Kerplunk!

Kerplunk!

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


Club Run, Saturday 16th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Profile

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

Shorts?

In February!

Are they mad?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one doubted it.

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

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

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

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

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

It almost seemed to fit.

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


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

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

Ease up!

Ease up …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

“Out!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you do that often?” I wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et tu, Plumose Pappus?

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

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

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

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


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

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Vittoria’s Secret and the Cold Hand Gang


Club Run, Saturday 30th January, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   100 km/62 miles with 1,156 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 28 minutes

Average Speed:                                   22.3 km/h

Group size:                                           14 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                     5°C

Weather in a word or two:             Bright, blowy, brisk

Main topic of conversation at the start:

When G-Dawg rolled up wearing what looked like over-sized oven gloves and a muffler made of thick, carpet underfelt, we knew we were in for a cold, cold ride.

Crazy Legs was next in, lamenting that supplies of strawberry jam in his household were wholly depleted so breakfast had been a minor disappointment. As a consequence, and without its sugary boost, he declared his ride was probably doomed before it had even started. How fragile we are.

He’d already conducted his patented ice-test however, wandering out, into the road and finding a puddle to dip his finger into before declaring it safe to ride. I suggested he should just have jumped into the puddle, if it splashed everywhere then all was good, if he slipped and fell on his arse then a degree of caution needed to be exercised.

He said this was impractical as he wasn’t fully dressed at this point and during this exchange we discovered we both had an inimical hatred of slippers. Perhaps both of us thought that footwear that’s soft, fluffy, brightly patterned and utterly shapeless is the clearest indicator yet that you’d taken the first step (or shuffle) toward terminal decline and dotage, a road that all too easily leads to baggy, zip-up nylon cardigans, a complete wardrobe makeover to ensure all your clothes are the same dingy shade of beige or pale blue and a world where wing-backed La-z-boy chairs seem like a good idea.

We differed only in our solutions to this issue, he opts for a kind of hybrid sports slipper or plimsoll, while my choice are kung-fu shoes. Yes, we are officially weird.

What I presume was a mother and daughter approached us to ask if we knew where Bulman House, or some such place was. As we dithered, Taffy Steve popped up out of nowhere to display an encyclopaedic grasp of the local area that would shame “The Knowledge” of a competent cab driver. Even more startling, he’s “not from around these parts” and doesn’t actually live anywhere close to our meeting point.

He proceeded to confidently and assuredly issue precise, step-by-step instructions and the couple disappeared in the indicated direction.

As the woman returned sans daughter, Crazy Legs cheerily asked if she’d found the building, then as she passed archly suggested that the daughter was stealthily working her way around behind us and didn’t want to be caught and have to admit we’d suckered her into going in completely the wrong direction.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Carlton declared this was officially a Cold Hand Day – his unique measuring system for defining exact ride temperature, so now we knew we were operating somewhere between a Frozen Toes Day and a Frost-bitten Face Day.

Goose recalled having a steel-framed Peugeot which would be classed as a vintage bike nowadays and we briefly discussed the provenance of my winter bike, a (fairly) modern, aluminium framed Peugeot. These had only been available for one year before seemingly disappearing without trace as Peugeot re-entered the bike market, then just as quickly abandoned it again.

The cold had obviously addled our brains because Goose then asked if Peugeot still made cars and I have to admit I had to think really long and hard about it, before unconvincingly confirming they did.

One of OGL’s long-term acquaintances was at the café when we arrived and he kept us hugely entertained with a series of anecdotes of spurious origin, all wickedly laced with the type of language that might make Chubby Brown blush. In that instant my Teacake Haiku inspired dream of a cadre of sensitive, poetry writing cyclists, staring thoughtfully out of the café window before illuminating their experiences in contemplative verse, died a quick and horrible death.

At some point in our ride, Crazy Legs had wandered off for adventures on his own and entered the café late to tell us how he’d ran into the back of a car that had stopped suddenly as the driver dithered and changed their mind when approaching a junction. When Crazy Legs clambered off and approached the driver to apologise for the tyre sized groove he’d left imprinted in the rear bumper, she’d taken fright and bolted.

Discussion about the inability to stop a fixie quite so unexpectedly inevitably led to the issue of disk brakes. Crazy Legs informed us he was very impressed with the brakes on his new mountain bike but felt the “cockpit” (as the trade magazines like to call the handlebar area) was incredibly cluttered and restrictive. He demonstrated this by wiggling outstretched fingers and flapping his elbows in and out, doing a fair approximation of the funky chicken.

G-Dawg dryly queried if this wasn’t more akin to a demonstration of one-man-band skills rather than bike-handling and wondered whether Crazy Legs preferred cymbals or a horn under his arms.


Ride 20 January
Ride Profile


 The Waffle:

Isn’t the Internet a strange and wonderful thing?  Not only because my witless meanderings find an audience, who amazingly seemed to appreciate and, even more astonishingly, occasionally  ask for more. There also seems to be quite a refreshingly friendly community amongst bloggers, who all provide slightly different perspectives, read each other’s work, contribute with insightful or amusing comments and promote competitor blogs to their own readers.

This week I was able to offer a tiny modicum of help to a club mate who’s undertaking the rather daunting and Herculean task of building a searchable database of all the grand tour stage winners, complete with their nationalities, ages, teams, bikes et al. For an esoteric take on cycling stats and an eclectic mix of pro cycling insights, try SiCycle.

Sur La Jante also got a name check in a blog entry from the The Lonely Cyclist  who provides a completely different perspective on British cycling and cycling clubs, not surprising really as the Lonely Cyclist is neither male, middle-aged, cynical, sardonic nor quite as jaded as this old blogger. Hmm, now I think of it, old blogger sounds somewhat pejorative, if not quite as bad as arse hat.

Then, either inspired by my teacake haiku, or alternatively wholly embarrassed by my putrid efforts, Ragtime Cyclist responded with a haiku of his own:

What is riding for?
If not the mid-ride teacake.
Helps to shut up legs.

For one, brief moment I had a clear, lofty vision of cycling clubs up and down the land immortalising their weekly rides in verse form, and presiding over a renaissance of British poetry … but the dream didn’t survive the hard reality of first contact with my fellow cyclists.

It’s well worth stopping by to see what the Ragtime Cyclist has to say, such as his take on Haribo abuse – it made me laugh and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

This week I was also proud to learn I’m a Vittorian. Somewhere along the line my appreciation of Vittoria tyres has seen my details captured in a random database and now I receive periodic copies of their newsletter; The Vittorian. This is obviously a thoroughly gripping (no pun intended) read, dedicated to all things tyre-related and doubtless ripe for parody on Have I Got News for You.

Through this less than august journal, I found out their secret for the new season – tyres reinforced with graphene, the wonder-substance that’s a 100 times stronger than steel. I wonder how long it will be before we’ll all be lusting after exquisitely light, super-strong and shockingly expensive graphene frames and our love affair with all things carbon will be dead and buried.

We’ll still be going no faster, but the bike manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee. This also makes we worry about what we’ll do with all the useless discarded carbon frames that are all but indestructible and non-biodegradable.

Anyway, I digress wildly. Feeling much, much better than last week I was looking forward to another club run, despite the temperature which would struggle to reach a heady 5°C and gusting westerly winds predicted to hit 45 mph.

Just in case of any lingering ice, I eased down the hill slowly and immediately turned to greet this wind head-on for a slow grind to cross the river. Here I could enjoy a brief respite with added tailwind benefits before I had to clamber out of the valley again.

I had just about found the right gear and cadence to battle my way into the wind when, seemingly out of nowhere, a black clad, ninja cyclist cruised past, greeted me with the universal and UCI approved, “How do?” and invited me onto his wheel. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I latched on behind and had a couple of miles of relative shelter until I decided his pace was slightly too high, too early in the ride.


 

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My mystery benefactor, providing shelter from the wind


 

As I dropped off and turned to cross the river he disappeared up the road, pounding away into the headwind that seemed to be having no appreciable effect on his speed and effortless riding.

14 lads and lasses eventually gathered at our rendezvous point, where surprisingly there was no mention of ride etiquette, mechanical or wardrobe faux pas or overdue club fees. We pushed off, clipped in and rode out, looking for routes that might give a modicum of shelter and some small relief from a gusting wind.

We were warned however to be on our best behaviour at the café, as OGL was meeting some journalist from Cycling Weekly – presumably for a forthcoming feature on the Cyclone Festival of Cycling™.

As we rode out I immediately dropped to the back of the group, my usual position, but more imperative on a day like this when I didn’t really fancy sticking my nose into the wind.

Here I found Mad Colin, riding with us mere mortals, whilst bemoaning age and responsibility and we were soon discussing daughters, body building, structured training, proper rest, drugs and Lance Armstrong. He revealed how he felt that, even before Jon Tiernan-Locke registered his breakthrough wins on the Continent, racing against him was a somewhat, err shall we say, other-worldly experience.


 

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Some of the local road surfaces are in a shocking state – we probably spend more time pointing out pots than holding the bars


First OGL, then Crazy Legs, Red Max, G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and Carlton all took turns at the front as, pummelled by the incessant wind, we started to track 3 riders in the far distance. I felt sooner or later their lack of numbers would tell and we’d catch them, but we weren’t rotating off the front often enough to keep our pace really high.

With the other group dangling annoyingly in front of us for what seemed miles, Mad Colin finally took a hand, rode to the front and with Crazy Legs pushed the pace up a notch higher. We closed in, finding much to everyone’s disbelief one of them riding in shorts and his raw, angry legs looked the colour and texture of corned beef. Luckily we were soon past and leaving this uncomfortable sight behind.


 

shadows2
Despite the cold it was a very bright, very breezy day


 

As we made the turn for the café, I dropped back to check on Taffy Steve who was starting to feel the effects of prolonged efforts riding on the front. Then, as we battered up the Quarry Climb, he became slightly detached with OGL and cresting the climb they found themselves stuck behind a huge, slow-moving tractor and trailer at the precise moment that the Red Max launched a Forlorn Hope attack.

Max quickly gained about 100 to 150 metres lead with Goose stuck firmly to his wheel and Carlton queried whether we shouldn’t be chasing them down. I told him to wait and explained that it was still far too early.

We duly held formation until the road began to rise and Max’s efforts began to get a bit ragged, then a quick injection of pace had the group reforming before the road kicked down again. Meanwhile, further behind, Taffy Steve having failed to convince OGL to join the chase, finally overtook the tractor and began a madcap pursuit on his own, closing fast, but ultimately running out of road.

On the next descent and aided by some daredevil cornering, Max attacked again and again managed to open up a sizeable lead only for Mad Colin, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg to quickly overhaul him as once more the road kicked up.

With the strong riders pulling away up front, I dragged myself through the last junction slightly distanced from a group that included Goose, Red Max and Shouty. I pressed harder on the pedals to pick up speed and with glacial slowness the gap started to close. I made contact and decided to keep going, swinging over onto the other side of the road and sliding past down the outside of the group.


 

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Did I mention it was bright?


 

I’d just eased past Max when we hit the approach to the Snake Bends and braking sharply we zipped and switched our way through and into the final run to the café.

We left OGL at the café staring morosely into a second and now empty cup of coffee and still waiting for his contact from Cycling Weekly to show, as we piled out and saddled up for an uneventful ride home. The group split and we entered the Mad Mile, where the pace was kicked up I slipped slowly backwards through the group.

As everyone else zipped left, I swung to the right, then right again until I was pointed directly into a headwind that I suspect had been waiting for this precise moment to amp up its intensity. As I started the long drag uphill I quickly ran through the gears, trying to find something that I could spin relatively easy but still feel like I was making some headway.

I settled into the grind, watching the fog of my breathing starting to coalesce in the cold air as the temperature noticeably dropped. A stinging shower of ice-hail-snow was swept horizontally down the road to needle my face numb for the last few miles, until I could once again cross the river and ride the tailwind home.


 

YTD Totals: 392 km /244 miles with 3,855 metres of climbing

Hell and High Water


Club Run, Saturday 7th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    87 km/54 miles with 558 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 35 minutes

Group size:                                           20 riders including 6 kids, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:             A deluge.

Main topic of conversation at the start: I stood in the sheltered but dank and gloomy bowels of the multi-storey car park trying to identify the other riders as they surfed their way into the meeting point through the gloom and heavy rain. “Ah, and here come the Dawson twins,” I announced to no one in particular, as G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg rolled up. “They aren’t twins are they?” one of the befuddled youngsters tentatively suggested, “One looks so much older than the other.” Oh dear.

OGL castigated us for fielding and replying to queries about club run start times on Faecesbook, as apparently his revised timings from last week were perfectly clear and understandable and caused no confusion whatsoever (although I understand several people did miss the start last Sunday). Apparently our use of social media shouldn’t be so … well … social.

He even suggested that the Faecesbook stuff wasn’t necessary as all our start times are clearly listed on the club website. (The club website sees even less traffic than this benighted blog and I personally don’t visit it much – the wide empty spaces bring on my monophobia and besides, I’m allergic to tumbleweed.)

We were then treated to the Prof’s execrable Geordie accent as he tried to chivvy us along, in the process doing for the Geordie nation what Dick van Dyke managed to do for Cockneys the world over. Encore!

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

I had a chat with Tri-Boy’s Dad and commiserated with his struggles to keep the youngster in check. Apparently the boy likes to dangle in front of his Pa, wait for the catch to almost be made, then accelerate away again. Ah, good to see the much beloved and traditional Szell game is still alive and appreciated by the younger generation. Across the table I could see the Monkey Butler Boy listening avidly, taking it all in and eyeing up his Pa, already looking forward to trying this.

Looking out at the rain still hammering down outside, we talked about whether on days like this we would be better off not stopping at all, even if it meant (Shock! Horror!) abstinence from cake and coffee. (Ok, I realise this is a radical step too far.)

We also couldn’t help but reminisce about the Damn Yankee who used to come out with us, and who just about collapsed from mild to moderate hyperthermia on arriving at the café during one of our harsher winter rides.

I think everyone was surprised he succumbed to the cold as he was a big, big unit, built like a gridiron fullback and, as Taffy Steve appropriately suggested, with massive calves the size of American footballs.

We’ve no idea where this once club run regular disappeared to – originally from San Franscisco, he apparently went to college in the Deep South, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas or some such. He was quite happy to confirm all our worst prejudices about such places being awash with Antebellum grand dames, in-bred, jug-eared and twanging banjo-duellists, sheet wearing Grand Wizards with burning crosses and constant demands to squeal like a pig.

I often think we sometimes miss that rational, reasoned international perspective


profile 7 nov
A sign that perhaps my Garmin didn’t like the weather too much – perhaps the weirdest ride profile ever.


The Waffle:

If last week was all about generating a Gallic vibe to encourage the Peugeot, this week was all about the rain, so perhaps I should have been watching Eddie Vedders “Water on the Road” and listening to Talk Talk, “After the Flood” and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”.

A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may gave you some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

Yes it rained, and rained heavily, and no it didn’t let up, although it did ease slightly once I was on the last climb for home. Still, we couldn’t say we hadn’t been warned, for once all the forecasts got it right and were spot on with their predictions of unremitting bleakness.

Between a slight cold and family commitments I’d only managed a single, solitary ride into work on the bike all week, so I was going out on Saturday, come hell or high water – and someone certainly didn’t stint on the latter.


Lesson#1 - Repeat after me ...
Lesson#1 – Repeat after me …


Actually I awoke Saturday morning to find very little rain in the air, despite a prolonged deluge that had lasted all night. I now realise we were just passing through the eye of the storm and that the rain was holding back only until I actually got outside.

Oh well, at least I got to field-test the new jacket in the most extreme conditions – and learn a lot about its limitations in the process.

With rain starting to bounce violently off the tarmac, I swung a leg over the Peugeot and struck out, noting the distinctive tang of wet leaves and damp ash mixed with the burned smell of spent fireworks. Remember, remember the 6th of November?

Tipping down the bank the combination of heavy rain and road spray almost instantly soaked through my shorts, leg warmers and gloves, and I could feel cold tendrils of water creeping through my overshoes into my socks by the time I hit the bottom. Still my upper half initially remained warm and dry as I hit the valley floor and started to work my way westward while becoming increasingly frustrated with the traffic.

What is it about the rain that so completely befuddles drivers – I’ve noticed when driving in and out of work that even a slight, innocuous shower will add at least 10 minutes to the journey. It’s as if they their brains get tied-up trying to process more than one hazard at a time and it retards their thinking so they no longer act and drive instinctively. I wonder if there’s a little inner monologue that goes something like, “Oh, rain, uh-uh…better be careful” and then, “Oh, rain, AND A BIKE! Aargh! Panic! What do I do?”

I was subject to more iffy, too close passes that morning than I’ve had in three months of commuting by bike and (my own personal bugbear) several drivers who overtook, before immediately braking and cutting sharp left just in front of me.

Extra special appreciation this morning though was reserved for a van driver who gave me a long fusillade on his horn because I did something he obviously thought was wrong. Well, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here and assuming he genuinely thought I’d done something wrong and he wasn’t just being a RIM.

This worries me more than the thoughtless close passes, because it not only suggests a self-righteous ignorance of the law and a distinct lack of empathy and consideration, but also the inability to anticipate and safely react to the behaviour of other road users.

I was riding uphill, heading towards a set of traffic lights and needing to turn right, across the lane of oncoming traffic. As I approached the lights I looked behind and noticed the van, safely some distance behind. 2 or 3 more pedal strokes and I looked behind again and saw that the van wasn’t gaining on me, and had in fact dropped further back as it slowed for a number of speed bumps (this is a 20mph, School Zone.) I stuck my hand out, looked back once more and then rode into the centre of the lane as I reached the lights.

I slowed at this point to pass behind an oncoming black Range Rover, before making the turn, accompanied by the loud wail from van man leaning aggressively on his horn as he swept past. I naturally took a leaf out of Mr. Cavendish’s book and kindly reminded him of Agincourt, 1415 and all that, but this one really did rankle and I’m still trying to fathom what I did wrong or what else he expected me to do.


Mark-Cavendish-006
1415 and All That


Half an hour later and continuing through the unrelenting rain, I could begin to feel the cold, damp creep of water slowly leeching through the arms of my jacket and into my base-layer. The material had, I assume, became so saturated that the rain was no longer beading and rolling off the surface, but started to slowly worm its way inward. By the time I’d reached the meeting point everything was pretty much soaked through, cold, damp and heavy.

Surprisingly there was a sizeable turn out, including a handful of the kids who, as it was the first Saturday of the month, were going to ride out with us before heading off on a different route. 20 brave lads, lasses and kids then, pushed off, clipped in and went to collectively see just how much cold water we could sponge up, a latter day band of brothers, united by our battle with the elements.

I started drifting through the group trying to find a wheel to follow that had at least some semblance of a mudguard, but even these were throwing off an arc of spray, so I slotted into the gap between the two riders in front.

We’d just made it out of the ‘burbs when one of OGL’s lights shook loose and went bouncing down the road. As he turned to retrieve it I pulled over to field a phone call from home. My eCrumb had stopped in the rain and they were wondering what was going on.

I couldn’t work the phone through my gloves, so stripped them off and then found they were so wet I couldn’t pull them back on again. I had a dry pair in my pocket (a trick learned from the Red Max) but decided to keep them until after the café, so I wrung as much water as I could out of the original pair and stowed them away.


A spare pair of gloves - a real boon when the first get soaked through.
A spare pair of gloves – a real boon when the first get soaked through.


Not only was my eCrumb struggling with the conditions, but Red Max declared his Garmin was waterlogged and fritzed, and at the end of the ride my Strava threw up the weirdest of ride profiles. I’ve no idea what it was recording in the middle of my ride.

Phone and gloves safely tucked away, I got moving again and found Crazy Legs waiting a bit further up the road as OGL hadn’t made it back to the group yet. We hung back until he cruised up and then set the pace to escort him back to where everyone else was waiting.

At the next roundabout all the kids split off, apart from Tri-Boy and the Monkey Butler Boy. A little further on and all well soaked, the majority of us decided to cut the ride short and head directly for the café. We still had time to engender some truly apoplectic rage from OGL for pushing the pace too high, before we were storming toward the Snake Bends and the café sprint.

OGL might as well have tried to stop the rain falling as to halt our momentum at this point, but while his efforts were fruitless a little bit of air managed to do for me. Not any old air in general of course, just the minuscule portion of it I had borrowed and cruelly entrapped in my inner tube. The tunnel was completed, the gates swinging wide, the sirens wailing and an all or nothing break-out was most definitely on the cards for this poor repressed portion of the atmosphere. Another week, another puncture.


Again? Really?
Again? Really?


With heavy steering, a slowly sinking feeling and the road vibrating increasingly through a rattling and no longer cushioned rim, I slipped silently backward and out of the group to fix things without the attendant critical audience.

I still haven’t found the source for this rash of punctures, but the Gatorskins have been consigned to the bin, they’ve either ran out of durability, or ran out of luck and neither is acceptable. Time to see if the Schwalbe Durano’s perform any better.

Sadly I missed the final “dive” to the café, which ripped through a massive, edge-to-verge, road-spanning lake of dirty collected rain water at full tilt, our speeding bunch producing a bow wave reminiscent of a newly launched super-tanker crashing down the slipway.

This in turn gave birth to a minor inland tsunami so high that it washed over the top of The Red Max’s waterproof winter boots and once inside and with no way for the water to drain out, he was left sloshing his wiggling toes around and hoping to avoid developing a bad case of trenchfoot.

Somewhat behind everyone else I limped into the café, sur la jante, to find Max comfortably perched on a black bin bag, feet up and boots off. Every so often the Monkey Butler Boy would be tasked with stepping out into the rain and emptying the water from the boots, but no matter how many times he did this the insides were obviously super-saturated and more water inevitably collected and pooled in the dark confines of the boot.

We managed to prise ourselves out of the café and into heavy, wet clothes, gloves, helmets et al and I took to the front with Taffy Steve, intent on setting a brisk pace to try and warm up a little. Approaching the penultimate climb we were so engaged in a deep philosophical discussion of the Lego Movie that I failed to notice we were riding into a flooded section of the road. While everyone did their best to edge around the perimeter of this lake where the water was the shallowest, I plunged straight through the middle and quickly found myself up to the wheel hubs in water.

I was considering freewheeling through the rest, but the water only deepened further and sucked away my momentum. In real danger of toppling spectacularly I recovered and thrashed my way through, with the water lapping up to my knees.


Surfs Up!
Surfs Up!


Somehow, despite guffawing uproariously at my antics the BFG still had enough puff left to attack the hill, and as Laurelan jumped to give chase I swung onto to her wheel and followed. Over the top the BFG, Cow Ranger, and Tri-Boy kept pushing the pace, while I switched from wheel to wheel, occasionally drifting back to clear my eyes from the constant pressure hose wash of road spray being flung off the tyres.

We made good time and I was soon turning off for home, leaving the BFG chuckling to himself, this time as much amused by the Cow Ranger’s mad thrashing to try and drop everyone as my aborted attempt at water skiing.

I arrived home in good time, stopping on my way to a hot shower only long enough to deposit a sodden heap of slowly leaking clothing in a big puddle on the kitchen floor. Bizarrely, masochistically a good run out.


“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”


I did discover one bad consequence of riding in a group in weather like this as, for a couple of days afterwards, my eyeballs felt like they’d been taken out, lightly sand-papered, rolled in salt and then squeezed back in.

I also realised my Galibier jacket, while perfectly adequate for showers and occasional rain, isn’t going to keep me dry through exposure to a heavy and sustained downpour like we endured today.

And one final thought – to be fully compliant, I really do need to paint a Plimsoll line on the winter bike…


YTD Totals: 5,429 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,918 metres of climbing.