We have a late entry in the outsize packaging competition, so thanks Wiggle – not quite up to the standards of Bikester, but pretty impressive nonetheless. At least I won the Haribo lottery this time, although the how and why of who gets the elusive prize still confounds us, even after many in depth discussions on club runs. We know you don’t get a tasty Haribo treat with every Wiggle order anymore, and we know it’s not predicated on the value of your order, or the timing. So just how does it work?
First thing Saturday morning and my descent of the Heinous Hill is rudely interrupted by new temporary traffic lights half way down. That’s inconvenient, but hopefully they’ll be gone by the time I head home and I won’t have to attempt a standing start on the 14% ramps amidst a long line of frustrated drivers.
I hit the valley floor and turned west, directly into a strong, buffeting headwind that was going to plague us through much of the ride. It added a biting chill to the air too and knocked at least a couple of degrees off the temperature.
There were more traffic concerns on the approach to the bridge, where yellow cones had been deployed to marshal the spectator parking for the latest Tyne Head rowing competition. Boats and trailers were already piling up in car parks and rowers in an odd combination of skin tight lycra and sloppy wellies were generally milllig about. I wondered if rowers appreciated the tailwind they were going to get today and if it would produce fast times. On the other side I turned eastwards myself and got to enjoy a little wind-assisted boost myself.
I had a ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ moment, wondering whether to pull to a stop to let an ambulance pass, siren and lights working overtime. He was past before my brain reached any kind of conclusion, which is probably for the best. The long haul out of the valley seemed a little easier this week and I made it to the meeting point bang on 9.00 am.
Aether was there nice and early and ready to brief in a route of his own devising that included the climbs of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. The latter wasn’t a particular concern, but the Mur would be accessed from a sharp left-hand turn that brought you almost to a standstill and while short was viciously steep with a rough, slimy and slippery surface.
“But, you’ve done it before on the single-speed,” Aether happily reassured me. It was true, but I was young and stupid then, or at least younger. Now I was old and stupid. Well, certainly older, hopefully not stupider. Maybe clinically insane though if I listened to Brassneck and Not Anthony?
One of these, Brassneck had now arrived and was deeply embroiled in a conversation with Mini Miss, which apparently centred around (I think) edelweiss petals made of metal? I never did get to the bottom of this rather random (even by our standard) event.
There was still time for the Frankenbike to attract some attention with its unusual combination of single-speed sprocket and rear derailleur. The latter was a brand new, ultracheap MicroSHIFT medium cage affair that had replaced the original Shimano set-up fitted by the venerable Toshi San. So far it was performing well, although I guess that’s not much of a recommendation given that it was only serving as a glorified chain tensioner.
Jimmy Mac brought the good news that G-Dawg had been officially cleared to ride, although he would be heading out later and taking things understandably easy. I had no doubt we would see him at the cafe, although somewhat sadly he would be back in cycling kit so there’d be no more appearances from what Crazy Legs referred to as his carpet-fitter trousers …
Even with his notable absence, numbers topped 30 for the first time this year and we split into three equal-ish groups before heading out.
I dropped into the third group, confident I’ could’ be able to climb more or less with the best of them and away we went. I slotted in alongside Brassneck, our conversation briefly straying to cover the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria before we found our more normal groove of inconsequential blather. Here I learned that winter was over because the fish and chip van would re-appear at Dinnington and that the road through to Horton Grange had undergone recent repair. Neither of these bold assertions proved remotely evident to me and I wondered if Brassneck was having some kind of hallucinogenic episode.
He had been reminded that he was still in post-operative condition and needed to do less grinding and more spinning, especially on the climbs and he’d adopted an inner voice to remind him of this. I tried to bring his inner voice to life, imagining it speaking with first a Scottish and then West Indian accent, before he decided it sounded most like Ray Winstone at his menacing, Cockney-geezer/gangster best. Now that’s almost guaranteed to keep you in line.
“‘Ere, you muppet! Waddayafink yer doin’ ridin’ like that. Give it up yah wankah!”
So, spinning was the order of the day for Brassneck, first put into effect on Bell’s Hill that we took at, what seemed to me, a most relaxed pace, there was no sudden rush, or upping of the pace and we rolled over the top and slowed to a crawl to let any stragglers catch up.
Apparently, the climb hadn’t been relaxed enough and sparked a very tired and very predictable rant from OGL as we learned we were all, every single one of us without exception, incapable of riding on a club run, castigated for never looking back, all branded as weekend warriors and, we even had a reprise for that hoary old chestnut, that if we wanted to race, we should “put a number on our back.”
While Aether tried to calculate if he had the full card for this week’s game of buzzword bingo, OGL pushed onto the front and stomped away angrily on the pedals, upping the pace and never looking behind. If he had he may have noticed Zardoz off the back and seemingly struggling to catch on. You know, I could make this stuff up, but sometimes it’s easier to use what you’re given…
I dropped off to check on Zardoz, who assured me he was fine and just chilling. We had re-joined by the time we started the climb up to Tranwell, watching as a deer emerged from the treeline on the right, hurdled the hedge and skittered across the road just ahead of us. a cervidae shot across the bows if you will.
“Watch out,” someone called, “It’s the ones you don’t see that are the most dangerous.” Luckily, as a stampede, this proved to be very much a solo effort and we were otherwise untroubled.
Then, approaching the crest of the hill we were greeted with the unmistakable, almost irresistible aroma of frying bacon, that nearly drew Anders off his bike. He wondered if they’d cooked enough to share with a bunch of hungry, slobbering cyclists and if not, could we break in and steal it. I think he had this grand vision of us as a marauding, bad-ass biker gang that went around terrifying the locals and demanding to be paid tribute in bacon sarnies. Bicycle thieves, if you will.
Luckily, we were past before he could act on his baser instincts, dropping down to Mitford, where OGL offered to take anyone interested on a shorter loop, but found no takers and pedalled off in splendid isolation.
The Mur de Mitford was as gnarly as expected, but I managed to haul myself up with only minimal wheel slip. We then ranged across the top of the Wansbeck valley instead of descending to follow the river west, avoid a direct confrontation with a headwind at the expense of some rolling terrain and several stiff climbs.
At one point Zardoz slid out on a corner. He didn’t seem badly injured, but it was enough to persuade him to descend straight into the valley and pick his own way and pace to the cafe. Just outside Longhorsely at the most northerly point and the highest elevation of our route we stopped to regroup after another stiff climb and tried to determine if we could see the North Sea from our lofty vantage point.
I argued that we couldn’t possibly be close enough, but what do I know. Carlton’s Google Maps app showed we were only about 10 miles from the coast as the crow flies, so that grey wavery and blurry line on the horizon probably was the sea after all.
Back on the front with Brassneck, we agreed that sooner or later we would have a long descent to Netherwitton and we might get a little relief, but for now it seemed to be dragging on and for every slight drop there seemed to be a corresponding rise. Finally, after what seemed an age, we got our reward, a long sweeping drop down to the valley on super-smooth tarmac that was over much too quickly and then we were climbing again as we took on the Trench.
It’s a long climb, but at a relatively benign gradient, so a little easier to cope with then the Mur de Mitford and much less challenging. We regrouped at the top, waiting for Big Stu, there’s absolutely zero irony in the name he is a big, big unit and not at all suited to the hilly nature of Northumberland. He does make one hell of a wind shield though.
On to Dyke Neuk with one final, testing climb up to Meldon between us and the cafe at Kirkley. We were on the last leg now, with coffee and cakes tantalisingly close. Still on the front alongside Brassneck, we tried to pick up the pace for a fast run in, even as I voiced my doubt that we were not as close to the cafe than we thought. But it was too late for second-guessing and we were committed.
I was right, we were still some distance out and, as one final uphill drag bit, I couldn’t help vocalising the deep distress in my tired legs.
“I completely agree,” Aether riding just behind responded, before adding, “That’s not a phrase you’ll ever find in a dictionary, but I know exactly how you feel.”
We passed the Saltwick turn. We still had some way to go and I was approaching terminal velocity for my one single gear. Brassneck thought that if we took the last corner at breakneck speed we might get someone to overshoot and give us a split-second advantage in the sprint. It was a nice idea, but I wasn’t not sure either of us could pull it off. I knew I certainly couldn’t.
“Waargh!” Aether roared into my ear as he opened up his sprint and surged past me. Given adequate warning, Brassneck responded immediately and just managed to hold on for top honours. I had nothing left and couldn’t have sprinted anyway, I was wasting too much oxygen laughing out loud.
“Next time you try a sneaky attack, it’s probably best not to announce it by shouting in my ear,” I suggested to Aether. I’m sure it’s a lesson Mark Cavendish learned early on in his pro career.
By the time I’d swung off the bike at the cafe I’d already clocked up 50 miles of what would be an eventual 70 mile trip. Is it still winter? There’s no sign of good bikes and, despite Brassneck’s mystical divination, there’s still no sign the fish and chip van at Dinnington has returned from its annual migration to warmer climes. I’m inclined to think it still is winter then, so I wonder what happened to shorter, easier rides with everyone on equally crap and heavy bikes?
It was good to find G-Dawg had ridden to the cafe and he explained in simple terms (which is ideal for me), that if he was a boiler, the plumbing was all fine, but his electrics were a bit off. As such his heart was perfectly healthy and he had no higher risk of a cardiac incident than normal, it was just the impulses that controlled his heart could go a little haywire at times. Hopefully a minor ablation procedure to scar the tissue causing the incidents would be enough to prevent the rogue electrical pulses that bring on fibrillation. (I almost sound knowledgeable there. Thanks Google.)
Zardoz appeared shortly afterwards, having made it around largely on his own, but the front group were notably absent, having diverted to the cafe at Belsay, which at least allowed everyone there to find a seat indoors. As someone noted, despite us having the largest turnout for a ride in 2023, we’d seen very few other cyclists out on the roads and we had the cafe more or less to ourselves.
The ride home was generally uneventful and I even remembered to take the back roads up the Heinous Hill to avoid the traffic light on the bank. Tick another one off.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 11th February 2023|
|Riding Time:||5 hours 11 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||112km/70 miles with 1,107m of climbing|
|Group Size:||31 riders, 1 FNG|
|Weather in a word or two:||Fine. Again.|
|Year to date:||885km/550 miles with 8,811m of climbing|