It’s been a while hasn’t it, because, well … life.
And it’s certainly been a long while if you measure time in the lifespan of Tory chancellors, as the UK government keeps us on pushing to establish itself as the world’s most dysfunctional, ineffective, morally bankrupt, self-serving and increasingly desperate democracy in the world. C’mon lads, keep it up, we’re nearly there!
Oh, and now a new-PM – the man, as Marina Hyde pointed out that, as chancellor, couldn’t even convince his own wife to pay him tax. Well, it’s entertaining in a grotesque, car-crash sort of way.
Things are all change in the SLJ household too, with Thing#1 now plying her trade as a fully qualified graphic designer in a lonely garret somewhere down in Shoreditch, while Thing#2 is away embracing the more, err … social aspects of student life with a worrying degree of zeal.
Their absence is noticeable at home, it’s a lot quieter for one, towels have taken to roosting in orderly pairs on the towel rack instead of huddling together, abandoned in mouldering, puddled heaps on the floor, the fridge is free of the clutter of oddly shaped packages of indeterminate foodstuffs with cringe inducing names, such as soysages, facon and fauxmage, and our weekly consumption of toilet roll has dropped by at least two-thirds.
In cycling terms we’re heading toward winter and I’m intent on trying to eke out a few more uses of the good bike before reverting to the sturdy Pug or single-speed Trek. To this end I’ve recently invested in an Ass-Saver, or Ass-Cover as I like to call them, seeing as how they are purely selfish and only cover your own ass. Definitely not a long-term solution, but I’ve found the worst part of any rain sodden ride is the long drop off the Heinous Hill where feet and indeed, ass, bear the brunt of all the dirty, cold water kicked up by the speed of the descent.
Of course, I wasn’t expecting the thin plastic Ass Saver, something I suspect could fit easily inside an A4 envelope, to get the full on Amazon packaging-overkill treatment, and be delivered in an otherwise empty cardboard box the size of a shopping basket. It was far too big and far too indiscrete to smuggle into the house. Luckily, I could prove it wasn’t some ultra-expensive, new-fangled, completely superfluous bike gewgaw formed entirely of carbon fibres and fresh air, but only a moderately over-priced sheet of pre-formed plastic, and not the kind of thing likely to get me banished to the fiscal naughty step for a spell.
Despite precautions to protect my precious derriere, the past few weeks have been ok-ish in terms of weather, dotted with a few intermediate showers, but with no real prolonged rain and no need yet for full-on mudguards.
This Saturday was no different, a light, early shower gifted me a rainbow over the Tyne, but it was otherwise pleasantly mild, and the rain jacket was stowed as soon as the showers passed. Still, autumn is well underway, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees, as I was brutally reminded when one spiralled gracefully into my path and then slapped me across the face like a wet kipper.
The unusual sight of two rowers somewhat confusingly carrying their boat over the bridge (don’t they float?) marked my passage across the river and was otherwise the most notable event on my trip across to the meeting point.
When there, we waited as numbers slowly built to a fairly impressive 28, including Aether for his first ride out since fracturing his hip and Zardoz, who’s not been seen in these here parts since July.
Andy Mapp had devilishly devised this particular route which gave me a rather strange ride profile of three wobbly loops, stacked atop each other, as he led us down several previously uncharted roads. This included the (surprisingly) controversial Bothal Bank and some confusion about which direction we were tackling this apparently ferocious climb, or even if we would be tackling it at all, as Mini Miss was adamant she was going nowhere near it.
“The descent’s a death trap,” she argued.
“But we’ll be going up it. And at less than 5 mph,” G-Dawg countered, to no avail.
“It’s a nasty climb,” OGL confirmed, not really helping matters.
“We’re going up the other side?” G-Dawg ventured.
“Oh, well that’s even worse,” OGL replied blithely, safe in the knowledge he was going nowhere near it either.
Despite an assurance that we would be taking it slowly on the climb, almost guaranteed by that fact that G-Dawg was on his fixie and expecting to get off and walk at least part way, we couldn’t persuade Mini Miss to even consider tackling Bothal Bank and left her plotting possible detours.
In fact, the route had us venturing places so unknown, that G-Dawg was at pains to ensure that each group had a least one rider who had it programmed into a Garmin or similar, and had even armed himself with a paper map, although I wasn’t sure how effective it would be as the area around Pegswood was rather hazily sketched in and simply bore the legend: “here be dragons.”
Crazy Legs got on-the-spot Garmin route-finding lessons from the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac and became the de facto navigator for the third group, while we managed to place a couple of other “pathfinders” in the first/fast group and the over-sized second group.
That sorted, we had time for OGL to promote his offer of bike maintenance lessons for anyone with a desire to do their own spannering and servicing. This would feature working under-supervision on your own bike, or as G-Dawg joked, “Weeks 1 and 2 we disassemble your bike, weeks 3 and 4 we put it back together again” – with sadly no inkling of what you could ride in the meantime.
Jimmy Mac happened to glance down at his Garmin just as the time ticked over from 9:14 to 9:15 and at the exact second that Carlton arrived – a double indicator that our time was up.
There was then only time for a brief whinge from OGL about mudguards and his support for a policy of “no mudguards, no club ride” adopted by another local club.
“Yeah, but …” G-Dawg argued, not unreasonably, “They’re twats.”
Time to go.
I joined the seriously under-manned third group, pushing onto the front for the first part of the ride where at least I had some vague idea of the route, and we followed the other groups out.
We hadn’t gone far with Crazy Legs assiduously counting down the distance to all the turns, when he interrupted his pitch-perfect Sat-Nav direction to “go west” to ask,”so, who was it sang King of Wishful Thinking?”
G-Dawg, obviously a fan of late 80’s pop, was equal to the task and provided the right answer (Go West, obviously) before adding that he was more impressed by Living In A Box, the hit single from the band Living In A Box, which was taken from their album, Living In A Box. They were, he argued either supremely creative when it came to naming things, or supremely lazy, he just wasn’t quite sure which.
We stopped just outside Tranwell to discuss route options, with Sneaky Pete and Brassneck looking for a shorter ride. They sneaked away some time later to leave just half a dozen of us, then somewhere along the way we caught and forced our way past our second group, who’d been slowed when Aether’s newly repaired hip started troubling him.
This augured well for the cafe queues, so we pressed on, Crazy Legs still assiduously following the on-screen instructions and calling out the turns. I thought we’d strayed wildly off route when we reached a sign telling us we were about to enter Hebron, but luckily this turned out to be an idyllic Northumberland village and not the city in the West Bank.
We were disappointed then, when a large group of cyclists appeared at a junction and turned onto the road ahead of us. Had the second group found a sneaky short-cut?
We worked to close the gap on a climb and were relieved to find it was another club ahead of us and not the sneaky second group. We caught them and hustled past.
Soon we were descending down to the River Wansbeck and then starting the climb of the highly controversial, doom-heralded, Bothall Bank … except it wasn’t really all that long and wasn’t really all that hard. G-Dawg made it around the first hairpin before having to dismount his fixie, while I dropped into a suitably small gear and spun up without too much effort.
We regrouped at the top, with G-Dawg looking wistfully back down the climb and deciding that if he’d known just how close he was to the top, he probably could have “beasted it” and made it up without dismounting. For one moment I thought he was going to ride down and give it another go, before common-sense overcame regret. Next time maybe?
A bit of surfing down the cycle path alongside the main A1 and we reached our cafe stop for the day, the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station – only the second time we’ve used this venue, so they aren’t sick to death of us yet.
Another club that I didn’t recognise had got there before us and Crazy Legs had a brief chat with them an learned they had come all the way from Houghton, some 11 miles due south of the River Tyne.
I have to admit I queried this, as I couldn’t understand how a small place like Houghton could support two cycling clubs and knew the Houghton CC were well-established in the area, having been around since the 1930’s.
“Just think of all the splinter clubs that have been formed off the back of our club because of various disagreements,” Crazy Legs suggested. Yeah, fair point. I get it now.
Our second group duly arrived and the small yard outside the cafe became the scene of a giant game of bike jenga, as bikes were laid atop of bikes and it all became a bit cluttered, much to the consternation of Carlton who’d just bought a brand new Norwegian, Fara bike for the winter, which was only getting its first ride out today because the weather wasn’t too bad!
Crazy Legs congratulated Andy Mapp on the novel route, although he complained he didn’t see all that much as he’d been fixated on his bike computer and had spent the entire ride intently at his stem, à la Chris Froome, although luckily he hadn’t also adopted the outragously jutting out elbows too.
There was then only time to find the one member of our group who would openly admit to wanting Bo Jo the Clown to return as Prime Minister(!) and it was time to go and leave the good burghers of Stannington Station in peace.
The wind had picked up for the ride back, but it was otherwise a pleasant undertaking. I’m not sure we’re going to get many more days like this before the weather takes a turn for the worse, so best enjoy them while we can.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 22nd October 2022|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 40 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||112km/70 miles with 926m of climbing|
|Group Size:||28 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Sound|
|Year to date:||4,665km/2,899 miles with 51,789m of climbing|