After a lost weekend spent infiltrating Thing#1 into London, I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary and serenity of a club run, only to have my intentions cruelly dashed by Storm Arwen’s untimely arrival on these shores.
With the wind howling through the trees, filling the air with all manner of flying debris and detritus and hurling spiteful handfuls of rain to rattle against the windows, I might yet have ventured out first thing Saturday morning, but I woke to find our water supply had been cut off and that seemed a solid enough excuse to send me scurrying back to a still-warm bed.
In the event, we had the smallest club run that’s physically possible, with just two brave souls daring to venture out au vélo. (I contend that any less and it would officially have been a solo ride.) So hats-off, but straight-jackets on for our dynamic duo of G-Dawg and Brassneck. I’ve convinced myself they spent half the ride telling each other it was all perfectly fine and if they’d realised just how warm it was beforehand, they both would have worn shorts.
Another mild inconvenience for me was the Trek was still with my LBS for some much needed TLC after years of neglect and hard pedalling. This involved a new bottom bracket, headset, brake cables and chain and finally a replacement for the rear cog. Over time I’d manage to wear this latter item sharp enough so that I could have adopted it as a makeshift shuriken. (You know, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or some other civilisation ending catastrophe). Anyway, this meant if I was going out it would have to be astride the unloved Peugeot and, to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it.
A week later and the strong winds of Storm Arwen had thankfully passed, but not before leaving a noticeable and notable mark on the countryside. The sides of the road were littered with leaves and broken branches and down almost every country lane we found multiple raw tree stumps and broad swathes of sawdust from where fallen and damaged trees had been cut down and hauled away. The National Trust site at Wallington Hall near Morpeth, alone reported the loss of “thousands of trees” in what was described as “worst destruction caused by a storm in 40 years.”
This Saturday promised to be calmer, but just as c-c-c-cold and while temperatures weren’t low enough to have to worry about ice, the wind chill kept them down to low single-figures and prompted me to go for the full-on cold-weather gear. So back to the trusty Thermolite socks, thick overshoes, tights, headband and Galibier Colombière quilted jacket. This is insulated enough that I could get away with just a light base-layer and short-sleeved jersey underneath (and even then, the jersey was only needed so I had some pockets to stash bits and bobs in.)
I pondered whether it was cold enough to justify the mighty lobster mitts, but decided to just go for heavier gloves. It was a decision I regretted briefly, halfway through my ride across when my thumbs went numb, but they finally recovered enough that I felt comfortable. The opposite held true for G-Dawg, who ended up removing his lobster mitts and engaging in a bare-knuckle contest with the cold for the last hour before the café, as he was seriously overheating.
The bike was back too and running silky smooth and near silently. Astride it about the only thing I can hear is the slight whisk of tyres kissing tarmac. The only issue I had was the LBS only had a 15t cog to hand to replace my worn one. I’d had them fit that instead of delaying further to order in a new 14t one, reasoning it probably wouldn’t make all that much difference and even if it did, it was an easy fix I could handle myself. Theoretically, getting up hills would be slightly easier, but I was a bit concerned about what it might do to my top-end speed.
Over the river and starting the long, meandering climb up toward Denton Burn, I spotted a couple of cyclists toiling uphill ahead of me, an incentive to test my legs and see if I could catch them. Mission accomplished, as the road straightened toward the crest, I passed the first one.
“Good morning,” I called out chirpily, desperately trying to sound nonchalant and not at all out of breath.
“Jesus Christ!” the rider shrieked back in shocked surprise, obviously startled by my sudden, silent appearance on her shoulder.
“Sorry!” I called back as I slipped past her companion, who was now struggling to ride through his laughter.
Oops! Note to self – the bike is really, really quiet.
I made it to the meeting point without terrifying anyone else, where the usual madness enfolded: Crazy Legs danced around some to “Eye of the Tiger” – we know not why, G-Dawg entertained us relating his encounter last week with a teeny, tiny, vociferously swearing jockey, futilely engaged trying to help workmen move a massive fallen tree from the road because he was running late and supposed to be riding the 12.20 steeplechase at Newcastle Racecourse and OGL, castigated us for failing to sign up for his veteran cyclist get-together, despite the fact we were only ever invited as an afterthought once he realised the numbers didn’t quite stack up.
Buster briefed in the route and got set to lead the first group out. There was then an unseemly scramble to join him, which was in danger of leaving a seriously undermanned second group. This forced G-Dawg to invoke his special, super-hero power – the Teacher’s Voice™ – to bring order to chaos. Not heard since his retirement, but an ability he still retains full command of, it worked on unruly and recalcitrant pupils back then and worked just as well un unruly and recalcitrant cyclists now, as he quickly shamed Carlton and Cowboys out of their attempt to try and sneak away and join the front group.
Our second group finally got underway, 6 of us temporarily bolstered by the Flat White devotees who were already looking forward to their first coffee-stop of the day.
I slotted in for a spell beside Taffy Steve to hear how he’d survived the depredations of Storm Arwen (largely intact except for one fence panel smashed to flinders) but he reported the weather had been particularly spectacular, with boiling, raging seas all along the coast.
Our Flat White bretheren departed around Kirkley and we pressed on, catching sight of our first group up ahead and then, as they were seriously handicapped by Buster’s minuscule bladder, passing them when they were forced to stop for a pee break.
We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and paused long enough for the first group to join us. G-Dawg invited them to lead out again, so rightful order was fully restored and we got an extra minutes rest too.
The minor impediments of Hartburn and Middleton Bank were dispensed with and I took to the front alongside Cowboys as we started the long burn for the café. All good, except I was soon on the absolute limit, as I struggled to push past 35kph, my legs were a ridiculous spinning blur and I was scared of looking down in case they were smoking.
I wish I could treat the loss or gain of just a single tooth with the same aplomb as recently shown by Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, but it’s not to be. I never would have thought the addition of just one extra tooth at the back would make such a difference, but I’m going to have to revert back to the 14t cog.
Luckily, I managed to hold on until the road finally started to rise and a more seemly cadence could be established and then pushed past the final bend before sliding across to try and recover while everyone else darted past to contest the sprint.
At the café, before donning a facemask, I stripped off my gloves, helmet and headband, revealing, much to the delight of Crazy Legs, a very bad case of helmet-hair, what I assume was a ridiculous fin standing up to attention across the top of my head. I joined the back of a very long, very slow-moving queue to jeers of “baby shark!” while I tried to batter my errant hair down into something slightly less preposterous.
On sitting down I then became embroiled in the deep, philosophical question that had seemingly been exorcising the Flat White Club throughout their entire ride: Is it possible to fart while actively pedalling a bike?
Crazy Legs believed he had amply demonstrated this ability out on the road, but Taffy Steve contended that the squeaking, squelching noise he’d heard could have come from any part of Crazy Legs’ anatomy, if not indeed from his bike itself. He seemed particularly disappointed by the volume of the flatus, although I wasn’t sure if his protest was related to the millilitres, or decibels that had been produced. In an attempt to adjudicate, I suggested that a fart is a fart.
“Anyway,” I asked, “What were you expecting an excerpt from Flight of the Bumblebee, Trumpet Voluntary or something?”
Taffy Steve remained unconvinced and I’m sure this one will … err … rumble on.
The fact that one of Sting’s former bandmates (and a former club member) would be engaged to play at OGL’s veteran cyclist reunion that evening, gave Taffy Steve the opportunity to vent about just how dull, joyless, self-absorbed and pompous Mr. Sting appears to be these days. Then he had us guess at how much you’d need to pay to secure a ticket to see Sting play live at the London Palladium next year. Even our wildest guesses came nowhere close to tickets that range in price from an outrageous £387 in the “cheap” seats, to a frankly unbelievable £1,905!
As well as being a conspicuously dull man, Taffy Steve demanded to know if Sting had ever written a good, solo song “other than that alien one.”
“Russians?” I suggested.
“Oh yeah, I quite like that one,” Taffy Steve conceded, “So, name me a good Sting song other than Russians and that alien one?”
“Fields of Gold,” Crazy Legs volunteered.
“Okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold and that alien one, name me a good Sting song?”
“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free?” someone else came up with.
“Okay, okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and that alien one …”
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You…”
Taffy Steve sighed, deeply troubled.
Meanwhile, one table along, the Chinese FNG who’d joined us for the first time that morning had brought one of his wheels into the café and was quietly working to fix a puncture. He seemed happy enough just getting on with it, but OGL declared he does “about 80 puncture repairs a day” and couldn’t resist “lending a hand.” You’d think someone who spends what must be at least half of their entire working life apparently changing tyres would welcome a break from same, but apparently not.
Looking on, Crazy Legs wondered how I’d be able to assign the Chinese kid a pseudonym in the blerg without offending the gods of political correctness, or insulting an entire nation of 1.4 billion people. He then decided that I wouldn’t need to, as the kid’s name was already cool enough and is apparently Cypher. (This is according to a quick conversation the two had had at the meeting point and based on the assumption that Crazy Legs both heard correctly and remembered the details. I’m not sure we can trust either of these faculties – just ask Still Nick and Not Anthony.)
While we blethered on, Captain Black followed a dad and small child toward the toilet where it looked like a prolonged nappy change was the order of the day in the men’s cubicle. Captain Black dutifully waited, but was still there 5 minutes later, when I suggested the toilets were pretty much non-binary and he might as well use the ladies cubicle. Naturally, as soon as he decided I was perhaps-probably right and disappeared inside, a stern-looking, middle-aged matron appeared and, much to our delight, followed him into the lobby.
Sometime later an abashed Captain Black emerged looking suitably chastened and admitting he’d been subject to “that look” the one only women can achieve that can easily shrivel a man’s soul and remind him of just how base and worthless he is. We naturally thought the entire episode was quite hilarious.
Outside once again and heading home, I caught up with Brassneck, who insisted the 60-70mph winds last week weren’t all that bad, as they were constant rather than gusting! I suggested he wasn’t really selling the ride particularly well. He then revealed that both he and G-Dawg had suffered a series of punctures late on, had limped through to the cafe at Kirkley and then both had phoned home for a lift back. So, there you have it, not only the smallest club run in history but the only one with a 100% abandonment rate too!
With Brassneck pondering how much of a mess the lane through from Kirkley to Berwick Hill might be following the passing of Storm Arwen, I decided I was tired enough that I didn’t want to find out, so gave it a miss and I left the group to route through Ponteland and shave a few miles off my trip home.
|Day & Date:||Saturday 4th December 2021|
|Riding Time:||101km/63 miles with 950m of climbing|
|Riding Distance:||4 hours 20 minutes|
|Group Size:||24 riders, 1 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Mean spirited|
|Year to Date:||4,609km/2,864 miles with 49,393m of climbing|