Don’t tell me we’re back to that always raining on Saturday malarkey. I thought we’d done with that?
But no, apparently not.
This weather would have made for a truly grim club ride demanding full protective measures – thermals, rain jackets, mudguards, overshoes, casquette, spare gloves et al. The good news was I wasn’t heading out on a club run …
The bad news was I was heading out to my first time trial of the new season and this was likely to be just as grim, if not more so than the club run, but without the benefit of any of the protective measures.
Today was Team Kirkley Cycles’ 10-mile individual time trial where I was the 42nd rider off in a bumper field of 80. It was also about returning to the scene of the crime. my first ever time trial, way back in August 2018 (the horror of which can be relived here) when I was a callow, 55-year old. Now in a whole new age category, but seemingly none the wiser, I was about to do it all again, my 4th such competitive event, and the first on a course I actually knew and had ridden before.
At least my start time gave me an additional half an hour in bed beyond when I’m usually up and about on a Saturday morning. Sadly, it also gave time for the cold, dismal rain to settle in fully, like a depressing, soaking wet blanket thrown over the entire region. I arrived at Kirkley in plenty of time, parked up and finally worked up the courage to get out of the nicely warm car for a chat with a couple of team mates, while I pulled out the bike and started preparing.
I signed on and got briefed about potential hazards out on the course: gravel, potholes, and mud I was familiar with, especially on the lane past Ogle, and puddles and standing water were a given on a day like this, but open farm gates? I struggled to work out what hazard open farm gates posed – other than the not impossible scenario of me taking a wrong turn and riding into a newly ploughed field.
Once I’d pinned my number on my back, I wandered out for what I farcically term a warm-up, even though that was something that was almost impossible in the prevailing conditions, and it was more an exercise in trying not to get too wet and chilled while killing time before my start.
With a few minutes to go, I backtracked to the start line, just in time to witness a comedy of errors. First up, one tall rangy rider somehow slipped and majestically toppled like an up-rooted redwood. I can now safely report that If a time-triallist topples in a forest, and no one is around to hear, he does indeed make a sound, and that sound is undoubtedly a loud and explosive “Ooph!”
No damage seemed to be done and the rider picked himself up, dusted himself down and got underway, probably with a huge jolt of adrenaline as a boost.
The marshal’s then tried to fit a late-comer into the minute gap between the next rider up and the one immediately in front of me. The interloper jumped away 30 seconds into the minutes’ gap and made maybe 2 or 3 pedal strokes before his drivetrain imploded. The starter then leaped to the rescue and wrangled the bike upright and the chain back in place, helped the rider up off the floor, and got him underway, but not before the poor guy in front of me had to start with a foot on the ground, clip himself in and then steer carefully around the chaos unfolding in front of him.
Luckily, I had no such issues and managed to get underway in good order, grateful to be moving and hopefully generating some warmth. I made it to the descent just before Ogle before my minute man caught and passed me and I was on the final run for home before I was passed again. For me, this was quite an encouraging state of affairs.
Even better, as I approached the turn on the outward leg a flashing red light showed I was catching someone ahead and though it took a bit longer than anticipated I eventually passed them on the long straight road toward the finish. It’s always good to know you’re not going to be last! I was even closing on a second set of lights as I crested the final rise but ran out of road before I could make that catch.
Done, I then had to take the long loop around Berwick Hill to get back to the race HQ to (rightly) avoid riding on the actual race circuit. It was here that I realised just how tired I was and how chilled, soaked to the bone, and filthy I was too, and I hated every mile of this enforced detour. For a different perspective though, a much hardier rider from Weardale told me he thought this was the best bit of the route as he relished the smooth new tarmac on Berwick Hill after the crusty, potholed monstrosity that is the track from Ogle.
I didn’t hang around at the finish, but packed up as quickly as I could, pulled on as many layers as I had, although there wasn’t enough, and shivered all the way home, even with the heaters in the car cranked up to the maximum and the windows slowly fogging. It took a long hot shower and a couple of hours huddled indoors before I started to feel warm again. That was unexpectedly brutal.
I finished in 55th place out of the 70 starters who were brave or foolish enough to turn out in such miserable weather, and in a time of 29:14, almost exactly 2 minutes slower than my previous attempt on this circuit. If that rate of decline is anything to go by in another 5 years or so I won’t be able to ride fast enough to consistently stay upright, so I’d better enjoy my cycling while I can.
If I’m reading the results correctly the winner in the 60+ Vets category finished with a time of 26:17, which is better than I’ve ever managed on the fastest course in the most favourable conditions. Well, it’s something to aim for…
Well back to a normal club run affairs after a mischievous and thoroughly enjoyable dabbling with time trials. Well, almost back to normal. This weekend marked the sombre, 2nd anniversary of the untimely death of club mate, Gavin Husband, who collapsed and died while riding home at the end of a Saturday club run.
Gavin occasionally graced this humble blerg in the guise of Benedict, but my inane witterings went no way toward capturing the kindness and generosity of spirit that were the hallmarks of the man. His first memorial ride had passed in a never-ending deluge of Biblical proportions, which somehow seemed appropriate to the occasion and at least made it unforgettable. This time around things looked significantly more agreeable.
Biden Fecht organised the ride utilising one of Gavin’s old routes and had thrown it open to anyone who knew Gavin, regardless of any club affiliation. He’d also set up a Just Giving page to raise money for the Great North Air Ambulance, while Gavin’s widow was set to meet us at the cafe for a moment of remembrance.
I was slightly late leaving the house, so modified my usual route to take in the climb of Hospital Lane. I’d learned from my Clickbait adventures that this would shave about a mile off my route and save me 4 or 5 minutes, at the cost of a stiffer climb out of the valley. This worked to perfection and I reached the meeting point bang on 09.00 to find a fairly large group already assembled.
I had a chance for a long overdue catch up with Kermit, before Biden Fecht briefed in the route and we started to get groups out and away. A sizeable first group was followed by an over-sized second group, so I hung back to join a rather diminished third joining Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve and a handful of others.
Within minutes of our grand depart a couple of drivers saluted our cycling prowess with a stunning duet, a near note perfect rendition of what I believe was Mozart’s 4h Horn Concerto, although I have to admit I’ve always been tone death. Minutes later, white van man’s contribution was less tuneful and slightly more strident. He seemed deeply troubled by something or other on this fine, fine morning, but I couldn’t work out was bothering him.
The aural assaults were bad enough, but then a white ‘hot hatch’ came screaming past us on a bend and nearly lost it on the roundabout ahead, rising up until the two nearside wheels almost lifted off the ground, before slamming down again and fishtailing wildly across the road until control was restored and it roared away.
“Hmm,” Taffy Steve remarked dryly, “Two strident motorists, white van man and then a turbo-nutter bastard? Your blog title almost writes itself.”
And thus, it was so. I mean, who am I to deny the Fates.
I did a decent turn on the front up and through Ponteland and then again through Meldon. We paused momentarily at Dyke Neuk and then cut a corner off to route through Hartburn and out toward Middleton Bank, where we followed another large group onto the climb. From a little distance away this looked to be a contingent from the Blaydon club, riding up the slope impressively en bloc, while we were shattered and scattered down its length. We then took an age to regroup, before settling in for the last push to the cafe.
We were nearly there and slightly ahead of the second group courtesy of our shortcut around Hartburn. They caught us with about 1km to go and our group was sucked along in their slipstream as they sprinted toward the cafe. Despite the injection of pace though, everyone failed to beat the rain, which started to hammer down just as we pulled to a stop.
Cafe service was surprisingly quick and we all gathered in the dark and dank barn to listen to the rain drumming relentlessly on the roof.
The Red Max, Mrs Max and the Monkey Butler Boy were there in mufti, the Red Max being sidelined with a sore elbow, although he disputed my assertion that this was the result of playing too much tennis, golf, croquet, or other bourgeois sporting endeavour.
The Monkey Butler Boy towers over everyone now, so more Silverback Butler Boy than monkey these days. One thing that hasn’t change though is his penchant for bright, white shoes, although we were disappointed to learn he wasn’t quite as obsessive in keeping these as pristine as his cycling slippers and no longer carried baby wipes expressly for this purpose.
We did hear that father and son had momentarily bonded over a joint hacksaw assault on a recalcitrant gear hanger. Red Max suggesting such accord did happen periodically, but only around once every 5-years. I suspect it most usually coincides with some diabolical partnership in controlled engineering destruction.
The interchange between the pair reminded Taffy Steve of a Mark Twain quote – “When I fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Funny feller that Twain guy.
G-Dawg put on his serious specs to deliver a brief eulogy to missing friends, topped with a minutes applause as tribute. We emerged, blinking into the newly-washed sunshine, where Goose assured me I could safely stow my rain jacket for the ride home.
I had a brief moment to admire the perfectly formed chainring tattoo on his less than perfectly formed calf. Such adornments are becoming an increasingly common feature of his appearance, which Goose suggested might be the consequence of him having one calf bigger than the other.
As well as leaving you with disgraceful penchant for chainring tattoo’s, he then told me asymmetrical calves are also potentially symptomatic of an acute pulmonary embolism. Despite the reason we were all out here today though, he seemed blithely unconcerned by this, so I trust he’s had it checked out.
Anyway, he was correct in his assessment of the weather at least, as I enjoyed the rest of my ride home in a pleasant spell of sunshine.
Now, I’m going a way for a while in order to turn 60 (I’ve heard it can be quite a long and taxing transformation) – so see you on the other side.
Day & Date:
The 2nd Gavin Husband Memorial Ride, Saturday 20th August 2022
This is becoming something of a theme, the weather on Saturday was warm (again), occasionally bright (again) and a bit blustery (again). We’re in danger of having remarkably consistent weather, week in and week out, which would obviously be a bit of a disaster as we’re British and would lose such a mainstay of our everyday conversations.
Still, it makes for pleasant riding conditions, so here we go again.
It was an uneventful run across to the meeting place where our club mingled with a few members of the JPF who , I must say, seem to be getting a bit tardy setting off these days. Crazy Legs wondered if we’d ever get a breakaway from a breakaway, which naturally led him to sing the song from the Breakaway biscuit advert … except … except he got it confused with the (frankly much catchier) theme song from the kid’s TV programme, Playaway – so instead of “Don’t take away my Breakaway” we got:
It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine Just as long as you’ve got time To B-R-E-A-K breakaway-break, breakaway, Break-a-break, breakaway. Breakaway.
Well, It almost worked …
“Can you still get Breakaways?” he pondered.
I confirmed that I had been offered one while visiting elder relatives recently, while the Hammer surmised you could probably still buy them at Nisa (other typical corner shops are available), being sold individually in one of those wrappers that clearly states “Part of a multi-pack: Not to be sold individually.”
“What colour were the wrappers, anyway,” Crazy Legs continued.
“Orangey-yellow?” I suggested.
“Hmm, I was going to say yellowy-orange. This just confirms it, we’re polar opposites.” That’s some irrefutable logic and not worth arguing with.
We then tried to find a shade of yellowy-orange, or even orangey-yellow in the collected jerseys of the two cycling groups, but no one had quite nailed it. There’s entertainment in small things.
“What time is it?” Crazy Legs asked suddenly. Apparently, his new Fitbit has decided that if he’s fully engaged in any cycling activity, then he doesn’t need to know what time it is. He dropped down off the wall to consult Captain Black’s bike computer and find the answer to his question.
It was 9:14. He looked up, just as Carlton appeared, drawing a sharp intake of breath. Why was he so early? As Carlton rolled to a stop, Crazy Legs looked down again to verify the time and was just about to castigate Carlton for being premature when the display clicked over to 9:15.
Time we were away.
Den Haag had planned the route this week which included a rare (but not rare enough) pilgrimage up the Ryals. There were 24 of us, but we were back to struggling to get enough numbers in the first group, so I did that thing where you look to see if you’ll be the slowest rider and a drag on the rest. Being second worst is okay, but you definitely don’t want to be the worst. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but I gambled that, all things being equal, I probably didn’t quite represent the nadir of the group assembling, so somewhat reluctantly joined them. A bit of cajoling and encouragement from G-Dawg and we made it up to 7, but that would have to do, so away we went.
We hit Ponteland and then turned almost due west through Dalton, Stamfordham, Fenwick, Matfen and Great Whittingdon, before turning north for Bingfield. Taco Cat expressed her trepidation that we were now approaching the Ryalls, although apparently she’s ridden them many times before, so it wasn’t fear of the unknown.
“That and the Quarry are the only climbs we have on the route though,” Den Haag assured her, just as we started the climb to Bingfield. Apparently this hadn’t registered as a climb to Den Haag, but my legs vociferously disagreed.
A quick descent and then we were on the horrible, draggy run up to the Ryalls, looming like a wall ahead of us. I dropped into the smallest gear, along with a pace I felt I could sustain. The front runners raced on ahead, so, as I crested the first of the climbs dual humps, they’d already pushed through the “easier” section and were halfway up the the final steep ramp.
Movement in the field to my right distracted me from the pain in my legs and I watched a dark brown shape cutting a V-shaped wake through the crops. It materialised into a sheep-sized, potentially roe(?) deer that hesitated for the briefest of moments, looking me directly in the eye, before realising I was moving much too slow to be any kind of threat. In an effortless, graceful bound it cleared the wall, dashed across my path, hooves skitterring on the road surface and leapt again. Traction on tarmac obviously wasn’t all that good for this take off and it audibly rattled the barbed wire strands across the top of the wall as it sailed over, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.
That, I decided, was obviously the Johnny Hoogerland of the Britsh deer community, capable of lacerating themselves on barbed wire and then shrugging it off and continuing on their way as if nothing had happened.
It was also the kind of chance encounter that almost made up for the stupid brutality of the Ryalls – a climb our group then decided should feature more regularly on club runs. What? No!
We regrouped once clear of the climb, quickly scaled the Quarry and then clambered our way up to Capheaton for well-earned coffee and cake.
There was some discussion about whether Capheaton was “the best cycling cafe.” Personally, now that we’ve broken the edict that we can only ever stop at Belsay, I like the choice and the route flexibility the various stops deliver and to be honest, each place has its merits and, shall we say, wrinkles.
Caracol was wrestling with his inner demons trying to decide whether he should be looking at a new bike or not. I thought this was a very unfair and unequal contest as he had no significant other to argue against and suggested he might like to borrow Mrs. Sur La Jante for this purpose.
Jimmy Mac insisted that Mrs. Mac was even more ideally suited for the role as she had experience and came pre-programmed with a whole host of stock responses and challenges, such as:
“This is a garage, not a bike showroom.”
“What do you need another bike for?”
“How many bikes can you actually ride at any given time?”
She had, he confessed, even sussed out the trick of him covertly buying all the individual components and assembling them into a new bike and was no longer buying the “it’s just an old frame I’ve had resprayed” gambit either.
For some reason, Caracol declined both our kind offers, suggesting he’d best just wrestle with his conscience alone, thank you very much. His loss, I’m sure …
We left the cafe with pretty much the same group and were soon chasing after Flat Eric, who apparently had an urgent need to get home early and was intent on ramping up the pace. I bailed at Kirkley, starting to feel sorry for my legs and enjoyed a more sedate pace as I picked my way home. Hopefully that’s the Ryalls done for another year.
The sun was being a bit coy early on Saturday morning, hiding behind a veil of cool mist that kept the temperatures down, nonetheless, the few days before had been pleasantly warm and the forecast was for this to continue, with even the shocking possibility of direct sunshine at some point. It was, finally, finally warm enough to tempt me to join those ironmen who seem to have been regularly venturing out in shorts since March.
I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs already in place, but wearing civvies and being chaperoned by a small, four-legged companion. Since he wasn’t wearing cycling gear, or even chaps and his companion, Reggie, wasn’t saddled up, I used my remarkable deductive powers to reason that he probably wasn’t riding today. Naturally I felt compelled to state the bleedin’ obvious anyway.
“Not riding today, then?”
“Hmm, what gave it away?”
It transpired that Crazy Legs was needed elsewhere, having received a last minute request from his daughter to help her move house. Since he’d planned today’s route though, he’d turned up to brief it in to anyone who wanted to stick to the plan – naturally we’re all sticklers to the plan, so by default that was everybody.
One after another, more riders rolled in, each and every one giving Crazy Legs the once-over, before …
“Not riding today, then?”
When enough had gathered, Crazy Legs outlined his chosen route, out through Darras to Stamfordham, before dropping down the Ryals, looping around Hallington Reservoir then heading home. This he explained would put us within easy striking distance of all three of our usual café stops, Capheaton, Belsay or Kirkley, so we could take our pick, or even visit them all! Great for personal choice, but a bit harsh on G-Dawg who is still recovering from his broken leg, but had been showing up at the coffee stops every Saturday to try and live the rides vicariously. Now he’d be playing a kind of Russian Roulette with cafés and with only a 1 in 3 chance of success.
There was only time then for OGL to condemn the stacked spacers above my stem as a clear and present danger to my manhood and idly wonder if I’d heard the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a similar set-up while riding a track meet at Gateshead Stadium. Trust me, I have.
We got our first group underway, well almost, as once again we had just 4 riders pushing off, so we waited a bit at the traffic lights for other volunteers. Then we overshot the mark when 4 became 8 and, just as we were pondering what to do, that 8 became 12. At that point the lights turned green and so we decided to push on before the 12 had a chance to become 18.
James III and Not Anthony led us out and I followed second-wheel alongside Zardoz, uncertain who the other 8 riders were, other than the fact I could clearly (obviously) hear Goose honking and braying behind. The order of things stayed that way until we hit the roundabout outside the airport, when traffic broke the group up and we darted across in ones and two’s.
We partially reformed, but seemed to have left 3 or 4 riders behind and they never caught up. I found myself leading alongside Zardoz as we swung left and the road started to rise slowly on our passage through Darras Hall.
I enjoyed what my old English teacher would have defined as a pregnant pause, leading the group in companionable silence for a short while, before I turned to Zardoz.
“Well,” I said, “This is a rare and momentous day. One that I never thought I’d see.”
“You on the front of a group.”
He looked around, mock horror written across his face.
“I wish you hadn’t said that, I hadn’t noticed till you drew attention to it.”
I glanced across. “Don’t worry, no sign of a nose bleed. Yet.”
Zardoz then began to wonder if Taffy Steve was in the group. “I hope so, he’ll never believe this otherwise.”
I did a quick check back. Lined out behind us were Goose and Captain Black, Mini Miss and Wallis and then our early leaders, James III and Not Anthony. So, no Taffy Steve then, but plenty of witnesses.
Somewhere en route the sun finally broke through for good and things began to warm up nicely. Just before Stamfordham, I suggested we’d done a fair turn and we should swing over and let the rest through. Strangely, Zardoz didn’t argue and so we pulled over and waved Goose and Captain Black through and dropped to the back.
From there we made our way out to the Ryals, for a fast, strung out and bumpy descent, then we kept heading west, until we hit the A68, bounced north, before finally angling eastward to pass around Hallington Reservoir. Somewhere along the way I shed my arm warmers as the weather had turned seriously hot and sunny. Beside me Zardoz lamented that even his formidable bike handling skills weren’t enough to allow him to safely remove a long-sleeved baselayer on the fly.
Not Anthony endured a wholly unprovoked, dangerously close punishment pass from an ass-hat driver and then we began climbing again, through Little Bavington and toward Capheaton. I was working on the front when Zardoz slotted in alongside me. I would have raised the proverbial eyebrow, but didn’t get the chance, as he took one sniff of the air, caught the slightest hint of a headwind and disappeared backwards again. Normal service had been resumed.
Having more or less confirmed on the fly an earlier decision to stop at the Belsay café, we then had the usual fast club run down to the Snake Bends and traditional café sprint, enlivened by James III channelling his inner Red Max and going for it from waaaaay too far out.
At the café and having forgotten my facemask, I followed Goose’s lead in threading an arm warmer through my helmet straps for a bit of impromptu, but surprisingly effective facial protection. Meanwhile, Zardoz started to strip in order to remove his pesky baselayer, much to the consternation of all the little old ladies in the queue, one of who almost had a stroke, but she couldn’t quite reach. Ba dum tss!
Masked, dressed and served, we picked our way into the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake and the rather glorious sunshine.
“Is that one of those revolving helmets?” Zardoz asked me. At first I was a bit bemused by the question and wondered if somehow I’d been caught doing a full 360-degree Exorcist head spin, but we finally realised he was talking about a MIPS system.
“No,” I replied, “It’s just big and ugly.”
“Like his head,” Captain Black helpfully supplied.
Try as we might, none of us could then work out what MIPS actually stood for (it’s Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, apparently, I guess MDIPS isn’t as marketable) although I could remember SIPS from long ago and wondered if they were still a feature of Volvo cars.
“Yes, they are,” Goose confirmed, revealing himself to be a rather avid Volvo acolyte, something I should have guessed, as the image fits him perfectly. Bet he smokes a pipe too.
Further revelations ensued when Goose told us about his recent new adventures, when he stripped his rear wheel down to service the freehub springs and pawls and somehow managed the rebuild it again, surprisingly without too many parts left over.
“That’s appawling,” Zardoz noted.
Then, Goose related how Alhambra had snapped the steerer tube, fork crown, or stem of his winter bike. Goose knew exactly which bit had failed, he just couldn’t describe it, but reassured us that although Ahlambra had gone over the handlebars, he hadn’t hurt himself.
This prompted an intervention from OGL at the next table who gave us a long lecture about the importance of applying the correct amount of Newton-Metres to bike components and always using a good torque wrench.
“He can torque,” Zardoz noted.
The lecture turned into a practical demonstration as OGL grabbed Mini Miss’s bike and told us how people even over-tighten the quick release skewers, before flicking at one of hers and disappointingly finding it took only minimal effort to release.
My mind zoned out for a bit, then came crashing back.
“Please tell me he hasn’t just started talking about cock-rings?” I asked the table in some distress.
“No, no, lock rings,” they assured me, “El-Oh-Cee-Kay. Lock rings.”
Oh, thank goodness for that.
As pleasant as it was sitting in the garden, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and I found myself travelling at the back of the group with Goose, talking about new bikes and his half-formed plans to have his existing, 10-year old Boardman stripped and re-sprayed. He didn’t seem to have a particular colour in mind (I highly suspect it will end up black) but he had given considerable thought to some alternative branding and decided he’d like to slap Volvo stickers on it once complete. Now, if anyone else had suggested such a thing I’d have guessed they were just being ironic…
Rab-D attacked up Berwick Hill and I gave chase, dragging the rest of the pack behind me. James III took over the front on the road to Dinnington, but on the sharp climb Rab-D attacked again and this time Goose responded. The increase in pace pulled everyone past James III who was left trailing and railing against us, “Really? Was I really going that slow?”
Into the Mad Mile and heading homeward, I was thoroughly enjoying the glorious sunshine now, not appreciating that I was making a good start cultivating those ridiculous cyclist tan lines, even if they would be temporarily etched in red, sore skin. I didn’t even realise it had been that hot out. Must remember the sun cream next week.
With a week off before starting my new job, on Wednesday I played the good clubmate and set up to deliver a batch of new (unofficial) jerseys to four of our number. Door-to-door delivery by dedicated bike courier – now that’s what I call service. Waiting just long enough for the rush hour traffic to die down, the first on my list was the Ticker, which found me staying on the south side of the river, but heading due east and out almost to the coast. Following some disembodied Google navigation in an ear-piece, took me over some pretty rough and broken trails as my route ran along the banks of the Tyne, bouncing over kerbs, tree roots and fractured tarmac, while slaloming around potholes, glittering sprays of broken glass and dimly wandering dogs replete with dimly wandering owners. Seat of the pants stuff, but we made it.
I took up the offer of a coffee al fresco and the Ticker (obviously a man of many hidden talents) noted he would have whipped up a batch of fresh scones if I hadn’t arrived quite so early. He had already provided the highlight of the Classic’s Season when, on our WhatsApp bike racing group chat, I’d wondered how Kasper Asgren felt finding himself in the decisive move at the Tour of Flanders, but sandwiched between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. “Like a bloke who’s just realised he’s sharing a taxi with the Kray twins,” the Ticker had aptly suggested. Now he was in contention not only for Comeback Comment of the year, but for Cyclist’s Coffee Stop of the Year, albeit a little too far out of the way to become a regular fixture on our club runs.
[Major hat tip to Kasper Asgren by the way, for managing to outwit and outmuscle both MVP and WVA and take a quite stunning and unexpected (to me, anyway) victory.]
From the Tickers abode, I tracked back west toward the city, dropping down to the river before crossing the Millennium Bridge and climbing out the other side, skirting the city centre to drop off point 2. I handed over the jersey picked up my bike by the stem and saddle … and found myself holding two separate bits of bike, my seatpost having silently crumbled just below the clamp. Naturally it had broken in the worst possible place, with the ragged remains of the pin sat 5mm deep in the frame and leaving nothing to grip to pull it out. I had to abandon my mission, leaving both Biden Fecht and Crazy Legs shirtless, call my own personal voiture balai and deposit the bike in LBS to see if it can be rescued or will need to be trashed.
With the weekend approaching I was left with a choice of riding the Frankenstein single-speed, or lumpen Peugeot, although it wasn’t a long debate once I saw Buster’s planned route, with it’s smattering of climbs, including the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. Heavy or not, at least the Peugeot had the advantage of a choice of gears. Although Aether’s Bianchi had survived last weeks mishap, his rear mech was smashed and had snapped several spokes as it tore loose, so his good bike would also be hors combat for the weekend. He too was planning on riding his heavy winter bike, so we agreed to ride together and hopefully avoid any fast groups or racing snakes.
At the moment we seem caught in a repeating cycle of weather characterised by below freezing nights and brilliantly bright, but deathly chill days. Saturday was to be no different. This shockingly-cold-to-moderately-cool pattern meant the Golidlocks ‘just right’ layering formula was especially problematic and even pushed one uncertain FNG to post on Facebook to seek clothing advice. The girls in the club found this highly amusing as they had previously thought they were the ones seeking fashion tips and arranging clothing coordination. Naturally the range of advice to the FNG went from my gloves, jersey, jacket, cap, buff, tights and overshoes, to G-Dawgs shorts and short-sleeved jersey only – so wide as to be be utterly useless.
On Saturday morning I made my own best guess at the right number of layers and clothing combinations, but the descent off the Heinous Hill had me shivering and convinced I’d badly misjudged. It wasn’t until I was climbing out the other side of the valley that I began to feel comfortable.
Even being thrown onto the winter bike hadn’t lessened my enthusiasm for the untarnished novelty of another group ride and I was out early and at the meeting place well before 9.00. There I found the clubs latest splinter cell about to head out on their own ride, with the Prof tagging along and so confirming the scurrilous rumours that he’d split from the Backstreet Boys. A sizeable dozen or so left, leaving those of us not yet in open rebellion at the club hierarchy scattered on a suddenly empty pavement, like flotsam from a receding tide.
Once the splinter cell had departed, we opted for a more discrete presence, so reconvened under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and out of the public gaze. With cyclists being figures of hate as it is, we don’t need any unwarranted criticism for being perceived to be flouting COVID distancing rules too.
It was here that perhaps the strangest FNG yet (a surprisingly high bar!) introduced himself. Clad in just a skin-tight, long-sleeved base layer, skinny jeans and trainers, he declared a new found love for cycling and a desire to solve the eternal conundrum of how you clip in to clipless pedals, as well as learn how to “get aero.” (I assume he meant his riding position and not the popular bubbly chocolate confectionery, but who knows?) He tailed off by suggesting he’d been building up the length of his rides and was now managing “about 4 miles at a time.” I was hoping I’d misheard that last statement, but didn’t wait to clarify as we now had an agreed first group and the winter-bike brigade of Aether and me rode out, along with an escort of fast-movers comprising Crazy Legs, Not Anthony and one of last Sunday’s FNG’s.
Stopped at the first set of lights, we saw route planner and nominal ride leader Buster just approaching, so we barracked him for his tardiness, feigned ignorance about the route and peppered him with questions – is it right here, or left? Where are we going again? Which way? etc. Well, we thought it was funny …
Out of the roads, we found Crazy Legs on fine form and in full human jukebox mode. “Construction Time(?)” gave way to “Into the Groove” after he pulled the FNG back for three-quarter wheeling and was met with the excuse that the FNG was just “in the groove.” This then morphed into Kool & the Gang’s “Groove Tonight.” Carefully picking our way around a Dove’s Building Materials lorry delivering supplies, he eschewed the obvious, more rumbunctious “Wings of a Dove” for “When Doves Cry,” prompting a deep philosophical discussion about whether doves can actually cry and if they do, do they make a sound. (Personally, I think they’re most likely to be silent weepers, but if anyone does know, drop me a line). “When Doves Cry” segued seamlessly into “Purple Rain” and then numerous others as Crazy Legs declared the best thing about riding in groups again (as well as an appreciative audience for his warbling) was the fact that he had enough stimulus to ensure he never got stuck with a single bad song on permanent repeat.
In this way the miles slipped past until we were approaching the short, sharp Mur de Mitford and I was discussing with Crazy Legs the merits of not warning the FNG about what was just ahead, hoping he might take on the climb in the big ring so we could watch his knees explode halfway up. Perhaps luckily, our evil intentions were thwarted as Not Anthony let the cat out of the bag, outlining a climb of less than half a kilometre but at an average of 7% and a 14% max. In part it’s brutality is predicated on the fact it’s accessed directly from a sharp left junction which robs you of all momentum and its rough, yet conversely slippery surface.
At the top, all knees mercifully still intact, we regrouped and decided to miss out the planned loop around Croftside, pushing out along the more direct route to Pigdon before scaling the Trench. I dropped to the back as we started the climb, riding alongside Aether and shouting abuse at those skipping ahead of us on their lightweight summer bikes.
Again we regrouped over the top for the run to Dyke Neuk then cut through Meldon, Whalton and Ogle and on to the café at Kirkley.
At the café we were astonished to find NO QUEUE, a fact which which we simply couldn’t process, so ended up dutifully waiting behind two blokes even though they insisted several times that were just leaving and weren’t waiting to be served. Finally realising that there really wasn’t a queue, we took full advantage of our luck and were served and seated in quick order and primed to welcome in our other 6-man groups as they rolled up one by one.
“Nice top that,” Crazy Legs greeted everyone wearing one of the new jersey’s, “Wish I had one of them,” he said wistfully, while pointedly looking at me. Bastard.
The FNG surprised us by understanding a reference to “classic” (i.e. old and creaking) children’s TV and we learnt he was in fact a big fan of Gerry Anderson and Captain Scarlet in particular. We wondered whether a Captain Black would still be allowed these days, or would be substituted for a Captain BAME, while I felt a Captain Rainbow was probably needed to cover off the LGBTQ community too. Then the whole premise of the show, with the Mysterons as belligerently evil and vengeful arch enemies was dissected in the light of the first episode when it was the humans who destroyed the peaceful Mysteron settlement on Mars completely without provocation. This absurdity was nothing, we felt, in comparison to the design of the SHADO interceptor from the show UFO, with its single big fuck-off missile attached to the nose cone. None of us could work out what the correct procedure was if confronted by 2 or more opposing UFO’s at a time, when you only carried the chance to destroy one of them.
G-Dawg arrived with his group (“Nice jersey that,” Crazy Legs complimented him) and we learned his latest road rash injury wasn’t caused by a bike fall, but the artificial turf of a five a side pitch. (I know more middle-aged blokes who have suffered serious injury playing five-a-side than all other sports combined.) I wondered how many (allegedly) carcinogenic and toxic pellets he’d managed to collect in the wound and he admitted the cleaning had hurt more than the actual injury.
Crazy Legs recalled his worst injury was coming of a holiday rental scooter face first and skinning both his palms, wounds, I suggested, that probably enforced celibacy on him for a fortnight.
G-Dawg related that no matter how hard he tried he was always trailing the pellets from the artificial pitches into the house and even though he took of his socks and shoes and dusted himself down, he always woke up in the morning to find a pile of them in his bed. Going for a brace of sexually related insults, I suggested they probably got caught up in his wrinkly old scrotum … and then ride-planner Buster arrived with the last group to save me attempting a hat-trick of insults.
Buster got served and wandered over with a frothy coffee (froffee coffee?) plonked himself down on a nearby chair and started waxing lyrical about the bit of his route that we’d avoided, which he said has a new, super-smooth tarmac surface that has to be experienced to be believed. He got quite animated in his advocacy of the the road, started waving his arms about and sloshed coffee out of his cup and onto his crotch, where it quickly spread to form a unfortunately placed, hugely unsightly and highly suspect frothy, creamy stain.
“Whoa,” Crazy Legs observed, “That stretch of road really, really does excite you.”
We seemed to have been sitting around, enjoying the warm sun and talking garbage for an age, but eventually it was time to leave. Crazy Legs went off to route home through Saltwick, most the other went for Berwick Hill, while I took a solo ride out through Ponteland and home. Climbing the last, steepest ramps of the Heinous Hill sometine later, a frazzled Mum, pushing a heavy looking pram began berating her two young offspring who were lagging behind and complaining about the slope. “Eee, howay,” she admonished “Yoo’ze lottar fastah than me.”
As I struggled past, I couldn’t help thinking that seemed like a suitable tagline I should adopt for all my future cycling exploits.
Its me again, Face you forever gonna see again, Never been scared of none of dem, No problem, I’m come, come again…
Hmmm. Kind of quiet in here.
Now 56 weeks into the pandemic, the new norm was in danger of becoming just the plain, old norm and dull and boring at that, but finally things seem to be changing. So how’s your world these days? I’m old enough to have come to terms with the fact that nothing ever lasts, things constantly change, evolve and never stand still. As Mr. Tom Hanks has been known to reassuringly intone for the benefit of nervous Wittertainment subscribers the world over, “This too shall pass.”
So, a somewhat fatalistic outlook, but the main question I find myself asking is whether things are on an upward trajectory and getting better, or slipping and spiralling downward.
Today, I’m thinking things appear to be slowly improving. Along with 40 million other UK residents I’ve received my first dose of COVID vaccine (AstraZeneca) and I’m on the brink of starting a new job, or perhaps to be more accurate the same job, but for a different University.
Up until a fortnight ago, cycling in Lockdown Part 2, was confined to solo rides, although refreshingly leavened by ‘accidentally’ bumping into other club members at the Kirkley café, where we’d stand or sit, huddled and shivering in a large freezing field and bellow at each other from a safe social distance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and many claimed these Saturday rides remained the absolute pinnacle of their week.
During these times of shouted discourse we agreed that, despite Bo-Jo’s feckless leadership of a covey of sleazy, grasping shills, rife with cronyism and frequently bumbling through false steps, U-turns and the inertia of inaction, the Govin’mint was somehow going to avoid blame and accountability for the UK’s inflated death rate simply because the mass vaccination programme is seen as a bit of a success. We also discovered that the world is a safer, saner place without the 45th President of the United States, although it’s undoubtedly less entertaining. Oh, yes, we also learned that in the Netherlands, Toilet Duck strongly recommends Toilet Duck and, if you ever happen to be in Nigeria, never, ever refer to someone as a bit ‘Dundee United.’ Hmm.
My mileage, already suffering from the loss of midweek commuting rides has been further hit by a couple of recent weekends of heavy snowfall that kept me off the bike. In fact, things were so bad one particular Saturday that Mrs. G-Dawg even managed to persuade the indomitable G-Dawg that it wasn’t wise to venture outside, even on his mountain bike. This was advice she would later regret however, as he confessed to spending the rest of the weekend sighing glumly and moping around the house with a “face like a smacked arse”. She’ll not make that mistake again and is now likely to usher him out for a weekend rides regardless, even in the face of tempest, hurricane or blizzard.
I have finally fixed the Peugeot winter bike but have been preferring to take my solo rides on my Frankenstein-esque single-speed for its simplicity and Zen-like qualities, although I’ll readily admit there’s nothing at all Zen-like about my final, contorted and agonisingly slow grind up the Heinous Hill after 3 or 4 hours of riding sans gears.
For the past few weeks though, despite the bitter cold, it’s been bone dry and we’ve already passed that glorious epiphany of being able to break the “good bike” out from its winter slumber. (I celebrated my first “summer” ride by getting a bit carried away and ended up chalking up a 104km solo loop.)
Then, a fortnight ago, the Rule of Six was re-instated generally and British Cycling went even further and endorsed group rides of up to 16 at a time. We decided to err on the side of caution and reinstated group rides with a maximum of six per group. I missed out on the first such venture, arriving late to the meeting point, but coincidentally meeting up with an equally tardy Biden Fecht to form an impromptu trio – him, me and his warbling, howling, banshee-like rim brakes that accompanied us in a moving sound-cloud, shrieking like a cadre of scalded cat’s when even the slightest pressure was applied to the brake levers and spooking and scattering wildlife and livestock in its wake.
This week I missed out on the Saturday ride as, somewhat terrifyingly, it was Thing#1’s birthday (22 years already!) – so a rare Sunday ride beckoned, in a group, if we could muster enough bodies groups of 6.
We actually managed a rather awkward 7 with Aether, Biden Fecht, Plumose Pappus, TripleD-Be, myself and 2 FNG’s, so decided to split into a 4 and a 3, all heading to the café at Capheaton.
Things were going smoothly until, as we approached the airport, with a wince inducing crunch, Aether’s rear mech unexpectedly decided to commit a noisy seppuku, detaching itself from the frame and determinedly hurling itself into his spokes. The gear hanger had snapped and we couldn’t immediately tell if it had served its primary purpose, or taken part of his rear dropout with it. We left Aether standing by the side of the road awaiting a hastily arranged voiture balai and still not knowing the ultimate fate of his beloved Bianchi.
Reduced to just six now, we regrouped as one and pressed onwards, through Ponteland and Black Heddon (Bam-A-Lam) toward Capheaton. TripleD-Be warned the FNG’s that things might get a little feisty on the final climb up to the café and they bravely tried to hold the wheels as the pace went from fast to frantic. I was more than content to sit back and let then get on with it, easing up the final climb to roll in to the café sur la jante. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.
The FNG’s doubled-down on precautionary caffeine input (coffee and massive slices of the cafe’s estimable coffee and walnut cake) to fuel the ride home and we all shuffled outside to rest, recuperate and ramble. There we met the Prof surprisingly accompanied by but one single-follower. Someone would later allege that, like Kevin Richardson – (thank you Wikipedia) – the Prof has now split from his Backstreet Boys tribute band, no doubt citing artistic differences.
In our brief conversation the Prof warned me against ever arguing with an idiot, as they always have the advantage of experience. I didn’t argue with him.
It was a quick stop and we were soon ready to leave, with the Prof and his acolyte inviting themselves to tag along for the ride home and making a bit of a mockery of our prior sacrifices to ensure we were never in a group of more than six. Still the acolyte did provide a moment of levity when his bottle was suddenly catapulted out onto the road and Plumose Pappus and I decide he’d “bottled it” – spending the next few miles sniggering in appreciation of our our own juvenile humour.
I decided to route through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill to trim our numbers back toward the seemly, just in case there were any COVID zealots looking for an excuse to (further) disparage cyclists and I enjoyed a very pleasant, incident free ride back across the river and home.
So, there we have it, the first group ride of 2021 is in the books and we can see the small shoots of recovery. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully there’ll be a few more club runs yet, before the next disaster bites.
Dear Lord, I’m getting tardy with these things and I’m running about a week behind. Busy times, folks …
Anyway, here we go again, surfing the fringes of Storm Aidan, I was prepared for another wet and windy Saturday, still on the single-speed in anticipation of the widely forecast rain dumping itself on my head. Plus ça change.
On the river, the rowing clubs were out with a full complement of boats, including several 8-man crews, something I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Not sure how the Rule of Six applies in a rowing hull, but there you go. I wish I could say this was a harbinger of a return to some form of normality, but we all know that’s not how this is going to work out.
Despite the obvious drawback of being without gears, I decided I couldn’t restrict my route too much, otherwise I’d be forced to trudge around the same circuit, over and over again, like some sort of two-bit, enfeebled cycling Sisyphus. This is Northumberland after all, so you don’t have to go too much out of your way to find hill or two. With this in mind I aimed vaguely toward Whittle Dene Reservoir, happy just to see how hard the going was and adjust as needed.
Just outside Dalton, I passed Aether heading in the opposite direction, I think that was my first sight of another cyclist since setting out. I cut through Stamfordham and out to the Reservoir. Here the water was an inky, impenetrable black, but there were more fishermen out than I’d seen in a long time, all clustered under the southern embankment to escape the wind and hopefully provide a bit of shelter when the rain arrived. Would it, I wondered – I’d already enjoyed a much drier ride than anticipated.
Clambering up through the plantations towards Stagshaw, I made it onto the road for Matfen when that moment arrived and the rain suddenly cut in. I stopped to pull on a jacket before continuing, passing Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril just outside the village, heading the other way and already looking wet and suitably miserable.
The rain was enough to dissuade me from further wandering, so I started to plot a route toward Kirkley – cake, coffee, comrades, craic and a little bit of shelter in the big, chill barn.
En route I passed a solo OGL, seemingly heading home and then, a few moments later a solo Dabman, seemingly just heading out, off into the downpour and putting a brave face on things.
At the café and in a break with tradition, I ordered a piece of corned beef pie, before grabbing a coffee and wandering off into the big chill barn to find Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Sneaky Pete and Aether already comfortably ensconced.
The corned-beef pie arrived on a plate covered with a tea towel. We wondered if this was for the big reveal when the tea towel was whisked away to display the fabulous dish beneath.
“Nah, it’s just to keep the rain off,” the waitress told us bluntly. Oh well, so much for theatre.
The pie was actually worth a bit of a fanfare and a reveal though. They’d obviously decided they weren’t going to get too many customers today, so served up a piece that would have covered a third of a large dinner plate.
It was good, too, although I’m not sure I could eat that amount every week.
We then engaged in a game of one-upmanship that was like an enactment of the scar-bragging scene from Jaws, just with all the noteworthy cicatrices replaced with troublesome small, furry rodents.
G-Dawg started it off, complaining that “the cat” – he won’t admit to actually owning it, climbs up onto the bedroom windowsill outside and howls to be let in at night. Nervous of the awful racket disturbing the neighbours, G-Dawg eventually relents and opens the window so the small feline harridan can clamber in. Bad enough that his sleep is so disturbed, but last week when he opened the window, the cat, like a swashbuckling pirate carrying a dagger, had a live mouse clenched between its teeth . The cat hopped in and immediately released its prey into the bedroom. Cue instant mayhem.
I described being woken in the middle of the night to find one of our cats prowling around a basket in the hallway. I’d unthinkingly moved the basket to investigate and a large rat had scurried out, ran down the hallway and disappeared into the darkened bedroom, where a blissfully unaware Mrs SLJ was about to get a rude awakening.
Turning the lights on revealed no intruder, so I figured it must be hiding under the bed. I ventured downstairs to retrieve a red, plastic handled mop and after, several minutes of waggling it under the bed managed to cause the rat to flee.
I followed in mad pursuit, the cat at my heels, stark-bollock naked, swearing loudly, while wildly swinging the mop at the rat, only for my weapon of choice to start to disintegrate into red shiny splinters with every errant blow.
Down the hallway, down the stairs, by the time we got the rat cornered in the lobby I was holding a rather short, rather useless stump of the mop handle. Still, while the rat was distracted, actually attacking the cat, I managed to apply the coup de grace with a cycling shoe to the head. Now I know why they’re made with super stiff soles – and all this time I’ve been thinking it was for an efficient transfer of power from foot to pedal!
“Well, that’s nothing,” Crazy Legs began, telling of a fated holiday in Greece when, one night, they discovered a mouse scurrying around the apartment. Once again the stark naked man in the story picked up a broom and gave chase, round and round the apartment while an equally naked Mrs. Crazy Legs leapt up onto the middle of the bed shrieking like a Tom and Jerry character.
“Out the door, get it out the door,” Mrs. Crazy Legs had screamed, so Crazy Legs flung the door wide open, only to be confronted by his neighbours returning from a late night out.
Uncomprehendingly, they took in the naked screaming woman on the bed and the panting, naked man brandishing a broom.
“Oh, hello there,” Crazy Legs finally ventured as a way of breaking the rather uneasy silence.
“Err, hi,” the neighbours finally responded, trying to shuffle quietly away, as Crazy Legs nodded solemnly, just the once … and slowly closed the door on the unfortunate scene.
Even Richard of Flanders’ tale of a holiday complete with a snake in the toilet couldn’t top that one.
Slowly and reluctantly we set out to leave in ones and two’s. Still chomping my way through the mammoth pie I was the last one standing, when Mini Miss arrived with a runner turned newly-minted cyclist in tow, the change in sport prompted by brutalised knee-joints.
I had a brief chat with them, before joining the exodus and heading for home.
This proved a bit of a struggle through intermittent showers, a buffeting headwind, slick and slippery roads, waterlogged clothing and desperately tired legs. I didn’t so much climb the Heinous Hill as grovel my way upwards, still I’d ridden where I wanted, my ride total topped the usual 1,000 metres of climbing and the single-speed had proven itself a reliable alternative.
Day of the Condor – Continuing a tenuous avian theme established by last weeks cameo from a stool pigeon. Ha cha cha cha.
For those of you who hate cliff hangers and are too lazy to look things up on Strava (yes, I’m looking at you, Monsieur Crazy Legs) then yes, I managed to snatch back my Strava KOM and everything is good with the world.
I actually quite enjoyed my little extra-curricular challenge last week and since I have no need to be at a particular meeting point at a given time for the foreseeable future, I might try further Strava segment smash and grabs.
It’s a bit like the cycling equivalent of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – once you’ve smashed it open and snaffled one segment, you always want more.
There’s one in particular KOM that ends almost practically outside my front door, so I feel obliged to give that one a go next. The trouble is, its a very short, steep ramp with a brutal speed bump half-way, ideally placed to disrupt your rhythm just as things turn nasty. It’s also so short a segment that the record is just 16 seconds, so I suspect you have to be travelling at maximum speed before you hit the start and then slam on the brakes before you hit the end – a junction onto a busy main road. There’s absolutely no margin for error.
Three guys and one girl have done it in 16 seconds, while my best is a whole second slower, good enough for a top 5 place along with a whole slew of others. By my reckoning, if I can hit and hold 50 kph for that short, handful of seconds it takes to get to the top, I should be in with a shout.
Today’s first effort was woeful. The gear I chose was too big and I ran out of momentum before the top, finishing in a totally unconvincing 20 seconds. Still, maybe next week.
Today was a chilly but bright day, so I venured out wearing both a long sleeved baselayer and armwarmers, legwarmers, thermal socks, a cap and long-fingered gloves. For once I got it about right and never felt over-dressed.
Following my lung and leg shredding failed KOM effort, I dropped down into the valley, crossed the river and started climbing out the other side again.
I pretty much followed the route I’d taken last week up Hospital Lane, before taking a quick detour, following the signs for Chapel House on a whim. I expected a picturesque village built up around a small kirk, but found nothing but a long loop through a modern and rather uninspiring housing estate. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a place by its name for that matter.
Through Callerton and approaching Penny Hill, I was stalking another cyclist who seemed to be travelling at least as fast as I was on the flat, but slightly slower on the hills. As we started up the climb I closed on him – a tall, slender man, on a tall slender, steel-framed bike. Just before I caught up, a blocky-burly-beardy-bloke bustled past. I dropped onto his wheel and he pulled me past Slender Man, then I overtook Blocky Burly Beardy Bloke as the climb stiffened and his bustle degenerated to a slow grind.
The road levelled and I kept going toward Stamfordham. About 10km later, Slender Man slid past me, with a nod and a garbled message.
“I didn’t realise it was going to be quite so windy,” he’d apparently said, words instantly snatched away by that very wind, obviously looking to prove a point. It wasn’t until he repeated what he said that I got their gist and could agree with him.
I tagged along behind him for a while, not quite in his wheel, but within a socially restrained 3 or 4 metres that still gave me a little drafting benefit. Then, on the rise just before Stamfordham I eased past and onto the front again.
Passing Whittle Dene Reservoir and I slowed for a cyclist stopped by side of road, checking he was ok and Slender Man caught me and we rolled along on either side of the road, chatting for a while.
He asked if I too was heading toward Corbridge, his intended destination and I confessed I was just wandering aimlessly, then we discussed old bike brands, the sorry demise of Holdsworth and his trust of steel-frames not to catastrophically fail like carbon, while I admired his pristine Condor.
We climbed to the top of the road to Newton and then parted, as he swung left to dip into the Tyne Valley and I pushed on toward Stagshaw and then Matfen. Through Matfen, I was half-minded to drop down the Ryals, but the wind put me off, so I routed up past the Quarry again and then down to Belsay.
From there I headed toward Whalton, instantly regretting my choice as I found they were cutting back the hedges along this stretch of road. I say cutting back, but it’s more like they thrash them into submission, scattering a wide swathe of detritus across the road surface. This almost invariably contains a large serving of the infamous Northumbrian steel-tipped thorns – which add a super high likelihood of you picking up punctures.
I picked my way through the debris as best I could, breathed a huge sigh of relief when I exited the zone of destruction with both tyres intact, then instantly cursed myself for inviting disaster with such reckless self-congratulatory thinking. I was inviting disaster.
I found that, like a lot of the roads in this area, the stretch from Belsay to Whalton has also been given that heavy, rough and grippy, open-textured and horrible, fresh surface that seems to have become the new norm. I think I preferred the old one, even with all its potholes and fissures.
At the Gubeon, I turned for home, calling in for a quick stop at Kirkley to re-fuel and on the off chance of bumping into a familiar face or two. I found G-Dawg on one of the benches, pressed up against the wall to try and find some shelter from the biting wind. Other than one other auld feller riding on his own, the place was otherwise deserted, so plenty of space for social distancing and no issues getting served quickly. Even chill weather has to have some benefits.
By the time I got from the serving hatch to the bench, my coffee had gone cold and OGL had arrived, probably just stopping by to see who was mad enough to be out.
He rolled off after singing the virtues of his new Vittoria tyres (he was preaching to the choir) while I gulped down cold coffee and a large if uninspiring serving of carrot cake. After 20 minutes the chill was starting to bite and I was packing up to leave. G-Dawg was determined to brave the elements for a few more minutes to see if anyone else was out and also because if he fears if he gets home too early, he thinks he’ll be expected to get back at that exact same time every week.
I had the wind firmly behind me most of the way home and was feeling good, the pedals seeming to float around on their own. It was a decently fast run back and I found I was home an hour before my usual arrival. Luckily no one else was in the house.
Internet oddity of the week was a report in multiple newspapers that Safari park baboons had been armed with knives, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, with keepers suspecting pranksters had tooled up the simians so they could damage visitors’ cars ‘for a laugh’
The best quote from Knowsley Safari Park claimed their park was “just as safe as a McDonalds drive-thru.” Hmm, not tremendously reassuring.
Well, the Met Office confirmed Friday was third hottest day on record in the UK as temperatures reached almost 38℃ “doon sooth” and they weren’t too shabby “oop north” either. Not the best when you’re too pre-occupied with work to step out, but a few of my luckier clubmates managed to enjoy long rides in the sun. Still, even as temperatures began to drop from their record highs, it seemed like things would be just fine for Saturday and so it proved.
In fact it was a very bright early start to the day that slowly started to cloud over, but still a perfectly warm and pleasant for a bit of free-range bikling -and we were even graced by the occasional burst of bright sunshine.
Jimmy Mac had prepared one of those cunning routes that took a tried and tested club run and reversed it, providing something novel that was a bewildering and disorientating surprise and yet at the same time oddly familiar – a sort of collective bike ride powered by déjà vu.
It was also a route that proved fast, flat and fun, lacking any signature big hills, to such an extent that I only just topped a 1,000 metres of climbing for the entire day.
I’d arrived at the meeting point early to find the a newly chunky, Monkey Butler Boy had emerged from a long period of aestevation, complete with a brand new pair of aero-socks, which he claimed would save him an additional 4 watts of energy, before adding the small print, sotto voce: if he could somehow manage to ride at 40kph for 45 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be enough of an advantage for him to survive the ride after neglecting the bike for so long.
As one young ‘un returned, another prepared to depart, this being the last ride of the Garrulous Kid before his return to university. Still, there was one final opportunity for G-Dawg to carry out an impromptu chain inspection. It was no great surprise to anyone when the Garrulous Kid failed the test and G-Dawg spent the rest of the ride with a pore-deep, grungy black smear indelibly tattooed into his thumb pad. It’ll probably still be there when the Kid returns at Christmas.
Captain Black arrived on a different bike, a new Trek to replace his old Trek, the somewhat bipolar, “Old Faithful” or “Twatty MacTwat Face” the name being very much dependent upon how its riders legs were feeling at any given moment. The new bike has in-built vibration dampening and fat 32mm tyres, promising a plush ride, even on the worst of Northumberland’s disintegrating roads.
Once again there were 25 or so riders at the start and we left in groups of six. This time I formed part of the rear-guard, the last group out alongside Captain Black, Big Dunc, Benedict, OGL and Carlton. Suffering from hay-fever, OGL stayed with us until Bolam Lake before bailing to head to the cafe at Belsay, while the rest of us started the route reversal portion of the planned ride.
Around 40km into the ride and approaching a downhill run of Middleton Bank, we caught a glimpse of the next group on the road and began closing. Benedict took a timeout to attend to a call of nature and the rest of us eased onto the climb up to Scots Gap, letting the group ahead pull out a bigger lead until they were safely out of sight again.
We regathered and pushed on, the wrong way through the swoop and dip past Hartburn and then flicking left and right at speed through the bends passing Dyke Neuk, the building on our right instead of the usual left, all the while gathering pace as we went.
By the time we were running through Mitford we’d caught and latched onto the group ahead. This was a problem as we were now travelling in a pack of more than six, but much more importantly, it put would put us at the back of the queue when we reached the cafe at Kirkley.
The overwhelming majority (well, all but one of us, truth be told) seem to have adopted Kirkley as our ordained coffee stop, primarily because it has such a massive outside seating area, with plenty of space for social distancing. On the downside, service is glacially slow and it gets very busy.
Captain Black had a quick consult with the rest of our group and gave me the nod, Carlton and Big Dunc seemed happy to hang back, but the rest of us had permission to push on.
I waited until we hit the climb out of Mitford, before running down the outside of the group and accelerating away, with Captain Black and Benedict in close attendance. By the top of the climb we had a workable lead and it was just a case of maintaining the gap as we closed on the cafe for a bit of sneaky, unadulterated queue jumping.
Safely at Kirkley, Jimmy Mac got lots of deserved kudos for the route, which although all on well traveled roads, had never been put together in that combination or direction before. G-Dawg in particular was well pleased with the speed the front group had managed, clocking a 30 km/hour average throughout, even allowing for his slow amble down to the meeting point that morning.
Crazy Legs revealed that he’d taken to wearing a mask like … well, like a duck to water, the one drawback being that it inevitably provoked him into making comedy wahk-wahk-wahk duck noises.
I suggested it was fun to wear a mask, but I felt it would be even better with a six-shooter holstered on my hip. Yippy-kay-ay. Crazy Legs agreed and said he’d felt like a particularly bad-ass hombre when pairing his mask with a leather stetson, while we touched on the irony of having to wear a mask before you went into a bank these days.
There was also a shout out for Egan Bernal’s comedy effort …
Crazy Legs then said he’d seen that someone had developed an athlete specific mask for wearing during exercise – the major drawback being it closely resembled a horses nosebag. I wondered if it would be useful for holding a handful of oats for mid-ride nutrition, while he suggested a watertight one students could fill with alcohol, needing only to tip their heads back to sup … and we were almost back where we left off last week with his suggestion that students wear a cone of shame …
Finally served and at a table (it was apparently a good scone week, this week, but I’d gone with a flapjack instead) we showed a near preternatural level of forward planning by discussing our options for cafe stops during winter club runs, when the small indoor area here would swiftly be overrun.
This turned into a discussion about how many would actually bother riding throughout the winter when there were “fun” alternatives (their words, not mine) available like Zwift.
Apparently we haven’t quite got the comms set up on the system we’re currently using for collective turbo rides and the only form of communication available is a simple thumbs-up. This seemed mighty limited vocabulary to me and, even if confined to basic hand gestures, I could think of one or two others that might come in useful.
I demonstrated for good effect, making a fist and boldly raising my middle-finger. “Yes,” Crazy Legs confirmed, “That would be useful.”
I then curled my fingers into a loose fist and shook it vigorously up and down in imitation of Gareth Hunt demeaning his craft in order to hock instant coffee, or, if that particular image offends (and I can see why it might) miming the universal sign for an onanistic self-abuser.
“Hah!” Crazy Legs interjected as my actions reminded him of something, “we passed a bloke today blowing up his tyre and he was holding his pump between his legs and furiously making that exact same motion. From a distance I didn’t know whether to offer to help or call the police.”
Crazy Legs then declared he’d just been to see a physio and had happily now regained full movement of his arm. To demonstrate, he lifted his left arm, bent it over the top of his head and touched his right ear. “I couldn’t do that a week ago, it hurt too much.”
“Why on earth would you ever need to do that though?” the Ticker wondered aloud.
“Well, you know, to wash your hair,” Crazy Legs challenged.
The Ticker doffed his casquette, lowered his head and presented Crazy Legs with his perfectly bald pate.
Groups started to form up and drift away, while I stopped to have a quick chat with the late arriving Biden Fecht. I could have tagged onto the last group again, but felt I’d done enough for the day, so as everyone swung left, I tracked right, through Ponteland, heading directly for home.
At Blaydon, traffic was backed up on the roundabout waiting to turn left, either into the shopping centre or the McDonalds. I hope it was the former, but suspect the latter. I caught a rider in the colours of the Blaydon club trying to work his way through the cars on the inside and not getting very far, so I flicked across to the outside and was quickly clear.
As I turned and started up the Heinous Hill the Blaydon rider caught me and swished past, then swung left and then right, past Pedalling Squares. He didn’t, as I expected drop into the cafe, but looked to be taking the exact same route up the hill as me – and there was still around three-quarters of the climb to go.
[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]
Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.
It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.
I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.
Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.
So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.
“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.
Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.
We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.
I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.
We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.
We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.
As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.
We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.
This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.
So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.
Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.
At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.
G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it neveris and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.
In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”
Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.
According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.
The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.
For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.
We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.
Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.
This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.
Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.
He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.
We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.
Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.
It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.
Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.
We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)
G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.
“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.
“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.
“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.
Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.
“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.
Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.
Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.
The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.
Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.
We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.
Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.