Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.
It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.
I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.
First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.
It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?
Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.
Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.
At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.
G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.
The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.
With over two-dozen of us, we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.
This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.
Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.
I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.
I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, or pushing onto the front and injecting more speed than I could cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, when Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily. Now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.
We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing on the village of Ryal.
I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.
We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a more sustainable pace.
By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.
On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.
Through Ogle I gained ground, until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.
As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.
I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.
Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.
Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …
“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.
Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.
Yeah, you and me both, mate …
He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idiot went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.
I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.
Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I swung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of our front group somewhere on the climbs where I’d been distanced. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.
We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.
Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.
It’s Saturday morning again, so, naturally it’s raining. Again. Heavily. This time however, I’m assured that it is going to stop and the rest of the day should be relatively rain free.
45-minutes later, I’m getting ready to leave and the rain is slowly petering out. Still I take precautions, pulling on a light waterproof jacket and, after a tormented inner dialogue of Hamlet-like intensity, a pair of black socks. These make me feel rather uncomfortable and dirty, but it seems preferable to ruining another pair of white socks with road spray.
Minutes later and I’m more at peace with my choice as my front wheel cuts a bow wave through all the surface water sheeting the Heinous Hill. Socks and shoes are already soaked, but looking none the worse for it.
I’m caught behind the barriers of a level-crossing as two trains trundle past in opposite directions and then passed by two cyclists who I track to the end of the bridge, where they split off left and I head right. They’re both braving the weather sans-rain jacket and I soon stop to follow suit. Things are good, the weather has perked up and I’m almost perfectly dry by the time I pull up at the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point
“Are you the cycling group that leaves here at nine?” a breathless feller asked as he pulled up in front of us.
“9:15,” we corrected him. Obviously we were not the droids he was looking for and he scuttled away around the corner to search for who knows what group and who knows where. I’d been there from just before 9 o’clock and I could have re-assured him there been no other groups of cyclists lurking in the area.
The Garrulous Kid came bounding in, flushed with success having secured the grades necessary to get into Aberdeen University. Now he/we only have a couple of rides left before he leaves for an extended Fresher’s week over the border. It seems just moments since he was a gangling, callow, awkward and immature school kid, incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike. Now look at him – a gangling, callow, awkward and immature, soon-to-be student, who is still incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike.
Caracol reported a city-wide street party had spontaneously erupted in Edinburgh when they learned the Garrulous Kid was headed to university in Aberdeen rather than in their fair city. We also speculated on how Biden Fecht might take this news and whether he’d feel honour-bound to resign from his post at the University of Aberdeen
As our maître d’, unofficial meeter-and-greeter and chief pastoral carer, Crazy Legs was once again employed to bring a stray FNG into the fold. This proved to be a guy riding a bike that he claimed was transitioning from city bike, to gravel bike. The revolution had started at the front end with impressively wide-chunky tyres, before petering out with the super-skinny slicks still on the rear. We’re a broad church, with an open and inclusive outlook though, so both rider and transbike were immediately welcomed into our merry throng.
Den Hague had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride today and had us set for picking our way along some newish, somewhat pot-holed and distressed looking tracks en route to an assault on the Ryals. Crazy Legs assured the FNG that his bike was probably ideal for the task in hand … well, half of it was anyway.
We then only had time to ponder the unusual, unannounced absence of G-Dawg before we were pushing off, clipping in and riding out.
I dropped onto the back of the first group, where things started to go wrong almost immediately, as we were split by a red light. The light changed to green and Homeboyz and the Big Yin led the chase onto the main road, in pursuit of the front end of the first group.
They barrelled straight over the first round about. Uh-oh, I think we should have turned left at that point. We pressed on and then started to slow and prevaricate as it became apparent we really should have taken that left turn.
We decided to push on regardless, adding in a big dog-leg to our route in order to get back on track. A few miles further up the road, a group of cyclists appeared ahead of us and we were able to tag onto the back. The only thing was, it wasn’t our first group but the second and our numbers had just swelled it to a bloated twenty-plus.
The Big Yin queried if we should over-take and chase down the front group, but I suspected it would cause all kinds of mayhem and so we just sat at the back and enjoyed the ride.
Which we did, until we got to Matfen and a general re-grouping. Homeboyz explained how we ended up at the back of the second group and held his hand up to acknowledge his part in our misadventures.
“I have to admit,” he declared, “It was partly my fault,” he assured Crazy Legs.
“Partly?” I queried.
“Oh, okay, it was fully my fault,” he amended.
We split at this point, some off to the cafe via the Quarry, while the rest pushed on climbing up through Great Whittingham, flirting briefly with the A68 before taking the rough track through Bingfield toward the Ryals.
Then up the Ryals we went. I struggled to find the right gear and wasn’t pushing too hard, but somehow managed a new, fastest time, which was a little unexpected bonus.
A front group had raced away up the climb and they didn’t look back, but the rest of us regrouped in the village of Ryal, before tackling the Quarry. At the top we turned right and started to accelerate toward the cafe.
A small knot pulled away from the front, but I held fire figuring they would slow on the long drag up to Wallridge crossroads and I could try attacking and bridging across then, all the while Crazy Legs drove us on, intent on pulling our splintered group back into one cohesive unit.
I paused to let an approaching car past, then slipped to the outside and gave a kick. The delay for the passing car proved fortuitous as I caught the front group just as they approached the crossroads. I only had to slow momentarily before one of them called that the road was clear. Still carrying more momentum than the group I’d just caught, I eased past and pushed on with what I suspected was a small gap, but it was still a gap.
From behind Den Hague gave chase and pulled the Garrulous Kid along with him. Down the twisting descent, I made it through the junction, still with a slight advantage. Den Hague finally overhauled me on the climb up to the final junction.
Onto the road down to the Snake Bends, he seemed to pause momentarily and I tried to give chase, slowly clawing back some distance. Then the Garrulous Kid thundered away of my wheel and I eased, letting the pair up front fight it out, before once again our group slowly coalesced and we made our way to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found a perky looking G-Dawg already ensconced at a table in the garden, having decided to wait out the early downpour before taking to the roads. I think he was suffering from the same malady I was last week – rainmalaise.
Crazy Legs suggested if we ever needed a grumpy old man to replace OGL to bitch and kvetch about the weather and massively exaggerate its impact, we’d found the ideal candidate.
Meanwhile, Buster turned up at our table with a Chocolate Rollo tray bake as dense as osmium.
“That looks super-calorific,” Crazy Legs acknowledged admiringly.
“You might even say it’s super-calorific- expialidocious ,” I ventured, but singularly failed to inflict an unwanted ear-worm on Crazy Legs.
I needn’t have worried, minutes later he as talking about the end of season three of Stranger Things and serenading us all with a heartfelt version of Neverending Story.
Talk turned to other TV-Series and we learned that both Buster and Princess Fiona still have two episodes of Killing Eve left to watch and they warned us against issuing any spoilers.
“I’m only just getting over the shock of her husband leaving,” Buster volunteered.
“What! Her husband leaves her?” Princess Fiona demanded.
Oops, there goes the no spoilers alert, looks like someone actually has more than 2 episodes to catch up on.
From TV, it was a short hop to film, with Crazy Legs off to see the new Tarantino movie and still marvelling at how Christoph Waltz made drinking a glass of milk look so threatening and unsettling in Inglourious Basterds.
We discussed a pivotal point early in the film, when a spy in a German bar revealed himself by ordering three drinks the British way, by holding up his his index, middle, and ring finger. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done on the Continent.
“Show us three, with your fingers,” Crazy Legs asked Double Dutch Distaff, who wasn’t really following the conversation. She immediately held up three digits … a thumb, index finger and middle-finger.
Crazy Legs responded with his British version – index, middle finger and ring finger proudly upraised.
She looked totally perplexed, as if he’d just performed some incredibly difficult and strange sleight of hand, before declaring it was just wrong, unnatural and awkward. I sensed we were just moments away from such a gesture being declared retarded.
G-Dawg wandered over to suggest we took a different route home via Whalton as the road for our regular run through Ogle was muddy and “covered in crap.”
Crazy Legs announced the change, but probably could have saved his breath, G-Dawg swung left instead of right out of the cafe and everyone else just seemed to naturally follow.
The Red Max was riding happily alongside Crazy Legs, when he suddenly reprised “Neverending Story.”
“Nah!” the Red Max declared, “I’m not having it, not that song.” He made a show of pulling off to one side and slipping to the back.
I shuffled up and had a chat with Crazy Legs, again touching on the lack of club jersey’s in a group that was still almost twenty-strong.
“We must look like a bunch of masterless Ronin, roaming the countryside, seemingly without purpose,” I mused.
“I’ve always seen us as more of a rowdy, rabble.” Crazy Legs determined. He liked the connotation of rowdy with rodeo’s, suggesting our Wednesday evening drop-rides akin to bronc riding, you just hug on as long as you could before you were inevitably thrown off the back.
A brief reshuffle and I found myself alongside the Red Max. I couldn’t resist and gave him a quick burst of Neverending Story – and it was a quick burst, as I only know that one line from the chorus. Nevertheless, it was more than enough, even before my ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah’s, were complete, the Red Max was swearing like a trooper and dropping out of line again:
“Na! Na! Na! I’m not having it. Na!”
Who’d have thought it. Like kryptonite to Superman, or garlic to vampire’s, we’d discovered that Limahl’s horrid warbling was the Red Max’s Achilles’ heel.
G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid finished their stint on the front and I took over alongside Homeboyz, keeping the pace respectably high as we swung round the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile and most of the group swung away, G-Dawg appeared on my shoulder and we pressed on to the roundabout, where I could slingshot away and start my solo ride back.
YTD Totals: 5,261 km / 3,269 miles with 69,553 metres of climbing
The weather was set to be perfect, bright, warm and dry, the sky without cloud and the land without wind. Still, it wasn’t quite there yet when I first set out, with the air still chilly, so I hid under arm warmers and full finger gloves, all pulled over a necessary layer of sun-cream.
I had a very pleasant and totally relaxed ride across to the meeting point and arrived in good time to join G-Dawg admiring the obscene graffiti on the wall, before it was obscured by a flash mob of milling cyclists.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
In the space of just seven days we found a startling contrast between last weeks wickedly cold start and this weeks balmy, sunny conditions. Everyone seemed to have dressed accordingly, well, other than Zip Five in tights, arm warmers over a long sleeved base-layer and overshoes and the Garrulous Kid, who was basically wearing the exact same kit he’s worn for the past 6-weeks… only this time it was appropriate to the conditions.
“You’re like a stopped clock,” Jimmy Mac informed him, “Just very occasionally you are, by default going to get it right.”
The Garrulous Kid is proving to be to football punditry what Theresa May is to international diplomacy and delicate negotiation. After his disastrous guarantee that Germany was going to sweep all before them and dominate the World Cup, his prediction that Man City were “nailed on” for a remarkable quadruple is starting too look ever so slightly suspect.
OGL rolled up, took a chemist’s prescription bag out of his back pocket and started emptying out the various contents, bottles, tubes and boxes of pills, to secrete about his person.
“What’s with the Jiffy bag?” some wag asked, while I started singing, “EPO, EPO, EPO” to the tune of “Here we go, Here we go, Here we go” – a variation of the fiendish complex, difficult to master, classic football-chant, devised by the veritable Toshi San to serenade David Millar on his return to racing on British Roads.
OGL had the Team Sky deflection tactics down pat though, immediately switching the conversation to boxer Jarrell Miller’s failed drug-test, where he’d secured the grand slam of being popped for EPO, HGH and GW1516 (whatever that is) all at the same time. Still, Miller has wholeheartedly apologised, held his hand up and admitted he’s made a mistake … so, no harm done eh?
OGL then advised that roadworks meant traffic was backing up through Ponteland, so recommended we changed our route into the village. With that agreed, we picked a rendezvous point, split into two groups and away we went.
Things started out well, the pace was high, the sun was shining and the company amenable. I was just rolling up the outside of the group, picking up too much speed on a downhill section and too lazy to brake, when ahead of me, Spry’s bike jettisoned his tool tub. Stuffed with spare inner tubes and various Allen keys, it bounced once end-over-end and then rolled under my front wheel. I hit it and there was a resounding crack. My front wheel twitched violently and then straightened and I rolled on checking for damage.
My bike seemed fully intact and there was no puncture to deal with, but the impact had shattered the lid of Spry’s tool tub. I apologised for the damage I’d done as I passed him, back-tracking to pick up his discarded essentials.
We pressed on through Stamfordham and then up the hill to the lay-by, used for the start and finish of numerous cycling events. We pulled over here to wait for our rendezvous with the second group.
They duly arrived and we hung around for too long just chatting aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, until OGL got tetchy and, pausing only to rebuke Plumose Pappus for having a grungy, rusting rear cassette, nagged us all into action again. Various splits and routes were agreed and we finally started up again.
Heading up toward Capheaton, Mini Miss picked up a puncture and it was back to standing around, shooting the breeze and waiting. I had a chat with Captain Black about the missing BFG (presumed to be still alive, but probably living under a(nother) false name, somewhere in the UK). We reminisced about the time he’d taken his bike into Boots to find the exact colour of nail varnish to match his chipped frame and ended up with a bevvy of beauticians and shop assistants helping him out. (Rimmel’s Pinking Out Loud and Max Factor’s Broody Blood Bouquet were the recommended choices. Although grateful for all the help, I’m led to believe the BFG felt the need to push back when it was suggested his cuticles needed urgent attention and a full manicure wouldn’t go amiss.)
Repairs made and on we went, following the route of last years National Road Race and cutting across the hills, through Hallington, to the bottom of the Ryals. Once again we marvelled that people actually race at full tilt down this narrow, twisting, pot holed, gravel-strewn and over-grown farm track.
I caught up with Richard of Flanders and we both agreed it was too nice a day to ruin it with an assault on the Ryals, but that’s exactly where we were heading.
I was drifting toward the back of the group when we made the turn and hadn’t gone far, when Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, pulled up with a puncture.
Our calls went either unheard, or unheeded by those in front and they pressed on leaving six of us to help sort out the puncture and then make the run for the cafe. I joined Aether in helping Jake the Snake replace his tube, while an overheating Zip Five tried to shed some layers and Rab Dee, in a move that was pure Jacques Anquetil, drained his water bottles, declaring he didn’t want to carry any extra weight up the climb. The Ticker then admitted he was a Ryals virgin and this would be his very first introduction to their nasty, brutish ways.
Underway again and rolling toward the climb, I passed the Ticker, whistling a little too nonchalantly and I commended him on his show of bravado.
Then we hit the first ramp and started to go up. I followed Rab Dee and Benedict closely up the first ramp, but didn’t feel I was in a comfortable gear and I was spinning a bit too wildly. As the road dipped down before climbing again, they changed up and kicked on, opening up a gap while I freewheeled, trying to recover and find a comfortable gear for the second ramp.
Then the slope bit again and I gave chase, slowly closing the gap, but running out of hill before I made it all the way across. We rolled down to the turn for the Quarry, where we stopped to regroup. After several minutes, with no sign of the Ticker, I started to backtrack, hoping to pick him up.
I’d almost made it back to Ryal village when he finally appeared, having suffered what he hilariously described as a “chain wedgie” – shipping his chain and getting it jammed between chainring and bottom bracket, or cassette and free hub … or maybe both at the same time.
“That’s what you get when you’re desperately looking for the secret 12th sprocket on an 11-speed cassette,” I told him.
After the Ryals, we made short work of the Quarry and started to pick up speed for the cafe. Once again I found myself on the front for the drag up and through the crossroads. It’s becoming a very bad habit.
I stayed on the front up to the final junction, when Rab Dee took over and kicked away. Closing fast on the Snake Bends, I pushed in front of him again, he took the briefest of micro-pauses, just enough to collect his breath, before he surged away.
I couldn’t follow, but we seemed to have left everyone else trailing in our wake, so I sat up and coasted through the bends.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The day was nice enough to retire to the garden and there I joined the already firmly ensconced Goose, Captain Black and Mini Miss, the latter enjoying he wanton displays of bike porn, most especially someone’s pure white Storck. This was close to being her dream bike, although she admitted it would be a difficult decision between a Storck and a more traditional, celeste Bianchi.
We recalled Goose, perhaps the least brand aware amongst us, being accosted by the one-time distributor of Storck bikes in the UK, who gave him the full-court press in trying to persuade him to drop £3 grand or more on a new bike, without really being able to justify the price tag, or read his audience with any degree of accuracy or empathy.
In discussions with Captain Black, I did the Ryals a disservice by suggesting they didn’t get much above 7-8%. The VeloViewer site characterises the “official” climb as being 1.5 km long, with an average gradient of 4% and a maximum of 16.8%.
Whatever the actual statistics, I think my point is still valid, it’s not an epic, enjoyable, or particularly memorable climb and I never feel any great sense of achievement topping it. I can imagine it does become brutal if you race up it, full gas 3 or 4 times in a race (such as next weeks Beaumont, or the Nationals Road Race) though.
We then played a kind of cycling Top Trumps, with Captain Black selecting the Tourmalet as the hardest climb he’s done, while, along with Goose, I went for the Galibier.
At the next table, the Monkey Butler was getting grief for his white, aero socks, but I refused to join in and condemn him, when the Garrulous Kid had two hairy, shapeless, baggy and grungy socks of no discernible colour, pooled around his ankles like two used and discarded elephant condoms.
Then, in a concession to the heat and inadequate pre-planning of layers, the Monkey Butler Boy re-appeared wearing just a gilet on his top half, arms bare to the shoulder. Socks be dammed, I immediately told him he looked like a wannabe triathlete and he couldn’t ride with us. Standards must be maintained.
As a parting shot, as we were packing up to go, I turned to Mini Miss, “What’s it going to be then, a Bianchi, or a Storck?”
“Well,” she mused, “I think Bianchi …”
She paused a heartbeat, before adding, “But I wouldn’t mind meeting a man with a Storck.”
Oh dear, that didn’t sound right. Time to leave.
Having been delayed by a couple of punctures, we were running late, so I peeled off to pick my way over the airport and shave a little distance and time off my journey home.
A couple of others came with me, at least as far as Ponteland, so I at least got another opportunity to apologise to Spry for destroying his tool tub.
Through Ponteland, I passed the long tail of traffic OGL had warned about that morning, as it backed up through the roadworks. Uncharitable as it seems, I have to admit passing the long, long line of drivers, cooped up and sweltering in their cars, made me smile and it buoyed me all the way home.
YTD Totals: 2,582 km / 1,604 miles with 34,470 metres of climbing
In terms of the weather, it was almost like a rinse and repeat of last Saturday, dry, bright, but bitterly cold. Ideal conditions, especially if you could survive that first hour or so until the chill burned off. To help in this regard, I pulled my super-lightweight, Galibier Ventultra windproof over everything and away we went.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point in what I thought was good order.
“New jacket?” Crazy Legs enquired?” looking at me somewhat askance. I told him it wasn’t, it had accompanied us to the Pyrenees last year and I’d worn it several times since. He was still looking at me in an oddly disapproving way though.
“Did you dress in a hurry?” he asked, tilting his head to one side to take me in from a different angle.
“You look like the village idiot, ” he finally decided, your zip’s all twisted and off centre.”
“It’s a design feature … apparently,” I told him, although, I must admit, without a great deal of conviction. To quote from the manufacturer’s website: “we have chosen an offset zip as it will be worn over an ‘centered’ jersey zipper, thus avoiding doubled up zips, on top of each other.” I have to admit I didn’t realise doubled up zips on top of each other was a particular problem until I read that.
“It still makes you look like the village idiot,” he concluded, then …
“You’d better not crash,” he warned, “If the paramedics see that they’ll probably think your back’s been twisted and snap your neck trying to realign it again.”
Ha ha. I took the jacket off, bundled it into a tight fist, like a magician preparing and endless hankie gag and dropped it into my back pocket. It had served it’s purpose. Besides which, I didn’t want to encourage any paramedics to snap my neck to align it with an off-kilter zip in the event of an accident.
The Garrulous Kid took issue with last week’s blerg, insisting he had actually gone down the Ryals, but had left before the two groups had met and merged. Despite leaving at a different time, riding solo and taking a completely different route to everyone else, he claimed he had, without doubt, won the sprint to the cafe and beaten us all fair and square.
The Garrulous Kid then stripped off his teeny-tiny track mitts, insisting they were making his hands too hot. It reminded Jimmy Mac of a Family Guy episode, when Peter defended driving gloves with an open back because of that well known family trait of “sweaty knuckles.”
“Anyway, you should be wearing shorts,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.
“I am,” I told him.
He looked at me with blank incomprehension.
I twanged the hem of my shorts where they ended over my knee warmers, “It’s just that I’m also wearing knee warmers.”
“Well, what’s the point of those?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know.
Beside me, Jimmy Mac sighed heavily, “Even my six-year old was able to work out the purpose of knee warmers,” he suggested, “Just from the name alone.”
We’d had one of our regular social nights on Thursday evening, trying a brand new bar that at least gave us another watering-hole option. OGL expressed concern that it had been quite quiet for an opening extravaganza, before suggesting it was perhaps intentional and “they’d had a bit of a soft opening.”
“Doesn’t everyone like a soft opening?” I ventured.
Ah look, I’m not proud of myself, but it was an open goal, who could have resisted.
Crazy Legs outlined the route which would include a descent “down Curlicue Hill, or whatever it’s called” (the name seems to have stuck) and then a quick turnaround before riding back up the Trench. He then said we were going to be taking the Magic Road before Middleton Bank, a route only a select few have ever ridden and many of us weren’t even aware existed.
He called for a split into two groups, with a rendezvous at Dyke Neuk for realignment and split into shorter and longer groups. Everything seemed clear, until he announced he wanted to do the longer ride and was looking to form a slower-longer group to supplement the usual faster-longer and slower-shorter splinters. Eh?
No one has asked yet for a faster-shorter group, but it’ll come and I’m already confused …
Then, like a bolt from the blue and to all round stunned silence, a mere 121 days after declaring he would organise one “soon” – months beyond the promised date and officially 7 or 8 years late , OGL voluntarily mentioned a soon to be realised date for a club AGM.
OMG! OGL GRC AGM! WTF?
(SMH TBH …)
With that particularly shocking rifle-shot still resounding, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I found myself at the back of a 15 strong front group as, for once in living memory, we’d actually conspired to split our numbers exactly into two. What is going on? All the little certainties in my carefully ordered world have just been turned upside down.
The front group was seemingly intent on getting to the rendezvous in super-fast time and we made good progress, with Caracol, the Garrulous Kid, Monkey Butler Boy and Rab Dee in particular driving along the pace. It was so fast and so contained, that when when we reached the top of Bell’s Hill and looked back to pick up stragglers, there were none.
I suspected we were minutes ahead of the second group as we began the ascent up to the meeting point at Dyke Neuk. Everyone else attacked the climb and went romping away as I sat up and drifted backwards. We were going to stop and wait at the top, so I didn’t feel the need to flog myself to keep up.
As the steepest gradients bit, I was just behind a similarly soft-pedalling Colossus, when he tried to shift onto the inner ring and his chain just sighed and gave way without a fight.
I climbed to the top and begged a chain tool from the Cow Ranger, before rolling back down with G-Dawg to meet the Colossus walking upwards, pushing his broken bike. The Cow Ranger’s tool proved useless without an Allen key as a handle, but I remembered I probably had a multi-tool in my soft-case tool tub. I pulled this out of my bottle cage and unzipped it. Sure enough, there nestled between two spare tubes, two tyre levers and a mini pump was the probably unused, definitely forgotten about multi-tool, complete with a chain-tool attachment.
A bit of pin pushing and re-setting later, the Colossus had a workable, if potentially delicate chain that would see him home. We rejoined our group at the top, where we found them mingling with the Prof-led, Back Street Boys, in what the Cow Ranger would later dub a GRC-BSB mash-up. I understand the accompanying video is a surprise YouTube hit.
“The Boys” (if I may call them that without incurring the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority) were planning on riding a similar route to us, so the Prof issued an open invitation for any of our group to join them.
Someone tried to persuade the Garrulous Kid to go and he asked me what I thought. I told him I thought the combination of him and the Prof riding together would be potentially lethal and G-Dawg suggested we’d need to issue a public safety warning before deciding to take things any further.
“Hur-hur, like Leeful Weapon,” the Garrulous Kid announced, but I think we’d done enough to dissuade him.
The Back Street Boys departed, possibly taking a few of our number with them, perhaps not. Thankfully, the Garrulous Kid was not among their number and we were soon reunited with our second group. Options were discussed, routes were agreed and new groups were formed before we set off again.
I found myself riding beside a very disgruntled Big Yin.
“The Trench,” he started, “Why’s it called the Trench? It’s not a trench, it doesn’t look like a trench and, as far as I know, there were no battles in the area that would have seen anyone needing to dig a trench.”
What can I say, I guess some people are more pragmatic than poetic.
As we pushed on toward the drop down “Curlicue Bank” I found myself alongside Zardoz’s daughter.
“Has that cruel old man made you ride with him again?”
She puffed out her cheeks in resignation, “Oh, he said, we’ll just go with the slower group and then it was, oh, we’ll just do the Trench. I think we’re along for the whole ride.”
Down we dropped, before a sharp left, quick scuttle along the valley floor, then another sharp left to begin climbing the Trench. As the slope bit, we were spread across the left hand lane and, I was following G-Dawgs’ wheel as we momentarily strayed over the white line to haul our way past some of the early stragglers.
A driver behind wasn’t very impressed, either with us clogging the inside lane, straying onto the other side of the road, or simply because of our general lack of form. Of course, the most constructive way of showing his displeasure was to lean heavily on his horn for a good half a minute or so, before driving slowly past, frothing, swearing and wildly gesticulating.
G-Dawg paid him back in kind and as the car slowed, I thought we were actually going to have some kind of physical confrontation, but the driver obviously did a quick headcount and realised the odds were 20 to 1 in our favour, so accelerated away.
He’d probably spent longer remonstrating with us than waiting to pass, but I guess the former is maybe more satisfying?
We followed our successful assault on the Trench with a swoop and burn down the dip and through Hartburn as we made our way toward the Magic Road and then Middleton Bank. There we passed a big bloke carrying an even bigger scythe.Hopefully just a local yokel and not a post-modern incarnation of the Grim Reaper dressed in beige corduroy trousers.
We were relying on G-Dawg now to find this mystical road and sadly, he wan’t up to the task. Insisting the road was somewhere on the left, he rejected the first candidate as being nothing more than a gravel strewn and heavily potholed farmers track. And then … well, and then there were no more options as we reached the turn-off proper to Middleton Bank.
Jimmy Mac and Caracol blasted away off the front, while I preferred a more leisurely approach to the climb, easing through the steepest section before starting to haul in the Garrulous Kid.
Over the top we coalesced into a small group as we joined Biden Fecht, Goose, the Garrulous Kid and a couple of others, accelerating toward the cafe.
When Biden Fecht pushed on at the front, I immediately followed, thinking we could get a bit of through and off working and see if we could close down those off the front. It wasn’t happening though and no one came through to take a turn.
Then Biden Fecht swung wide and jumped away and still no one came through for a pull, so I just kept plugging away at the front. I took the group past the junction to Bolam Lake and then I was done, sitting up and slowing, while trying to find some way of drag more air into oxygen-starved lungs.
Goose led the others through and I accelerated to latch onto the back, to try and recover a little in the wheels. In no time at all though, we hit the Rollers, so I attacked. Just because. I’d caught onto Biden Fecht’s rear wheel before the second crest and then just kept going, dragging everyone over the last bumps, through the downhill and around the corner for the last climb to the cafe.
Here the attacks came thick and fast, but I felt I’d done my bit, so just swung to the side of the road and made my way upwards at my own pace.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found the Red Max, comfortably ensconced in the cafe, feet up and enjoying some well deserved cake and a coffee, having taken a shorter-slower route, or, who knows, maybe a faster-longer route to the cafe.
As we came through the door he pointed a finger at the Garrulous Kid and announced, “I beat you!”
He saw me behind, pointed and repeated, “I beat you!”
Then Goose, “I beat you!”
Biden Fecht, “I beat you an’all!”
And finally, some little, grey-haired old lady, who’d just parked up and looked somewhat bewildered as the Red Max pointed an accusatory finger at her and loudly declared, “I beat you!”
I found a table in the back and was joined by the Garrulous Kid, seemingly enamoured by the vision of himself and the Prof as diametrically opposed, scofflaw, bike-riding, anglicised cop buddies in the vein of Riggs and Murtaugh.
“Hee-hee, Leeful Weapon!”
We were joined by Captain Black, slumping heavily down into his seat and suffering from a severe case of winterbikeitis. He was not enjoying being out on Treacle, the name he’s given to his winter bike – not out of any sense of affection, but “because it makes me feel like I’m riding through treacle.”
Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs filled in the corners of the table, with Crazy Legs remembering it was the same spot we’d occupied when a cantankerous old radgie (mad, lunatic, angry) gadgie (bloke, feller, man) took him to task for laughing too much and far too obviously enjoying himself!
I enquired about the Magic Road and learned that their group had found it, although apparently there had been no pot of gold at the end. Crazy Legs suggested it was like Brigadoon and only appears once every 100 years.
We discussed how interesting it would be to have 100 years of history pass for every day you lived, but the Garrulous Kid couldn’t see the attraction and thought the idea was rubbish. I’m pleased we got that sorted, anyway.
Talking about Plumose Pappus and his love of hills, the Garrulous Kid announced, “He reminds me of Jimmy Cricket.”
Though struggling with the actual comparison, Crazy Legs was quite impressed that the Garrulous Kid could remember the ancient, Irish comedian, best known for wearing wellies with a big R incised on the front of the left hand one and a big L on the right. (Yes folks, that was the acme, the very pinnacle of his humour.)
“I’m surprised you can recall him …” Crazy Legs started.
“Hold on, hold on,” I interrupted, “Do you mean the Irish comedian, or the Disney character?”
“The Disney character, you know that little ant feller.”
“Ant feller? You mean Jiminy Cricket,” Crazy Legs rebuked him, “He was a grasshopper, not an ant, you know – the clue’s in the name.”
“Kind of like knee-warmers,” I suggested.
Shrugging off his mistakes, the Garrulous Kid announced he’d worked out precisely when his last club run would be before he left to go to university and he demanded to know what we would do to mark the occasion.
“Celebrate?” I suggested.
“We could all line up and salute you with upraised mini-pumps,” Crazy Legs said, before deciding this would be a less than spectacular demonstration.
“Or, we could douse you with our water-bottles?” he decided.
“No, energy gels,” Taffy Steve amended, “We’ll anoint you with energy gels, like a cycling version of the Hindu festival of Holi, but using gels instead of paint. We’ll have plenty of time to find the most luridly colourful and disgusting ones, like Bilberry with added Caffeine.”
“Pink Grapefruit and Avocado,” I added.
Ladies and gentleman, I think we have a plan and, yea verily the anointing with gels shall come to pass. The fact that the Garrulous Kid’s last club ride coincides with a weekend where we typically see a massive increase in angry wasp activity and he’s going to be coated in sugary-sweet, sticky goo is just going to add to the fun.
We manged to escape the cafe without being accosted by any radgie-gadgies and set off for the ride home.
Once more I found myself at the back, where I had a chat with one of the Flippin’ New Guys, an Irish CX rider, more than strong and fit enough to keep up with our lot. As usual the pace kicked up as we stared up Berwick Hill and I clung to his wheel as we worked our way from the back of the group toward the front.
Over the crest and starting down the other side, we were still some way off the leading group, so I set off in pursuit. I’d managed to close the gap but wasn’t convinced I’d make it all the way over before the slope levelled out, then the Monkey Butler Boy blasted past on his TT-bike in full aero-tuck. I dived onto his back wheel and he dragged us across.
Somewhere along the way we picked up a couple of EMC riders and, with testosterone flowing freely, there presence probably contributed to the high speeds we attained as we pounded through Dinnington, hammered around the airport and I was unleashed into the Mad Mile to start my ride home.
YTD Totals: 1,984 km / 1,232 miles with 27,072 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 113 km / 70 miles with 1,060 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 33 minute
Average Speed: 24.9 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Happy winds-day
Well I had a Goldilocks-style week of commuting in to work to help me determine what to wear on Saturday and I’m not sure it helped. Wednesday, an unexpectedly, uncharacteristically and uncomfortably warm and mild, anomaly of a day (where did that come from?), I’d gone for a long base layer, windproof jacket, gilet and leg warmers … and cooked. Too hot.
Thursday I went for a summer weight jersey, short-sleeved base layer and arm warmers and shivered, when the cold snapped back. Fingers, toes and ears in particular were downright uncomfortable. Too cold.
Friday saw me trying a summer weight jersey, short-sleeved base layer, arm warmers, with a gilet and gloves for the ride in, before stowing them away for the ride home. Just perfect? Well, no, but better and bearable.
Saturday promised to be just as tricky and over a much more extended period of time and the usual efforts involved in riding at a sustained tempo, rather than just pootling along to work. The early, post-dawn start was likely to be cruelly chill – especially the first couple of miles dropping off the hill – and then hopefully the sun would come out, but it wouldn’t be so hot that I’d need to take off more layers than I had pockets for.
To combat the cold start, I pulled on a lightweight rain jacket for the trip across town. It flapped and fluttered like a supermarket bag caught on a barbed wire fence during a gale, as I sped down the hill, but cut out some of the wind.
Pushing on, the helpful digital sign on the factory unit told me it was a chilly 9°C, as I made my way toward the (finally) fully re-opened bridge and its newly re-instigated traffic lights, which made me wait before I was released onto the new, super smooth surface across the river …
… ruined by the fact that they’d seemingly forgotten to embed one particular cable or pipe and simply dragged it across the road and piled a mouldering heap of loose tarmac over the top. I thudded jarringly over this impromptu, already crumbling, speed bump, which I’m hoping is only a temporary measure.
A few delays for traffic lights and at some new road works, convinced me I was running late, so I injected a bit of pace to my climb out the other side of the valley and made it only a few minutes late and suitably warmed through.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Princess Fiona was out putting the finishing touches to her form with a last ride before jetting off for her Barcelona IronmanIronwoman Ironprincess event.
“Are you tapering?” someone enquired
“And exactly how long have you been tapering for?” I asked cheekily.
“I think I’ve been tapering my entire life,” the Red Max mumbled, somewhat ruefully.
He was consoled though, by thoughts of the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d ridden out today with the Back Street Boys, for a planned foray, south across the river and deep into Mordor.
“I hope he doesn’t get dropped,” the Red Max relayed, “He doesn’t know the roads across there and I’m not sure the phones work.”
“Phones?” I queried, “Of what do you speak?”
Even more delightful, the Red Max relayed how the Monkey Butler Boy is busy building him a new winter hack (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and had sprayed the frame silver after the Red Max reneged on his promise to ride a bright pink bike throughout the winter.
With enough silver spray left for a few little side projects, the Monkey Butler Boy decided to bling up an old pair of specs, too. Popping the lenses out and coating the frames in smooth layers of shiny silver.
Declaring himself well pleased with the results, the Monkey Butler Boy did the Wednesday night chain-gang kitted out in his spiffy new specs. “Of course, he didn’t lacquer them,” the Red Max explained, “So when he took his specs off, he still looked like he had them on!” Or, at least a semi-indelible silver impression around his eyes where the frames had been.
I told Max that I’d read his route when he’d posted it up on Facebook, but didn’t understand any of it. He patiently explained it in precise detail, while I nodded along in encouragement.
“Nah,” I finally concluded, “Haven’t got a clue.”
Away the route was set and would slowly unfold before my eyes. Garmin Muppet Time arrived and I tagged onto the front group for what was, for us, surprisingly a fairly even split of numbers. Almost as soon as we got underway a strong and gusting wind made its presence felt and it would dog us for the rest of the day.
It was hard work, two or three wheels back from the front and even harder for those brave souls who spearheaded the ride, with G-Dawg, the Colossus, Caracol, Richard of Flanders and the Rainman doing especially long and impressive stints at the head of affairs. Sterling efforts all around and much appreciated.
I didn’t spend as much time and effort assiduously avoiding the front like some of our number, but my stint up there was quite limited. It was just as well, for whatever reason my legs were sore and heavy, I was having a major jour sans and our average speed would have suffered horribly if I’d kept at it long.
I was in conversation with the Rainman as we approached one junction. “It’s left and then first right here,” he assured me smoothly.
“Left or right?” the call came from the front.
“Left, left,” I answered with confidence, only to be shouted down seconds later with cries of “Right! Right! Right!” from behind.
“Well, you had 50% chance of being right,” someone said as the confusion died down.
I naturally blamed the Rainman, who shrugged and declared he knew the right way all along, but the truth was simply lost in translation.
Caracol called for a comfort break, so we cast around a bit until we found a suitable gate, figuring that even if it wasn’t an officially approved pee-stop, at least we had the basic principles down pat.
Then, we pushed on briefly, until Goose picked up a puncture and we rolled to a stop. Odd how the cruel and capricious gods of cycling always seem to insist we pay for any voluntary stops with an equal length, or even longer, enforced one.
Goose wanted us to all push on without him, but naturally we all wanted to stay, just for the opportunity to watch and criticise his technique as he fumbled to change his tube.
We half expected the second group to catch us, but they were having fun and games of their own, so on we pressed, battered and buffeted by the wind, which, if we weren’t grinding headlong and directly into it, would rip and swirl through any gaps in the fields and trees and slap us sideways across the road.
Other than that it would have been a perfect day, bright, clear, dry and a reasonable temperature now the sun was fully up.
We started to splinter as we approached a turn-off point for longer and shorter rides, but quickly regrouped. A handful then set off to work their way through Hallington and scale the Ryals, seemingly convinced they would have a vicious tailwind to help drive them to new KOM’s on the climb.
My legs certainly didn’t have a clamber up the Ryals in them, wind-assisted or not, so I opted for the shorter route and we set off towards Capheaton.
As we approached the short, but savage Brandywell Bank climb, Two Trousers dropped back with a puncture, but urged the rest of us on. With the smell of cake and coffee already in our nostrils, we took very little urging to leave him behind, without so much as a backward glance.
I used the last of my energy reserves on the climb and then we were swinging onto the road that would take us all the way down to the Snake Bends.
I was just about hanging on, until Richard of Flanders attempted a speculative, forlorn hope, long-range attack. (He’s been riding with the Red Max far too much lately). I didn’t have legs to immediately follow and a bunch sped away while I plodded on at my own speed.
Richard of Flanders faltered and I slid past him, but the rest were long gone and I didn’t see anyone else until I caught up with the Colossus freewheeling through the Bends and recovering from his sprinting efforts.
We cheated, taking the high road, straight down the A696, while the rest took to more scenic, less busy lanes of the low road, allowing us to sneak into the café at the head of the queue.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I took a seat opposite OGL and Taffy Steve, directly in the full glare of a very bright and low sun. When OGL left to head home early, I immediately jumped into his seat, blinking to try and restore vision to my sun blasted retinas.
“I don’t know what was more painful to watch,” Taffy Steve sniggered, “You trying to look attentive and interested when OGL was talking, or the way you were suffering in the light.”
I had to admit it was actually the light that had been the most oppressive.
Caracol said he had a relaxing afternoon planned, watching the World Championship road race and then the Ryder Cup.
Taffy Steve suggested there was half a decent idea in there, but there weren’t any other golf fans amongst us. Sneaky Pete said he endorsed John Peel’s comments, “I do regard the playing of golf as like entering the antechamber to death. When my mates tell me they’ve started playing golf, I mentally cross them off the Christmas card list.”
The Red Max moaned that he had a far less relaxing afternoon planned, as he’d been press-ganged into replacing a malfunctioning bedroom light-fitting. We found common ground cursing electricians who install fittings with the wires stretched taut and with not a millimetre of give in them.
Taffy Steve said that his multimeter was one of the best D-I-Y purchases he’d ever made and really useful for determining if there’s any current running through a wire.
“Oh, I’ve got one of them,” the Red Max declared, licking his thumb and forefinger and miming quickly pinching them together. “My dad taught me this trick.”
“He’s quite sane and sensible, you know. Well, apart from his collection of ancient, broken and useless vacuum cleaners,” he continued
I suggested that the Red Max’s ziggurat of old and worn out bottom brackets could very easily be likened to a collection of old and worn out vacuum cleaners, but he wasn’t having it, insisting sooner or later someone will invent the tools and components he needs to repurpose all the old bottom brackets and put them back to use.
Zardoz wandered in, first to return from the longer group that had ventured up the Ryals. “He looks happy,” Taffy Steve observed, “He must have mugged someone off!”
We determined that Zardoz’s skittishness was probably caused by the outside conditions and we compared notes on our pets’ behaviour to the wind, something that always seems to send them ever so slightly loopy. One of our cats in particular goes into hyper-drive, seeing everything that moves as something to attack and belting around the garden in a state of increasing agitation and excitement.
We later learned that the Rainman had punctured at the bottom of the Ryals and Zardoz had ridden on with one of those patented, classic Sneaky Pete declarations, “I’ll just press on, I’m sure you’ll soon catch me.”
The Red Max reported that the second group had had a couple of punctures too, including one for OGL, who had somehow and uncharacteristically fumbled his repair.
The punctures had also delayed everyone, so we were running late and some were already packing to go home. We decided that a third cup of coffee was in order though and determined Sneaky Pete looked the most innocent amongst us and had the best chance of flying under the radar to successfully secure 2nd refills all round.
Talk of punctures inevitably led to a discussion about tyre choice and I naturally defended my Vittoria Rubino’s (with added graphene!) that have now ably served me through two summers of cycling, probably over 4,000 miles and trips through both the Alps and Pyrenees. I should have known better.
Then Ovis turned up, seemingly with his entire family in tow, and he declared it was late and we should already have left the café by now. The place was full to bursting and seating was scarce, so we got the bum’s rush from Ovis. “Hi, how you doing? Good to see you, isn’t it time you were going? Here’s your helmet. Bye!”
He skilfully manoeuvred his family into our warm seats, even as he smoothly ushered us out the door, where we briefly stood blinking and bewildered and once more being battered by the wind. Nicely done!
There were only five or six of us laggards left. I took to the front with Taffy Steve and away we went, battling our way once more into the wind, until Taffy Steve noticed my squishy back tyre and I stopped to repair the inevitable puncture, even as the cruel and capricious gods of cycling chuckled smugly to themselves.
With time running late, I urged everyone to just press on, insisting I’d be ok on my own. They were having none of it though and wanted to hang around, just so they could constantly remind me of my boasting about my faith in Vittoria Rubino’s (with added graphene!)
Job done, we set off again. As we dragged ourselves up the climb to Dinnington, the Red Max confessed his legs were “well tired” as he was slowly distanced.
Just before the Mad Mile, I dropped back to check he was okay, before setting off for my solo ride home. The first part of this was determinedly uphill and straight into the teeth of the wind. I’d felt tired and heavy-legged before, this was just adding insult to injury.
I finally crested the lip of the valley and started to drop down to the river, finding I still had to pedal to maintain momentum. Across the river and along the valley floor and I was finally at the foot of the Heinous Hill, with just one more battle with the wind and gradient before I could finish what had been an unexpectedly hard ride.
YTD Totals: 5,633 km / 3,500 miles with 69,467 metres of upness
Total Distance: 116 km / 72 miles with 1,183 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed: 26.8 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Muy agradable
Saturday again and everything was looking good. It had been so cold during a couple of early morning commutes that I’d been forced back into wearing gloves, but the temperatures were creeping up as we approached the weekend. The arm warmers were still a necessary accessory, but I felt safe in discarding the windproof jacket as I took to the roads.
A pipe had burst at the top of the Heinous Hill and water was bubbling up around a manhole cover in the middle of the road. I rode downstream, getting a somewhat uncomfortable early shower for my efforts. I would like to say that it was refreshing and woke me up, but all it did was make the descent a little chillier.
At the roundabout in Blaydon there was yet more water washing across the tarmac, although this time I couldn’t determine its source. Again, I was liberally and unpleasantly sprayed and chilled, but the road was soon climbing and fighting the slope warmed me up again.
The factory digital readout I passed said 24°C already and once again, I questioned how accurately it had been calibrated. It was however undeniably pleasant out, the traffic was relatively light and I passed numerous other cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting point. With the good weather and a certain over-blown event in Windsor to try and avoid, I suspected it was going to be a well-attended ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Caracol arrived on a new bike, a Parlee frame that he’d built up from scratch. The only problem was, something around the back end was constantly rattling and it was driving him too distraction.
“Too much oil on the chain,” Crazy Legs suggested knowingly, he thought a bit more, “Or, maybe too little oil on the chain.”
A few people had a good look and a poke around, but the source of the annoying rattle remained elusive.
OGL was looking for volunteers willing to ride the 106 mile Cyclone Route and generate a Strava file for him. Although he’s very much a Strava-denier, British Cycling have requested the files, so he doesn’t seem to have a choice. He seemed blissfully unaware that you can plot a route without actually having to ride it and, as a result, he’s intent on setting out early on Sunday morning for a 6-hour plus excursion to plot the 90-miler himself.
I suggested that if he did need to physically record the ride, he could do it a lot quicker and easier in a car, but he just looked at me blankly, so I left him to it.
I’m no Strava-superfan, but it definitely beats colouring-in the little 10-mile blocks on a mileage chart pulled from Cycling Weekly and pinned to the bumpy supaglypta in my bedroom in the “good old days” (i.e. when everything was … well, all a bit crap, really). I always started out with good intentions, but don’t think I ever fully completed one of those charts across a full year.
As suspected a combination of good weather and a desire to avoid a sadly unavoidable, turgid, bombastic and anachronistic event happening about 300 miles away, drew out a bumper group of over 30 cyclists, who, it just so happened, appeared to be exclusively male.
Jimmy Mac took to the pulpit-wall to outline the route for the day. As threatened, it included a rare ascent of the Ryals, perhaps as a sop to the Garrulous Kid (who has probably ridden up them more times in the past 4 months than I have in my lifetime) – or perhaps because Jimmy Mac was feeling underutilised and unappreciated at work and wanted to drum up a few more vascular surgeries. Then again, perhaps he’s just a sadist of the highest order.
(We have asked the Garrulous Kid why he has such an affinity to the Ryals, which are a short, violent and not especially enjoyable climb and learned that “they’re fun” and “good training.” Good training for what I’m not quite sure, other than riding up and down the Ryals. We expected him to show a high degree of expertise when we finally got there.)
Our group included Big Dunc in a new, riotously colourful, Bardiani CSF jersey, which we all felt would make a decent, exotic substitute for our own remarkably unloved club jersey. OGL studiously ignored it.
The good weather had even drawn out Famous Seans, a triathlete who, even by triathlete standards, is a bit different and resolutely marches to the beat of his own drum. As usual, he expressed his individuality by wearing very long, knee length socks and short-shorts – he was probably exposing as much flesh as everyone else, it was just framed a little higher.
The plan was to split into two groups and I hung back to try and assess just how well we managed this simple-sounding, but seldom successful task. Miracle of miracles, for once the front group actually looked slightly smaller than the one behind, so I tagged onto the back of it and away we went.
Heading out along Brunton Lane, we passed a high-speed Captain Black heading in the opposite direction, having forsaken his clubmates for a solo run and evidently intent on getting home in time to watch the Royal Wedding.
Through Ponteland, buzzed and flipped off by a motorist overtaking at high speed, Richard of Flanders fully embraced his, Grey Pilgrim/Gandalf persona, chasing down the car at some traffic lights before intoning, “You cannot pass!” to its clearly Balrog occupants.
He tried reasoning with them and even went as far as gesturing to the Garrulous Kid and explaining we were riding with youngsters and such driving was decidedly anti-social, if not downright dangerous. For his part, the Garrulous Kid tried to duck down and look younger than his years. It didn’t work, but I’m not sure it would have made any difference anyway.
Through the town and we picked up a waiting Cowin’ Bovril, who’d used the pre-published route to intercept us without having to ride to the meeting point. He rode with us for a while, before I confirmed his mates were riding in the second group and he dropped back to join them.
We set a fairly brisk pace, covering much of the route that will be used for the National Road Championship in July and noting just how bad the road surface is in places, gravel-strewn, potholed and broken up. So bad, in fact that on the downhill from Hallington and travelling just behind me, Famous Seans hit a pothole with a yelp and pulled over.
As we turned onto the main road leading to the Ryals, I told Jimmy Mac about the possible mechanical and the call went out for everyone to wait at the top of the hill to regroup and assess the damage.
I slowed as the slope loomed ahead and found Crazy Legs cruising along, suffering from a self-confessed jour sans. He gestured at the Ryals and told the Garrulous Kid that this is what he’d been waiting for and to go and get on with it. The Garrulous Kid raced away and I followed at a more considered pace, running my chain up the block as the first and steepest ramp started to bite.
Ahead of me, the Garrulous Kid began thrashing and flailing his way upwards, all jutting elbows and a too-busy style, like Fabio Aru trying to simultaneously shake off a cloud of flies while keeping both hands gripped firmly on the bars. He spearheaded a small knot including Keel and the Rainman as they clawed their way, slowly up into the sky.
Cresting the first ramp, I changed down, accelerated toward the second, slightly easier slope and started climbing out of the saddle. Then, in super-slow-motion, I started to winch back those ahead of me. I swung across into the opposite lane and eased past a flagging and weaving Keel, then passed the Rainman, before tracking back to the left to draw alongside the Garrulous Kid as the slope finally started to level out
Digging in, a re-invigorated Rainman found the impetus to latch onto my wheel as I passed and I pulled him over the crest. As the gradient lessened, he accelerated away and I dropped in behind for a fast tow up to the village.
Regrouping, we learned that Famous Seans had jarred his tri-bars loose, but was good to continue, so we pressed on toward the Quarry.
“I’m gonna put you in the shade!” Biden Fecht declared as he eased out in front of me, blocking the sun. I told him I’d always consider myself as riding in his shadow.
Away up the Quarry we went, swinging right at the top this time to avoid any chance of a repeat of last week’s double-puncture disaster. The pace increased and I took whatever opportunities I could to move up the outside, before slotting into fourth place with just Jimmy Mac, the Colossus and Caracol in front.
I wanted to put in a little dig on the rises up to the final junction, but approaching traffic kept me confined to the left hand lane. At the junction itself, a call of “bike left” made me hesitate and look twice and a small gap opened in front of me as we turned onto the road down toward the Snake Bends. I worked to close it, even as the Colossus and Caracol put clear air between themselves and Jimmy Mac as they fought out the final sprint.
Slowly, painfully, I closed on Jimmy Mac’s rear wheel, until I reached a point when I thought, you know, if I really shred my legs, burst my heart, trash my lungs and inflict horrible injury on myself, I might just be able to squeeze ahead of him … but, was it even worth trying?
Well, of course it was …
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We arrived to find the café almost completely empty, but the garden already half full. It was good timing, as by the time everyone else had piled in, the café would still be empty, but the queue would extend out the door and the garden would be ringed in a perimeter of bikes, sometimes two or three machines deep. Much to the disgust of the Monkey Butler Boy he even found that someone had dared to carefully lean their bike up against his brand new machine. For one moment I thought he might cry.
Caracol was still perturbed by his mysterious rattle and had decided that when he got home he’d try swapping out different parts to try and locate the errant component. He started a litany of things he could consider changing over:
“Wheels … cassette … derailleur … pedals, even though I know it’s not the pedals … brakes …saddle …”
“The frame?” someone suggested helpfully.
A late arriving Red Max press-ganged the Monkey Butler Boy into getting him a Coke and a cake and a coffee, and Caracol offered up his mug for a refill too; “While you’re there.” It all seemed simple enough and reluctantly the Monkey Butler Boy dragged himself off to join the queue.
5 minutes later and he was back, Caracol’s still empty coffee mug swinging loosely in his hand.
“What did you want again?” he asked the Red Max.
“A Coke and a cake and a coffee.”
“Oh, yeah. Got it” Off he went to join the back of the queue again.
I took a few mugs in for a refill and found the Monkey Butler Boy about a third of the way through the queue. I relieved him of Caracol’s mug, thinking it would ease some of the pressure on the Red Max’s terribly complex order. If pressed, I would swear the Monkey Butler Boy was standing there mumbling too himself, “err … a Coke and cake and a coffee … a Coke a cake and a coffee …”
Sometime later, the Monkey Butler Boy returned triumphantly. With a Coke and a cake…
Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid had appeared, pointed to a teeny-tiny graze on his elbow and informed us that he’d punctured and not only punctured, but fallen off too. I’m still not sure if the two actions were in any way related. Close questioning was no help in revealing how, or when, or where these events occurred, but we may just have been distracted by the concept of the Garrulous Kid successfully sorting out his own puncture.
Slow Drinker wandered past and Crazy Legs wished him a happy birthday for the day before. Crazy Legs then spotted that he too seemed to have been in the wars, as the Slow Drinkers legs were marred with grazes.
“Oh, have you come off?” Crazy Legs wondered.
“No, no, they’re just carpet burns,” Slow Drinker replied cryptically, before wandering away.
Must have been one hell of a birthday party…
The Monkey Butler Boy confessed he’d almost been late this morning as he’d been cornered in the bike shed by his arch nemesis a wasp. Luckily, he’d somehow managed to batter his way out of this dire predicament by using a spare pair of wheels as an improvised, giant fly-swatter. I thought such undaunted bravery deserved a mention.
He also revealed his dad had told him if he shaved off his incipient, bum-fluff moustache, it would grow back thicker, stronger and much manlier. Two months on and with a completely bare upper lip, he’s still waiting.
The Garrulous Kid had family commitments and had to leave early. This coincided with OGL’s departure for a ride back “at his own pace.” It looked like they’d have the opportunity to ride together…
“I don’t know which one to pity the most,” I confessed to the Colossus.
He reassured me not to worry, they’d probably ride the whole way back separated by about 10 yards and in stoic silence.
When it was out turn to leave, we got split into two groups by traffic and as we left the main road for quieter lanes, I decided to try and bridge across to the front group. I made good progress at first, but they weren’t hanging around and as I drew closer I found myself battering head-on into a stiff breeze that had blown up out of nowhere.
I was just deciding whether to sit up, or give it one last effort to avoid an embarrassing stint of chasse-patate, when the Monkey Butler Boy announced from behind that he’d decided to come across too. He took the lead, I dropped onto his wheel and with added impetus quickly closed the gap to the front group.
Here I had time to learn from the Red Max that last week, I had correctly identified the Monkey Butler Boy as a virulent, sock-length fascist, before the group started shedding riders as we each took our own route home.
Despite the nagging headwind, the sky was bright and clear and it was still uncommonly hot. For perhaps the first time this year, I noticed a clammy feeling of sweat forming behind my knees as I pushed the pedals round. The water, from who knows where, was still washing across the road in Blaydon, but this time I welcomed the cooling, impromptu shower thrown up by my tyres.
Sadly, the effect didn’t last long and I was soon heading uphill and hot and bothered.
Finally I stepped across the kitchen threshold, over-heated and gasping from climbing the Heinous Hill. Here, with impeccable timing Mrs. Sur la Jante pressed a Solero ice cream into my sweaty hand. Now that’s what I call service.
YTD Totals: 2,952 km / 1,834 miles with 34,562 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 819 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed:23.3 km/h
Group size:16 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Rotten to start, decent to end
The start on Saturday morning felt pretty much like a continuation of last week’s weather – temperatures hovering just above freezing and cold wind driven in on a blustery wind. Still, it wasn’t quite wet enough to resort to my rain jacket and was nowhere as bad as my commute into work on Wednesday morning, when it was so cold it had actually hurt, a stark -4°C.
And, while the Prof is still distant and riding with the Back Street Boys tribute band, he’d taken the time out between dance rehearsals to warn us on Facebook that it was going to be “flaky.” It wasn’t.
(Yes, I had to ask too. Apparently, he meant that we might encounter a few snowflakes en route.)
It was while riding across that my slow-witted mind finally understood the glaringly obvious reason why my right foot had been soaked and freezing last week, but my left foot had been relatively unscathed – helped in part by a car that flashed past and dumped a sheet of icy water down my right lower leg. Yeah, I know, a bit slow on the uptake.
This slight discomfort aside, I made decent time and was the first to arrive at the meeting point, where a light rain drove me to seek shelter in the bowels of the multi-storey car park.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The worst kept secret in the club is now out and OGL appeared bright and early to “officially” inform us the 2018 British National Road Championships will now be held in the North East, after the proposed host area backed out. These races will be incorporated into the Cyclone Festival of Cycling and will see the best of Britain’s pro road-racers and time-triallists battling it out on the roads of Northumberland.
To accommodate this, the Cyclone Challenge Rides have all been pushed back a week or two to the 30th June. There are rumours that these changes have been made solely to allow Crazy Legs to not only lead a group of club renegades in a raid across various French mountain ranges, but also fully participate in the bigliest, bestest, most beloved and wildly participated in sportive event known to man. These rumours are patently untrue, false, deceitful, scurrilous, fabricated. Fake news.
OGL reported some baffled looks and politically-correct hyperventilating when he’d used a Scottish colloquialism to refer to an opportunity “disappearing faster than snow off a dyke.” It didn’t appeal to our childish humour quite so much as Taffy Steve’s recounting of a chainsaw safety course, where he was told you didn’t have to wear chainsaw boots and could substitute a Kevlar strap-on instead.
Crazy Legs is lamenting the lack of Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics, not because he particularly supports them, or condones state-run doping programmes, but simply because he likes their rather martial national anthem, which makes him want to march in circles around his sofa. When I confessed to being unfamiliar with its precise strains, I was instructed to go away and watch the Hunt for Red October on repeat until I got the hang of it.
Biden Fecht pulled up and asked if anyone had any oil on them. Huh? He then decided whatever mechanical he was suffering from probably couldn’t be fettled with the simple application of lubricant salve and dashed back home to undertake some minor repairs, vowing to meet up later. He hasn’t been seen since.
Aether outlined the route for the day, mainly dictated by the freezing conditions and need to stick to main and treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little. As an alternative, Crazy Legs declared early for another multiple coffee-stop ride, he was naming the Flat White Club Run. He had a sizable number of takers, right from the outset.
Much to OGL’s disbelief, Slow Drinker arrived on Zipp deep section, carbon rims that are probably worth more than my entire bike collection combined. “They’re just his winter training wheels,” G-Dawg remarked dryly.
As we stood there a guy came round to check the bike lockers, mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the car park. Wrestling with a key, he opened the door of each to its widest extent, before sticking his head inside to carefully and thoroughly survey the interior. It was obvious from where we were standing a couple of metres away that the lockers were all empty, but each one was subjected to the same close scrutiny, just in case a teeny-tiney micro-bike, or perfectly camouflaged stealth machine had been left inside.
Aether led for the first few miles, until with a tacit, father and son agreement, G-Dawg and the Colossus surged forward to take up position on the front. And there they would stay, up hill and down dale, an epic turn, impressively and selflessly (or so I thought) leading the line for the next 30km or so.
As we pressed on we seemed to be heading toward random patches of blue sky that grew in size, until even Taffy Steve had to admit my optimism for improving conditions was actually in danger of becoming reality. It was till cold, the roads were still soaked and fields water-logged, but at least the rain had stopped falling on our heads.
A dragging (dragon?) climb had us strung out and then came a shouted warning that there was a wagon behind. A couple of seconds later and there was some almighty bellowing, that told us there was a wagon behind and then, just for good measure, shouting and screaming that there was in fact a wagon behind.
We’d actually taken note at the first warning, but the road was narrow and twisting and there was nothing we could do, short of pulling over and hurling ourselves deep into a hedge. At this point, the repeated shouting became more irritating than useful or informative and we responded with our usual childish humour.
“What was that?” someone shouted back, “There’s a dragon behind?”
“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”
“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”
“Ah, does it hold the brew that is true!”
Etc. etc. Well it keep us amused, at least until the dragon, sorry wagon, decided it would be quicker to take an alternate route and turned off at the next junction.
We pushed through to Stamfordham, where our usual layby was inconveniently occupied by a parked car. We were forced into using the wrong layby, although there was surprisingly (disappointingly?) no over the top ranting about the “wrong layby.” Here we split, with Crazy Legs luring a surprising number away with promises of an early hot beverage and some manly discourse in Matfen.
Five of us pushed onward to complete the planned route out to the Reservoir, with G-Dawg and the Colossus still powering away on the front, Ovis and Aether following in the wheels, while I tucked in behind. A bit later, we were caught by the Cow Ranger and Benedict and our numbers temporarily swelled.
I did a brief spell on the front and then, as the road swung north and we started to close in on Matfen, the Cow Ranger and Benedict took to the front and imposed an infernal pace, which they held all the way to the turn off for the Quarry. While our front pair continued on to sweep down the Ryals, the rest of us regrouped, recuperated as much as possible and started to winch our way up the Quarry climb.
We then hung a right at the top and pressed on to the café. Finding ourselves in amongst the local hunt, we had to thread our way between a series of parked up 4×4’s coupled to horse trailers and hunt supporters who lined the roads, hoping for a glimpse of who knows what.
I mentioned to G-Dawg that it seemed a particularly unrewarding and futile spectator sport, standing beside a muddy field in the cold, not knowing if you’re actually going to see anything remotely interesting. Then I realised I was talking to a bloke who travelled to the Stadium of Light last week, to stand in the cold beside a muddy field and watch the Sunderland team trying to win a game of football…
Up ahead, Ovis briefly challenged the Colossus in the sprint before falling back, while I was content to roll in alongside G-Dawg.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café queue, I noticed my bibtights were patterned with a silvery, ghostly patina of salt marks, like permafrost polygons. G-Dawg suggested there’d been so much salt on the roads you could taste it and, while we all agreed too much is infinitely preferable to too little, you had to wonder what damage it was doing to bikes and components.
The Colossus also revealed that the pairs epic turn on the front hadn’t been quite as selfless as I’d assumed and was largely designed to get out of the spray being kicked up by the wheels in front. It would appear that, despite the almost universal deployment of mudguards, not all guards are equal.
Hero of the week was determined to be Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who had appeared at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics wearing little more than a shark tooth necklace and a thin sheen of coconut oil. We had naturally assumed he was on a bobsleigh team, where the trend seems to be for one skilled pilot and three make-weight, short-track sprinters who have to be big, fast and powerful, but perhaps not especially gifted – or, if you’re Jamaican, four big, fast and powerful short-track sprinters who are not especially gifted.
Taufatofua surprised us all though, by qualifying for the cross-country skiing. We couldn’t imagine how, where or when he managed to practice for this in his native, typically tropical Tonga. (He apparently didn’t see snow until he was into his fourth decade on the planet and started out in the sport by strapping planks of wood to his feet and running up and down sand dunes.)
The Matfen Flat White Mob finally materialised and Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve purloined a couple of spare chairs and drew them up to squeeze in around our small table. Then, spotting a group of civilians gathering to leave, they quickly jumped ship, moving to the new, more spacious table and leaving the two chairs tantalisingly and invitingly open.
And then, a double whammy, as the Garrulous Kid shambled across and flumped down on one chair to entertain us with his unique perspective on life, followed a few seconds later by OGL. The latter was already working through story # 32. (I can’t honestly remember which precise tale it was, I’d heard it before and switched off). Meanwhile, across the room I could see a benignly grinning Crazy Legs, comfortably removed and looking on with utter contentment. Bastard.
G-Dawg shared fond memories of the Matfen café the Flat White Mob had stopped at, recalling having turned up there late on a club run as business was winding down for the Christmas holidays. The group of ever-hungry cyclists had been approached by the staff with a massive cake, a handful of forks and what I can only assume was a purely rhetorical question, “Do you think you lot could help us finish this cake? Otherwise we’ll have to throw it away.”
Of the few things that club cyclists are actually good for, cake disposal must be quite high on the list.
The leg home was relatively uneventful until just after Berwick Hill, when we made the turn for Dinnington. There, to everyone’s complete and utter astonishment, the Garrulous Kid actually rode onto the front alongside Benedict, engendering a resounding cheer from our serried ranks behind.
Strangely, a blue moon shone brightly in a sky that remained completely clear of porcine UFO’s, hell refused to freeze over, time ticked on regardless and the Garrulous Kids head did not suddenly explode. Perhaps there’s hope for him (or us) yet.
He took us all the way to the turn-off, where the majority swung away and I took over to lead G-Dawg and Colossus into the Mad Mile. I kept the pace as high as I could manage, not relaxing until they’d jumped away to chase each other home and see who could win first use of the shower.
I dropped to a more sustainable pace and began slowly plotting my own course back.
YTD Totals: 858 km / 533 miles with 9,522 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,120 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 36 minutes
Average Speed:25.6 km/h
Group size:22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point five minutes before 9.00, surprised to find OGL uncharacteristically early and already there, waiting. Apparently, he’d had young pro James Knox (currently of Team Wiggins, but soon to be seen in the colours of Quick Step) visit his shop the day before and had extended an open invitation for the rider to join us on the club run.
Despite turning up ultra-early, keen, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, OGL had seemingly been abandoned, cruelly jilted at the altar and his pro-VIP never showed.
There were however enough riders wearing shorts to at least give him a moments distraction and the opportunity to declare them all crazy for exposing their knees in such weather.
The Garrulous Kid was uncharacteristically quiet, seemingly pre-occupied fiddling surreptitiously with his bike in a corner. Someone finally wondered what he was actually doing and we discovered he was futilely trying to force more air into a soft rear tyre.
The trouble was his every effort and fumble seemed to deflate the tyre just a little more. Finally, Grover took pity on him, looked things over and quickly came to the conclusion he wasn’t suffering from a slightly leaky tyre, but a terminal puncture requiring a tube change. He stopped the Garrulous Kid from any further flogging of this, by now quite dead, horse and set about helping him make repairs.
The Red Max was delighted to recount how the Monkey Butler Boy had been tasked by his coaches to undertake a fitness test and provide some performance numbers. Anticipating a grand show, Max had settled into his favourite comfy chair with a nice cup of tea and ready supply of biscuits to watch the Monkey Butler Boy turning himself inside out on a turbo in order to provide the necessary evaluation data.
Max seemed to particularly enjoy the pain and suffering, while obviously providing moral support and motivation in the form of a running commentary disparaging the Monkey Butler Boy’s efforts, cycling prowess and general manhood.
The Monkey Butler Boy himself was quietly content with his test results, which suggested only 16% body fat, but freakishly fat knees. This manifested as a huge roll of loose skin he could pick up and actually fold over the joint, a bit like a stretchable seat cover or pliable knee warmers.
“Is it like the equivalent of a granny’s bingo wings?” I enquired, somewhat repelled by the thought.
“Much, much worse,” the Red Max revealed.
Crazy Legs was intrigued by the possibility of producing the Geordie version of the Zero-Fat Diet, which he proposed was appropriately titled the “Nee-Fat” Diet, guaranteed to solve the rather disturbing phenomena of the Monkey Butler Boys fat knees.
Meanwhile, I wondered if pulling down on the knee flap would have a similar effect as giving the Monkey Butler Boy a bit of a face and neck-lift. The Red Max suggested the fat could even be rolled all the way down the legs to the ankles, removing any hint of a double chin and giving the Monkey Butler Boy a sharp profile and prominent cheekbones.
The downside however, was all the excess skin would pool around the Monkey Butler Boys ankles, making it look like he was wearing a pair of sloppy, flesh-coloured wellies or, worse a pair of the Garrulous Kids baggy socks.
The Garrulous Kid himself, now had both Grover and OGL working to fix his puncture. In what may have been a miradjee, or in the light of the numerous witnesses, perhaps a mass hallucination, several people attested to seeing OGL resorting to tyre levers to reseat the tyre on the rim.
As ride leader, the Red Max outlined the planned route for the day, having us split into two groups that would then re-form at a pre-determined rendezvous. At this point those masochistic souls who wanted yet another crack at the Ryals could tackle them again, while those, of a more sound-mind, would take a slightly less challenging route to the café.
Responding to the Red Max’s route as it was posted up on Facebook, a shocked Taffy Steve declared, “Not been to the Ryals for two years and now twice in a week. You, sir, are a very naughty boy.” The Red Max however was unrepentant and insisted the Ryals were merely “an option” that only the clinically insane would want to tackle. Like a self-serving Tory MP proposing private schools to expand the options of those who can’t afford them anyway, it was according to the Red Max, all about “providing choices.”
Quarter past and with the first group already on the road and the second group stacking up to go, the Garrulous Kid was still fiddling with his bike. Crazy Legs called it as it was – the longest tyre change in club history.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy was enjoying pointing out at all the things the Garrulous Kid had been doing wrong and especially the fact that he was resting the weight of his bike fully on its rear derailleur once he removed the wheel. Then, when the Kid tried to put the wheel back in with his cassette on the opposite side to the chainset, I actually thought the Monkey Butler Boy was going to wet himself laughing.
Accidents narrowly averted, the second group finally meandered slowly out onto the roads, leaving the Garrulous Kid to pick up and pack up his gear, before racing out to catch us up.
For the first part of the ride I dropped in beside Slow Drinker and heard all about his recent experiences completing the epic Rapha Manchester to London Challenge – setting out at dawn to ride a rather lumpy 220 miles down through the Peak District, Midlands and Chilterns. Despite the distance and difficulty, he enjoyed the event so much that he’s planning on repeating it next year. That he managed to raise a ton of money for charity too, was just the icing on the cake.
Having been berated as one of the “you must be mad riders” who’d dared to wear shorts, Crazy Legs enjoyed a delighted, schadenfreude moment when he heard OGL bitterly complaining that his hands were freezing in their track mitts. Crazy Legs waved his full-fingered gloves around and suggested that not only were his fingers toasty, but his bare legs were nice and warm too, before disparaging those “amateurs” who don’t dress appropriately for the conditions.
Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve finished their stint on the front and I moved up along with Slow Drinker to lead us down and away from Dinnington. We split the group on the ascent of Bell’s Hill, but planned to wait at the top to regroup. Here though a handful of cyclists, including a couple of recognisable club members, stood clustered around an upended and obviously ailing machine.
We asked if they needed any help, but were waved away and told everything was fully under control. We believed them and they weren’t part of our original ride, so we pressed on. We later learned our first group, passing through the same spot a minute earlier, had also offered to help and been told all was in hand and there was no need to interrupt their ride.
Other people though, seemingly have an uncontrollable, compelling need to interfere, stick their nose in and prove their mechanical mastery of any situation. So, while the front part of our group rolled past and away from the scene, the second became embroiled in “Chaingate” – stopping to lend what I personally took to be totally unnecessary and unasked for assistance to fix a snapped chain.
Five us, Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve, Slow Drinker, the Garrulous Kid and me, freewheeled on, constantly looking over our shoulders and waiting for everyone else to catch up. At the next junction we concluded it wasn’t going to happen and the rest of the group had obviously stopped at the top of the hill.
Torn between pressing on and waiting, we decided on the latter. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we began to regret our decision and the Garrulous Kid was starting to get tetchy and kept urging us to leave. Still we waited.
To pass the time, Crazy Legs decided to declare a Be Nice to the Garrulous Kid Day. “What are you after?” the Garrulous Kid immediately demanded to know … and as quickly as the idea had been born, it died.
Finally, the rest of the group appeared, we waved them through and latched onto the back.
At the next junction, Pavlovian instinct took hold and we had to fight the urge to file straight across the road and instead take an ultra-rare and hugely uncharacteristic left-turn instead. Being slightly less confused than the others, I found myself back in the lead once again, this time alongside Radman, who blinked once or twice, looked round bewildered and demanded to know, “How did I end up on the front?”
I suggested we needed to fake a puncture or a slight mechanical to slip back again, but we pressed on regardless.
A long descent had us topping out at over 40 km/h, but it wasn’t until we were down that I realised it had been our old adversary and Szell’s bete noire, Middleton Bank in reverse. Characteristically, I didn’t recognise it at all and had no real idea where we were.
Crazy Legs spelled me on the front and I dropped back alongside Taffy Steve, where we tried and failed to decipher the name emblazoned on Radman’s shorts and jersey.
I know my memory is clearly fallible, but from what I can recollect it seemed to read, “Phtktpkoyuo,” or something similar.
I tried several times to try and pronounce the strange word, but gave up, deciding it had too many consonants, all crowded together like Dan Martin’s teeth.
I then wondered if it was an anagram, but couldn’t make anything resembling an English word from the weird amalgam of seemingly random letters. Taffy Steve thought it was perhaps just telling us in a strange phonetic way to eff off …
“Yeah? Well phtktpko yuo, too!”
Meanwhile, somewhere behind me I kept catching very odd snippets of conversation, as Aether and the Garrulous Kid became embroiled in a convoluted and involved conversation about space-time curvature. You hear the oddest things on club rides.
On a straight section of road, we had an insane motorcyclist hurtling toward us, as he swerved into our lane, trying to overtake a car where there was no space to do so. He waved his hands frantically at us, demanding we get out of his way. He received very short-shrift and a few of our own patented and very emphatic hand gestures back in return.
He shot past, much too fast and far too close, before disappearing up the road trailing the bellow of a screaming, over-revved engine behind him. Arse hat.
“Phtktpko yuo!” I would have shouted, if I’d just been quick enough and had ever managed to master that complex, alien phrase.
We reached the assigned rendezvous point to find the first group waiting for us. Despite our travails and delays, the Red Max reported they hadn’t been there too long. He then reiterated our choices: “That a-way for the Ryals … and this a-way to avoid them.”
Red Max, Taffy Steve, G-Dawg, Zardoz, Sneaky Pete and the Colossus all made toward “this a-way” leaving only Crazy Legs, Aether and me to accompany an equal number of scarily eager young-uns “that a-way” for the climb. Oh no, what am I doing?
Even Carlton, the original Dormanator, couldn’t be persuaded to join us to alternatively chaperone and then be humiliated by his own kid. With a huge sense of relief, he gratefully entrusted us with proxy-parenting responsibilities, before he too slipped away with the main group.
So, off we went – Mr. Boom, the Dormanator Mk2, a.k.a. Jake the Snake and the Garrulous Kid, an average age just barely into teen years, alongside three superannuated grouches with an average age well past fifty. Sounds like the perfectly balanced group.
I trailed along at the back, keeping an eye on everyone as Crazy Legs led us up through Hallington and then down to the bottom of the Ryals. There, the Garrulous Kid attacked the climb savagely, flailing away all pointy knees and elbows, like Fabio Aru with Saint Vitus’ dance. Mr. Boom and the Dormanator gave chase, while I eased out of the saddle to climb alongside Crazy Legs as we tackled the steepest, first ramp at a more restrained pace, which was actually pretty much all I could manage.
As we started up the second ramp we had a grandstand view of the battle up ahead, with Jake the Snake topping the climb first, followed by Mr. Boom, with the Garrulous Kid trailing.
“This seems harder than last week,” Crazy Legs suggested. “Perhaps the run-in was harder?” he grasped for plausible excuses.
“Could be,” I managed to gasp, “Don’t think there’ll be any new PR’s this time.” (I had more or less the same conversation with Sneaky Pete later at the café, so have to admit to total surprise when Strava informed me I had actually set new PR’s on 3 of the 4 climb segments.)
We regrouped over the top and pushed on the Quarry, where Crazy Legs drove up the slope at top speed, swinging right as he crested the climb. As we later agreed, after the Ryals, the Quarry Climb just seems like a mere, irritating, little pimple. I chased onto his back wheel, finally managing to claw my way up alongside him, as we accelerated and set a high pace, leading the rest in the run to the café.
With such a small select group and having spent all day pushing into a headwind, we weren’t expecting any kind of sprint as we approached the Snake Bends, but the Garrulous Kid attacked anyway and we just let him go. Apparently he likes to “test himself.”
As the Garrulous Kid flitted across the main road ahead of us and ducked down the parallel lane, Crazy Legs decided, as we were running fairly late, to take the more direct route to the café and stick to the main road. He had Jake the Snake tuck in tight on his rear wheel and I dropped in behind, trying to form a protective pocket around him, as we pushed to the café and a reunion with the Ryal-deniers.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
During a discussion about passports and nationalities, Aether suggested that, given the choice he would rather carry a Scottish passport than a UK one. The Garrulous Kid insisted he was American and had an American passport as he’d been born in Sowf Carolina (or was it Norf Carolina?)
Crazy Legs surmised holding an American passport was actually about the only thing worse than a British one, should you fall into the hands of fundamentalist terrorists.
The Garrulous Kid went to extreme lengths to convince us that there was a world of difference between Sowf Carolina and Norf Carolina and even between those from Carolina and those from Texas. “They’re all different heights and sizes and hair colours” he explained breathlessly – which is quite revelation in Garrulous Kid world, where all Italians are small of stature, have black hair and dark eyes and everyone in France and Germany is a tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Aryan.
He went then on to tell Mr. Boom that he would have no problems travelling on his Nigerian passport, because he seemed “such a nice bloke.” Crazy Legs thought that was a brilliant test to foil international terrorism, all we have to do is determine if someone is a nice bloke and if they’re not bar them from entering the country. What could possibly go wrong?
The conversation turned to air travel and the increased security Jake the Snake had encountered travelling through Heathrow. The Garrulous Kid then told us how he’d set the alarms off in one airport when his braces registered on the metal detector.
“Did you have to take your braces off?” Crazy Legs enquired.
“And did your pants fall down?” Zardoz deadpanned, easily stealing the quip of the day prize.
Sneaky Pete sneaked up to tell us he was sneaking away early, just before he sneaked away. He then had to explain to Crazy Legs that he’d been missing the past couple of weeks as he’d been away on holiday in Cannes.
Crazy Legs gestured at Sneaky Pete’s rather reddened nose and wondered if he’d caught the sun too much. Pete revealed it was actually a jellyfish sting, inflicted when he swam face first through one of the critters trailing tentacles while posing with a bit of stylish freestyle.
“Oh, I would have pissed on your face if I’d been there.” Crazy Legs affirmed. I can’t think of a more warming and touching declaration of friendship, it almost brought a tear to my eye.
A slightly rushed, second cup of coffee and we began stacking up ready to head home after a longer than normal ride and Chaingate delays.
I spent the first part of the ride back chatting with the Prof, mainly in forensic detail about obscure, Belgian-TV, detective shows. Heading down Berwick Hill, we began closing on another bunch of cyclists and caught them at the foot of the sharp climb into Dinnington. As we closed I suggested to Zardoz that chaos would likely ensue.
I identified the other group as Ee-Em-Cee riders, once a splinter group from our own august club and titularly named after their penchant for leaving on rides long before everyone else is awake.
“They’re not riding very well,” Zardoz suggested.
“Well, they are the Early Morning Crew – it’s now after 1 o’clock,” I reasoned.
“I think it must be way past their bed-times, then,” Zardoz declared.
Naturally, being cyclists, they didn’t respond particularly well to being caught by another group of cyclists – and as G-Dawg moved out to go around them on the climb there was a general quickening of the pace all around.
The two groups were now racing through the village, almost in three lines and directly toward a large, blunt and immoveable double-decker bus, that had stopped to pick up passengers and was blocking the entire lane. OGL screamed there were cars coming the other way and the back of the group slowed.
At the front though, competitive juices were flowing and the two groups went almost sprinting into the narrow gap between bus and the oncoming traffic, as they quickly disappeared around it.
I approached the back of the bus and peered cautiously around its bulk. Luckily the driver of the car travelling in the opposite direction had seen the swarm of approaching cyclists and stopped.
I cautiously pulled out and led the rest around the side of the bus, waving my thanks and trying to convey a measure of contrition to the driver. He waved and gave me a wry smile, seemingly understanding exactly what had been going on and being totally relaxed about it. A rare gem amongst motorists then, a patient, forgiving and considerate driver.
I rode past and gave a quick double-take – he was sitting in a low-slung, rumbling and sleek black Audi. It’s an age of miracles, I tell you.
Luckily the EMC group took the next left turn and a degree of order was restored, although as a leftover we still maintained the same high-speed our sparring with them had injected into the ride. We barrelled past the main turn-off, where most of the group split away and burned through the Mad Mile, before I swung off, eased and started to pick my way home, solo and at a much more sustainable pace.
YTD Totals: 5,775 km / 3,588 miles with 65,619 metres of climbing
Total Distance:105 km / 65 miles with 960 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed:26.1 km/h
Group size:28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Warm and bright
I set out first thing Saturday morning still in the dark as to whether climbing in the Alps is a help or hindrance to cycling form. I got an early indication of which way the coin would fall though, when I turned up at the meeting point some 20 minutes early and had to take a long, impromptu peregrination around Fawdon to fill in some time. I’ve nothing personally against Fawdon, but I’m sure even its most ardent resident would agree it’s not the best place in the world to kill some time on a bike.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
In honour of the Tour de France start, Crazy Legs had donned an ancient Ariostea pro-team top, a riot of zig-zagging diagonal lines in bright red and yellow – it’s perhaps offensive enough to even match my bike. I lamented the lack of truly standout, hideous jersey’s in the pro peloton today – although I find Cannondale’s green and red combination a little unsettling, it’s tame compared to the glories of the past such as Ariostea, Mapei and Teka.
In contrast, another rider was wearing a white version of the La Vie Claire jersey, which still remains a timeless classic.
Crazy Legs mentioned it was the Queen Stage for Mini Miss, currently away enjoying sun and smooth roads in Majorca, and (probably) looking forward to Sa Colabra today.
“Psycha-what?” The Prof enquired.
“Sa Colabra,” I explained, “It’s a style of folk dance, popular in the Balearic Islands.”
“No, no, it’s a spirit-based drink, infused with Mediterranean herbs.” The BFG piped up, further confusticating the issue and leaving the Prof suitably bewildered.
The Garrulous Kid wanted to know how probable it was that one of his riding colleagues had seen a raccoon while out on a bike. (Just to be clear, the Garrulous Kid’s riding colleague was out on the bike, not the masked, furry North American mammal.) I suggested what he actually might have seen was a polecat, which are ever so slightly more prevalent than raccoons in rural Northumberland.
“No, pole – cat.”
“P-O-L-E-C … oh, I give up.”
Crazy Legs wanted to know if the Garrulous Kid remembered the time he’s been afraid of his own tyres. Meanwhile, testing his brakes, the Prof found that, despite all the benefits afforded from its hand-built construction in the most advanced bike factory in the world, by the planet’s greatest race of precision engineers and bike designers, the Kid’s Focus had a loose headset.
“Bring that bike here, boy” he demanded in a voice that brooked no argument, “And fetch me an Allen key.”
“Ooh, I’ve got one of those!” the Garrulous Kid squealed, digging frantically through his saddle bag, scattering tubes, tyre levers and repair patches everywhere, but singularly failing to turn up his famed Allen key. This was a shame as I was particularly interested to see which one size he had decided to carry from all the myriad choices available.
The Prof whipped out his own multi-tool, slackened off the stem, gave the cap bolt half a dozen full turns and then tightened the stem back up again.
“That was really loose.” The Colossus of Roads observed as he gazed down benevolently from on high (well, the top of the wall where he’d perched his butt) and noted the spacers spinning as freely as a roulette wheel.
“Was it dangerous?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.
“No, but you probably felt your whole bike shudder when you were braking.” The Colossus replied.
“And now you’ll know exactly what to do when it happens again.” The Prof observed at his pedagogic best.
“Yep,” The Garrulous Kid replied dutifully, “Take it straight back to the bike shop.”
The Prof outlined the planned route for the day and had us split into two, with an ultimate destination of Bellingham for the long distance randonneurs, but with plenty of options for groups to step off at various points to tailor the ride to their preference.
I dropped into the second group and we waited a couple of minutes for the first bunch to clear, before we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
With a build-up of cars trailing us into Ponteland, we singled out to encourage them pass, but no matter how much frantic waving Crazy Legs engaged in, the driver of the first car refused to overtake – perhaps blinded, mesmerised or simply intimidated by the aggressive and unsettling design of his Ariostea jersey.
I spent some time behind the Colossus and got my first good look at his custom-painted cassette spacers, in the same colours and sequence as the World Champion Rainbow bands. He too had made the pilgrimage to the local model shop to baffle them with enquiries about what paints worked best on Shimano cassette’s.
He told me everything had worked perfectly, except for the bright fluorescent green, which initially looked black when applied, so he’d had to switch to a white undercoat. (I include this information simply as a public service, in case you’re ever tempted to paint your own cassette spacers.)
At the first stop, I noticed slightly different micturition practices, as one of the group pulled up a shorts leg to pee – while I always pull down the waistband. Perhaps this could be a bone of contention and spark a Lilliputian vs. Blefuscan conflict of Brobdignagian proportions. Or, maybe not.
It was during this stop that Crazy Legs overheard a conversation in which one of our esteemed members claimed to have been informed he was a peerless descender by no lesser authority than “world champion (sic) Alberto Contador.”
Options were outlined and decision were made on different route choices, with the first splinter group happily turning to head up the Quarry, while the rest of us went tearing down the Ryals.
I tucked in, freewheeling all the way and quickly picked up speed, hitting the front until the Red Max and the Plank, swept past pedalling furiously. As soon as they eased I closed them down again, all the while pulling Crazy Legs along behind me as he surfed in my slipstream.
At the bottom and while everyone flashed past and on to loop around Hallington Reservoir, I turned right and pulled over to wait for Sneaky Pete, having previously agreed to take the shorter, but much hillier option up past Hallington Hall, Sol Campbells stately pile. This narrow, partly shady, tree-lined route, climbs and twists through a series of relatively sharp ramps and is one of my favourite roads, if only because we don’t use it all that often.
I was climbing well and felt good as we crested the hill and started to drop back down to the junction with the main road. This spat us out directly in front of a bunch of cyclists that I thought were the group we’d just left, but actually turned out to be our first group. As we closed on the testing drag, up Humiliation Hill, beZ and Andeven whirred past, followed a split second later by Shoeless and the rider in the old La Vie Clair jersey and I dropped in behind them.
beZ and Andeven started to pull away on the climb, so I threaded the needle between Shoeless and La Vie Claire (or perhaps from their perspective, simply barged them out of the way) and gave chase. Tagging onto the back of the front two, I camped there comfortably as they swept uphill, quickly pulling away from everyone else, before we swung east and powered toward Capheaton.
At the last, steep clamber up to road that leads to the Snake Bends, I floated up beside beZ and we rolled the rest of the way, chatting about his experiences of mixing it with the big boys during the Beaumont Trophy and where he needs to improve his bike handling skills and confidence, seemingly the only thing limiting his brilliant performances from being bloody brilliant performances.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, I joined Captain Black and Princess Fiona at one of the tables outside. She’d just returned from a cycling-motorbiking trip to the Pyrenees. First reassuring myself that she hadn’t been on a Harley, I was interested to know what it was like as Crazy Legs is eyeing up this area for our next foreign expedition.
Talk of the Pyrenees and the Tour, had me extolling the Cycling Anthology series of books and in particular Volume 5 which includes a chapter on Superbagnères by Edward Pickering. This described Stage 15 of the 1971 Tour de France, which was a balls-to-the-wall, short stage of just 19.6km straight up from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the summit. The author described the action as being like a mass start time-trial, with every man for himself. The stage was won by Jose Manuel-Fuente, but all 99 riders in the field were separated by just 10 minutes and the biggest group across line was only 4 strong.
Apart from reminding me of Fuente, a rider whose name I was particularly fond of chanting to encourage struggling riders up hills when I was a kid … Foo-entay! … Foo-entay! … I thought the idea of a super-short, chaotic and uncontrollable stage, straight up a mountain was well worth revisiting – a real mano a mano contest among the climbers and GC riders, stripping away all the team support and tactical “footsie” that usually takes place before a decisive summit finish.
Recognising the stage would be perhaps too short to make good TV, it could then be combined with the sort of downhill time-trial Sean Kelly seems to advocate. I’d watch anyway.
With the first cup of coffee consumed, Princess Fiona somehow manouvered Captain Black into attending to her refill needs, before presenting him with her dainty, little cup.
Captain Black looked quizzically at it:
“It’s because she’s a lay-dee.” I explained.
Captain Black listened carefully to the very precise specification required for Princess Fiona’s coffee refill, tugged his forelock, bowed and backed away from the table.
He then wandered into the café, determined to get it wrong so he’d never be asked again.
Princess Fiona and Captain Black decided to take the long route back via Stamfordham and started to gather their things together to leave.
“Is there anything you need him to carry for you?” I joked, but could see Princess Fiona giving the question very serious consideration, before she demurred.
As they left, I moved across to the next table, where the Colossus was handing out free advice on how to go about painting cassette spacers. Given the fact he’d bought 3 different paint colours (green, red and blue) to go with G-Dawg’s yellow to recreate the World Champion bands and used only a tiny amount of each, there was talk of establishing a set of “club paints” that could be handed to those most in need. It was decided however that these would probably go the way of the semi-mythical “club rollers” that we know exist, we just don’t know where they are and who has them.
Appreciation of the La Vie Clare jersey brought a slightly too enthusiastic, near orgasmic, “Oh, yes,” from Taffy Steve, in a voice that was an unfortunate cross between the Churchill dog, a Kenneth Williams, “ooh matron” and a Terry Thomas-style, “ring-a-ding-ding.” Not that we drew any attention to it, of course.
Talk turned to upcoming movie releases, with the majority expressing their boredom with super-hero movies, for which the best antidote was deemed to be Lego Batman.
The Garrulous Kid though wasn’t done with super-heroes.
“I’m really looking forward to Four. Will you go and see that?” he asked me.
“Well, no, I haven’t seen One, Two or Three, so there doesn’t seem much point.” I replied, struggling to keep a straight face.
“No, I mean Four:Free.”
“Huh?” I feigned incomprehension.
“You know, the one with Four, the Norse God of Funder…”
As we were leaving the Garrulous Kid announced that now he’s finished school for the summer he was free to ride at any time. He asked if there were any mid-week groups he could join up with.
“Don’t you regularly go out on a Wednesday?” I innocently asked Sneaky Pete, earning a very sneaky kick in the shin for my efforts as he shushed me. Ouch!
We set off for home and I found myself climbing Berwick Hill with Crazy Legs.
“How you doing?” he asked and I had to admit I was floating and feeling good. Bet that’s not going to last.
As I turned off for home and left the others behind, Princess Fiona sailed past in the opposite direction having completed the longer route back through Stamfordham. Then, the obligatory 5 paces behind, Captain Black followed, undoubtedly slowed-down by all the baggage he was carrying for her.
Dropping down toward the river I had one last challenge as a racing trap sped past at a full speed gallop on the road below. I swung through the junction onto the road behind and gave chase. At about 25 mph I think I was beginning to close it down, but the driver was already easing the horse back to a trot. Those things are fast.
Across the river I found myself in the middle of a massive traffic jam and took to a bit of pavement surfing and threading between the cars, which earned me at least one “dick-head” comment from a very frustrated driver. A small price to pay to avoid being stuck for half an hour or more, sucking up exhaust fumes and going nowhere fast.
After that it was a relief to break out onto quieter roads, even if they did lead straight up the Heinous Hill to home.
YTD Totals: 4,140 km / 2,572 miles with 48,613 metres of climbing