Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Day#1 – Planes, Chains and Automobiles

It’s a truly ungodly hour, 4.10am, Thursday 16th June. The sun is barely above the horizon yet and I’ve already been up for more than three-quarters of an hour. Now I can be found desultorily dragging an over-sized bike bag across the dusty floor of Newcastle International Airport.

I’ve been slightly thrown off course by the closure of the main, A1 route to the airport and having (half-awake) to follow multiple, poorly positioned diversion signs, plus the fact that Mrs. SLJ had to pay £4.00 just for the very dubious privilege of dropping me off outside the airport. Four-feckin’ pounds to just pull up at a kerb and unload some baggage? Pure highway robbery and generating a feeling of resentment only slightly less dark than scrambling around to try and pay for parking when you’re visiting a dying relative in hospital.

So how did this come about? Well, I accept I’m partly to blame. After a two-year, COVID enforced absence, I signed up for yet another chevauchée des Alpes à vélo. We’d originally booked the slightly more civilised 06.00 flight from Newcastle to Heathrow, until British Airways decided to cancel this with no explanation. Given the choice between a flight at 05.25 and one at 09.15, we’d bit the bullet and chosen the earlier one.

18 days later British Airways also deemed it necessary to cancel (again without explanation) our connecting, 09.25 flight from Heathrow to Geneva and we ended up on the 08.20 instead, so change all round. Still, somewhere along the line, we managed to dodge a bullet as the alternative 09.15 flight from Newcastle to Heathrow which had also been an option, was cancelled while we were actually in the airport – and just hours before it was due to depart.

I made it through the formalities of check-in, security and baggage drop, quite pleased to discover my bike bag weighed in at just over 16kgs. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this travelling light malarkey. As a precaution, shoes, helmet and most of my cycling kit were packed into my hand baggage in case the bike went AWOL and I had to hire a replacement.

So the bike was ready to go, but the same couldn’t be said of the rider who was way off his fighting weight and pushing close to a portly 70kgs. It was definitely going to make the up bits a bit more of a struggle, but would maybe add a little impetus to the descents.

Relieved of the bike bag, I wandered upstairs to Departures and tracked down the rest of the crew, lurking in our traditional pre-flight venue, the Caffè Ritazza. I was the last to arrive so the usual suspects had already convened: Crazy Legs, the Hammer, Goose, Captain Black and, new conscript to our ranks, the Ticker. Meanwhile, tremulous-flyer Buster and the Big Yin are off seeking dronkemansmoed encouragement in one of the bars and we’ll not see them until after the flight is called.

Not the Fat Controller

Busy times at the airport. Crazy Legs said the oversize baggage handler (the handler of over-sized bags, not some Ivor the Engine-type Fat Controller) had revealed they had 50 bikes going out on flights today. Actually, they had at least 51 as, unlike my compadres, I’d taken the British Airways website at its word and hadn’t pre-informed them I would be flying with a bike. (Although, as a precaution, I had taken a screenshot of the webpage that said you didn’t need to let them know in advance that you are bringing a larger bag or item.)

There was some discussion about a name change for the Ticker, whose beloved Hunt wheels, with their ridiculously loud freehub, have worn out and been replaced with quietly refined Mavic’s – which on a positive note means much more peaceful free-wheeling within our group.

With temperatures in Grenoble, near our destination, currently residing in the mid-30’s, we were heading into especially hot weather and there was some discussion about whether this might affect our rides. Goose took this as a reminder to go and buy some sunscreen and then had the dilemma of trying to determine if we’d need to pass through security again at Heathrow, in which case the sunscreen would be well above his 100ml liquids hand baggage limit and would need to be abandoned.

“It could always be inserted into a body orifice and smuggled through,” I suggested.

“Good plan!” he replied quick as a flash, “Just bend over there will you … “

And we were off!

The Squall

Crazy Legs was delighted that the Ticker was sitting flanked by two babies when he took his seat on the plane and they naturally started howling in stereo as soon as the plane began to gain serious altitude. “That’s just how they clear their ears,” he helpfully suggested later. I wondered whether I should just scream incoherently rather than pinching my nose and trying to blow out, I mean it wouldn’t be particularly dignified, but it might be an entirely more effective way of dealing with changes in air pressure.

We picked up Steadfast at Heathrow to complete the gang and there was just time for us to grab some lunch and for Captain Black to tell the Starbucks staff his name was Hans. I’m not sure they were aware they were engaging in a much valued and time-honoured tradition. Then we were being hustled aboard our short flight to Geneva.

Games Without Frontiers

I managed to reclaim a little sleep on the flight and we passed seamlessly through passport control. The stern and hostile border officers of our first trip that had transitioned to completely indifferent border officers on the second, had now been replaced by cheerful, happy, warm and welcoming types. Perhaps too welcoming, as the Hammer couldn’t get away from his, a guy who’d studied at Newcastle University and wanted nothing more than a good chinwag about the changing fortunes of our local football team.

With typical Swiss efficiency, the bike bags were awaiting pick-up – alongside many, many others, in what looked to be at the very least a “special operation,” if not an outright invasion of continental Europe by British cyclists.

Elevator, Going Up!

We then had to make our way to the French side of the airport to pick up the hire cars, passing through a security checkpoint and manouvering our bags and boxes into a lift for a short hop up to the next floor. The doors behind us swooshed closed, the lift lurched up and then the doors in front opened so we could step off without turning around. The doors closed again and the lift disappeared, heading down, while we pulled to one side and waited for it to disgorge the next batch of cyclists.

With a bright ‘bing’ the lift returned and the doors rolled open to reveal not a bunch of hairy-arsed cyclists and their bikes, but an old couple with two fully loaded trolleys that they’d pushed into the lift, then jammed side by side so they couldn’t push them out again. No matter how hard they barged and banged at the trolleys, twisting them this way and that, they were stuck fast and not moving. The doors silently closed on their struggles and the lift descended again.

‘Bing!’ A few minutes later the lift reappeared and the doors open on the same couple, with the same stuck trolleys and the same frantic efforts to try and move two immoveable objects. Nope. No go. Down they went again and then back they came. Again.

Bing! This time Crazy Legs leapt forward like a madman and started wrestling suitcases off the trolleys until he’d created enough space to pull first one and then the other out of the lift, watched all along by the appreciative, somewhat sheepish couple and the rest of our gang, who’d given up on the lift and decided to use the escalator instead.

Jumpy Around! Jumpy Around!

After that mini-drama, the car hire pickup all went surprisingly smoothly and quickly, but, despite two identical orders, we ended up with two different vans, with vastly different capabilities. I was assigned to the first, a Citroen Jumpy, the other was a Ford Transit. The Transit was brilliant, with loads of space and highly efficient air-con. The Jumpy? Well, that was a bit crap. The seats seemed immovable (or at least the car hire rep didn’t know how to move them and we couldn’t figure it out). Our designated driver, Goose, also felt it was a bit underpowered and the air con struggled with the 37-38℃ we experienced on our journey.

Still, we managed to jam 4 people and 4 bike bags inside, but that was the limit. On the return the Ford took 6 people and 6 bags, so would be the vehicle of choice if we could ever specify. Unfortunately, the best you can ask for is a large van and then it’s a bit of a lottery what you actually get after that. With two Jumpy’s I think we would have struggled mightily, so thumbs up Ford and big thumbs down to Citroen.

We were “entertained” on our road trip by Goose’s play-list, a somewhat eclectic mix of Radiohead, Abba, Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, the Glee soundtrack, a heavy smattering of The Gypsy Kings and some American feller I’ve never heard of that Goose referred to as Jay-Zed. I would like to say it helped pass the time …

Still, we did all right, with no delays or missed turns and, dropped Steadfast off at his campsite at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez to await the others, while I pressed on with Goose and Captain Black, through the centre of Bourg d’Oissan to the Hôtel Oberland where we’d booked a room for the duration.

Hôtel Oberland, Bourg d’Oisans – kinda hard to miss

Saddle Saw

The early flights did have one benefit, we were here already and there was still plenty of daylight left, so we set to assembling the bikes for an afternoon ‘leg loosener.’

I thought my bike had survived intact, but somewhere along the way my saddle had taken a hefty knock, the rails were crushed and it was deformed. I continued to ride it throughout, though it’s fair to say that after a good few hours it very literally became a real pain in the arse.

Reg. Assembled and ready to go, but enjoying some shade in the grounds of the Hôtel Oberland

Butterfly Kisses

The three of us set out with a vague idea of heading to the next town down the valley, Allemonde, and then doing a short loop that Steadfast had used on one of his previous trips. It was a good plan, only complicated by the fact that we had only the vaguest notion about which right-hand turn we were supposed to take to circumnavigate the village.

Though late afternoon, it was still what would in North East of England, have been classified as an absolutely scorching day, and it was nice to get moving and get the air flowing as we pushed our way down the main road. There’s a well-marked and maintained cycle path here, but your still mixing with a lot of commercial traffic on a fairly busy route.

At one point a butterfly came and kissed me on the lips and then fluttered away and even this unwanted attention seemed superior to the swarms of black flies we’d encountered a few weeks ago back in Northumberland. (This gentle introduction to the region’s insect life would prove somewhat duplicitous.)

There was some serious road re-surfacing going on in Allemonde itself, which makes me suspect the Tour de France is going to be routed through the town in a few weeks. Still unable to find the right-turn we were meant to take, I suggested we just take the Route des Cols, the start of the climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer and then we could call at Crazy Legs’ all-time-most-favourite crêperie/cafe, Les Favets at Le Riviere d’Allemonde.

In lieu of a better plan from anyone else, this seemed acceptable and so we started our zig-zagging way up the face of the barrage skirting Lake Verney and heading up into the hills beyond.

Goose was hugely intrigued by a group of teens jumping from a viaduct into the lake and took a lot of dissuading from joining in. We suspect on some of the solo outings he tacked onto the end of our group rides he’d visit this spot and try to work up the courage to hurl himself into the lake. The only alternative explanation we could attach to his meanderings was an infatuation with the waitress at Les Favets, with him passing this spot multiple times on his odyssey to pay homage to her.

Leaving the lake and heading under the trees, the climbing proper began and, even under the shade of the leafy canopy, it was still brutally hot as we crawled slowly upwards.

“Is it much further?” Goose asked plaintively after we’d been working away on the climb for a good while. Truth be told we were all finding it much longer and much harder than we recalled,

“Another 3 or 4km,” I suggested, although I was just guessing. Then a few houses appeared at the crest of a rise.

“… Though hold on though, maybe not.”

This was a false dawn though, the few houses were all there was to the very quiet hamlet of Articol (I think) and our destination was still further up the climb, with 3 or 4 km being surprisingly prescient.

The cool air exuded from the streams and rivulets that rushed down the mountain and dashed under the road proved temporary relief, but never lasted long enough and we were all dripping with sweat and in need of liquid replenishment as the gradient slightly levelled and we finally reached our destination.

I told you half and hour ago I’d be ready in 5 minutes!

We arrived at the cafe just after 5pm, just as the place was due to close. Throwing ourselves on the tender mercies of the extremely pleasant and friendly waitress, we didn’t have to try too hard to project the image of sun-frazzled and tired cyclists in desperate need of refreshments. For whatever reason she took pity on us, “Okay, but we’re closing in five minutes!” We ordered cola’s all around and my companions indulged in a beer for that Ice Cold in Alex experience, as we took our seats in the shade, admiring the views up to the peaks above.

Our five minutes respite had turned into fifteen by the time a group of Swiss motorcyclists took the table behind us.

“We’re closing in 5 minutes!” the waitress cheerfully called out to them in passing.

“Yes,” I assured them, “She told us that 10 minutes ago, too.”

The motorcyclists were largely appalled that we chose to go on holiday to ride up mountains and suggested in Switzerland the general form was to drive your car to the top of a mountain, unload your bike from the back then enjoy an effortless descent. You know, on face value that seems eminently sensible, but maybe it’s cutting out half the fun …

As we were leaving a new set of tourists sauntered up to the familiar refrain of “We’re closing in 5 minutes.” I do wonder what time they actually managed to close.

Most of the road down to Allemont had been resurfaced as it featured in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné the upcoming Tour de France. It’s a fast, easy descent anyway, with long, sweeping bends and not too many pinch points, but the plush surface just encouraged more speed, so I laid off the brakes and let gravity run its course. I managed to hit over 80kph before I caught a white Hyundai Tucson and couldn’t find a way past, Nonetheless, great fun. while it lasted. Maybe the Swiss have the right idea after all?

We stumbled across the rest of the crew as we passed through Allemond and they tagged on for the ride back. We’d just crossed the bridge and were about to start down the man arterial road, when Goose spotted a sign for a cycle-track, off to the left and supposedly also heading back to Bourg d’Oissans. We decided to give it a go and called everyone back.

What a revelation, the track was a wide, smoothly tarmacked and traffic-free strip running alongside the Romanche river. It was perfect and became our go to route whenever the roads took us north. In fact, it was such a pleasure to use that on the last day I rode up and down it several times with Crazy Legs just as a superb way to decompress and spin the holiday out a little longer.

The meal that night saw us heading back to the Dutch bar where Goose revealed he has a very well-developed internal filter that he uses to carefully process everything he says before he gives it voice. It was quite a startling revelation and one that we all had cause to question in the coming days.

Our meal was somewhat interrupted when one of the guys at a table behind us passed out and dramatically collapsed. They were a bunch of English cyclists from Nottingham and had been touring around the country putting in huge distances by car each day to take in all the iconic climbs. It seemed one of them had been pushing it a bit too hard and was down and out with heat stroke, or possibly something even more dangerous.

His friends pulled him out of his chair, cleared some space and laid him on the ground while the manager of the restaurant hovered, concerned and with the number of the local emergency services tapped into his phone just in case. The guy seemed fully recovered after a few minutes, and appeared none the worse for the episode, even happily looking ahead to more climbing and pushing himself just as hard tomorrow.

We’d already found out today it was debilitatingly hot, even for the modest efforts we’d put in. For us at least this simply didn’t seem like the right time for any crazy long rides or heroics and I was already thinking our usual ‘Circle of Death’ – the Croix de Fer-Télégraphe-Galibier, long Saturday ride wasn’t on the cards this year.

Let’s see what tomorrow would bring. After the odd interruption to our meal, we all seemed a bit distracted and disorganised, so in lieu of any other suggestions, I (wholly uncharacteristically) proposed the Oberlanders would set out early tomorrow to climb Alpe d’Huez as the first order of business and we could decide what to do after that slight obstacle had been accounted for. I agreed with the Hammer we’d swing by their campsite at 9:15 to pick up anyone else who wanted to join us, but wasn’t hopeful we’d put on a unified front.

I’ve said it before, organising cyclists is like herding cats. In a thunderstorm. At night. On a ship. Still, half a plan is better than no plan, so let’s see what happens.

Day & Date:Thursday 16th June at 16:32
Time:1 hour 46 minutes
Distance:38km
Elevation:626 metres
Average Speed:21.6 km/h
Temperature:29℃ to 31℃

The Odd Scent of Grapefruit

The Odd Scent of Grapefruit

Cat#2 demanded to be let out of the back door first thing Saturday morning (he has a catflap, but it’s sooo much effort and besides, what else are stoopid humans good for?) and while acceding to his imperial highness, I noted just how chilly it was and pulled out a windproof jacket before setting out. It wasn’t until halfway down the Heinous Hill however that, jacket, fluttering like a moth broken on windscreen, I realised it was not only chilly, but another gusty, windy day. The temperature would rise eventually, but the wind refused to die and would just help make things a little bit harder wherever we went.

As I pushed out along the valley floor I was passed by a regular peloton of riders heading the other way. There must have been over a dozen middle-aged blokes, all dressed in matching white and green jerseys, with some kind of numbers on the front of their bikes, riding in a compact bunch with a couple of support cars trailing, laden with spares. They didn’t look lean and mean enough to be any kind of race team, so I assumed they were on some sort of sponsored ride for charidee. Then again, they were heading for Newcastle and it was the start of the weekend, so maybe this is just the latest stag-do trend?

Odd to think that I typed the above expecting the spellchecker to object to “charidee” – but apparently it’s now a recognised and accepted word!

charidee

NOUN

informal

Conspicuous charity, especially as part of a television promotion, or of an otherwise pointless exercise.

Isn’t English a wonderful, dynamic and ever-changing feast!

Crossing the bridge, nothing was moving on the river or from either boathouse, so it looked like our rowing clubs were away at some competition. The roads however were busy, with more traffic than I’ve seen in a long while, with no particular reason I could think of. Still, I arrived in plenty of time to watch our numbers slowly build until we had 33 riders clustered together and jostling for space across the pavement, the largest turnout for quite some time.

As we waited, Crazy Legs made the startling confession that he now thought Ed Sheerhan was “utterly brilliant”, having been dragged along to see his live show and undergoing some kind of startling, Damascene conversion. Luckily no one in my household is ever likely to drag me to such a show, so I can remain convinced Mr. Sheerhan remains a whiny, wey-faced poltroon with a penchant for bad 6th form poetry.

It was Crazy Legs’ turn to plan the route, which had us heading to the cafe at Capheaton, until we learned it was closed. I really don’t know what’s wrong with these people, thinking they can just waltz off on the pretext that they need a holiday. What about the well-being and mental health of the North East’s cycling contingent? Not to mention their coffee and cake addictions.

Crazy Legs tried to engineer a completely new route, but then decided we’d just use the Belsay cafe instead, so we’d ride past Capheaton, look longingly at its closed and shuttered facade, wipe away a tear and then press on another 9km or so to Belsay. It wasn’t a bad substitute to be fair and we’d need to return that way anyhow.

Crazy Legs was just reaching down to check his Garmin, to see if it was near departure time, when Carlton rolled to a stop. No need for a time-check, then, our metronome (metrognome?) had returned from holidays and was as punctual as ever.

Even better, we handily managed to get 10 or 11 volunteers into our first group and sent them on their way. I joined the second group, rolling up to join them at the traffic lights, where I found Goose confronting Not Anthony and Cowboys, declaring how discomfited he was to discover they were actually two completely different people. Apparently Crazy Legs isn’t the only one who hasn’t realised Not Anthony is not Anthony.

We had noticeable crosswinds for the first part of the ride and then, just as the lead was ceded and I pushed onto the front with Goose, we reached Mitford and turned left instead of the more usual right, finding ourselves running directly west and straight into the wind.

“Have we been duped into doing something stupid,” Goose wondered, as we ducked down low and ground our way onwards. “Ah, well,” he consoled himself, “At least that farm dog doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.”

He was right. The rather ferocious, loud and very active hound that used to go crazy whenever it spotted a passing cyclist (especially if that cyclist happened to be Crazy Legs) was still there, but it stayed slumped and supine, not even bothering to open an eye and glare at us balefully as we sailed serenely past. Like most of our group it looks like old age, complacency and can’t-be-bovveredness has caught up with our canine adversary too – or perhaps the newly acquired muzzle it’s been forced to wear has taken all the fun out of chasing cyclists?

We led the group through Molesden and toward Meldon and were just discussing whether to stop as we rolled through the junction toward Dyke Neuk. Not only were we not stopping, but we were also going the wrong way, so we turned around and chased back on, going from front to back of the group in a few seconds. That, I think, was more than a just reward for our dithering and we could now find some shelter and recovery amongst the wheels.

We jagged north toward Hartburn, then west through Middleton, before finally turning back south again for the run through Capheaton. As we started climbing up toward the cafe and our highest point of the day, James III put in a burst of previously unheralded climbing prowess and the group fractured and became strung out. The last time we’d been up here he’d been struggling right at the back, only trailed by some idiot wrestling a single-speed, so things have definitely changed for the better. I worked my way through the luxury of a gear change, increased the tempo and along with G-Dawg, Goose and the Famous Cumbrian we started to close the gap.

We caught up with James III as we rolled past the cafe.

“There’s a big, big gap,” someone remarked.

“Good,” I replied.

I think they were pausing to let everyone regroup, but I wasn’t waiting and accelerated. At some point I realised I was riding alone and just kept going. It seems such a long time since anyone’s taken a flyer off the front, so I was happy to resurrect the idea of the forlorn hope attack. Anyway, it was only … err… umh … ah … 7km from Capheaton to our traditional cafe sprint-line …

Ok, truth is I really hadn’t thought this through all that well, but what the hell. I pressed on, never looking back, but noticing all the little impediments in my way: the fractured surface on the steep ramp up to the main road that had my wheels skipping and skittering as I barged upwards out of the saddle, the false flat that became a grinding, uphill slog, the wind from the left and right and front, but seemingly never behind me, the new road surface that should have helped, but was rough and heavy and seemed to suck the speed out of my tyres. Still, I’m pretty sure my face wore a stupid-ass grin as I frantically mashed the pedals around and around.

I made it to within maybe 250-300 metres of the imaginary finish line before the Famous Cumbrian buzzed past, with G-Dawg just launching a sprint from out of his slipstream. I managed to bridge across the Famous Cumbrian’s wheel and held on for a moment, but checking back, there was no one else close, so I eased and sat up, coasting to only 3rd, but a highly satisfactory and strangely enjoyable 3rd.

At the cafe I learned more about Tesla batteries than I’ll ever need to know. I also learned that Goose was inordinately proud of the 150,000 or so (and counting) unread emails on his phone that he has no intention of ever reading, or apparently, ever deleting either. Strangely, he’s just had to buy his daughter a new 256GB iPhone because she’s completely filled her original one up with photos, so I suspect the old adage about the fruit not falling far from the tree applies. I guess they have the ultimate solution though, we’ll just keep buying devices with bigger and bigger storage, so we can keep building up all the crap we can’t be bothered to edit and cull.

Recommendations to raise the age a person can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and then increase the age of sale by one every year thereafter prompted G-Dawg to imagine a dystopian, near-future when feral, middle-aged blokes would hang around outside corner shops, begging older folk to buy them cigarettes.

We also had a chuckle at the absurdity of hospital smoking shelters, invariably inhabited by wizened, infirm patients suffering smoking-related illnesses, but braving the British weather while dressed in nothing but a hospital gown and slippers, with a lit cigarette in one hand and IV stand and attached drip in the other.

Alhambra felt people abused the cigarette break excuse too much at his work, so started totting up the time they were taking and subtracting it from his own working week, boldly waving goodbye to everyone as he left early Friday afternoon.

“Here, where are you going?” his manager finally confronted him after a few weeks.

“I’m going home, mate.”

“But, you can’t do that.”

“Well, I’m just taking off the time I would be allowed off if I smoked, like you lot. See you later Dave, have a nice weekend.”

Apparently, his manager hasn’t found an argument against this yet and Alhambra says he’s now started taking note of all the prayer breaks some of his colleagues are getting too, and he could soon be well on his way to a 4-day week.

Heading back, I had a 5-minute catch-up with Taffy Steve, which is more than enough time for him to have me snorting with mirth. He is proudly anti-uniform and even when he was into diving would deliberately swim against the tide (boom-tsk!) and make sure none of his gear matched, while everyone else was carefully colour co-ordinating wetsuits with flippers and masks and snorkels and weight belts and the like.

I wondered if we’s be seeing the return of his old Marmite-branded cycling jersey soon, perhaps the most emblematic embodiment of divisiveness known to man, but he revealed he’d seen a fellow cyclist of a decidedly rotund disposition wearing one, and they’d looked so much like a little pot of Marmite on wheels, that he was now a bit wary of it.

He also revealed he’s been out with the Red Max on their newly introduced Tuesday evening, relaxed rides. Apparently, the Red Max had been a bit hyper on the first few, jumping around and madly chasing after other cyclists and cars and buses, but now Taffy Steve reckoned he’d reined him in and tamed his wilder impulses, so the rides have become quite civilised.

“No!” I protested, “You’ve broken him!”

We were strung out and split up as we crested Berwick Hill and started down the other side with the wind pushing us and demanding more speed. I’d soon rattled down the cassette and ran out of gears, but knew it was a brief reprieve as we’d soon be turning and then I’d be back fighting the wind most of the way home. And so it proved.

Oddly, while passing through Newburn I noticed a fleeting but intense smell of grapefruit. I have to admit the area isn’t one I’d normally associate with sub-tropical citrus fruit, or any other fruit for that matter, so maybe it was an olfactory hallucination. Phantosmia. Who’d have guessed they have a word for that too.

Otherwise, that was a very enjoyable ride, which is good as it’ll be the last club run I do for the next couple of weeks, let’s see what strangeness awaits when I return.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 11th June 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 24 minutes
Riding Distance:114km/71 miles with 1,114m of climbing
Average Speed:25.8km/h
Group Size:33 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:15℃ – 17℃
Weather in a word or two:Cold in that there wind
Year to date:2,492km/1,550 miles with 27,078m of climbing

Photo by Nicola Barts on Pexels.com

Leaden Legged

Leaden Legged

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have no time for the utterly horrendous, archaic and anachronistic, entitled, greedy, unaccountable, elitist human beings that compose the British monarchy, but I’m not going to knock back a day or two off work to commemorate the career of someone who should have been allowed to retire many years ago.

Even better, Bank Holiday Thursday was an extremely pleasant day and a few of us ganged up for a foray into the hills south of the river, taking in a typically difficult 1,700 metres of climbing in just over 100km of riding on draggy roads. We battled our way out to the cafe at Parkhead Station on the Waskerley Way for our obligatory coffee and cake stop, a venue the Hammer suggested had been directly transplanted straight out of Royston Vasey.

Still, weirdness aside, it served its purpose and a fantastic, if tiring day seemed to be had by all involved. There wasn’t though enough time for my aged and ancient body to recover in time for Saturday’s Club Run, where I had the horrible premonition I’d be leaden-legged and suffering. I should have put money on it.

Saturday’s weather wasn’t up to the standard of Thursday’s either and it was chilly enough for me to pull on a windproof jacket “early doors” (Football Cliche-Class 101™) for my jaunt across to our meeting place.

Once again the JPF were tardy in getting their 9.00 run started and the two groups mingled quite happily, before they eventually got their act together and ventured out. A similar start-time from a similar place and the interchangeability of riders between the two groups, coupled with the hard-fought-for changes to our own club structure, prompted a discussion about whether the JPF actually serves a purpose anymore. As much as I like a good existential debate, personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight, so my opinion is irrelevant.

We had enough for 3 groups and G-Dawg encouraged, cajoled and coerced a number of us to volunteer for the first group by pointing out there were none of the usual, faster riders present, so it could be run at a fairly relaxed pace. Without the metronomic arrival of Carlton (en vacances en Espagne) to signify the exact departure time though, he was a little premature and there was still time for Jimmy Mac and young racing snake Dansah to join us before we pulled out. Hmm, what was that about a relaxed pace …

G-Dawg had planned a solid and familiar route, heading north and then west to take in the Curlicue climb and Middleton Bank, but swapping out the Mud de Mitford for a dive through Morpeth town centre instead. A few years ago this may have been a no-no, but like many small towns, trade seems to have abandoned Morpeth and it simply wasn’t all that busy in terms of either traffic or shoppers.

We climbed out of Morpeth and paused to regroup at the top, where Jimmy Mac commended Richard of Flanders on his perfectly matched orange socks and bidons. Richard suggested the next step was matching bar tape, while I suggested matching underwear. He may have laughed off this suggestion, but I could tell I’d planted a seed that might yet come to fruition.

On to Curlicue Bank and the rather vexed question of whether it’s better or worse than the Trench, which it climbs more or less parallel to. I asked Not Anthony but he didn’t have an opinion, which was fine, I didn’t have one either, so I just stuck my nose out in front to try and control the pace as we rode up. From this and this experience alone, I would have to say it’s a steadier and therefore slightly easier climb than the Trench – although I guess it all depends on how fast you go up it, so I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

At Middleton Bank, Jimmy Mac tired of waiting for us laggards and rode off the front, while the rest of us regrouped and pushed on toward the cafe. I attacked as we hit the foot of the rollers. I had to, simply because I always do, even though it never, ever works to my advantage. This time it was a much bigger mistake than usual and I only made it halfway up the second hump before the legs simply gave up. I waved the others past to get on with it without me. I might have missed the sprint, but I did manage to sneak to the front before the cafe and park my bike in the space Crazy Legs likes to use. Just because …

We took our coffees and cake out into the garden, which was warm enough when the sun came out, but chilly when it hid itself within the broken cloud. Having discarded my arm warmers, it was simpler to pull my jacket on when the temperature dipped.

Crazy Legs cornered Jimmy Mac for a private consultation. Jimmy Mac then risked doctor-patient confidentiality to assure us Crazy Legs would be fine, once at least once the swelling died down and the weeping discharge cleared up …

I didn’t find any other republicans at the table, most just seemed largely indifferent to Her Madje’s Platinum Jubilee, although Richard of Flanders was very unimpressed with four consecutive days of “flag-shagging” as he so delicately put it.

Of course, replacing a monarchy with a constitution is no panacea, I mean look at the knots the USA has tied itself into trying to apply rules that seemed sensible 300 years ago. I mean, whoever thought it was a good idea to grant people the right to arm bears?

Richard of Flanders suggested the best electoral system was the one imposed on Germany by the Allies after WW2. I don’t know enough about it to say whether it’s the best, but I’m all for trying something different, especially if it means the state no longer has to pay out the estimated £300+ million per year needed to keep the Windsor family from extreme penury.

The cafe stop revived me enough to be able to hang in the wheels on the way back until I set off to drag myself back across the river and up the hill home. So, two hard days with a day’s recovery between exposed a few weaknesses. Not the greatest portent for what’s to come in the next couple of weeks, but it is what it is.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 2nd June 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 26 minutes
Riding Distance:116km/72 miles with 1,120m of climbing
Average Speed:26.0km/h
Group Size:19 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:14℃ – 18℃
Weather in a word or two:Chilly start – bryter layter
Year to date:2,358km/1,465 miles with 25,701m of climbing


Breakaways

Breakaways

This is becoming something of a theme, the weather on Saturday was warm (again), occasionally bright (again) and a bit blustery (again). We’re in danger of having remarkably consistent weather, week in and week out, which would obviously be a bit of a disaster as we’re British and would lose such a mainstay of our everyday conversations.

Still, it makes for pleasant riding conditions, so here we go again.

It was an uneventful run across to the meeting place where our club mingled with a few members of the JPF who , I must say, seem to be getting a bit tardy setting off these days. Crazy Legs wondered if we’d ever get a breakaway from a breakaway, which naturally led him to sing the song from the Breakaway biscuit advert … except … except he got it confused with the (frankly much catchier) theme song from the kid’s TV programme, Playaway – so instead of “Don’t take away my Breakaway” we got:

It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine
Just as long as you’ve got time
To B-R-E-A-K breakaway-break, breakaway,
Break-a-break, breakaway. Breakaway.

Well, It almost worked …

“Can you still get Breakaways?” he pondered.

I confirmed that I had been offered one while visiting elder relatives recently, while the Hammer surmised you could probably still buy them at Nisa (other typical corner shops are available), being sold individually in one of those wrappers that clearly states “Part of a multi-pack: Not to be sold individually.”

“What colour were the wrappers, anyway,” Crazy Legs continued.

“Orangey-yellow?” I suggested.

“Hmm, I was going to say yellowy-orange. This just confirms it, we’re polar opposites.” That’s some irrefutable logic and not worth arguing with.

We then tried to find a shade of yellowy-orange, or even orangey-yellow in the collected jerseys of the two cycling groups, but no one had quite nailed it. There’s entertainment in small things.

“What time is it?” Crazy Legs asked suddenly. Apparently, his new Fitbit has decided that if he’s fully engaged in any cycling activity, then he doesn’t need to know what time it is. He dropped down off the wall to consult Captain Black’s bike computer and find the answer to his question.

It was 9:14. He looked up, just as Carlton appeared, drawing a sharp intake of breath. Why was he so early? As Carlton rolled to a stop, Crazy Legs looked down again to verify the time and was just about to castigate Carlton for being premature when the display clicked over to 9:15.

Time we were away.

Den Haag had planned the route this week which included a rare (but not rare enough) pilgrimage up the Ryals. There were 24 of us, but we were back to struggling to get enough numbers in the first group, so I did that thing where you look to see if you’ll be the slowest rider and a drag on the rest. Being second worst is okay, but you definitely don’t want to be the worst. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but I gambled that, all things being equal, I probably didn’t quite represent the nadir of the group assembling, so somewhat reluctantly joined them. A bit of cajoling and encouragement from G-Dawg and we made it up to 7, but that would have to do, so away we went.

We hit Ponteland and then turned almost due west through Dalton, Stamfordham, Fenwick, Matfen and Great Whittingdon, before turning north for Bingfield. Taco Cat expressed her trepidation that we were now approaching the Ryalls, although apparently she’s ridden them many times before, so it wasn’t fear of the unknown.

“That and the Quarry are the only climbs we have on the route though,” Den Haag assured her, just as we started the climb to Bingfield. Apparently this hadn’t registered as a climb to Den Haag, but my legs vociferously disagreed.

A quick descent and then we were on the horrible, draggy run up to the Ryalls, looming like a wall ahead of us. I dropped into the smallest gear, along with a pace I felt I could sustain. The front runners raced on ahead, so, as I crested the first of the climbs dual humps, they’d already pushed through the “easier” section and were halfway up the the final steep ramp.

Movement in the field to my right distracted me from the pain in my legs and I watched a dark brown shape cutting a V-shaped wake through the crops. It materialised into a sheep-sized, potentially roe(?) deer that hesitated for the briefest of moments, looking me directly in the eye, before realising I was moving much too slow to be any kind of threat. In an effortless, graceful bound it cleared the wall, dashed across my path, hooves skitterring on the road surface and leapt again. Traction on tarmac obviously wasn’t all that good for this take off and it audibly rattled the barbed wire strands across the top of the wall as it sailed over, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

That, I decided, was obviously the Johnny Hoogerland of the Britsh deer community, capable of lacerating themselves on barbed wire and then shrugging it off and continuing on their way as if nothing had happened.

It was also the kind of chance encounter that almost made up for the stupid brutality of the Ryalls – a climb our group then decided should feature more regularly on club runs. What? No!

We regrouped once clear of the climb, quickly scaled the Quarry and then clambered our way up to Capheaton for well-earned coffee and cake.

There was some discussion about whether Capheaton was “the best cycling cafe.” Personally, now that we’ve broken the edict that we can only ever stop at Belsay, I like the choice and the route flexibility the various stops deliver and to be honest, each place has its merits and, shall we say, wrinkles.

Caracol was wrestling with his inner demons trying to decide whether he should be looking at a new bike or not. I thought this was a very unfair and unequal contest as he had no significant other to argue against and suggested he might like to borrow Mrs. Sur La Jante for this purpose.

Jimmy Mac insisted that Mrs. Mac was even more ideally suited for the role as she had experience and came pre-programmed with a whole host of stock responses and challenges, such as:

“This is a garage, not a bike showroom.”

“What do you need another bike for?”

“How many bikes can you actually ride at any given time?”

She had, he confessed, even sussed out the trick of him covertly buying all the individual components and assembling them into a new bike and was no longer buying the “it’s just an old frame I’ve had resprayed” gambit either.

For some reason, Caracol declined both our kind offers, suggesting he’d best just wrestle with his conscience alone, thank you very much. His loss, I’m sure …

We left the cafe with pretty much the same group and were soon chasing after Flat Eric, who apparently had an urgent need to get home early and was intent on ramping up the pace. I bailed at Kirkley, starting to feel sorry for my legs and enjoyed a more sedate pace as I picked my way home. Hopefully that’s the Ryalls done for another year.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 28th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:109km/68 miles with 1,077m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃ – 14℃
Weather in a word or two:Err … lacking variety? (It’s not a complaint!)
Year to date:2,135km/1,327 miles with 22,868m of climbing

Photo by Nicky Pe on Pexels.com

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

So, for an idea of the weather, take last week’s, but add a little more cloud and then take last week’s wind and add a whole lot more. A pleasant enough day, but a bit blowy.

The JPF were at the meeting point again, taking up the lower tier of seating along the wall, so I joined them along with G-Dawg, although it felt a bit odd being below everyone. G-Dawg revealed he’d had a bone density scan and was declared a-ok, perhaps the only good outcome from his fast, furious and frankly dangerous five-a-side football games.

I must admit the worry about osteopenia and the limited impact and load bearing that makes cycling otherwise ideal for aged and creaking joints like mine was one of the principle reasons I took up running a few years back. (Well, I say running, but it’s actually more of a graceless lumber). Then again, I’ve often wondered if lower bone density equals less weight to haul up a climb – you know, marginal gains and all that …

The JPF left to do whatever the JPF do, then Crazy Legs arrived, and castigated us for sitting so low, so we moved onto the familiar, much more comfortable top of the wall. This is also a much better setting for our three wise monkeys impersonation anyway.

Taking into account the decidedly brisk wind blowing in from the west, G-Dawg’s cunning plan for the ride was to face it head-on, battling out in a northwesterly direction as far as we could given the limitations of time and distance. We would then turn due east to ride the tailwind all the way to Mitford, before picking our way to the cafe at Kirkley.

Sadly, a MTB CX event at Kirkley called for a change of plan and an adjusted route, but one that still retained the eastward charge, although it had to be somewhat shortened so we could call into the Belsay cafe instead.

We actually had a good handful of volunteers for the first group, so I could happily drop into group 2 for a slightly less frantic and frenetic ride. We were all set to go, but G-Dawg hesitated.

“It can’t be time to leave yet,” he said. Scanning the crowd and unable to see Carlton, he naturally assumed it wasn’t quite 9:15.

“I’m here,” Carlton raised his hand to reveal himself, cunningly hidden directly in front of G-Dawg’s nose.

Aha. Time to go!

The Hammer and G-Dawg led our group out and were soon manfully battling the wind as the rest of us tried to hunker down and hide in amongst the wheels. Just passed Dinnington the Hammer dropped back and I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg, just in time for a delightful, windblown grind up Berwick Hill. We were following a lone Tyneside Vagabonds rider doing sterling work and although we were able to close, we never quite caught him.

As we took the right turn G-Dawg was replaced by Brassneck on the front and we pulled the group along until Belsay, when Aether took over from me.

Sometime later and Aether drifted back to complain he was worn out and it was all my fault. Apparently, I’d stayed on the front so long, he’d felt compelled to do the same and was now suffering for it. See what happens when you try to be helpful?

He then called for “a wee stop” in his Scottish burr, leaving me confused about whether we were stopping for a pee, or just a short while…

From Belsay we took the rollers in reverse and dropped down Middleton Bank, a short, innocuous and placid little descent that belies the fact it’s such an awkward sod to climb when going the other way.

We then turned directly west before the hill up to Wallington, which was a first for Brassneck. I reassured him it was a long, but not overly difficult climb that you could usually take with your ass plonked firmly in the saddle, and so it proved, although it was hard enough to splinter the group and we had to reassemble at the top as we reached our most westerly point at Cambo.

Finally, we were in position to turn eastwards and run with the wind, through Scots Gap, the drop and swoop through Hartburn (in reverse, so maybe swoop and drop?) and then track out to Meldon.

It was fun and it was fast. With the wind directly behind us and providing assistance rather than opposition, Zardoz even ventured briefly out onto the front of the group before declaring he’d fulfilled his duties and “done his bit.” I couldn’t help but admire his chutzpah and gave him a MVdP-style thumbs up as he drifted back again.

The Hartburn descent and then climb is definitely harder in this direction and it was the only real impediment to our mad charge. It’s also unforgiving if you get your gearing wrong, as Not Anthony found to his cost, having to grind the last few metres in too big a gear, while I nipped past him, back onto the front with G-Dawg. Heading this way and on the opposite side of the road also gives you a whole new perspective and G-Dwg spotted a large body of water off to our left that I took to be my first ever sighting of Angerton Lake.

Rather reluctantly we broke off our eastward charge at Dyke Neuk, although it was such fun that some wanted to emulate Rommel’s VII Panzer Division and drive to the sea, not stopping until they got their tyres wet.

We passed through Meldon and then Whalton on our route back toward Belsay and coffee and cake. I didn’t know if there was a club-recognised sprint approaching the cafe from this direction, but I kept a tyre width ahead of G-Dawg all the way along the final run in, just in case.

For some mad reason we decided to sit outside at the cafe, although we did try to find some shelter from the wind on the patio rather than the more exposed garden.

“It’s actually pretty cold out here,” Another Engine observed, “But I guess when the pace increases it’ll warm up again.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “Unwrapping those teeny tiny pats of butter is a slow and painful process, but once you get to spreading it on your scone, you will soon warm up.”

Meanwhile, Zardoz complained that one of the standard tests for Alzheimer’s is asking what the date is. “What retired person ever needs to know what the date is?” he complained. He has my sympathy, I seldom know what date it is and I’m not even retired.

We then learned that Another Engine was deeply involved in the formation of one of our club’s (many) splinter groups, the Ee eM Cee. The sly dog, I always thought he was a loyal footsoldier. Hmm, perhaps remembering all the splinter clubs would make a good test for Alzheimer’s?

When then had a long and involved discussion about erratic riders and those in the group who always seemed to be a potential liability … but perhaps it’s best to actually plead Alzheimer’s at this point …

On the return, Not Anthony hit a bit of a mechanical on the climb from Ogle. The group slowed preparing to stop, but I pressed on – I had strict instructions not to be home late in case I missed my mum’s 90th birthday celebration. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t come around too often, so I had to at least be seen to make an effort.

Not Anthony recovered and we regrouped, but I was now close to the front so when, the Hammer accelerated and split the group on the ascent of Berwick Hill, I was able to follow Caracol in pursuit. By the time we made the turn for Dinnington there was just me, Caracol and I think Homeboy behind me. I pushed on through the village on the front, then Caracol took over as we swung past the airport. I managed to stay in his wheel all the way to the turn-off this week, waved the others off and pushed on for home.

It was back to the headwinds on all the climbs, but once across the river, I could harness the tailwind again and get a nice push the final few mile home.

I feel like I’m starting to slowly get back toward pre-COVID fitness levels, so guess I’m about due a setback, so let’s see what next week brings.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,078m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:11℃ – 15℃
Weather in a word or two:Repeat plus cloud plus wind.
Year to date:2,006km/1,246 miles with 21,701m of climbing


Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

Fly Blown

Fly Blown

Oops! … I did it again.

I didn’t learn the lesson last week, so was enticed into the front group again this week, for an even faster run, (although, to be fair this route involved less vertical gain.)

Saturday also saw a further continuation of fairly decent and notably dry weather, with occasional periods of real warmth and bright sunshine, although we were handicapped by what the BBC weather app euphemistically insisted was a gentle breeze, but we found for the most part to be a seriously stiff headwind.

I wondered if the wind was causing a problem out on the river, with an 8-man rowing boat seemingly stuck motionless, and becalmed, athwart the river upstream of the bridge, while a whole host of other boats were racing away from it downstream as if fleeing a sinking ship.

I climbed out of the valley (in the big ring without really realising) and arrived at the meeting point slightly early and slightly surprised to find so many already there. This soon resolved into the Judean People’s Front assembly before one of their rides. They kidnapped Crazy Legs and away they went. (He was later released without any ransom demands, the group seemingly having quickly tired of his schtick.)

I joined up with a slightly under-the-weather Brassneck, who’d been over-indulging in the corporate hostility stakes for 5-days in a row, with clients visiting from South America. It’s fair to say he exuded an earthy-hoppy, beer-induced aroma after a full working week of wassailing and imbibing and was looking forward to a very gentle recovery ride.

The Hammer was our nominated route architect using a tried and tested run taking in Whittledene reservoir. He was also the originator of perhaps the most controversial question of the day … can I clean bike cassettes in the dishwasher? It may have been an absurd, obscure question … except I had form, having tried and achieving decent results cleaning an old groupset in this way, although I’m sure Mr. Zanussi and (especially) Mrs. SLJ would disapprove.

“You can also,” I added, “Cook salmon fillets in the dishwasher, though obviously sans detergent and not at the same time as you’re cleaning bike components.” Just to be clear, this isn’t something I’ve actually tried myself. So far anyway.

We didn’t need to check the time, just as soon as Carlton rode up we knew it was time to go (although, on this occasion, Carlton was a whole 20 seconds early.) Jimmy Mac, G-Dawg and Caracol formed the core of the first/faster group, but, as happened last week, no one else seemed all that keen to join them.

This again?

Really?

#Sigh.

I added my number to their ranks along with a very reluctant Brassneck, who mumbled something about kill-or-cure and then immediately announced he knew was going to regret this. Famous Cumbrians joined us and Captain Black tagged onto the back. I rolled up to the front alongside Caracol and told him it was entirely his fault that no one wanted to ride in the first group, then the lights changed and the less than Magnificent Seven got underway.

It was immediately apparent that we would be battling a headwind most of the morning and in between this and the pace we set, it was a fairly breathless start. Still, I was able to grunt occasionally and even contribute the odd snippet of conversation, as Caracol relayed his ongoing fascination with the “Wagatha Christie” trial.

He was finding this wholly absurd epic of feuding footballers’ wives and girlfriends (or WAG’s in tabloid parlance) hugely diverting and very entertaining light relief amongst all the doom, gloom and suffering in the rest of the news. He’d also happily concluded that, whatever the outcome of the trial, no sentient being was likely to suffer (or be even mildly discomfited) by its outcome.

He was particularly pleased by Marina Hyde writing that, when discussing critical evidence on a mobile phone “accidentally” and very conveniently dropped into the North Sea, and having admitted to the judge that she didn’t know who Davey Jones was, or why indeed he even had a locker, Rebekah Vardy had a “horrendous-whitey moment” when she thought some bloke called Davey Jones may have recovered and cached her mobile.

I was delighted to find that other, much more interesting and amusing group of wags, the Internet wits and commentators were fully across this story which, (much, much better than the Wagatha Christie monicker) was commonly referred to as either Wagnarock, The Scouse Trap, Bleak Scouse or The Tale That Dogs the WAGS. Splendid stuff.

We led the group through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Ponteland. ” I don’t think the wind’s all that bad, you know,” I heard Brassneck say just as we swung away to let him take over on the front, where his strangled groans and spluttering protestations were ample proof that he may have slightly underestimated what we’d been battering against.

Caracol dropped back to chat with Captain Black, while I slotted in between the two riders in the second rank for the ultimate shelter. Just before Stamfordham, we were down to six as Captain Black made a sharp exit stage left.

“What’s up? Is he OK?” I needn’t have worried, he’d had the early departure planned all along as he had a rendezvous with a small dimpled ball he wished to thrash.

“Bastard could have done a turn at the front before he buggered off though!” I concluded.

We pressed on through Stamfordham and out to the reservoir, dogged by large, shiny black and very annoying flies that seemed to be swarming everywhere. This was definitely a day for riding with your gob shut.

“Flies hurt when you collide with them at 50kph,” Jimmy Mac observed, as they pinged off my specs and helmet with annoying regularity

We stopped at our usual point just beyond the reservoirs where, in between wafting flies away, or flicking them off bike and body, I reiterated my displeasure with Captain Black, hiding at the back and then buggering off early.

“Not that you’re going to make a big thing of it at all?” Brassneck prompted

“Me? No, no. Not at all. Probably won’t mention it.”

We discussed whether it would be possible to hand out punishment for such aberrant behaviour, perhaps a double turn on the front next week, or even, as Brassneck suggested, making the culprit wear a special jersey of shame, emblazoned with “Wheelsucker”.

None of the other groups had appeared by the time the swarming flies persuaded us to move on again…

I did another turn on the front through Matfen and up toward the Quarry, where we saw an impressive fly-past by the Tyneside Vagabonds, 20 to 30 riders en bloc, the majority resplendent in their new(ish) blue kit.

We scaled the Quarry and the pace picked up, only to drop off again as we were cruelly robbed of all momentum, slowing for the blind junction at Wallridge crossroads. Caracol lobbied G-Dawg to use his newly-awarded executive powers to see if we could alter the club constitution and get a marshall permanently stationed at the crossroads. Compelling as his case was, I didn’t think it had much chance of succeeding.

We took the drag up to West Belsay and joined the junction of the road down to the Snake Bends. We were travelling pretty fast, but not as fast as Cowin’ Bovril, who appeared out of nowhere and shot past us all. He’d been riding the Red Max’s coattails down the long descent from Kirkheaton and had received the perfect sling shot lead-out to burst past our group – although the Red Max was thoroughly disappointed that he’d only hit 49 mph on the descent, just missing out acheiving the half-century.

Crossing the A696, we ducked down bomb-alley, threading our way through the potholes and then the speed kicked up again as the roads straightened and we charged toward the cafe stop at Kirkley. The Red Max and Cowin’ Bovril were jettisoned and the pace built and built. Through Ogle, past Kirkley Hall, we swung right, accelerating hard out of the bends, driving round the last corner …

And came to a grinding halt at the temporary traffic lights.

Again.

Last week they’d been a bit of a saviour, this week they were just an annoyance, still we were soon at the cafe and it was quiet and there were no queues. Perfect.

The Kirkley bacon sarnies were declared the best in class, even though Brassneck was mightily suspicious of how they turned up so quickly and suggested they may be in some way pre-cooked. Such a distinction didn’t seem to matter one jot to our bacon sarnie connoisseurs.

Jimmy Mac suggested they were nearly, but not quite as good as the terrific bacon pakoras an Asian caterer had served up for breakfast at a recent medical conference he and his colleagues had attended. I naturally wondered if this was one of his Cardiology Department’s healthy hearts initiatives and if it was a wholly appropriate use of health service funds, let alone heart-friendly cuisine.

“Order 31!” – we were interrupted from our musings by the bellowing of the service staff.

“Order 31!” Louder and shriller.

“Order 31! Louder still, more shrill, “Bacon sandwich on white!”

“Oh!” a bloke sitting right next to the server shot his hand up, “That’s me … Sorry, I thought my ticket said number 13!”

We tried to work out how you could possibly mistake 31 for 13 and failed. God knows what he would have made of the upside-down 13’s on my bike.

“If he’s waiting for 13 to be called, he’s in for a long, long wait,” G-Dawg concluded.

Other riders arrived in dribs and drabs, but there were no large groups and it looked like most had taken the opportunity to stop at Belsay much to the disappointment of Brassneck, who thought he’d earned the right to enjoy them all queuing for an age.

Jimmy Mac paused thoughtfully halfway through devouring the massive slab of Mint Aero traybake he’d personally selected.

“Which way are we thinking of heading back?” he wondered.

“Just the usual, Berwick Hill,” G-Dawg confirmed.

“Ah, good. Don’t want to be eating the rest of this if we’re going up Saltwick Hill.”

He must have been feeling pretty chipper, despite the mighty traybake weighing him down, as he applied pressure on the front with Caracol and split the group on Berwick Hill. By the time we were heading to Dinnington there was only me and Brassneck clinging to the wheels and trying to follow in what was a very unequal contest. We did manage to hold on until just past the airport though before a gap slowly opened and we were still held a decent pace up to the junction where Brassneck turned off and I pushed on for home.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:114km/71 miles with 997m of climbing
Average Speed:27.8km/h
Group Size:21 riders
Temperature:11℃ – 18℃
Weather in a word or two:Same again. I’m not complaining.
Year to date:1,876km/1,165 miles with 20,172m of climbing

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Ice Cream for Crow

Ice Cream for Crow

Ooph!

What just happened?

On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.

I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.

That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.

So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…

The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.

Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.

It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?

I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.

The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.

The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.

Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.

“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.

“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.

As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)

And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?

Hmm…


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 7th May 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Riding Distance:119km/74 miles with 1,173m of climbing
Average Speed:27.5km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:13℃
Weather in a word or two:Pleasant.
Year to date:1,742km/1,082 miles with 18,847m of climbing

Huh?

Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong, or Phil-Gil-Hill

Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong, or Phil-Gil-Hill

For this week’s weather read last week’s, but add a couple of degrees here and there, and for this week’s variable temperature layering-strategy also read last week’s, only this time around the arm warmers even came off.

Given it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the sun was out I was expecting a much bigger turnout than we had, but maybe people were keeping their powder dry for Sunday and Monday, although riding Sunday was complicated by the Sloan Trophy road race at which many in the club had volunteered to help marshall.

We had a new rider join us, instantly dubbed as rich and posh by Crazy Legs when he admitted to doing a fair amount of riding on Peloton. We also tried to get two women to join our serried ranks too, but I’m not sure we were all that successful.

It all started when one of them arrived having, I guess, planned to meet her friend at our meeting place and at our meeting time, without realising that it was our meeting place and our meeting time. Slightly perturbed to find so many cyclists openly loitering there already, she separated herself from the herd by ducking under the eaves of the multi-storey car park to wait. Her friend then arrived and spent several moments trying to pick her mate out from amongst all the lycra-clad bodies and bikes, seemingly without success. To be fair, one lycra-clad and helmeted idiot looks much the same as any other.

“Caroline! Caroline!” the first one called from within the car park, although she wasn’t having much success attracting the attention of her friend.

“Caroline! Caroline!” about a dozen of us echoed, I’d like to think helpfully …

We managed to attract Caroline’s attention and direct her to her mate so the pair were finally reunited.

Aether invited them to tag along with us, which seemed sensible as we could always do with some new blood and a few more female members would be a boon too. He suggested they could always drop off the back if the pace was too high or too slow and they weren’t enjoying it.

“How fast do you normally ride, anyway?” Crazy Legs queried, just to be on the safe side.

“Around 16mph,” he was told.

“Woah, that’s way too fast for us!” OGL interjected jokingly, but actually, it sounded about ideal.

Still, they said they had other plans, but would consider joining us on some other, unspecified Saturday. We’ll see.

As we waited for Carlton to arrive and signal that it was exactly 9:15 and time to leave, two Muckle Cycling Club riders swooshed past, totally ignoring us mere mortals. From somewhere deep, deep in my subconscious a song from my misspent youth percolated its way outwards and I gave it voice:

“We are the men of the M.C.C. – M.C.C. O.B.E.” I started.

“So serious we never stop to pee,” Crazy Legs helpfully supplied and we traded lines until we had composed at least an entire verse of an accomplished little ditty. When’s Eurovision again?

Buster briefed in the route, which included a sojourn into the Tyne Valley, though sadly not one that included a stop at Bywell, so no skipping off home early and it looked like I was in it for the long haul. (And it did prove quite a long one too.)

This week the front group was well populated – maybe the weather is emboldening us, and the third group looked almost too numerous to be practical, so I joined the second group led out by Crazy Legs and off we went.

Crazy Legs and Carlton took to the front and I dropped in alongside Biden Fecht for a bit of role reversal. His summer bike was behaving impeccably and running near silently, providing him the opportunity to look askance at Reg whose bottom bracket had taken to creaking and groaning miserably whenever I eased out of the saddle. I’ve no idea why he was moaning, I was the one doing all the work.

We had a brief chat about Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but even Biden Fecht couldn’t tell me if Phil Gil had got into trouble from his mam (Madame Gilbert, obvs) for writing his name 151 times on the road surface of la côte de la Redoute, or Phil Gil Hill as it’s likely to be renamed in this blerg. Even better was the fact that, in typical brotherly fashion, Philippe blamed his younger brother, Jérôme for this act of wanton vandalism.

Captain Black and Mini Miss took over on the front as we turned west, spotting a Bambi-like, spindly-legged, baby alpaca stuttering around in a field near Callerton.

“What’s a baby llama called?” Crazy Legs queried.

“Obama-llama?” I suggested covering my ignorance.

“Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong?” Crazy Legs didn’t know either.

[The right term for a baby llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos, is a cria. Something I’m now sure to instantly forget. I also have no idea what the difference is between a llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos … and no incentive to learn.]

Anyhoo, whatever it was called, it was kinda cute (in a stupid ass way).

We turned due west and started climbing on the Stamfordham Road and then a sharp left and we were heading south down toward the river. Captain Black and Mini Miss ceded the front.

“Are there only 6 of us?” Mini Miss wondered in surprise as she dropped back, but not half as far as she was expecting to.

Crazy Legs barked with laughter, “It’s good to know you’ve been following lead-rider protocol and always checking back on the group behind.” But yes our group was small (I prefer the term select). Was it something we’d said?

We dropped down into the river valley via Wylam and pushed along towards Corbridge, pausing at the Bywell bridge to shed a few layers as the day was warming up nicely. Talk turned to the unofficial (deep fake) club kit and the very snug-fitting, very grippy shorts, which are comfortable, but definitely take a bit of getting used to.

“They are,” Crazy Legs declared, “The only shorts I can’t pull on over my socks.”

I’m not sure that’s exactly a ringing endorsement…

We dawdled a bit more, half expecting the 3rd group to catch us, but there was no sign of them as we made our way out to the bridge at Aydon to vault up and over the pesky A69.

From there it was a familiar route through to Matfen, the Quarry and on to Belsay for the cafe. There we found the 3rd group had already arrived. They’d obviously been influenced by Sneaky Pete and had sneakily cut out the drop into the Tyne Valley for a shorter ride and a bit of cafe queue-jumping.

The weather was pleasant enough for us to decamp to the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake. Crazy Legs started talking about his classic La Doyenne T-shirt celebrating the 1999 Liège-Bastogne-Liège win of Frank Vandenbroucke, although none of us could remember his name. Still, if you were listening carefully and following along you would have learned that Crazy Legs had acquired the T-shirt, quite by chance, on a random visit to a supermarket in Belgium.

An old-new-guy, or new-old-guy, or perhaps something in-between guy, obviously wasn’t listening carefully or following along and wanted to know how we’d suddenly jumped from the oldest of the Classic Monuments into a Belgian supermarket chain.

Crazy Legs patiently explained the journey, but warned the guy that if he wanted to ride with us regularly he’d have to get used to completely random and disconnected conversational gymnastics, non-sequiturs and quite unabashed topic-hopping.

And then, just like that, we were talking about disk brakes on bikes and how not all the pro’s are fully in favour of them. I acknowledge that the next new bike I buy will undoubtedly have disk brakes, but it’s not something I’m actively looking for, unlike Crazy Legs, who wants them just so he can kamikaze even faster down Alpine descents without fear of overheating his rims and blowing out a tube.

I’m not a big bloke and never travel all that fast, so I’ve always found rim brakes perfectly adequate, although I do like the wheel longevity disks would afford. Cowin’ Bovril though was determined to convert me there and then.

“If you’re at the top of the Ventoux,” he began, “Daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs and you have a howling tailwind, then you’d be much better off descending on a bike with disk brakes.

“That,” the new-old-old-new-maybe-in-between-guy observed, “Is one very specific set of circumstances.”

But, yes, yes I’m convinced. If I’m ever at the top of the Ventoux, when daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s a howling tailwind and I have a choice of bikes, then I’ll definitely go for one with disk brakes.

There was a puncture shortly after we left the cafe, but enough of us dropped back that I felt I could safely press on for home without waiting or assisting. I caught up to the next group on the road and took to the front with Aether as we climbed Berwick Hill. He was complaining of tired legs but stayed with me on the front all the way until everyone swung away and left me to start my solo ride home.

The creaking from my bottom bracket wasn’t getting any better on the clamber up the Heinous Hill, so I took a detour to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares to get a service booked in and return my climbing to some semblance of quiet – well, from the bike at least. I don’t think there’s any remedy for the heavy panting, grunting and groaning noises the rider produces.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 23rd April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 23 minutes
Riding Distance:113km/70 miles with 1,141m of climbing
Average Speed:25.9km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:16℃
Weather in a word or two:Same old …
Year to date:1,561km/970 miles with 16,689m of climbing


Photo by Damian Barczak on Pexels.com

The Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus

With the weather a few degrees warmer but essentially following the same pattern as last Saturday, it was a case of repeating last week’s successful layering strategy to get me through the chilly start and into the temperate/bordering on pleasant late morning.

One major difference though was the wind which had a real chill edge to it and was strong enough to seriously slow me down as I crossed the river and pushed on eastwards.

It also blew a tiny, black fly into my face and I watched helpless as it skated across my spec lenses, hung precariously balanced on the edge for the briefest moment, and then plunged into the corner of my eye.

This proved a painful distraction for the next few minutes, as I tried to furiously blink and wipe away the discomfort. The only good thing was it took my mind off the new stem I’d fitted to my bike and now found to be ever so slightly misaligned with my front wheel. It wasn’t physically affecting anything, but every time I looked down I had a weird sense of vertigo and it was making me feel nauseous. Luckily, despite the headwind, I was able to reach the meeting place with enough time to unbolt and realign my bars.

Funnily enough, just after fitting the new stem, the venerable Toshi San had asked how my Holdsworth “Reg” was these days and I’d rather off-handedly replied, “like Trigger’s broom.”

The character Trigger in the TV comedy Only Fools and Horses claims to have used the same broom for 20 years before revealing it has only “had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Thinking about it now though, that seems a much more accurate description than I intended, as the only original parts of the Focus Cayo I bought in, oh maybe 2014, are the front mech, the handlebars, brake calipers and 90% of the STI levers. Since then I’ve replaced the frame and fork for the Holdsworth (crash damage in 2016), had three stems, three seatposts, half a dozen saddles (still haven’t found one that suits me) at least 5 sets of wheels, one rear derailleur, two or three sets of pedals, new bottle cages and even new bar ends.

Add to this the usual consumables that wear out over time and need replacing: tyres, tubes, chains, cables, bar tape, cassettes, headsets, brake blocks, bottom brackets and whatnot and, at any point, could I legitimately claim to have a new bike?

This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, about which Plutarch asked if every single piece of wood on a ship was replaced over a number of years, was it still the same ship? This philosophical conundrum has perplexed the smartest of thinkers over the centuries, but being a cyclist of the n+1 persuasion, I can assert that it’s still the same bike – because at no point have I ever not wanted something newer and shinier.

But I digress …

Today marked the welcome return of the Famous Cumbria (Dave/Steve) not seen since the last time he rode off the front up the Trench and, despite our repeated shouts, sailed blithely past the left-hand turn at the top and disappeared. Now he had returned to us, potentially after circumnavigating the entire globe and it seemed only fitting that he had the opportunity to do it all again.

This was because Biden Fecht had planned today’s route to include a climb up the Trench in what otherwise seemed a random cut and paste of regularly traveled roads that would at least give everything a patina of freshness. This included a descent down “Curlicue Bank” (hint: not its real name) for the sole purpose of 5 minutes later climbing back up the Trench to pretty much where we started.

Just for a change, Biden Fecht also selected the seldom visited cafe at Bolam Lake for our coffee interlude, the “cabin the woods” offering plentiful seating, decently quick service (well, by cycling cafe standards) and excellent value for money, with the only major drawback being it was cash only, so back to carrying lots of jingly coins in your back pocket.

Still, as Taffy Steve observed, now we’ve freed ourselves of the shackles of always using the cafe at Belsay, we have a lot more variety in terms of routes (as well as coffee and cake offerings)

Meanwhile, G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac discussed last night’s rugby game, where the Newcastle team were decidedly dreadful. They determined that we were subject to the universal yet unwritten law that states that a city can’t have two professional sports teams doing well at the same time. Given this rule, it was obvious that with the football team being one of the form clubs in the Premiership, the rugby club has to suffer as a consequence – they can’t both be good.

“Hang on,” I interjected, “I remember it wasn’t so long ago when the rugby team and football team were both shite.”

“Oh, yeah,” G-Dawg acknowledged, “But that’s not against the rules.”

We got three reasonably similar-sized groups out and onto the road without too much trouble (for a change) and away we went.

It was a bit of a mish-mash of a route, but greater than the sum of its parts. It worked well and all was good. The third group I was travelling with passed the second group, held up by a puncture just past the Cheese Farm and, despite a lengthy stop at Dyke Neuk, they never seem to close and we wouldn’t see them again until the cafe stop.

As we left Dyke Neuk, Crazy Legs explained the next part of the ride was a long descent, solely to have a long climb back to more or less exactly where we’d just been.

“Well, that pretty much sums-up cycling, doesn’t it?” Goose replied sagely. No one disagreed and no one opted for the couple of hundred flat metres to the top of the Trench in lieu of the descent and subsequent climb.

We’d already impressed on the Famous Cumbrian that we would take the left-hand turn at the top of the Trench, just to make sure he didn’t miss it and ride off into the sunset again, but as we dropped down Curlicue Bank, I felt it was worth reinforcing our route for him.

“So, it’s first left at the top of the Trench,” I confirmed with Crazy Legs, loudly enough for the Famous Cumbrian to overhear.

“Yes. The very first left at the top of the climb,” Crazy Legs emphasised for clarity.

“Is this left turn easy to miss?” a puzzled Famous Cumbrian queried.

“Apparently,” I dead-panned. Well, I thought it was funny.

We made it to the top of the Trench without any difficulties and the Famous Cumbrian even made the left turn. We took the swoop and rise through Hartburn and then the left turn toward Angerton, where Crazy Legs celebrated the astonishing, potentially miraculous lack of headwind along this most notorious and most-exposed part of our route.

One last clamber and a very short descent later and we were at the cabin in the woods.

We then had one of those interludes where our rambling conversation didn’t have any particular focus, but it ceaselessly looped and bounced all over the place, while we all misheard or misremembered things. It was the kind of surreal conversation I imagine you might encounter in a particularly eccentric and fesity old people’s home where the inmates are stimulated by patchy recall and half-understood snippets of tabloid headlines.

It started when I asked about Crazy Leg’s sister. She’d been hospitalised for a week when chest pains were diagnosed as a suspected heart-attack, but it turned out the discomfort was simply due to muscle strain. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs himself has had the results of a recent blood test revealing high cholesterol. I don’t think he has any hope of a mis-diagnosis in this instance as he affirmed his recent diet has consisted primarily of chocolate, crisps and beer.

Somehow this led to Goose declaring that he’d been to Popeye’s village and we felt obliged to break the bad news to him that Popeye was in fact a fictional character. He was, of course, referring to the set of the Popeye movie which had featured Robin Williams, (not as Crazy Legs suggested Robbie Williams, which would have made it a whole different kind of film).

Whatever the merits of the film, or its set, I suggested the greatest thing about it was probably the near-perfect casting of the Olive Oyl character, although he couldn’t remember who the actress was. (It was not Olive Rudge from On The Buses as Crazy Legs helpfully suggested).

Popeye prompted talk of Sylvester Stallone and his curious habit while filming the Rocky series to always take one “real” punch to set himself up for the fight scenes, or at least he used to until he told Dolph Lungren, “punch me as hard as you can in the chest” and he ended up in intensive care for four days. Maybe this is what happened to Crazy Legs’ sister?

Crazy Legs then had us try to guess the well-known film that Sylvester Stallone had directed, but even with the clues that it was a sequel and starred John Travolta, none of us could. I did recall a film that Stallone not only directed but wrote (and was surprisingly entertaining). I knew it was about a wrestler, had Tom Waits appropriately playing a character called Mumbles, but again the title eluded me. (It was not, as Crazy Legs suggested “The Wrestler.”)

Someone wondered if Stallone’s mother was still alive. Naturally, nobody could remember her name, but we reasoned she was either deceased, or so truly ancient she was unlikely to be putting in many personal appearances. Then again we were also conscious of Kirk Douglas who lived to a ripe old age and, while fairly sure he had recently passed, there was no certainty in the group.

Somehow Kirk Doulas segued into Caribbean food and discussion about the Scotch Bonnet and whether it was the hottest pepper as measured on the Scoville Scale (not as Crazy Legs suggested the Schofield Scale, which apparently measures how naff your morning TV programmes are.)

At least we all agreed that the Scotch Bonnet wasn’t the hottest pepper around, but (obviously) no one could remember what was.

There was then a discussion about whether you could be the victim of physically “spiking” (i.e. injected with a drug) without realising it had happened. For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of how the conversation ended up here!

We backtracked to learn Crazy Legs’ dog is jealously possessive of pine cones and likes to lick people after being fed. Mrs Crazy Legs argues it’s a sign of affection, Crazy Legs thinks it’s a canine form of tongue cleaning …

Luckily it was time to leave, before someone else had a go at spinning the conversation randomiser wheel, and we saddled up to scoot.

It was a good and pleasant run back. Then as we crested Berwick Hill I nodded at the red flag, fluttering taut above the firing range and noted the direction it was streaming.

“That’s looking like a block headwind all the way back to the coast for you,” I suggested to Taffy Steve. He resignedly acknowledged this was probably true, but one man’s misery might be another’s good fortune and so it proved – I had a tailwind/cross-tailwind to help me up all major climbs on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed my wind-assisted amble home.


Just for the record and thanks to the power invested in me by Mr. Google, I can tell you that:

The Popeye film set is near the village of Mellieha on the island of Malta.

The actress who played Olive Oyl in the Popeye movie was Shelley Duvall.

The sequel Stallone directed John Travolta in was Staying Alive.

The wrestling film Stallone wrote and directed was Paradise Alley. Surprisingly he doesn’t play a wrestler.

Stallone’s mother was called Jackie and she died in 2020 aged 98.

Kirk Douglas was 103 when he died. It was relatively recently, also in 2020.

The Carolina Reaper is officially the World’s Hottest Pepper rated at 2.2 Million Scoville units or 200x hotter than a jalapeño. In contrast, the Scotch Bonnet is only 40x hotter than a jalapeño. (I apologise in advance to my Dutch friends if the Scoville Scale is composed of retard units.)

Mr. Google has no idea why Crazy Legs’ dog feels the need to lick people after being fed. Perhaps it’s a suitable topic for the world’s greatest thinkers now I’ve finally cracked the paradox of the Ship of Theseus?



Photo by Lasse Møller on Unsplash

Noodle Legs

Noodle Legs

The trick today was to get the layers about right as the morning was decidedly chilly, but there were hopes temperatures might nudge into double figures by the afternoon. G-Dawg had decreed it was most assuredly an official ‘shorts-day’ though, so that was one decision taken care of. Now I just had to work out how to stay warm at the start and yet have the flexibility to shed bits and pieces as things warmed up.

So, arm warmers, short-sleeve base layer and jersey, cap, track mitts with light running gloves on top and a lightweight windproof jacket. I toyed with knee warmers, but thought I’d be straining the capacity of my jersey pockets if we somehow struck lucky and I had to abandon the gloves, cap, jacket, arm warmers and knee warmers.

It was then a first outing of the year for my legs, pale, flaccid and as unappetising as over-cooked noodles. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I think I got the layering about right, unlike G-Dawg who stepped out, was immediately struck by the cold and ended up pulling on a Castelli winter jacket, which I’d sure he’d regret once we were well into the ride. At the other extreme, James III went with just shorts and short-sleeved jersey and admitted he was seriously under-dressed for the early conditions.

He did however take the opportunity to apologise to Crazy Legs for wearing his Ineos jersey again and assured him he’d ordered something “more acceptable” from Wiggle.

We speculated what “something more acceptable” might be, but even bandying around names like UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, or Astana Qazaqstan we couldn’t quite find anything with the same palpable aura of distaste as suggested by the Ineos Grenadiers kit.

(Given the very serious human rights violations of the regimes backing these alternative teams I realise this is a seriously shallow and quite absurd prejudice. One day I might even unpick the reasoning behind it, but not today.)

“Anyway, I don’t understand why it’s ok for football fans to wear replica team kit, but not for cyclists,” Brassneck argued.

“It’s not the replica team kit he objects to particularly,” I suggested, “but the fact it’s Ineos kit.”

Alternatively, I could have legitimately argued that it is decidedly not ok for grown men to wear replica football kit. If you’re going to a match it might be acceptable, but beyond that, it just seems a bit, well … weird. Or, as one Shelbourne FC fan on the Internet would have it, “To the match? Yes. To the shops? Only if you’re picking up jelly babies and some Pokemon cards.”

We welcomed the return of the Ticker and BFG back from cycling accidents and broken bones (collar bone and elbow respectively.) The Ticker had concussed himself and could remember nothing about his smash, or how he even got home, while the BFG swore me to secrecy about the cause of his entirely avoidable prang and hoped amnesia would eventually erase it from his own memory too.

To change the subject he spent some time admiring G-Dawg’s shiny bright gold chain, carefully coordinated gold cable ends and yellow (but not quite gold!) tyre valve dust caps. Always one who likes a bit of bling, the BFG admitted he’d once invested in some Swarovski crystal dust caps. Personally, I think that’s a step too far.

While the BFG was admiring G-Dawg’s bike, Taffy Steve and I were admiring his latest, steel-framed steed replete with ultra-deep Vittoria carbon wheels (with added graphene) which he assured me were an absolute bargain at only £1,500. Right.

G-Dawg was our route architect du jour and had planned a trip down into the Tyne Valley and then a loop above and around the Bywell Barn before descending there for coffee. That meant that post-cafe everyone else had the very dubious pleasure of dodging the traffic to cross the A69 and the climb out of the valley, while I would be sailing downhill to follow the river home.

G-Dawg sat on the wall explaining the route, replete with extravagant hand gestures to sketch out the left and right turns, ascents and descents, while Crazy Legs sat alongside and mimicked his every move. It looked like he was performing one of those “not-my-arms challenges” where you stand behind someone who has their hands behind their back and slip your arms through under theirs to take their place and get up to all sorts of mischief. I did chuckle.

I am that immature.

Once again we struggled to get enough sacrificial lambs into the first, fast group, until Richard of Flanders volunteered with one of those fateful, “I can always drop off and join the second group” observations. (This only tends to happen once you’re totally cooked so dropping back seldom leads to any respite.)

“Well, there’s brave and there’s foolish, and I know which way I’m leaning,” Taffy Steve noted as he watched Richard of Flanders join-up with the handful of racing snakes, but then Aether, TripleD-El and a few others bumped down the kerb to join him, so at least the front group had a good core of steadier riders too.

I dropped into the last group and away we went, slotted in beside the BFG who hadn’t forgotten our previous conversation and returned to the theme of amnesia. Seemingly worried about age-related memory loss, he’d recently pestered his doctors into administering him a simple cognitive test … and then, just as a precaution spent several days beforehand actually trying to revise for it.

He passed, so like other people who claim to have “aced” this memory test he can at least call himself “like, really, really smart and a very stable genius.” Strangely though, none of the general knowledge questions he’d been swotting up on had actually featured.

We lost the post-Covid and still recovering Crazy Legs somewhere around the end of Limestone Lane, as he took himself and Yet Another Paul off to the cafe at Matfen. Then a few miles further on, the BFG called it a day and cut short his ride too.

The 5 remaining members of the last group pressed on, dropping down into the Tyne valley via Wylam and following the river west, at one point riding through fields of vividly yellow rapeseed, the air heavy with its sickly sweet perfume.

“Eh lad, it’s just like the Tour de France, but with rapeseed replacing the sunflowers,” G-Dawg suggested, while I looked around for a horse to gallop alongside our group for that perfectly clichéd Grand Boucle photo op.

Narrowly avoiding a head-on smash into an approaching car, the kind of everyday occurrence that happens when you take a blind corner too fast and stray a little over the white line, we worked our way out to the Bywell bridge and then started to climb again as we looped around to approach the cafe from the north.

The climbing got a little more intense as we took a “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) back toward our coffee destination, with steep sections encouraging out of the saddle work, but also a narrow broken surface strewn with gravel and limited traction to keep you planted firmly in your seat.

All the hard work was rewarded though as the track spat us out onto the main road and a short descent brought us to the cafe.

I think we had enough numbers to stress-test the service at the Bywell Coffee Barn and uncover its (rather serious) shortcomings. As the last group to arrive we had an interminable wait for our order, a lot of which came piecemeal.

A desperate Richard Rex started to hungrily eye up the sugar sachets on the table as an alternative fuel supply, while Taffy Steve compared us to starving labradors, fixated on the cafe door, stopping all conversation and sitting bolt upright every time it swung open, only to be hugely deflated when it revealed a waitress with one solitary order that was inevitably for another table.

We did finally get served, but half our group had already left for home by then.

Cake and coffee finally delivered and rapidly consumed, the remainder of us formed up just outside the cafe courtyard where we found a natural suntrap and sat on our bikes idly chatting in the warmth, seemingly reluctant to get moving again. When we finally did get underway, the group turned left and headed uphill, while I waved them off, took a right and dropped down.

It was still a little early to go straight home and things had warmed up enough that this was the best part of the day. On a whim I decided to cross the river at Bywell, then take a detour through Stocksfield to climb out of the Tyne and then drop down into the Derwent valley.

I took my usual route (another goaty track) up to Broomley through Shilford Woods, somewhat surprised to find the Forestry Commission has been hard at work and felled a huge swathe of trees near the crest, so the climb looked totally unfamiliar. I then had the delight of the drag up to Whittonstall into a stiff headwind, but it was worth it for the long fast descent down toward Ebchester. From there I climbed some more, looping through Burnopfield, Byermoor and Marley Hill, before turning south for a straight run home.

Despite the detour, I was back in time to watch the magnificent Elisa Longo Borghini’s decisive and well-worked move to take a hugely deserved win at Paris-Roubaix.

The world’s fastest adopted Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna was very heavily favoured (well, at least by the female members of the SLJ household) for the men’s race the next day, but it wasn’t to be, so congrats to Dylan van Baarle for a totally unexpected victory after so many attempts and failures by Skineos over the years.

(Jens on the Podium Cafe website had the most likely explanation for this and concluded that “moving Amstel in between Flanders and Roubaix was brilliant for Ineos as they got confused and mistakenly won a cobbled monument without thinking about it.”)

Hmm. Is that the faintest trace of a tan line on my legs?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 16th April 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 1,037m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Problematic
Year to date:1,257km/781 miles with 13,004m of climbing