarry climb was a desolate, water-logged landscape, and in one dip we hit a huge lake of surface water that stretched right across the road and the Prof swore he could see wind-whipped whitecaps ruffling its surface.
As beZ seemed to be the tallest , I suggested sending him through first to see if he could make the other side, which was just about visible through the driving rain. Throwing caution to the wind though, we barely slowed, ploughing on regardless and through water that easily topped our wheel hubs, and as a consequence, everyone’s overshoes.
We pushed on to the top of the Quarry climb, now with soaking feet, shoes and socks to add to our other woes. After some deliberation and a bit of confusion we turned left at the top, the highest and most exposed point of our ride, and straight into a punishing headwind that had everyone bent over their bikes and grinding slowly just to keep some sort of momentum.
Dropping down to the final junction, and keeping a wary eye out for the Prof torpedoing everyone as he “came in hot” with barely functioning brakes, we hit the final run to the café and the Tally Ho! cry went up.
The youngsters, Shoeless, beZ and Son of G-Dawg started the long burn for home, leaving us “elder statesmen” struggling behind. Sitting camped on G-Dawgs wheel, I was too late in realising he’d reached terminal velocity and his blurring legs just couldn’t whirr around any faster to drive his fixie across the gap.
I jumped around him, but couldn’t make it across either, as the front three slowly pulled away. Not wanting to languish in no-mans-land I cut my losses and sat up to try and recover a little. G-Dawg and the Prof passed me, and I upped the pace a little just to stay in touch.
As we hit the long, shallow descent down to the Snake Bends I pushed hard again, swept past the Prof, ducked down the inside of G-Dawg and piled it on, ripping through another flooded section of the road, before hauling on the anchors for the bends.
Safely negotiating these, G-Dawg re-joined and we pushed on together for a very welcome stop, replete with copious amounts of reviving hot coffee and, of course, a much anticipated date with some cake.
Warming up a little and drying out just the tiniest bit, we watched out the window as the other club gathered themselves and all their slightly less chill, but still soaking gear to venture back out into the wild weather. We all knew stepping out across the threshold was going to be a real challenge after the comfortable and cosy sanctuary of the café and the brief respite it offered from the howling wind and driving rain.
Bizarrely the other group were heading off for a Christmas lunch and get-together somewhere in Whalton, which is only a further 4 miles up the road. This meant that not only did they get semi-dry and warm in the café before plunging outside again, but would have to repeat the process when they left their lunch venue. We couldn’t work out why they hadn’t pushed on and gone straight to Whalton, but perhaps it proves we weren’t the only crazy ones out on the day.
Even worse, one of their riders had a puncture and they seemed to spend an age milling about outside the café, getting cold and wet all over again while this was fixed.
Finally steeling ourselves to leave, we plodged through the puddle of our own making to hand the black, slightly damp bin bags back in at the counter. We then stacked up at the door like a well-drilled SWAT team about to breach and clear a hostile room, gathering together before we struck out to ensure we wouldn’t be hanging around waiting for anyone.
We dashed out to our bikes, only for beZ to discover that both of his tyres were suspiciously soft and squidgy. He was reluctant to stop for repairs though and decided to risk running with them, hoping to get home before all the air ran out.
If we were hoping for a helpful tailwind back we were sadly disappointed and found the same mix of gusting headwinds and vicious cross-winds along most of our route. On one corner in particular we were hit with a sudden buffeting and howling blast that had everyone crabbing sideways across the road and blew Son of G-Dawg out of his pedals and dangerously close to running into a field before he somehow recovered.
We stopped once for beZ to force some emergency air back into his tyres before pressing on. I split from the group at the earliest opportunity, cutting off a large corner by battling the vicious winds around the airport, before turning west directly into a gale and the long, exposed drag past the golf course. This section of my route home is fast becoming a bête noire to rival the Heinous Hill.
A weak, wintry sun briefly broke through, and combined with the constant tugging wind acting like a massive hair drier, I began to feel a little less wet and a bit more comfortable. The storm also seemed to have kept people in doors and suppressed the volume of traffic on the road, so I had a decent run for home and an immediate appointment with a hot shower.
YTD Totals: 5,996 km/ 3,726 miles with 67,064 metres of climbing.