Saturday had me missing the club run in order to fetch Thing#2 back from Term#1 at Leeds University. All kudos is due the gallant 10 who did make the ride, in very chilly and quite unpleasant conditions.
As the snow, sleet and freezing rain set in later in the day, there was a further club gathering of a different kind, the Annual Club Christmas Party and Awards ceremony. Or, yet another excuse for an extended period of doing what club cyclists do best – talking complete and utter bolleaux.
This was held in conditions that were actually worse outside than anything experienced on the ride that morning, so kudos to all who trekked through the weather and made it such an entertaining and enjoyable night. Extra kudos, of course, if you did both the morning ride and that evenings soiree.
Despite the weather, it was a well attended event with around 30 riders and their significant others and a good time was had by all. (As far as I’m aware.)
Things I think I learned:
The Red Max half-wheels the Monkey Butler Boy, even when they’re training indoors on their turbo’s.
The Garrulous Kid’s hair is not resilient to environmental precipitation.
Sneaky Pete thinks G-Dawg models his off-bike, civilian style and swagger on Lovejoy, a character in a BBC TV series who is a roguish, swindling, trickster antiques dealer and unrepentant mullet-wearer. According to Sneaky Pete, the resemblance is so acute he’s even lobbying for me to change G-Dawg’s blog name.
The highlight of the night were the Peroni Awards – (The Peroni’s™ – not to be confused with the Oscar’s™ which are far less feted, less important and significantly less controversial).
The Peroni’s were ably hosted by Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, reminding me of two ex-professional footballers turned-pundits (think Gary Lineker teamed with Robbie Savage) and performing as perhaps the finest myopic double-act since the Two Ronnies.
Ticker won a Peroni for having the loudest wheels in the peloton, Aether for the whitest legs, Goose for a voice that could wake the dead and the Red Max for “furious and relentless half-wheeling”.
I was granted an award for what Crazy Legs referred to as my wordsmiffery – the Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse award – demonstrating an innate ability to turn comedy gold into straw. (Then deftly mix it with liberal lardings of bullshit before launching the whole mess blindly into the public domain.)
Taffy Steve received the most acerbic comment award, but unfortunately couldn’t attend and express his overflowing joy at such recognition. No one felt capable of stepping into his shoes to deliver a terse, witty and suitably blistering acceptance speech.
The self-effacing, “I am Richard” Identity Theft award deservedly went to Richard of Flanders, who can now perhaps reclaim his name from all the weekly route briefings.
I think the, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for today” refrain has probably run its course, after being hijacked by a wide variety of impostors and used with impunity for about 6 weeks in a row.
It has also caused some unnecessary confusion, with Jimmy Mac being referred to as “that Dick feller” on a couple of occasions. Of course, in relating this, I’m discounting the (highly unlikely, surely?) possibility that they are acutely aware Jimmy Mac’s actual name and are simply attempting to describe him in the most accurate terms possible.
The Garrulous Kid was kept happy with seven separate awards, including wins in the most likely to crash category, most likely to inexplicably walk away from a crash unscathed, least able to turn left (he only narrowly missed out on the least able to turn right award) and for completing the shortest club ride – ever. Well, quantity has a quality all of its own, no?
In amongst the fun and frivolity there was even the opportunity to bestow the official, club recognised and actual trophy-laden award of Most Improved Rider, thoroughly deserved by the winner, Buster.
There was also a quick salute to the tireless efforts of the behind-the-scenes team, all the Grips, Gaffers and Best Boy’s, whose too often thankless and sterling efforts underlie our seemingly effortless productions:
Crazy Legs for organising the club 10 mile time-trial and the Club Dinner, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Big Dunc for timing and starting duties at said time-trial and the Hill Climb, plus all the marshals at all the events, Rick Rex for organising the club 25-mile time-trial, the Red Max for the midweek Circus Maximus (Natural Selection) ride and the Circuit Maximus (Chain-gang), our volunteer weekly ride leaders: Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Spoons, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Aether, Jimmy Mac, the Hammer and the Red Max and last, but not least, our monthly social nights organisers G-Dawg and Crazy Legs.
Not forgetting of course, the elephant in the room, or in this instance not in the room, the absentee OGL, for all the bits in-between, as well as bringing that extra ray of sunshine into our lives and being so compliant and accommodating of those who think the club could perhaps be run a teeny bit better.
All this just supports the obvious conclusion that a club is the sum of its disparate, different parts and only ever as good as the people it represents.
So onward we go. Next up is the traditional Christmas Jumper, Bling Yer Bike and Fancy Dress ride. Then it’s downhill-with-a-following-wind, all the way to the end of December and a brand-spanking new year.
Club Run & Hill Climb, Saturday 13th October, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 105 km / 65 miles with 536 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 28 minutes
Average Speed: 23.4 km/h
Group size: 8 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Delugional New word alert!
Friday through to Saturday and Storm Callum was having its wicked way with the British Isles, causing mass disruption, extensive flooding and even loss of life. For the North East of England it meant rain and lots of it, incessant, unrelenting, unremitting and seemingly immovable.
Oddly though, the temperatures remained relatively mild, which gave life to this rather alarming forecast from the BBC, suggesting not only persistent, heavy rain across the entire day, but also the real risk of thunderstorms…
The forecast appeared just minutes before I set out to begin my journey across to the meeting point for the club run … and not just any old club run, either, but our annual festival of self-flagellation, the Hill Climb.
This is traditionally a last hurrah for carbon summer bikes, before bad weather, rain, wind, ice, mud, frost and salted roads force a swap to something heavier, more sturdy, more easily replaceable and (unless you’re a complete madman and misanthrope) preferably with mudguards.
The horrendous weather then was at direct odds with the aim of selecting the lightest bike possible to hurl uphill in a very unequal battle with gravity. As I opened the backdoor and looked at the rain teeming down, up popped a Messenger feed from Jimmy Mac: “I have never been as confused over which bike to take out….”
I had no such worries, having decided a few weeks ago I wouldn’t do the hill climb this year, feeling a distinct lack of anything approaching “form” that had me toiling on even the most innocuous rides. I’d spent last Sunday engaged in a changing of the guard, putting away Reg and the single-speed and breaking the winter bike out of storage and prepping it for just this kind of day. 13.5 kilos of slab-sided, cold aluminium and steel, the Pug (Peugeot) shrugs at the rain and positively hates good weather.
It was gloomy enough for me to switch on some lights before hissing down the hill and starting to pick my way across to the meeting point. Having swapped bikes around, I’d only remembered at the last moment my pump was still in the tool tub in the Holdsworth’s bottle-cage and I’d grabbed a spare as I ran out the door.
Now approaching the river and 3 or 4 mile into my ride, I realised I’d also forgotten any tyre levers. I weighed up the option of turning around, but I wouldn’t have time to do that and still get to the meeting point on time. I decided to risk it, working through everything I was carrying and determining that, in extremis, I could probably use my house keys as impromptu tyre levers in the event of a puncture.
Luckily this theory was never actually put to the test.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
What a sad, sorry and small, wet and bedraggled group I found, huddling out of the downpour in the bowels of the multi-storey car park and chatting with OGL, who was about to drive up to the start of the hill climb to get things set up.
A (less than) magnificent 7 included our official start team of Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, those of us too cowardly, or too sensible to ride the hill and just three actual competitors, the Garrulous Kid, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac.
We determined that with so few contestants, we could just call the results now and didn’t need to actually venture out into the rain. We even had a contestant in each category, so not only would everyone “podium” for the overall, but they’d also be a guaranteed category winner. Final placings could be determined with a quick game of rock-paper-scissors, and then we could all ride to a warm, dry café and be done with the whole, horrible exercise until next year. Perfect.
Then Buster rolled up, intent on competing too … and he ruined it for everyone.
News had filtered back that triathlon-virgin, Princess Fiona, had successfully completed the Barcelona IronmanIronwoman Ironprincess event, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride and then a full 26 mile marathon. A fantastic achievement, although not wholly unexpected and all done in a highly respectable time of just over 12 hours. It’s good that she’ll have a target time to beat next time!
We hung around as long as possible, before submitting to the inevitable and making a move to head out into the all-enveloping deluge.
“Don’t worry, it’s eased to just a downpour now,” OGL reassured us cheerily, before climbing into the warm, dry cab of his car and driving off.
Ugh. Oh well, here we go then …
It was bad out on the roads, even protected by a rain jacket, on top of a windproof jacket, over a long-sleeved baselayer and arm warmers, complete with leg warmers and winter boots, gloves and full length mudguards front and rear.
Our would-be competitors, to a man shivered in shorts and were soaked by rain and road spray in equal measure, the only consolation they had was that at least it wasn’t all that cold, otherwise it would have been a truly miserable ride out.
Wracked by indecision, Jimmy Mac had finally resorted to a round of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, before choosing not to ride his all-singing, all-dancing, all-carbon, uber-stealth machine, but an older, slightly less-posh Specialized, complete with clip-on mudguards.
Riding behind him, it didn’t take me long to realise that while the mudguards were doing an admirable job of keeping his posterior dry, they were somehow focussing a concentrated and fierce jet of dirty water directly into my face.
While this was going on, confusingly and inexplicably, the Garrulous Kid’s mudguard-less bike was somehow producing no cast-off spray whatsoever. Odd.
Meanwhile, Buster seemed in two minds about actually riding the event, especially after I told him I would be sitting this one out, so he didn’t have the safety net of at least one person he could comfortably beat. (He did finally do it and managed a cracking time to boot.)
I swapped bike preparation tales with Taffy Steve, vehement hill-climb denier and unapologetically sat astride his ponderous, thrice-cursed winter bike, as good as an excuse as any for not even looking at Prospect Hill, let alone trying to race up it.
Despite carefully cleaning and stowing the winter bike last spring, he reported one of the brake calipers had refused to release and needed emergency remedial work. For my own part, the rear mech on the Peugeot had seized and had needed some coaxing back to life.
We finally arrived at the hill climb course to find our numbers bolstered by a whole host of kids from our Go-Ride section, bright, cheerful and chatty and seemingly looking forward to their ordeal.
In all 23 brave, brave souls would hurl themselves up the hill, including the four condemned we’d escorted to their fate, Ion, who’d ridden up on his own and Kermit, who’d sensibly travelled there by car.
The competitors signed on and I helped Buster pin his number onto his back. There was no escape now. He then realised he couldn’t get his chain onto the big sprocket and enlisted OGL’s help, at the expense of having his wheel bearings roundly and roughly condemned. It’s the price you have to pay.
Ion was wearing strange, waterproof, baggy, knee-length shorts that he insisted were the next big thing. Hmm, I’m not so sure. He wondered aloud if there were any “gamers” present who might steal his title.
I thought he was asking for tips, and gave him my sage advice – “don’t bother”- before suggesting the only gamer was him, having signed up to another club to support his racing ambitions. He now has dual-club membership, much to the (very obvious) and (completely irrational) disgust of OGL.
With final preparations underway and the first rider already off and tackling the climb, I started to ride up the hill to seek out a good vantage point. I found myself following the second rider off, one of the young, Go-Ride girls, and I saw first-hand that this hill was a real and imposing test for some of the youngsters, as she struggled mightily just to keep the pedals turning over on the first and steepest ramps.
About a third of the way up, I stopped at a junction and joined an Irish Dad waiting to support his son’s ride, thinking I could do a bit of traffic control as well as cheer on the riders winching themselves up the slope.
It was great watching some of the young kids tackling the climb, all different shapes, ages, sizes and abilities, some on mountain bikes, some with a parental outrider as escort, some struggling mightily, but refusing to give in and others zipping up, apparently without a care in the world.
One or two were so unaffected by their efforts they had the breath to thank me for cheering them on!
Ion went storming up, followed by his only serious contender, junior European triathlon championship winner, Dan-Di who I felt looked more ragged and not as fast. So it was to prove, with Ion pipping Dan-Di to the win, but by only a handful of seconds, proving that appearances can be deceptive.
Irish Dad cheered his son through and set off walking to the top of the hill to meet him at the finish, while I took up the role of impromptu event photographer, achieving several impressive and impromptu close-ups of my own thumb.
As I watched one of the tiny girls struggle slowly upwards, weaving from side to side and with her dad as an outrider, a car approached from behind me, aiming to head down the hill, straight into the riders hauling their way up.
I waved the car to a stop and was relieved when they seemed patient, good-natured and happy to wait, hanging well back from the junction. The girl and dad passed, but Jimmy Mac was in sight and chasing hard after her. I held the car a few more moments to let him past, then waved it on with a big thumbs up. A patient, considerate and amicable driver? What’s the world coming to?
We were into a straight run of seniors now, the Colossus guffawing as I gave him my best Zardoz impersonation, complete with inspirational lying: “You’re catching them!” and “Come on, only one more corner!”
Next up was Buster, complaining loudly that his legs were already shot and his entire ride was a disaster. (They weren’t. It wasn’t).
Kermit whipped through, game-face on and concentrating hard and then it was our last man, the Garrulous Kid, who went past grinning beatifically, as if he was actually enjoying the moment and had entered a transcendent state of grace!
As the last rider disappeared around the bend, I picked my way to the bottom of the hill to find our starting team, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs, chilled through and visibly shivering. Taffy Steve took Crazy Legs off to find a café and pour hot drinks into him, while I waited for the others to coalesce, so we could hand back various bits of “deadweight” they’d jettisoned into our care.
Buster arrived looking like he’d aged 10 years in 10 minutes, perhaps a lesser version of what Crazy Legs sees in my face after the hill climb, when he’s wont to compare me to a wasted, grey-faced, shambling zombie, or John Major – whichever of them you find the most disturbing. (It’s close, but for me John Major just about shades it.)
We then followed G-Dawg to the chosen café – this year thankfully without the extended guided (de)tour around the entire outer suburbs of Corbridge.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A new café means a new choice of cakes and my eye was immediately drawn to a massive slab of Lemon Meringue pie – which turned out to be so big that Crazy Legs felt the need to take a photo of it, giving me flashbacks to almost every family meal out, where my daughters seem compelled to photograph each and every dish that’s put in front of them and woe betide anyone who takes a mouthful before the perfect picture has been composed. I’m simply too old to understand any of this malarkey and, you know what … I don’t care.
The lemon meringue pie was good, but I realised, when I was about halfway through, it was much, much too big for a single person to manage. I finished it anyway and I somehow tucked the last morsel away without initiating a Mr. Creosote moment – sheesh, and those fellers thought the hill climb was hard!
(I chuckled, but was largely unsurprised to later find that the Strava segment leading up to the café was titled Lemon Meringue Pie, Please, in tribute to this monstrosity.)
Talk turned to the clubs Annual Christmas Dinner and awards ceremony, with Crazy Legs happy to point out that since Ion won both our time-trial and hill climb events, OGL would have to acknowledge the “turncoats” achievements through ferociously clenched teeth. I proposed we added to OGL’s chagrin by going for the full sweep of awards and nominating Ion for the most improved rider award too.
Crazy Legs then related a train journey he’d recently made where he’d been royally entertained by a random encounter with a really, really weird fellow traveller. (Trust me, if a regular member of a cycling club describes someone else as really weird, then that person’s weirdness must be truly off the charts.)
Apparently, this particular fellow traveller didn’t get off to a good start when she declared she was a whale aficionado, but challenged to name her favourite, could only come up with an Orca. This, clever fellow that he is, Crazy Legs knew wasn’t actually a whale at all, just a very big, very angry dolphin on steroids.
She then revealed her pièce de résistance though, an odd affection and perverse interest in container ships, which she’d travel far and wide to look at. And just container ships mind you, not all ships, nor merchant ships in general. Not tankers, nor freighters, or ferries, not reefers, or ro-ro’s … just container ships. Apparently, it had something to do with how the containers all align when fully loaded.
Isn’t the world a many splendoured thing?
We left the café to find the rain was actually starting to ease and off we went. “Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac started the mantra a few miles in, soaked through and looking forward to finally finishing the ride and getting in a hot shower.
“Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac repeated yet again and he was partially rewarded when G-Dawg finally acknowledged, “Just one more hill to go.” Well, for some anyway. Everyone slowed to take a sharp left, but my path led straight on and as the road dropped away downhill before starting to climb again, I waved everyone else off and kicked on.
The rain had stopped and the hedgerows seemed alive with chattering birds celebrating, or maybe just idly commentating on the astonishing amounts of rain that had fallen in the past 6 hours.
The rain had stopped, but a troubling wind had sprung up in its place and I watched as a crow hung in the air, beating its wings slowly and ponderously, going precisely nowhere, before giving up, dipping a wing and sliding away to one side.
Oh well, it wasn’t like I was in a rush to avoid any bad weather …
YTD Totals: 5,956 km / 3,701 miles with 71,525 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 115 km / 71 miles with 1,091 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 24 minute
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 23 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Coolly pleasant
This week seemed to be a carbon copy of last week, with one major difference. No wind!
This meant what worked last week, should work this week too, so jersey, tights, arm warmers and a lightweight rain jacket for an extra layer of protection, just until I got across to the meeting point and the morning air lost its chill edge.
I was passed by several cars, elongated with long thin hulls strapped to their roofs, as I made my way down the valley and the rowing club was busy with vehicles parking up and rowers clambering out and about, obviously gearing up for some event or other.
It turned out to be the Tyne Long Distance Sculls, whatever that involves. I guessed they wouldn’t be starting in the near future though as, when I rolled over the bridge, I saw the tide was most assuredly out and the river reduced to just a thin ribbon of dark water between two shiny, featureless mud flats.
I was so busy avoiding aimlessly meandering rowers from the Tees Rowing club that I almost missed the fact that the cable, that had been dragged across the road at the end of the bridge, had been removed, along with its temporary barrow of tarmac. It was all smooth sailing from there on – well, for me anyway.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
I arrived at the meeting place to find Jimmy Mac admiring the Garrulous Kid’s vintage Castelli jersey, a hand-me-down from a benevolent uncle, which Jimmy Mac commended as very retro.
“Yeah,” the Garrulous Kid explained, “It’s good for this weather, as it’s not fick and it’s not fin.”
Despite the need for a not fick and not fin jersey, the Garrulous Kid was still wearing shorts, along with G-Dawg who is flat-out refusing to accept that summer is actually over. At the other extreme and true to his word, the Rainman had already broken out his winter bike, a week before the traditional last hurrah for carbon, our Hill Climb event.
“Sheee-orts!” an arriving OGL exclaimed loudly, in a pitch I had previously thought only attainable by pre-pubescent castrati, caught sucking down a lungful of helium.
Taffy Steve was visibly taken aback by this shocking squeal of outrage, “Remarkable! I didn’t know you could emit that sort of noise, I only ever associated you with gruff bellowing, ranting and swearing…”
The Garrulous Kid contended he was perfectly comfortable in his shorts, even when Taffy Steve declared his legs had the appearance of corned beef. We then had to spend a good few minutes explaining that corned beef and spam were not the same thing and came from completely different animals.
(For those interested in a, “I never knew that” sort of way, the corn in corn beef refers to the salt pellets traditionally used to cure the meat and not niblets of the Green Giant variety. I never knew that!)
The Garrulous Kid then rolled up his shorts legs to, shockingly, reveal his tan-line, or I should say the very, very subtle, almost indiscernible shading between unhealthy and just plain pallid. He was right in a way though, if his lower extremities resembled corned beef, the tops did look a lot like spam.
Needing a distraction, any kind of distraction, Taffy Steve quickly diverted the Garrulous Kid by asking him why 6 was so afraid of 7.
“Huh?” the Garrulous Kid replied brightly.
“I don’t know Steve,” I asked, “Why is 6 so afraid of 7.”
“Because 7-8-9!” Taffy Steve chuckled at his obvious winner in the Dad-Joke-of-the-Week competition.
“Huh?” the Garrulous Kid replied brightly.
“Seven … ate … nine … uh, furgeddaboudit.”
The Hammer took centre stage to outline the intended route for the day, which would take us, down into the Tyne Valley and then out again. He concluded with a set of admonitions that, at first, had everyone nodding along in agreement:
“No profanity, no smoking, no expectoration. Always be polite to fellow road users, doff your cap to lady pedestrians, signal your intent with clarity and celerity … and no half-wheeling.”
“What?” the Red Max exploded, “Nah, I’m not having that!” The last statement was a bridge too far, the straw that broke the camel’s back and an inimical impediment to the Red Max’s whole raison d’etre.
With numbers borderline for split groups, we left en masse, once more picking our way safely along the Broadway “war zone” and out into the countryside.
OGL had a bit of a rant about people who only showed up once in a blue moon and dictated our route, but I just let it wash over me. He was luckily distracted by the high pace being set up front, so at least had something else to complain about. Then, as we approached the airport, his phone started ringing loudly and incessantly from his back pocket.
He ignored it.
A bit further on and it started ringing again, he decided he had to answer and dived into the layby on the roundabout, just outside the airport entrance. I caught the others up, told them what was happening and we pulled into a bus stop to wait.
The last of our riders pulled up, someone said OGL wasn’t going to follow and that we should just push on. So we did.
Along the way it was suggested that, like the classic preparation for a blind date, we should all have a pre-arranged call set-up, one that we can answer if the pace of the group is too high and we need an excuse to abandon mid-ride.
At some point I found myself just behind Crazy Legs, already planning a shorter route and, naturally, inspired to sing about it. He settled on a fine version of Fleetwood Mac’s, “Go Your Own Way” and I was able to contribute in small part, with backing vocals for the chorus.
We swung left toward the river and called a pee stop, while Crazy Legs and the Red Max took their splinter group away for a shorter ride, much to the disgust of the Monkey Butler Boy who hadn’t been invited along and now had to face the longer ride with us.
There was only time for the Garrulous Kid to half-inhale a Snickers bar and then we were off again.
For some unknown reason, I indulged in a bit of joyful scat singing with Biden Fecht as we rolled along, “Be-ba-ba-boop-bap-baddaber-ap!”
“What? That sounds like Saudi. Why are you singing in Saudi?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know, much to the amusement of Plumose Pappus, who declared he’d never seen me at a loss for words until that moment.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy confessed that he’d spent some time carefully aligning his bar end plugs, following my stinging criticism last week. I had to admit his bike looked much, much better for it.
We enjoyed a swooping drop into the Tyne Valley, on a new, smooth road surface that seemed to have been stripped of its old rumble strips, and I hit the front (and a bit of a pesky headwind) along with Biden Fecht, as we followed the river and then started to climb toward Corbridge.
It was a day of scattered road kill and we passed deer, squirrel, rabbit and hedgehog corpses all splayed on the tarmac, or flung carelessly down the side of the road. Apart from obviously being dead, the squirrel in particular looked in rude health, remarkably fat and glossy. I surmised it had probably died of some obesity related disease, but according to Biden Fecht I needn’t have worried too much as “it was one of those ferrin’ grey ones.”
As if keeping to a theme, our stint on the front finally brought us to a road junction marked by some tawny, speckled and formless, feathering pile of a dead bird. Glory be to dappled things, indeed.
We turned left onto the main road and then first right, up toward Aydon, where the bridge took us safely up, up – and over the teeming, car-clogged, A69.
As the road continued to climb, I dropped toward the back of the group, taking it relatively easy and testing how the legs were after my struggles last week.
We regrouped over the top and pressed on toward Matfen. A group eased off the front and I found myself in a small knot of riders following on, with others scattered behind. The Colossus surveyed our little group and declared we’d gone from a dozen and a half riders to just four in little over a mile.
Toledo Tomás, our Swedish-educated-Spanish-newcomer, riding with us while studying for a masters at Newcastle University, joined on to the back of the group. At one point he attempted to bridge across to the front group, he’s fit and fast enough to do it, but he missed a turn and had to backtrack to re-join us. The misdirection seemed to temporarily subdue him and he hung off the back and seemed content just to follow the wheels after this.
We piled up the Quarry climb, swung right and accelerated up and through Wallridge crossroads and then down. I took it up for the last drag up to the final junction, then pulled over to let the Colossus, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid contest the sprint. I expected Toledo to join in, but he hesitated, so I pushed past and followed the others.
Tomás unleashed a devastating sprint, much, much too late, but he latched onto the others, while I managed to re-join only once we had crossed the main road and ducked down the lane for the last 500 metres or so to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
With a large group in front, plus our shorter route followers, along with the Back Street Boys (or Back Door Bikers, as the Red Max has gleefully taken to calling them), already ensconced inside, the café was packed to heaving, leaving little choice but to retire to the garden, where we found it was surprisingly mild and comfortable.
As I wandered out, I bumped into OGL and Another Engine who’d just arrived.
“What happened to you?” I wondered.
“I had to take a call,” OGL.
“No they didn’t!” Another Engine snorted.
“Well, we did a bit…”
“They went a different way.” OGL insisted.
“No they didn’t!” Another Engine snorted.
Wondering if I’d inadvertently wandered into a panto rehearsal, I left them arguing between themselves and went to find a table, not that it was difficult, the garden being otherwise empty.
Talk of the TV series “The Bodyguard” somehow turned to Theresa May and her party conference “dancing” which I admitted had severely scarred my soul. G-Dawg had quickly realised it was something you sadly couldn’t un-see, which was the single reason he hadn’t plucked his own eyeballs out in response.
(I particularly liked Josh Widdicombe’s take, that she danced like someone trying to move a fridge, with a nod of respect to Stewart Lee’s “like a mantis with an inner ear infection.”)
We decided that, not only was it mild and pleasant out in the garden, but there was an appealing absence of wasps too.
Another Engine declared that wasps got a bad press and then somewhat ruined it by admitting he’d never been stung by one. This was despite once sitting on a wasps nest in Scarborough’s Peasholm Park to watch the miniature naval battle re-enacted on the lake.
To be fair, he said he didn’t realise he was sitting on a wasps nest at the time, although he did wonder why he got such a great spot, with a grandstand view and nobody pressed in beside him.
G-Dawg, a man known to frequently crush wasps with his bare thumbs, carried grim tales of a bus being stopped and evacuated mid-route after half the passengers had panicked when a wasp flew in the window.
Never mind crushing them, Another Engine determined, in polite company you were meant to gently waft them away.
“Ah, like an errant fart?” I suggested, which led to the unfortunate revelation that both Another Engine and the Garrulous Kid suffer from sustained and impromptu flatulence following a long bike ride.
“I’ll bet that’s an excuse that’s worn thin by a Thursday evening,” G-Dawg mused.
OGL complained he’d found some bearings in a MTB bottom bracket that were so esoteric he’d had to ring the manufacturer, Giant for guidance.
Childishly, I couldn’t help but imagine how that particular phone-call might have sounded, intoning: “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Giant headquarters, how can we help you human?”
With just one week to go until the club hill climb, Another Engine fondly recalled his last experience competing.
“Do you remember the time we were waiting to start and those two women on touring bikes with panneers rode by en route to who knows where and asked if they could join in?” he asked.
“Panneers? Are they posh panniers?” OGL demanded.
Panneers, panniers, whatever,” Another Engine continued. “The point is, these two women rode the event, without preparation and on touring bikes loaded down with full panniers.”
“That was the year I was second last,” he concluded, glumly.
There was just time to deride the increasing proliferation of “official” world boxing champions titles, determine Tyson Fury had perhaps the perfect name for a boxer and discuss how after shedding over 122 pounds in weight, from fick to fin, he’s still burdened with the skin of a 385 pound man … and it’s not a good look.
Then we were off and away. Luckily the Backstreet Boys has left earlier, so there was no intermingling of clubs and testosterone levels were capped off well below the danger level. The ride back was fast-paced, but controlled and I swung away at the end of the Mad Mile feeling in good fettle and looking forward to a ride back without having to constantly battle with a headwind.
Perfect timing saw the traffic parting like the Red Sea and I skipped straight over the roundabout on the approach to the Heinous Hill without even having to slow. For once the capricious gods of cycling had aligned everything in my favour, the lights at the bottom of the climb burned green and I was able to carry a bit of speed up the first ramps, before picking my way upwards and home again.
YTD Totals: 5,805 km / 3,607 miles with 71,525 metres of upness
Total Distance: 110 km / 69 miles with 1,139 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 11 minute
Average Speed: 26.4 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Passable
I passed a small cluster of cyclists who were meeting up at the traffic lights leading down to the river, less than three miles or so into my journey. It did make me ponder why I was riding a further 7-8 miles to meet up with the usual gang of reprobates, when there were obviously perfectly pleasant, companionable cyclists and clubs much closer to home.
Still at least there are possibilities if we ever attempt a palace coup that fails…
Once again I found myself arriving at the meeting point early, despite leaving at more or less the same time and following the same route. I seem to be getting faster, but it’s probably not worth making adjustments, the switch to the winter bike will soon fettle that.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
Forget about the melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and spiralling average temperatures. Forget about the increasing incidence of extreme and violent weather, rising sea levels and the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. If you want incontrovertible proof that global warming is an actual, real phenomenon, then that evidence was proudly on display this Saturday morning – we’re well into September and yet the first cyclist to join me at our meeting place was Szell, someone who we’d expect to be deep into his hibernation cycle at this time of the year.
And yet, here he was, blinking in the milky autumn light and questioning whether he had made the right clothing choices to cope with the variable temperatures.
I told him that this conundrum was all too common and no one had the right answer – even the most hardened, experienced, all-weather, all-year round, veteran cyclists wasted long minutes every day pondering what clothing layers and accessories to wear and deciding what could be easily pulled on and taken off at a moment’s notice. And, I assured him, they still, invariably got it wrong.
The Garrulous Kid was back and announced he’d had a great holiday in Florida.
“Florida is horrider, than Whitley Bay,” Szell intoned.
“There’s no McEwan’s Best Scotch in the USA,” I followed up with the next line in a creaky TV ad campaign from the distant, hazy annals of our youth.
Florida? Nice Place, Shame about the Beer.
We had a laugh at the conceit behind labelling McEwan’s Best Scotch, a mass-produced, fizzy, bland and utterly un-noteworthy, generic beer as the “one you had to come back for.”
Szell seemed to remember a whole series of these ads, but the only other one that I could recall was the Russian one:
“Red Square’s dead square, we know that for a fact,
No McEwans’s Best Scotch in the Warsaw Pact
They’ve just got propaganda, not proper Geordie brew,
They asked about Marx? Well …one out of ten for you.”
I had to admit, I much preferred the much simpler, smarter Newcastle Brown Ale posters in (probably) indecipherable Geordie, the only one of which I still recall said simply:
G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, including a raid down into the Tyne Valley and, with another good turnout of 28 riders, we split into two groups that, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be more or less equal.
Well … ish.
I rolled onto the front of the first group alongside Caracol and we pushed out, safely traversed the deadly and treacherous Broadway West and then we were away.
I spent the first few miles chatting about the Vuelta and, in particular, Simon Yates distinct lack of media training and polish. This, I felt was a refreshing change from the corporate blandness of Sky, even if it did leave to some rather terse and uncomfortable interviews.
Caracol was fully sympathetic and wondered how any normal person would cope with being asked the same inane questions, over and over, in French, English and Spanish and maybe half a dozen other languages beside.
Interviewer: “What went wrong at the Giro.”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know what went wrong at the Giro.”
Interviewer: “Will what happened at the Giro happen here to?”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know if what happened at the Giro will happen here to.”
G-Dawg’s route included a new wrinkle that took us up Birney Hill, a narrow country lane, seemingly frequented by only the most considerate and polite of drivers. As the third of these in quick succession pulled over to the side and stopped to let us through, the Red Max somewhat ruined my impression of the denizens of the area by nodding at all the parked-up cars and muttering cynically, “It’s a bit early for dogging, isn’t it?”
Back onto more familiar roads, we had a third incident with a biker in as many weeks. Does this mark a new departure in the conflict between motorist and cyclist? Have all bikers now been seduced by the dark side and the four-wheeled forces of oppression? Or, is it perhaps the same biker who has a very particular grudge against this club and has been stalking us for the past 3 weeks, just so he can vent?
This particular biker slowed, mid-overtake, to ride alongside Crazy Legs and loudly declare, “Mare allah bunda munts!”
“Pardon me?” Crazy Legs, enquired politely.
“Mare allah bunda munts!” the biker repeated, but just as unintelligibly as the first time.
“What?” Crazy Legs shook his head, acting perplexed.
“Mare. Allah. Bunda. Munts!” the biker shouted, trying to enunciate each word carefully through the constricting confines of his helmet.
“Eh?” Crazy Legs responded, smiling at the biker in a manner he hoped would encourage further elucidation.
By now it was obvious that the biker wasn’t trying to convey a friendly greeting, but this comedic interchange had robbed his intended invective of any sting.
Even better, having paused mid-overtake to berate us for holding up the traffic, he was now getting serious grief from the cars behind that couldn’t get past him. Perhaps it finally dawned on him just how foolish he looked, and our new biker friend gave up and roared off. Maybe he’s planning to give it another go next week?
I found myself riding alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d finally determined the osymetric chain-ring he’d invested all his hard earned currency in was, to quote the Red Max’s expert opinion, “utter crap.”
He’d since bitten the bullet and reverted back to more traditional style chain ring, but was bemoaning the fact that he’d having also switched from a 36 to a 39, the ratios were all wrong and he was struggling to get used to the change. It was also a ready-made excuse if he started to struggle on the hills. (Just saying).
Down into the Tyne valley we went, skirting the river for a while and rolling straight through our usual re-grouping point at Bywell Bridge, determining in conversation with the Red Max that our pace probably meant the second group were well adrift and it would be an overly prolonged wait.
So, we kept going and almost immediately started the scrabble to climb back out the valley. We were soon splintered and strung up and own down the road, but stopped to regroup after threading our way across the 4-thundering lanes of A69 traffic. This was safely achieved with a lot of patience, a couple of sharp kamikaze dashes and the use of a handily placed median strip, where we could temporarily kneel in prayer and claim sanctuary.
Once across the dual carriageway, there was yet more climbing to be done before the road would level and lead us on toward Matfen. On the climb the Garrulous Kid became detached, allegedly distracted while trying to inhale a Snickers bar whole. Then the Monkey Butler Boy lost contact, still trying to come to grips with his new and completely alien gear-ratios.
The other stragglers may have had their excuses too, but if they did they were more stoical and refused to acknowledge them.
We regrouped once again and then pushed on toward Matfen and from there to the Quarry. The pace started to pick up and a handful went off the front as we made the turn for the climb.
I rounded the corner and dropped back to make sure we collected any stragglers before pushing on. As I rolled back up to speed I encountered a happy, freewheeling Crazy Legs engaged in a bit of Rick Rolling, booling along and merrily engaged in an energetic rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up…
The front runners had long disappeared when our group made it to the top of the Quarry, to the accompaniment of Mr. Astley’s finest only moment. Here we swung right and started our final run to the café.
As the road straightened, the Monkey Butler Boy was the first to attack surging off the front and opening a short-lived lead, before the inevitable response reeled him in.
Richard of Flanders and the Red Max tried next, each attacking in turn, but on the long drag up toward the crossroads their speed and advantage quickly bled away. Caracol caught and drove past them, I dropped onto his wheel and as we darted through the crossroads, he looked back and saw we’d opened up a sizeable gap.
“Looks like it’s just me and you,” he declared … and so it was, as we hammered down through the curves, swept through the junction and ground our way up the last few ramps.
As we swung onto the road down toward the Snake Bends, Caracol was questioning the wisdom of the Monkey Butler Boy’s premature attack that had lit the blue touch-paper and set everything off.
He was, I suggested, simply a hostage to genetic imperative and couldn’t help uphold the family traditions of attacking early and quite forlornly.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, the Red Max played us all expertly, suggesting it was still warm enough to sit outside and then, after we had all dutifully trooped out to the garden, taking his pick of chairs inside.
Despite the deception he wasn’t wrong, it was perfectly pleasant outside and the bothersome wasps were fewer in number and not quite as aggressive as they had been last week.
We settled down for a “3-mugger” and a classic spot of blather and bullshit …
It started when the Garrulous Kid wandered past, digging in his back pockets and dislodging an empty Snickers wrapper that spiralled slowly down to the ground.
“I do like a Snickers,” Zardoz commented, “It’s been shown to have the perfect, irresistible ratio between sugar and fat content”
“Ah, a sort of golden ratio. I thought that was the ring donut?” I countered, obviously having heard somewhere that the perfect ratio between sugar and fat was to be found in ring donuts.
“Those as well.” Zardoz affirmed, “But for your 70p, a Snickers bar will give you the highest calorific content and the perfect ratio. It’s the peanuts.”
“What? Wait, 70p! I remember when they used to be only 20p. And a lot bigger too.”
“Yeah, yeah and they used to be called a Marathon.” Zardoz was only slightly sympathetic.
“Exactly, it was named after the most recent tussle between them Persians and Greeks.”
“It’s all ancient history now, old boy.” Zardoz observed dryly.
We were joined by G-Dawg, the Colossus and Taffy Steve, having just led the second group in, and talk turned to various cycling commentators. We wondered how Sean Kelly and his indecipherable accent had ever been seen as a prime candidate to be the expert voice of Eurosport.
Although thankfully he’s grown into this role, Richard of Flanders still recalled a memorable, early radio interview with Kelly when he had to be constantly reminded that listeners couldn’t actually see him nodding away or shaking his head, no matter how vigorously he did this.
From there it was just a hop, step and jump (luckily bypassing the even more puzzling choice of Jonathan Edwards as a cycling presenter) en route to talk about how the rather odious sounding Brian Clough had publicly humiliated Peter Shilton on national TV for a standard, run-of-the-mill, goal-keeping blunder.
Speaking of inappropriate job choices, Richard of Flanders recalled Peter Shilton had then moved into management with Plymouth Argyle, or some other remote (well, to us, anyway) team, where he didn’t seem to have a clue and constantly demanded his players do push-ups as punishment for minor infractions.
This, I suggested was exactly the kind of thing our club was missing and I moved that push-ups for any kind of infraction be immediately added to the club rule book.
Ah, the club rule book. Did such a mythical creation even exist?
We imagined it as a massive tome, bound in ancient, flayed skin of indeterminate origin, covered in arcane motifs and sigils and sealed with a massive, black iron hasp and padlock.
If allowed access to its hallowed content, the yellowed parchment pages would crackle dryly as you opened it up, each section headed with massive illuminated letters and consisting solely of a series of dire instructions: “Though shalt” and “Though shalt not’s.”
G-Dawg felt the tome would be hidden within a secret chamber, the fuhrer bunker, buried deep beneath OGL’s house.
“Guarded by traps, trip-wires and a giant boulder,” Taffy Steve imagined.
“Poison darts and snakes,” I added.
“And even if you find it, you’ll still have to fight the ghost of Pat Roach for it, somewhere along the line,” Taffy Steve concluded, while Richard of Flanders looked on in bewildered incomprehension.
Talk of old football legends, brought up talk of old football stadiums, with Richard of Flanders, on safer ground now, wondering if anyone could recall going to the toilets at old Ayresome Park.
As I remember the stadium itself was like one big toilet, so my imagination failed when it came to picturing what the actual toilets within it could be like.
“Just a long, blank wall with a gutter at the bottom,” according to Richard of Flanders.
“And no drains,” G-Dawg stated.
“Apparently, you’ve never experienced Liverpool until you’ve felt the Kop warm leg welcome.” Sneaky Pete relayed and then there were numerous stories about football spectating in the good old days, terraces awash with urine, pitches showing more mud than grass and leather case balls that would dislocate your neck if you tried to head them when they got sodden and heavy.
Oh, and the ever present threat of violence.
Back talking about a slightly more civilized sport, everyone wanted to know why Szell was still riding, even though it was already September. We wondered if he’d even keep going right up until the Club Hill Climb and if he might perhaps participate?
Szell revealed he’d ridden it once before in the dim and distant past and had no desire to revisit that particular form of intense self-flagellation, a view much supported by Taffy Steve.
“You could always come along and push people off,” a well-meaning, Richard of Flanders suggested, but off course we took his suggestion the wrong way.
“Like, hide in the bushes half way up and leap out at unsuspecting riders?” the Colossus wondered, imagining a Takeshi’s Castle style contest, with a ninja-style, anti-cyclist who would suddenly appear and push each rider over as they strained upwards.
As if a hill climb isn’t already hard enough.
The Colossus suggested he was facing a near impossible task with the hill climb and couldn’t better his first ever time, just back from uni, when he was younger, fitter and most importantly, much lighter. Now, getting older and heavier, his chances of a new personal best time were receding, despite the vagaries and inconsistencies in OGL’s official time-keeping.
Someone countered that weight followed a typical bell-curve through age and there would be a point where you could expect to start getting lighter again.
“Great,” I suggested, “Another 17 years and I might be at my optimum for the hill climb.”
Of course at that age, all dry sinew and skeleton, there’s a good chance that you would simply snap attempting a hill climb.
We speculated about our assailant, potty-mouthed motorbiker and G-Dawg concluded he must surely know us as he had correctly identified that we were a bunda munts. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a disgruntled, ex-club member – although that would be casting the net ridiculously wide and would in no way help us narrow down the biker’s identity.
I then learned that Canyon were a German bike brand (I didn’t know, but can’t say I’d given it much thought) and could also be considered when the Garrulous Kid looks to replace his Focus and insists that only precision and world-renowned Teutonic engineering will suffice. So, from our count he can choose, Canyon, Focus, Rose, Cube or Stork. Not a bad line up.
Speaking of German bikes, we learned that the Garrulous Kid was on his winter bike because he “broke his tyres.” (The tyres were obviously not engineered in Germany.)
He seemed rather nonplussed when Taffy Steve suggested he could have just swapped over the wheels.
“They’re too heavy.”
“But they’d still be better on your Focus than on your winter bike.”
“I hate my winter bike,” the Garrulous Kid declared.
“Yes,” Taffy Steve affirmed, “That’s the point.”
Off we went and I found myself riding alongside the BFG. He’s taking his newly achieved granddad status very, very seriously and has been regularly riding out with the new grand kid perched on a seat fixed to the front of his bike.
Unfortunately, all he can see when he’s riding is the back of the kid’s head, so it’s always a shock when he gets home and sees the snot-encrusted mask that the wind and speed has dragged out and dried like cement across the kids face.
Even worse, he got home one time to find the kid had somehow eviscerated his helmet, the hollow shell sitting on the back of his head, while the disengaged padding was wrapped tightly around his face.
I suggested this was probably a defence mechanism and the kid was so terrified he had pulled the helmet lining down to cover his eyes, like a condemned man before a firing squad.
The BFG was having none of this though, insisting he knew the kid had been smiling all the way around because of the flies stuck to his teeth.
A turn on the front, through Dinnington to the turn-off, was my last major effort of the day, then the main body swung left and I dropped behind Caracol and G-Dawg to surf through the Mad Mile and away.
The rain blew in as I plugged my way across the river toward home and I stopped to pull on a jacket. The poor weather seemed to have the effect of boosting the appeal of the shopping centre and the traffic was starting to back up. I had to queue patiently on the approach to the roundabout at the bottom of the Heinous Hill, slowly getting soaked ad cold.
Finally across and through the traffic lights, I spun my way up and home to end another ride, at least on a high point, if not an actual high.
YTD Totals: 5,239 km / 3,255 miles with 64,597 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 64 miles with 932 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 09 minutes
Average Speed:24.7 km/h
Group size:25 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Cold and clear
I doubled-down on the same gear I wore last week, hoping my judgement (ok then, pure guesswork) was better this time around and I wouldn’t end up over-dressed and ultimately over-heating. It was noticeably colder and, as I swept past a factory unit with one of those helpful external LED displays, I learned it was not only 8.07am on Saturday, 4th November, but the temperature was barely touching 9°C.
A light shower worked to chill the air even further and I was beginning to regret not packing a waterproof, when it blew past as quickly as it had arrived.
Over the river and climbing out of the valley again, I found that, as hoped, the bottom part of the hill had been transformed by the addition of a new smooth and shiny surface, but now the top half had now been stripped back and ploughed into a rough stippled and studded obstacle course.
The new wheels definitely helped smooth out some of the lumps, but still the bike rattled and clunked across the corrugated surface, tapping and banging out its own distress message in frenetic Morse code. Not pleasant, but a small price to pay if next week the magic gnomes have returned to smooth it out into a plush stretch of newly-laid tarmac.
I’d gone cheapskate on the wheels, a pair of Jalco (no, I’ve never heard of them either) DRX 24’s all the way from Taiwan via Planet-X, for a massive £55. Hopefully they’ll see me through the winter, or at least do until my LBS manages to source new cartridge bearings for the 4ZA’s.
I guess the new wheels are on the heavy side and more robust than racey, but slapped on the winter bike I couldn’t say I felt any difference and probably wouldn’t if they’d been made out of pig iron. The only slight gripe I have is that they’ve got a depressingly silent freehub.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Fresh back from Spain, the Monkey Butler Boy arrived at pace, skidding and sliding to a stop just in front of me.
“Just testing my brakes,” he grinned.
“They failed,” I informed him.
He immediately reached for a multi-tool and started tinkering with bits and pieces on his bike. “That’s the problem, when you grow an inch every 2 weeks,” Jimmy Mac informed him dryly. Like most of us, he has the luxury of having his position on the bike dialled-in and set, unchanging for any number of years now.
He then wondered exactly what the Monkey Butler Boy was doing, as he started fiddling with his Garmin mount and prodded it up into a decidedly un-aero raised position.
“It’s at the wrong angle for reflections on the screen,” the Monkey Butler Boy explained.
I provided the necessary translation, “He has to be able to admire his image in it at all times.”
Speaking of bike fiddling and angles, attention was drawn to the Garrulous Kids errant saddle, which he still seemed to be having trouble with. It now had its nose prominently raised, like a bloodhound scenting the wind. It looked decidedly uncomfortable and we wondered whether he was deliberately trying to emasculate himself.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy’s newly re-wound bar tape once again failed basic inspection. I suggested he quickly hid his bike behind the new waste bin that had mysteriously sprouted from the middle of the pavement (maybe that’s what it’s actually for?) before G-Dawg saw it and it caused him to howl in misery and consternation. Taffy Steve though had the truth of it, when he declared G-Dawg would sense something wasn’t right, even if he couldn’t see what it was, like a deep disturbance in the force…
OGL appeared in the distance, impelling the early leavers for the training ride to scuttle hurriedly away like guilty schoolboys, while naturally we watched and jeered.
G-Dawg pointed at the long line of riders trailing in OGL’s wake and surmised he must have been hammering on doors and rousting out everyone on his journey in. “You WILL ride today and you WILL come now!”
This, apparently had been so successful that he’d even netted a rather befuddled looking Szell, awoken abruptly from pre-hibernation slumber and still looking surprised that he’d somehow ended up on his first ever official winter ride. He stood blinking in the low light and gasping at the chill air, like a fish out of water.
Taking pity on him, Crazy Legs tried to reassure Szell that the world hadn’t quite been turned upside down, by holding out the security blanket of a route that included his all too familiar foe and bête noire, Middleton Bank. I’m not sure it helped.
The Garrulous Kid had acquired a new pair of Castelli bibtights, but rather bizarrely insisted on wearing them with the ankle zips undone. G-Dawg wondered why he needed “leg vents” while the Monkey Butler Boy looked on in despair and declared it appeared as if he was wearing flares.
(The Garrulous Kid would later stand outside the café, teeth chattering in the cold and tell me it was because he would overheat if he closed the zips up.)
The Monkey Butler Boy and Jimmy Mac started bonding over riding the exact same frame and the fact that, along with the forks, this was the only original part left of their twinned Specialized bikes, having swapped out all the components at one time or another. The Monkey Butler Boy surmised his frame would soon be a bit of a collector’s item too, as it still bore an M.Steel’s sticker from our recently bankrupt, local bike shop.
An impressive turnout for a November ride, perhaps OGL really had employed a full-court press to “actively encourage” participation? A sizeable complement of 25 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode away together.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete who was distracted fiddling with his Garmin that didn’t want to play ball and emitted a series of electronic chirps and cheeps like R2-D2 at his most indignant.
“Is everything all right?” I enquired, “That’s more beeps than a Gordon Ramsey documentary.”
Sneaky Pete finally re-established connection with the mother-ship and was able to turn his full attention to the task I set him, trying to determine his 10 must-have tracks for Desert Island Discs. I think we managed 3 or 4 between us, before deciding it was too difficult and he went away to think about it.
The Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac took to the front and the pace slowly began to creep upwards, until we were all strung out and the group splintered apart whenever the road tilted upwards. We stopped at the top of Bell’s Hill to regroup and then once again just before Mitford, when ride leader Crazy Legs finally admitted we needed to split into two groups, but faced walking a diplomatic razors-edge as he tried desperately to avoid labelling one group “slow” and the other “fast.”
So, we finally split, with the front group: “going further and arriving earlier” leading off, while the second group: “going not quite as far and getting there a little later” followed.
I joined up with Captain Black and we tagged onto the “going further and arriving earlier group.” Somewhat off the leash now, Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac cranked the pace up even higher and it was bloody fast and bloody hard.
As we approached Dyke Neuk, Rainman ceded the front to G-Dawg and, as he drifted back, I asked him if he was done ripping my legs off, or if there was more to come.
“I’m done,” he replied, before rather ominously adding, “For now.”
I then pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and throttled back the pace even more. The sanity I imposed managed to last until we started down the dip-and-climb through Hartburn, where I eased, while a few blasted away off the front. The Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy took a left turn at the top, while the rest of us pushed on to swing out a little bit wider before approaching Middleton Bank.
(I would later find the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the café with a dazed and bewildered look on his face, that 1,000-yard stare of shock and horror, which is usually associated with prolonged exposure to the Garrulous Kid.)
G-Dawg was now having problems with his saddle, which seemed to have worked loose. He declared it was like sitting on an office chair and would alarmingly swivel to face whichever direction he was looking. Out on his fixie though, he couldn’t stop pedalling to try and fix it without calling a halt and climbing off, so just kept going.
We hit Middleton Bank at pace and Aether was jettisoned out the back and waved us away, while I was just about hanging on as the speed continued to build. The Rainman hit the front again and we were all lined out, over the rollers, down one final dip and then we started the long drag up to the café.
I stayed in the wheels until the final corner, when the Colossus split the group with a searing attack and then, I slowly drifted back. I thought at the last I was going to come back on terms with Ovis and Captain Black, but it wasn’t to be, as we drove all the way to the café.
Living up to its name, the “going further and arriving earlier” group found the café satisfyingly quiet ,with no queue to impede our immediate access to much needed and deserved coffee and cake.
The FNG declared this had been a two cake ride and no one argued with her.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
As we stood waiting to be served and trying to recover, Captain Black declared he was thinking of naming his winter-bike, “Treacle.”
“That’s a nice form of endearment,” I acknowledged, “Do you like it that much?”
“No,” he stated flatly, “It just makes me feel as if I’m riding through treacle.”
The Garrulous Kid excused his absence from last week’s ride as he’d been attending open days at Newcastle and Northumbria University.
“Did you miss me?” he wondered.
“No.” That was easy.
We then learned from this that he was planning to stay at home for the duration of his university studies, so his mum could do all his cooking and laundry and he’d still be able to ride with us.
Jimmy Mac pointed out that most universities have cycling clubs that he could join, citing Plumose Papuss, currently enjoying himself at Nottingham University where he regularly rides with the University cycling team. Apparently, however that would be no good to the Garrulous Kid … as he wouldn’t “know the roads.”
Even Jimmy Macs tales of building a snowman inside his student flat and other high jinks failed to impress on the Garrulous Kid that he would get more out of his university experiences if he cut the apron strings and moved away from home.
I suggested his mum wouldn’t like it when he wanted to get andato in gatta, or bring a girl back to his room, but realised I was straying toward the patently absurd and backtracked quickly.
I had a chat with the Rainman, our new favourite Dutchman, who actually regretted missing out on our hill climb which I think he views as a quaint, enjoyable British foible. He told me it was definitely preferable to the Dutch national tradition for running time trials directly into the vicious headwinds atop the polders, declaring he didn’t like fighting against a force you couldn’t see and at least with a hill climb you know what you’re up against.
For some reason The Garrulous Kid was intent on trying to impress me with his music play-list, which I found highly predictable, anodyne and utterly unremarkable. I tried to explain to him that as a teenager it was his sacred duty to find something his parents hated and not listen to the ultra-safe, corporate dad-rock of Coldplay or the stuff his mum sings along to in the car, the utterly charmless Rag and Bone Man, soapy-soppy Sam Smith, or that mopey, whey-faced dough-boy, Ed Sheeran.
He demanded to know what music I like and I tried a few names, Shearwater, AFI, Tom McRae, Josh Rouse, only to be met with dumb incomprehension. I tried again with a few what I felt were more mainstream names he might actually have heard of: Alvvays? Chvrches? The War on Drugs? Paramore?
“Who? What? Never heard of them. They must be ancient. They’re rubbish.”
I told him I was going to see Wolf Alice in a couple of weeks and thought they were decent.
“Who’s he? Never heard of him.”
“Them. It’s a group.”
“Whatever. They’re rubbish. Never heard of them.”
He leaned across to the next table and interrupted Taffy Steve, who was completely oblivious to our conversation at this point, engaged in polite discourse with Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs.
“Hey, Steve … have you ever heard of wolf phallus?”
I never knew coffee could travel that far when snorted violently out of a mug.
The ride felt a bit shorter than usual and we’d done it a lot quicker, so it was still early as we left the café and set off again. It meant leaving G-Dawg and the Colossus behind as it was still far too early for them to appear at home and they had to use up their allotted time away in its entirety, or it might be confiscated.
The Garrulous Kid moaned that the pace was much too slow and I encouraged him to chase after the Prof, who’d predictably roared past the entire group and was bashing along on his own off the front. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade him to give chase and by the time he decided to go on his own he complained it was too late.
He saved his excess energy for an attack up Berwick Hill, presaged by a kamikaze dart up the outside and around a blind bend, as he gave chase to a group that had ridden off the front.
I waited until the road straightened, then bridged across to the Monkey Butler Boy on the hill and then we made it up to the front group on the descent. Behind me, Taffy Steve and Captain Black worked their way across on the downhill stretch too and we soon formed a compact group, battering along at high speed once again.
I was beginning to really feel the pace as we approached the turn off and while everyone else swung away, I pushed on down the Mad Mile on my own and eased.
From there I was soon clambering up the Heinous Hill, a good half an hour before I’m usually home, a testament to how hard we’d been driving the pace.
YTD Totals: 6,523 km / 4,053 miles with 74,690 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 74 km / 46 miles with 550 metres of climbing
Group size:16+ riders and 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
The Ride …
… as it (maybe) happened and with invaluable input from Taffy Steve:
While the Gang of 4 were away, wallowing in pie at the hugely enjoyable Wooler Wheel, the typical Saturday morning club run naturally continued in our absence. And so it should – it is of course (and rightly so) – much, much bigger than one individual, or group of individuals.
The recently established, best-practice of actually pre-publishing a route beforehand, so everyone knew where we were heading, what to expect, how far and hard it would be and when and where they could join up if they were delayed, seemed to be working smoothly and the overwhelming majority appear bought into the concept.
The pre-ride planning has also ensured we are being more creative in our route plotting, trying out different things and establishing options to avoid a very stale, same-old, same-old routine that has noticeably plagued our rides in the past.
Being an equitable, egalitarian, sort of guy, I especially like rotating the ride leader, so we could share the burden around, publish routes beforehand and allow anyone to step up and have a go if they wanted to.
This Saturday’s volunteer was Taffy Steve and even though I was away, I knew the route planned and it looked like being a good one, with a descent down the Ryals and one of my favourite clambers, back up through Hallington.
Taffy Steve had even given consideration to where the group could split to allow a slightly shorter, slightly easier path to the café for those less inclined toward self-flagellation and it even seemed to have received the royal seal of approval from OGL.
What could possibly go wrong …
Shouldering the additional burden of not only being ride leader, but providing the highly essential, ultra-important, some would say indispensable role of blerg scribe (oh, ok, it’s none of those things then) Taffy Steve sent through notes from the front-lines, allowing me to piece together my own, highly romanticised and wholly fictional account of what actually took place … or, in other words, pretty much the same thing I do every week.
Still, too badly paraphrase Winston Churchill, the writer writes the history … so, this is what actually happened, taken directly from Taffy Steve’s notes …
Early signs were promising, with a route published and agreed and a shortcut for OGL. Astonishingly he even endorsed it with a favourable comment and the job seemed like a “good un.” How was Taffy Steve to know it was going to unravel faster than an obese bungee jumpers cord, as he stood outlining the intended plan for the day.
He’d just reached a point of explaining that, at the roundabout the group were heading right, up Broadway, when OGL, obviously not a George Benson fan, unexpectedly piped up with a “No. We’re not going that way.”
With the same remarkable obduracy shown by his forebears facing impossible odds at Rourke’s Drift, our plucky Welshman stood his ground, “It’s my ride this morning, we’re following the agreed route.”
OGL spat the dummy and stormed off with much fugging and rugging and rumba-rarring, suddenly finding himself riding away, alone and in (not so splendid) isolation.
The rest of the group hastily apologised to Arriva for the large dummy mark left in the side of the 508 bus to Blyth and the ride pressed on, OGL-less.
An outbound ride into the wind then followed without further incident, apart from those on the front noting that the Goose’s booming voice was so dominating you always knew exactly where he was in the group. G-Dawg suggested if Goose ever managed to even casually mention the word “stop” somewhere in his general discourse, everyone would likely interpret it as a shouted, emergency command and instinctively slam on the anchors.
At least one FNG was out with the group, a girl riding with flat pedals and she did remarkably well, holding her own all the way to the turn for the quarry. Here Sneaky Pete led a small group off toward the café, while the rest set sail for the Ryals – for the third week in a row.
This time though we were swooping down and not struggling upwards, topping out at 40 mph, even into a steady headwind. Great fun for all, but especially G-Dawg on his fixie. Who knew legs could spin that fast without spontaneously combusting?
The Garrulous Kid clamoured to turn around at the bottom and ride straight back up and started badgering and pestering all and sundry to go with him, but lips curled disdainfully and heads shook in negation – not again!
Seemingly undaunted, the Kid set out alone, up the Ryals for the third week in a row, which must be some kind of record even among the most masochistic of hair-shirted, flagellants.
There is a feeling the Garrulous Kid is turning into an OGL mini-me, complete with the incurable logorrhoea, highly embellished tales on infinite loop and an inclination to stomp off alone when the collective will diverges from his own.
Still, Taffy Steve reports his prep for the hill climb has reached a truly remarkable zenith – not that there’s any pressure on him to actually deliver …
For the rest, Hallington awaited and, after all the climbing, a pause to regroup. A remarkably ordered (for us, anyway) bit of through and off followed, everyone forming neat lines and rotating like pros on a team time trial, as the speed slowly built. Things were going smoothly until Jimmy Mac’s twitching nostrils picked up just the faintest whiff of coffee and, spurred on by the irresistible promise of cake, he shot down the outside of the line and powered away.
Rab Dee, riding in the livery of Mario Cipollini then put in a burst that Super Mario himself would have been proud of and latched onto the speeding Jimmy Mac, the pair using the tailwind to their advantage, quickly accelerating to warp speed and opening a telling gap.
Taffy Steve Captain Black, G-Dawg, Caracol and someone Taffy Steve enigmatically describes as “the Cockerney,” quickly organised the chase, but even combined, their efforts were too ragged and not enough to catch the speeding pair up front, who were able to hold the gap all the way to the café.
A brief respite from the effort of the chase was apparently spotting the Monkey Butler Boy, thrashing away in the opposite direction, all the while being royally castigated, impugned and bellowed at by a mad Italian coach driving close behind in a trail-car. Looks like he’s found the perfect father-surrogate as a coach.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of the Red Max himself who had apparently been laid low with a mystery illness. Taffy Steve reasoned this had to be the hardest man-flu ever, as we’ve all seen Max defying doctors (and Mrs. Max orders) to rise from his sick-bed and grind out the club run, reduced to a snail’s pace and all the while obviously suffering from the effects of some dire malady.
At the café, OGL apparently displayed selective amnesia and general bonhomie was the order of the day, with no apparent left-over rancour, or mention of his earlier hissy-fit. I doubt we’ve heard the last of it though.
Conversation briefly turned to the malingerers enjoying themselves up in Wooler and then to the more pressing demands of next week’s hill climb. Taffy Steve was relieved to learn that, the Red Max is already planning a fly-by that will allow anyone with a modicum of sense to avoid the actual timed ascent of Prospect Hill. Perfect he suggests “for those of us that don’t want to sound like a broken vacuum cleaner for 36 hours afterwards.”
Homeward bound, the accompanying south west wind made rolling back a real joy and another grand club run was ticked off in good order.