Of Ice and Men

Of Ice and Men

Club Run 19th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 103 km/64 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed:24.0 km/h
Group Size:19
Temperature:4°C
Weather in a word or two:Bitter
Ride Profile

Brace yourself, here comes the real winter…

The weather turned much colder, mid-week starting on Wednesday, when I only just managed to make it into work before we were hit with the first snow flurries of 2019.

On Thursday and Friday temperatures plunged further and ice bloomed in oddly random patches, encouraging me to swap the road bike for a mountain bike. This hopefully doubles-up on the amount of rubber in contact with the road surface at any one time. It still wasn’t enough to give me the confidence to ride down one totally ice-sheeted lane I found on my commuting route.

In fact things were looking so bad on Friday that, conscientious fellow that he is, G-Dawg reconnoitred our entire planned route for Saturday and worked out a comprehensive Plan B, based on by-passing those roads he felt were way too sketchy – and there were plenty of those. I should probably clarify that he drove the intended route, he didn’t cycle – I said he was conscientious, not stark staring mad.

So Saturday was cold from the early hours and unlikely to get much warmer as the day progressed. I doubled up on base layers, slapped a rain jacket over my winter jacket and rolled out.

The descent of the hill was great for identifying the weak spots and any chinks in my cold weather armour – the minuscule gap between glove and jacket cuff, everything above the protective buff wrapped around my lower face and the area where the double protection between socks and bibtights petered out.

3°C the flashing LED’s on the factory unit told me, plus (or, is that minus?) the wind chill, the icing on the cake, or maybe the icing on the poor rider in this instance.

Once again though, others perhaps had it worse, as the rowers were already gathering on the river bank as I passed, preparing for the Tyne New Years Head race, 4.5km upstream from Scotswood to Newburn in bitterly cold conditions.

A brief interlude at the traffic lights before the bridge brought me a buzzing from the overhead wires, overlaid with the clomp of many welly-booted feet, as the rowers prepared all their gear. All this was interspaced with the bright, chirruping chatter of a solitary early bird. I’ve no idea why he was so happy, perhaps it was a triumphal anthem as he’d got the worm?

Over the river and climbing out the other side of the valley, I finally began to warm up a little, but I never did feel the need to shed the rain jacket, then or at any subsequent point during the ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

On arriving, I found G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Colossus sitting on the wall, no doubt being entertained by the Garrulous Kid, who had his hands thrust obscenely down the front of his tights to keep them warm.

G-Dawg shuffled uncomfortably on the wall. “My backside’s bloody freezing,” he declared unhappily.

“Is that the real reason all cycling apparel comes with a padded seat, ” I pondered. “Heat insulation?”

“Well, if it is, it’s not working,” G-Dawg affirmed.

“You should do this and put your hands down here,” the Garrulous Kid offered, stretching the groin area of his tights out alarmingly to indicate where me mean’t.

“There’s an offer you won’t get very often,” I decided, “Put your hands down your fellow cyclists trousers to warm them up.”

“That’s not what I mean’t” the Garrulous Kid objected, but it was too late.

“It’s me arse that’s cold, will that fit?” G-Dawg demanded

“Is this our #MeToo moment?” a Taffy Steve wondered laconically.

Oh dear.

Speaking of hash tags, did anyone else see the banner ads for #amazonshitcarshow and read it the same way I did? I was almost going to congratulate Amazon on brutally honest and forthright advertising, until I worked out what they were really trying to say about Mr Clarkson’s latest opus.

OGL took the opportunity to announce that a diary clash means he’s deprived of Jimmy Mac’s services for one of the races he organises and now needs someone else to step up and act as the event doctor.

The Garrulous Kid immediately volunteered and OGL had to patiently explain he actually needed a qualified doctor, not just someone with a scout’s First Aid badge and a willingness to wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

Taffy Steve and I wondered if any qualified doctor would do, perhaps a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of religion would serve? Although they probably wouldn’t be all that good at treating bodily injuries, they could always help you rationalise how you came to be lying bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road, or intercede on your behalf with the highest of authorities.

G-Dawg discussed route options and we agreed that the weather had suddenly and unexpectedly softened a little from late last night, so we could probably revert to the original route.

By contrast, the weather now seemed positively benign – which was saying something.

The Cow Ranger confirmed conditions had been deadly on Friday night, he’d gone out for a run with his dog, only to give up when it kept losing its footing on the ice. This saw it spinning slowly in circles, legs splayed, spread-eagled and out of control through a series of comedy falls.

Richard of Flanders appeared having cancelled the Saturday Go Ride session, which he was mean’t to be coaching, because conditions on Friday had looked so treacherous. The sudden and expected thaw now meant he was free to ride with us and G-Dawg wondered just how guilty he felt for this premature evaluation and cancellation.

To be honest, he didn’t look all that guilty, despite the vast numbers of heartbroken kids left at home and probably even now looking out the window and crying softly, while they wondered why they weren’t allowed to ride their bikes today.

Jimmy Mac offered up his own testimony to support the sudden thaw-thesis, relating how he’d attended the rugby on Friday night and determined conditions were so bad, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride Saturday morning, so felt free to indulge in a few libations to the gods of the oval ball. Now, with conditions radically improved, he was out, though feeling just a little bit fragile.

G-Dawg outlined Route Option A, Route Option B if things proved worse than expected and a Route Option C for the consideration of the Flat White club, including several detours to sate the needs of even the most ardent coffee connoisseur. We agreed to play it by ear once we got out into the frigid countryside but, all things considered, his original route now looked do-able.

We pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I was in line, chatting with Sneaky Pete as we dropped down from Dinnington and pushed on toward Berwick Hill, when, with a clatter of skidding hooves on slick tarmac, a startled deer crashed through the trees, skittered across our path and disappeared again.

Oh deer.


Jets overhead

Through Ponteland and out onto Limestone Lane, we passed two more deer, who stopped briefly to give us the evil eye before bounding away.

“They’re coming down from the higher ground,” Sneaky Pete suggested ominously. Must be cold up there if it’s driving the wild life out, I thought. Oh deer, oh deer. (It’s ok, I’ve finished now.)

Further on and a fusillade of shots rang out from the woods flanking us. perhaps the deer had unwittingly walked into an ambush, or we’d stumbled across the training camp of the Northumberland Patriots preparing for their own private Waco moment.

We survived unscathed and, despite our best efforts and a route that took us along some less travelled back lanes, we singularly failed to find any dangerous, or even vaguely discomforting roads. The only issue we really had was with the Cow Ranger’s chain, which was dropped more times than the bar of soap in a public school shower block.

Strung out a little on the climb up the village of Ryal, we regrouped at the top, inviting the Garrulous Kid to act out his bravado and actually head down the climb. He declined to descend.

Thinking we were of one mind, I rolled away from the group and made my way toward the turn for the Quarry, expecting everyone to catch up in short order. At the junction though, we discovered that our numbers were light and we’d lost a handful of riders.

We pulled up to wait and finally, after long minutes, an estranged quartet of riders finally appeared. They’d realised that the Cow Ranger was missing and retraced our route to the last spot we could remember seeing him, but he remained as elusive as the enigmatic pimpernel. No track, no trace, no sign, no odd stain on the tarmac from a dropped chain.

We pondered where he could have gone – the route straight on led to the village centre before petering into a rough farm track that led nowhere, the right turn would have brought him past us, while a left would see him dropping down the Ryals, which we all agreed was madness in these conditions.

“Perhaps he back-tracked down the same route we took to get up here?” G-Dawg considered.

“Or, he’s hiding behind a hedge, giggling madly at us trying desperately to find him?” I suggested.

After few more minutes of waiting and prevaricating and getting colder, we finally decided the Cow Ranger was a big boy and could probably look after himself. Anyway, we reasoned, if the worst came to the worst, his body would be perfectly preserved in these freezing conditions and we could pick it up next week.

We pushed on to the Quarry, startled by how much colder it seemed at the top of the climb, our highest point of the day, but still only about 200 metres above sea level. No wonder the wildlife were fleeing to lower pastures.

Jimmy Mac and Caracol took us at increasing pace from the top of the Quarry and through Hallington crossroads, then ceded the front. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention, so Caracol had to physically ask if I was going to come through.

Oops. Sorry guys.

I drove the group through the twisting corners, down the descent to the first junction, then halfway up the rise to final turn before I was done and dropping back, leaving the rest to contend the sprint down to the Snake Bends.

Well, that warmed me up a bit.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

The cafe was surprisingly full and, shockingly, not everyone taking up the seats was a cyclist in dire need of a life-saving injection of caffeine and cake. Didn’t these people recognise our needs? (The short answer is a definitive no.)

We finally found a space tucked into a corner, where Caracol was the first to dare the omerta and query my filthy-dirty and anti-social blerging habits, which (if you’re reading this) you’ll know I’ve singularly failed to break.

I explained that I felt I couldn’t possibly give up when there was such a massive public outcry and outpouring of support for further adventures sur la jante – proudly mentioning that two whole (real and not imaginary!) people had urged me to continue. (Thanks Mum, thanks Dad).

I explained that, apart from finding the time to actually write this drivel, my main problem was simply remembering what actually went on during any given ride – which is why I make all of this up, well apart from the bits that actually happened, obviously. I can’t help thinking the older I get, the more challenging this bit might prove.

Caracol suggested I should not only carry a camera, but maybe a dictaphone too, so I had a record of what was being said. The Colossus though was quick to point out that 3 hours of someone panting like an asthmatic dog on a pollen farm, interspersed with an angry bloke bellowing random, only occasionally intelligible imprecations, probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in constructing a record of what actually took place. Think I’ll stick to wild fiction then.

Taffy Steve arrived expounding on the delights of lime drizzle cake – apparently, while lemon drizzle cake is good – its lime-based cousin is simply awe-some, extraordinary, amaze-balls, da bomb, etc. He’d spent time trying to convince the cafe staff that it was the future, but I suspect he was wasting his time.

Call of the search! At some point during our sojourn the Cow Ranger re-appeared, wholly intact and apparently of sound mind – despite that fact that he had indeed taken the freezing plunge down the Ryals. Brave fellow.


I caught up with Cowin’ Bovril on the way home. He has grand plans to not only buy and restore an original Volkswagen Beetle, but then convert it to run on an electric motor.

At this point I realised that, as an odd obsession, blerging was much less of a money and time-sink than many other strange pecadilloes I could have.

And then we were exiting the Mad Mile and the fun and frivolity was over … for another week. Upward and onward.


YTD Totals: 491 km / 305 miles with 6,771 metres of climbing.

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Hard Graft

Hard Graft

Club Run 8th December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:94 km/58 miles with 1,272 metres climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed:23.4 km/h
Group Size:22
Temperature:10°C
Weather in a word or two:Wildly windy

Ride Profile

In the past few weeks we’ve been pitched into unending gloom, chilled to the bone, soaked to the skin, peppered with hail and half-broiled because of seriously over-dressing. Having survived all this and just for a change, today we would be ceaselessly battered by high winds. Never a dull moment, eh?

I didn’t realise just how strong these winds were, until I was being buffeted sideways and fighting to control the bike as I dropped down the hill. At the bottom I then had the pleasure of turning directly into a headwind, with gusts of 50-60mph, as I tried to pick my way up the valley.

At Blaydon, in a final insult, a mini-twister harried and harassed a pile of dry leaves, animating them to scuttle around and around, faster and faster, before whipping them up and driving them into a gyre that slapped noisily into my chest and face.

Spitting out a mouthful of dry, dusty leaf residue, I called time on trying to forge my way further up river and turned back to cross on a different bridge. The wind fell silent behind me and now, with a more gentle push, was actually impelling me toward my goal.  

This was good … until, turning again, I rode onto the exposed span, high above the river and once again had to battle to steer in a straight line. Luckily the road was quiet and I had the opportunity to tack my way safely back and forth across the empty lanes.

The rest of the ride in was punctuated by cross -headwinds that drained speed and ramped up the effort, or sudden, gusting broadsides, that threatened to pitch me into either the kerb, or the cars. It could be fun riding in a group in these conditions.

Having cut short my route across to the meeting point, I arrived around ten minutes earlier than usual and settled in to wait.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid was the first to arrive, well proud of the fact that he’d achieved a total colour co-ordination, every article of his clothing matching either the red, black, white or grey colour scheme of his winter Trek.

He said he was really looking forward to the Club’s Christmas “Dinner” and annual prize-giving, next Saturday night and was angling to win the “Most Improved Rider” award.

“It’s a bit of a back-handed compliment though,” I argued, “It just means you were crap the year before.”

“Yeah, but it’s still an award, innit?”

Well, yes, I guess so…

The Monkey Butler Boy arrived to deride the Garrulous Kid’s colour co-ordination. Apparently, simply matching your clothes to your bike scheme isn’t good enough now: helmet, specs, gloves and shoes all have to be the exact same colour too. We were all collectively condemned as a lost cause, clueless and completely lacking in style. 

Crazy Legs rolled up with  Chas ‘n’ Dave’s “Sideboard Song” as an infectious, immovable earwig. This was apparently lodged into his head due to the simple “I don’t care” refrain, which nicely summed up Crazy Legs’ attitude to the weather –  although by no means ideal, at least it wasn’t raining or icy.

I joined him for a sublimely beautiful, heart-rending duet, playing Dave Peacock to his Chas Hodges:  “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if ‘e comes round ‘ere, I’ve got my beer on the sideboard ‘ere, let Muvva sor’ it art if he comes round ‘ere.”

At precisely 9:15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time), Crazy Legs clambered up onto the wall to address everyone: “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.” 

He then concluded his briefing with the finest, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus impersonation I’ve heard in years: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”


We rolled out in one big pack and I let myself drift toward the back, figuring it would be a day for sheltering as much as possible from the wind.

The Colossus and the Garrulous Kid took the first thankless battering on the front, setting a scorching pace from the off, as if they could beat the weather into submission. Shouting at them to ease didn’t help, words were immediately snatched away in the strong gusts and head down and ploughing onward, they could barely hear a thing in the rush of air howling around their helmets.

An ailing OGL was soon cast adrift at the back and Crazy Legs and the Red Max briefly conferred and agreed to drop off to ride with him at a less frenetic pace.



Citing a lack of cafe money as an excuse, perhaps combined with a lack of will for a hard ride, the Monkey Butler Boy  was soon dropping off too, to be re-united with the Red Max, or more importantly, the Red Max’s wallet.

Further on and the Colossus also ailing and under the weather and having completed a manful, all or nothing stint on the front, set a course directly for the cafe, as our numbers continued to dwindle.

“We’re dropping like flies,” Aether determined, but we pressed on regardless.

Aether then punctured and my heart sank a little when I noticed he was running Continental Four Season’s tyres, remembering the recent failures we’d had trying to seat Big Dunc’s Conti Grand Prix tyre back on his rims (Trial of Tyres). Luckily, either Four Season’s are more forgiving, or Campagnolo rims are more compatible with the tyres than Shimano rims and we managed without too much effort.

Then, passing a massive, steaming pile of manure, dumped in a malodorous pile at the entrance to a field, the Garrulous Kid identified it as “a big pile of bullshit” and politely enquired if OGL had passed this way recently.  That was dangerously close to being funny.

G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid were back toiling away on the front (for at least the second time) as we started up the horrible, dragging route toward Dyke Neuk. Rab Dee took pity on them and muscled his forward and I pushed through to join him and “do my bit.”

“My bit” probably didn’t last more than a mile or so. Even that was enough to drain any energy I had left and I swiftly went from first in line, back  to last. On we went and I was hanging on now, heavy legged and lethargic, either starting to bonk, worn down by my ride in that morning, over-tired from doing too much mid-week , or simply having another bad day and  yet another jour sans. Or, maybe it was all of those lame and pitiful excuses rolled into one.

Aether dropped back to check on me, but it was just a case of plodding on and enduring, there was no help to be had.

I hung on through the dip and rise around Hartburn, but was distanced on the run in to Middleton Bank and grinding away horribly on the climb. When Rab Dee was the next to drop back to check on me and I told him not to wait and just press on.

“It’s all right, I’m just going to take it easy too,” he replied.

“This. Is not. Taking. It. Easy,” I assured him, grinding past as the slope started to bite.

Over the top and the group upfront had eased so I rejoin. I pushed hard, but it still took an age and Rab Dee had to close the final few metres for me. 

I managed to stay on the wheels through Milestone Wood, up and over the rollers and right up to the final corner of the final climb, before the inevitable. Everyone went skipping away, leaving me to bumble my way to the cafe, very much sur la jante.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The cafe was relatively quiet and I joined the queue behind Goose as we cast our eyes over all the goodies on display and weighed the pros and cons of each. Then Goose spotted some seasonal stollen scones and declared they were just the business. “You know you’ve hit the jackpot,” he explained, “if you manage to find a nugget of marzipan buried in their depths.” I took his recommendation and ordered a stollen scone too. They were good.

Talk turned to how boring it would be to live in a moderate climate without extremes of weather and how dull it must make things! I politely demurred, I think I could go with an eternal summer, although it might make this blerg dull, boring, pointless and redundant … Ahem, apologies … I obviously meant even duller, more boring, more pointless and completely and utterly redundant.

Goose revealed he is being coerced by the family toward becoming a cat owner and was seeking to understand the life-changing implications. Along with the Cow Ranger, I assured him how pleasant it was to be pitied, looked down on and made to feel inferior by small, furry critters, with brains no bigger than a walnut and a permanent air of self-entitlement.

We listed the other advantages, such as becoming much more intimate with nature’s richness in the form of a steady string of mice, voles, frogs, rats, moles, sparrows, magpies, pigeons, starlings, thrushes, goldfish(?), tits and assorted warblers, forcibly introduced into your home.

If you were lucky, I explained, you’d only have to dispose of the corpses, rather than chase, corral and potentially euthanize your small, furry, psycho-killer’s trophy collection.

And, if you were really, really, really lucky, the Cow Ranger added, you’d only have to clean up a single, small, highly polished and expertly excised piece of offal that is typically the only trace of cat-kill left (the gall bladder, I believe). How a cat manages to extricate and isolate this particular organ with such surgical precision remains one of life’s great mysteries.

Looking to understand both the positives and negatives, Goose wondered if his own cat would add to the accumulation of cat crap in his garden. I assured him it was far more likely to use the neighbours’ gardens, ensuring friendly relations were maintained all the households in the area.

And, the Cow Ranger added it would naturally bury the crap, to lie there like an unexploded mine or buried punji stakes, until someone unsuspectingly ran a lawn mower or a strimmer over it.

The Cow Ranger then capped the entire discussion by assuring Goose he probably wouldn’t even have to be wholly responsible for feeding his own cat, as one or more of the neighbours would in all likelihood step in and supplement its diet for him.

I don’t know, but I think we might have sold him on the idea.

With families regrouping for Christmas, Thing#1 returns from University next week and Gooses’ kids are also bound for home from all points south. According to him his son is a serious runner and very fit, but will not be venturing out with our club this holiday, because he hates cycling.

We tried to understand how this sad state of affairs had arisen, having taken it as every father’s sacred duty to introduce their sons and daughters to the exalted joys of cycling. (Yes, yes, I’ve failed horribly too.)

In Goose’s case, he admitted to a bad start, dragging his then 9-year old son out on a mammoth, long ride far from home, which reduced an exhausted kid to tears, long before they made it back.

The second attempt involved and even longer ride conducted over two days, with an impromptu bit of over-night camping thrown in for good measure. I’ve no idea how these experiences could have fail to ignite a burning desire for more.


I left the cafe with the same group I’d arrived with, plus a few others who’d done the shorter ride. As we pulled out of the car park, approaching traffic separated me and the Big Yin from the rest of the pack. Out front a collective madness seemed to have descended and they’d decided it would be fun to surf a momentary tailwind as far and as fast as possible. The hammer went down immediately. There was to be no pause to regroup, or wait for others and no prisoners taken as they thrashed away.

Seeing what was happening, the Big Yin surged to try and cross the gap. I’ve no idea if he made it, I had neither the will, nor the legs to follow, so embarked on my first ever, completely solo ride from the cafe and all the way home – a wholly unequal mano a mano contest, just me against the wind.

Having finally crossed the river, I started to tackled the steep ramp that led up to the main road, passing a sprightly, silver-haired, booted and back-packed walker striding away down the hill.

“Morning!” he boomed in a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met sort of way.

“Good morning,” I replied, “Someone’s very happy today.”

“Well, life is good,” he assured me.

An hour ago, alone and struggling, I might have argued … but probably not. I waved him off, turned left at the junction and picked up a tailwind to guide me home.  


YTD Totals: 7,075 km / 4,396 miles with 86,578 metres of climbing.


Buy the Book Too

Buy the Book Too

Anyone with a Kindle and a strong and a powerful, unfulfilled Sur La Jante addiction (and who am I to judge?) can now access the collected witterings from all of 2016 in one handy volume.

All this for a nominal fee of 99p or US $1.29, or whatever the equivalent is in your local currency and exclusively available from an Amazon site near you.

The UK version can be found here and the US version (complete with whacky/wacky UK spellings)  here.

Amazon wouldn’t let me give the book away for free, so this is as low as it goes until I find a way to manipulate their marketing promotions. The exact same content is of course always available completely free on this very blog site.

Reviews of the first Sur La Jante Chronicles – Float Like a Buffalo, Sting Like a Moth:

“Genuinely funny, well at least my lines are.” Taffy Steve

“I hate that wheel-sucking scumbag.” G-Dawg

“Great. I’m pretty sure I can re-purpose this to make all sorts of different things.” The Prof

“Attack! Attack! Attack!” The Red Max

“Is. It. Safe?” Szell

“Who?  Nah … Never heard of him.” OGL


COVER2
Cover by the extraordinarily talented, Mr. Phil Smith


 

Of course, for the truly masochistic, the 2015 edition, Float Like a Buffalo, Sting Like a Moth is still available. The UK version can be found here and the US version (complete with whacky/wacky UK spellings)  here.

Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations, Part#2


When my much beloved Fausto Coppi mug didn’t survive a recent office move, developed hairline fractures and started weeping hot java all over my desk I took it as sign from the cycling gods that I needed a new way of holding and imbibing this semi-precious, live-enriching beverage.

While there was a strong temptation to go for a straight up replacement, or even one of the other fabulously fantastic designs available from The Handmade Cyclist , I thought there was an opportunity for something a bit different and more creative.

So in a fit of unbridled megalomania and an utterly shameless act of self –promotion I decided to make my own SLJ mug. Quietly pleased with the end result, and certainly generating several quizzical looks throughout the office.


2015-06-05 07.52.39