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.
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?
PaltryYTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing
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.
YTD Totals: 5,435 km / 3,269 miles with 71,604 metres of climbing
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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
… 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)
109 km / 68 miles with 1,248m climbing
4 hours 26 minutes
35 riders, 1 FNG
Weather (in a word or two):
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
Total Distance: 106 km / 66 miles with 1,212 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 38+
Weather in a word or two: Back to balmy
Or to be more precise, mony a mickle maks a muckle, but why let accuracy stand in the way of a good headline …
Our weird fortnightly weather cycle was once again bang-on, last weeks extremes of snow and ice and rain replaced by a temperate, bright and breezy day.
As I dropped off the hill, I spotted a group of 5 or 6 other riders ahead and was (naturally) compelled to give chase. My pursuit was somewhat hampered when the traffic lights intervened between us, just outside Blaydon. As I tried to regain lost momentum, another rider whipped past with a bright and breezy, “Morning!”
This was a Muckle C.C. rider, travelling at high speed and wearing shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. It was warmer than last week, but shorts and a short-sleeved jersey? Perhaps he needed to ride that fast just to keep warm?
I thought he might have been chasing to join onto the group upfront, but he blew straight past them as well. A man on a mission.
As he disappeared up the road, I caught the others as they turned down toward the bridge, sitting in the wheels, until they crossed the river and swung left, while I turned right to pick my way through to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg pondered if the Garrulous Kid’s ride last week had perhaps been the shortest in club history, following his abandonment in a blizzard of sleet just as outside Dinnington.
“What was it,” he pondered, “All of about eight miles?”
The Garrulous Kid himself was better prepared today, on his winter bike with mudguards and the added protection of overshoes. He’d survive better this time out.
Princess Fiona recounted her epic IronmanIronwoman Ironprincess experiences which, she concluded, she’d thoroughly enjoyed, despite feeling sick for 5-days afterwards. Apparently this post-event illness is a common occurrence. Throughout her recounting the Colossus looked on in disbelief and mute horror, utterly convinced he was in the presence of someone needing psychiatric help.
On his fixie again, G-Dawg’s new bell drew some attention, with Jimmy Mac finding it rather melodic and pleasing, polite and not insistent. Then he ruined all his good work by comparing it to something he expected to hear on a creaky old sitcom, although he couldn’t quite decide if it belonged on “Open All Hours” or “Are You Being Served?”
For some unbeknown reason, today was building up to be the most popular ride of the year and I kept revising the headcount as more and more rolled in. It was up to over 30 by the time Crazy Legs started outlining the route and he suggested a split start with a re-grouping just before tackling the Mur de Mitford.
He was interrupted by a big bloke on a mountain bike trying to find a way through the dozens of riders and bikes sprawled across the pavement and bellowing for us to make way.
“He needs a nice polite bell,” someone suggested.
Yes, well, I don’t think he did polite.
I counted a decent 15 or 16 heading for the front group, so hung back. In theory this was an equitable split, I just hadn’t counted on people continuing to roll-up right until the moment we left and then, more joining us en route. By the time it all shook out the second group was still about 24 strong.
I dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as we set out, chatting with Sneaky Pete, who insisted there was a very thin line between being committed and needing to be committed. He thought last week’s ride, given the conditions, crossed this threshold and verged into insanity. I couldn’t really disagree, but countered that, despite everything, it had actually been thoroughly entertaining.
As we passed through Dinnington and swept down the hill, I noticed my camera wobbling somewhat precariously. Deciding the bolt might have worked a little loose, I gave it a quick tug to test it. Sure enough, it had worked loose. I was left foolishly brandishing the bolt as it came away in my hands and the camera clattered and bounced away down the road.
I swung over and back-tracked to where Caracol had stopped to pick up the camera, shoved it in a back pocket and then we gave chase, latching back onto the group in short order. Caracol had been one of the riders joining just as we left the meeting place, and had pushed our numbers on the day close to 40.
We made our way past the Cheese Farm, picking up yet another rider behind us. As we approached Bell’s Hill, he nudged forwards to have a chat and we discovered he wasn’t one of ours.
“What club’s this?” he wondered, obviously somewhat bewildered to encounter such a big pack.
I told him and he nodded up toward the middle of the group where OGL was toiling away alongside Brink.
“Ah, should have guessed … seeing him.”
As he said this, I realised that, despite the rather magnificent turnout, there was only one rider amongst us displaying a club jersey. There’s something wrong, somewhere.
“You don’t usually travel in such a large group,” he mused and was even more nonplussed when I told him we’d actually split into two and there was another motley bunch of us further up the road.
Our new back-marker proved to be another Muckle C.C. rider, although he mentioned he was also involved in the administration of the (relatively new and hugely successful) NTR (North Tyneside Riders.)
“This is your chance,” I urged him, as we approached the bottom of Bell’s Hill, “Attack now and you’ll be able to get past.”
“But you have to do it sitting down, looking cool and barely breathing,” Caracol joked.
“I definitely can’t manage that,” our Muckle rider responded, but took our advice anyway. It was either that, or sit at the back, confined to our pace, until he could find somewhere to turn off.
He worked his way smartly up the outside on the climb and then disappeared over the top. Before we crested the rise, he was followed by yet another lone Muckle rider. They seemed to be everywhere today.
I took the opportunity of the climb to reposition myself in the middle of the pack, just before our ride was interrupted by shouts of what everyone took to be a puncture. The group pulled to a stop in a lay-by, while I turned back to see what was happening.
I met the Cow Ranger coming the other way and he told me someone had punctured, but was really struggling anyway, so had decided to pack in. We rejoined the others, who’d taken the opportunity for an impromptu pee stop and tried to work out who it was that had abandoned.
“A Spanish guy,” the Cow Ranger informed us, ” He was really struggling to keep up, so has decided to call it a day.”
“Tomás?” I enquired, “Swedish-Spanish guy, on an old steel frame?” confusedly thinking about Toledo Tom, our very own colinabo, who is so strong I couldn’t possibly envisage him struggling, even in the last throes of a dire battle with the Black Death.
“Well, Spanish guy on a steel frame, definitely,” the Cow Ranger suggested a little hesitantly.
I was still disbelieving, “Tall, thin, fast?”
“Nope, no, nah, definitely not any of them.”
OGL confirmed that Toledo Tom was in the front group and this was a different Spanish guy. Huh, we have more than one? Hoodafunkedit.
Off we trundled again, until, just past Tranwell, OGL led an early strike off toward the café, while the rest of us pushed on for a rendezvous with our front group, who had pulled up under the main A1 bridge and were waiting patiently.
From there we dropped down into the Wansbeck valley, following the river toward Mitford and the dreaded “Mur.” Oncoming traffic had us stacked up and stopped at the bottom of the hill, so it was a particularly unhelpful standing start, especially for G-Dawg on his fixie.
The lack of run-in momentum had him grinding painfully upwards and I hustled past as fast as I could, thinking I didn’t want to be in the firing line of all the bloody cartilage, sprung steel, wiry tendons, gears and other assorted shrapnel if his cyborg knees suddenly explode under the strain.
We had decided to split the group via natural selection on the climb and I was well-positioned in the front third as we pushed over the top.
More climbing followed, as we ran up through Hag’s Wood. I was chatting to the Garrulous Kid … well, listening to the Garrulous Kid chatting away, while he rode on my inside. Then, there was a loud, rasping, zzzt-zzzt-zzzt and he suddenly disappeared.
He’d touched wheels with the rider in front and gone head over heels into a grass bank, threading the needle between two massive tree boles with what looked like expert precision, but was simply timely serendipity.
We waited for him to identify to pull himself up and conclude no permanent damage had been done, to bike or rider. He dusted himself down and away we went again.
A little later on, I caught up with him and he happily declared, “Well, I haven’t fallen off in ages!”
We were now tackling the Trench and I was climbing alongside Captain Black, who was bemoaning the fact that he was on his winter bike and we were now competing on a level playing field.
“I hate my winter bike!” the Garrulous Kid added, and once more we patiently explained that this was the entire point of owning a winter-bike.
Out of the Trench and heading toward Angerton and a notoriously exposed road over the moors, I was in the second group and hunting around for some big bodies to shelter behind. I’d moved smartly up to follow Captain Black and G-Dawg as we turned into a headwind and the road began to climb, when disaster struck, G-Dawg punctured and waved us all through. Despite all my machinations I found myself on the front and leading the second group on the drag up and around Bolam Lake.
As we started our run for the café, Captain Black took over and injected a bit of pace, driving us up over the rollers and down the other side. I pulled up alongside him on the final drag and he shook his head and declared himself “done in.” Fair enough, I was more than happy to give the sprint a miss today. The Garrulous Kid flailed around us and launched himself off the front and no one blinked, there was no reaction and no attempt to chase, as we rolled the rest of the way to the café behind him.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
With around 40 of us, other cyclists and the usual gathering of civilians, the café was full to bursting and late arrivals couldn’t get a seat and ended up eating and drinking where they stood.
I found a small space in the corner alongside Biden Fecht and the Garrulous Kid, pressed up close to the fire. It was hot, but at least it was a seat – a hot-seat if you like.
The Garrulous Kid has had his first offer of a place at university and was already anticipating Freshers. I wondered which part he was looking forward to the most, getting so hog-whimperingly drunk he endangers his own life, bobbing for apples in a bucket of stale urine, or having his head shaved? (Of course, dear reader, this type of initiation “hazing” never actually happens at British universities these days.)
He’s also planning which societies he can get involved him. I tried to warn him off the Rubik’s Society by claiming they were all square (sorreee!) and suggested he take up falconry instead. He looked at me as if I was mad and had just invented the ancient and noble art of hunting with birds of prey simply to trick him. I don’t know if that says more about him, or me.
OGL wandered past and deposited a old race programme for the 1952 Beaumont Trophy on the table. I eyed it warily, like a discarded perfume bottle filled with Novichok. Enticing as it was, I was determined not to go anywhere near it, as I didn’t want the responsibility of making sure this ancient and venerable piece of club history made it back to its rightful owner unsullied.
Biden Fecht did dare a quick look, before swiftly passing it on and was seemingly intrigued by some of the club names, all the Wheeler’s and Couriers, as well as the grandly named VC Electric.
Biden Fecht liked the old style, traditional “Wheelers” as a club name – some of those, such as the Whitley Bay Wheelers no longer exist, but the nearby, Ferryhill Wheeler’s (founded in 1926) appear to be still going strong. ( I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I like Clarion as a club name and the Sunderland Clarion trace their club back even further, to the late 1800’s!)
Sadly, many of the clubs in the programme, and that I grew up with, appear to no longer be around, including VC Electric, the Cleveland Couriers, Tyne Road Club, the Northern Couriers and possibly (if their dormant webiste is anything to go by) even the venerable Tyne Velo. Sic transit gloria.
(The Garrulous Kid wanted reassurance that some of our long standing, club miffs held at least a grain of truth, but I told him we had no interest in Dutch rabbits.)
Unplanned, but perhaps for the best, we left the café a handful at a time and I joined a group spearheaded by Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger.
They completed their stint at the front as we approached Ogle and I took over alongside Biden Fecht. As we “boolled” along we had a chat about the general desire for some kind of reform within the club and even (shock# horror#) the seemingly far-fetched notion of evolving from an autocracy (some might even say dictatorship) to a democracy.
As someone spending a lot of time shuttling between Newcastle and Aberdeen, Biden Fecht was happy to volunteer to be the clubs representative in Northern Scotia, while I suggested I could be the Warden of the Southern Marches, or all the empty, barren and dangerous lands to the south of the River Tyne, where the club is ever afraid to venture.
One thing we did both agree on, neither of us wanted to be the Keeper of the Stool.
We dragged the group through Kirkley and to the top of Berwick Hill, before Biden Fecht suggested we let someone else batter themselves into the wind. I agreed and we pulled over and waved the next pair through, only at the last minute realising one of these was Plumose Pappus.
“Oh no, we’re not going to be popular,” Biden Fecht observed and true enough, Plumose Pappus hit the front and immediately drove up the pace.
Everyone hung tough until the sharp rise into Dinnington, where Plumose Pappus dropped the hammer, putting in a searing acceleration that splintered the group apart. A small, select knot formed up front and, as the road levelled and straightened, it began to pull away.
Aether tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Captain Black tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Princess Fiona tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
I tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Caracol tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
At the last, Kermit managed to bridge across, but no on could go with him.
Thwarted, we settled into our own little group and pushed on anyway and I followed Caracol’s wheel until everyone else swung away and I pushed on solo, through the Mad Mile and away home.
YTD Totals: 6,416 km / 3,987 miles with 78,593 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,229 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 26.1 km/h
Group size: 25 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Warm and cool
WARNING: Parental Advisory: Explicit Content
A cool start to the day made arm warmers very much de rigueur as I dropped down the hill and started to push along the valley floor toward an uncertain river crossing. I don’t know if my encounters with burst pipes last week were a precursor to a systematic collapse of the entire system, but a major water main at Newburn had burst spectacularly, flooded the roads, inundated several cars and washed out much of the bridge surface.
The bridge over the Tyne was closed to cars for the foreseeable future, but the Internet informed me it was still open to pedestrians. I was hoping this was the case and a man and a bike might be able to squeeze over, otherwise I face a long backtrack and would probably have to race to make the meeting point on time.
All the Road Closed signs down to the bridge weren’t especially promising, but at least it kept the cars away, which was an added bonus. The second bonus was that the traffic lights on the approach to the bridge had been turned off, so at least I didn’t have to wait before attempting to make it across.
I threaded through a gap in the traffic cones and out onto the span itself. The road surface didn’t look damaged, but the far end was completely sealed off and I guessed this was where the water main had burst. There was however a wooden ramp built atop the footpath, so I stopped, unclipped and lifted my bike over the kerb and clopped my way up and down the ramp.
Another cyclist had followed my lead and I turned to him to suggest the lack of cars on the bridge actually made this one of the more pleasant crossings, despite having to stop and haul the bike on and off the footpath.
The north bank successfully reached, the rest of my ride to the meeting point was plain sailing.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Conversation at the meeting point was dominated by Chris Froome’s Lazarus act on Stage 19 of the Giro, where his long-range break on the Colle delle Finestre combined with the implosion of Simon Yates turned both the GC and formbook completely on its head.
The overwhelming reaction seemed to be one of incredulity and doubt verging on downright disbelief, or occasionally completely by-passing the doubt and heading straight to disbelief.
I have to admit I’m no fan of Chris Froome, largely because I’m far too shallow to overlook his execrable, wholly ungainly style on a bike. I’ve no idea if he’s a clean rider and even though I don’t like the idea of him riding while under investigation I recognise his right to do so. I will say this though, his “miracle” ride in the Giro was utterly, utterly brilliant … for sending the Internet trolls into complete, frothing-at-the-mouth, unhinged, melt-down frenzy. For this alone, I salute him.
It also produced some memorable quotes from Kiwi George Bennett, who, when informed of Froome’s exploits, offered up “Bullshit!” and then proclaimed, “He did a Landis. Jesus!”
He would later row back his comments a little by suggesting, “I didn’t say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage … I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday!”
Our other main reaction from this whole questionable affair was that Mitchelton-Scott had badly fumbled their game plan. They should have called up Adam Yates to body swap for his brother as soon as his charge started to falter on the upper slopes to Praternevoso.
The Red Max brought news of the Monkey Butler Boy’s latest racing exploits from a local criterium, where he’d apparently been, in contention until disappearing from the spectators view into the last corner. There had then be an elongated, interminable wait during which the race was won and everyone else crossed the finish line, before the Monkey Butler Boy had finally emerged wearing the biggest, shit-eating grin known to man and declaring “I’ve still got a bike!”
Barged aside by another hard-charging rider, the Monkey Butler Boy had lost control and careered off the course and over a grass verge, where, much to his relief, he’d managed to recover without crashing and trashing his brand new bike.
The Colossus wanted to know if the Monkey Butler Boy had learned the fine art of twisting and contorting his body to put it in harm’s way between bike and road, sacrificing skin and bone to protect vulnerable carbon.
News from OGL was that he’d completed an epic 90-mile solo ride along the proposed Cyclone route last Sunday, into a fantastically strong block headwind that strangely, defied meteorological science and dogged him both out and back again. No news yet on whether he managed to successfully grapple with that instrument of Satan that people call Strava, or when conditions will be challenging enough for him to attempt the 106-mile version.
Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid was in full, inquisitive mode, eyes darting left and right, in and around the bikes gathered around him, as his brain clicked and whirred and his mouth spat a series of largely unrelated questions.
“Have you found a use for that recess in your stem, yet?” he enquired of the Colossus.
“Perhaps you could keep pound coins stacked in it?” he decided.
“And then carry a small plunger to pull them out with?” the Colossus asked, but he needn’t have bothered, the Garrulous Kid had already turned his attention to the BFG.
“Why have you got a tyre in your bottle cage?”
The BFG patiently explained it was a tub.
“Will it not fit in your back pocket?”
The BFG handed him the tub, explained what it was and how it was too big to fit comfortably in his pocket.
He then started to explain about having to glue them onto the rims, when luckily we were saved from 1,001 other questions as Crazy Legs stepped up to outline the route for the day.
Yet again, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and, yet again, the first group off was the smaller of the two. I weighed the options and joined the front group, along with 10 others as we set out.
Hooting and cheering from across the road highlighted Richard of Flanders, booted and suited and waving wildly as he headed in the opposite direction on a Mobike. Hmm, must have an interview with his bank manager to seek a loan for a new bike, or perhaps they’ve finally caught him and he’s due in court?
We set off at what seemed a high pace and maintained this by constant rotation of the front two. Alongside Ovis, I was doing my turn at the pointy end as we pushed through Mitford. Crossing the narrow stone bridge, we had just started to climb up toward the junction, when the BFG came roaring past in a sudden burst of energy.
He slowed and hesitated at the junction ahead of us.
“Right, right, go right,” we shouted.
“Right?” the BFG questioned uncertainly.
“Yes, right,” we confirmed.
As we started heading downhill, I think it finally dawned on the BFG where we were heading. A sharp, momentum-killing, left hand turn dropped us at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went.
Still recovering from his earlier burst, The BFG disappeared backwards, while I fought with a slipping rear tyre on the damp and greasy surface.
“I think I’ve just wasted a couple of good pedal strokes,” G-Dawg confirmed, acknowledging the same issue. I eased the pressure on the pedals, got the skipping, slipping tyre under control and began to pick my way upwards at a more careful pace.
Regrouping over the top, we took a seldom travelled route up Harelaw Hill, which was to provide our highest point of the day. As we crested the top, Biden Fecht glanced across to his left.
“Is that a fucking ibex?” he wondered aloud. I think the altitude may have been getting to him.
We determined it was just a goat with a bad haircut and overgrown horns and tried to reassure him.
“Hmm, there could have been a zebra there, too,” Biden Fecht concluded somewhat enigmatically.
After this moment of madness, we carelessly frittered away all our hard-earned altitude for a swooping, whooping descent down the other side, before our road started heading upwards again, through the Coldlaw climb, which runs parallel and provides an alternative to the Trench.
At the top G-Dawg wondered if that was better or worse than the Trench and I think the consensus it was no harder, no easier and both were hateful.
I was at the back, chatting with Zardoz as we approached Middleton Bank and as the first slopes bit I dropped the chain off the big ring. There was a loud crack, a crash and the gentle tinkle of discarded metal bouncing along the ground.
I stopped pedalling immediately, convinced the back end of my bike had suddenly disintegrated. I looked back and could see nothing amiss and nothing left lying in the road. As my freewheeling speed began to die, I tentatively pushed the pedals around once. The chain bit and propelled me forward a little. I tried again. Still no problem. Odd. I picked up the pace and gave chase up the hill. Everything seemed to be working as it should.
I closed on the group ahead, but was still well detached as we crested the top. The front group pressed on without easing and I was cast adrift, outnumbered and battling into a headwind. I gave chase, but it was futile and the gap only grew the closer we got to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Zardoz enquired about my gear-changing travails on Middleton Bank. He too had heard the distinctive sound of metal striking tarmac, but reassured me he often carried a pocketful of bolts and random bits of metal, which he discarded behind other riders to make them hesitate while he attacked.
I believed him.
The Garrulous Kid bounced up.
“We had two punctures!” he announced.
“So what, we saw a fucking ibex!” I countered.
“Well, to be fair, there was only one of them,” Biden Fecht quipped.
The Garrulous Kid looked from me to Biden Fecht and back again, understandably bemused and wondering what the hell we were on about.
Crazy Legs wandered by to declare he hated “that Chris fucking Froome” even before the rider’s implausible resurrection, which now looked set to scupper the lead Crazy Legs had carefully built up in the clubs Velogames Fantasy Cycling League (Giro edition).
He was somewhat cheered when I told him his league position was safe, as not one of our number had actually bothered to pick Froome. Crazy Legs felt this wasn’t a reflection on the Froomes chances of winning the Giro, but rather confirmation that everyone else shared his view and they’d rather lose than have any association, no matter how indirect, with the Sky rider.
I thought I might have sneaked an improbable, come from behind league win at the last, but Thibaut Pinot’s sudden implosion on the penultimate stage scuppered that. Rather surprisingly then, Crazy Legs held on for a win built largely on the performance of the indomitable, but somewhat comical, Domenico Pozzovivo.
The Garrulous Kid was in distress because his unrequited love interest (according to Taffy Steve and the Red Max – and who could doubt their veracity) – an older, ginger-haired, upper sixth former, was now finished her A-levels and had left school.
“Well, you know, you’re kind of ginger, too,” the Garrulous Kid mused, nodding at the Colossus.
“Woah, are you coming onto me, now?” the Colossus demanded, not quite knowing where this conversation was going and keen to head it off anyway.
Zardoz then declared the girl behind the counter secretly loved him. A love so secret apparently, that even she doesn’t realise yet. He determined he could prove this by securing everyone at the table one of the samples of rhubarb and ginger scone currently being offered.
“Anyway, if I had a tray I’d get everyone a refill too …” he declared, rising and then quickly stepping back as half a dozen trays instantly appeared and were wordlessly brandished in his direction.
True to his word, Zardoz returned with both coffee refills and enough scone samples to go around. The verdict? Well the verdict was that there wasn’t enough ginger in the scone … oh, that? Well, I think we decided Zardoz probably bought the samples for cold, hard cash, rather than relying on his innate charm and puppy-dog eyes to schmooze them out of the café staff. In our eyes, their deep, abiding devotion to him still appears unproven.
We had a fast run back, forced a breakaway selection on Berwick Hill, hammered through Dinnington, and caught and passed OGL through the potholes again. I clung to the wheels through the Mad Mile and was catapulted through the roundabout to start my ride for home.
I caught another cyclist/TT’er at the lights down Union Hall and we both dropped into the left-hand lane and started to pass inside all the cars queued in the middle lane to turn right.
Without signalling, obviously without looking, one of the driver’s suddenly decided he was in the wrong lane, or the traffic was moving too slowly for him and swung wildly out into our lane. He missed the TT’er by a hairs breadth, while I swerved away. I caught the other rider on the downhill run to the river.
“I thought he had you there,” I confessed.
“Yeah, you get used to that,” he replied, seemingly unperturbed. I’m not sure he realised just how close he’d been to being collected on the cars bumper, my reaction would have been slightly less phlegmatic.
Through the defunct lights out onto the bridge, I took to the footpath, saw that it was completely empty and rode up the ramp. It then served as a sort of impromptu time-trial start gate, I rolled off the end to an imaginary “3-2-1, Go” and struck out for home.
YTD Totals: 3,122 km / 1,939 miles with 36,814 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 121 km / 75 miles with 1,195 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Glorious
A week – a long time in politics, is seemingly an aeon in terms of British weather, which might explain how things suddenly changed from last weeks biting chill, too H-o-t (with a capital H). Hot enough indeed for G-Dawg to send out a diktat via Facebook declaring “shorts only” for the weekend. Well, obviously not just shorts, that would be unseemly, but you get the idea.
I was assured it was going to be a fantastic day, but nonetheless, it was cold early in the morning and I was happy I’d thought to pull on a pair of arm warmers. Still, the sky was a cloudless, sparkling blue and the sun was throwing sharp shadows ahead of my front wheel – it was just a matter of time before the temperature picked up. In fact the digital readout on a factory unit said 23 C. Yeah, right, a bit premature I think, but still …
It was a thoroughly pleasant amble across the river, the hedgerows and verges studded with bright blossoming tulips and daffodils and the trees laden down with pale blossom that the breeze would tug off the branches so I could occasionally progress like I was riding through a soft, warm blizzard.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
If last week everyone complained of the cold, this week everyone mentioned the heat, as we enjoyed the best spell of weather so far this year and were headed toward the warmest May Bank Holiday weekend for years.
A supremely hot Jimmy Mac arrived, fat beats of sweat already rolling down his face. First blaming his all black Castelli jersey for absorbing too much heat, he then suggested that perhaps his sunscreen was providing an unwelcome layer of insulation. “Huh,” I had to ask, “What are you using for sun cream, goose fat?”
It was so hot, that Szell took G-Dawg’s “shorts only” diktat to heart and stripped off his jersey. Ooph! Luckily, he was just intent on removing his base layer and pulled his jersey back on before too many grannies swooned, or the police arrived to cart him away for indecent exposure.
Indeed, it was so hot that Crazy Legs had coerced the much-cosseted Ribble out its cotton wool nest for the first action of the year – as good a guarantee that we were going to see no rain as money can buy.
Someone had abandoned a Mobike nearby and we circled it warily, trying to decide exactly what kind of strange, exotic beast it was and determine if it was at all dangerous. G-Dawg, quite the bravest amongst us, approached tentatively, gave it a quick prod and, when it didn’t react, picked it up and weighed it appraisingly. “It might be all right downhill,” he mused, but obviously not this particular one, which had been abandoned with only one crank and had a raw, empty spindle where the other should have been. You can break them, then.
The outbreak of shorts threw an unkindly spotlight on personal sock choice, with the obvious Goldilocks dilemma of not too long, not too short, just the right length. The Monkey Butler Boy proved to be the de facto leader of the fashion police and a sock fascist par excellence. He declared the socks sported by the Colossus were too short, but not as bad as those that the Garrulous Kid was wearing – a sort of girly, trainer-sock monstrosity that barely covered his malleolus.
Still, as G-Dawg reminded us, this was a massive upgrade on the Garrulous Kid’s previous choice, a pair of hairy, woolly, baggy, shapeless, sloppy things of an indeterminate grey-green colour that used to pool around his ankles like two detached elephant scrotums.
Ovis arrived for a last training bout before he embarks on the Fred Whitton Challenge. He was suitably provisioned a long day in the saddle, with an entire family-size malt loaf stuffed like a building brick in his jersey pocket. Enough for 16 individual servings, he would fuel his entire ride by systematically gnawing his way through this sticky mess and took a moment before we rolled out to start the process off.
The long absent BFG tried to casually sneak up and merge in, but, like the elephant in the room, his looming presence was obvious to all. I wondered where he’d been for the past few months and he suggested he’d just been hiding in the house all this time.
Then, G-Dawg outlined the route and we split into two groups that wouldn’t see each other again until the café. I dropped into the second group, was led out by the Red Max and away we went.
As we pushed on toward the Dinnington lunar landscape, a lone cyclist, appropriately attired in a Soloist jersey, whirred past. I watched and waited, counting down. It wasn’t long and sure enough, before I’d finished ticking off the fingers of one hand, the Red Max’s targeting radar locked-on and there was a not-so-subtle increase in the pace at the front.
“It’s a club run, not a bloody race!” OGL complained, but all to no avail as Max’s seek and destroy mode was now fully engaged and the pace was ramping up. A few minutes later and if the Soloist had turned around he would have found a madly cackling Red Max encamped on his rear wheel, with the rest of us closing steadily in.
The Soloist got a call on his mobile and slowed to take it mid-ride, suddenly finding himself engulfed by riders spilling past on either side, and then he was spat out the back and we were out onto clear roads again.
I had a brief chat with the BFG, who, rather glassy-eyed and with a pronounced catch in his voice, admitted he’d actually missed us during his long absence. I didn’t know whether to be touched, or annoyed at how surprised he was by his own shock revelation. He also revealed he was wary of riding in a group in case he caused a crash. We determined that with the Prof also absent, rehearsing with his Back Street Boys tribute band, the potential for chaos within the bunch was already markedly reduced, but it wasn’t sufficient and the BFG soon turned away for a much less stressful solo ride.
Up past the Cheese Farm and the Slow Drinker went to stretch his legs up Bell’s Hill, so I followed, to more vocal discontent from the rear ranks. We paused at the top, but no one had been dropped and no one was struggling, so we shrugged and pressed on.
Nodding at Ovis, resplendent in his customary, bright blue and yellow Rochdale Tri top, Taffy Steve decided it would be good if everyone turned up at the meeting point in the distinctive kit, which would probably cause OGL’s head to explode.
Simply by dint of its omniscience, I’ve concluded that the Rochdale Tri stuff is either virtually indestructible, or Ovis owns an awful lot of it – potentially enough to kit out the entire club …
A long, low convertible Cadillac cruised past in a flare of shiny chrome, cuing up a quick burst of Brand New Cadillac. Any ride when I get to tunelessly belt out a Clash song has to be considered a good ride in my book. Balls to ya, Big Daddy…
A bit further on and I got to substitute the warning of “pots” for “pheasant” as one of the dopey birds darted across the road. Up through Tranwell and the King of the Grogs shipped his chain so we pulled over to wait, giving Ovis the chance to renew his slavering assault on his malt loaf while we waited. Then we were off again, before a rather unremarkable ascent of the Mur de Mitford.
We stretched things out down the road to Netherwitton, before a sharp left dropped us at the bottom of the Trench. The Red Max called for a general regrouping at the top, then waved us through to tackle the climb at our own pace. Benedict and the Slow Drinker seemed to have their climbing legs on, so I followed in their wheels as we pushed upwards and onwards.
Stopping at the top, I had a quick chat with Captain Black and we agreed that as hard as the climb up the Trench was, it least it was preferable to last week’s drag up to Rothley Crossroads, or Rothley Bloody Crossroads as it momentarily seemed to have been renamed.
We were called back to the main group, where we found Ovis busy chomping down on his malt loaf brick, while Taffy Steve revealed that, because it was such a nice day, they’d decided to split, with a group detouring from the planned route for a longer ride to take in Middleton Bank … via Rothley Bloody Crossroads.
Naturally, having declared our loathing for this particular route just minutes earlier, I found myself tagging along with Captain Black, just for that slight masochistic frisson of grinding up to the Bloody Crossroads yet again.
Fuelled on pure malt loaf, Ovis set a fast pace and tugged everyone along, before regrouping at the top, where Benedict and Andeven went off in search of even more miles, while the rest of us pushed on to Scots Gap and then Middleton Bank.
At the foot of the bank, Ovis darted away. Working around a flailing Szell and standing out of the saddle, I gave chase and closed him down on the steepest ramps, before plonking down and pushing onto the front as the gradient lessened.
A partial regrouping over the top, and a small group of us pressed on for the café. With abundant malt loaf resources left to burn, Ovis kept pushing the speed up and up, with real intent, so I finally gave up matching his pace and slipped onto his rear wheel and followed. We were soon all lined-out and rattling along, behind what Carlton would later dub the Rochdale Express.
Ovis kept looking back, perhaps hoping he’d shed the leeches that hung off his back wheel like particularly stubborn and bloody-minded remora hitching a ride on a great shark, but no matter how hard he pushed he couldn’t dislodge us.
Swooping through the Milestone Woods, I attacked off the front as we hit the base of the rollers. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, I couldn’t force a gap big enough before the road levelled and dipped down again and it put the hurt into my legs. Still I kept going, around the next corner and onto the final climb where the first pursuers, Ovis and Goose finally wrestled their way past.
I dropped into their slipstream until the very last ramp saw their momentum ebb slightly, then I ground my way around them and onto the front one final time.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A quick survey of the goods on display and both Goose and I zeroed in the lone, very last piece of Bakewell tart as being the premium source of extreme goodness and cycling-specific, calorific content. We could have fought for it, we could have engaged in a quick round or rock-paper-scissors, or, by dint of sneaking into the queue first, I could have trumped his “finders-keepers” declaration with a pre-emptive order, but being a gentleman I conceded and went for the ginger flapjack instead.
Conferring later, I gave the flapjack a 7.5 out of 10, whereas Goose declared the Bakewell tart was a solid 10. I’ll never know if he was deliberately exaggerating its appeal, but I’ll know better next time.
We found a table outside and were quickly joined by the Monkey Butler Boy, who left another group, not drawn to our scintillating company so much as fleeing the wasps that hovered around it. He seems to have an irrational fear of the little blighters, even though we discovered he’d never been stung.
Goose suggested he needed to grasp the nettle (so to speak) and get stung in order to realise it wasn’t that big an issue – or at least find out if he was prone to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. The Monkey Butler Boy … err … politely demurred.
With such glorious weather, talk turned to the potential for weekend barbecue’s, a Great British obsession, whenever there’s even the barest hint of decent weather. Apparently, my utter dislike for the process of either conjuring up, or devouring, burnt and crusty carbonised meat with a cold and raw interior, marks me out as being an effete loser and much less than a proper man.
Speaking of effete practices, the Garrulous Kid revealed he had to be home on time for his mum to take him to his exclusive, elite, city centre hair salon for an appointment with his personal stylist. He (well, she to be fair) must pay an awful lot of money for his haircut, that looks no different from what everyone else gets from their local barber. Mind you, I’m no expert and have always believed my dad’s edict that there’s only 2 weeks between a bad haircut and a good one.
The Garrulous Kid then volunteered the reason he didn’t just go to the barbers like a normal bloke, was that he didn’t like having his hair cut by machine, which is interesting as I’ve never seen an android barber and would like to give one a try. Perhaps the conversation would be a little more illuminating than the standard fare of “busy at work?” or, “off anywhere nice on holiday?” Then again, perhaps I’m just choosing the wrong barber and need to find one like the Red Max’s who’ll gladly entertain customers, young and old, with his ambitions to be a porn star.
I learned that both Captain Black and Goose are toying with the idea of new frames, having seemingly reached the conclusion after multiple years of riding that their current bikes are the wrong size. Now they just have to find a means of smuggling newly acquired bike parts past the intense scrutiny of domestic security.
As we pulled out the car park, Taffy Steve indicated to turn left, as a group of us were taking an alternate way home via Whalton, rather than routing via Ogle. As usual, I was easily led astray and found myself tagging along as we set a fairly fast pace for home. The route didn’t seem particularly longer, shorter, easier or harder, but it made a pleasant change. It was so novel in fact, that I found myself travelling down roads I’d only ever traversed in the opposite direction.
As we hit the Mad Mile, the Colossus charged away and I gave chase, tagging on as we rode up to a busy roundabout and slowed almost to a halt to let it clear. The Colossus swung left and I made to push straight over, but found myself straining to turn over a massive gear, just as a car emerged from its off-road hiding place to my right.
I gave a sustained, comedic “Eek!” and got a sudden burst of adrenaline that let me kick the pedals round with a little more power as I recovered from my near stall. Luckily, the car slowed and I was able to grind my way to safety.
The rest of my ride home passed without incident on roads that were surprisingly quiet and traffic free. Perhaps everyone had decided to stay home and enjoy the weather rather than crowding out the shops, or perhaps they were all distracted, firing up the barbies in their back gardens.
So, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Bloody Crossroads, Middleton Bank and the Heinous Hill all in one ride. What was that about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun?
YTD Totals: 2,529 km / 1,571 miles with 29,149 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 13 minutes
Average Speed:23.1 km/h
Group size:14 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Manky and murky
Normal service is resumed …
We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.
As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …
The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.
Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?
I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.
The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.
Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.
OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.
“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.
Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.
The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…
We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.
There’d be no loafing today.
That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.
Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.
We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.
One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.
At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.
Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.
The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.
We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.
Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.
A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.
We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.
At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.
As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.
Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.
The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.
We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.
Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.
A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.
Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.
No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …
His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.
I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.
It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.
Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.
Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.
Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.
Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.
“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”
Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.
Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.
As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.
It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.
Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.
On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.
We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.
The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?
Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.
YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing