A Stopped Clock

A Stopped Clock

Club Run Saturday 21st April 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:117 km/73 miles with 1,077 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 28 minutes
Average Speed:26.3km/h
Group Size:31 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 23℃
Weather in a word or two:Glorious

Ride Profile

The weather was set to be perfect, bright, warm and dry, the sky without cloud and the land without wind. Still, it wasn’t quite there yet when I first set out, with the air still chilly, so I hid under arm warmers and full finger gloves, all pulled over a necessary layer of sun-cream.

I had a very pleasant and totally relaxed ride across to the meeting point and arrived in good time to join G-Dawg admiring the obscene graffiti on the wall, before it was obscured by a flash mob of milling cyclists.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

In the space of just seven days we found a startling contrast between last weeks wickedly cold start and this weeks balmy, sunny conditions. Everyone seemed to have dressed accordingly, well, other than Zip Five in tights, arm warmers over a long sleeved base-layer and overshoes and the Garrulous Kid, who was basically wearing the exact same kit he’s worn for the past 6-weeks… only this time it was appropriate to the conditions.

“You’re like a stopped clock,” Jimmy Mac informed him, “Just very occasionally you are, by default going to get it right.”

The Garrulous Kid is proving to be to football punditry what Theresa May is to international diplomacy and delicate negotiation. After his disastrous guarantee that Germany was going to sweep all before them and dominate the World Cup, his prediction that Man City were “nailed on” for a remarkable quadruple is starting too look ever so slightly suspect.

OGL rolled up, took a chemist’s prescription bag out of his back pocket and started emptying out the various contents, bottles, tubes and boxes of pills, to secrete about his person.

“What’s with the Jiffy bag?” some wag asked, while I started singing, “EPO, EPO, EPO” to the tune of “Here we go, Here we go, Here we go” – a variation
of the fiendish complex, difficult to master, classic football-chant, devised by the veritable Toshi San to serenade David Millar on his return to racing on British Roads.

OGL had the Team Sky deflection tactics down pat though, immediately switching the conversation to boxer Jarrell Miller’s failed drug-test, where he’d secured the grand slam of being popped for EPO, HGH and GW1516 (whatever that is) all at the same time. Still, Miller has wholeheartedly apologised, held his hand up and admitted he’s made a mistake … so, no harm done eh?

OGL then advised that roadworks meant traffic was backing up through Ponteland, so recommended we changed our route into the village. With that agreed, we picked a rendezvous point, split into two groups and away we went.


Things started out well, the pace was high, the sun was shining and the company amenable. I was just rolling up the outside of the group, picking up too much speed on a downhill section and too lazy to brake, when ahead of me, Spry’s bike jettisoned his tool tub. Stuffed with spare inner tubes and various Allen keys, it bounced once end-over-end and then rolled under my front wheel. I hit it and there was a resounding crack. My front wheel twitched violently and then straightened and I rolled on checking for damage.

My bike seemed fully intact and there was no puncture to deal with, but the impact had shattered the lid of Spry’s tool tub. I apologised for the damage I’d done as I passed him, back-tracking to pick up his discarded essentials.



We pressed on through Stamfordham and then up the hill to the lay-by, used for the start and finish of numerous cycling events. We pulled over here to wait for our rendezvous with the second group.

They duly arrived and we hung around for too long just chatting aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, until OGL got tetchy and, pausing only to rebuke Plumose Pappus for having a grungy, rusting rear cassette, nagged us all into action again. Various splits and routes were agreed and we finally started up again.

Heading up toward Capheaton, Mini Miss picked up a puncture and it was back to standing around, shooting the breeze and waiting. I had a chat with Captain Black about the missing BFG (presumed to be still alive, but probably living under a(nother) false name, somewhere in the UK). We reminisced about the time he’d taken his bike into Boots to find the exact colour of nail varnish to match his chipped frame and ended up with a bevvy of beauticians and shop assistants helping him out. (Rimmel’s Pinking Out Loud and Max Factor’s Broody Blood Bouquet were the recommended choices. Although grateful for all the help, I’m led to believe the BFG felt the need to push back when it was suggested his cuticles needed urgent attention and a full manicure wouldn’t go amiss.)

Repairs made and on we went, following the route of last years National Road Race and cutting across the hills, through Hallington, to the bottom of the Ryals. Once again we marvelled that people actually race at full tilt down this narrow, twisting, pot holed, gravel-strewn and over-grown farm track.

I caught up with Richard of Flanders and we both agreed it was too nice a day to ruin it with an assault on the Ryals, but that’s exactly where we were heading.

I was drifting toward the back of the group when we made the turn and hadn’t gone far, when Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, pulled up with a puncture.

Our calls went either unheard, or unheeded by those in front and they pressed on leaving six of us to help sort out the puncture and then make the run for the cafe. I joined Aether in helping Jake the Snake replace his tube, while an overheating Zip Five tried to shed some layers and Rab Dee, in a move that was pure Jacques Anquetil, drained his water bottles, declaring he didn’t want to carry any extra weight up the climb. The Ticker then admitted he was a Ryals virgin and this would be his very first introduction to their nasty, brutish ways.

Underway again and rolling toward the climb, I passed the Ticker, whistling a little too nonchalantly and I commended him on his show of bravado.

Then we hit the first ramp and started to go up. I followed Rab Dee and Benedict closely up the first ramp, but didn’t feel I was in a comfortable gear and I was spinning a bit too wildly. As the road dipped down before climbing again, they changed up and kicked on, opening up a gap while I freewheeled, trying to recover and find a comfortable gear for the second ramp.

Then the slope bit again and I gave chase, slowly closing the gap, but running out of hill before I made it all the way across. We rolled down to the turn for the Quarry, where we stopped to regroup. After several minutes, with no sign of the Ticker, I started to backtrack, hoping to pick him up.

I’d almost made it back to Ryal village when he finally appeared, having suffered what he hilariously described as a “chain wedgie” – shipping his chain and getting it jammed between chainring and bottom bracket, or cassette and free hub … or maybe both at the same time.

“That’s what you get when you’re desperately looking for the secret 12th sprocket on an 11-speed cassette,” I told him.

After the Ryals, we made short work of the Quarry and started to pick up speed for the cafe. Once again I found myself on the front for the drag up and through the crossroads. It’s becoming a very bad habit.

I stayed on the front up to the final junction, when Rab Dee took over and kicked away. Closing fast on the Snake Bends, I pushed in front of him again, he took the briefest of micro-pauses, just enough to collect his breath, before he surged away.

I couldn’t follow, but we seemed to have left everyone else trailing in our wake, so I sat up and coasted through the bends.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The day was nice enough to retire to the garden and there I joined the already firmly ensconced Goose, Captain Black and Mini Miss, the latter enjoying he wanton displays of bike porn, most especially someone’s pure white Storck. This was close to being her dream bike, although she admitted it would be a difficult decision between a Storck and a more traditional, celeste Bianchi.

We recalled Goose, perhaps the least brand aware amongst us, being accosted by the one-time distributor of Storck bikes in the UK, who gave him the full-court press in trying to persuade him to drop £3 grand or more on a new bike, without really being able to justify the price tag, or read his audience with any degree of accuracy or empathy.

In discussions with Captain Black, I did the Ryals a disservice by suggesting they didn’t get much above 7-8%. The VeloViewer site characterises the “official” climb as being 1.5 km long, with an average gradient of 4% and a maximum of 16.8%.

Whatever the actual statistics, I think my point is still valid, it’s not an epic, enjoyable, or particularly memorable climb and I never feel any great sense of achievement topping it. I can imagine it does become brutal if you race up it, full gas 3 or 4 times in a race (such as next weeks Beaumont, or the Nationals Road Race) though.

We then played a kind of cycling Top Trumps, with Captain Black selecting the Tourmalet as the hardest climb he’s done, while, along with Goose, I went for the Galibier.

At the next table, the Monkey Butler was getting grief for his white, aero socks, but I refused to join in and condemn him, when the Garrulous Kid had two hairy, shapeless, baggy and grungy socks of no discernible colour, pooled around his ankles like two used and discarded elephant condoms.

Then, in a concession to the heat and inadequate pre-planning of layers, the Monkey Butler Boy re-appeared wearing just a gilet on his top half, arms bare to the shoulder. Socks be dammed, I immediately told him he looked like a wannabe triathlete and he couldn’t ride with us. Standards must be maintained.

As a parting shot, as we were packing up to go, I turned to Mini Miss, “What’s it going to be then, a Bianchi, or a Storck?”

“Well,” she mused, “I think Bianchi …”

She paused a heartbeat, before adding, “But I wouldn’t mind meeting a man with a Storck.”

Oh dear, that didn’t sound right. Time to leave.


Having been delayed by a couple of punctures, we were running late, so I peeled off to pick my way over the airport and shave a little distance and time off my journey home.

A couple of others came with me, at least as far as Ponteland, so I at least got another opportunity to apologise to Spry for destroying his tool tub.

Through Ponteland, I passed the long tail of traffic OGL had warned about that morning, as it backed up through the roadworks. Uncharitable as it seems, I have to admit passing the long, long line of drivers, cooped up and sweltering in their cars, made me smile and it buoyed me all the way home.


YTD Totals: 2,582 km / 1,604 miles with 34,470 metres of climbing

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All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

Total Distance:104km/65 miles & 1,232m of climbing
Riding Time:
4 hours 7 minutes
Average Speed:25.3 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 9°C
Weather in a word or two:Bright, blowy, breezy

Ride Profile

I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.

I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.

The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …

I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.

The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.

Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.

I get out and get going. Sigh.

A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.

And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.


Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.

He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.

It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.

The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.

With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.

“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)

Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.

“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for yooo
And everything you dooo
They were all … Yell-o!

“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.

I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.

“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.

Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …

“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.

“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.

“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.

We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.

“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.

“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.

“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.

“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.

“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.

In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.

“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.

“Well, my Dad listens to them.”

Right. Obviously.

“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”

Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.

“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”

“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.

Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.

“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”

I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.

“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.

Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.

Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.


I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.

The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.

In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.

As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.



I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.

As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.

At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.

“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.

“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.

“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.

Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”

As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.

We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.

“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.

“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”

I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.

Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.

Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.

My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…

“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”

“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.

It was time to leave.

As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.

I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.

Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.

There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.

Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.

Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.

I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.

“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.

“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”

“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.

At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.

Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.

As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.

I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.

That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.

As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.

Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.

We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.

“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.

“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.

Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.

He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.

He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.

I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.

Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.


I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.

The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.

As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.

Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.


YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

Club Run, Saturday 15th October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  101 km/63 miles with 754 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Filthy to fair


 

ride-profile-18th-oct
Ride Profile

 


The Ride:

With the glorious weather of last week’s hill climb proving unsurprisingly transitory, a week of constant forecast checking kept coming back with grim consitency: the morning to early afternoon of Saturday would apparently be dominated by rain, with the only questionable element being its severity – which roughly translates to the near imperceptible difference between “rain showers” and “heavy rain showers.”

I was quite encouraged by waking Saturday morning to the absence of rain drumming noisily on the roof and windows, only to find this was because the cloud-base was so low that the water was simply leaching out and didn’t have to fall very far or very hard. A thoroughly grey and dismal start to the day then, with only a vaguely brighter bit of sky to perhaps-maybe indicate where a well-shrouded sun was still trying to drag itself clear of the horizon.

I dressed for the worst: full-length tights, long-sleeved, water-resistant jersey with a rain jacket over the top, overshoes and long fingered gloves. A spare pair of gloves went in my back pocket and I stuck a cap under my helmet in the hope the peak could help keep a little of the spray out of my eyes. I even tried a wrapping a layer of cling film between socks and shoes before pulling on my overshoes. It may have helped a little and my feet were never cold, but still socks and shoes came home sodden.

The first few hundred yards out on the roads confirmed my suspicions – it was cold, it was very, very wet and it was going to be a little unpleasant. As my front tyre cut a hissing bow wave down the Heinous Hill, the rain tapped probing, impatient fingers on my back and helmet in a “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in” sort of way.

Climbing out the valley on the other side of the river though proved that it wasn’t quite cold enough and I was caught in one of those damned if you do/damned if you don’t conundrums – take the rain jacket off and get soaked from the outside-in, or keep it on and get soaked from the inside out. You pays your money…

I noticed the first signs of autumn, the leaves on the trees losing colour in increasing numbers and beginning to fall and collect in drifts and slippery wet clumps along the sides of the road. Winter is coming. Slowly, but inexorably winter is coming.

Our meeting point had naturally migrated to the bowels of the nearby car park, where it was dark and dank, but critically sheltered from the still constant rainfall.  There the usual all-weather idiots slowly congregated and added a few new faces to our ranks with the Monkey Butler Boy, Jimmy Cornfeed, Carlton and Mellstock Quire all joining us in defying the elements.


Main topics of discussion at the start

OGL was the bearer of bad news concerning the untimely death and funeral arrangements for long-standing club member and all-round good guy, Russ Snowdon. A track champion of some repute, Russ was an integral member of the coaching team at the National Velodrome in Manchester. Always willing to help out, I remember him growling good humouredly at me at the start of one of our hill climbs – something along the lines of, “If I can hold up Sir Chris Hoy for his starts, I can handle you.”

The solemn news couldn’t quite repress the very, very naughty Taffy Steve, who leaned across and enquired sotto voce, “Is it too early to ask what size frame he rode?” Ooph!

With the weather set to improve later in the day, we discussed options for a ride-in-reverse  – heading straight to the café and then taking a big loop back. As if taking it seriously, we even discussed what time the café actually opened, as it wouldn’t do to high-tail it there and then have to hang around for half an hour banging on the door to be let in and out of the rain. In the end, the inherent conservatism of your average club cyclist won out and we set off for a very normal, if very wet club run.

Carlton arrived well-wrapped against the weather and with the rear of his bike studded with more flashing red lights than the control panel in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor before it was vaporised. One in particular we had to ask him to turn off for fear it would burn-out retinas, or induce violent epileptic fits. He proudly declared (and we all believed him) that this particular light was visible from 3km away.


There was just time for OGL to curse the godless amongst us – those without mudguards, not those who had adopted blasphemous, sacrilegious ways (although there’s probably a fair degree of overlap) – before we were forsaking the sanctuary of our car park, pushing off, clipping in and riding out into the downpour.

As we stopped at the first set of lights I tried to sort out the rain cover on the Red Max’s back pack that the Monkey Butler Boy had pulled around without actually fitting. I explained to Max that he looked like he was pulling a drogue parachute behind him, but he seemed unconcerned and suggested it was just the excuse he needed so he could convince himself he wasn’t being held back by lack of talent or fitness.

Running past the airport a jet thundered low overhead, but looking up into the drizzle, there was nothing visible in the dank and murky sky. I was just pleased we’d made Carlton turn his super-bright rear light off, or the thing might have mistaken us for the runway and tried landing.

As we made our way up the Bell’s Hill climb we had to swerve around two dozen or so car tyres spilling out from where they’d been oddly dumped into a layby. Around the corner, a bit further on and we were picking our way through another dozen or so tyres that had been strewn across the road in a makeshift barricade. Perhaps we were caught in the middle of some Northumbrian farmers’ feud? We cycled on anyway, safe in the knowledge that the Prof had clearly marked the location and would probably return to claim the tyres for his secret workshop/laboratory/lair.


 

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I dropped into line beside Son of G-Dawg, who was one of the few amongst who hadn’t made the switch to a winter bike, his excuse being it didn’t seem right for the last outing of his carbon flying machine to be the brutal and unenjoyable hill climb.

I’m not certain how enjoyable today’s ride was going to be though and to add to the less than ideal weather, the roads were proving particularly filthy. As we rode through another wet, claggy, filthy-dirty, muddy patch that bespattered everyone and their bikes in a deeply unappealing coating of filth, I suggested the final sprint for home between G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg would be particularly fiercely contested today. At stake for the winner would be first use of the shower, while the loser would be left with two filthy bikes to clean.

Just in case, Son of G-Dawg was planning to plead that he had important things to attend to, although he wasn’t prepared to reveal this could be neatly summarised as eating pizza and having a nap. As a last resort I suggested he could just leave the bike in its filthy state until the OCD demons started whispering in G-Dawgs ear. We both knew he wouldn’t be able to relax properly while a dirty bike befouled his home.

At a hastily called pee stop, OGL declared that we were all outcasts and renegades, as apparently the club had been sanctioned by the CTT – the governing body for cycling time-trials, after someone informed them we were holding an illegal hill climb last week! It all seemed like officious stuff and nonsense to me, considering it was a club-confined event. Crazy Legs though was particularly delighted with the renegade badge and the thought that he now had an official excuse not to ride in anymore time-trials.

We stopped again to split the ride, but OGL looked to be the only one heading straight to the café, so we persuaded him just to tag along with the rest of us. With the rain slowly easing, I took the opportunity to swap soaked gloves for dry ones and we pressed on.

We were pretty much still altogether as a group as we swung around Bolam Lake and the pace picked up a little in anticipation of the final drive to the café. I sat on the back behind Taffy Steve and the Red Max as we dived through Milestone Wood and over the rollers and stayed there as a small group broke away off the front to contest the sprint.

The group upfront splintered and we were soon closing on the jettisoned Crazy Legs as we approached the last ramp. Sensing another mugging was about to occur I dropped in behind Taffy Steve as he attacked to close down Crazy Legs, who in turn responded and picked up his pace again.

I went diving down the inside to pass Taffy Steve, but our acceleration had brought us up to the Prof who’d also been shelled out by the lead group and was weaving all over the road. He drifted to his right until he realised an immoveable Taffy Steve was already occupying the space there, barrelling along with sharp elbows bristling, so he did the sensible thing, chickened out and swept back across the road into my line.

I shouted and touched the brakes to buy some room to manoeuvre around the Prof, but all momentum was lost and there was no way back. Curses! Foiled again.


Main topics of discussion at the coffee stop:

They’d had a new till fitted in the café and the staff were grappling to come to terms with its intricacies. Service that’s normally slow now became glacial and very confused. Still, at least we were welcome and not made to feel responsible for their own short-comings.

The Prof took the German “towel-on-sun-lounger thing” to the extreme, scattering various bits of sodden kit and clothing around the café to claim numerous tables and chairs. I was pretty certain he’d need at least 5 minutes’ head start to gather everything back together before we set off for home.

Meanwhile OGL was in hysterics laughing at all our dirty, mud-splattered faces and suggested Jacques Anquetil would be turning in his grave. Anquetil was a classy, multiple Tour de France winner, who allegedly never went anywhere without a comb in his back pocket.

I naturally suggested like all successful cyclists that he was of a slightly odd disposition – hugely superstitious to the point of being terrified to leave his room when a mystic predicted his death on a particular day. He also seduced and married the wife of his dedicated personal doctor and then had a child with her step-daughter, lived with both women for a dozen years, then livened things up further by having a child with his stepson’s ex-wife!

Carlton was somewhat taken aback by my casting of all successful cyclists as flakes and oddballs and protested that, “Surely that nice Mr. Froome is a decent chap?” He then contended that the other “seemingly nice fellow who left Team Sky for BMC” was quite obviously another decent chap too. He couldn’t be dissuaded even when Taffy Steve countered, “Yeah, but he’s Tasmanian.”

We were just getting settled when the Red Max’s phone notified him of an incoming text with two loud parps like a clown’s horn. I wondered aloud if it was Charlie Cairoli asking for his shoes back, while it prompted some discussion about the killer clown craze. The best story alleged that one creepy perpetrator had been bottled by his victim and I could detect absolutely no sympathy for him around the table.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs spotted son of G-Dawg playing with his mobile phone. “Is that a Samsung?” he enquired, drawing back nervously and raising his hands to protect his face. I made to warm my hands on the device, then Crazy Legs tried blowing gently to see if he could coax a flame from it. We speculated that perhaps Ray Mears needed to carry a Samsung in case he had to start a fire in the Outback without any kindling.

Crazy Legs suggested Mrs. Crazy Legs was so paranoid about his phone spontaneously bursting into flame, she was constantly asking him what make it was.

“Is your phone a …

“It’s a MOTOROLA!”


With it still being early and the weather clearing to reveal the best part of the day, a group of us decided to take a long loop home through Stamfordham.

The return run was largely uneventful, though we did spot a small domestic cat stalking down the road in the middle of nowhere, had a grey squirrel skitter across our path and the the dubious pleasure of a driver leaning on his horn in admonishment, even though he was travelling in the opposite direction on the other side of a wide road. I’ve no idea what that was all about.

On a fast downhill everyone swung off  on a sharp left, while I continued on, cutting a big corner of my route home. Pretty soon I was climbing the damn hill again, somewhat happier that my clothes had transitioned from wringing wet to just sodden. Another couple of hours and I might even have been merely damp by the time I’d crawled home.


YTD Totals: 5,672 km / 3,524 miles with 55,384 metres of climbing