Plague Diaries – Week#6

Plague Diaries – Week#6

The loneliness of the long distance cyclist

Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”

I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:

  1. My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
  2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
  3. Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
  4. Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
  6. Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
  7. You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
  8. World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
  9. Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
  10. 30 Days by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.

Any other suggestions?

In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.

It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…

As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.

Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!

Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.

From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.

The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.

It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.

I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.

It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.

I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?

By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.

Hang in there, we’re going to get through this.

Braking Bad

Club Run, Saturday 2nd January, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     110 km/68 miles with 528 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 41 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.4 km/h

Group size:                                           14 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                      8°C

Weather in a word or two:              Cold and wet

Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL emerged from the gloom of the car park having heroically struggled through to us to cry off with what he was claiming was a severe bout of man flu (# cough # hangover).

He stayed long enough to remind us that club fees are now due and warn us of both an impending hurricane and the sudden appearance of mutant ice. This ice has allegedly adapted and is now capable of spontaneously forming at temperatures up to and including 5°C.

Taffy Steve appeared with twin, syncopated disco strobes illuminating the dark underbelly of the clouds, an attempt perhaps to induce fits and seizures in random passing motorists?

We had to persuade him to turn at least one of the lights off before we could even bear to look at him. Despite being all lit up like the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and using lights with the intensity of a Blitz searchlight, he still reported a few too many SMIDSY* encounters with the traffic.

I’m pretty certain this isn’t going to be the last edict issued to remind us that club fees are now due –the massive £10 a year seems a paltry amount for 52 weeks of fun and frivolity, but apparently there are a large proportion of club members who begrudge paying even this token amount.

*SMIDSY – Sorry mate, I didn’t see you


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

With our regular haunt closed for the day, we had to make the annual pilgrimage to our alternative café. This was prominently adorned with notices warning of local encounters with the Bolam Lake beast, a monster depicted on the posters as a rather large, mature Silverback gorilla.

Everyone looked at the picture, then at the Taffy Steve, and then back to the picture, and he was forced to admit that he had indeed been seen around the Bolam Lake area, funnily enough almost a year ago to the day.

We were unable to ascertain if this coincided with the last sighting of “The Beast” or whether it has ever been spotted sitting smartly astride a velocipede.

The Red Max pointed to one of the white children’s high chairs and giggled that at least Plumose Pappus would have somewhere to sit if he decided to join us.

Half way through my coffee the BFG and Crazy Legs finally joined us after the purgatory of puncture repair duty. G-Dawg remarked how the BFG’s face was so dirty he looked like he’d just completed a 10 hour shift down a coal mine. BFG complained his “tyres were really filthy…”

“So you rubbed them clean on your face?” G-Dawg asked, not unreasonably.

The BFG again drew attention to his fallible eye-sight which he’d amply demonstrated on several previous occasions (see “The Texas Chainring Massacre and the Road to Cheescake”, Club Run, 31st October 2015)  by failing to identify brown sugar cubes and asking Crazy Legs if he always put dry roasted peanuts in his coffee.

Crazy Legs bemoaned not having the services of Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and having to use the molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick. At this point Carlton dipped into his backpack, pulled out something and started flipping down hinges, tightening ratchets, pulling out telescopic extensions and uncoiling a long rubber hose as he revealed a semi-compact track pump.

“That’s not a real pump” he drawled, “This is a real pump”

We couldn’t help but happily reminisce about the time Szell suffered an explosive puncture and, by all accounts bent the barrel of his frame pump into a perfect right angle trying to force air into the newly repaired tyre through a stuck valve.

As we were leaving the café the Prof declared that it was, “impossible for lobsters to pick up worms.” An insight that left me with a very strange mental image and knowledge I’m sure I’ll be eternally grateful for…


Ride jan 3 2016
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Following last week’s stunning sunrise and bright skies, this week I rolled out to low, leaden cloud, a curtain of rain and what seemed like perpetual twilight. These crepuscular conditions never brightened much throughout the entire day and encouraged everyone to keep their lights burning for the duration of the ride.

It was still mild though and despite OGL’s direst warnings there wasn’t the merest trace of ice to worry about.

In an attempt to combat the incessant rain and at least try and stay dry, I topped my winter jersey with a light waterproof jacket, hoping the outer layer would keep me dry, while the inner one would help control my temperature and wick moisture away from my base layer.

This seemed to work well and I finished the ride comfortably dry apart from a noticeable damp patch on my forearms. The rest of me wasn’t so lucky, and everything else, tights, socks, overshoes, shoes, gloves and helmet were thoroughly soaked through and waterlogged.

As an added benefit the outer jacket took the brunt of the huge volumes of mud, dirt, debris, disintegrating plant life, general crud and who knows what else that sprayed up from the roads and was relatively easy to sponge clean afterwards.


There was plenty of true grit in evidence … punishment comes one way or another


Around 14 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, but our numbers really were a moveable feast as late-comers tagged on while others dropped away or took alternative routes. We even had a rare appearance from Dave Le Taxi, getting his annual club ride over and done with early this year, although you’d have to say he could have chosen a better day.

The wet and filthy roads conspired to coat everything in a layer of grit that got everywhere. And I mean everywhere – halfway through the ride I could bite down and feel it grinding between my teeth, and when I tried to delicately re-arrange my helmet hair in the café, my scalp got an unexpected exfoliation which would probably have cost a small fortune in some upscale beauty spa.

The grit also served to turn brake blocks into whetstones. You could hear – and almost visualise rims being viciously ground away whenever we had to slow and braking was so seriously impaired that stopping quickly became a bit of a lottery.


b o b
The Beast of Bolam Lake?


Having put off replacing my brake blocks for one week too long, I became intimately acquainted with the inner workings of my brake levers which gaped open to an alarming degree every time I needed to stop, hauling down so hard the ends of the levers were in danger of smacking off the bars.

If I had it bad, others had it worse. The Prof started to hang about 100 yards off the back of the group so he had plenty of time to stop. Only a portion of this can be attributed to his ancient reflexes and less than nimble reactions, so the impaired braking we were all suffering must have played a part.

Dave Le Taxi bemoaned the cantilever brakes on his winter bike, which he said were a continual source of frustration and bad stopping power, while Carlton was castigating himself that he hadn’t chosen to ride his disk-brake equipped bike.

At one point dropping into Stamfordham village he swept serenely inside me and through a junction in a long, graceful glide, only to admit he was scared witless, had tried to stop and couldn’t.

When we called a quick halt, beZ discovered part of his problem was that he’d lost half of one of his brake pads somewhere along the way. We naturally sent him to retrace his steps and try and find it.


not a knife
That’s not a knife pump, this is a knife pump

None of us had managed to sink quite as low as, the perhaps thankfully absent, Moose Bumps however, who not only regularly rides without bar tape, bar end plugs or adequate cold weather clothing, but was discovered a few weeks ago to have worn his pads down to the metal.

As well as the potential danger, I would have thought this produces a deeply disconcerting audible assault and probably sparks when he hauls the anchors on and must be tearing through his wheel rims at an alarming rate. I can’t help feel he’s taking the poor student shtick a bit too far and perhaps the need for club brakes we mooted last week is more urgent than we thought.

With no OGL to bark at everyone, Crazy Legs invented a surrogate OGL, the “Proxy Peter”. This proved far too cultured, with proxy messages being passed from the rear up to the front of the group to politely request a change of pace. I must admit I missed the creative over-use of the f-word in the UCI approved ratio of 2:1 – two eff’s, effing’s or effer’s to accompany every other word (including any additional swearing required).

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist, I asked Crazy Legs if we should: “Pass the proxy ‘pon de left-hand side?” instantly inflicting a vicious ear-worm on him and eliciting a startling tribute to Musical Youth through the medium of song. For the second time in as many weeks this earned me a (surely unwarranted), “Bastard!” epithet.

Somewhere along the way we lost Shouty and Plumose Pappus, but picked up the Cow Ranger. He wasn’t aware our usual café was closed, so we were able to save him from whining and scratching futilely at its door and scaring the owners with his deranged howling.

BFG kindly highlighted all the potholes, mainly by planting his front wheel squarely into them. It took longer than I expected, but he eventually managed to puncture, just as we were gathering pace for the run to the café. Crazy Legs stopped to help him and they soon had the matter in hand and waved the rest of us on.

The Red Max celebrated the New Year with his first Forlorn Hope attack of 2016, but this died as we turned away from the usual café route and climbed the rollers in reverse. Shoeless and Son of G-Dawg led the charge upwards, and along with G-Dawg I just about managed to hang onto the wheels.


It really wasn’t the day for the BFG’s white jacket


There was a bit of a scramble to wring out and dump wet gear on the radiators in the café, which might have turned a bit competitive until we discovered the radiators weren’t actually on.

With no way to meaningfully dry or warm up all the sodden outer layers, we just had to grin and bear it, pulling on wet gear for the ride home. Well, all except for Max who smugly pulled a spare jacket and dry gloves from his ever expanding backpack.

On the way back the Red Max and Taffy Steve took an alternative route to avoid the climb of Berwick Hill, then Dave Le Taxi dropped off the pace. I was going to ride back with him as he too lives south of the river, but he was soon completely out of sight and it was too cold and miserable to hang around.

I suspect he was more than happy to make his way homeward at his own pace anyway. Alternatively he might have learned a hard lesson and dropped completely out of sight before calling for motorised assistance.

As we approached Berwick Hill, Carlton too dropped off the pace, still concerned by his lack of braking and more comfortable on his own. Shoeless and the Cow Ranger stepped up the pace on the front and tucking in I reached my turn off in seemingly no time at all and began to work my way down to the river and home.

So, brand new year, same shit weather – 2016 here we go…

YTD Totals: 110 km /68 miles with 528 metres of climbing