Plague Diaries #Week 31

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Against the Odds

A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.

His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.

These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.

The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.

Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.

Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.

As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.

It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.

Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.

At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.

Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.

A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.

As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.

“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.

“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.

I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.

I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.

It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.

I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.

One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.

G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”

The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.

We quickly summarised the three tiers as:

Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek

Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle

Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.

G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?

As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.

He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?

Maybe.

When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.

“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.

We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.

The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.

The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.

Socks and Watts

Socks and Watts

Club Run, Saturday 4th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Not bad.


 

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Ride Profile


It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.

He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.

But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)

“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.

“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.

At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.

“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.

“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)

The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.

Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.

I blame the parents.

As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.

I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.

Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”

Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.


I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.

As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.

We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.


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A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.

Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.

There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.

Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).

Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …

My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.

Or, perhaps the time Princess Fiona was ambushed by a sheep in a Ghillie suit (Righty-Tighty-Lefty-Loosey and the Ovine Menace).

Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.

But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!

As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.

As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.

“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.

Rrriiiiiggghhht …

We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.

Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.

Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.

I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.

I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.

A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.

We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?

No.

Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?

No.

Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?

No.

“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”

Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.

Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.

I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.

I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).

The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.  


As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.

“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.

“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.

“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.

According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.

We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.

I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.

The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.

The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.

One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.


YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing