Ok, now I know that last weeks stiff breeze was just a prelude, a dress rehearsal and a precursor for the main event, today’s sustained high winds. Apparently, according to the Met Office, 50 or 60 mph gusts are “very unusual” for this time of year. That’s good to know. Doesn’t make riding in it any easier though.
I could see the results of two days of tree-shaking blasts as soon as I stepped onto the pavement outside the house. It had given the neighbourhood trees a good thrashing and ripped off leaves to form a tattered, green confetti that had then been driven to shoal against the kerb at the side of the road.
The wind was unrelenting still and as I placed the bike on the road and swung a leg over the frame, I was being peppered with assorted debris, stripped from the trees and hurled down at me. This was going to be a little wild.
I decided I would set out and ride as much as possible into the wind to start with, try and get the worst bits over with and hopefully have a tailwind for the way back. It seemed like a decent plan, I’m just not sure I executed it all that successfully.
I picked my way carefully down the hill, the front wheel twitching a little nervously whenever the buildings and hedges opened up to let the wind scour through. Taking the turn ridiculously wide at the bottom, I turned upriver and into constant driving gusts. This’ll be a nice work out, then.
Crossing the river at Newburn, I started to climb up toward Throckley, stopping briefly to watch the bunting left over from the VE Day celebrations audibly snapping and cracking in the wind.
Past Albermarle Barracks and into the wide open expanse approaching Harlow Hill, I was getting the full force of the wind head-on, my pace slowed to a crawl and it was a real grind
Every hedgerow offer a little sanctuary, but every gap where a gate cut through was a potential trap, funnelling the wind through to unexpectedly snatch at your wheels and send you careering across the road. Even the cows seemed to have had enough and they were all huddled miserably in the corners of the fields, like boats driven from their moorings and piled against the shore.
The Military Road was much busier than the last time I’d travelled it and, struggling to maintain a straight line and facing increased speeding traffic, I bailed at Whittle Dene, taking to quieter and less exposed country lanes.
The wind didn’t seem to deter the anglers here, the lane was lined with cars and the lakeside with their owners, all hunkered down against the chill blasts and to all intents and purposes (but, who knows?) enjoying themselves.
From the reservoir I picked up a typical club run route, up to Mowden and Wall Houses and then through to Matfen.
It seemed like the wind had scoured all other cyclists from the roads, even on these well-travelled and popular routes. Where was everyone? I only saw two or three solo riders out and about – there was definitely no flouting of social-distancing guidelines today.
Just through Matfen and as the road passed through a small copse of trees I would say (without even needing to invoke my provisional poetic licence) that I could actually hear the wind roaring as it shook the branches overhead.
Pushing past the turn for the Quarry, I had a vague notion of dropping down the Ryals and looping through Colwell and around Hallington Reservoir, before heading home. It wasn’t the best thought-out plan, something I realised the moment I started the long, slow grind toward the village of Ryal. The wind, now full-bore and head-on, was driving a sputtering, stinging rain straight into my face as well as applying maximum drag. Hmm, this was unpleasant.
After what seemed a ridiculously long and hard slog, I finally crested the hill and started the long drop down the other side, relived just to be able to freewheel a little bit – I had no intention of pushing hard, that seemed suicidal.
As it was, I can honestly say I’ve never had a less enjoyable traversal of the Ryals, even when travelling the other way, up its damned slopes!
The wind was an immense, bellowing, battering force, blasting cold rain straight at me, while intermittently trying to wrench the front wheel sideways. I fought the bike all the way down until the hedgerows closed in on either side of the road and offered some relative calm and still air. If I’d thought about it, perhaps this was the day I should have been riding up the Ryals and aiming for a wind-assisted PR.
I re-assessed things at the bottom of the climb, noting the weather had turned ominously grey and suspecting it was closing in, I changed plans, cut my intended route short and started to climb out through Hallington.
I then picked up the road through Little Bavington, followed by a fast run down the side of the Blyth valley toward Capheaton. I stopped here to munch a cereal bar and worry some sheep, before pressing on and running down toward the Snake Bends and Belsay, right down the white line in the middle of the road as the surface is so crappy to either side.
Then again, I did spot 3 or 4 huge mounds of stone chippings piled up at the junction with the road from Wallridge. Does this mean they’re going to resurface this stretch? That would be nice, it would also make the run-in to one of our regular cafe sprints much less of a tooth-jangling, jolting, jarring horror show. We live in hope.
I swept through Belsay, noticing the cafe was now open, for takeaway’s at least, then it was Ogle, Ponteland and home.
Back in the shelter of the house, my day ended on a low note when I dropped my Garmin directly into a fresh mug of tea, where it did a passable imitation of a mini depth-charge. I know they’re supposed to be water-resistant, but this was a real test of concept.
Rescued and exiled to a bag of rice to dry out for a couple of hours, I turned it on with some trepidation. All seems to be working fine, but my ride file had somehow been corrupted, or in Strava terminology, “malformed”.
Which obviously means …
Luckily for me I’m still using the Road ID app so the family can track and trace me when I’m out on my lonesome, enjoying the tranquillity of solitude.
So, while officially this ride didn’t ever happen and will never pad out my Strava statistics, at least I know where I’ve been.
I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.
I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.
The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …
I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.
The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.
Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.
I get out and get going. Sigh.
A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.
And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.
Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.
He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.
It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.
The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.
With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.
“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)
Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.
“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)
Look at the stars Look how they shine for yooo And everything you dooo They were all … Yell-o!
“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.
I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.
“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.
Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …
“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.
“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.
“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.
We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.
“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.
“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.
“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.
“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.
“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.
In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.
“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.
“Well, my Dad listens to them.”
“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”
Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.
“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”
“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.
Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.
“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”
I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.
“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.
Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.
Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.
I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.
In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.
As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.
I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.
As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.
At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.
“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.
“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.
“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.
Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”
As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.
We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.
“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.
“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”
I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.
Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.
Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.
My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…
“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”
“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.
It was time to leave.
As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.
I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.
Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.
There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.
Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.
Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.
I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.
“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.
“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”
“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.
At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.
Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.
As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.
I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.
That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.
As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.
Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.
We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.
“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.
“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.
Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.
He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.
He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.
I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.
Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.
I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.
The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.
As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.
Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.
YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.
I guess I’m a marketeers worst nightmare – I’m not really all that interested in forcing my opinion on others and much happier to give someone the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. This makes me one of the worst brand advocates out there and could perhaps explain why, despite several appeals, Apple and Samsung so diligently shun my offers to test –trial their latest, bleeding edge products.
In fact as a professional market researcher, nothing irks me more than seeing a survey with that hoary, clichéd, dull and unimaginative question, “Would you recommend XXX to your friends and family.” This to me is very, very lazy research and completely misses the point that even if I found XXX wonderfully life-affirming and a sure-fire, can’t miss, can’t-live-without product I can’t say I’d actively recommend it to anyone. Of course if someone asks me directly what I think of something, I’ll gladly tell them as honestly as I can, but I’m just not comfortable foisting my opinions on others.
It wasn’t my intention on setting up this blog to review and opine on cycling “stuff” – there’s plenty of people out there on the web and blogosphere who will, and can do it a lot better than I can. The best will give you great, first-hand and honest, user reviews that I’ve greatly benefitted from in the past and no doubt will again in future. Brilliant. I’m just not wired that way though.
I will however make at least a couple of exceptions; one is for a review (eventually) of the foul weather jacket I bought a couple of weeks ago. I’m genuinely interested to see if it solves the age old cycling dilemma on keeping you dry from both the outside elements and the heat and perspiration your body generates under exercise.
The second is a simple app from the Road ID people that I’ve downloaded to my phone and started using for all my rides. I have no problem recommending this because I think it’s good, it works perfectly for me and it’s free.
But first, let me back-track with a little history. Road ID was started by a guy called Ed Wimmer who barely escaped being pancaked by a pick-up truck while training for a marathon. While lying in the ditch at the side of the road where his desperate evasive manoeuvre had dumped him, he finally realised his father was right all along (yes, my daughters, this moment will come to you too!) to insist he carry ID so family could be notified in the event of an accident.
In Ed’s own words, “Luckily I was OK. But, what if the truck had hit me? I would have been rushed to the local hospital as “John Doe.” Without proper ID, family members and friends could NOT be contacted. Likewise, my Medical records could NOT be accessed at the hospital. How long would I lay there unidentified? This freaked me out.”
From this experience the Road ID concept was born, a simple wearable id bracelet that could be customised with your personal details, emergency contact numbers and basic medical information, any known allergies et al.
I can honestly say this is the only bit of cycling kit I’ve ever bought that Mrs. Sur La Jante actually approved of and that didn’t make her eyes involuntarily roll heavenward in that long-suffering way. In fact when I lost my original one (Mrs. Sur La Jante helpfully filed it away with the paint tins and decorating equipment, where it lay mouldering for a couple of years) it was her insistent nagging that drove me to buy a replacement.
Originally I was attracted to the Road ID as I’d just got back into cycling, hadn’t yet joined a club and was doing a lot of miles out on my lonesome. The ID became an essential bit of kit that was comfortable, unobtrusive, but reassuringly always there – as the marketing blurb says – it is far better to wear ID and never need it than to need ID and not have it. I still wear it today on every ride and strapping it on has become as second-nature as pulling on my cycling shoes.
It was therefore as a registered customer that I was emailed with details of the Road ID App when it was launched. I’m sure there are comparable products out there, but this type of thing is not something I would ever have thought to look for, and my trust in the Road ID crew translated to this app and reassured me it would be worthwhile and reliable.
There are 3 parts to the app, an eCrumb tracker, a stationary alert and a custom lock screen creator. The eCrumb tracker is the clever bit. This can be set to send alerts to your contacts, informing them that you’re about to embark on an epic ride and telling them how long you expect to be away. They can then use a link from this message to follow you on your route, on a map and in real-time. Effectively they can track your progress and know exactly where you are at all times.
Once you complete your ride you get an email with a neat summary of your route, distance, speed etc. – all the usual stuff you’d get from your Garmin or other GPS device.
The optional Stationary Alert doesn’t actually tell you when office supplies are running low (check the spelling, guys) but acts as you might suspect, pinging an alert to your trackers if you become motionless for a set period of time.
Useful I suspect if you crash and are lying unconscious in a ditch, but not something I’ve trialled as we often have to stop for punctures, unexpected mechanicals and in consideration of certain club mate’s infinitesimally small bladder. Of course no club ride goes by without also the pressing need for a mid-ride halt for coffee and cake and that shouldn’t be enough to ring alarm bells.
The Lock Screen creator gives you a template for setting up your phone wallpaper/screen-saver with all the personal and emergency contact details you have on your Road ID bracelet. I use this, but must admit it was the hardest part to set up on my phone and required the expertise of daughter#1 to help me with editing and re-sizing the resultant image so it was a perfect fit.
The app is available on both Google Play and iTunes and downloading and installing it to my Moto E phone was a breeze, even for an old technophobe Luddite like me. As I mentioned, it’s completely free, easy and intuitive to use, and could be a real life-saver if you haven’t already got something that does a similar job. There you go – for once I’m not afraid to recommend something.