Plague Diaries Week#61 – Sixes and Sevens

Plague Diaries Week#61 – Sixes and Sevens

A better day all round, cool but never cold and while mostly grey, the clouds had the good manners to hold back any actual rain. It would do, it was a far cry from last weeks meteorological thrashing and dry enough even for a white bike too, a decision which was vindicated when Crazy Legs arrived on the much cossetted Ribble.

It was also a day for the animals to show off their strange local, migratory patterns, a grey squirrel being the first to wander idly across my path, followed by cat, a hare and a weasel. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, like some kind of grim prey-predator processional, but interspersed throughout the ride. All were welcome sights, but the same can’t be said for the stupid, suicidal pheasants, who’d obviously got bored waiting for cars on some of the quieter lanes in Northumberland and so seemed intent on committing seppuku by bicycle instead. That’ll get your adrenaline flowing every time.

Maybe I’m getting a bit faster, as yet again I was the earliest arrival at the meeting point and, indeed in time to catch the insurrectionists of the JPF gather before embarking on a cross-river pilgrimage to Slaley. The exotic spoils on the far side of the Tyne were even enough to tempt a few of our regulars to follow too, with Jimmy Mac, the Ticker and Biden Fecht hitching their wagons to the southbound train.

They disappeared up the road in one large, swarming group, but without Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, who arrived moments later having just missed the caboose. We encouraged them to give chase, thinking it would be an easy task for them to catch up (I wouldn’t even have tired), They umhed and they aahed briefly, before deciding to give it a go and then the chase was on.

Our numbers were growing and starting to spread across the pavement when Crazy Legs glanced up, saw an inbound OGL and (purely coincidentally, I hasten to add) determined we had enough people to get a first group out and away. We bumped down the kerb and were off, our group of six morphing into seven when Buster joined, declaring he had to be home early, wasn’t doing the full ride and therefore he didn’t really count against our numbers. Okay, 6½ then. I pushed onto the front with Crazy Legs and we led out the rest, Buster, Aether, the Big Yin, James III and a recurring FNG.

The first thing we passed of note was Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, pulled to the side of the rode and working furiously to repair a puncture that had seriously derailed their spirited pursuit within only a couple of hundred metres of its start. Even they were going to struggle to catch up with that southbound train now.

I learned that Crazy Legs had abandoned his holiday plans last week because one of the family came down with a bad case of kennel cough, and so he’d been out suffering in the rain with everyone else last Saturday. He concluded it was one of the worst experiences he’d had on a bike. (Still, I’m sure G-Dawg would agree, probably better than not going out at all, though.) Crazy Legs was also at pains to absolve himself of any wrongdoing with regard to the unfortunate Bumping Uglies incident with Aether a few weeks ago, swearing blind it wasn’t his brain fart that caused their moment of unexpected intimacy.

At the top of Bell’s Hill we paused for Buster and James III who needed an impromptu pee stop , evoking memories of the Prof and his unfeasibly small bladder. Crazy Legs then managed to embroil us in his travails with anomic aphasia by demanding to know if could think of any famous Dave’s from Cumbria. We all drew a blank, my suggestion that Melvyn Bragg’s middle name may have been David getting short shrift. In reality, we actually found it difficult to name any famous Cumbrian’s at all, and even Google could only suggest a less than stellar cast (ymmv, of course) consisting of Stan Laurel, Beatrix Potter, Ken Russell and William Wordsworth. Oh, and Postman Pat.

Crazy Legs then explained that he’d been calling the recurring FNG “Steve from Teesside” only to discover he’s actually called Dave and from Cumbria. Crazy Legs now felt he needed a handy mnemonic to help remember the right name, hence the odd request. I explained to the others that he did have form in this area, having confessed to asking Caracol multiple times what his name was until, on about the dozenth occasion, he was told it was “still Nick.” He then told us how Eric became “Not Anthony” after a bad case of mistaken identity. Crazy Legs then went on to suggest that the latter mistake was fully under control now, thanks to his uncle having lived the past 3-years with an adopted raven that just happened to be called Eric.

The Big Yin looked on, mouth agape, bewildered. “Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming this?” he asked no one in particular, “It’s so surreal, it must be a dream.”

Off we went again, still searching for famous Cumbrian’s called Dave and threading our way through multiple fields of violently-bright, painfully-yellow, flowering rape-seed that made me grateful I was wearing polarized lenses. I wonder what Wordsworth would have made of it, I mean this was someone who seemed totally overwhelmed by just a few paltry daffodils after all.

Up the slippery slope of the Mur du Mitford, we then took the route that Buster had proposed for his Altered Carbon ride, replete with the new stretches of silky smooth tarmac that had him so aroused. Strangely, at this point he abandoned us to head for home, driven, I suspect by a simple desire not to bespoil another pair of shorts.

At the last minute the Big Yin decided to “go with” and they both zigged while the rest of us zagged, then, just like that our group was down to just 5. The new tarmac down to Netherwhitton was undoubtedly lush, but there was a hell a lot of climbing to get to it and I was beginning to feel heavy-legged even before we had to scale the Trench.

Crazy Legs patiently explained to Dave-Steve, the FNG that there was a junction at the top of the Trench, the first left hand turn, where we’d all stop to regroup before following the road through to Dyke Neuk. With that, we began to climb, passing a bloke toiling upwards on a time-trial bike with an audibly rubbing brake. “As if this hill isn’t hard enough already,” I told him while he glowered at me for having the temerity to ride without any additional handicaps.

Nearing the top Dave-Steve put in a dig and gained one or two metres on Crazy Legs … and then just kept going, riding straight past the turn we needed to take. Crazy Legs and James III bellowed after him to stop (I didn’t have the breath to join in) but all to no avail and we watched Dave-Steve sail on, blissfully unaware, round the corner and disappear from sight, without once looking back.

We waited a good 5 minutes or so to see if he’d re-appear, while I queried if the Scottish border was closed, otherwise their was a danger he might just keep going. Dave-Steve had truly disappeared though, with no hint of a return and our 5 became 4. Off we went in our reduced numbers, passing through Ogle to take the seldom travelled route through Shilvington – still a novelty to me and adding a little extra distance to our ride To be honest though, I was already approaching 50 miles for the day, so didn’t feel it was strictly necessary, especially as we laboured up what Crazy Legs insisted was a false flat, but which looked (and felt) disconcertingly like a hill to me.

Still, it wasn’t long before we were turning into the café at Kirkley, utterly astonished by our good fortune to find … dan-dan-dah … no queue! We only just made it though as our other groups started to pile in shortly afterwards, having decided the Shilvington loop was a novelty they were happy to take a pass on.

I grabbed a bench and was joined by a bunch from one of the other groups, Captain Black, TripleD-El, Princess Fiona Mini Miss, Cowboys and Zardoz, the latter two causing a stir of slapstick confusion around the rightful ownership of a cheese scone. Cowboy’s fact of possession gave him nine-tenths of an advantage (ably reinforced by the fact that he’d already ingested half of the disputed baked good before its provenance became contentious).

Luckily all was resolved happily when a second scone finally appeared, but the incident seemed to have revealed a slight flaw in the café’s delivery system, with Zardoz confessing to once having picked up his freshly brewed cappuccino and downing half of it before he realised he was drinking someone else’s hot chocolate.

Chatting with TripleD-El, we learned that she hadn’t been able to return to the moederland since the start of the year, but was hoping to get back in the next couple of months. She was immeasurably happier with the news that Tom Dumoulin had announced a return to racing, as she felt he was the Netherland’s only legitimate shot at a medal in the men’s Olympic road cycling (unlike the women’s events, where they’ll probably fill all 3 medal places.) I confessed I didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Greg Van Avermaet, so I could finally see the back of the tacky, tawdry gold helmet that has long overstayed its welcome. (It’s not that I have anything against Greg personally, I felt much the same way about Sammy Sánchez’s gold-themed Orbea and that I didn’t even have to suffer for 6 interminable years.)

TripleD-El went on to say how much she liked our new “not club” orange gilets. “Of course you do,” Zardoz chuckled, “Your Dutch, you’re predisposed to like anything orange.”

Talk turned to the possibility of larger ride groups, once lockdown rules are relaxed next week, when up to 30 are allowed to meet outdoors. While British Cycling had recommended a limit of 15 per ride during lockdown, we’d tried to keep more or less to 6 per group. Now, while no one could se a return to mass roll-out’s of 30 plus, the flexibility of being able to form into 6’s, or 8’s or 10’s will provide a little more welcome flexibility. Zardoz’s eyes lit up at the prospect of larger groups, as even the master of stealth has been finding it a little bit harder to avoid turns on the front in the smaller groups.

As if to put the theory to test, a large group of us left the café en masse to ride home together, with Zardoz safely tucked in, out of the wind amongst the wheels at the back. It looked like we were breaking the Rule of Six early, but we were (probably) still within the confines of British Cycling’s 15 man maximum. I don’t know if it was the novelty of seeing so many cyclists together after so long a time, or maybe some form of subtle intimidation by numbers, but unusually the cars along the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill all seemed happy to pull over so we could slide past.

As we started the climb pushed onto the front alongside Crazy Legs and lifted the pace a little. We were hoping for a rest on the subsequent downhill, but found ourselves riding into a strong headwind and had to keep pushing hard to maintain the speed, relinquishing the front as soon as we turned off toward Dinnington.

Mini Miss and Princess Fiona took over and kept the pace high, even increasing it and slapping on their game faces as they pulled everyone up to and past a lone female cyclists.

Past the airport, into the Mad Mile, the sun started to make itself felt and I was looking forward to a pleasant ride back across the river. Passing over the bridge I was surprised to find Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger approaching from the other direction. Not only had they lost the other group, it seems like they’d managed to lose themselves too.


Ride Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,140m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:7,5,4,14
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Comfortable
Year to date:1,519km/944 miles with 16,095m of climbing
Photo by Kostiantyn Stupak on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.

With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.

So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.

Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.

The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.

The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!

On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)

I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.

“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.

Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.

We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.

We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.

“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.

“Sounds promising.”

“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”

“Ah-ha.”

“It was a tree…”

“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”

Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.

Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.

We found the Colossus already seated at the café.

“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.

“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”

The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.

Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.

“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.

Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.

Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.

Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.

Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.

The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.


Ride Distance:98km/61 miles with 936m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,179km/733 miles with 12,507m of climbing

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

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.

Ride Distance:102km/63 miles with 1,129m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed:24.4km/h
Group Size:5 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,081km/672 miles with 11,571m of climbing
Photo by LEONARDO VAZQUEZ on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries – Week#26

Plague Diaries – Week#26

The Joy of Six

Woah! Week#26 of this stuff already – half an entire year and still no end in sight.

Oh, if you’re at all concerned at the loss of week#24 and #25, they were taken up by a deserved holiday in North Yorkshire. I’ve never seen so much rain. This was then followed by an entire weekend decorating Sur La Jante Towers while trying to dry out.

In the time I’ve been away from club riding, the pandemic has tightened its grip on the UK, cases are rising again and tighter restrictions on social gatherings are about to be implemented – the so called Rule of Six, which sounds to me like Bo-Jo the Clown channeling the ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anyway, since it doesn’t look good to have up to 30 cyclists hanging round, talking bolleaux, guffawing loudly and generally cluttering up the pavement,we decided on collective, pre-emptive action.

Orchestrated through various social media channels, everyone was encouraged to wear masks at the meeting point, wait under the eaves of the multi-story car park instead of out on the pavement and, as soon as we we could form each group of 6, we determined they should head straight out and not wait for the usual 9:15 collective start time. It seemed like an obvious, eminently practical and sensible variation on how we usually do things and would allay any negative perceptions that we were flouting social-distancing procedures.

For reasons that I might get around to explaining one day, this was the first time I’d ever done a club ride with a knapsack on my back. Val-deri, val-dera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha and all that. This was fine when I started out fresh and it was empty, but as the day wore and I filled it with more and more of my clubmate’s jersey’s, it seemed to get heavier and heavier, bulged more and became more of an aerodynamic drag, a literal and metaphorical anchor on my back. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (It was only loaded with 1.9 kgs of stuff, but it felt like so much more!)

I’ve also just swapped out my venerable, chunky Garmin Edge for a sleek, Decathlon Van Rysel bike computer and this was its first outing (it does pretty much the same things as the Garmin, but for half the price).

Unfortunately, I was too lazy/impatient to set it up properly and format the displays, which was something I didn’t discover until 10-minutes into my ride, when I realised I could see my maximum achieved speed, but none of the various screens I flicked through showed me what time it was.

I guess I could have stopped and checked the time on my phone, but … well, where’s the fun in that? So, I pressed on, picking up the pace just to make sure I wouldn’t be late. I needn’t have worried, I made it in plenty of time and joined earliest arriving rider, Richard Rex in the car park. We masked up, before shooting the breeze about the Tour: young tyro-cyclists like Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar, sly, old cyclists Like Alessandro Valverde and, for a change of pace, the unpredictable weather in the Lake District

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg arrived in tandem, but sadly not on a tandem. They quickly gathered four others and away they went. Smooth as you like, our first group were out on the road and we were up and running. Another group quickly formed up and followed, before our newly organised Newbie group got underway too.

Then OGL arrived, found half of us had left already and embarked on an epic, apoplectic rant about us leaving in small groups, not waiting until the allotted time and apparently running roughshod over all sorts of long-held club mores, traditions and values.

And the reason for all the vituperative ire? In the biggest self-own imaginable, apparently he wanted to get us all clustered closely together so he could address the gathered masses and tell us we needed to reconsider our social-distancing arrangements.

Aether took the brunt of the attack and simply tried to explain that it was down to individual choice and that we had all, collectively arrived at a practical, pragmatic and much needed decision, that had been widely discussed and agreed across a range of social media. This did not, he admitted when challenged, include the “official” channels of the club Facebook page or website, because a large number of legitimate and fully-paid up club members have been arbitrarily excluded from actually accessing them.

I’ve never been good arguing with incoherence and lack of logic, so stood politely, if rather awkwardly aside until the storm blew itself out to dark mutterings. I never did quite grasp what his suggestions actually were for improving our response to social-distancing guidelines, other than some scare-mongering about our chosen coffee stop and some random, non-cycling people being fined in, err … Salford was it?

The furore interrupted our efforts to set everyone off in groups, rather than have us mingling and potentially raising the ire of Priti Vacant Patel, but we finally hustled the last few groups out onto the road. I joined up with route architect Aether, root architect Ovis, Famous Sean’s and Sneaky Pete to form a quality quintet and, somewhat belatedly, we got underway too.

Aether confided he was confounded beyond belief that OGL hadn’t taken the opportunity to congratulate us on our pre-emptive initiative and well-thought out social distancing rules enacted for the benefit of all club members. Ha ha.

I had a catch up with Famous Sean’s who I hadn’t seen for a good while. In the middle of our chat I almost fell into the trap of talking about how borderline chilly it was, but then I looked over and noticed that, as usual, Famous Sean’s was almost completely mummified in layers of clothing – a long-sleeved jacket, buff, tights and overshoes. I reasoned he probably didn’t have the faintest inkling of what the weather was like outside his protective carapace, so I let it slide. “I was going to put my winter gloves on,” he later confided, “But thought people might laugh at me.”

Still, at least he wasn’t wearing his entire wardrobe all at once, like the time he made it onto one of our winter rides with a silhouette resembling a bomb-disposal expert in full blast armour.

Halfway up Berwick Hill we passed one of our earlier groups, wrestling with Captain Black’s tyre after an unfortunate puncture. We zipped past and pressed on, swapping turns on the front until we reached the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and Sneaky Pete sneaked away rather than face the steep drag up.

The second group having made the necessary repairs were right on our heels as we tackled the climb and Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, attacked from that group and whooshed past as we dug into the climb.

“Ah, the exuberance of youth,” Ovis remarked wistfully, although he was gliding up the steep slope without apparent effort.

I asked how he was doing. “Ouh, a’m not gowin’ too bad att’a moment,” he replied modestly, before confiding he’d recently ridden the entire Marmotte route on Zwift. Just because he could.

With only the four of us to swap places on the front and battling a surprisingly stiff breeze, we somehow stayed ahead of the group behind, but as we took the climb parallel to the Trench, the Dormanator was once again flitting past to attack the slope with gusto.

Aether was flagging a little as we made it over the top. “I still haven’t found my climbing legs,” he confided, pausing in contemplation before adding, “and it’s been fifteen years now.”

Up past Dyke Neuk, we dropped down the other side and were just making our way toward Meldon and more climbing, when Aether pulled over with a puncture. We got things sorted pretty niftily and were almost done when the group behind churned past, putting us firmly into last place on the road again. I hoped this might play to our advantage and let the cafe queue die down a little before we got there.

My wishes were semi-granted, the queue wasn’t too long and we were served without the usual interminable wait. Armed with coffee and yet another crumbling scone on a paper plate, I meandered across the grass looking for a bench to perch my posterior on.

Spotting me approaching the table where he was sitting with G-Dawg and the Colossus, Crazy Leg hooked his leg around the spare chair beside him and drew it in under the table and out of reach. The. Bastard.

I moved toward the next table to join a couple of furious wasps who were dive-bombing it’s surface in apparent agitation, but at least appeared more welcoming. Crazy Legs relented though and invited me to sit with the cool kids after all, although he did check that I wasn’t carrying jam or anything else that might attract flying pests’ having been caught out before when sitting next to Szell and his wasp-magnet confiture.

This remembrance did gift us a quick sing-a-long round of “K-K-K-Kenny and the wasps” but luckily it wasn’t enough to gift either of us an Elton John ear-worm.

I wondered how the Colossus had been faring in the sneakily gusting wind, riding his TT bike with the solid disc wheel and he admitted it certainly made life a little interesting.

As a counterpoint to this discussion, a capricious gust of wind then picked up my plate and hurled it away, jettisoning my scone, which grazed Crazy Legs’ temple as it spun past. He looked up in pained surprise, but luckily it didn’t have the concrete hardened crust of a stale pork pie, because if that had caught him in the eye, Crazy Legs would have bit the dust.

I retrieved my scone from several metres away where it had finally come to rest. They may be flat and they may be crumbly, but they are impressively aerodynamic for baked goods.

I then commended everyone for making an early start this morning and missing out on an epic OGL rant, as he complained about the further Covid-19 precautions we’d taken, because he wanted to discuss taking further Covid-19 precautions. Still, I needn’t have worried as he turned up out of nowhere for the singular purpose of delivering a full-throated reprise of his earlier rant, just so no one felt left out.

Never. A. Dull. Moment.

With everyone gathering their gear to leave I told Captain Black not to wait as I was thinking of heading straight home through Ponteland. Ovis though was hanging back to wait for me and I was coerced into joining up with him, Aether, Captain Black, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg on a more circuitous return up Saltwick Hill.

At one point everyone else dropped back to wait for Aether, but I was flagging, so I kept plugging along, tiring rapidly and with the rucksack starting to give me a sore back. It’s ok for 20km round commuting trips, but not so comfortable on extended club runs.

The group caught me once again just past the airport and I tagged onto the back for a while, but it wasn’t long before I was on my own again and this time for the rest of the ride. Crawling up past the golf course into a direct headwind wasn’t much fun, but it was largely downhill to the river from there and once across I had a tailwind to usher me to the foot of the Heinous Hill. A last clamber up and I was done for another week.

STOP PRESS: The entire North East is now subject to tighter lockdown restrictions. We (or, “the amorphous we” as OGL has disparagingly named us) have decided to suspend group rides for now, so it’s back to solo undertakings for the time being and until further notice.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Plague Diaries – Week#16

Plague Diaries – Week#16

The Lone Bellow

While idly meandering through various social media (mediums?) this week, this picture was perhaps the most arresting that I came across …

And I quite liked the analogy that related it to the pandemic, inferring that you need to account for the idiots who could unwittingly cause harm to both themselves and others.

Still, as much as the photo fits the compelling narrative of the caption, it sadly isn’t at all accurate. It didn’t take much digging to identify that the picture is actually from the Algerian War of Independence and shows French Legionnaires rescuing a malnourished donkey and carrying it to their base, where it would be nursed back to health and adopted as the the unit mascot.

Still, does that knowledge invalidate the message and make it any less apt?

I’m still not quite there with group rides yet, so planned another solo adventure for Saturday. Actually, suggesting I had a plan is giving myself far too much credit, what I actually had was inkling of an idea and an odd yen to climb the Trench, reasoning it’s been months since I travelled those roads and it might be quite … well, refreshing?

(I guess anyone who’s actually climbed the Trench will recognise just how odd a yen this was.)

My route there, or at least the only route I could trust myself to follow, included a clamber up the short-but-steep Mur du Mitford and from there my way home would be traced via that perennial club favourite, Middleton Bank. In effect, with the Mur, Trench and Middleton Bank, I’d set my sights on a triumvirate of torture.

Throw in the climb of Hospital Lane to get out of the Tyne Valley and my usual drag up the Heinous Hill to cap things off and it was actually more like a pentagram of pain. Perfect.

The weather promised to be decidedly “meh” though – almost unbroken cloud cover and occasional showers. The start was dank and dismal too, a light, weeping and ever-present drizzle, that slowly soaked everything, whilst the roads were still awash from an overnight downpour.

I’d learned my lesson last week having indelibly besmirched another pair of pristine, white socks and turned them a poisonous shade of dingy grey that no amount of Persil will ever rectify. This week I went for navy socks and hid my shame under a pair of light overshoes. Jersey, shorts, arm warmers and a rain jacket completed my super-stylish ensemble and I was good to go, hoping I’d be able to ship the jacket somewhere along the way.

There was movement out on the river this week, rowing is back underway and the water was dotted with single sculls. No sign of the crewed fours, or eights yet, but an indication things are slowly returning to normal.

There was another sign of returning to normal at Westerhope, where, at 8:50 and presumably still ten minutes before opening time, a queue of raggedy-haired, mop-topped blokes was already forming a disorderly queue on the pavement outside the barbers, desperate for a post-lockdown shearing.

I dropped down the hill toward Kingston Park, slowing to remove my specs and thread them into my helmet vents as they were becoming increasingly opaque as as the mist-come-rain speckled the lenses. My bike frame was beaded with glistening droplets of moisture too and starting to resemble something you might find in an exotic soft-porn shoot.

Or so I’ve been led to believe…

From Kingston Park , I picked up standard club run routing through Dinnington, then running up Bell’s Hill, confident I knew where I was going. Only the road was closed just past the climb and I was forced into a slight detour. Still, even then the surroundings were reassuringly familiar and I was soon through Tranwell Woods and closing in on Mitford.

It was here that I encountered my first group of riders, around a dozen or so cheery female cyclists, travelling well-spread out in three or four distinct clumps. I would later wonder how I missed the memo about it being National Women’s Cycling Day, as at least every other rider I passed thereafter seemed to be female. It was good to see so many out enjoying the riding, if not the less than perfect weather.

At Mitford, I stopped for a cereal bar breakfast and to peer through the drizzle at the ruins of the castle. We always scamper past this en bloc and at relatively high pace, so I’ve never really stopped to consider it. Internet sleuthing tells me it built as a motte and bailey castle by the Normans in the late 11th Century, only to be destroyed, burned and abandoned two hundred or so years later.

Sight-seeing and needless, pedantic sight-seeing commentary over with, I pushed on to the Mur de Mitford, where I found the left-hand lane demarcated by a long, frayed streamer, a coppery-blue-hued, glistening rainbow of spilled diesel, stretching all the way up the climb, from top to bottom.

Luckily the road was otherwise empty, so I switched to the far right-hand lane to clamber up, warily avoiding the evil gleam of the oil spill that promised an immediate loss of traction and potential pratfall.

From there it was a straightforward run to the bottom of the Trench and a fairly civilised, I might almost say enjoyable, climb through it, although the legs were tiring as I pushed over the top and on to Dyke Neuk. Here I decided on the spur of the moment that I might as well go for the full set of club climbs and take in the horrid grind up to Rothley Crossroads too.

Instead of back-tracking, I took the road toward Hartburn, turning right just before the dip and rise to the village and heading north once again. This is a road we often traverse in the other direction and now I know why, it’s actually a testing little climb going the other way.

Having completed a big loop around Dyke Neuk, I was soon back on the road leading from the top of the Trench and passing through Longwitton, and climbing to the crossroads.

I don’t know what it is about this climb, it’s not particularly steep and shouldn’t be half as hard as it actually is, but it’s a constant grind, difficult to find the right cadence on … and it hurts like hell.

I was halfway up when the silence was split by the hollow, lone bellow of a cow, evidently in extreme discomfort. “You and me both,” I muttered to myself.

The commotion seemed to be coming from the field off to my right, but its source was screened by a dense line of trees . Once again the cow brayed its distress and I couldn’t help thinking that if my legs were to be given voice at that precise moment, that would be the exact sound they’d make too.

A brief pause at the crossroads, then I dropped through to Scots Gap and up Middleton Bank, where a toiling cyclist ahead of me provided an additional bit of motivation. Cresting the top I finally decided it was safe to remove my jacket and shoved it messily in a back pocket.

Then it was homeward bound, Bolam, Belsay, Kirkley in short order, through Dinnington, out to Westerhope (the queue outside the barbers was long gone) and across the river at Newburn.

The volume of cars on the road is back to near normal levels, so I abandoned the main road up the Heinous Hill about three-quarters of the way up, taking to the side streets to avoid the queuing traffic stretching from the traffic lights back down the bank. Well, that was nice while it lasted.

Then, one last short, steep ramp, and I was home again.

Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Club Run, Saturday 14th March 2020

Total Distance: 96 km/60 miles with 937 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 22.2km/h
Group Size: 19 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two:Hey, I was riding. It would do.

Ride Profile

Oh, W.T.F.

As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.

Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.

Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.

I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.

A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.

I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.

So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…

Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.

Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.

Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.

When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.

I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.

So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.

There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.


At the meeting point:

I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.

He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.

He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”

Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.

Well, it was worth a try.

We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.

The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.

I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.

With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.


I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?

We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.



The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.

I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.

By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.

I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.


At the cafe:

Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.

We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.

“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.

We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.

I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)

I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.

“What now?” I queried.

“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”

I think he was joking.

We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.

The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.

We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.

Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.

I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.


Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.

Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.

I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.

I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)

That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?


Paltry YTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing

Crazy Horses

Crazy Horses

Club Run, Saturday 24th August, 2019

Total Distance: 119 km/74 miles with 1,172 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 41 minutes
Average Speed: 25.3km/h
Group Size:30 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 26℃
Weather in a word or two: Getting there.

Ride Profile

An inauspicious start to the week, saw a capricious gust of wind and a wet and slimy speed bump, combined with a bit of cycling stupidity of Froomesque proportions, conspire to send me crashing to the tarmac on Wednesday’s commute home.

I took the brunt of the impact on my right hand side, a grazed shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle. I gouged deep scores in the lenses of my specs, which would have made them unwearable, even if the fall hadn’t snapped them clean in two.

I also managed to grate away the ends of the fingertips of my left hand and once, I got moving again, found blood running down my brake lever to drip a sporadic, splattery, breadcrumb trail all along my route home.

Worst of all though, I’d taken a blow to the ribs, which hurt a little when climbing and a little more when climbing out of the saddle. It was a discomfort I would carry across my next few commutes and into the Saturday club run.

If the road had been unkind, at least the weather hadn’t reciprocated and we were looking at a dry day with plenty of sunshine. A nice Saturday, for a refreshing change.

Despite the good weather, I didn’t spot many other cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting point, but there were lots of runners around, either drawn out by the good weather, or perhaps realising the Great North Run is only weeks away and they really need to start doing a little training.

I managed to hit one sweet spot, when the pedals seemed to spin effortlessly and I was cruising along at 19 mph without even trying. It was the best I’d feel all day and naturally it wouldn’t last.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Failing to learn from last year, the Monkey Butler Boy has a new pair of ultra white shoes to defile. I keep telling him that it’s not a colour conducive to the Northumberland climate, but it doesn’t appear to have registered. His last pair survived no more than a year before they became so discoloured they were consigned to the washing machine in a desperate rescue attempt. I don’t think this managed to return them to their former glory and worse, they actually shrank so much they no longer fit.

Having secured new, pristine white shoes meant he could now disparage the Red Max’s shoes, A sensible black and (naturally) red, which were apparently not stiff enough and certainly not expensive enough for the Monkey Butler Boy’s tastes.

“Two bits of wood with a cleat nailed on, that’s all you need,” a totally unfazed Red Max responded.

That’s pretty much how they used to be,” I reminisced, recalling the cycling shoes of my youth, when you did have to literally nail the cleats to the soles.

“Yeah, nailed directly onto the soles of your feet,” the Red Max confirmed, “That’s how hard we were.”

Benedict had set the route for the day and admitted it was exactly the same as the last one he’d posted. This, he said, was a punishment of sorts, as most of us had messed up by failing to take the designated turn just after the Mur de Mitford. Apparently he was intent on us doing this route again (and again and again, if necessary) until we got it right.

OGL issued dire warnings about the brief spell of good weather bringing all sorts of farm vehicles out on the roads as farmers rushed “to bring their crops in.” I wondered if this was a substitute, doomsday scenario because the weather conspired to deprive him of his favourite subjects for whipping up his “we’re all doomed” pronouncements, you know, glacial ice sheets, monsoon rains, or tornado like winds.

The fact is though that, just three days later, a 77-year cyclist was sadly killed in a collision with a combine harvester on one of our typical routes home. There’s probably a lesson in there for me not to be such a cynical smart-arse, but, well …


Anyway, away we went and I bumped down the kerb and tagged onto the back of the first group and after a little re- shuffling found myself riding alongside and chatting with the Cow Ranger.

Just after Bell’s Hill the Red Max cruised up to the front to tell us the second group had caught us. I didn’t think this was such a big issue now we were out of the ‘burbs, but I think Caracol and the Big Yin took it as a personal affront. The pace was ratcheted up to an uncomfortable level and we rattled through Tranwell and on toward Mitford at an unrelenting pace, that had us well strung out.



As we paused at a junction I asked for the pace to be dialled back and we managed a more orderly descent into the Wansbeck Valley. I found myself descending alongside Otto Rocket, “This,” she whooped, “is one of my favourite descents.”

“Yeah,” I warned, “but what goes down ….”

… has to go up again – and in this case, the up was the short, but savage Mur de Mitford.

“Aw feck,” I heard Otto Rocket muttering, “I’d forgotten about this!”

Up we whirred, each at their own pace, before we regrouped and pushed on to find Benedict’s less than obvious turn. Safely negotiated, we climbed, then climbed some more, up the 4th Cat Hill to Low Hesleyhurst, before a long swooping descent dropped us back into the Font Valley.

Throughout, we seemed to encounter numerous horsey-looking, horsey people on numerous horses, (none of the horses looked remotely human however). For the most part, they were polite and gracious, greeting us warmly, waving, thanking us for slowing down, or pulling to the side of the road to let us past. Not an erstwhile Taras Bulba however, riding one huge beast barebacked (the rider, not the horse!) while leading another by the bridle and seeming to take up the full road to do it. I swear he kicked his horses into a gallop as he surged toward us and we scrabbled to get out of the way. Crazy.

I caught up with G-Dawg, who’d has the immense privilege of a midweek ride out with a group of international cyclists who were in Newcastle to participate in the World Transplant Games, everyone of whom had an inspirational story to tell. He’d ended up chatting with a young Dutch guy who’d won the Road Race, Time Trial and Team Time Trial on a borrowed liver and another guy who was competing on the back of a double lung transplant.

And then it was back to the work in hand as we started climbing up the Trench. Again. For whatever reason, it seems to have featured in my last three or four club runs. Den Haag set a brisk pace and I managed to hang tough with the front group. Near the top he glanced back, to find maybe half a dozen of clustered together, the rest were scattered, adrift all the way down the climb.

“Hmm, we seem to have opened up some gaps,” he mused.

“I should bloody well hope so,” I gasped, “I’d be horribly disappointed if we hadn’t after all that effort.”

We regrouped at the top and pushed on for Angerton, but as we started to climb up toward Bolam Lake, I was suddenly done. Empty and heavy-legged, I drifted off the back of the group on the final climb and no matter how hard I chased I couldn’t close the gap. Even a token effort over the rollers didn’t help and I slipped into the cafe sur la jante.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In commemoration (or perhaps celebration?) of the Garrulous Kid’s last club ride before heading off to university, G-Dawg had arranged for the cafe to provide us with a celebratory cake. He emerged from the cafe with said cakey-treat (anointed with a single, solitary candle) and, rather bizarrely, a dozen knives, but no plates.

The candle was duly lit and the Garrulous Kid blew it out, as we all stood around and made (probably) the same wish. He then started to slice up the cake, handing out the first massive slice that took away about an eighth of its mass in one cavalier, over-generous moment.

We quickly pointed out his wasn’t going to work. Like chum in shark-infested waters, a seething pack of gimlet-eyed cyclists were already circling the table, building up into a cake-feeding-frenzy and they all needed to be appeased.

As the Garrulous Kid progressed, he started slicing and dicing the cake into smaller and smaller portions, until the last few slices were wafer-thin shavings of mostly barely stuck-together crumbs. Somehow, he just about managed to get away with it, although I dread to think what would have happened if he’d only been working with five loaves and two fishes – perhaps an unavoidable food riot?

Cake disposed off, the Garrulous Kid mused that at this time next week he’d be on the train heading to Aberdeen, while his parents would be driving up there without him.

This, he said, was so that he could take his bike up while leaving room in the car for other things. We naturally interpreted this as a pitiful excuse so the Garrulous Kids parents didn’t have to endure a 5-hour journey stuck in a car with him.

I even suggested they would probably dump all his gear in a heap on the pavement outside his halls of residence and be long gone by the time he rolled up with his bike.

G-Dawg told him not to worry though as, in an even bigger surprise than the cake, he’d arranged for OGL to travel up to Aberdeen on the train with the Garrulous Kid, to “see him off proper” (and make sure he didn’t sneak back.)

Even better, he hinted OGL had been persuaded to wear nothing but a club jersey and a slightly soiled, somewhat askew sporran – a sight that once formed in your imagination becomes almost impossible not to see …

Different groups of cyclists started to form up and start out for home, including Biden Fecht, also due to travel to Aberdeen University, to resume his teaching post.

They all wandered across to wish the Garrulous Kid goodbye and good luck.

“You will leave the front door key under the plant pot, won’t you?” the Garrulous Kid quipped, as Biden Fecht made to leave.

Oh how we laughed … well, all apart from Biden Fecht who sidled quickly away, wearing a slightly bilious expression.


Once it was our turn to leave we decided to route back through Walton again, just for a bit variety. I found myself riding alongside the Big Yin. He gestured toward the Garrulous Kid. “I bet he’s going to be a player amongst the girls at Uni,” he mused, “And that’s player with an A on the end…” He tried sounding it out, “You know, a ‘play-ah’.”

I could only stare at him in mute horror and incomprehension.

I was still tired and weak-legged as we chased down a group of our club mates who’d followed a different route to suddenly emerge on the road ahead of us. We managed to tag onto the back as this group accelerated past the Cheese Farm, but the chase had emptied my reserves and the pace was too high to sustain. I was done, sat back, eased up and disengaged.

I inhaled an emergency gel in the hope it would stave off, or counter any negative effects of bonking and settled in for my solo ride for home. That was hard.

I’m off for another family holiday and not back on a club ride until September.

September?

Already?

W.T.F.


YTD Totals: 5,435 km / 3,269 miles with 71,604 metres of climbing

Resting Bitch Face

Resting Bitch Face

Club Run, Saturday 3rd August 2019

Total Distance: 109 km/68 miles with 1,030m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2km/h
Group Size:38 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature: 24℃
Weather in a word or two: Almost felt like summer!

Ride Profile

A misty start to the day, but there was a promise of much better weather, if only we could avoid the widely forecast thunderstorms.

I pushed away from the kerb and was quickly reaching for my brakes as a car shot past and then cut in front of me, either racing the changing traffic lights, or determined not to be held up by a cyclist descending the Heinous Hill. Once again I was struck with the idea that many drivers have no real understanding of just how fast a descending bike can go. I frequently get cars pulling out of junctions directly in-front of me on the long downhill I use on my commute. This either means a rapid application of brakes, or, if I have momentum and a clear road, a bit of over-taking that I’m sure the drivers think is completely reckless and dangerous.

Here, I just had to engage in a bit of tail-gating, stuck behind a car travelling much slower than I would have been, if I didn’t have to hang on the brakes all the way down. I would like to think the sight of a cyclist louring in their rear-view mirror had an intimidating effect, but I very much doubt my presence even registered.

Luckily the rest of my ride across town was incident free and the sky had even shaken of its milky, misty filter by the time I was climbing back out of the river valley.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

I found club run irregular and Steven Kruisjwijk look-alike Eon waiting with G-Dawg at the meeting point. Eon suggested this was one of his rare penance rides, when he joins a club run just to ensure he exacts the full value out of his £10 annual membership fees.

“I was expecting more out today, though,” he added.

“Well, it’s early yet, let’s wait and see.”

We didn’t actually have all that long to wait, as numbers kept building until we had almost 40 riders and bikes packed like sardines on the pavement. It was going to be a big, big group.

Crazy Legs spotted a couple hanging slightly back from the fray, determined that they were first-timers and invited them into the fold. They had exotic accents, by which I guessed they weren’t from around these here parts…

“Your not Dutch are you?” I challenged, “Because I think we’ve already exceeded our quota on Dutch cyclists.”

“Yeah, it’s true,” Double Dutch Distaff added.

They seemed rather relieved to be able to claim American citizenship, while at the same time quickly disassociating themselves from the Dutch, while no doubt wondering what bunch of lunatics wouldn’t want more lovely people from the Hollow Lands to come out and ride with them.

“Where are you from anyway?” Crazy Legs wondered.

He was from Wisconsin, the girl from a state not a million miles from Wisconsin, but still a sizeable distance away from America’s Dairyland. (Which is my feeble way of saying I didn’t quite catch her reply.)

“Where’s Wisconsin then, is that in the North, on the border with Canada?”

“Hmm, not quite.”

“Is it in the East then?” Crazy Legs continued, undeterred.

“In the West? The Middle?”

“Kinda, North Central.”

“Oh!” I’m not sure we were any wiser really.

“Are you a Packers fan, though?” I wondered.

“Well, you’ve kind of have to be,” he answered, not especially enthusiastically, perhaps worried I’d think he was secretly Dutch if he claimed to be an ardent Cheesehead.

OGL arrived in time to condemn the unwashed state of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike. It seemed only natural to progress from there to the state of the Garrulous Kid’s bike and in particular his filthy, grungy chain (well, it is about 3 months since his bike was last serviced, which was when it was last clean.)

“And black socks too!” OGL despaired, “That would have resulted in an instant disqualification in my day.”

“Well, they were actually white when he set out this morning,” G-Dawg quipped, “But with that chain, you know …”

Aether outlined the route for the day and the need to split such a big group into at least two. The first group pushed off and started to form up at the lights, but their numbers looked a little light and someone called for additional riders.

Ah, shit, is this what I really wanted to do after a week of indolence, sitting around a pool doing nothing but eating and drinking? I reluctantly bumped down the kerb and tagged onto the back of the group with a few others. I was going to regret this, I was sure.


I slotted in alongside Plumose Pappus, where we tried to determine if there was any pattern to Eon’s seemingly irregular appearances on a club run. We determined that he probably had a number of different groups he rotates through, smashing each one in turn before moving onto the next one and, sportingly, allowing them all 3 months to recover before he puts in another appearance to repeat the cycle.

We then had an involved, entertaining and engaging conversation about beach volleyball. Hold on, I know what your thinking, but this was actually a conversation about a beach volleyball rather than the sport (game?) of beach volleyball itself. Suffice to say, Plumose Pappus may soon be the proud owner of his very own, completely free, beach volleyball. Why? I hear you ask, but I’ll simply paraphrase his well-reasoned answer: Well, why not?

On the narrow lanes up toward the Cheese Farm, three approaching cars in quick succession pulled over to the side of the road and cheerfully waved us through. Perhaps it was just as well though, as we were churning along like a runaway express. Caracol and Rab Dee had kicked things off, the Garrulous Kid and the Dormanator, Jake the Snake (recently rechristened Jake the Knife by Crazy Legs) had added fuel to the fire and then Eon and Andeven increased an already brutal pace.



From 30kms into my ride to the 55km mark, across 32 different Strava segments, I netted 16 PR’s, culminating in a 20km/h burn up the Trench itself.

Prior to that, we had tackled the Mur de Mitford, pausing briefly at the top to regroup, where the Garrulous Kid was invited to lead us to the Trench.

“Take it to the Trench!” I extemporised, channelling just a teeny bit of James Brown.

The Garrulous Kid hates hills now, so refused, claiming he’d just get dropped on the climb.

“Well, just take us to the bottom of the Trench,” someone suggested. Even better, there was a bridge at Netherwitton, just before the Trench.

“Yeah! Take it to the bridge!” I was quite enjoying myself now. The Garrulous Kid just looked at me blankly with a WTF expression and steadfastly refused to lead us out.

Eon and Andeven then pushed onto the front and off we rolled.

Get up-a, git on upp-ah…

And upp-ah we went-ah … up the Trench, a tight knot of us clustered around Eon’s rear-wheel, while trailling a long, broken tail of discarded riders.

Once more, we stopped to regroup at the top, where the Monkey Butler Boy spotted a small knot of dithering sheep in the middle of the road. It looked like they’d escaped from a nearby field only to discover the grass really wasn’t any greener on the other side. The sudden appearance of wild, potentially dangerous animals gave the Monkey Butler Boy strange, flashbacks to a time when he claimed he’d passed a pack of wolves on this very road. Nobody had the faintest recollection of this, or any idea what incident he was actually referring to. Perhaps they’d been a pack of hounds, he concluded lamely … or vampire sheep, I helpfully suggested.

I took the lead alongside Biden Fecht, who had the great joy of calling out a warning of “Sheep!” as we passed the panicking, evidently non-vampiric, ovine escapees. Anyway, a simple pleasure and one that makes a refreshing change from constantly having to shout out Pots! Gravel! Car! or other, equally mundane cycling hazards.

Half way up Middleton Bank and I was done in by the relentless pace, bad gear choice and rampaging speed. Gapped over the top, I chased fruitlessly for a kilometre or two, before giving up, forming an impromptu, very small and select grupetto with the Monkey Butler Boy to cruise the rest of the way to the cafe. I did still manage a quick dig up and over the rollers – but it was just for forms sake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I wandered into the garden, sitting down in time to catch the end of an anecdote in which the usually mild-mannered, happy-go-lucky, Crazy Legs, admitted he’d recently snapped, losing it and going absolutely postal with a driver who’d shouted at him for not riding in a segregated bike lane.

On being told he was a stupid idiot, Crazy Legs had fully admitted the possibility, but suggested that at least he wasn’t going to keel over and die of a heart-attack anytime soon, unlike his fat, lazy, lard-arsed adversary.

Dinger listened with some sympathy, having himself fallen into the trap of hurling childish insults at a “speccy-four-eyes, bastid” driver in the heat of the moment, before admonishing himself with the simple question, “What am I, five again?”

Elsewhere, we learned that a disgruntled Big Yin had been complaining that Stage 18 of this years Tour de France saw Nairo “Stoneface” Quintana climbing up the Galibier in a time that was considerably faster than the Big Yin had managed going down.

Crazy Legs had caught an interview with Marcel Kittel in which he came across as knowledgeable, humorous, likeable and engaging person, suggesting a stint as a TV-pundit wouldn’t be a bad call if he couldn’t get his cycling career back on track.

I thought this would probably have to wait until the unforeseen time when his hair-modelling options inexplicably and improbably dried up. Crazy Legs then wondered what damage Kittel could do to the Alpecin brand, if he suddenly revealed his hair was falling out. I was all for him shaving his head bald and blaming a certain, caffeine-shampoo for the hair loss, but realised this was unlikely as it would severely curtail hair-modelling opportunities.


We found a fantastically ostentatious, bright red Ferrari in the car park as we made to leave. “That’s worth more than my home,” someone quipped.

“It’s worth more than my family,” I assured them.

G-Dawg looked at the car somewhat askance, before shaking his head in dismay. “You’d never fit a bike rack on that,” he concluded dismissively.

And away we went … Even with early departures, it was still a big, big group that set out for home. Things were fine until we took the lane up toward Berwick Hill, noticing the road was closed just past the junction. This didn’t affect us, but seemed to have forced a huge volume of traffic to share the lane with us, some caught behind with no room to pass, while we had to constantly single out, slow down and hug the hedges for the stream of cars approaching from the other end of the lane.

At one point we passed a group of cyclists heading in the opposite direction, being led by a woman who looked fully enraged. I’ve never seen such anger on a bike, although I suppose Crazy Legs may have approached such levels of incandescent fury during his altercations with his lard-arsed adversary.

I wondered aloud what her problem was, maybe the cars stacked up behind, or the the sea of cyclists filtering past? Surely it couldn’t be the weather, which had been beyond even my most optimistic expectations?

“RBF,” Caracol concluded.

“What?”

“Resting Bitch Face,” he clarified.

Not a phrase I was overly familiar with, but apparently a recognised phenomena, with its own Wikipedia page! Resting Bitch Face is defined as a facial expression that unintentionally makes a person appear angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any particular emotion.

Hmm, perhaps he had the right of it.

Up the hill to Dinnington and one of the youngsters was struggling to hold the wheels, so I dropped in alongside him and matched my pace to his. Up ahead I could seen Carlton looking back concernedly and rightly concluded this was probably another Carlton prodigy I was escorting and he would be ripping our legs off in a (short) few years.

While the main group disappeared up the road, a few of us dialled back the speed a little for the final mile. As they all turned off I started my solo run for home. The legs were tired and heavy, but it had been a good ride and the decent weather was a real bonus.

It almost felt like summer.


YTD Totals: 4,991 km / 3,101 miles with 66,160 metres of climbing

Retard Units

Retard Units

Club Run, Saturday 12th May 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:106 km/66 miles with 1,123 m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed:26.6 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 14℃
Weather in a word or two:Groundhog day

Ride Profile

Groundhog Day?

No surprises certainly, as yet again we are treated to an unseasonably chill, generally dull and cloudy day, with an increasing threat of rain showers the longer we stay out.

Still, there was no delay, drama or diversion on the first leg of my journey and I found myself rolling into the meeting point in good time and in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I found G-Dawg alone once more, without the Colossus, who seems to have fallen out of love with his road bike following one too many altercations with psychotic drivers. Or, as G-Dawg phlegmatically determined, “He’s gone and done a Kittel.” Now the Colossus was heading out for peaceful, quiet and, most importantly, car-free trails on his mountainbike instead.

Not only was one part of our well-established dynamic duo missing, but one part of our latest dynamic duo was missing too, with Distaff Double Dutch away in Canada, so Double Dutch Dude was out on his own.

Speaking of dynamic duo’s, Crazy Legs had dared to venture out on his much-cossetted Ribble, defying both tradition and the auguries that suggested that, sooner or later, we were bound to encounter some rain today. This was a real sign of increasing desperation and frustration, with Crazy Legs acknowledging he’d never made it into May before without having at least one opportunity to ride his best bike.

Sneaky Pete had been listening to an interview with poet, Simon Armitage, (I can’t say I’m familiar with any of his work, but any who would describe Tom McRae as “one of our greatest living songwriters” can’t be all that bad). Apparently, part of the remuneration Armitage will receive for being the new poet laureate is a “butt of Canary wine” which, as an aside, apparently translates to 720 bottles of sherry.

Sneaky Pete wondered what would be adequate remuneration for our in-house, club blergger in general, Sur La Jante.

“A beaker of battery acid?” I suggested. It seemed appropriate.

Benedict briefed in the route which included the Mur de Mitford and then a slightly less-travelled route to the Trench, avoiding Pigdon. Numbers were bolstered by an unexpected group of Ee-Em-Cee riders; ex-club members, or those who had second-claim membership status with us, so we split into two, and away we went.


I started the day on the front with the Garrulous Kid, chatting about the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel (and, far more importantly, the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel’s hair) the Giro and the various sprinters who were likely to dominate the next week or so. The race is so loaded with mountains in the third week, I can’t help thinking not many of these gentlemen will make it all the way to the finish in Verona.

We held the front for the first 15km or so, passing apparent, occasional club member, The Silence (he blanked us) as we rode the Cheese Farm and up Bell’s Hill, before peeling away and inviting the next pair through. I dropped back through the group and was still there sometime later, as we scrambled up the Mur de Mitford. I was then in pole position to watch as a very animated Goose, deeply engaged in conversation, led us straight past the turn we were supposed to take to loop around Pigdon. (Not that I would have realised, if G-Dawg hadn’t pointed it out.)

Oh well, we weren’t going to be using that particular wrinkle to our route today.

Someone called a rest break and we pulled into the junction that led up to Curlicue Hill. Once again the Garrulous Kid was disappointed with the toilet facilities, even when Caracol invited him to step into the field of head-high, painfully yellow, almost buzzing, rapeseed. I encouraged him to adopt a Theresa May persona and go skipping through the fields with gay abandon. He wasn’t interested.

Off we went again, working our way to the bottom of the Trench which we seemed to ascend effortlessly, en masse and as one compact group. We took the dip and swoop through Hartburn and then the turn to Angerton, avoiding Middleton Bank.



Around Bolam Lake the pace picked up, increasing all the way until we hit Milestone Woods, where there seemed to be a slight lull and a bit of hesitation – relatively speaking of course, we were still thundering along at over 25 mph. I was on the outside, surfing a few wheels back from the front, there was space to pass and we were approaching the foot of the rollers. It looked like an open door … how could I possibly resist kicking at it?

I accelerated down the outside and off the front as the first slope bit. I’ve no idea if I had a gap, provoked a response, or caused anyone to be shelled out the back, I just kept going, over the second and third bump without looking back. Unfortunately, there was no tractor waiting to pace me this week, as I tipped down the other side and pushed on.

As the road started to climb again, a tight knot of riders burned past, followed by a long tail in one’s and two’s, as I slipped form first to last place, trying to recover. As the road kicked around the bend and onto the final drag, I managed to accelerate and then it was just a case of seeing how many back-markers I could catch and pass before I ran out of road.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Somewhat surprisingly, it was just about warm enough to tempt us to sit out in the garden. We just had to get there. This proved a breeze for G-Dawg and me, but we were followed out by the Garrulous Kid, who seemed to be really struggling to walk and balance a tray at the same time. Luckily, he didn’t have any gum to chew.

He emerged from the doorway and took his first, tiny, tentative baby step toward us, tray in a white-knuckled, double-handed death grip as he tried, largely unsuccessfully, not to spill coffee over everything. G-Dawg looked down at his plate, speared a chunk of his ham and egg pie on his fork and started chewing thoughtfully. He looked up again …

The Garrulous kid was creeping toward us with all the speed of an approaching Ice Age.

“Have you actually moved?” G-Dawg asked, before returning for another bite of pie.

“Actually, is he not going backwards?” he asked when once again he checked on the Garrulous Kid’s progress.

Finally, after a tortuous, extended period of tottering, stiff-legged steps, that made him resemble a stilt-walker who’d crapped their pants, the Garrulous Kid made it to the table and plonked down a tray awash with coffee.

In direct contrast and moments later Goose swept through the cafe door, tray balanced expertly on the splayed fingertips of one extended hand as he sashayed nimbly around a group of departing cyclists, stepped around a pile of abandoned bikes and strode quickly and purposefully to the table. There, he spun the tray fully through 180 degrees and deposited it, with a flourish on the table.

I commended him on his very stylish, professional busboy technique.

“Yeah, but I spilled coffee everywhere…”

Despite having promised to set the world to rights, deride the current running of the club and speak out as a representative for all the poor, oppressed yoofs, the Garrulous Kid had remained meekly silent and quiescent during a recent club meeting.

We determined that he was either an “all mouth and trousers,” blustering, braggart, or an agent provocateur, working directly for OGL and tasked with sowing discord, while encouraging dissidents to implicate themselves.

“Hold up,” Caracol challenged, “Are you wearing a wire?”

This, we decided was probably why the Garrulous Kid was so particular in finding a pee place where he couldn’t be overlooked and his duplicitous double-dealing discovered. And here I was thinking it was just because of some hideous deformity he was trying to hide.

We learned that the morning’s influx of Ee-Em-Cee riders was prompted by large portions of their club being away on holiday/training camp in Majorca, leaving only a smattering of riders behind. These had been either too few, or otherwise disinclined to form their own club run, so we had been a welcome refuge.

Goose was interested in how far and how fast their typical club runs were (it goes without saying that they were obviously much longer, faster and much, much harder than ours). One of them gave Goose typical distances and average speeds in miles per hour.

“Retard units!” Double Dutch Dude spat vehemently.

What? Who? Whoa!

“These, what is it … Imperial measurements you call them?” he continued, “We always refer to them as retard units.

He then started to ask a number of very awkward questions – how many ounces are there in a pound? How many pounds in a stone? How many inches in a foot? Feet in a yard? Yards in a mile? How many pints in a quart? How many quarts in a gallon?*

(Unfortunately, he didn’t ask how many bottles of sherry there were in a butt, I knew that one.)

We knew some, we guessed others, we argued over a few more. It was enough to prove his point. Imperial measurements are now wholly devoid of ryhme, reason, or logic, they are arcane, unguessable and unusable.

[* 16, 14, 12, 3, 1760, 2, 4 and 72, respectively. I think]

“Every child in Holland knows there’s 100 centimetres in a metre and 1,000 grams in a kilogram,” The implication was clear: Imperial = retarded. QED.

The Monkey Butler Boy distracted us, talking about a hand-built set of carbon wheels made by the Walker Brothers.

“The Walker Brothers?” I queried, immediately thinking to myself that the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore and regretting that Crazy Legs was absent, otherwise we might have had a little sing-along.

“Yeah, the Walker Brothers,” the Monkey Butler Boy replied, completely oblivious to what I was hinting at, or why I found the name so amusing.

“He doesn’t get the reference,” G-Dawg let me down gently. Oh well, I don’t know why I was surprised, after all this was the same Monkey Butler Boy who excused his ignorance of Oscar Wilde (“never heard of the feller”) by reminding me he was “only young, so wasn’t around in the 1980’s.”

There was some gentle ribbing of the Monkey Butler Boy for wearing Velotoze time-trial socks on a club run. Apparently, they can save him up to 3 seconds on a 10-mile time trial, but take him 15 minutes of sweating and straining effort to pull on.

Or off.

Per foot.

Life’s too short.

Then, there was just time for the Garrulous Kid to badly fail the most basic, Bike Knowledge 101, (being unable to identify where his jockey wheels were located) and we were packing up to go.


I was chatting with Goose as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill, when the Monkey Butler Boy surged off the front. I immediately dropped onto his wheel and was sitting there trying to look calm and composed when he looked around to see how big a gap he’d opened up. He swung away and I took over the pace-making on the front, dragging everyone up and over the crest.

The rain had obviously swept through here moments before and the road ahead was soaking wet and still sheeted in water. In seconds my socks were soaked and had gone from pristine white, to grimy grey.

“Ha! bet you wish you had Velotoze on now,” the Monkey Butler Boy crowed.

“Still,” he continued, “It could be a lot worse, at least we’re on the front.”

He was right, we were safely out of the spray being kicked up by everyone’s wheels, we just had to stay there. We did, by keeping the pace high enough to discourage anyone else from coming through, as we drove to the bottom of the hill, up through Dinnington, past the airport and finally down into the Mad Mile.

It could also have been worse if we’d been in the second group on the road, who said they took a real battering from rain and hail as they passed through Ogle. This was a rain storm we were happy to have missed. I’ve yet to find out if Crazy Legs’ much cossetted Ribble will ever forgive him for this ultimate of betrayals.

At the end of the Mad Mile, I swung off and away for home, with the sun occasionally breaking through and the roads starting to dry out. My clothes followed suit, so I was bone dry by the time I hauled ass up the Heinous Hill, though my socks remained a grainy, grungy, grimy grey and may have to be abandoned. Do you think I need Velotoze?


YTD Totals: 3,075 km / 1,911 miles with 40,367 metres of climbing

Kerplunk!

Kerplunk!

… or a shocking glimpse into the impenetrable darkness that lurks in the black, black heart of Plumose Pappus


Club Run, Saturday 16th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,248m climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7 km/h
Group Size:35 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 13°C
Weather (in a word or two):Crisp

Ride Profile

The first (relatively) decent weather in ages would bring out lots of previously somnolent, recumbent riders, lots of shiny plastic bikes and even a fair smattering of exposed, pasty, pallid legs.

Shorts?

In February!

Are they mad?

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself, you see what a touch of decent weather can do to the sun-starved, SAD afflicted and cold-inured riders of northern Britain? But, let’s be real, it’s still February, the roads are filthy and the weather could change in an instant. Anyway, I’m a wimp, so my lower extremities remain well wrapped in lycra and clamped firmly around the winter bike for now.

The rowers were obviously approving of a warmish day and a bit of pale, watery sunshine too. They’re stripped down to vests already and I spotted a foursome in the distinctive colours of Newcastle University Rowing Club, manoeuvring their boat into the centre of the river, as I shoot the bridge. There’s another all-day rowing competition on and I’ll need to pick my way through all the spectators and their parked cars on my return.

Fitness isn’t quite where I want it to be at the moment, so I decide to attack the climb out of the valley, surprising myself with a couple of Strava PR’s, while recognising I’ll pay for such early efforts later on in the ride.

At one point I dart across a roundabout and can only look on in horror as an approaching car actually has to stop and give way to me. The driver is wholly unappreciative of having to slow and change gear to allow me to pass, but at least it gave him the opportunity to test his horn, just in case it wasn’t working properly and he encounters other random cyclists who stupidly expect him to obey the Highway Code.

For some, quite bizarre reason the pejorative word that immediately springs to mind is hornswoggler. I’ve no idea where that was dredged up from and, although not semantically accurate, thematically at least it worked for me.

Where last weeks final run in was smooth, fast and wind-assisted, this week I’m caught at every light and slowed by a bus and several slow-turning cars. Still I’ve made good time and arrive in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I find Captain Black and Kipper discussing the possibility that the much-promised, much-delayed, semi-mythical club A.G.M., might actually manifest in corporeal form “sometime in March. Maybe.” (Don’t hold your breath.)

“I remember when we used to have an AGM, first week in January, every year,” Kipper reminisced distantly.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t know you were that old!” was about the only response I could splutter through my surprise.

“Ah, back in the day – was that when we had a proper structure, a club chairman, secretary, treasurer, welfare officer, club committee …”

“To be fair,” I interrupted, as Captain Black’s list slowly built, “We still have all those, it’s just that they’re one person.”

We had an FNG waiting for us and he politely went around introducing himself. He’d have his work cut out today, as more and more riders appeared, blinking at the odd, wan, sunlight until we were over thirty strong and crowded across the pavement.

The Garrulous Kid arrived and announced each new arrival, like a dodgy wrestling compere with a seriously limited vocabulary and imagination. Thus, when Double-Dec arrived we got … “Aaaand heeere’s Big Stu!” … when Biden Fecht rolled in, “Aaaand heeere’s Big Andy!” and then, most bizarrely when 63 kg , climbing flea, Plumose Pappus arrived, it was to the chorus … “Aaaand heeere’s Big James!”

Having proved unsatisfactory as a wind-break last week, Crazy Legs repositioned Double-Dec on the pavement to block out the sun and keep it out of his eyes.

“You’re like a total eclipse,” Crazy Legs declared from the cool sanctuary of Double-Dec’s shadow.

“Huh, I’ve been called worse,” Double-Dec affirmed.

No one doubted it.

Still, I’m not sure a moments brief respite from the sun’s glare was worth it for the earworm that Crazy Legs had self-inflicted. This would have him bashing out that awful Bonnie Tyler dirge all the way around today’s ride.

I counted just four winter bikes amongst our throng. Carbon-fever had definitely taken hold and there were at least four pairs of bare legs too, emitting a sickly, ghostly radiance as the sun bounced off too pallid skin.

G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, which would have us climbing through Mitford, “but not the Mur de Mitford,” then through Pigdon and up the climb that runs parallel to the Trench, “but is not-the-Trench.”

“Does that have a name?” he asked OGL.

“Curlicue Bank.” I’m convinced this day that’s what OGL had answered – a delicate, whimsical and curving climb and a good counterpoint to the raw and brutal Trench?

It almost seemed to fit.

We split into two, still sizeable groups with G-Dawg suggesting a rendezvous and regrouping “under the bridge.” With that determined, off we went.


I was chatting with Captain Black on the first part of the ride and then, after a bit of a shuffle Carlton. He was intent on berating the German’s for not letting him even attempt to speak in his badly-mangled pidgin-German, before they invariably interrupted him in their near flawless Euro-English. How rude.

We ended up on the front together as we pushed through Dinnington and naturally, it wasn’t long before OGL was shouting that the pace was too high and we needed to ease up.

Ease up!

Ease up …

Past the Cheese Farm and approaching Bell’s Hill, Carlton, still recuperating from a heavy cold and having completed a fair stint on the front, suggested we swing over and let the next pair through, OGL and Captain Black.

“Just in time for the hill,” I encouraged them as they eased past.

“Good, I can set a more sensible pace, then” OGL chided.

I dropped to the back and tagged on again, following the group around a wide bend and onto the first slopes. Almost immediately I was overtaking a trail of discarded riders, as the gradient bit.

I worked my way forward to where OGL was driving a fast-splintering group upwards.

“Bloody hell, ease up – you’ve split the group to pieces,” I managed to bellow, before I was overcome with a fit of giggles. I’m pretty sure that earned me extra-credits in my pursuit of being a premier smart-arse.

We stopped to regroup and recuperate over the top, before pushing on.



We then shed a boatload of Grogs and, after a couple of stop-start, where’s-the-rendezvous-again? discussions, OGL led a few others away for a shorter loop to the cafe.

The rest of us dropped down into the Wansbeck Valley, where we found our front group camped out and waiting by the river. Most of us turned right to climb up through Mitford village, while Crazy Legs led a few to the left to tackle the eponymous Mur de Mitford.

As we made our way through the town, I was climbing along, quite happily at the back, idly watching a hitch-hiking ladybird’s slow progress up Richard of Flanders’ jersey.

“Out!”

The call came a split-second too late, as a kerb suddenly appeared in the middle of the road demarcating a brand new, utterly pointless, segregated cycle lane. Or, at least I assume it was rather pointless, although I admit I didn’t have the time to appreciate its engineers full intent.

I hit the kerb and performed a super-slow motion, wall-of-death swoop down its face, caught my tyre between kerb and gutter and came down with a clatter.

Ouch. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. The Pug seemed largely unscathed, other than a bashed in brake lever and a slight abrasion to one of my French tricolour bar-end plugs. I decided this just made it look like a slightly battle-scarred, regimental standard, adding the patina of past campaigns and old glory to its no longer shiny surface. I could live with that.

I hooked up my shipped chain and banged the brake lever back into position. That hurt … a lot, I’d badly jarred my wrist in the fall. Having checked the bike out, I turned my attention to the damage I’d done to my body.

I had a big hole in the left leg of my bibtights and a corresponding, smarting and oozing hole in my knee, a grazed palm, hip, finger and elbow and the aforementioned jarred wrist, which I now discovered was accompanied by a sore shoulder. Nothing major and nothing too bad though – it could have been a lot worse.

I rejoined the group and we got underway again. I found myself riding alongside Plumose Papuss, following the Ticker, out on his good bike, complete with the loudly whirring, whining freehub on his Hunt wheels.

“That’s the exact noise my dog makes when I TASER him,” Plumose Papuss confided as the Ticker freewheeled loudly downhill.

“Do you do that often?” I wondered.

“Oh, just the once,” he replied nonchalantly.

I’m (fairly) confident he was joking dog lovers.

He then questioned me long and hard about my experience in strip clubs and wondered if I would admit to having ever heard of, been seen in the vicinity of, or even bravely ventured inside, Newcastle’s only (commonly acknowledged) lap dance club. (Well, that I know of, anyway.)

I was a sore disappointment to him with my lack of worldly-experience, having only ever seen one stripper, a hirsute, middle aged-bloke in a gay club, during my misspent student days. Given those parameters, I felt I could safely say without artifice it was neither a memorable, compelling, nor edifying experience.

Plumose Pappus then professed to innocently stumbling across an alleged swinger’s club during one of his rides out while at university in the East Midlands. With this discovery piquing his curiosity, he had tried Googling the club for more information and inadvertently ended up on some sort of e-mail black-list. Perhaps there’s a salutary tale in there somewhere …

Approaching the not-Trench, I had a word with G-Dawg about its name.

“What did he call it again?” G-Dawg wondered, thinking back to the conversation with OGL that morning.

“It sounded like Curlicue Bank to me,” I admitted.

“He probably didn’t want to admit he didn’t know, so said the first thing that came into his head.”

That was plausible, but I wondered why OGL would have florid, curling, and decorative calligraphy flourishes on his mind just before starting out on a club run.

[I’m pretty certain that the climb is Coldlaw Bank and that could have been what OGL said, but why let accuracy get in the way of my continual striving for a cheap laugh.]

Anyway, up Curlicue/Coldlaw Bank we duly went, with Captain Black declaring that he actually preferred the Trench. I’m pretty certain we’ve compared the merits of the two climbs before, but have failed to reach a consensus, and so it was today.

A small group had pulled away off the front and I hung with them as we pushed on toward Middleton Bank, chatting with Buster about everything and nothing, while drifting slowly to the very back of the group.

The climb was attacked at pace and my legs were already tired, so I let a gap grow. Buster leapt out the saddle and accelerated away to try and latch onto the front group before it got too late, but got halfway up the climb, swore loudly and plonked himself down again.

He’d been out on Friday for some solo miles and didn’t have the zip in his legs to follow either. So, we pushed over the top of the climb together and tagged-teamed our way to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The cafe was so busy, that at first I thought we’d be sitting out in the garden for the first time in 2019. The weather was so mild, it probably wouldn’t have been all that bad, but by the time we were served the room had cleared a little and we were able to grab a table.

“I’m absolutely paggered,” the Ticker announced, much to the delight of Crazy Legs who hadn’t heard the expression for an age. “Paggered” is a splendid, too often over-looked, Northern word that’s due a serious comeback – along with, I humbly suggest, hornswaggler and curlicue.

I sat with the FNG who really is such a flippin’ new guy that, when he first got the bike, he’d had to have a lesson on how gears work. Despite this he’d kept up with us admirably throughout the day and put his obvious fitness down to squash and football. He must play them lots.

He said he’d acquired his velocipede from Recyke Y’Bike, one of those donate your old, unwanted bike and we’ll tart it up and sell it on to fund charitable redevelopments in Africa.

Richard of Flanders put in a good word for WATbikes, a community transport initiative one of our club members is involved with. They provide a similar recycling service in Ashington, as well as hiring bikes out to tourists.

Both Carlton and I questioned Richard’s strange, surely never-heard-before juxtaposition of the terms “tourist” and “Ashington” in the same sentence. That’s got to be an oxymoron, we argued.

Then I thought perhaps this blerg, so titled as a small homage to Eshington and replete with ale the references to its native dialect, was maybe having an effect on the town’s tourist economy and drawing in discerning bicycling gentlemen from all around the globe.

OK, maybe not. (Once again though, I heartily recommend the very-chucklesome Ashington Dictionary).

With the prevalence of summer bikes supplemented with a smattering of shorts in evidence, Carlton wondered what the proper etiquette was for exposing and imposing ones bare legs on the rest of the community. I recommended 16°C, but even then knee-warmers were advisory, while I knew OGL followed the dictum of no summer bikes until April. (We’ll see how well that holds up next week, if the weather continues to be benevolent.)


We left the cafe and I found myself again riding alongside Plumose Pappus who still seemed intent on gazing into the abyss.

“Chain whip,” he started in almost immediately, “My girlfriend loves a chain whip…”

I then learned about the crime of the century (well, so far anyway – it’s still early days) when Plumose Papuss had assembled the world’s greatest ever, sublimely perfect, ham and cheese toastie and was just about to sear it to perfection, when he had to pop out.

In his absence the toastie had mysteriously disappeared and his dog and younger brother were the only potential suspects. Plumose Pappus said he loved his dog … and his kid brother? … well, not so much, yet he suspected the dog was the true culprit and was in a bit of a dilemma. It was, after all a capital crime.

“TASER them both,” I suggested, “Until one ‘fesses up.”

I then enquired how his Master’s degree was progressing and was informed that he was well on the way to becoming the worlds most highly-qualified unemployed person.

Obviously thinking about his potential legacy and leaving a lasting footprint if things turned out badly, Plumose Pappus spoke about finding a grand humanitarian and philanthropic gesture that would benefit the whole of mankind.

“I could kill the Garrulous Kid …” he mused.

“Better yet, I could organise a cabal of club members and we could all murder him, like Julius Caesar!”

Et tu, Plumose Pappus?

“We could each stab a spoke through him,” he continued warming to the theme, “No one would ever suspect cyclists then …”

He’d finally gone too far and I had to talk him back from the brink. No one, not even the Garrulous Kid, deserves to die looking like an unfinished game of Kerplunk!

Once again I stayed with the front group as we split on Berwick Hill and though I was still there when we entered the Mad Mile, I was hanging on and tired. As the Colossus attacked and G-Dawg followed, I didn’t even try to respond and then I was on my own.

The now wholly expected, strong headwind on the grind up and past the golf course is in danger of becoming a nasty, recurring feature of these rides. Once over the top though, it was a relatively easy and straightforward ride to the bottom of the Heinous Hill and one last battle with gravity.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 626 miles with 14,022 metres of climbing.