Back to the Wind

Back to the Wind

Total Distance:80km/50 miles & 1,114 metres of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group Size:9
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Unseasonably warm

Ride Profile

Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.

Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.

Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.

I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.

Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.

Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.

I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.

Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.

He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.

For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.

Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.

This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.

“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …

All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)

“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.

G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.


It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.

Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.

By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.

After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.

When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.

Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.

I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.

Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.



“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)

By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.

I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.

I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…

Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.

And he bit.

Hard.

He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.

G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.

“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.

“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.

“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)

“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.

“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”

(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)

We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.

“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.

Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.

I checked, he was right:

On the left, Captain Black, while on the right is Peter van Petegem in his Mysteron Team kit

It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam. 

I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …


Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.

I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.

He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.

G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.

The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.

It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.

Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.

The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).

We’ll see.


2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.

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Wet and Dry

Wet and Dry

 

Club Run, Saturday 7th April, 2018           

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  120 km / 75 miles with 1,053 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.5 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          A game of two halves


 

7 april
Ride Profile


Supposedly away with the family on a holiday spanning two Saturday’s, we’d packed up and returned a night early, lured back by home comforts and (most especially) an efficient central heating and hot water system. As an added bonus, I got to join the regular club ride, planned by G-Dawg and taking us down the Tyne Valley for a route that, for me at least, promised to be a long one and ended up just shy of 75 miles.

First thing on Saturday morning and things looked promising too – gauzy tendrils of cloud webbed the sky, but in between were patches of pure blue and as I sped along the valley floor a bright sun threw long, sharp shadows ahead of me. The forecast was for showers later, but I didn’t quite believe it. I should have known better.

Off to my right as I crossed the bridge, the river was wreathed in a light morning mist that the sun lit with a pearlescent glow. It really was a beautiful, still morning and a promising start.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Having tortured, scorched and burned his old gloves into submission, the Garrulous Kid was sporting a new pair of migraine-inducing, intensely “illuminous” gloves. I wondered how long these would remain in pristine unmarked condition before being scorched and singed beyond recognition.

He reported he’d secured some work experience in a lab, prompting Caracol to wonder if he would be doing lab work, or would himself be the subject of some intensive lab-testing. We were all relieved to find the lab itself belonged to P&G and was not some mysterious, MOD, Porton Down-style centre for chemical and biological warfare, reasoning the Garrulous Kid’s propensity to do us major harm with domestic chemicals was probably quite limited.

For some reason I found Taffy Steve and the Colossus discussing Knight Rider, which the Colossus likened to the Berlin Wall, something he was aware of, but readily admitted he didn’t know a lot about. Taffy Steve liked the analogy, especially as in his mind the two would always be inextricably linked via David Hasselhoff.

This reminded me of my civic duty and I warned everyone not to go anywhere near the re-made, re-cycled, regurgitated “Baywatch” movie – something singularly lacking in even the slightest hint of style, wit, intelligence, humour, entertainment, merit or charm. 

OGL seemed fascinated by the ulra-low cut of Taffy Steve’s cycling shoes, which he said reminded him of some Shimano SPD cycling sandals he once owned. He warned us that, should we ever resort to such aggressively unstylish footwear (perish the thought) we should be careful not to get sunburned toes, which he revealed was not only very easy to do, but extremely painful.

I was massively surprised by this revelation, as I assumed anyone who would commit such a serious fashion-faux pas as wearing cycling sandals would almost certainly have doubled down on their crimes-against-style and paired them with sturdy and sensible socks.

G-Dawg outlined the route in precise detail, even as he admitted everyone probably stopped listening as soon as he got to Brunton Lane, the first of an extensive list of familiar waypoints he recounted. He acknowledged it was going to be a longer than usual ride (see, I told you) – but guaranteed we’d be back by 1 o’clock, otherwise he ran the risk of being emasculated by an irate Mrs. G-Dawg.

With that, we were away and 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


The first surprise of the day was the Garrulous Kid immediately took to the front with G-Dawg. I knew he was up there because G-Dawg kept turning around to talk to the riders behind him, obviously needing an occasional injection of sane conversation as an antidote to the unceasing stream of nonsensical loggorhoea being poured into his left ear.

Meanwhile I slotted in beside Mini Miss, catching up on cycling holidays, sportives, vintage mountain bikes, Bianchi’s and Princess Fiona’s Ironman (Ironwoman? Ironprincess?) preparations.

As we changed things around, I learned of Rab Dee’s traditional Big Fat Greek Easter preparations and then found myself alongside Zardoz and chatting about the Classics. He said he’d been out a couple of weeks ago with a friend and mentioned how much he’d enjoyed watching such an exciting Tour of Flanders. The friend expressed disappointment at having inexplicably missed the race and implored Zardoz not to tell him the result.

“Well, Gilbert rode fantastically well,” Zardoz hinted darkly.

“What, like last year?” his companion wondered.

“Oh, well … yes, ahem … err, exactly like last year,” Zardoz huffed, as it finally dawned on him that what he’d actually been watching was a 2017 re-run on Eurosport, in anticipation of the actual, up-coming event.

“The funny thing was,” he admitted, “I’d sat down and watched the entire race the year before too!”

I had to admit to something similar, having recently cheered Michael Kwiatkowski onto a memorable second Strade Bianche win. It was only when the programme cut to the actual live event in progress, that I realised I too had been watching a re-run.

In my defence, I hadn’t managed to catch the race the year before, so I had no sense of deja vu. I’m still a bit chagrined at my mistake though – I really like Kwiatkowski as a rider – to my mind the perfect quicksilver rapier to counter the powerful, but dull bludgeoning of the likes of Sagan – and I was happy when he seemed to win again.

A first desultory rain shower briefly peppered us as we started the long drop into the valley, before a pleasant saunter alongside a very still, placid looking river and an energetic clamber back out again. As the Colossus determined, the Tyne Valley was about as low as we could possibly go, while the top of the Quarry is typically the highest point we can reach, so today’s route was always going to be climbing-heavy.


mmmm


Stopping to regroup a few times, we finally escaped the valley and we headed more or less due north to Matfen and points beyond. I was a little distanced waiting for a car to pass before making the turn onto the Quarry road and had a bit of a scramble to chase back on in time for the climb. We then swung to the right, having determined the more direct, left-hand route is just too potholed and broken up for general use.

As usual, the pace began to quicken at this point and shook us out into a long line. Amidst the accelerations, Zardoz apparently found time to challenge G-Dawg to an intermediate sprint, but then “accidentally” spilled a glove and had to drop back to retrieve it.

G-Dawg made to pull clear as we approached the crossroads and I drifted across to cover his back wheel in case he was crazy enough to try a long range attack from this far out. (Forsooth, it’s madness, I tell you!)

I nudged ahead as we swept through the junction, calling out “clear” in a voice hopefully loud enough for even the absent Crazy Legs (at home nursing a bad back) to hear.

I pressed on, through the narrow, twisting bends and down to the next junction jockeying for the lead with Aether.

We almost came to a standstill at this junction, before accelerating hard and leading the charge up the two or three, minor, but leg-numbing, strength-sapping ramps to the next one.  Slowing just enough to see and be able to declare the way clear, we barrelled onto the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Work done, I let the fast charging sprinters through, finding a knot of 7 or 8 of us had broken well clear of the rest.

I tagged onto the back and followed this group through the final sprint, before twisting around the Snake Bends and onto the main road. Unusually, there seemed to be an impetus to keep driving the pace all the way to the café and I surfed the wheels from back to front, dropping into the car park in second place from where a quick transition put me to the front of the queue. Result!


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Once seated, Captain Black nearly decapitated a shuffling pensioner when he pushed his chair back withoout looking and then somehow conspired with Biden Fecht to unleash a tsunami of coffee across the table top.

During mop up operations, G-Dawg revealed that Zardoz had challenged him to an “intermediate sprint” before dropping his glove and stopping to retrieve it. I wondered if this was his idea of literally “throwing down the gauntlet.”  I then decided his original intent had probably been to slap G-Dawg’s face with the glove in ritual challenge and he’d fumbled this tricky manoeuvre.

The Garrulous Kid asked for advice on whether he should attempt some cycling when he went off to Florida for a family holiday. Listing Cottonmouth’s and Copperheads, Alligators and Black Bears, Southern Black Widow’s and Brown Recluse spiders, crazed gun-toting fundamentalists, drug-cartels, myopic, superannuated pensioners barely able to see over the bonnet of their road-hogging, gas-guzzling pick-ups, trigger-happy highway patrolmen, monster trucks, crack gangs, the challenge of riding on the different side of the road through killer heat and humidity, storms, tornadoes and flooding, I suggested there was really no reason whatsoever for him not to ride at every given opportunity. What could possibly go wrong?

This discussion then prompted me to wonder if, in extremis, a snake could be fashioned into a substitute for a punctured inner tube.

The Colossus suggested there was probably a state by-law forbidding people from inflating snakes, while Captain Black saw potential in the idea but suggested they wouldn’t be able to hold much more than 120 psi. He added that with alligator’s you could probably get up around 130-140 psi, before adding, “but, everyone knows Gatorskins are tougher.”

“Ba-bum!”  G-Dawg concluded drolly.

Meanwhile, G-Dawg sought OGL’s advice about removing a seat pin that had seized in his titanium mountain bike. He admitted it wasn’t really an issue as he couldn’t imagine ever having a need to adjust his saddle height, but G-Dawg being G-Dawg, I suspected it was a canker that was slowly eating up his soul.

“Ream it!”  OGL replied, somewhat lasciviously. “Ream it with a big reamer!” while, along with Slow Drinker I dissolved into a fit of schoolboy sniggering, before wondering if Stormy Daniels hadn’t used that exact same phrase in describing her remarkably tasteless dalliance with a certain orange dotard.

We then endured yet another round of guess-which-universities the Garrulous Kid should apply to. I’m not sure why, but Exeter, Plymouth and Aberdeen seemed the most popular choices, although Biden Fecht visibly blanched at the latter suggestion.

Mindful that G-Dawg was possibly quite protective of his testicles, I sought permission for coffee refills. We seemed to have the time, although the Colossus wondered if they needed to prepare the well-versed “we had a puncture” card (again) in case we didn’t make it back as scheduled. I’m just guessing, but I think neither of them have any interest in seeing any further development of puncture-less, solid tyres.

“Anyone out tomorrow?” OGL enquired and his face fell when Captain Black stuck up a mitt. “I hope you stay off the front, then.”

That, I decided, is as much a compliment and a badge of honour as any of us are ever likely to receive.


It had started to rain as we sat in the café, blathering about nothing in particular and it would continue at various intensities all the way home. At least we’d enjoyed a dry morning, but I was pretty much soaked through by the time I reached the final roundabout.

On the solo portion of my ride back, I’d been entertained watching the beads of rain that would collect on my cap peak and roll backwards and forwards a few times before dripping down, but now was distracted by the unearthly shriek of disk brakes as another cyclist pulled up alongside me.

“It was dry when I left this morning,” I complained, after exchanging greetings with the equally wet and bedraggled looking rider.

“Oh, it was raining when I started,” he replied cheerfully, before weaving undaunted through the traffic and away, while I turned for one more assault of the Heinous Hill and a pressing and very welcome appointment with a hot shower.


YTD Totals: 1,960 km / 1,218 miles with 22,390 metres of climbing