Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense
Total Distance:100km/62 miles with 1,025 metres climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:26
Temperature: 8°C
Weather in a word or two:Mild

Ride Profile

Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!

It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.

And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.

And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.

The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?

G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.

Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”


We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.

I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.

Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.



With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.

The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to
Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.

The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.

We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.

“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”

“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”

The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”

With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.

“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.

Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.

At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.

We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.

The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.

We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.

The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.

On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.

The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.

I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.

At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.

Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.

He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.

“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”

“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”

We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.

He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.

“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.

There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.

I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.


Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.


Paul Dorman©

I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.

Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining


YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.

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Descent into Madness

Descent into Madness

Club Run, Saturday 15th September, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 111 km / 69 miles with 1,115 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 14 minute

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                        24 riders, 1 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Changing


 

decsent
Ride Profile


As I swept around the Blaydon roundabout, a red, a white and a then a blue car all stopped to give way, spreading across the three lanes of the feeder road in an impromptu display of colour co-ordination and forming an unexpected French tricolour. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I like it when three disparate things come together and create something greater than the sum of their parts.

The digital display on the factory unit en route to the river read a fairly autumnal 11°C, and, as if in confirmation of the changing seasons, wind and rain had started to pluck leaves from the trees overnight and these were strewn across the road.

Oh and, yep, the bridge was still closed to cars.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I found myself pilloried by Jimmy Mac and the Monkey Butler Boy when I suggested Jimmy Mac’s stem, an unsubtle, chunky, slab-sided, oversized and over-engineered lump of (no doubt reassuringly expensive) carbon fibre, not only lacked elegance, but was in fact downright ugly.

I should have realised the Monkey Butler Boy would defend anything that looked expensively engineered, even if it didn’t conform to his own primary concern of being “aero”. He was after all showing off an aero-faring on his bike (of dubious legality) his aero wheels and was wearing aero socks, aero-helmet and an aero skinsuit – apparently the new essentials of a normal club run.

“He’ll buy almost anything if it’s described as aero,” the Red Max confirmed.

“Hmm, what’s his favourite chocolate bar? “ I asked, setting the Red Max up to deadpan “Snickers” or something similar, but he missed the open goal, or perhaps decided this was too puerile, even by our less than exacting dad-joke standards.

The Garrulous Kid revealed he’d returned from holiday exactly the same weight he’d been when he left. “Hmm, “the Colossus pondered, “I think you’re doing it all wrong.”

“And, have you decided on a university yet?” Jimmy Mac wondered.

“Yeah …” the Garrulous Kid replied, before obviously being distracted by a passing red-head, a falling leaf, or perhaps intermittent flatulence …

“Well?” Jimmy Mac prodded the uncharacteristically taciturn Garrulous Kid.

“Oh, Edinburgh or Newcastle. I decided Aberdeen was too far away.”

“Not for us,” I assured him.

Meanwhile, we discussed the strange phenomena of how Aberdeen always seemed to be four hours journey away, whether you went by car, plane or train. Or even, we suspect, bike.

We’ve evolved leadership of the Saturday club run so that the route planner and designated leader on the day rides with the second group. Those in the front group are expected to more or less fend for themselves, though they do have the safety net of being able to drop back to the second group if things go awry. As such the first group doesn’t need a leader per se, but it makes sense that it sticks to the same roads and so needs someone who knows the agreed route.

Aether had volunteered to act as this week’s route-master and had written down the key turns on a cylinder of paper that, like a pro, he’d taped around his handlebars. The only issue I could see was his cylinder would could rotate in the wind, and I was worried he’d lose his place and start calling out turns in all the wrong order, getting us hopelessly lost.

The Monkey Butler Boy seems to have lost his OCD-like, gleaming white shoe fetish, or at least he’s run out of baby wipes to clean them with. I castigated him for a coffee stain across the toe of one of his shoes.

“That’s not coffee,” he assured me, before adding somewhat unnecessarily, “I know my stains.” With him being an adolescent male, I could only bow to his superior wisdom and concede he was probably right, without enquiring further about that particular stains provenance…

Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, once again routing us up Broadway West. The Lone Dissenting Voice grumbled a bit (well, ok, a lot) and tried to convince us that the lunar landscape that is the bombed out, shell-torn, no-mans-land of a road through Dinnington, had been resurfaced.

“What, since yesterday?” a very, very doubtful, G-Dawg queried.

“Well, we can consider it next week,” Jimmy Mac interjected smoothly, killing the discussion at least for the day. We would later find that repairs have indeed started on the road through Dinnington, but it very much remains a work in progress.

We split into two, with Aether leading the first group out and away, while I hung back to see where the balance of numbers would lie.

The front group continued to swell until it easily comprised two-thirds of our number, with someone suggesting many abandoned the second group so they didn’t have to listen to the incessant grumbling of the Lone Dissenting Voice. Still, I hung back with group two in an attempt to at least try and balance the numbers, before Jimmy Mac led us out and I joined him on the front.


Things went smoothly on the first part of the ride, in fact, so smoothly we were constantly in danger of running into the back of the first group, so once out into the countryside we called for an extended pee stop to allow the gap to be padded out.

Before that, there was an opportunity for the Monkey Butler Boy to complain that my socks weren’t straight. Sensing my extreme disquiet at this revelation, Jimmy Mac wondered if I wanted him to call a stop, so I could immediately correct my glaring and very major wardrobe malfunction. Like the brave soldier I am, I determined I could live with the eternal shame and told him to press on.

(I later got revenge by insisting the Monkey Butler Boy’s bar end plugs were misaligned. Hah! That’ll teach him…)

By the time we swept through Matfen our lone FNG was struggling on the hills and OGL was starting to work up toward a full-blown rant-storm. I dropped back to where a gruppetto was starting to form, but the Red Max insisted he had it all under control and shooed me away.

A quick burst took me up to the front group and we pressed on to the top of the Quarry, a rendezvous with the first group and an eventually reforming of the entire ride. Splits were agreed for shorter and longer routes to the café and away we went again.

The longer ride group clambered up through Capheaton, encountering the tweedy-clad, reedy-voiced ladies of the local hunt for the first time this year, happy to be looking down on the strange cycling proles from atop their stupidly-big horses.

“Aye sey, there’s an awful lot of yooze,” one complained, after having to respond to about the fourteenth hearty “Good morning!” in a row.

The Big Yin wondered if they thought us fair game and if it would not be a lot more fun to hunt random cyclists, instead of poor, defenceless foxes. I immediately shushed him, I didn’t want to give them any ideas…


descent


I’d foolishly drifted toward the back as we swooped downhill and hit the climb to Wallington. The group immediately began to stretch out and break apart, making for a hard climb as I worked my way through the back markers and up to where a knot out front were making a concentrated effort to pull clear.

We then rattled through Cambo and up Middleton Bank at a fairly testing pace. Over the top, I pushed onto the front and started to wind the speed up. Ovis took over for a spell on the front, then G-Dawg.

Through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I actually managed to hold back and stayed in the wheels until we were around the last bend and G-Dawg and the Colossus burned away to contest the sprint. Zardoz took a well-timed third, while I rolled home alongside Ovis.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A new offer in the café, Full-English Breakfast Pie made G-Dawg’s eyes go big with wonder.

“The usual ham and egg pie, but with added sausage!” the Colossus added, “What’s not to like!”

“I wonder what else is in there?” Ovis pondered.

“Mushrooms?”

“Tomatoes?”

“Beans?”

“Fried bread?” I suggested.

Sadly, the massive plate dish with the Full English Breakfast Pie wasn’t one, individual serving, like a Desperate Dan Cow Pie, but the Colossus and G-Dawg took a large slice each and, with the café full to heaving with civilians and numerous groups of cyclists, ventured into the garden to find a seat.

I followed them out to be confronted by a whole host of Monkey Butler Boy mini-me’s, his Wrecking Crew were out in full force, all dressed identically in their club shirts and shorts and helmets.

I rubbed my eyes, feigning incomprehension. “Which one’s the Monkey Butler Boy?”

“I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” the smallest declared.

“No, I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” another argued…

Meanwhile, I wondered what the collective noun was for a group of Monkey Butler Boys.  A troop? A whoop? A chatter? A clatter? A flange?

They berated the actual Monkey Butler Boy as a traitor for riding with us, instead of them, but were soon distracted by shiny, shiny bicycles and moved off en masse, clustering around one bike to jabber and point and prod excitedly, before moving onto the next … and then the next.

G-Dawg was just about to celebrate a ride free of harassment from motorcyclists, when the Colossus reminded him that the front group had been on the receiving end of some obscene gesticulations from one fine, leather-clad gentleman. I’m beginning to think this is a single, solitary biker with a grudge to bear and an unfortunate schedule that coincides almost exactly with ours.

 The Garrulous Kid went on a wasp killing spree, bravely armed with nothing more than a teaspoon. For the most part he was outwitted by our vespidae friends, but he did manage to cut one notch in his teaspoon, after some insanely wild flailing.

It was chilly in the garden, so we were more than ready to depart when a group began to coalesce. Here we found we would be sharing the road back not only with the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, but the Prof’s Backstreet Boys tribute act too – a mass of perhaps 30, all male, cyclists, somewhere between the ages of 15 and 70 plus. (Yes, yes, some of us should know how to behave better.)


“This could be kee-otic!” the Red Max predicted, channelling his inner Nostradamus, as we stacked up to join the main road outside the café.  He was, perhaps remembering the last time we got into a pissing contest with another club, that had seen some frenzied and risky racing, with no one willing to give an inch as we piled around a parked up, double-decker bus, pushing blindly onto the wrong side of the road and into the face of on-coming traffic. I still don’t know how we got away with that one.

An uneasy truce held, as we made our way through Ogle and past Kirkley Hall, even in the face of extreme provocation from White Van Man who thought it would be funny to squirt water at us as he roared past. What a wag.

The pace started to build as we made our way up Berwick Hill. Then, no doubt stung by criticism that the Backstreet Boys were nothing but a teen-orientated boy band, more flash than substance and that their entire musical ouvre was distinctly lacking in artistic merit … the Prof attacked … on the wrong side of the road around a blind bend.

“A nice bit of Dutch over-taking,” someone muttered as the Prof, as Donnie, was quickly joined by others – presumably his Nick, Brian, Kevin and A.J. counterparts They had opened up a sizeable gap by the time the rest of us made the turn through the junction and started down the other side of Berwick Hill.

From there, I watched and waited for the inevitable, even as I rolled my chain down the cassette in preparation. Sure enough, the Red Max was the first to move, making his early prognostication of chaos a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He slid out of line and accelerated away in pursuit of the Back Street Boys, even as the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation.

Like a string being pulled through a knot, all order slowly unravelled and we were drawn into one long line, everyone diving onto any available wheel as the speed built and built, surfing a tsunami of testosterone. Those without the legs, caught unaware, or in the wrong gear, were swamped and unmercifully spat out the back, as we went howling down the hill.

It was brutal.

It was madness.

It was magnificent.

And oddly compelling.

The catch was made well before the hill levelled out, but there was no sense that order had been restored, we slowed just barely enough to sweep through the sharp right-hand turn to Dinnington and then the power was immediately piled back on again.

I tried to stay alert to everything, recognising a certain fever and a gung-ho madness had gripped the ride, no quarter would be asked, or given and risk assessment was likely to be badly compromised.

I was also aware that we were hurtling along, packed together, millimetres from the wheel in front and with no margins for error, in a group containing a smattering of those my fellow riders had consigned to an unofficial black-list for erratic or thoughtless riding, bad bike handling and an increased likelihood of doing something stupid and causing a crash.

Luckily, today there were no unexpected pots, parked up buses, or impatient drivers trying to overtake and, more importantly, thankfully no cycling brain farts.

As the road began to slowly rise, Andeven, a giant in a field of midgets, came effortlessly floating past. I latched onto his wheel like a hungry remora on a prowling shark and followed. As the Prof’s speed faltered on the hill up to Dinnington, Andeven breezed past and took me through to the front of the group.

Here we found the truth of the rumours about repairs to the road through Dinnington. The top layers of tarmac had been peeled back and the underlying surface had been scarified, raked and ploughed into deep, corrugated ridges and furrows. We hit it at full tilt and my bike and body started to shake wildly, oscillating almost painfully with a deep, thrumming vibration.

Then we were banging back up onto the old, unreconstructed surface and hurtling up the long grind past the airport, with no let-up in the speed, even as the gradient stiffened and I slipped back a couple of places. I knew it was a still a full-on effort, because just ahead of me Jimmy Mac had started that upper-body pecking motion he develops whenever he’s laying the power down.

The Colossus swung up alongside me and dared a quick glance across.

“What the hell just happened?” he wondered. I had no answer, I was as bewildered as he was.

Finally the road began to dip and anticipating a possible pinch-point, where some of us would swing left and the rest dive into the narrow, twisting lanes of the Mad Mile, I eased and dropped back, allowing myself plenty of space and time.

From here, I tracked the remnants of the group through the Mad Mile, before swinging away to start my ride home, which I completed in warm sunshine, a pleasant change to last week’s sudden appearance of rain.

So, today I learned that there’s something else that can happen when you bring three disparate things together and create something greater than the sum of their parts: Collective madness.

I think I might prefer liberté, égalité and fraternité, they’re a little less chaotic.

Right, I won’t be out next week as I’m taking Thing#1 off to start university and I’m relying on my club mates to report any sightings of our motorcycling serial abuser, I’m keen, obviously, to see if we can keep the streak going.


YTD Totals: 5,406 km / 3,359 miles with 66,597 metres of climbing

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Club Run, Saturday 25th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,038 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 3 minute

Average Speed:                                26.5 km/h

Group size:                                         33 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chilly


 

nipknock
Ride Profile


A chilly start to the day and as I dropped downhill, gradually picking up speed I was glad of the arm warmers and long fingered gloves I’d dug out of deep storage.

First to arrive at the meeting point, I clambered up to sit on the wall, enjoying the deceptive warmth in the shelter of the Transport Interchange’s (i.e. Bus Station) micro-climate.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Szell was the first of my riding companions to arrive climbing stiffly off his bike and complaining of a stiff back which he felt was an occupational hazard common to all dentists.

Odd, as he’s not a dentist …

Oh, ok, I lied, he is really.

We had a discussion about holidays and I admitted the only thing remotely akin to cycling I’d managed in the past week was piloting a pedalo (badly) through a flotilla of yachts, speedboats and ferries.

In complete agreement with Mrs. Sur la Jante, Szell firmly declared that family vacations were not for cycling and he was always bemused when talk about a forthcoming holiday was interrupted by the inevitable “are you taking your bike?” query.

I told him I was largely detached in holiday destination selection and trip planning anyway, so I typically had a poor grasp of any cycling opportunities that could be on offer – my only tasks are to book the time off work and act as porter for numerous suitcases full of clothes, which invariably returned home in the same clean, unworn and uncreased state they left in.

Szell proved quite envious of my approach, seemingly in contrast to his own, where he does all the choosing, booking, preparations and arrangements, solely to provide his missus with a surfeit of ammunition to complain, berate, castigate and criticise all of his choices for the entire duration of their holiday.

The Red Max rolled up and added his own unique spin on the conversation – he has a whole three-weeks lined up in Spain (with bikes!) but he doesn’t go until the temperature is manageable and still has a seven long, long weeks to wait.

Everyone had responded to the chilly start to the day with a varied selection of gloves, arm warmers, legwarmers, jackets and gilet’s. Crazy Legs had taken things one step further, with winter boots, tights and gloves, a long-sleeved jacket, a gilet and a buff pulled up to his sunglasses to cover the lower half of his face. He looked like the Invisible Man, or at least a set of clothes the Invisible Man would be proud to be seen in. All apparently an attempt to, once and for all, rid himself of his lingering chest infection.

Spoons had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride and began outlining the route, reading from a carefully prepared crib sheet on his phone “Up Broadway West and …”

He was immediately and rudely interrupted by the return of the Lone Dissenting Voice. “Nah, nah,  not Broadway,” it snarled, “It’s bloody lethal. Lethal! I’m not going up Broadway!”

Odd. I’ve been on countless rides where the Lone Dissenting Voice has led us merrily up Broadway West. Still, it’s a free country and everyone’s entitled to change their mind, I guess.

Spoons managed to complete the route outline without further interruption and a bumper mass of 33 riders (minus 1 exception) agreed to split, intending to rendezvous and regroup at the top of the Quarry.


I joined a disappointingly small, eight man front group and off we went, navigating up Broadway West, with great caution, huge amounts of trepidation and much muttering, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti …”

Having negotiated the road, surprisingly without incident or grievous harm, I fell into conversation with the Monkey Butler Boy. He said he was only going to accompany us for a short while, en route to meeting up with his callow Wrecking Crew, then they were off to tackle the Gibbet, a famous local climb just outside Elsdon.

Although marked by an actual, reconstructed gibbet, the gallows marking the spot – where local ne’er-do-well and murderer William Winter was hanged in 1792 – there’s nothing particularly murderous about the climb and I was surprised by the Monkey Butler Boy’s claim he’d never ridden it before.

(The Red Max would later suggest that, “once again” the Monkey Butler Boy was talking complete and utter nonsense and had in fact tackled the climb on numerous occasions.)

The Monkey Butler Boy swept away and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders, as Caracol and Rab Dee set a furious pace on the front. Spoons and Benedict took over from them and then, as we approached Fenwick and turned both uphill and into the wind, it was suddenly our turn on the front.

Perfect timing. Thanks guys.

As I pushed on alongside Richard of Flanders, I was describing my latest work, improving ailing University courses and supporting the development of new ones. This, I explained had given me some hard-earned knowledge (but little understanding) of an eclectic range of subjects, such as Mechatronic Engineering, Cryptocurrencies,  Merkle Trees and Animal Energetics.

Richard suggested things had changed rapidly since his days working in the Potteries, when every other client was a Nipple Knocker. Now he felt this much-storied profession was dying out, overtaken by sadly prosaic job titles such as Search Engine Optimisation Engineer.

He started to expound on the historical, philosophical, economic, social and nationalistic characteristics that might explain why the French seemed particularly interested in Robotics courses, before stopping mid-sentence to laugh at himself, “Listen to me, talking shite.”

He then declared that there was no greater pleasure than “talking shite on a bike” which we’ve found has particular synergies with talking shite in the pub, or talking shite over coffee and cake.

“This,” I explained, “Is the quintessential essence of club cycling. Talking shite on a bike is what keeps us coming back week, after week, after week.”

We then both commented on how odd it was to be approaching the Quarry climb relatively fresh and early, rather than toward the end of the ride, after much leg-shredding and as a prelude to a mass café gallop.


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Then we were grunting and groaning up the ramps as we took the group up to the top. Here we settled in to wait for the rest, but after long minutes, with no one in sight, we started to imagine the worst and concluded that the second group had probably been decimated while trying to negotiate the acute, but well-hidden perils of Broadway West.

Rab Dee reckoned they’d all been picked off, one by one, in a macabre game of devil-take-the-hindmost, while Caracol imagined a series a floral, roadside shrines spaced at intervals along the route, each marking the final resting place of a fallen comrade, before culminating in a grandiose tomb for the Lone Dissenting Voice, bearing a simple, but pithy epitaph: “See, I told you it was lethal.”

We filled in some time discussing new bikes. Rab Dee has one he was using for the first time today, while Caracol had a new winter bike and had sentenced his old one to life on the turbo. This had him pondering the value of Zwift as a potential training aid.

I told him to ask Crazy Legs, who had used something similar and reported riding the Oslo World Championship course, in splendid isolation from the comfort of his own garage, but also, simultaneously in collective-cyberspace with a bunch of virtual strangers.

He’d ended up laughing at himself for futilely flicking out an elbow to try and get one of them to come through and do a turn on the front, before realising he was still in his garage, there was no one behind him to come through and no matter how professional his elbow waggling looked, no one could actually see it.

An amused Caracol wondered if he had also taken the time to point out any old oil spills or stray nails that might have been lurking on the garage floor.

After a long, long wait, we determined our second group had in fact encountered problems along the way, or had simply decided to take to different roads, so we pressed on without them.

We then took a circuitous route through Capheaton and up to Wallington. Richard of Flanders, Keel and Zardoz headed straight through to Middleton Bank from there, while the rest of us climbed up to Scots Gap before looping back to the hill.

When we got there, a frisky Caracol blasted away, with Rab Dee in hot pursuit, while the rest of us were left to follow as best we could.

Alongside Benedict, I caught up with a waiting Rab Dee as we crossed the top of the hill and, as the road levelled, we found ourselves with Caracol a distant speck in front and Spoons a similar distance behind. Our choices were simple, to wait, to chase, or to stay where we were, hanging somewhere between the two.

After a fairly lengthy consideration, we decided to chase (sorry, Spoons) and set off in pursuit of Caracol. With Rab Dee pushing on the front, we slowly reeled in our front runner, while I sat at the back, just about hanging on.

We were all together for the sweep around Bolam Lake and the swoop through Milestone Woods. Then we hit the rollers and I attacked up the first slope … because … well, because I always do. This gave Caracol and Rab Dee a springboard to slingshot around me as my legs inevitably failed on the last slope and while I chased hard, I had no chance of narrowing the gap on the final climb to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max reported that the Lone Dissenting Voice had indeed rejected the planned route and led a splinter group away from the perils of Broadway West – the splinter group consisting of exactly one, single, solitary rider.

I can neither deny, nor confirm rumours that the Lone Dissenting Voice still found something to argue about, even as he rode off in his own company.

Crazy Legs then said a new guy had shown up just as the second group were pulling out and asked to join on. He had apparently “seen people riding in a group before” which Crazy Legs took as a tacit admission that he hadn’t actually done it himself.

The new guy, let’s call him Joe (simply because I understand that’s his actual name) seemed to be doing fine, until he showed a remarkable affinity for spelunking and drawn in by the lure of a deep, unfathomable pothole, planted his wheel in it, smashing down and fracturing his collarbone.

Emergency services and concerned-partner calls were made and Crazy Legs, Carlton and a delegation hung back to look after our fallen rider until the ambulance arrived, while the rest of the group pressed on. At some point the LDV had sailed past and away, I’m not sure what words were emitted at this point, but I do know his contributions were not well received.

Further mishap then befell the group, when Crazy Legs suffered a stupidly close punishment pass from a motorcyclist, tangled handlebars with Carlton and came down. Luckily his much cossetted Ribble managed to escape without harm, while Crazy Legs collected a few bruises and scratches, a hole in his leggings (which he thought added street cred) and a stinger from landing heavily on his side.

(For the sake of clarity, it’s worth pointing out that neither of these incidents occurred anywhere near Broadway West, although our mindless transgression of its sacred boundaries may have accrued the bad karma that contributed to them.)

I told the Red Max that Crazy Legs has form when it came to tangling with motorcyclists, remembering his game of chicken with the Harley Hogs when descending the Galibier at speed. We wondered (purely theoretically, of course) what the consequences of a more physical confrontation might have been had the motor cyclist bothered to stop to survey the damage he’d caused.

Crazy Legs was quite sanguine about his chances, suggesting cyclists were lighter and more nimble, so he could easily sway out of the way of jumbo haymakers and quickly jab back. He also felt if he could somehow bring the biker down, it would be game over – like a tortoise on its back, or an unhorsed knight in armour, there be no getting back up.

The Red Max appeared to support these fantastical delusions, insisting many cyclists and bikers shared a mid-life crisis engendered by the onset of inherent lardiness, but we channelled ours into physical activity that would directly address the issue, while they channelled theirs into a more sedentary activity that would simply exacerbate it.

Giving the cyclist vs. biker (or mods vs. rockers, if you will) fight-scenario far greater consideration than was justified, Crazy Legs concluded that his slippery cleats would put him at a disadvantage and determined it would be better to fight in his stockinged feet. This, he assured us, would be OK, as he would appeal to the sporting nature of his adversary and politely request that he too remove any footwear, in the interests of fairness.

Quite how he was going to land his punches through the letter box sized visor of a full face helmet I never did get a satisfactory answer to, luckily someone decided it was time to leave.


I joined a small group for the ride back, progressing at a sensible, sustained pace which was ideal for my tired legs that appeared to be suffering a holiday hangover.  A larger group had coalesced in front of us, but no one had any inclination to chase them down and the gap simply expanded until we could no longer see them on the road.

As we set our own, comfortable pace back, I dropped in beside Sneaky Pete for a quick chat and learned that the heatwave is officially over, as he revealed he’d taken to wearing long trousers instead of shorts for the first time in 3 months.

Oh well, it’s been a good run…


YTD Totals: 5,014 km / 2,814 miles with 61,645 metres of climbing

Hard Way Home

Hard Way Home

Club Run, Saturday 28th July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot and cold


hwhp
Ride Profile (with Garmin rain adjustments!)


Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.

The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.

I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.

He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.

I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?

Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …

He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.

“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.

“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.

“The actor who played for what?”

“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”

(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)

Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.

Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…

Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”

His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a  big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.

Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?

Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.

Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.


Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.

One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.

Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.

After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.

With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.

Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.

From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.

At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.


hwh


At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.

Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.

Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.

The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.

I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.

G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.

G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.

He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.

The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.

Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.

Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…   

… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali  wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.

Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…

Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.

Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase. 

As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.

The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.

“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”

We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.

I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”

Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…


Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.

Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.

But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.

I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.

With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.

I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.

Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.

“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.

There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.


YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing

Anti-Cyclone

Anti-Cyclone

Club Run, Saturday 30th June, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 118 km / 73 miles with 1,242 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.2 km/h

Group size:                                       7 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   24°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot


anti
Ride Profile


I couldn’t summon up even a single jot of enthusiasm for doing the Cyclone this year, so while the majority discussed their 106-mile, 90-mile and 64-mile ride options, I cast about for other, like-minded club members to see if we could have a normal-ish Saturday club run.

The Red Max and Taffy Steve seemed up for doing something “not-different” – so we put it out there as an alternative to see who else we might entice along.

Saturday morning was grey and overcast, seeming to promise a brief interlude to all the hot, sunny weather we’d been experiencing all week. It was still indecently warm and a dry day seemed guaranteed, so I gave the weather no more thought as I clipped in and pitched down the Heinous Hill.

After two week absence, I was pleased to find the bridge at Newburn still closed to cars, although less pleased that the ramp over the washed out section of road had collapsed somewhat. I grounded my chain coming off it and decided it was probably best if I no longer used it as an impromptu time-trial start gate.


Main topics of conversation at the start

I arrived at the meeting point just in time to spot the backside of Richard of Flanders disappearing out of sight as he attacked the ramps leading up to the top of the multi-storey car park. I wondered if he had a secret Strava KOM up there. He suggested he’d just never been up before, so wanted to see what it was like. Hmm.

Slowly a small knot started to coalesce and by the time we’d rolled out, we were 7 strong – the Anticyclone Seven, as Taffy Steve would dub us.

The Red Max has been organising regular Wednesday evening runs, a leg-shredding, set 30-mile loop run at full-bore, on-the-rivet, balls-to-the-wall, maximum speed. This Darwinian, survival of the fittest has already reduced grown men to tears, including the likes of Carlton (who vowed never to do it again, before promptly turning up for another go a few weeks later).

I’ve started referring to the rides as the Circus Maximus and suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Red Max turns up with scythes attached to his wheels.

Richard of Flanders has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this madness, apparently shouting “Have it!” as he continually attacks off the front, is caught and immediately attacks again.

I suggested what he was probably shouting was actually “Havoc!” as a prelude to letting slip the dogs of war…

Now Max suggested that Taffy Steve might enjoy the Circus Maximus experience too.

“What ride 10 mile in from the coast after work, red-line my heart, shred my legs, burn out my lungs for an hour and then ride 10 mile back to the coast?” Taffy Steve enquired.

“Yes!” a gleeful Red Max insisted, his evident enthusiasm over-riding any perceived negatives in this plan.

“Err .. No, thanks.”

Richard of Flanders described downloading an Irish narrator/navigator to his Sat-Nav, hoping for some soft, lyrical, lilting and calm directions. I was only at the start of a very long road trip that he belatedly discovered what he’d actually selected was a rampant, rabid, Ian Paisley/Nationalist Ulsterman.

“I think yeell find ye don’t want to go dine thar!” it shouted, before declaiming loudly, “Ye should just go dine sighff!”

Luckily, we had no need of a Sat-Nav today as the Red Max had something in mind, which thoughtfully included several stops for coffees.

As we started the countdown toward Garmin Muppet Time, the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to shed and stow the arm warmers. This was the start of what would be a long and sustained bout of unexpected sun, which would see me getting home with bright red, burned kneecaps. Where’s the cloud when you need it?


The ride was progressing well as we traversed the Mitford Steads. I was on the front with Richard of Flanders when we rounded a corner and startled a young roe deer casually ambling across the road. The deer’s flight instincts kicked in so hard that it lost all traction on the tarmac and I could hear its claws skittering and skeetering across the top of the slick road as it did a quick Bambi on ice impersonation, before finding its feet and crashing away into the woods.

We paused at Dyke Neuk, which was a mistake as we were now on the route of the Cyclone and had to wait for a break in the stream of passing cyclists before we could get going again. When we did, the Red Max switched to full-on, loopy-Labrador mode and started chasing down anything that moved, gradually working his way up the stream of riders by jumping from wheel to wheel.

Luckily, the Cyclone was routed up the next right hand turn and we were able to regroup before howling down the Hartburn dip and up the other side. We started plugging our way toward Scot’s Gap, catching and passing a lone cyclist. Rab Dee glanced round, saw the Cyclone number on the rider’s bars and told him he had missed a turn and was off course. The Cyclonist turned around to retrace his steps and hopefully, find the right route.

In the distance, Rab spotted another lone cyclist and took off to see if they too were riding the Cyclone and had gone astray. Accelerating to catch her, we found that she too had missed the turn and was heading in the wrong direction. She had apparently started out in a group of friends, but had been dropped and left to her own devices. The Red Max provided instructions for her to re-join the course without having to backtrack and we pressed on.

Through Scot’s Gap and on to Cambo, the Red Max sniffed the air and decisively declared, “Coffee!” We swung left off the road and into one of the Cyclone feed stations, where the welcoming local residents had opened up the Church Hall to sell cakes and coffees.


Coffee Interlude#1

We grabbed coffee and cake and wondered outside to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun.  Here we discussed unequal wear of pedals and cleats, which was largely dependent on which foot you tended to release when you clipped out. Most of us were left-footers, but Rab Dee was a right footer. With his right pedal worn out from over-use, but the left almost as good as new, he wondered if there was the potential for a pedal-exchange programme with a suitably discomfited left-footer.

As we preparing to leave, one our earlier strays turned up, having failed to follow the Red Max’s explicit instructions. She’d done about 26 miles of the 64-mile route and had less than 20 still to do. Still, on the positive side, she was well ahead of the people she’d been riding with and had a chance to either beat them home, or wait around to join them, fresh for the last leg.


cyc2


We were back on the Cyclone route for the bad descent down through Wallington (high speed, vicious rumble strips and a narrow bridge make this a bit tricky for the unwary) but we were ahead of most cyclists at this point.

We then left the route as it headed for the Ryals and had a fast run toward Capheaton. At the junction, Richard of Flanders and Slow Drinker set off for home and Rab Dee went off for a longer ride out. I pushed on with the Red Max, Taffy Steve and Zardoz toward more coffee at the Capheaton Tea Rooms.


Coffee Interlude#2

“The problem with multiple coffee stops,” the Red Max explained, “Is multiple coffee stop sprints.”

We got coffee and cake and found a table on the tearoom balcony. Here we heard all about the Monkey Butler Boy, lavishing all the money from his new Call Centre job on bike bits – much to the disgust of an old timer sitting next to us, who couldn’t work why anyone needed a power-meter. (I had a lot of sympathy for his view).

The Red Max outlined a plan to take Coffee Interlude#3 at Stamfordham and then pick up the tail-end of the Cyclone route, once all the riders had an ascent of the Ryals in their legs, at which point he conjectured they’d be easy pickings!

We left our shady sanctuary and took to the sunny roads again, stopping to try to work out what the odd machine perched in the bed of a truck was. After careful examination, Zardoz and the Red Max concluded it was a vintage, steam powered, electrical generator. I bowed to their superior engineering expertise, quite frankly I didn’t have a clue.

For a refreshing change, we went down the Quarry climb, joined the Cyclone route just after the Ryals and pushed on for Stamfordham.


Coffee Interlude#3

The Red Max and Zardoz stopped for coffee and ice cream, but I decided it was getting late and it was time to head for home. Taffy Steve agreed and we set off at a decent clip, working our way around a steady stream of tired Cyclonists as we pushed on.

Just before Callerton, I split from Taffy Steve and the Cyclone route and started my drop down toward the river and home.

I was back just a couple of minutes later than usual, having had a thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable alternative Cyclone.


YTD Totals: 3,914 km / 2,4,32 miles with 49,186 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

 

Ride 3, Sunday 24th June, 2018

Hautacam and Col de Tramassel

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       40 km / 25 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               2 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                      17.5 km/h

Temperature:                         27°C

Weather in a word or two:    Hot


Hautacam
Ride Profile


Sunday morning and we meet up at the campsite entrance ready for our last day of riding. “Time for business,” Caracol mutters, setting Crazy Legs off on a Flight of the Conchords song:

It’s business
It’s business time…

Hmm, business time indeed, but first we had to wait for the Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob to clear the campsite entrance with their farting, spluttering machines. Once they’d buzzed off, trailing a cloud of exhaust fumes and waves of pungent aftershave, we mount up and ride out.

It promised to be another hot, hot day, with traffic surprisingly busy for a sleepy Sunday morning, so we had quite a delay getting out the campsite. Not that we were in any great hurry, we only had one goal today, the Hautacam and back by the most direct route and preferably in time so the boys could watch the England vs. Panama kickball game.

We snaked our way through the village, crossed a bridge over the turbulent and swift-flowing, Gave de Pau and almost immediately found ourselves heading uphill. We were planning on passing through the summit of the Hautacam and its traditional Tour de France finish and pressing on, right up to the top of the Col de Tramassel. I would understand why when we got there.

So on the menu today was a hors catégorie climb of around 16km and up to a height of 1,190 metres, running at an average gradient of 7.5%. Kermit told me it no lesser a rider than Alberto Contador had described it as one of the hardest climbs he’d ever faced, although I couldn’t find any source to support this. Anyway, I would question Contador’s judgement, after he allegedly claimed OGL was one of the greatest descenders ever to ride a bike (that’s according to OGL anyway.)

Through the village of Ayros, the gradient stiffens and the signs warn the next kilometre is at an average of 10%. We’re already slightly strung out along the road, but at this point the gaps start to seriously attenuate. Caracol and Kermit skip lightly upwards, while I lumber in pursuit of the Hammer, closing in on the steeper sections, but falling back again when the road levels – (“levels” being a purely relative term, I mean of course where the slope eases ever so slightly). The rest of our group are strung out at various points behind.

Just after the village of Arbouix, Captain Black bridges across to join me and I share his company for the next few kilometres. The gradient hits 13% through some hairpins, as we catch and pass another couple of Brits. I beg them to tell me it gets easier, even if it’s a lie.

Following the road around the perimeter of a narrow field, a couple of bare-chested farm labourers are struggling to clear out some bushes. It looks like dry, dusty and hard work. Meanwhile, just by the side of the road, their small dog lies dozing comfortably in the shade of a leafy, green tree, seemingly intent on proving that it retains all of its mental faculties and feels no need to join the Englishman out in the (near) midday sun.

Thanks Nappy

I read somewhere that the Alps are more uniform than the Pyrennees because Napoleon (once an artilleryman, always an artilleryman) had their roads engineered with regular gradients. This was to ease towing gun carriages up and down the mountains, thus enabling his need to invade sundry other countries and kill lots of their citizens.

I’ve no idea if this is true, but even by Pyrenean standards the Hautacam seems to have a point to prove. It goes out of its way to be as irregular and erratic as possible, with ramps of various pitches all jumbled together within its kilometre sections, making the average gradients all but useless when judging how hard the next section will be.

At one point, a sign declaring a 7.5% average became somewhat more foreboding when it is immediately followed by a sustained and prolonged downhill section. We knew we would be paying for this brief respite just a little further on.

“In the granny ring yet?” Captain Black enquired as we topped another steep ramp. I assured him I was and had been for a long, long time. Despite this I seemed to be climbing out of the saddle with more power and without spinning my legs quite so futilely. I attributed to the extreme steepness of the slope. Hmm…

We hit sections of 15% and 16% and the Captain slowly started to pull away. I found myself alone, again. Naturally.

As a distraction, I start counting pedal strokes between the kilometre markers and reckon there was about 750 of them, although if I’d miscounted, or even double-counted I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised.

On one, aggressively steep section, I pushed the right hand lever hard left. It was already against the stops and I knew it, but I had to try anyway, just in case a new gear had miraculously manifested.

I then glanced down and found I was still in the middle ring. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but immediately dropped onto the granny ring, although the worst of the climb seems to be behind me. I was now out beyond the tree line, rattling over another Passage Canadien and could see the road twisting and turning across the open pastureland ahead and a long trail of riders clambering up behind me.

(In)Sole of the Mountain

Off to the right I saw the totally incongruous sight of a solitary, discarded insole by the side of the road Who? What? Why? When and how? Answers on a postcard, please.

The gradient has eased back to an 8% average and, as I pass the summit sign, the road yawns wide open. It feels like I’m riding across the deck of an aircraft carrier, a flat sea of empty, rather dusty, black and featureless tarmac, capped by nothing but a blank, blue sky overhead.

When the Tour de France finishes up here, this area will be transformed into a busy finish hub, with cars and caravans, coaches, tents, barriers, crowds and the works. Right here and now though, it’s all a bit disorientating, just a big empty car park. I feel as if I’m suffering a mild attack of agoraphobia and I stop pedalling and coast, looking around for where to go next.

The two Brits I had passed further down the slope work their way up and past me and I wait to tag onto their wheels and tentatively follow, trying not to make it too obvious that I’m not quite sure where I’m going.

They find a road out of the car park and we’re back on track and set to climbing again. Another 1.5 kilometres or so up the road from the Hautacam is the summit of the Col du Tramassal, and a café promising cake and coffee. What further incentive does a man need?

I’m still feeling pretty good, so roll the chain down the cassette and attack the last few slopes, rising out of the saddle and bursting past the two Brits, who must have wondered what the hell I’d been snorting back there in the car park.

Around a final shoulder of the mountain, the road zigs and zags upwards toward the cafe, a natural amphitheatre, where our front-runners are now sitting along the crest of the slope, enjoying the sun while they look down and cheering everyone through the final few hundred metres.

I join them to encourage the others in, take a few photos and to admire the fantastic views of the Col d’Aubisque and the other snow-capped peaks across the wide-open valley. It is utterly stunning up here and it only takes a thoroughly enjoyable ride to experience it.


IMG_0294


4 Days of Bullshit

We retire to the café terrace where the question du jour is why the bear in the TV series, BJ and the Bear, was played by a monkey? We decided that the pilot probably cast a proper Grizzly in the lead role, but it proved too hard to control and savagely mauled its co-star. We then imagined the Hollywood producer-types trying to determine how best to replace the Grizzly and save their series?

“I know guys, what about an alligator? Mountain lion? Ok, ok … how about a camel?”

I have a chat with Crazy Legs who asks if I’ve enjoyed the trip. “What, four days of unadulterated bullshit? What’s not to like?”

“Ah,” he suggests, “You’ve got a blog title already.”

Briefly Airborne & Then Done

For some reason, I’m the first off on the descent and lead the way for the first three-quarters or so, until the Hammer edges in front.  As we sweep through one of the villages, I hit a speed bump and become briefly airborne.

As the road straightens, Caracol surges past, pedalling furiously and we drop onto his wheel. The three of us ride full-bore all the way back to the campsite, opening up a big gap on everyone else.

And we’re done. I can’t help thinking I’ve got another mountain or two left in my legs, but I’m pretty sure that’s just bravado.

Lost in Translation

We retire to the bar to watch the football, where England record a handsome victory, albeit built on a rather homely looking performance.

We also get the short-end of a cultural exchange with the barman. We helpfully tell him Crème Anglaise is custard in English, but he fails to reciprocate in like fashion when Crazy Legs enquires after the French equivalent of the term “built like a brick shithouse.” I guess somethings get lost in translation.

We stayed long enough to watch the start of a Grand Prix, typically the only interesting bit of these races. Sure enough, there was the usual carnage and crashes off the grid. We left shortly afterwards to ponder why they had soft, super-soft and ultra-soft tyres (I guess hard, medium and soft doesn’t sound dramatic enough, but what they’ve chosen sounds like different grades of toilet paper?)

The campsite bar is closed Sunday evenings, so we need to head into town for ravitaillement. Goose wanders off as our advance party to scout out food and drink options, while the rest disperse to start packing up our bikes.

Reg breaks down and packs away handily and with surprising ease and I wander around the campsite just to fill in some time. Here I find Caracol, struggling to fit everything into his bike box, and looking gaunt and washed-out again. He cries off from the evening’s excursion and retires to his bed, still seemingly suffering the after effects of heat stroke and his exertions across the three days.

The rest of us congregate on a chalet porch to finish off any remaining supplies and then take a two mile or so walk into the town to find Goose.

Goose Gets Paella

He’s discovered in a bar with a friendly waiter who Goose insists is Spanish, despite the lack of any kind of supporting evidence. He’s now communicating with his “new best friend” in pidgin-Spanish, even though the waiter speaks perfect English (and probably Spanish too.)

The bar is good, beer is good, company is good and the menu looks good . The only downside seems to be a bunch of English cyclists, all uniformly dressed in tuxedo-printed cycling kit (hilarious and original) and straw Panama hats. Rightly or wrongly (and I’m still leaning heavily toward rightly) we take an instant dislike to them, but luckily they’re just there to pour a few beers into their faces and soon wander away.

After days of wanting a paella, talking about paella and how best to prepare and cook paella, Goose finally gets to eat paella, which he declares is very good, very big and suitably filling.

Along with Crazy Legs, I choose the cassoulet, which is also tasty and big enough for hungry cyclists. The rest have various pasta dishes, all of which are deemed at least adequate, except for Steadfast’s lasagne, which is about the size of a choc ice and soon disappears without touching the sides. We wonder if he hasn’t accidently ordered from the children’s menu.

Goose Invents Ebola

With a big clean-up of the chalets scheduled for tomorrow, Goose describes an advert, that seemingly only he has ever seen, of someone cleaning a kitchen work top with a chicken breast. He also revealed a dark and distant past part-time job as a “professional” cleaner. Apparently, he was somewhat less than diligent and claims to have inadvertently invented MRSA and maybe Ebola too.

Carry On Regardless, Part 1.

For some reason talk turns to Carry On films, which, through the power of Google, Kermit reveals number an astonishing 31 titles!

Unfortunately, he then starts listing each one individually:

“Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher, Carry On Constable …”

“Ok, we get the picture.”

He “carries on” undaunted.

“Carry On – Follow That Camel, Carry On Doctor, Carry On Up the Khyber, Carry On Camping….

“No really, stop now.”

“But, I’m almost finished. That’s Carry On! Carry On Emmannuelle and … [dramatic pause] … Carry On Columbus.”

He takes a deep breath, “Several other films were planned and scripted, but unmade…”

“No!”

We discuss options for a trip next year, perhaps somewhere we can fly direct to from Newcastle and doesn’t include a long car transfer. Perhaps that way I won’t suffer that first night travel-sickness-thing again? (Or whatever it is.)

We have lots of ideas, but nothing is decided, well, other than to cross off Goose’s suggestion of Chernobyl as a destination. I’m sure the roads are lovely and quiet, but there are sadly no direct flights to Boryspil Airport in Kiev and even if there were, it’s still a 3 hour drive from there to Pripyat.

We wander back to the campsite. Ably assisted by good food, red wine, beer and the cumulative efforts of several days riding, sleep comes easily.

In the morning, we clean out the cabins and handover the keys. Unlike last year, there’s no forensic inspection and no accusatory interrogations and we’re free to go without even a cursory glance at our, nonetheless spotless accommodation.

We plan and execute a quick detour to take in crepes atop the Col de Peyresourde. It looks like a fantastic climb from the west and it would make it onto my bucket list if I had such a thing. The crepes were good too. I’ll be looking forward to the Tour’s super short, Stage 17 this year, which starts at Bagnères-de-Luchon and immediately tackles this route.

Then it’s the long drive to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for check-in.

Carry-on Regardless, Part 2.

As we wait to check-in Kermit starts to get antsy about his big, red, oversized carry-on bag again, convinced he’s going to be stopped and charged for exceeding his baggage allowance. He starts eyeing up the ground crew, trying to determine which one looks the most benevolent and identifying the stern, stone-faced ones he hopes to avoid – a sort of baggage Russian Roulette.

Before we make it that far, an announcement informs us that the flight will be busy, so passengers are invited to check hand baggage into the hold for free. Kermit breathes a sigh of relief. Nonetheless, he gets a ticking off from the ground crew for having such a ridiculously large carry-on bag and somehow manages to feign both innocence and remorse, as he’s relieved of his big, red burden.

I’m the last to check-in and everyone else has disappeared by the time I make my way to the over-sized baggage drop off. Five minutes on intense, unfriendly scrutiny and unnecessarily prescriptive instructions from a taciturn, French baggage handler and the bike bag goes one way and I go the other.

Plain Sailing

I catch up with the others, just before boarding and notice we’re sharing the flight with some Panama hat wearing, English cyclists that may just have tuxedo-printed cycling kit tucked somewhere in their luggage. Crazy Legs even gets to sit in the same row of seats as one of them, but is luckily buffered from direct contact by another innocent passenger playing piggy-in-the-middle. As such, his curled-lip disdain goes unremarked.

Leaving the plane, I can’t help but notice all the HSBC adverts plastering the air bridge, welcoming us to Heathrow and extolling our “United Kingdom.” I can’t help wondering if this is supposed to be ironic, or is just very badly misinformed.

De-planed (as they insist on saying in the business) we all congregate at the other end, minus Steadfast, who has already taken a flyer into the seething morass that is a hugely overcrowded, glacially slow Heathrow passport control.

We’re about to plunge into this very maelstrom ourselves, when Captain Black spots signage directing us elsewhere for our connecting flight. We find ourselves in some kind of placid, quiet backchannel, quickly passing through a fully-automated passport control system and then smoothly released into the general departure lounge.

We stop in the Wetherspoons for some food and then we’re on the last leg and being hustled on to the plane for the short hop back up to Newcastle. Well almost, Goose gets stopped at the gate and we pause to laugh at his startled, rabbit in the headlights act as he screws up the facial recognition sensors and then desperately tries to get them to recognise him.

At the other end, our baggage arrives in dribs and drabs and we depart piecemeal. As such I’m well on my way home before Kermit realises his bright green bike box isn’t going to put in an appearance.

“It’s Big & Green and Nowhere to be Seen” : Kermit

Kermit’s bike box is eventually tracked down to Zurich and is finally returned to him a few days later. Before this, however, it seems to have been fed through a threshing machine and both box and bike are badly damaged. An insurance claim is on-going, while in the meantime, Kermit has to resort to his winter-bike, at a time when we’re enjoying the longest spell of fair weather we’ve had for years.

I have a feeling though that even this isn’t going to put any of us off signing up for similar adventures if offered next year.


Chevauchée Pyrenees Totals: 228 km / 142 miles with 5,570 metres of climbing

 YTD Totals: 3,741 km / 2,324 miles with 47,054 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day#1 Tripping Out


Planning & Prep

Encouraged by our super-successful, slightly-secretive, semi-selective, sterling-sojourn into the Alps last year (see: Riders of the Alps Bucket-List) – this time Crazy Legs had us targeting the Pyrenees for another raid, deep into traditional French cycling territory.

With his formidable planning skills to the fore, he picked a date, found flights and accommodation and then simply offered the opportunity up to anyone willing, able-bodied and crazy enough, to want to ride a bike up multiple mountain passes in searing heat.

All we had to do at this point was indicate our intent with a quick, “Oui” or, “Non.” Perfect.

Wholly unsurprisingly, all of last year’s sextet re-upped for a second Tour of Duty (or Tour of Doodie, if you happen to be American) – so that was Crazy Legs, Goose, Captain Black, the Hammer, Steadfast and me.

To these serried and honourable ranks we added some real climbing prowess, with Kermit, a sub-55kg, climbing spider-monkey and the larger, but somehow-even-faster-going-uphill, Caracol.

Buster hemmed and havered, but eventually gave a reluctant, “Non” – and so we were set – an octet of inappropriately optimistic, opportunists, intent on wrecking who knows what – legs? lungs? livers? … and probably, somewhere along the line, any hopes of post-Brexit, Anglo-French entente cordiale, too.

British Airways flights were booked to leave early Thursday morning, June 21st from Newcastle to Heathrow, where we would connect with Steadfast, before travelling on to Toulouse. The return was planned for the following Monday, allowing us 3-full days of riding.

As usual, the Hammer would travel independently (which our fevered speculation determined would be through a combination of private jet, chartered helicopter and chauffeur-driven limousine).

Due to arrive early as our advance party, he promised to gather the most basic essentials to fuel our trip, which, in order of importance, appeared to be beer, wine, beer, cheese, beer and pain au chocolat.

… and beer.

Crazy Legs had secured us four cabins at the Campsite du Lavadan, just outside Argelès Gazost and some 15kms due south of Lourdes. This would be our base of operations for our 3-days of cycling and would put us within the orbit of such famous Pyrenean climbs as the Tourmalet, Hautacam and Aspin.

Goose sought and negotiated transport from the airport to the campsite – one big, 6-seater-van and a large car, deemed sufficient for 7 skinny blokes and their oversized bike boxes. He and Kermit bravely volunteered to do the driving and we were not at all worried when Kermit kept asking which side of the road he would be driving on.

The flights cost £185, the car hire about £65 each and 4 nights’ accommodation was around £100, so the basic bones of the trip came together for a, fairly reasonable, £350.

Crazy Legs then devised and circulated a rough plan for the rides:

Day#1 – Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin – a 126km loop

Day#2 – Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque – a 120km loop

Day#3 – Hautacam – 40km – straight there and back again

Everything was agreed and booked by the time BA announced the cancellation of our return flights.  Luckily, the available alternatives actually helped, rather than hindered, with a more relaxed timing for the return.

Then, like last year, I more or less forgot about the whole thing until a few weeks before we were set to go.

There was a little last minute uncertainty when flash floods hit the western Pyrenees and destroyed some of the roads around the region. Indications were that the route from the Col d’Aubisque through the village of Gourette was particularly badly affected and likely to be closed, but we determined to play it by ear and adapt our route on the day.


PY


More seriously, any effect on the upcoming stages of the Tour de France, set to travel across the same roads for stages 19, remains to be seen.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

Like an anorexic, bulimic teenager, weight became a bit of an obsession on two fronts as, learning from the previous trip, I planned how to travel lighter, both personally and baggage-wise.

The latter was much the easiest to accomplish. I swapped last year’s borrowed, rigid bike box for a cheap Planet-X bike bag, which I would load up with the bare minimum. This I determined was: one T-shirt per day, the clothes I would travel in, three full sets of cycling kit, a few energy gels, a set of allen keys for building up and breaking down the bike, a couple of spare tubes and a few sticking plasters (in case of emergency).

I found the bike bag much easier to pack than a box. It had integral wheel compartments and a ton of internal pockets that proved incredibly useful for stuffing things in and keeping them tied-down and in place. I also found the bike would fit in easily, with only one pedal removed – and the less assembling and disassembling I do, the happier I am, so a win all round.

Wheels out, one pedal removed, seat post out, handlebars released from the stem and taped to the top tube, I removed the gear hanger and taped the rear mech up inside the stays. I mummified the whole rear triangle in bubble-wrap, added a few pieces of foam pipe insulation to protect the frame and held everything in place with copious amounts of masking tape. That’s it, I was done.

If anything, the bike bag proved too big and capacious. Even fully loaded with wheels, frame helmet and clothes, it was still only ¾ full. I could actually have done with it being not quite as tall and, while eminently luggable, a set of wheels on the base would have been a real boon.

I’d been paying a little more attention to my own weight than usual and, as mileage ticked up, this started heading in the right direction too. I was hovering around 65kg’s on the weeks leading up to departure and starting to feel stronger and better for it.

That was until, the weekend before, when I developed a sore throat and tried the patented Crazy Legs cure of riding through it. (Hint: he’s called Crazy Legs for a reason).

Exactly one week before the trip, I climbed off the bike after a difficult commute home, admitted defeat and crawled into bed for three days, laid low by some vicious, random bug that left me thoroughly drained, caused me to miss a slew of meetings at work and, more importantly, the Saturday club run.

The following Wednesday, D-Day Minus-1, I finally swung a leg over the bike for a lone, last commute and my final ride before travelling to the mountains. Not exactly the ideal preparation, but I was good to go.

Priscilla, Queen of the Pyrenees

Early Thursday morning and having submitted my (hopefully well-packed) and protected bike to the tender ministrations of the ground crew at Newcastle International Airport, I tracked down the rest of the mob, already happily ensconced in a coffee shop in Departures and slurping down a selection of premium, hot beverages.

I think Kermit had surmised his baggage allowance also took into account personal weight, which gave him a massive advantage over every other passenger. To exploit this to its fullest extent, he was trailing quite the biggest and reddest piece of “hand baggage” I think I’ve ever seen.

We naturally queried if it would fit within regulation, hand-baggage dimensions, knowing full-well that if he did, by some miracle, manage to jam it into one of those baggage-guidance stands, it would never come out again.

Taking our concern to heart, Kermit triumphantly zipped up the expandable gusset, reducing the bags width by, oh, I don’t know a whole 5cms, maybe, and effectively reducing its overall footprint by almost 2%. It still looked massive and Kermit started to fret a little about getting it on the plane without having to pay an excess baggage charge.

Meanwhile talk turned to marginal gains, with Kermit admitting to taking a hacksaw to his seatpost to shave off a few centimetres and a few excess grams. There was some involved discussion about whether leg shaving constituted a marginal gain, while Goose and Crazy Legs bemoaned their androgenetic alopecia … of the legs.

Kermit worried we must have sounded like a troupe of old queen’s sitting round talking about leg shaving, but I assured him we were much too ugly for anyone to make that kind of mistake.

Someone mentioned Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and it was a short-leap from there to Priscilla, Queen of the Pyrenees. Meanwhile, I briefly pondered if there’s a collective noun for a transvestites – a camp of transvestites the best I could find.

Our flight was called and we made our way to the gate, half of us taking the escalator to jeers about “marginal gains” – which no doubt thoroughly bewildered other passengers. I felt I was doing ok, as, although I used the stairs, I was drafting Caracol the whole way.

On the plane, Crazy Legs found himself sitting next to a bloke who looked like a rugby prop forward, he was as wide as he was tall and solid. He initially took the aisle seat, hoping the plane wasn’t full and he wouldn’t have to squeeze into the middle of the row. No such luck, a late arriving passenger appeared to claim the aisle seat and the prop forward was soon pressed in tightly against Crazy Legs, blocking most of the light filtering in from the window and causing the seat in front of me to creak alarmingly.

Close proximity, coupled with abundant, natural Crazy Legs bonhomie, soon had the muscled-mass talking and it emerged he actually was a prop forward, from Leeds Carnegie Academy and travelling to France for a little continental seasoning at one of their pro clubs.

The Return of Hans

At Heathrow, with time to kill, we gravitated toward the Costa Coffee where we’d been sitting, talking our usual brand of unadulterated bullshit on the return last year, only to forget about the time. We’d had to dash to the gate, making it just as the last flight home was closing.

In commemoration of that anniversary, Captain Black informed the staff his name was Hans, which they duly inscribed on his coffee-cup, as they had the year before when he’d told them his actual name. I’m still at a loss to understand how they could have misinterpreted Captain Black quite so badly that they arrived at Hans.

We found five seats and Kermit perched on his big, red case to sup his drink. (Ah, so that’s why he brought it). British Airways announced our connecting flight was full and were offering to check hand baggage into the hold for free. Hoping to avoid any unwelcome arguments, Kermit gave up his impromptu perch and had it checked in. One less thing to worry about.

Jump Judo

As Kermit returned from the baggage drop, we were discussing the photos of Donald Trump alongside Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, which seemed to prove that the President of the United States was lying (yes, I know – it’s hard to believe isn’t it) about his height. The photographic evidence suggested that he isn’t the 6’3” he claims and, given his weight, can officially be classified as obese.

Still, I’m not sure if this matters, after all a wholly impartial, completely objective and scrupulously honest physician has already unequivocally informed us, that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Kermit only caught the tail-end of this conversation and then spent five minutes wondering what Jump Judo was and whether it was worth catching on Eurosport.

Dead or Alive?

A discussion about the Orange Dotard’s tiny hands morphed into a discussion about Jeremy Beadle and the Kenny Everett character, the spectacularly stupid, Brother Lee Love, who had giant hands. From these humble beginnings the trip tradition and a new game, Dead or Alive?  was born. The rules were quite simple, whenever someone moderately famous, or mildly notorious was mentioned, someone (usually me) would invariably pipe up to query: “He’s dead, isn’t he?”


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Backed up by Google, the most astonishing thing we found was how many people we thought were dead, were still hanging on, hale and hearty, and how many we thought were still with us that had, in fact long since departed.

France Bound

We eventually relinquished the seats in Costa’s and made our way to a quiet gate, where we could sit and people-watch. Here we enjoyed the drama of a futilely sprinting, late-arriving passenger pleading to be allowed onto a flight that had already closed.

(I thought he lost his case through over-acting, especially when he clasped his hands together in prayer and begged. At this point went from being a somewhat sympathetic character to overly-dramatic and slightly unhinged.)

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs tried to decipher the complex code behind all the rank markings on the epaulettes of the aircrews. The conclusion seemed to be they were mainly for show and generally meaningless.

At some point, we were joined by Steadfast, who lives just a short drive away from Heathrow and then we were all filing on board and bound for France. Goose snagged a Financial Times to read on the plane, but would later complain there were too few pictures to hold his interest for long.

On the flight I swapped seats so a pair of separated, second, or third time-around (I assume) honeymooning Americans could sit together and I managed to sleep through most of the flight.

At the other end, we queued dutifully for our bike bags with a motley collection of other Anglo-cyclists, then suffered through the seemingly interminable process of collecting our rental cars. Why such a simple process always takes such a long, long time remains one of life’s great mysteries. Finally, we were sorted and started to move.

We hit the van first, Goose and Captain Black finally remembering how we’d managed to fold the rear seats flat after a fair amount of pondering, head scratching and trial and error. We managed to load 6 of the bikes into the back of the van, squeezed in four passengers, with Goose as a driver and off they went.

The second vehicle turned out to be a new, very square, very big and very ugly, ultra-white Jeep. I would have been embarrassed to be seen in such a (# cough # wanker tanker # cough #) monstrosity at home and I think my bike bag felt the same as it curled up and hid, alone and a little lost in the Jeeps rear compartment.

I finally got to grips with a recalcitrant SatNav, tapped in details of the campsite and then Kermit got us moving for a couple of hours driving, with arrival scheduled at the campsite just as the sun was setting.

We made it to our destination without incident, bikes and bags were quickly unloaded into the cabins (all decent looking and a step up from last year’s – not that we’d ever do much but sleep and shower in them anyway.)

We picked up our advance party, the Hammer and all piled into the campsite bar. There, hard bargaining with a somewhat angry and prickly site manager, managed to make Brexit negotiations look simple, straightforward and positively jocular, but our unwavering stance finally netted us four buckets of moules et frittes and four platters of ham, eggs and chips. This seemed just about acceptable to everyone.

I stocked up on calories, washed everything down with a couple of beers and retired to the cabin, looking forward to a good night’s sleep, an early breakfast and the chance to calmly build up the bikes before we began our first ride tomorrow.