Plague Diaries – Week#22

Plague Diaries – Week#22

Seven Nation Army

What a mizzly, horrible start to the day. The cloud was low over the hills, weeping fine drizzle in enough volume that I kicked a rooster tail of spray off my rear wheel descending the Heinous Hill and received a most unwelcome and unpleasant, early morning douche for my troubles.

Eech.

I’d gone for the lightest jacket I own, reasoning I’d be able to to ditch it fairly early on in the ride, if the weather forecast was to be believed. It served its purpose and I was grateful for the extra layer of protection for what turned out to be a fairly miserable start to proceedings.

I arrived at the meeting point to find the long AWOL Taffy Steve, not fully recovered from his rotator cuff injury, but keen to start riding again. As he said, the power data didn’t lie and he now had all the strength of an anorexic, pre-pubescent at the end of a long fast. (And with none of the accompanying weight advantages either.) The Red Max and Mrs. Max have started running a well-received starters group parallel to our standard runs and Taffy Steve had been persuaded this would be the perfect re-introduction to group rides.

Various complaints about the weather in August led someone to claim that it was actually the wettest month in the North East of England, an assertion that failed to win much support. Post-ride research suggests the wettest month is actually November which has 10mm, more precipitation than August. To be fair though, with 60mm of rain on average, an amount shared with several other months, August is not that far behind. If that wasn’t depressing enough, it seems we also enjoy a rather paltry 1,445 sunshine hours per year. The inference seems to be to make the most of it.

I carefully avoided he front group this week and, when they couldn’t make their numbers add up to the magical, mystical six, it was G-Dawg who bravely stepped forward to take one for the team. I’m sure he made a better fist of it than I did last week.

I looked to be heading out in the third group when, for unknown reasons, the Big Yin pulled out and returned. Careful of another trap, I checked the composition of the second group, Crazy Legs, Aether, Ahlambra, Richard of Flanders and the Ticker. Yeah, I could probably live with that. I pushed up and joined them, filling out the full complement of six and away we went.

Just past Dinnington and pelted by a sudden shower of rain, we stopped to make some adjustments to gear, pulling on jackets arm warmers and gilets. I’d only just ditched the jacket so stood pat.

Moments later, having crested Berwick Hill and heading downhill at pace, the Ticker and Richard of Flanders pulled to a sudden stop and the rest of us whipped past wondering why we were stopping yet again.

We eventually reformed and pressed on, following Aether’s plan that took our standard run home from Belsay and reversed it. On the front with Crazy Legs, passing through Walton, we both stuck out an arm and called “left” before swinging through the turn. Ahlambra and Aether followed, the Ticker tried and found Richard of Flanders in a world of his own and intent on heading straight on. Collision narrowly averted, we amused ourselves (we’re easily amused) for the next few miles calling out directions and then pedantically repeating them several times for our daydreaming colleague.

“Left here. Richard, we’re going left.”

“Left!”

“Right here. Which way are we going Richard?”

“That’s right. Right.”

Riding with Crazy Legs behind the Ticker, we spent time speculating about his pale blue Rapha jersey, proudly emblazoned with Push Cartel, trying to work out if there was some sort of Columbian connection and what it was exactly that they were pushing.

Curiosity became to much for Crazy Legs, so he eventually asked and we learned that Push Cartel was probably the poshest bike shop in the whole of Ambleside (I suspect the claim is justified, as I can’t imagine there’s a lot of competition.)

In fact, it’s probably incorrect to call Push Cartel a bike shop at all. According to their own website it’s actually, “the bespoke cycle atelier of the Lake District” who, if I understand correctly, don’t have stock to sell, but a “carefully curated portfolio of class leading brands.” Yer what?

Mind you, their “curated brands” include Cinelli, Cipollini, Parlee and Look and it was obviously these shiny bling-bikes that had drawn the Ticker, like a moth to the flame, to visit the store. That I could understand, we all like a bit of bike porn, such as the Cipollini RB1K – modestly branded as “The One” and representing as fine an example of bike porn as you’re likely to find:

Still, I really couldn’t say why the Ticker felt the need to buy the Push jersey and be associated with such pretentious marketing claptrap, perhaps it was the price of entry, or maybe exit?

Mention of Cipollini prompted Crazy Legs to ponder turning up at the club time trial in one of the Lion King’s (in)famous skinsuits. I suggested it was more likely someone turned up in a Lion King onesie than a Lion KIng skinsuit and we left it there.

The Lion King in … err. .. tiger stripes?

I pushed onto the front alongside the Ticker as we dropped down “Curlicue Hill” and pushed out along the Font Valley heading toward Mitford. Here I learned our unexpected stop earlier had been caused by a pesky wasp infiltrating the Ticker’s helmet and stinging him on the napper.

Still smarting from the infernal blow, he hadn’t dared look at the damage although Richard of Flander had offered to inspect the wound.

“He probably just wanted to cut a big cross in your head and suck the venom out,” I suggested. “Anyway, if you take your helmet off and your head swells, you’ll never get it back on.”

The aforementioned Richard of Flanders then took over at the front to lead us carefully down the Mur de Mitford, but obviously not carefully enough, as he locked his wheels up on a patch of diesel at the bottom and slid sideways to the bottom of the hill, where he came to a juddering stop just before the junction.

“Which way?” he queried, having regained at least some form of composure and he started to edge toward the left. “Right, Richard, right!” Surely, I thought, we’d done this routine to death already?

We climbed to and through Mitford and up to the Gubeon, which presented us with a straight run through to the cafe rendezvous at Kirkley. With the imagined scent of cake and coffee in the wind, I worked with Crazy Legs and the Ticker, swapping turns on the front to build our pace. Our group of six quickly became five … then four … then there was just the three of us in an exhilarating, long blast to the cafe.

Yee-hah!

There we found Captain Black and Goose, who hadn’t managed to form a group and had ended up riding as a pair, which is fitting as we often project them as an old, married couple. As Captain Black dryly noted, it was also the perfect opportunity for him to ride around and be talked at for a couple of hours.

The Ticker appeared, his head still “knacking” and told us Aether had just pulled the stinger out of his scalp, which suggests he was done-in by a bee rather than a wasp. He may also have been riding around with the stinger continuously dosing him with venom just to keep the the edge on his pain.

Crazy Legs suggested what he needed was a helmet with a bug mesh, marveling how well such a feature can trap a wasp in place, in the perfect position to sting you repeatedly.

We then had one of those entertaining, surreal conversations that started with Crazy Legs listing all the things he stuffs in his jersey pockets, up to, but not excluding an elephant, if he’s to be believed. This led to a discussion about the film Hannibal Brookes, which included a scene where it was claimed elephants couldn’t walk backwards, which reminded Crazy Legs of his claim that horses can only swim in a straight line and that, if you chased them into the North Sea, they’d just have to keep going “until they hit Norway.”

The Hannibal Brookes name check brought recollections of Oliver Reed’s (too numerous to mention) drunken appearances on talk shows, which led in turn to a discussion about George Best, which ended when G-Dawg joined our table and predicted Man City were going to win the Champions League. He must have taken over duff prognostication duties in the absence of the Garrulous Kid as, mere hours after this pronouncement, Man City were duly dumped out of the competition.

With the back of our new jersey’s adorned with twin parallel white stripes, Crazy Legs had us adapt Seven Nation Army as a club anthem. A somewhat bemused Goose recognised the riff we bellowed and banged out on the table, but didn’t know what it was called, or who the artist was.

“Turn around,” Crazy Legs instructed me, then, channeling his inner Roy “Cathphrase” Walker, pointed at my back and urged Goose to “Say what you see, just say what you see”

“Err … skinny ass ugly fecker?” I supplied helpfully.

But Goose was unmoved and sure he could live perfectly happily without knowing who sang Seven Nation Army.

On departing most went left, but I turned right, planning to head through Ponteland and home, but I caught the back of our starters group and tagged along for the ride, up and down Berwick Hill and through Dinnington.

I had a brief chat with the Red Max who declared I was going to have the most leisurely and enjoyable ascent of Berwick Hill ever. And he wasn’t wrong.

Approaching Dinnington a lone cyclist buzzed past the group and I watched and waited for the inevitable. The Red Max’s homing radar whirred a little, then locked on and he kicked off a mad-ass pursuit. Anticipating the inevitable, I dropped onto his wheel and let him tow me across the gap to the lone cyclist, then, as the Red Max sat up to drop back to the group, I just kept going and started my solo ride home.

Back to the Wind

Back to the Wind

Total Distance:80km/50 miles & 1,114 metres of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group Size:9
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Unseasonably warm

Ride Profile

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.

Hard.

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:

On the left, Captain Black, while on the right is Peter van Petegem in his Mysteron Team kit

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).

We’ll see.


2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.