So, more relaxation of the lockdown rules and, according to the Daily Heil Mail at least, it’s all going swimmingly. Well, as long as you don’t mention Liverpool football fans, Bournemouth beach-goers and an army of illegal ravers, or dozens of other totally alarming issues.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the utter stupidity of people by now, but they do keep finding ways to exceed my already dismally low expectations. Let’s just see where we are in a week or two, when the consequences of these types of events have had a chance to play out. And hope.
Right now though, I’ll go along with journalist John Crace, who suggested that with Boris at least as keen to open up the economy as he is to save lives, we shouldn’t rush to change arrangements. He concludes that if there hasn’t been a second spike in infections after a month, maybe he’ll feel safe to come out and finishes, “but I’m not holding my breath. Or rather, I am.”
So, for the time being at least, I’ll stick to riding on my own, even though I know we have small groups organised to head out from the usual place, at the usual time and they’re probably fine.
Just to illustrate the nonsensical, arbitrariness and inconsistencies of Government thinking though, somewhat bizarrely, cricket, you know the sport where 13 players and two officials socially isolate on at least 8,000 square metres of field, is not one of the sports given permission to restart.
Football however, 22 players and three officials running, jostling, shouting, swearing, sweating, tackling, spitting and colliding around a field of 7,140 square metres. Well, that’s OK. Why? Because our Prime Minister deems that a cricket ball, not a football, nor an open pub, not a beach, or restaurant, nor a 1 metre space between people, but a cricket ball, is “a natural vector for disease.”
Anyway, back to a sport I actually care about, a flash sale this week saw me acquire a new pair of bibshorts from a company I’ve previously had little experience of, Blueball Sports. Apparently Blueball are based somewhere in the Basque country, which, I guess gives them a degree of credibility, it’s an area frequently referred to as a hot bed of cycling and their fans are seen as passionate, knowledgeable and politeley restrained.
I know the shorts are Blueball’s, because they’re cleverly branded with … err … a big, white circle on the front of one leg? Because they’re Basque we can, I think, forgive them a little for not quite considering the association of their brand name with the medical condition epididymal hypertension, let alone its less savoury use as a euphemism for intense testicular discomfort.
What I’m less forgiving of is the amount of spurious garbage written across the seat pad, all of which seems rather overdone and totally superfluous.
“High protection?” Fair enough. “Impact Zone” and “Anti-Shock Gel” and “3D”? Hmm, all right. But, “Air Cool?” Really? I don’t think so. And then, what am I to make of “Moisture Evacuation” and perhaps most perplexing of all, the simple injunction, “be present.”
Still, back to matters in hand, the hot flush of high temperatures was already starting to fade by the weekend, even before it was rudely hustled out the door by a series of crashing thunderstorms as the weather turned decidedly unsettled. The forecast for Saturday was for cool temperatures with a high chance of heavy, intermittent showers and occasional but brief sunny spells.
Mrs. SLJ was at pains to tell me where the sunscreen was as I made to depart on Saturday morning. I managed not to laugh at her, but really wasn’t convinced I’d be needing it and, just for once, I was right. (I have to celebrate these small victories – they’re very few and far between.)
The club had made plans to meet up again at the cafe at Kirkley, but the timing was vague and I decided the weather wasn’t really good enough to encourage sitting around outside talking constant blather. (To clarify, I mean the sitting around outside bit, we never need any encouragement to blather.)
I decided then to give that particular cyclist cafe a miss, but the Rainman had promised that the one at Capheaton was open, so I had this as a possible destination in the back of my mind.
To start I decided on a bit of route reversal, so instead of riding along the Tyne Valley and then hopping across to the Derwent Valley, I did it the other way round, heading south, south-west initially towards Burnopfeld, before dropping down to Hamsterly and through to Ebchester, then climbing the Dere Road up to Whittonstall.
It had the potential to be a pleasant route, but as soon as I crested the first climb past Whickham Golf Club the rain started lashing down. I stopped to pull on a light rain jacket but it was totally inadequate for the job in hand and was quickly soaked through as the heavy rain battered it effortlessly aside.
The drop down toward Hamsterly was taken at a cautious pace, partly because the road was awash with run-off and partly to try and lessen the amount of cold, dirty spray being kicked up by my wheels.
Nevertheless, my shoes quickly became water-logged and my socks an unappealing shade of grey. There’d be no tan-lines today, but some impressive grime-lines instead. Deciding the jacket wasn’t really doing much for me, I bundled it into a tight ball and stuffed it into a jersey pocket, where it would weep cold, miserable tears for a while, lamenting its cavalier abandonment.
The climb up from Ebchester to Whitton Stall was a new one to me, relatively straight and regular, my only complaint was it seemed to have an infinite horizon, you always sensed you were nearing a crest, then it would leap on ahead another couple of hundred metres infront of you
I was pleased the traffic was relatively quiet so I could ride straight up the centre line of the road, avoiding the small stream had formed at the verge to make its way downhill and the middle of the lane that was rutted and uneven.
The rain eased as I dropped down the fast descent from Whitton Stall, involuntarily tailgating a car as my speed crept past 40 mph. I then made my way through the pretty village of Hindley, only marred by a shockingly bad patch of road right in the centre, before dropping down to Stocksfield and crossing the Tyne.
This week’s entry into my Amateur Floral Almanac belongs to the many wild hawthorn blossoms threaded through the hedges, a delicate white with a barely discernible pink blush.
I cambered up to the A69 and crossed to take in the climb up to Newton, then through the Plantations and onto the Matfen Road. From Matfen, I took a dip down the Ryals and it was here, at the bottom of the climb and after 26.5 miles covered, that I encountered my first fellow cyclist of the day.
From the Ryals I scribed a wide circle around Hallington Reservoir, then made my way through Little Bavington and out to Capheaton.
Somewhere along this road the fields had been shaved back to a bright ochre stubble that was swarmong with the black specks of dozens of opportunistic crows. I turned back to grab a picture, but naturally only managed to startle most of them into flight.
Rainman had promised the cafe at Capheaton was open and so it proved. The coffee was good, the carrot cake even better, but here too it was quiet, my short break only disturbed by just a cycling couple, who arrived as I gathered my stuff up to leave.
I took the road down toward West Belsay junction. As anticipated it has acquired a new surface, but as I discovered last week, it’s rough, open-textured, gravelly and crumbling, slow and heavy and only a slight improvement on the rutted and fissured original. I shudder to think the damage you could do coming down on this at speed, it would be like sliding the wrong way down a cheese grater.
From Belsay, a bit more reverse engineering of a typical club ride took me out through Whalton to the Gubeon, before heading toward Kirkley and home. Along this road I passed Sneaky Pete, getting in a few sneaky training miles. He was past me almost before I recognised him.
Crossing back over the river at Newburn, I picked up a fellow cyclist and we both moaned as the traffic built up and slowed our progress coming into Blaydon.
“McDonalds is busy again, I see,” he noted, correctly identifying the cause of the queuing traffic. No surprise I guess, if people are odd enough to queue for hours to get into a Primark, or Ikea, hell, why not half an hour to get a McDonalds too?
“Are you tempted?”
“Nope” he snorted.
Me neither. It probably couldn’t offer anything half as good as the carrot cake at Capheaton.
My temporary companion took the first part of the Heinous Hill ahead of me before swinging away to the left, leaving me to crawl the rest of the way up on my own, even as the clouds opened and the rain came lashing down again.
Soaked at the start and drenched at the end is not ideal, but at least the middle bit of my ride was good.
Saturday promised to be a most splendid day for piloting a bike around a suitably sunny and bucolic Northumberland and, with the SLJ household all out and about, I had the entire day free and absolutely no impetus to return at a set time.
Given the good weather and the near certainty that the cafe at Kirkley would be open, Crazy Legs suggested it was a good opportunity for a belated-club rendezvous and catch up, which he pencilled in for 10.30 onward, all riders welcome.
Small groups agreed to form up at the regular place and at the regular time to ride out together, with the intention of arriving at Kirkley for the 10.30 meet, while I changed my intended route to put me within what I hoped would be striking distance of the cafe for about the right time.
I was a bit delayed by dithering, but finally got out the house at about half eight, crossing the river at Newburn and climbing out the other side of the valley toward Throckley.
Here I passed a bloke on the other side of the road out walking the family pets, or perhaps, pet in the singular? It was either three individual, but perfectly matched, large, black pedigree dogs, walking in perfect lockstep, bodies pressed so tightly together they merged into one long, expanse of glossy sable fur and muscle, three identical pink tongues all lolling out the right hand side of three identical jaws – or I’d just passed Cerberus, the three-headed, canine gate-keeper of Hades!
Well, Throckley is quite a strange place, so I didn’t immediately discount this as some sort of mythological encounter.
From there, I unsuccessfully tried to find a route through the labyrinthine streets of Heddon-on-the-Wall and out the other side. Apparently I was attempting the impossible and had to back-track to pick up the road again, to travel around, rather than through the village.
Finally free, I pushed on to Horsley, before dropping back down into the valley at Ovingham, noting it was now the turn of dozens of bright yellow buttercups along the river bank to mark the flow of days on my (strictly amateur) flower almanac.
I was briefly joined in appreciation of this floral display by a small, black-tailed ferret, that wandered out into the road, belatedly noticed me and, as most wildlife seems capable of doing, instantly disappeared without trace. That’s the kind of trick that makes you immediately doubt it was ever there.
I followed the river almost as far as Corbridge, taking the Aydon road to vault me safely up and over the A69 and from there pushed my way on to Matfen.
As I approached the village it was ten past ten and the signs told me I was 10 miles from Ponteland. This was going to be a hell of a time-trial if I wanted to get to Kirkley, a few mile beyond Ponteland, by half past.
I got down into the drops and picked up the pace, swerving around the massive, bloody cadaver of a badger, splayed over the road as if one of Ridley Scott’s aliens had burst out of its chest cavity. I was pleased to be travelling fast enough not to see some of the more gruesome details and be well down the road and past the rotting stink before it really registered.
Like several of the roads around here, the route from Matfen through to Stamfordham has a brand new surface. This would normally be the cause for rejoicing, but the new surface feels rough, grippy and heavy. The combination of the bright sunlight and my sunglasses also seemed to give it a rather disconcerting, blue-metallic sheen, as if coated in a thin layer of oil.
Through Stamfordham, then Dalton and back to more normal roads, I hit the long, straight, relatively smooth and slightly downhill passage of Limestone Lane and picked up the pace, watching my speed creep up … 25.6 mph … 27.4 mph … 29.8 mph … no matter how hard I pushed I couldn’t break the 30 mph barrier …
… And I needn’t have bothered.
At the end of Limestone Lane I ran abruptly into some temporary traffic lights that held me for what seemed like five or six minutes. I could just have pootled along and got there at the exact same time and a lot fresher too.
Finally released by the lights I pushed as hard as I could through Ponteland and out toward Kirkley, but I was tiring rapidly now and it had become hard work.
Still, I made decent time and was soon turning off and threading my way toward richly deserved coffee and cake.
And what a great delight to see so many familiar faces, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, Jimmy Mac and Plumose Pappus, Aether, Ahlambra and Richard of Flanders were already there and others would trickle in, solo or in small groups – Buster, the Big Yin, our Double Dutch tag-team, Sneaky Pete, Caracol, Red Max, and Mrs. Red Max.
Benedict, the Ticker, Mini Miss, Princess Fiona, Spoons and Front-Wheel Neil made it too, but were late arrivals, having had a few issues after the pedal on Front-Wheel Neil’s new bike unwound and came off still attached to his cleats.
Crazy Legs was in full lament mode with bike issues of his own, complaining something along the lies of “j’aime mon Ribble, mais mon Ribble ne m’aime pas” after discovering an annoying squeak on the much-cossetted Ribble. Stripping it to the bone, he’d carefully cleaned and lubed everything before re-assembling to find the annoying squeak yet persisted.
Halfway through his re-build he’d also found he had to buy a 14mm Allen key to remove the bottom bracket, something we decided was really atypical on bike builds, the type of tool that perhaps only plumbers would have a common use for.
“Nah,” Aether informed us, “Merckx commonly use them.”
“Huh?” G-Dawg, looked confused, if King Ted’s bikes used them, that seemed like a mighty endorsement. “What do they use them for?”
“Mostly on the engine blocks.”
G-Dawg looked even more confused.
“No, no, the cars, Mercs. Mercedes-Benz!”
Crazy Legs was confounded that any Merc owner would ever deign to get there hands grubby doing DIY on their cars, besides, weren’t they meant to self-heal?
I took time out to compliment Plumose Papuss on his lockdown hairstyle, which rather fittingly made him look like a dandelion clock. G-Dawg, who does his own hair (probably with an angle grinder, in much the same way that Desperate Dan shaves with a blowtorch) offered to render assistance, but was very politley rebuffed. Can’t think why, although he did mention a recent episode when the guard slipped and he carved a huge bald tranche across the top of his scalp by mistake, which he said made him look like Tintin.
Sitting in the sun, we enjoyed the usual blather and general congeniality, before people started drifting away.
Not ready for home yet, I took in a loop north, Shilvington, Whalton and Belsay, before heading back. At a pee-stop at the bottom of Berwick Hill I spotted a tiny bird with gold bars on its wings that I think was a Common Firecrest (although they’re obviously not all that common, as I can’t remember ever seeing one before.)
By the time I was climbing the Heinous Hill, I’d topped 70 miles and was satisfyingly weary. Good weather, a good ride and it was great to catch up with everyone. Perhaps there is a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel after all.
I learned this week that there are not always two side to every argument and occasionally some things are just so wrong that they’re completely indefensible.
Meanwhile, back to cycling. ..
Despite last weeks high volume of chatter about resuming group riding in line with new lockdown guidelines that allow groups six to congregate outdoors, the poor weather seemed to kibosh any intentions or experiments.
Spoons and Aether however tentatively agreed to give it a go this Saturday, planning to meet at the usual place and the usual time to ride together, along with any one else who felt inclined to join them.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs suggested he’d be at the Kirkley Cafe from 10.30 onward on Saturday, holding court if anyone wanted to meet and find release for month upon month of pent up blather.
Taking note of the appalling weather forecast and thinking ahead, he even pondered whether the cafe would allow us to use the big barn-like structure where they’d parked the portable toilets for a meet up. This, he felt, would allow us to stay dry whilst having enough space to maintain social distancing.
An illicit rendezvous of damp lycra-fetishists around a remote, public toilet, you say? Oh yes, perfectly normal behaviour, Officer.
While the group debate about the safety of group rides raged across social media, talk turned to government protocols and it wasn’t long before someone mentioned official guidance from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. They recently amended their coronavirus advice to suggest single men and women in the Netherlands organise a seksbuddy (sex buddy) after criticism of rules dictating that home visitors maintain a 1.5-metre distance from their hosts during lockdown.
This inevitably found our Dutch contingent fielding a wholehost of … well, let’s say … err, generous, well-intentioned(?) propositions, which in turn led to one late arrival questioning if he’d accidentally stumbled across the clubs Tinder page, rather then our ride-organising WhatsApp chat. Ha!
One of the great benefits (or potential drawbacks, from a motivational perspective) of having to ride solo, is there is no need to stick to meeting times, places, or even days.
So it was on Saturday morning, with a raging gale outside sounding like a cross between between a lumbering 747 taking off under heavy load and a seething, spring tide, trenching on a shingle beach, and with the rain furiously rattling on the roof and windows like a handful of flung gravel, I decided I could just as easily ride Sunday instead.
It wasn’t to be a peaceful morning however, constant driving rain and the wild wind kept the cats largely constrained to the house and sent them stir-crazy-over-the-edge. Yowling wildly, eyes wide and black and tails lashing ferociously, they chased and battered each other up and down the stairs, over all the furniture and throughout the house, burning off steam and excess energy.
Still, I can kind of understand. It must be really hard being a finely-tuned predator, attentive to even the slightest rustle in the undergrowth, only to step outside and find the entire world is in motion and your senses are totally overwhelmed.
I’m not sure how many rode on Saturday, but wedded as they were to a common cause, Spoons and Aether definitely made a go of it and then, after all that, had to report back that the cafe at Kirkley was closed.
Apparently, the owners decided the weather was so grim only the truly committed (or should-be-committed) were likely to be out and about. Somewhat surprisingly, these two groups aren’t actually numerous enough in the North East to justify opening up the cafe.
The weather did manage to improve a little for Sunday, in a swings-and-roundabouts sort of way. We transitioned from gales, heavy showers and intermittent patches of blue and sunshine, to uniformly grey, dank and dismal. And it was chilly. If last week had perfectly encapsulated a bright, summers day, then Sunday would be a very plausible parody of a winter ride, cold, damp and blustery.
In fact it was so chill, I went back in and pulled on some knee warmers to complement my long sleeve base layer, arm warmers, thick socks, cap, gloves and rain jacket. At no point in the ride, including a smattering of fairly challenging inclines, did I ever feel overdressed, or overheated.
Once again I set out with no great plan, aiming to head out along the Tyne Valley at a brisk pace until I got tired and then decide what to do and where to go from there.
My first marker was to cross the river at Wylam, which I finally managed to do without having to stop for a train to pass – at only the third time of asking.
Just past the Stocksfield, I found one of the fields completely crammed with cows, with no opportunity to comply with social distancing protocols. I stopped to snatch a photo, at which point I was approached by a female pheasant (phemale feasant?) perhaps looking for a seksbuddy, before deciding I definitely wasn’t her type and squawking away in a burr of wings.
Along the riverside, wild poppies and gorse are starting to flower now, adding their own bright and cheery splashes of colour to an already multi-hued landscape.
I piloted my way through the eerily empty streets of Corbridge, crossing back to the south side of the river and was en route to Hexham when the trains had the last laugh. Progress was halted at another level crossing to allow some creaking, clanking rolling stock to lumber through. This is becoming such a common occurrence, I’m going to have to find new roads, study and synchronise with the local rail timetable, or in extremis, maybe take up train-spotting to add value to these interruptions.
Hmm, why is the book/film train-spotting so called? I’ll have to Google that …
Into Hexham and with a lack of decent signage I decided to just follow my instincts and find a way to hop over into the Derwent Valley and home. Sadly, I hadn’t accounted for my instincts finding what seemed to be the steepest possible route out of Hexham, which had me churning my way up what Strava informed me afterwards was the racecourse climb.
I think I’ve been up it once before, the time Mad Colin led a super-long club ride across to the dark side (i.e. south of the Tyne, a.k.a. Mordor) – this was the day a newbie tagged along, bonked and was so late getting back OGL, who wasn’t actually on the ride, was left fielding numerous phone-calls from his irate mother demanding to know what we’d done with her son.
Dragging myself to the top, with no sign of any racecourse, I have to add, once again I found all the signs seemed to have petered out. Back to trusting my all too fallible instincts, I was immediately disappointed by the long, fast descent I found myself on, quickly frittering away all the hard-earned altitude I’d so recently gained.
I pressed on regardless, until, just outside Juniper, I stopped to check the map on my phone, hoping I was more or less where I should be, or at least heading in the right direction and just to make sure I hadn’t somehow ended up on completely the wrong continent.
I seemed to be on track and it wasn’t much longer before I was on familiar roads, my route running through Slaley and down toward Blanchland. I turned left at the still devastated looking scene of our own Tunguska Incident, rather than dropping further into the valley. From there, I started to thread my way home.
Sunday rides instead of a Saturday? Yeah, why not, it doesn’t make a lot of difference if I’m out on my own and doubles-down on my chances of finding a window of decent weather too. We’ll see.
I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.
Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.
Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.
I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.
Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.
So I did.
I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.
Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.
The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.
I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:
“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”
2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.
A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.
Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.
And, moving swiftly on …
We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.
Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.
He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”
No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.
OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.
G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.
Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.
A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.
I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.
Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.
It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.
G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.
There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.
At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.
OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.
“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.
I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.
At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:
Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.
“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”
OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.
“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.
Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.
“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.
“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”
Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.
The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.
The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.
G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.
OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.
Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.
Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.
82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.
With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.
The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.
On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.
“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.
“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.
Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!
I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.
Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.
Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.
YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing
On with the rain jacket again, in the face of a chilly start and the forecast foretelling of persistent rain that never quite materialised.
The weather wasn’t dire enough to make a Flat White Ride a necessity instead of a luxury, but Taffy Steve had one organised regardless. He even pre-publicised it on the inter-web thingie, much to the confusion of our Dutch contingent, who read it and instantly became nostalgic for a club run, back in “Het Oude Land” – one totally devoid of any hills. They seemed horribly disappointed to learn a Flat White Ride had more to do with consuming hot beverages, than the topography of the route actually covered.
(Things were further confused by the Hammer misreading the post as promoting a Far Right Ride, leading to expectations that the run might end at the coast, where all “ferriners” would be forcibly ejected from the country.)
I suffered the first needless close pass of the day as I topped the final rise before a gradual descent down to the meeting place. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last, which left me wondering if these things come in batches?
Despite this, I arrived safely and only a few minutes late, having been held up at a level crossing and then seemingly every single traffic light on my run in.
I joined the growing assembly of slightly damp cyclists under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Jimmy Mac was at pains to ensure everyone knew the great sacrifices he had made in order to plan and lead today’s run. He told us that had he known it would coincide with England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, he would never have volunteered and he pleaded for sworn secrecy in the event that anyone was following the score live. I think he even considered confiscating everyone’s mobiles, before the practicality of riding around with jersey pockets stuffed with 20 odd phones struck home.
G-Dawg seemed unfazed by the prospect of hearing the result and confessed that he didn’t like the tension of watching games live. He preferred knowing the result before he sat down to watch a recording, rationalising he could then decide not to watch, if the team he was supporting had lost.
I wondered how this sat with his great love for the Sunderland football team and he ruefully admitted that, if he took this policy to its ultimate limit – and only watched when they won, he might never get to see them play ever again.
“I have a friend who’s a bit of an expert on rugby and he reckons 60/40 in favour of the All Blacks,” Crazy Legs proclaimed.
“He’s predicting a high scoring game then?” Biden Fecht apparently quipped cleverly, or so I found out when I tried out the exact same crack moments later. Sheesh, late to the party again. I was derided, ridiculed and sent to the back of the class.
Crazy Legs then spent some time wrestling with what I took to be a new Garmin device, which apparently had “gone dark” all of its own accord. I wondered, if perhaps it had been the threat of being confiscated by Jimmy Mac that had pushed it into going off grid.
Crazy Legs found that even peering at the dull display through his super-happy, sunny-yellow, sun specs didn’t help, even though said specs usually make him so happy he’ll spontaneously burst out singing his ultimate happy-smiley-song: “Best Day Ever” by a certain Mr. Spongebob Squarepants.
He wondered where our Garmin wizard, the Red Max was, reasoning he would be able to fix the display by pressing some arcane, ambidextrous combination of different buttons. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the time the Red Max set my Garmin up and managed to sync it to his own heart rate monitor. Or what an eye-popping revelation that had been …
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs became distracted by a great universal imponderable…
“What is on the upper floors of this car park, anyway?” he wondered.
None of us had ever had reason to venture up, so we couldn’t help, but he determined he would route his next ride up and down the car park ramps on a brave voyage of discovery. I can’t help thinking there might even be a Strava KOM in it.
Despite the weather and competing attentions of a certain game of rugby, we were twenty-strong by the time we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, with two late arrivals, Buster and Spoons, bolstering our numbers with perfectly timed late arrivals.
I had a chat with TripleD-Bee, resigned to a hilly ride after all, but not appreciating the threat of rain. He confessed he’d rather be in bed, but TripleD-El had shamed him into coming out.
As a bit of a novelty, our route out traced the same roads we travel over on our return leg, which gave us a double-dip into the dangerous overtaking of drivers on Berwick Hill. It also put the cafe at Kirkley Cycles in striking distance of the Flat White Club, who were soon breaking away for their caffeine and cake fix.
We pushed along and, as we started to climb up to Dyke Neuk, I slipped off the front and drifted to the back, determined to take an extremely relaxed approach and safe in the knowledge we’d be stopping at the top.
As we briefly paused, we learned that Mini Miss had taken her new Liv for a bike fit, but hadn’t used it since and now it was safely tucked away for the winter.
Goose recounted how the only thing he got out of his £180 bike fit was a solitary 1mm plastic shim, to place between one shoe and cleat. G-Dawg reasoned it probably served no earthly purpose, but was simply a token gesture by the bike-fitter to justify his high-prices.
A brief discussion about the lottery of being excluded from the clubs official Facebook page could shed no light on the seemingly random and arbitrary bans issued to various, long-standing club members, so we pushed on, just as perplexed as ever.
We dropped down Curlicue Hill and then started the climb back through the Trench. Behind G-Dawg was discussing his fixie and being asked about the gearing he used.
“38-14.” G-Dawg affirmed.
“38-14,” Biden Fecht repeated, in a voice loud enough to carry to the front, where Jimmy Mac was toiling away relentlessly. He paused masterfully, before adding, “Was that the final score, then?”
Ooph! Cruel …
By the time we topped the Trench I was feeling as tired as I had last week. I don’t know why, but I’m just not “feeling it” at the moment and everything seems to be harder than it should.
Things aren’t being helped by my saddle, a relatively new Fabric Line, which I just can’t get away with and seems to be becoming increasingly uncomfortable the more I use it. After years of using the ever-reliable Charge Spoon saddle for a comfortable, budget friendly seat, the (revamped and re-named) company’s replacement, the Line is a sore disappointment (both literally and metaphorically) and likely to be discarded soon.
I was just gathering myself for a hurtful assault of Middleton Bank, when Mini Miss called out that she had a puncture. About half a dozen of us dropped back and got the tube changed without too much fuss. I did most of the heavy lifting, but left G-Dawg to the tricky cryogenics of freezing his fingers to the valve stem, as he deployed Mini Miss’ CO2 canister to quickly inflate the tyre.
With all impetus gone for our assault on Middleton Bank, we rode up it at a relatively comfortable pace and I was able to sit in the wheels until the final drag, where I eased back and let the cafe sprint unfold, participating purely as a spectator.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
There was a lot of adult talk at the table about skiing and different types of snow and chalet’s and resorts and … err, prostitutes, if I was following the conversation correctly. (To be fair, I probably wasn’t.)
Skiing sounds like great fun, but, you know, old dog/new tricks and all that. A combination of age, brittle bones, rickety knees and penury, combined with the opportunity cost of going on holiday somewhere cold instead of somewhere warm, means I’m very unlikely to ever give it a go.
New kid Sid brought me the news that Peter Sagan had agreed to ride the 2020 Giro d’Italia. He then entertained me with a series of photos of Sagan possessively cuddling the Trofeo Senza Fine, while Richard Carapaz looked on, wearing the kind of expression you’d find on a possessive and insecure husband watching a charismatic stranger pawing at his younger wife.
On the way home I dropped in alongside Carlton, who had recently joined a running club, but found the experience rather disconcerting, as no one there shouts at him and everyone seems to rub along without too much hysteria or fuss.
He suggested we were all mature, smart and phlegmatic, Brits (or Dutch), who didn’t need to over-dramatise the most innocuous of incidents and make mountains out of molehills.
As we set of along the lane to Berwick Hill a silver 4×4 swept past in the opposite direction, pointedly too fast and both deliberately and dangerously much too close. That’s what I would typically call a punishment pass, although punishment for what exactly I really don’t know.
He came within millimetres of Goose, whose taken to his steel touring behemoth for the winter, with all the antlers, prongs, pannier racks and cages. Luckily for Goose he was deeply engaged in conversation and the danger he was in didn’t really register until the car screamed past, at which point his eyebrows shot away to cower under his helmet.
Luckily for the driver, he didn’t come closer and tangle with the steel behemoth – it might have been an uneven challenge that he couldn’t possibly lose, but the steel behemoth was likely to inflict considerable damage on his shiny vehicle as it went down fighting.
A bit further along and we had another close call, as the driver of a small hatchback tried to squeeze past in too little space.
“Bloody hell, he’s a cyclist too – he has a bike in the back!” Biden Fecht complained, in a mixture of incomprehension and indignation .
“That’s probably from the last cyclist he hit,” I countered, “Like a serial-killer, he’s collecting trophies.”
Outlandish as this claim was, it was actually a more palatable explanation than “one of our own” going rogue and driving like an arse-hat, with no consideration for fellow cyclists and other road users.
A bit further on and young Sid took a sudden and unsignalled dart into a lay-by, causing a mass application of brakes and a dozen voices crying out “Whoa!” in perfect unison, before pressure was applied to pedals once more and on we whirred.
A fairly phlegmatic and undramatic response to a dodgy manoeuvre. I hoped Carlton didn’t feel too discomfited by our lack of hysteria and hyperbole-inflected ranting…
YTD Totals: 6,644 km / 4,128 miles with 87,130 metres of climbing
Saturday morning kicked off as it was forecast to continue, an indeterminate, ever-changing mix of snow, sleet and rain, bitter cold and, to top it all, increasingly gusting winds. It was going to be constantly wet. It was going to be freezing cold. It was going to be utterly filthy. It was going to be bleak and miserable, brutal and uncomfortable.
It was going to be great.
Club runs in such extreme, adverse conditions tend to attract the minimum number of die-hard riders, but the maximum amount of quality banter, or much talking of complete and utter bolleaux, if you prefer.
Now, perhaps this might be banal and boring to the huge majority of the population, but the gallows-humour and collective discomfort of a small group of cyclists prepared to laugh in the face of adversity is, for me, entertainment of the highest order.
But, first I have to get there.
I dress as best as I can, my thickest base-layer, winter jacket with heavy duty waterproof on top, headband to keep my ears warm, under a cap to keep the spray out of my eyes, trusty thermolite socks, winter boots and mighty lobster mitts.
Following Red Max Edict#37, I even remember to stuff a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, so I have a dry set to pull on after the cafe stop.
[I confess, I sadly failed to follow Red Max Edict#38, which states that you should make a great show of producing said dry gloves and conspicuously place them in plain view on the table in the cafe, before sitting down with a smug look on your face. This is the prescribed method to transmit your superior level of preparedness to all those futilely trying to dry out their wet gloves by melting them on the stove, or anticipating the horror of trying to jam fingers back into cold, clammy and sodden garments.]
I leave it as late as possible, letting the latest squall clear, before scurrying out the door. I’m 20 minutes behind my usual time for setting off, but I’ve followed bike paths and trails to the nearest bridge before and plan on doing the same again.
I surf, slide and skate down the Heinous Hill, trying to stay in the tyre tracks of the cars and avoid the long, curving moraines of icy, dark slush. The rain is bouncing off my helmet and jacket and, worse, the spray kicked up by my speed downhill has me soaked from the knees down in an instant. No matter whether my foot is at the top of a pedal stroke, or at the bottom, I can’t seem to find a way of reducing the amount of water being flung at my legs.
Down the hill and a sharp right, I roll over a small humped-back bridge and hit the bike trails and cycle paths. Unlike last time I took this route, it’s a bit lighter and I can actually see where I’m supposed to be going. I pick up the pace, bumping over tree roots that appear to have taken on the role of natural speed bumps, slicing through mud, muddy puddles and gravel and swerving around the chicanes provided by scattered park benches and random dog walkers.
I eventually reach the gate that leads across the railway tracks, dismount and make my way across. I’ve survived the icy downhill sweep, the slippery mud, gravel, tree roots and potholes of the bike trail, but now, as I walk my bike across the railway lines, I lose my footing on a super-slick timber walkway and almost go my length, clinging desperately onto the bike in support.
I manage to stay (barely) upright and remount to follow the river toward the bridge. Rowers pass downstream, fully into their strokes and travelling much faster than they usually appear when I see them, bobbing around just outside their club house.
Across the river, I decide against the dark, debris strewn underpass and cross the four lanes of the Scotswood Road on the footbridge, a sort of mini-Alpe d’Huez with half a dozen sharp hairpins. One wrong turn at the other side, followed by a bit of back-tracking and then I’m travelling familiar roads and climbing out of the valley.
Detours and a bit of off-roading all worked out well and I was the first rider to arrive at the meeting point, rolling into the gloom of the multi-storey car park to shelter and wait to see which other idiots felt like riding out…
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
… where I was met by OGL, climbing out from the warm cocoon of his car. Deciding not to ride himself, he was there to see for himself the idiots who would brave the horrible weather and, as an aside, issue numerous dire warnings about flooded roads, blizzards engulfing Stamfordham and the imminent threat of glaciers to the rural communities around Rothbury.
The Garrulous Kid was next in, thankfully wearing new, stolen, or recently rediscovered tights. (We couldn’t quite follow the exact, jumbled explanation of their provenance.)
Then the Colossus and G-Dawg arrived and for a while, that looked to be it, a fabulous, fearsome foursome.
G-Dawg was counting on the usual suspects, so expected one or two more, although he realised a still ailing Crazy Legs was unlikely to be out.
Just as we thought that was it, Taffy Steve rolled in from the coast, lit up like a Christmas tree in Vegas. Unbelievably, he told us he’d nearly been broadsided by a motorist who somehow failed to spot him, despite being adorned by more blinking warning lights than the dashboard of a 747 experiencing total systems failure. SMIDSY.
He was followed in by Aether and suddenly numbers were about what we expected.
Story Number 5, please …
“Did I ever tell you about the time we were racing on the North York Moors and had to follow behind a snow plough up one of the hills?” OGL mused.
“Yes. Last week,” G-Dawg replied flatly.
“What about …”
“Yes, that too. Last week.”
OGL then did a quick double-take, “You’re all on winter bikes with mudguards!” he exclaimed, stepping back in apparent disbelief.
“Well, yes,” I told him, “We might all be mad, but we’re not insane.”
He took one last opportunity to warn us that it was, raining, it was cold and the roads were wet out, before climbing back in his car and scuttling off to a warm gym.
We watched him leave. Looked out at the weather. You know, he was right, it was raining and the roads were wet …
Not for the first time, the Garrulous Kid declared that Facebook is shit and Instagram and Snapchat far, far superior. The Colossus argued that they were ultimately all the same and no one was better than any other. He did concede however that Snapchat is probably a better platform for OGL to use, as his drunken rants would be automatically deleted by the time he sobered up.
Someone suggested that what we probably needed was an app that began a 2 hour countdown as soon as he was detected leaving an off-licence and locked him out of all social media until the following morning.
The Prof had threatened to ride with us today, as the Back Street Boys tribute act don’t ride in the rain (perhaps it interferes with the timing of their carefully choreographed dance routines?) There was no sign of him though, so we assumed he’d wimped out too. (The white feather’s in the post.)
At an unfeasibly early 9:14 then, one full minute before official GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) we decided no one else was going to bolster our meagre numbers, the weather wasn’t going to miraculously (or even marginally improve) and it was time to get moving.
I spent the first few miles riding alongside the Colossus, following G-Dawg and trying to determine how the arc of spray off his rear wheel managed to completely by-pass his mudguard. I’m still none the wiser.
At Dinnington, we picked up the Big Yin waiting for us and concluded it was just as well we’d left a minute early, otherwise the Big Yin might have looked more like the Big Ycicle by the time we got to him.
So, we then became The Magnificent Seven, I earned a Clash earworm (no bad thing) and on we pressed.
The Big Yin was the only one whose bike wasn’t equipped with mudguards, so he took great pains to ride at the back and not shower us with whatever his wheels kicked up off the road surface. It was a noble effort to try and keep us dry, but somewhat akin to opening an umbrella when you’re up to your neck in a river.
“We’ve made it through Dinnington,” the Colossus announced, “We can turn back at any time now and not have the ignominy of completing the world’s shortest club run. Ever.” he said, looking pointedly at the Garrulous Kid.
Bolstered by this relative success, we pressed on.
We took the turn off to the Cheese Farm and hit our first flooded section, an expanse of dirty cold water stretching from verge to verge. Everyone crowded toward the highest point of the roads camber, right down the middle, but the water was bottom bracket deep nonetheless. Even worse for G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid cut through in front and kicked up a bow wave that engulfed him and blew through his overshoes to soak his feet.
Not that I think anyone fared much better – the water was deep enough to overtop my boots and water started to leak in.
I actually enjoyed the climb of Bell’s Hill as chance to stretch the legs and the increase in pace added a little body heat to proceedings.
The ride progressed for some way in this manner, enjoying the hills when the extra effort created a bit of warmth and dreading the descents where just a few extra kph in speed exponentially and noticeably increased the wind chill.
At one point we passed the spot where G-Dawg was marshalling during the National Time Trials and Geraint Thomas almost came to grief, misjudging the corner, running wide across the verge and barely missing the fence.
As he approached the corner, G-Dawg remembered the DS in the car behind bellowing “Put the power down! power down!” when G-Dawg was thinking more along the lines of “Woah!” and “Slow Down!” Still “G” made it through (barely) and won, perhaps thanks to the risks he took at that very corner.
Citing adverse weather protocols, we petitioned the only official member of the Flat White Club, Taffy Steve, for special dispensation to call a mid-ride coffee( and thawing-out) stop. Permission granted, we then detoured from the official route and plotted a course direct to Kirkley Cycles.
As we approached the Garrulous Kid and Colossus seemed to kick up the pace on the front.
“Is there an intermediate cafe sprint?” I asked G-Dawg. Apparently not, they were just eager to find shelter, but G-Dawg wondered if we shouldn’t programme all the potential cafe stops into Strava and have a sprint for each one.
I don’t know why, but Kirkley Cycles was strangely quiet, with only one other cyclist to be seen, a kid riding around in the yard brandishing a pick axe handle as a makeshift sabre. We wondered if this was the type of implement we too should consider carrying on club runs …
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #1:
Inside we found that Aether had turned a shocking shade of grey – probably something akin to the deathly pallor Crazy Leg sees in my face after a hill climb. He was a bit wobbly and light-headed, so at G-Dawg’s suggestion, lay out, full length across one the benches, like a corpse in the morgue.
Having felt we’d showed sufficient concern for our ailing comrade, we naturally returned to our endless blather.
Taffy Steve turned to the Colossus.
“You need a Raw flap,” he said.
He was, of course suggesting a simple and sensible extension to the Colossus’ mudguards, but we all sniggered and snorted like naughty schoolboys anyway.
We admired the selection of cycling spares and wares, concluding our other cafe stops could learn a thing or to about catering to their cycling clientele. They had at least one of almost anything you could possibly need – as well as one or two things you definitely wouldn’t.
We wondered if the miniature, but perfectly formed road-bike shaped earrings would appeal to the Colossus’ partner – perhaps as a sop after she discovered an odd charge for raw flaps on their bank statement.
He determined that, if he did buy them, he’d better have a legitimate, desirable and preferably expensive, alternative present to hand across immediately afterwards, or he’d be in big trouble.
At some point other cyclists hustled indoors, out of the cold, followed by some remarkably under-dressed gym goers, who looked someone askance at the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether.
And then, the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether sat up and slowly began to rise from his slab.
He lurched across to us and dropped heavily into a chair. Colour was slowly returning to his face and he was beginning to look less corpse-like.
“I’ll have a cup of tea,” he announced and stood up abruptly.
The next time I looked, he’d gone.
“Did he just say he was just going outside and may be some time?” I asked.
Luckily, we didn’t have to send out a search party, as our wannabe Captain Oates soon returned and then secured a cup of restorative tea.
We had a laugh at the British trait of treating any malady or ailment with a cup of tea, before deciding if more drastic action was needed. I’ve cut my arm off and the stump won’t stop bleeding. I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and then maybe go to A&E if that doesn’t help, etc.
For a reason I can’t remember, I had a conversation with Taffy Steve where we cast the Garrulous Kid as Steve McQueen’s “Cooler King” from the Great Escape. Perhaps it was something to do with his penchant for riding into fences?
We pictured him slumped on the floor in solitary, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off the floor, the wall and back again. Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap…
“You know, of course that he’d never, ever tire of doing it,” Taffy Steve concluded. Ba-Bump-Dap… “No matter how much it annoyed everyone else.”
“Well,” the Colossus announced, We’d better get going if we’re to make it to the other cafe on time!”
So, off we shuffled, once more into the breach and all that. Although seemingly fully recovered, Aether decided a little caution was called for and set off to return home, while the rest of us pushed on.
As we rejoined the main road, the Colossus applied his brakes, barely slowed and winced at the grating noise of corrosive, grit-embedded brake blocks grinding away his rims. “All that noise and no discernible effect on your speed,” Taffy Steve noted, “Don’t you love it?”
Ah yes, I thought, as the Bard himself might once have said, on a particularly bad February club-run with the Avon Jacobean V.C. – winter braking, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I dropped in beside Taffy Steve and confessed how, perversely, I quite enjoyed these extreme rides in miserable conditions. He mentioned he’d been listening to a podcast about the Great War when the Germans and Turks at Gallipoli began to fear the ANZACS and Tommy’s were mad, because, as conditions got worse and worse, the laughter from the enemy lines just got louder and more frequent. Perhaps what I was experiencing was (at a much more modest scale) something similar, though quite different?
We pushed along for a good while, at one point trailing a low-flying duck that was spoiled for choice and couldn’t seem to decide which newly formed body of water to try next. Finally we reached a junction and paused to discuss various options for extending the ride, before deciding to just head straight for the cafe. Who could blame us?
As we closed on Whalton, G-Dawg revealed that they were contemplating a 20 mph speed-limit through the village, something that would almost certainly kill the long established and much used time-trial route that passes through it. I felt it was ironic that traffic calming measures could have such a profoundly negative effect on cycling.
Approaching the cafe, I dropped back to ride with Taffy Steve, ritually cursing his already thrice-cursed winter bike and taking on the hills at a more refined pace. From here I was well-distanced from the sprint, but close enough to hear the strangled shouts and see the Colossus veer violently across the road and into the opposite lane. Something had gone wrong up front, but disaster had been averted and we all made it to the cafe safely.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #2:
The sprint had apparently been rudely disrupted when a flailing Garrulous Kid had ended up swerving violently as he kicked his own frame, causing everyone near by to take immediate and drastic avoiding action.
The Garrulous Kid insisted he was a safe rider and good in a sprint. Taffy Steve suggested this was only because everyone knew his reputation and so always allowed a 2-metre exclusion zone around him, a moving bubble of protection. For our sake, not his.
The Garrulous Kid bit into his Dime bar tray bake and then picked bits of indeterminate material out of his teeth and dropped them on his plate, prodding at them uncertainly with a bony finger.
“There’s plastic in my cake,” he declared.
“I think you’ll find they’re just bits of chilled caramel,” the Colossus offered, “It’s a Dime cake, what do you expect?”
“No, it’s plastic.” He picked up a bit and chewed it experimentally, before dropping it back onto his plate and re-asserting, “Plastic.”
“Are you sure?”
Once again the Garrulous Kid picked up the offending morsel and nibbled away.
“Stop trying to eat it then.”
Oddly though, the Garrulous Kid stopped whining about his cake and had soon devoured it, more or less in its entirety.
G-Dawg suggested if he’d wanted to complain, he couldn’t really take an empty plate, decorated with just one or two half-chewed, spit-covered (allegedly) plastic crumbs back to the counter and demand a refund or replacement.
The Big Yin told us his son had been on TV quiz show Eggheads and as a true Geordie, received what he described as the equivalent of a gaping open net, when asked to name the Premierships top goalscorer. (For the record, I would have failed miserably).
In turn, G-Dawg recalled a tale about Alan Shearer’s dad taking him to meet local footballing legend, Hughie Gallacher’s son and then telling him, “no matter how good you are, you’ll never be as good as Hughie Gallacher”. This, I celebrated, is as good an example as you could get of the Red Max school of parental encouragement.
Speaking of sporting legends, I related my own favourite tale of the week, reading about the peerless Beryl Burton, doing a 12 hour time-trial and going like a train as she passed the bloke who was on course to set a new men’s record! According to legend she’d slowed just long enough to ask if he might like a liquorice drop, before powering away and disappearing up the road.
We tried to determine if the Garrulous Kid had any topics of conversation outside of football, school/university and a seemingly unhealthy obsession with the Monkey Butler Boy. (Is it unrequited love?)
We were told he liked boxing and he liked rugby, because his dad liked rugby and used to play fly-half and he watches the rugby with his dad – (although obviously not close enough to know a fly-half wears the number 10 shirt.)
He added that he hated badminton though, which I assume is another of his dad’s sports, although it could just have been a product of his butterfly mind flitting gently from subject to subject.
I felt the need to defend badminton, good to play, if less then gripping to watch and to my mind a much better sport than tennis. He seemed surprised I didn’t like tennis and wondered why.
Uh-oh, dangerous. I could have given him chapter and verse about it’s exclusively middle-class strictures, the huge resources of time and money the BBC pours into what is essentially a minority sport, the ridiculous, stuffed shirt, stuck-up nature of the Lawn Tennis Association, the fact that you need up to 11 officials to determine a simple game between two players, those particular fans who have no interest in any sport, even tennis, other than for two weeks of the year, when they slavishly adopt a heightened, jingoistic nationalism, the elevation of the most mediocre of British talent into world-beaters, who after modest and moderate success can have the sinecure of a job, along with a whole raft of other ex-pro’s, sucking at the corporate teat of the (publicly funded) BBC, or the distinct lack of drug-testing (cough# Operación Puerto) … (Oh ok, I’m biased, I’ll admit it.)
Instead, I simply cited the fist shake – the awful, embarrassing, gesture that seems to be the staple of every tennis player, whenever they feel the need to snarl aggressively at their opponent because they’ve managed to pat a ball back over a net. I then picked out certain Mr. Andrew Barron Murray as the worst exemplar of this all to pervasive, inelegant, over-used and inappropriate gesture. In my mind, that’s enough to condemn the entire sport? Hey, I never claimed to be rational, or balanced.
For his part, Taffy Steve wondered how the seemingly brittle and shrill Judy Murray had somehow managed to parlay her sons’ successes into a kind of C-list celebrity. Where, he wondered was Mrs. Brownlee and Mrs. Yates and weren’t they deserving of some attention too?
Normal conversation resumed and the Colossus recalled a university night out, when TV Gladiators, Jet and Wolf, were paid to turn up and bash numerous drunk students with pugil sticks for fun.
As entertaining as that sounded, G-Dawg felt it probably wasn’t quite as good as watching the YouTube video of a 72-year old Buzz Aldrin sucker punching some ridiculous conspiracy-theorist who kept taunting him about the moon landings being a lie.
Then our allotted time ran out and we wrapped up, figuratively and literally and prepared to leave.
We were a little delayed as the Big Yin flipped his frying gloves over on the stove top, trying to ensure they were crisp and well browned on both sides before he pulled them on again.
Then it was out and into the weather. It had stopped raining and the sky was nudging toward brightness, so the only water we had to worry about now were the few flooded sections of road we encountered.
By the time I was dropped at the end of the Mad Mile the sun was actually out and the temperature was starting to creep up. The rest of the day and remainder of my ride would prove quite pleasant and those lucky enough to be out for a ride Sunday would enjoy cold, but bright and dry conditions.
It’s hard to think of a greater contrast from one day to the next, still, you don’t always need good weather to have a good time.
YTD Totals: 1,693 km / 1,052 miles with 22,962 metres of climbing
Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.
Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.
Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.
I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.
Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.
Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.
I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.
Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.
He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.
For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.
Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.
This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.
“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …
All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)
“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.
G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.
It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.
Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.
By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.
After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.
When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.
Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.
I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.
Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.
“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)
By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.
I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.
I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…
Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.
And he bit.
He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.
G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.
“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.
“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.
“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)
“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.
“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”
(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)
We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.
“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.
Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.
I checked, he was right:
It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam.
I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …
Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.
I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.
He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.
G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.
The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.
It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.
Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.
The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).
2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.
I missed last week due to a lingering chest infection, but felt I’d just about recovered enough to get back in the saddle, albeit running at around three-quarters optimum efficiency and accompanied by a hacking cough.
Saturday morning turned out to be murky, misty and foggy, first thing and I was pleased to be well-bundled up in my thickest base layer, winter jacket, rain jacket, thermal socks, buff, headband, gloves and glove-liners, as I dropped down the hill, buffeted by a chill wind.
Turning along the valley, I tracked, but couldn’t catch, a fellow rider, marked by the wan, ghostly glow of bare legs, as much as by the tell-tale flicker of red lights on his bike and helmet. Once again I am humbled by how inured some North East riders seem to be to the biting cold. Perhaps I’m just a wimp.
I was on-time to be held-up at the level crossing by the 8:15 Blaydon to Hexham train, otherwise it was a standard and uneventful ride across to the meeting place.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Taffy Steve told me I’d missed another massive turnout of near on 40 riders last week. Speculation about whether this was due to OGL’s pre-announced absence remain just that, purely speculative, but that’s 2 bumper winter rides in the pace of a month and quite unusual behaviour. Perhaps this is a cyclists response to climate change?
Part of the high turnout seemed to revolve around the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, who had congregated to ride with us part way, before scuttling away to do their own thing. The Red Max mentioned Taffy Steve had been bewildered by this troupe of Monkey Butler Boy clones (have I spelt that right? – I’m sure there’s mean’t to be a ‘w’ in there somewhere) – who all shared a certain, raw-boned hungry look, in their all matching, carefully coordinated kit. I suspect William Golding might have found them an endless source of inspiration.
I couldn’t help recalling the moment I first encountered this particular subgenus in the café garden, as they swarmed around a bike, pointing and jabbering excitedly at this, that or the other, before moving on to the next bike to repeat the process and then the next and then the next…
The Garrulous Kid wanted to now why ever-present G-Dawg wasn’t present. “It’s not 9 o’clock yet,” Crazy Legs replied laconically.
“But, it’s nearly 9 o’clock,” the Garrulous Kid answered.
“Yes, but it isn’t 9 o’clock.”
“So, what time’s it now?” Crazy Legs asked after a short while.
“It’s just turned 9 o’clock, official Garmin Muppet Time,” someone replied, glancing down at their Garmin.
“See!” Crazy Legs nodded to where G-Dawg was pulling up, on cue and bang on time, his internal navigation, vectoring protocols and automated targeting systems, whirring and clicking away with mechanised efficiency.
We were all hugely impressed by the Red Max’s lights, especially the one on the front of his bike, a common or garden, Pifco torch, mummified in swathes of gaffer tape that strapped it directly to the underside of his stem. This, the Red Max explained was purely for the Wednesday night chain-gangs, which is the only bit of riding he does in the dark, so he didn’t see the need for actual bike lights with a proper mounting.
The Red Max broke of our conversation to clamber up onto the wall and outline the route. “Hello,” he began, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for the day …”
He then apologised for selecting a rather standard, regular, run-of-the-mill ride, without even any variation in the direction we were running the different segments.
“That’s fine, ” I told him, “If we run another route widdershins, we’ll just end up summoning the devil.”
Two groups were agreed, with a more or less equal split of the numbers and off we went.
I rolled out in the second group, not looking for anything too fast and frenetic and hoping to get through the ride without inducing a mammoth coughing bout.
I fell in alongside Crazy Legs as we rolled out, principally tasked with helping him decipher the lyrics to a Half Man Half Biscuit song that was rattling around in his brain.
It was undeniably chilly out on the roads and I could feel my toes slowly turning numb. As we followed the Red Max out and up Limehouse Lane, I plaintively asked if there was a café nearby. I was only half-joking, but let’s just say the opportunity for the inaugural Winter 2018 Flat White ride didn’t fall entirely on barren soil.
Crazy Legs suggested a early coffee intervention at Matfen, so we did our stint on the front and pulled the group through to Stamfordham, before turning off the planned route for a shortcut to caffeine succour.
Sneaky Pete joined us and for a moment our desperate trio were united in a co-ordinated bout of coughing, so we sounded like the TB wing of the club, or desperate refugees at the Mexican-US border breathing in a very minor form of tear gas. (Very safe.)
For a time I pushed on at the front alongside Sneaky Pete, with Crazy Legs running along behind and between us, declaring rather contentedly, “It’s nice back here.”
A few turns along wet and muddy roads though and he became suspiciously solicitous, asking how I was feeling and suggesting I needed a spell off the front. I let him through and he immediately explained he was ok riding behind me, but for some reason Sneaky Pete’s (almost identical) mudguard was spraying him with road crud, so one side of his body was pristine, clean and dry, the other splattered and speckled with mud.
Leading from the front, Crazy Legs guided us unerringly to the hidden jewel of Matfen village store, complete with its own café and one of those huffing, spluttering, gurgling, steaming, barrista-wrangling, coffee machines, where we went for flat whites all around.
Damn fine coffee.
Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#1
We decided the the Flat White Club needed a President to promote its life-affirming, ride enhancing, cold alleviating properties and duly proposed, seconded and elected Taffy Steve to the role … in his absence.
We then worked out an impressive number of Flat White ride options, which included potential coffee interludes at Kirkley Cycles, Matfen, the Gubeon, Belsay, Capheaton and Bolam Lake.
Sneaky Pete impressed me with his adoption and familiarity with the Apple Pay digital wallet, something Crazy Legs had recommended to him. I was overwhelmed by his all round tech savvy and acuity and felt there was hope for us Luddite’s yet …
Then he went and spoiled by becoming the only person in living history to lament the demise of (the dreadful!) Freeserve internet and email service.
Suitably warmed through and refreshed, we left the café just as our front group charged through the village and swung away up the hill. We were almost, almost, perfectly placed just to drop onto the back, but they were travelling just a little too fast and we would have needed to have left the café about 30 seconds earlier to tag on without a supreme effort.
Not to worry, we saddled up and followed as they made their way to the Quarry, at which point they picked the pace up and we wouldn’t see them again until we made the café .
The three of us pushed on anyway, and arrived just behind the front group to join the back of a ridiculously long queue that stretched w-a-a-a-y back.
Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#2
“Bloody hell! I thought you had a full head of hair under that helmet,” Crazy Legs couldn’t help exclaiming, as we tagged onto the back of the queue, just behind the Ticker, sans helmet. Smooth.
Meanwhile Sneaky Pete carefully assessed the length of the queue, carefully assessed the likely delay and issues he’d cause by being devoted technocrat, right on the cutting-edge of digital payment systems and wielding Apple Pay with confidence and impunity. He then, wisely decided he’d rather head for home than challenge the antiquated, antediluvian staff and their convoluted and tortuous till system. So, he sneaked away.
Oh mi corazón!For reasons unknown, Crazy Legs started singing the Clash song, Spanish Bombs, before declaring the ride had done him a world of good and helped him clear his chest. “I’ve howked up a right load of crap,” he declared happily.
I commended him, not so much on the therapeutic benefits of the ride, but on his use of a good Geordie word I haven’t heard for years. Howk – a wonderfully onomatopoeic word, suggesting something that’s physically clawed out and expelled violently – most often used in the context of brutal and fierce expectoration.
We finally got served and seated, although not without a few problems with Crazy Legs’ own digital wallet, which needed several attempts to work and proved Sneaky Pete, as well as being an early-adopter, was both prescient and perspicacious.
These travails with digital payments also sadly revealed that we were in a wi-fi black spot, so Crazy Legs couldn’t share the video of creepy, distasteful and oleaginous MP, Michael Gove slipping and falling on his arse in Downing Street.
It seemed I then only had time to briefly rib the Garrulous Kid for asking what was happening next Fursday, before we were collecting our kit and heading out again.
A decent pace was set for the run home and I found myself on the front as the majority peeled-off left. I accelerated and pushed straight on, into the Mad Mile, expecting at any minute to be passed by a flying G-Dawg and Colossus, racing to be first home and into the shower. But, somehow, I reached my turn-off still leading the group and swung away for home.
Hmm, perhaps the 10-mile less than normal I’d covered on the day, the relatively modest pace, or lack of full-blooded cafe sprint, made all the difference and meant I was fresher than usual and able to hold off any challenges from those behind?
Or, more likely, G-Dawg and the Colossus had already negotiated first use of the shower via a complex, rock-paper-scissors style-challenge and were just cruising home now on autopilot. We’ll never know.
Like my run in, my return was delayed at the level crossing, this time by a train running the opposite way, from Hexham to Blaydon. Still, I was in no hurry, the weather was fine, I felt pretty decent and, like Crazy Legs, I think the run out had actually helped with the chest infection.
That means next week it’s back to the full distance, full-blooded cafe sprint and being ritually expelled, or even howked, from the back of the group at the end of the Mad Mile.
Unless, of course, someone suggests a Flat White Ride…
YTD Totals: 6,787 km / 4,217 miles with 83,107 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 48 minute
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 8-9-8-7-6-5
Weather in a word or two: Brutal then balmy
Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.
In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.
To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.
As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.
The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.
I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.
Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.
My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.
A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.
I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.
Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.
I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.
Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.
One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.
The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.
G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of Charlie Allinston and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop!
“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.
“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered
“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.
“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”
I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.
“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”
“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.
OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.
With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.
First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.
G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.
“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”
Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.
Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.
“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.
Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.
“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.
Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.
At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.
“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.
“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.
We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.
“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”
Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.
And then there were 5.
As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!
Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1
As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.
Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.
The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.
Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!
“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.
“And dry,” he added.
“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”
Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.
“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.
“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.
For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.
We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.
The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.
Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.
We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.
We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2
Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.
For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.
G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.
Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.
From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.
From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”
The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.
By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.
The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.
After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.
We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.
This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”
We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.
I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.
YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing
Total Distance 89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 51 minutes
Average Speed:23.1 km/h
Group size:5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Turning Arctic
A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.
But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.
Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.
As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.
Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.
Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.
Main topics of conversation at the start.
Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.
Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.
Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.
“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”
As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.
Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:
A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”
And a minute later,
CL: “… Not sure.”
To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”
Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.
G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.
News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.
Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.
We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)
At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered. I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.
As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.
For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.
Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One
Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.
Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.
For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.
The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.
Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.
As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.
Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.
Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.
We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.
As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.
A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.
As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.
G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.
He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel
In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.
Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.
Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.
Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.
Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.
“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.
His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.
We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …
Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.
As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.
Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.
Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.
At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.
Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.
Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.
Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.
Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing