Plague Diaries – Week#22

Plague Diaries – Week#22

Seven Nation Army

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

Eech.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Left!”

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

“That’s right. Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yee-hah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sol y Solero

Sol y Solero

Club Run, Saturday 19th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                116 km / 72 miles with 1,183 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                        4 hours 20 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.8 km/h

Group size:                                       34 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   23°C

Weather in a word or two:          Muy agradable


 

SYS
Road Profile


Saturday again and everything was looking good. It had been so cold during a couple of early morning commutes that I’d been forced back into wearing gloves, but the temperatures were creeping up as we approached the weekend. The arm warmers were still a necessary accessory, but I felt safe in discarding the windproof jacket as I took to the roads.

A pipe had burst at the top of the Heinous Hill and water was bubbling up around a manhole cover in the middle of the road. I rode downstream, getting a somewhat uncomfortable early shower for my efforts. I would like to say that it was refreshing and woke me up, but all it did was make the descent a little chillier.

At the roundabout in Blaydon there was yet more water washing across the tarmac, although this time I couldn’t determine its source. Again, I was liberally and unpleasantly sprayed and chilled, but the road was soon climbing and fighting the slope warmed me up again.

The factory digital readout I passed said 24°C already and once again, I questioned how accurately it had been calibrated. It was however undeniably pleasant out, the traffic was relatively light and I passed numerous other cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting point. With the good weather and a certain over-blown event in Windsor to try and avoid, I suspected it was going to be a well-attended ride.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Caracol arrived on a new bike, a Parlee frame that he’d built up from scratch. The only problem was, something around the back end was constantly rattling and it was driving him too distraction.

“Too much oil on the chain,” Crazy Legs suggested knowingly, he thought a bit more, “Or, maybe too little oil on the chain.”

A few people had a good look and a poke around, but the source of the annoying rattle remained elusive.

OGL was looking for volunteers willing to ride the 106 mile Cyclone Route and generate a Strava file for him. Although he’s very much a Strava-denier, British Cycling have requested the files, so he doesn’t seem to have a choice. He seemed blissfully unaware that you can plot a route without actually having to ride it and, as a result, he’s intent on setting out early on Sunday morning for a 6-hour plus excursion to plot the 90-miler himself.

I suggested that if he did need to physically record the ride, he could do it a lot quicker and easier in a car, but he just looked at me blankly, so I left him to it.

I’m no Strava-superfan, but it definitely beats colouring-in the little 10-mile blocks on a mileage chart pulled from Cycling Weekly and pinned to the bumpy supaglypta in my bedroom in the “good old days” (i.e. when everything was … well, all a bit crap, really). I always started out with good intentions, but don’t think I ever fully completed one of those charts across a full year.

As suspected a combination of good weather and a desire to avoid a sadly unavoidable, turgid, bombastic and anachronistic event happening about 300 miles away, drew out a bumper group of over 30 cyclists, who, it just so happened, appeared to be exclusively male.

Jimmy Mac took to the pulpit-wall to outline the route for the day. As threatened, it included a rare ascent of the Ryals, perhaps as a sop to the Garrulous Kid (who has probably ridden up them more times in the past 4 months than I have in my lifetime) – or perhaps because Jimmy Mac was feeling underutilised and unappreciated at work and wanted to drum up a few more vascular surgeries. Then again, perhaps he’s just a sadist of the highest order.

(We have asked the Garrulous Kid why he has such an affinity to the Ryals, which are a short, violent and not especially enjoyable climb and learned that “they’re fun” and “good training.” Good training for what I’m not quite sure, other than riding up and down the Ryals. We expected him to show a high degree of expertise when we finally got there.)

Our group included Big Dunc in a new, riotously colourful, Bardiani CSF jersey, which we all felt would make a decent, exotic substitute for our own remarkably unloved club jersey. OGL studiously ignored it.

The good weather had even drawn out Famous Seans, a triathlete who, even by triathlete standards, is a bit different and resolutely marches to the beat of his own drum. As usual, he expressed his individuality by wearing very long, knee length socks and short-shorts – he was probably exposing as much flesh as everyone else, it was just framed a little higher.

The plan was to split into two groups and I hung back to try and assess just how well we managed this simple-sounding, but seldom successful task. Miracle of miracles, for once the front group actually looked slightly smaller than the one behind, so I tagged onto the back of it and away we went.


Heading out along Brunton Lane, we passed a high-speed Captain Black heading in the opposite direction, having forsaken his clubmates for a solo run and evidently intent on getting home in time to watch the Royal Wedding.

Through Ponteland, buzzed and flipped off by a motorist overtaking at high speed, Richard of Flanders fully embraced his, Grey Pilgrim/Gandalf persona, chasing down the car at some traffic lights before intoning, “You cannot pass!” to its clearly Balrog occupants.

He tried reasoning with them and even went as far as gesturing to the Garrulous Kid and explaining we were riding with youngsters and such driving was decidedly anti-social, if not downright dangerous. For his part, the Garrulous Kid tried to duck down and look younger than his years. It didn’t work, but I’m not sure it would have made any difference anyway.

Through the town and we picked up a waiting Cowin’ Bovril, who’d used the pre-published route to intercept us without having to ride to the meeting point. He rode with us for a while, before I confirmed his mates were riding in the second group and he dropped back to join them.

We set a fairly brisk pace, covering much of the route that will be used for the National Road Championship in July and noting just how bad the road surface is in places, gravel-strewn, potholed and broken up. So bad, in fact that on the downhill from Hallington and travelling just behind me, Famous Seans hit a pothole with a yelp and pulled over.

As we turned onto the main road leading to the Ryals, I told Jimmy Mac about the possible mechanical and the call went out for everyone to wait at the top of the hill to regroup and assess the damage.

I slowed as the slope loomed ahead and found Crazy Legs cruising along, suffering from a self-confessed jour sans. He gestured at the Ryals and told the Garrulous Kid that this is what he’d been waiting for and to go and get on with it. The Garrulous Kid raced away and I followed at a more considered pace, running my chain up the block as the first and steepest ramp started to bite.

Ahead of me, the Garrulous Kid began thrashing and flailing his way upwards, all jutting elbows and a too-busy style, like Fabio Aru trying to simultaneously shake off a cloud of flies while keeping both hands gripped firmly on the bars. He spearheaded a small knot including Keel and the Rainman as they clawed their way, slowly up into the sky.


Untitlsysed 2


Cresting the first ramp, I changed down, accelerated toward the second, slightly easier slope and started climbing out of the saddle. Then, in super-slow-motion, I started to winch back those ahead of me. I swung across into the opposite lane and eased past a flagging and weaving Keel, then passed the Rainman, before tracking back to the left to draw alongside the Garrulous Kid as the slope finally started to level out

Digging in, a re-invigorated Rainman found the impetus to latch onto my wheel as I passed and I pulled him over the crest. As the gradient lessened, he accelerated away and I dropped in behind for a fast tow up to the village.

Regrouping, we learned that Famous Seans had jarred his tri-bars loose, but was good to continue, so we pressed on toward the Quarry.

“I’m gonna put you in the shade!” Biden Fecht declared as he eased out in front of me, blocking the sun. I told him I’d always consider myself as riding in his shadow.

Away up the Quarry we went, swinging right at the top this time to avoid any chance of a repeat of last week’s double-puncture disaster. The pace increased and I took whatever opportunities I could to move up the outside, before slotting into fourth place with just Jimmy Mac, the Colossus and Caracol in front.

I wanted to put in a little dig on the rises up to the final junction, but approaching traffic kept me confined to the left hand lane. At the junction itself, a call of “bike left” made me hesitate and look twice and a small gap opened in front of me as we turned onto the road down toward the Snake Bends. I worked to close it, even as the Colossus and Caracol put clear air between themselves and Jimmy Mac as they fought out the final sprint.

Slowly, painfully, I closed on Jimmy Mac’s rear wheel, until I reached a point when I thought, you know, if I really shred my legs, burst my heart, trash my lungs and inflict horrible injury on myself, I might just be able to squeeze ahead of him … but, was it even worth trying?

Well, of course it was …


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We arrived to find the café almost completely empty, but the garden already half full. It was good timing, as by the time everyone else had piled in, the café would still be empty, but the queue would extend out the door and the garden would be ringed in a perimeter of bikes, sometimes two or three machines deep. Much to the disgust of the Monkey Butler Boy he even found that someone had dared to carefully lean their bike up against his brand new machine. For one moment I thought he might cry.

Caracol was still perturbed by his mysterious rattle and had decided that when he got home he’d try swapping out different parts to try and locate the errant component. He started a litany of things he could consider changing over:

“Wheels … cassette … derailleur … pedals, even though I know it’s not the pedals … brakes …saddle …”

“The frame?” someone suggested helpfully.

A late arriving Red Max press-ganged the Monkey Butler Boy into getting him a Coke and a cake and a coffee, and Caracol offered up his mug for a refill too; “While you’re there.” It all seemed simple enough and reluctantly the Monkey Butler Boy dragged himself off to join the queue.

5 minutes later and he was back, Caracol’s still empty coffee mug swinging loosely in his hand.

“What did you want again?” he asked the Red Max.

“A Coke and a cake and a coffee.”

“Oh, yeah. Got it” Off he went to join the back of the queue again.

I took a few mugs in for a refill and found the Monkey Butler Boy about a third of the way through the queue. I relieved him of Caracol’s mug, thinking it would ease some of the pressure on the Red Max’s terribly complex order. If pressed, I would swear the Monkey Butler Boy was standing there mumbling too himself, “err … a Coke and cake and a coffee … a Coke a cake and a coffee …”

Sometime later, the Monkey Butler Boy returned triumphantly. With a Coke and a cake…

Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid had appeared, pointed to a teeny-tiny graze on his elbow and informed us that he’d punctured and not only punctured, but fallen off too. I’m still not sure if the two actions were in any way related. Close questioning was no help in revealing how, or when, or where these events occurred, but we may just have been distracted by the concept of the Garrulous Kid successfully sorting out his own puncture.

Slow Drinker wandered past and Crazy Legs wished him a happy birthday for the day before. Crazy Legs then spotted that he too seemed to have been in the wars, as the Slow Drinkers legs were marred with grazes.

“Oh, have you come off?” Crazy Legs wondered.

“No, no, they’re just carpet burns,” Slow Drinker replied cryptically, before wandering away.

Must have been one hell of a birthday party…

The Monkey Butler Boy confessed he’d almost been late this morning as he’d been cornered in the bike shed by his arch nemesis a wasp. Luckily, he’d somehow managed to batter his way out of this dire predicament by using a spare pair of wheels as an improvised, giant fly-swatter. I thought such undaunted bravery deserved a mention.

He also revealed his dad had told him if he shaved off his incipient, bum-fluff moustache, it would grow back thicker, stronger and much manlier. Two months on and with a completely bare upper lip, he’s still waiting.

The Garrulous Kid had family commitments and had to leave early. This coincided with OGL’s departure for a ride back “at his own pace.” It looked like they’d have the opportunity to ride together…

“I don’t know which one to pity the most,” I confessed to the Colossus.

He reassured me not to worry, they’d probably ride the whole way back separated by about 10 yards and in stoic silence.


When it was out turn to leave, we got split into two groups by traffic and as we left the main road for quieter lanes, I decided to try and bridge across to the front group. I made good progress at first, but they weren’t hanging around and as I drew closer I found myself battering head-on into a stiff breeze that had blown up out of nowhere.

I was just deciding whether to sit up, or give it one last effort to avoid an embarrassing stint of chasse-patate, when the Monkey Butler Boy announced from behind that he’d decided to come across too. He took the lead, I dropped onto his wheel and with added impetus quickly closed the gap to the front group.

Here I had time to learn from the Red Max that last week,  I had correctly identified the Monkey Butler Boy as a virulent, sock-length fascist, before the group started shedding riders as we each took our own route home.

Despite the nagging headwind, the sky was bright and clear and it was still  uncommonly hot. For perhaps the first time this year, I noticed a clammy feeling of sweat forming behind my knees as I pushed the pedals round. The water, from who knows where, was still washing across the road in Blaydon, but this time I welcomed the cooling, impromptu shower thrown up by my tyres.

Sadly, the effect didn’t last long and I was soon heading uphill and hot and bothered.

Finally I stepped across the kitchen threshold, over-heated and gasping from climbing the Heinous Hill. Here, with impeccable timing Mrs. Sur la Jante pressed a Solero ice cream into my sweaty hand. Now that’s what I call service.


YTD Totals: 2,952 km / 1,834 miles with 34,562 metres of climbing