Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

Plague Diaries Week#63 – Well, Strike That One Off The Bucket List

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.”

“Hmm?”

“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.


Riding Distance:114km/70 miles with 1,0756m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed:25.9 km/h
Group Size:8
Temperature:12 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect
Year to Date:1,794km/1,115 miles with 19,226m of climbing
Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

Dov’è il gabinetto?

Dov’è il gabinetto?

Club Run, 14th April 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:110 km/69 miles with 996 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:29 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two:Expectedly cold?

Ride Profile

The forecast promised it would be cold, but the forecast also promised it would be bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. Sadly, the forecast only got one of those things right … and from my perspective it was the wrong one.

Having commuting into work all week though, I knew what to expect. It would be a bitterly chill start, but would warm up later, so I planned accordingly, with bits and pieces I could discard as the temperature slowly increased toward the highs of, well … tolerable.

So gloves and glove liners, buff, headband, windproof jacket and Belgian booties on top of a thermal base layer and winter jacket. What I didn’t account for was my new helmet, which I’d been forced to buy to replace my vintage Uvex lid, after the rear cradle snapped. (To be honest, after 5 years of wear, I don’t think it owed me anything).

The new, helmet has a big vent in the crown which directs a super-chilled blast of cold air across the top of your head – great for the summer, but effective enough to have me considering a rethink of winter headwear.

My ride across was somewhat spoiled by new roadworks and traffic lights seemingly springing up all over. The worst were located halfway up my climb out of the valley, causing a somewhat awkward hill-start. Nonetheless, my timing was good and I manged to fit in a much needed pee-stop (the cold seemed intent on tap dancing over my old man’s bladder) and still arrive at the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Naturally, despite the extreme cold, the Garrulous Kid was wearing shorts and equally as naturally OGL declared he was quite mad. To be fair, his legs were an unhealthy shade of blue. Meanwhile, all around riders were huddled with their arms crossed protectively over their chests trying not to shiver and, in one or two instances, actually succeeding.

“It’s brassic,” the Ticker declared, a Geordie turn of phrase to describe extreme cold, rather than an expression of Cockney penury.

This drew him to the attention of the Garrulous Kid who turned round, looked at him and blurted out, “What’s that old thing?”

Quickly realising a potential faux pass, he quickly added, “the bike, I mean the bike!”

Indeed the Ticker was on a vintage steel Colnago, his good bike lying in pieces as he wrestles with replacing the bottom bracket and gives it a general spruce up.

With the Garrulous Kid heading seemingly heading north of the border to university and showing no great aptitude for cooking, we wondered just how much fast-food he would consume and whether he might return looking like Jabba the Hut.

We suspect he may fall under the thrall of that great Scottish culinary tradition Deep Fried … oh just about anything. OGL suggested the infamous Deep-Fried Mars bars had started out as a joke that then became reality, while the Colossus recalled one place when he was at university that offered to deep fry anything for £2, just as long as it fit in the fryer. 12″ pizza’s, creme eggs, doner kebab’s with all the trimmings, literally anything. I could audibly hear my arteries calcifying just at the thought.

Aether stepped up to deliver the route briefing, we split into two, agreed a rendezvous and away we went.


I dropped off the kerb and joined the front group as we formed up before the traffic lights released. Out on the roads, G-Dawg led alongside someone who bore a striking resemblance to Zardoz, but obviously couldn’t be Zardoz, as he’s fatally allergic to riding on the front. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Could it actually be Zardoz?

I checked the figure over for a nose-bleed caused by the rarefied air of being too far forward in the bunch. There didn’t seem to be any.

What about signs that Zardoz had been abducted by aliens and replaced with an exact replica? Hmm, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but there were no obvious signs.

I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.”Who the hell’s that on the front?” I asked the Garrulous Kid in a voice loud enough to carry.

In reply, I got a deft, two-fingered salute from the mysterious figure. Well, well, well, it most definitely was Zardoz after all.

At the end of the lane the two of us nipped out in a small gap between the traffic, while everyone else was held up. I then found myself leading alongside Zardoz, as we soft-pedalled up the hill, allowing everyone to regroup behind.

On we pressed, discussing the incredible run of form displayed by Max Schachmann in the Tour of the Basque Country, his teammate and one of my favourite riders, perennial underdog Emu Buchmann, running up mountains, the potential for extreme chafing inherent in triathlons, whether youthful exercise bestows big capillaries in later life and the key, very important differences between an autopsy and a biopsy. The latter was of particular interest to Zardoz, who ruefully concluded, an autopsy is of no use to you whatsoever.

Swinging left onto Limestone Lane, we passed a caravan that had been parked up on the corner and I found myself barking with laughter as the Garrulous Kid wondered aloud if Biden Fecht (in his new guise as the Gypsy King) was about to emerge from its darkened interior and join us.



We made it to the end of Limestone Lane before Zardoz was persuaded to cede the front “and give everyone a rest.” We dropped to the back of the pack where we entertained ourselves giggling and complaining loudly at the sudden drop in pace and poor leadership of our substitutes on the front.

At one point, I found myself alongside the Garrulous Kid and learned that, as well as believing he’s now the clubs preeminent sprinter, he also thinks he’ll be a fantastic time-triallist. Well, he will be, once he “sorts out “some handlebar thingies.” Hopefully he won’t take advice from Crazy Legs, go to his LBS and demand strap-ons.

The Garrulous Kid then served notice that he’s serious and intent on entering the club 10 mile ITT this year, where he declared he would “easily” complete the course at an average speed of 28 mph.

Should he be as good as he thinks he is, that will be enough for him to post a time of 21 minutes, 25 seconds, which would comfortably eclipse last years winning time … by an entire two minutes and six seconds.

As well as suggesting I thought he was totally and completely delusional, I told the Garrulous Kid I’d actually be surprised if he managed to beat his contemporary and arch-rival (or perhaps the subject of his unrequited love?) the Monkey Butler Boy. Well, I guess we’ll see.

We cut across the Military Road, skirting Whittle Dene Reservoir where, once again, the banks were devoid of their usual contingent of anglers. That may be just as well, as the surface of the water was dotted with a bevy of swans, including a fair number in their ugly-duckling phase, with grey fluffy feathers still prominent amongst otherwise pristine and sleek white plumage.

We hauled ass up the hill to a small cluster of stone-built houses and a building site where a few more were under construction and we stopped to wait for the second group, before the split into longer and shorter rides.

Still blaming the cold, I wheeled slowly down the lane looking for a place to pee.

Again.

Leaning the bike against the hedge, I wandered through a gate, only to be met by a burly builder coming the other way. I was just about to retrace my steps when he called out,

“There’s a porta-potty up there, if you need a netty.”

I did, so I followed his instruction. How civilised, facilities good enough to even suit the Garrulous Kid, who never seems to be able to find anyplace in nature quite refined enough for his micturational tributes.

As I returned, mightily relived, I passed by Andeven. “Did that bloke just ask if you wanted a … a netty?” he asked.

I confirmed he had indeed.

“What’s that all about?”

I explained a netty is just the name for a toilet in the Geordie vernacular, although I must admit I haven’t heard it used in maybe 30 or more years. I do recall a school trip to southern Italy when the only phrase that seemed to stick amongst a dozen or so a teacher tired to force-feed us was, “dov’è il gabinetto?” – where is the toilet?

Or, as I perhaps mis-remember it, “dov’è il gabinetti?” – which perhaps hinted (wrongly, it would seem) at the etymology of the Geordie netty.

We didn’t have much longer to wait for our second group and we briefly coalesced, before splitting for different rides, longer and shorter, or faster and slower.

Once again, the longer route took us climbing up through the plantations, before we started the push toward Matfen. G-Dawg and Captain Black were on the front by the time we turned off for the Quarry and were immediately slapped in the face by a strong and bitterly cold headwind, that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere.

It was a good time to hide in the wheels as the front pair battled manfully with both the incline and this sudden wind, dragging us to the top of the climb. Off we set for the cafe and, as usual the pace started to ramp up.

We’d been pulled into a single line as we hit the horrid drag up to the crossroads and started burning through riders at a high rate as they pushed through and then, just as quickly faltered and slipped back. I took a pull on the front and led up and over the crossroads, dropped behind Buster on the twisting descent, then took over again as we took a sharp left and drove up to the final junction.

Those contesting the sprint whistled past, but there was no clean break this week, so I tagged onto the back as seven or eight of us, in a tight, compact knot, hustled down toward the bends. Even if I’d wanted to attack (and I didn’t and probably couldn’t) I was boxed in and there was nowhere to go, so I eased and let the gap grow before sweeping through the Snake Bends and on to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Kermit mentioned entering a race on Zwift and being surprised by the sudden, massive injection of balls-to-the-wall pace as soon as the virtual gun went off, or the virtual flag dropped, or however else they virtually start these virtual things. From my (admittedly limited) experience of actual racing, I have to say this sounds remarkably realistic.

I mentioned the dark rumours that Zwift were alleged to be sniffing around pro races and wanted to hold a “virtual prologue” for one of them. I was horrified by the suggestion, but Rab-Dee thought it could be interesting, although he admitted they might need to add some rider jeopardy and randomness to make it more televisual.

He was also worried that the upcoming Paris-Roubaix wasn’t difficult enough and was willing to apply the same techniques to this. Top of the list were spring-loaded cobbles, optional paths that riders have to choose, only one of which didn’t end in a punji pit and giant balls that would periodically bounce across the track, taking out the odd unlucky rider.

Kermit mentioned he was away next week to tackle the MOD Rocker, a sportive over the Army ranges around Otterburn. He thought he’d probably ride solo this year to avoid people barrelling precipitously through the feed-stations for a faster time, or deliberately hanging back at the start to be last through the timing gate, just so when you finish in a bunch they can claim to have ridden faster than you. Bad sportive etiquette and proof some people take things far too seriously.


On the way back I caught up with Taffy Steve, who is in the throes of replacing his thrice cursed winter bike with a Blessèd Beneficent Boardman (All praise Saint Chris!) He explained his sudden impetus for the change came when, freewheeling downhill alongside the Garrulous Kid, he could only watch in utter horror as the Garrulous Kid slipped slowly away from him.

As he declared, no other rider works quite so hard, so diligently and make so many sacrifices in order to maintain optimum descending weight in an attempt to maximise gravitational pull. He’s hoping a change in bike, to something that will offer less rolling resistance and run a little freer, will help him regain descending preeminence.

We had a chat about new hats too, having himself invested in a new helmet with MIPS. I complained about the vent in the top of my helmet that was freezing my scalp and the magnetic catch on the straps that I still hadn’t quite mastered. This in itself was enough to put Taffy Steve off the helmet as he declared all magnetism was witchcraft, totally unfathomable and inexplicable.

Starting from near the back as we hit Berwick Hill and the front group accelerated away, I found myself riding alongside G-Dawg as we tried to close them down.

“This could get hard,” muttered a prescient G-Dawg , just as we rounded a corner and found ourselves battering into a brutal headwind.

We dug in and ground our way over the top and then I set out downhill to try and I close the gap on the front group. Once again, I couldn’t quite bridge the last few metres and this time, there was no Monkey Butler Boy on a TT-bike to tow me across, but a flying Taffy Steve served just as well. He blew past, I latched onto his wheel and that was that. Job done.

Predictably last weeks “good” legs didn’t deign to hang around too long and I was starting to tire as we swung around the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile, I let the front group slip away and started to pick my way home solo, especially looking forward to the last leg with its predicted full on headwind.

Before that though, there was one more call of nature to attend to. I’m still blaming the cold and don’t quite feel ready to challenge either the Prof or the Plank in the smallest, leakiest bladder competition. Well, not quite yet anyway.


YTD Totals: 2,368 km / 1,471 miles with 31,797 metres of climbing