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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Salty

Salty

Club Run, Saturday 10th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 819 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rotten to start, decent to end


 

feb10
Ride Profile


The start on Saturday morning felt pretty much like a continuation of last week’s weather – temperatures hovering just above freezing and cold wind driven in on a blustery wind. Still, it wasn’t quite wet enough to resort to my rain jacket and was nowhere as bad as my commute into work on Wednesday morning, when it was so cold it had actually hurt, a stark -4°C.

And, while the Prof is still distant and riding with the Back Street Boys tribute band, he’d taken the time out between dance rehearsals to warn us on Facebook that it was going to be “flaky.” It wasn’t.

(Yes, I had to ask too. Apparently, he meant that we might encounter a few snowflakes en route.)

It was while riding across that my slow-witted mind finally understood the glaringly obvious reason why my right foot had been soaked and freezing last week, but my left foot had been relatively unscathed – helped in part by a car that flashed past and dumped a sheet of icy water down my right lower leg. Yeah, I know, a bit slow on the uptake.

This slight discomfort aside, I made decent time and was the first to arrive at the meeting point, where a light rain drove me to seek shelter in the bowels of the multi-storey car park.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The worst kept secret in the club is now out and OGL appeared bright and early to “officially” inform us the 2018 British National Road Championships will now be held in the North East, after the proposed host area backed out.  These races will be incorporated into the Cyclone Festival of Cycling and will see the best of Britain’s pro road-racers and time-triallists battling it out on the roads of Northumberland.

To accommodate this, the Cyclone Challenge Rides have all been pushed back a week or two to the 30th June. There are rumours that these changes have been made solely to allow Crazy Legs to not only lead a group of club renegades in a raid across various French mountain ranges, but also fully participate in the bigliest, bestest, most beloved and wildly participated in sportive event known to man. These rumours are patently untrue, false, deceitful, scurrilous, fabricated. Fake news.

OGL reported some baffled looks and politically-correct hyperventilating when he’d used a Scottish colloquialism to refer to an opportunity “disappearing faster than snow off a dyke.” It didn’t appeal to our childish humour quite so much as Taffy Steve’s recounting of a chainsaw safety course, where he was told you didn’t have to wear chainsaw boots and could substitute a Kevlar strap-on instead.

Crazy Legs is lamenting the lack of Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics, not because he particularly supports them, or condones state-run doping programmes, but simply because he likes their rather martial national anthem, which makes him want to march in circles around his sofa. When I confessed to being unfamiliar with its precise strains, I was instructed to go away and watch the Hunt for Red October on repeat until I got the hang of it.

Biden Fecht pulled up and asked if anyone had any oil on them. Huh? He then decided whatever mechanical he was suffering from probably couldn’t be fettled with the simple application of lubricant salve and dashed back home to undertake some minor repairs, vowing to meet up later. He hasn’t been seen since.

Aether outlined the route for the day, mainly dictated by the freezing conditions and need to stick to main and treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little. As an alternative, Crazy Legs declared early for another multiple coffee-stop ride, he was naming the Flat White Club Run. He had a sizable number of takers, right from the outset.

Much to OGL’s disbelief, Slow Drinker arrived on Zipp deep section, carbon rims that are probably worth more than my entire bike collection combined. “They’re just his winter training wheels,” G-Dawg remarked dryly.

As we stood there a guy came round to check the bike lockers, mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the car park. Wrestling with a key, he opened the door of each to its widest extent, before sticking his head inside to carefully and thoroughly survey the interior. It was obvious from where we were standing a couple of metres away that the lockers were all empty, but each one was subjected to the same close scrutiny, just in case a teeny-tiney micro-bike, or perfectly camouflaged stealth machine had been left inside.


Aether led for the first few miles, until with a tacit, father and son agreement, G-Dawg and the Colossus surged forward to take up position on the front. And there they would stay, up hill and down dale, an epic turn, impressively and selflessly (or so I thought) leading the line for the next 30km or so.

As we pressed on we seemed to be heading toward random patches of blue sky that grew in size, until even Taffy Steve had to admit my optimism for improving conditions was actually in danger of becoming reality. It was till cold, the roads were still soaked and fields water-logged, but at least the rain had stopped falling on our heads.

A dragging (dragon?) climb had us strung out and then came a shouted warning that there was a wagon behind. A couple of seconds later and there was some almighty bellowing, that told us there was a wagon behind and then, just for good measure, shouting and screaming that there was in fact a wagon behind.

We’d actually taken note at the first warning, but the road was narrow and twisting and there was nothing we could do, short of pulling over and hurling ourselves deep into a hedge. At this point, the repeated shouting became more irritating than useful or informative and we responded with our usual childish humour.

“What was that?” someone shouted back, “There’s a dragon behind?”

“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”

“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”

“Ah, does it hold the brew that is true!”

Etc. etc. Well it keep us amused, at least until the dragon, sorry wagon, decided it would be quicker to take an alternate route and turned off at the next junction.


unicycle


We pushed through to Stamfordham, where our usual layby was inconveniently occupied by a parked car. We were forced into using the wrong layby, although there was surprisingly (disappointingly?) no over the top ranting about the “wrong layby.” Here we split, with Crazy Legs luring a surprising number away with promises of an early hot beverage and some manly discourse in Matfen.

Five of us pushed onward to complete the planned route out to the Reservoir, with G-Dawg and the Colossus still powering away on the front, Ovis and Aether following in the wheels, while I tucked in behind. A bit later, we were caught by the Cow Ranger and Benedict and our numbers temporarily swelled.

I did a brief spell on the front and then, as the road swung north and we started to close in on Matfen, the Cow Ranger and Benedict took to the front and imposed an infernal pace, which they held all the way to the turn off for the Quarry. While our front pair continued on to sweep down the Ryals, the rest of us regrouped, recuperated as much as possible and started to winch our way up the Quarry climb.

We then hung a right at the top and pressed on to the café. Finding ourselves in amongst the local hunt, we had to thread our way between a series of parked up 4×4’s coupled to horse trailers and hunt supporters who lined the roads, hoping for a glimpse of who knows what.

I mentioned to G-Dawg that it seemed a particularly unrewarding and futile spectator sport, standing beside a muddy field in the cold, not knowing if you’re actually going to see anything remotely interesting. Then I realised I was talking to a bloke who travelled to the Stadium of Light last week, to stand in the cold beside a muddy field and watch the Sunderland team trying to win a game of football…

Up ahead, Ovis briefly challenged the Colossus in the sprint before falling back, while I was content to roll in alongside G-Dawg.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café queue, I noticed my bibtights were patterned with a silvery, ghostly patina of salt marks, like permafrost polygons. G-Dawg suggested there’d been so much salt on the roads you could taste it and, while we all agreed too much is infinitely preferable to too little, you had to wonder what damage it was doing to bikes and components.

The Colossus also revealed that the pairs epic turn on the front hadn’t been quite as selfless as I’d assumed and was largely designed to get out of the spray being kicked up by the wheels in front. It would appear that, despite the almost universal deployment of mudguards, not all guards are equal.

Hero of the week was determined to be Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who had appeared at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics wearing little more than a shark tooth necklace and a thin sheen of coconut oil. We had naturally assumed he was on a bobsleigh team, where the trend seems to be for one skilled pilot and three make-weight, short-track sprinters who have to be big, fast and powerful, but perhaps not especially gifted  – or, if you’re Jamaican, four big, fast and powerful short-track sprinters who are not especially gifted.

Taufatofua surprised us all though, by qualifying for the cross-country skiing. We couldn’t imagine how, where or when he managed to practice for this in his native, typically tropical Tonga. (He apparently didn’t see snow until he was into his fourth decade on the planet and started out in the sport by strapping planks of wood to his feet and running up and down sand dunes.)

The Matfen Flat White Mob finally materialised and Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve purloined a couple of spare chairs and drew them up to squeeze in around our small table. Then, spotting a group of civilians gathering to leave, they quickly jumped ship, moving to the new, more spacious table and leaving the two chairs tantalisingly and invitingly open.

And then, a double whammy, as the Garrulous Kid shambled across and flumped down on one chair to entertain us with his unique perspective on life, followed a few seconds later by OGL. The latter was already working through story # 32. (I can’t honestly remember which precise tale it was, I’d heard it before and switched off). Meanwhile, across the room I could see a benignly grinning Crazy Legs, comfortably removed and looking on with utter contentment. Bastard.

G-Dawg shared fond memories of the Matfen café the Flat White Mob had stopped at, recalling having turned up there late on a club run as business was winding down for the Christmas holidays. The group of ever-hungry cyclists had been approached by the staff with a massive cake, a handful of forks and what I can only assume was a purely rhetorical question, “Do you think you lot could help us finish this cake? Otherwise we’ll have to throw it away.”

Of the few things that club cyclists are actually good for, cake disposal must be quite high on the list.


The leg home was relatively uneventful until just after Berwick Hill, when we made the turn for Dinnington. There, to everyone’s complete and utter astonishment, the Garrulous Kid actually rode onto the front alongside Benedict, engendering a resounding cheer from our serried ranks behind.

Strangely, a blue moon shone brightly in a sky that remained completely clear of porcine UFO’s, hell refused to freeze over, time ticked on regardless and the Garrulous Kids head did not suddenly explode. Perhaps there’s hope for him (or us) yet.

He took us all the way to the turn-off, where the majority swung away and I took over to lead G-Dawg and Colossus into the Mad Mile. I kept the pace as high as I could manage, not relaxing until they’d jumped away to chase each other home and see who could win first use of the shower.

I dropped to a more sustainable pace and began slowly plotting my own course back.


YTD Totals: 858 km / 533 miles with 9,522 metres of climbing

 

 

Vortices of Madness

Vortices of Madness

Club Run, Saturday 19th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  119 km/58 miles with1,280 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          5 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.9 km/h

Group size:                                         17 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    5°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, but the brass monkeys were singing alto.


 

ride-profile-19-nov
Ride Profile


The Ride:

But first some exciting news. One considerate reader has kindly developed and sent me a prototype cake spade. I tell you, this thing is going to be huge …


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Honestly, who wouldn’t want a cake spade?


 

The windows of all the parked cars I passed first thing on Saturday morning were opaque with frost, and where windscreens were exposed to the wind they were glittering with fractal diamonds of ice. It was cold, the temperature barely nudging above freezing and a couple of brass monkeys were out searching earnestly for something they’d lost. I was conscious there could be ice still lingering in the shadows and down the sides of the road, hiding amongst the curled up piles of fallen leaves that had their ridges and edges limned in tell-tale white.

I tipped tentatively down the hill, fingers already applying pressure to the brake levers, threading my way between the dully gleaming metal drain covers and trying to remain as upright as possible as I navigated the tight bends. I was going so slow I was even passed by a mountain-biker who looked at me quizzically, obviously trusting his fat, knobbly tyres more than I trusted my own skinny slivers of slick rubber.

Safely down, I noticed that If anything, the air was even colder on the valley floor, the meadows either side of the road frosted white, the grass stiff and unmoving in the wind, while the bursts of water vapour each time I breathed out looked like I was toking on the chill air.

Crossing the river, I saw possibly the same crew as last week had actually got their 8 out into middle of the Tyne, where they seemed to be sitting becalmed, unmoving and broadside to the current. I couldn’t help feel they really needed to do some rowing to stop the rapid onset of hypothermia.

I made it to the meeting point safely, noticing only one slight wheel slip and hopeful that by the time we got out into the country lanes the danger of encountering unexpected ice would largely have diminished.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I was surprised to find G-Dawg on his best bike, while he rather evasively muttered something about the weather not being all that bad, really. Really? He then announced he was in charge for the day, as OGL was away at the British Cycling AGM. G-Dawg outlined a pre-planned route down into the Tyne Valley and out again and we finally understood the real reason why he’d left the venerable fixie at home. 

Of course, being G-Dawg and particularly averse to social media, he’d not publicised the route, although he had at least warned Son of G-Dawg that there’d be a whole heap of climbing, so he too had taken the opportunity to break his best bike out from its hyperbaric, deep storage chamber for one last fling.

Channelling his inner OGL, G-Dawg then demanded to know numbers for the Annual Club Awards and Boofee and, after much prompting and cajoling, stuck on the traditional tirades we all expect to hear before setting out: club fees are due and if you want to race stick a number on your back etc. etc.

There was also some discussion about when to have a Christmas ride, complete with seasonally naff jumpers, tinsel, baubles, reindeer antlers, fancy-dress and all that malarkey, with the 18th December club run being favoured. While there’s likely to be a Festive Ride on the Saturday of Christmas Eve, the feeling is that only a few are likely to make it out, so the weekend before will allow a greater spectacle and the best chance for as many as possible to make fools of themselves.

I was found winding a rubber band around my camera casing and had to explain it was a safeguard because the catch wasn’t overly secure and could spring itself open on the less than billiard smooth roads we had to negotiate. I also explained rubber bands represented the apogee of my engineering expertise and that I was certain the Prof wouldn’t approve. The Red Max contended that rubber bands, superglue, gaffer tape, zip ties and silicone sealant, were all that was needed to solve most engineering issues and as the Prof joined us, we were able to conclude loudly that all engineers were mentally unbalanced.

The Red Max also told me there’d been a bad crash last Sunday, when a guest rider from Essex had joined us for the day and had managed to plant her wheel into a deep pothole swooping down through Milestone Woods. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or maybe it’s an Essex thing, but Max suggested the guest rider had appeared much more upset about the damage done to her phone than the fact that her front wheel was a write off.

The Prof was eager to get some good miles in today as he was pushing toward his year-end target of 6,000 in total. The Red Max declared he was content to have already gone over 5,000 miles for the year and then the Monkey Butler Boy piped up with “I’ve done almost 14,000 kilometres” to cries of disbelief from the Red Max.

“Well, I meant all time” he concluded lamely.

With the anointed hour of Garmin-time fast approaching, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, each to add to our own personal mileage totals.


Holy sardine! I dropped in beside Taffy Steve to find, exemplary parent that he is, he’d introduced his son to the joys of the original Batman, via the 1966 Adam West movie. The kid had been particularly delighted by Batman climbing the Bat Ladder to the Bat ‘Copter, while being attacked by a massive rubber shark that attaches itself to his leg. Having failed to dislodge it with several roundhouse punches – “BIFF!” … “ZAP!” … “POW!” … Batman reaches for his Bat Utility Belt, plucks out a can of Bat Shark Repellent (obviously) and unleashes a dose in the shark’s face. Pure class.

We stopped at some traffic lights long enough for me to notice Sneaky Pete’s jacket was held together with a few wrappings of gaffer tape – to my eyes precision engineering at its finest.

Having already skipped ahead to expose himself (at a bus stop?) the Plank (aka I.P. Freely) was soon riding back up to the front to negotiate yet another pee-stop, perhaps egged on by the Prof.

He blamed the cold. I blamed an infinitesimally small and weak bladder.

Back in motion, we were soon a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ down into the Tyne Valley, where a few startled inhabitants visibly drew back, looking fearfully at us as we swept through their sleepy villages. We traced our path along the banks of the river, the Tyne to our left looking millpond smooth and placid and then we left the river behind and began cutting inland, starting a series of climbs as we began to work our way back.

And then – Lo! With a shimmering in the air and a fanfare of trumpets a bridge did appeareth beneath our wheels and it vaulted us up and over the four lanes of rushing madness that is the A69!

A bridge? Over the A69? Who’d have guessed such a wonderful thing existed. That’s what you get for looking at maps – they’re dangerous, subversive things. G-Dawg had obviously done his homework, consulted some old dusty grimoire, or almanac and delivered a peach of a route that meant we wouldn’t have to engage in our usual game of real-life Frogger with the speeding cars. Good man.

The climbing though, did go on for quite some time and I began to appreciate why G-Dawg had been reluctant to try this on his winter fixie. Back onto much more familiar roads, we re-grouped as Taffy Steve paced the Monkey Butler Boy back up to us. I naturally told him has job was only half done and he still had to deposit the Monkey Butler Boy at the head of the group before the café sprint.


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We pushed through to Matfen and began to pick our way up to the Quarry, where I learned this particular bit of road was one of Son of G-Dawg’s most hated stretches – a broken, heavy and grippy surface that just seemed to be harder to ride than it should be.

We turned off for the Quarry, pausing to regroup and then stopped once again at the top of the climb to make sure everyone was on. Here I caught Richard of Flanders engaged in a foul mouthed tirade, seemingly at himself: “Fugga-rugga-cumba-rah!”

With the speed building down toward the Snake Bends, the group slowly began to be whittled down as riders were cast out the back.

The Garrulous Kid managed to uncleat himself again, lost the wheel in front and drifted away, then Richard of Flanders dropped back. A spirited flogging of the thrice-cursed winter bike wasn’t enough for Taffy Steve to overcome its mechanical and weight disadvantages and then it was my turn and I was slowly distanced as The Plank, Red Max, Jimmy Cornfeed, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg increased the speed with a series of attacks on each other.

Hitting the cracked, lumpy surfaces of the road leading down to the Bends, I eased and sat up. Ovis came through on my inside and I jumped onto his wheel for a tow through the curves and down to the junction.

Heading along the main road for the café I was brought to a juddering halt by the sight of the Red Max rolling on the ground in pain, helmet smashed, glasses splintered and a massive welt forming around one eye and bubbling with blood.

He was able to tell us the Plank and Jimmy Cornfeed had touched wheels in front of him, the Plank had come down and Max had been unable to avoid the danger and had gone over the top. It was just as well he managed to tell us this, because 5 minutes later he was looking around dazed and asking us what had happened. At least we were able to tell him exactly what he’d told us.

The Plank seemed to be there one minute and gone the next, but he didn’t look too bad from the accident, although rather bizarrely his shoe covers were in tatters, flapping around his toes and looking like they’d been fed through a shredding machine.

We got Max off the road and onto the verge and then got him stood up, then back down again as he complained of feeling dizzy. Unable to put his weight down on his right leg, Taffy Steve took charge: he had the Monkey Butler Boy call Mrs. Max for pick-up and sent the Prof up the road try and coerce a good citizen to come back and transport Max to the café.

As the Prof disappeared on his assigned mission, Taffy Steve wondered aloud if he’d sent out the right emissary, thinking perhaps he should have selected someone more recognisably human and was assailed by doubts, perhaps recalling the catastrophic misunderstanding between homo sapiens and aliens during first contact in films such as Mars Attacks and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Prof however did a sterling job and soon arrived back in a car with a selfless, good Samaritan called Paul, who had interrupted his leisurely Saturday morning coffee and cake to help us out. He loaded the Red Max into the car and whisked him to the café, while the Prof rode back on Max’s spookily undamaged bike.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café the Red Max sat grimacing with pain and looking a little lost and bewildered. As the adrenaline ebbed and the pain sharpened, he began to suspect a broken collar bone to go with the nasty clout on the head, concussion and all the collateral damage to hip and knee.

Our table had a discussion about café sprints and how I was surprised we were still riding hell for leather along the main road to the café. I explained how G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs always called the sprint before the Snake Bends and never took it through those dangerous curves, or out onto the main road. Crazy Legs assures me there’s even a white stripe across the road at one point to serve as an unofficial finish line. I think I may even have seen this, but it could just as easily be my fevered imagination.

Taffy Steve decided that once the speed got above 25 miles an hour the Plank “gives off vortices of madness” which are contagious, at this point common sense is abandoned and all bets are off.

I asked Richard of Flanders what had prompted his effusive, foul-mouthed tirade at the top of the Quarry Climb, but he seemed strangely unaware of it. We decided it was just a sudden outbreak of cycling Tourette’s, liable to strike at any time when the pain in your legs gets too great and has to be exorcised orally.

As another group of riders rolled into the cafe, Taffy Steve wondered what it was with ninja cyclists and their affection for wearing black kit on dark and dreary days when they should be making themselves as visible as possible. He proclaimed his new (very orange) gilet, “The Beacon” might amuse Crazy Legs and me, but it served a very useful purpose. I readily agreed, but he knew in his heart he was fighting a lost cause and we’d still rip the piss out of it at every opportunity.

Returning to the theme of great engineering bodges, Richard of Flanders explained how he carefully crafted, machined and fitted an extension to his mudguards, selecting the finest quality tensile steel fittings: nuts, bolts and washers to carefully secure them in place as neatly as possible. Another rider had then achieved pretty much the same effect with none of the effort or craft by simply using two cable ties to fix a bit of old washing up bottle to his guards.

Richard was somewhat mollified when we told him the guy was obviously just a weight weenie and chose the cable tie bodge just to save a few infinitesimal grams on the nut, bolt and washer arrangement.

We watched as the Red Max slowly and gingerly levered himself upright and, wincing all the way, hobbled to the car where Mrs. Max whisked him straight to A&E. It turned out he had no broken bones and they even managed to find and scan enough grey matter in his skull to proclaim a surprisingly intact brain. He’s going to have one hell of a shiner though and the mother of all headaches to go with it.


With the Red Max safely en route, we stopped to thank the cafe staff and all-round good guy, Paul the Samaritan, before a slightly delayed exit and push for home.

I confessed I was feeling the cold after the warm sanctuary of the cafe and Taffy Steve laughed at what he considered my clothing excesses – to him I was ridiculously cocooned in a long-sleeved thermal baselayer, winter jacket and windproof gilet. To be fair though, he has better thermal properties than the very latest, ultra-green Scandinavian eco-home.

He said he thought all Geordies were meant to be tough, you know, “oot on the Toon” in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but a T-shirt or mini-dress. I explained that this was just a particular young, feckless underclass, insulated from reality by copious volumes of alcohol.

He wondered if they were perhaps kept warm by the latent radioactivity of their orange, glowing fake tans, or perhaps it was somehow the high-pitched, dolphin-like squeaking of the female Geordie that was the secret. I confirmed that this was the case, the ultra-high frequencies of Geordie wimmin-speak does in fact causes all particles to oscillate at a much higher frequency and this throws off a surprising amount of heat. “Ah!” Taffy Steve exclaimed, “Like human microwaves – now I understand.”

On the first hill out from the cafe Aether shipped his chain, but everyone seemed eager to get home and there was to be no stopping. I dropped back to wait and ride escort and by the time we got going again everyone else had disappeared up the road. I figured it was a futile effort and we were unlikely to see the group again, but gave chase anyway.

As we turned off into the lanes, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the tail of the pack disappearing around a bend up ahead. Spurred on, I increased my efforts, finally latching on as we started to clamber up Berwick Hill, with Aether managing to make the junction on the descent.

Perhaps it was that effort or perhaps I’d wasted too much energy fending off the cold during our prolonged stop, but I was left feeling totally wasted now.  I yo-yoed off the back on the short, sharp climb up to Dinnington, before catching on again and clinging grimly to the wheels until we hit the Mad Mile. Most of the group then swung off to the left, while G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg skipped lightly away and I began my plodding trek back home alone.

If I wasn’t bonking I was desperately low on energy and running on fumes. I stopped at a garage, but realised I could only afford a packet of Polo’s and those suckers weren’t going to get the job done, so I drained my bottle dry and pressed on.

Every hump now became a hill and every hill a mountain. I seemed to get caught at every traffic light, but instead of an inconvenience this became a boon, affording a few moments of respite while I waited for the lights to change to green.

Luckily the roads were quiet and there wasn’t much traffic to contend with, which may have been just as well as I started to get fixated on the road just beyond my front tyre.

I crawled up the Heinous Hill, the Savage Slope, the Fearsome Fell, almost coming to a freewheeling standstill on the flat sections as I tried to gather my strength for one last effort upwards. Finally, I was home and only half an hour behind my usual schedule.

I’ve now got an extra week to recover, as we are heading up to Edinburgh for the Christmas Markets next weekend. I’m looking forward to it, but probably won’t take up Taffy Steve’s suggestion that the family each adopt the nickname, persona, speech patterns and mannerisms of a different character from Trainspotting for the duration of our visit, fun though that sounds.

I’ll be back, but in the meantime be careful out there.


YTD Totals: 6,398 km / 3,975 miles with 63,917 metres of climbing

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km/72 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly


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Ride Profile


The Ride:

So, back in the saddle following last week’s University Open Day visit. I admit I quite enjoyed a brief respite from riding and even more from writing about it, I wasn’t so keen on the 350+ mile round trip though. Anyway, it was worthwhile as Loughborough University has also been added to Daughter#1’s growing list of universities she doesn’t want to go to and I think I only have around 110 others to visit in our national university elimination drive.

Speaking of visits to far off places, the venerable Toshi San was recently holidaying in Devon and paid a visit to Paignton Velopark, which he described as “a grand facility with friendly staff.”

When leaving, he found a fellow cyclist in a spot of trouble and tried to help out and, in his own words this is how the story unfolded …

“I spotted a Pieman in the car park next to his car with his bike upside down, having just unloaded it and clearly having mechanical issues.

Ta Da! Up steps Toshi ‘Bicycle Repair San’!

‘How do. Having problems?’

‘Yes, I can’t get the gears to change.’

‘Let’s have a look, then’

I got close up to a very shiny, very expensive looking carbon Cervelo with Ultegra Di2. Hmmm, not my area of expertise but I had read a few ‘techie’ articles about the gearset.

So, I turned the bike the ‘correct’ way up, found the reset/autotune/fiddle button under the stem and pressed it. The expected system light didn’t come on.

Aha! That must mean a loose/broken connection, an easy fix.

I worked my way, methodically along all the cabling till I got to the seat tube. 2 loose and lonely looking male connectors, but I couldn’t find the corresponding female connectors?

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

‘Ah, they connect to the………………… Oh fuck! I’ve left the battery at home.’

I quite like it when other people prove they’re as forgetful and as fallible as me.

Saturday brought a chilly start to the day, but judging by the number of cyclists I passed on the way out to our meeting place, perfect cycling weather. Well armoured in arm warmers, knee warmers and long fingered gloves, I nevertheless stuck a rain jacket on for an added bit of protection from the wind and to give the raw, early morning chill a chance to dissipate a little.

I made the meeting point to find Rab Dee and Crazy Legs already in situ and we stood around chatting while a vast herd of brightly coloured cyclist slowly built up around us, like exotic wildlife drawn to the only waterhole in a drought-ravaged savannah.

It was a big, group – probably the largest we’d had all year, with a wide array of specimens; the wiry, stilt-legged, skin-and-bones of wide-eyed, young gazelles, a few heavy-weight and powerful pachyderms, grizzled, elderly gnu’s, troops of jabbering primates and a sprinkling of watchful, cold-eyed predators…

… or in other words a big group of lads and lasses of all shapes, sizes, variants and ages, a.k.a. the typical British cycling club, perhaps all drawn out by what promised to be best day of the rest of the year.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee was complaining long and hard about the cold, despite being a hardy Scot, used to frolicking through fields of frozen heather in nothing but a string vest and baggy Y-fronts. When confronted, he merely suggested we’d hopelessly corrupted him with our soft, southern ways.

We then watched as a proper Geordie showed us how it should be done, trundling past with a wheeled suitcase wearing nothing but shorts, a Newcastle United top and flip-flops – seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold.

We speculated he’d just returned from holiday and wondered if he’d been somewhere so chilly he was actually over-heating now he was back in his native, “balmy” North East. I also wondered why grown men feel the need to wear the “costume” of their local football team when travelling to a foreign country. What’s that all about?

The Prof arrived and said how he’d looked forward to a chilly day so he could pull on his new, bargain-buy Assos legwarmers, only to discover they were actually arm warmers!

Mind you, if they were anything like the rather capacious “medium” Pearl Izumi arm warmers I bought last year, he probably could have comfortably worn them on his legs. Annoyed by constantly having to pull them up, I’d admitted defeat and ended up donating them to a rider who doesn’t have quite the same pipe-cleaner/sparrow-leg style arms as me.

As we gathered in ever-increasing numbers, Crazy Legs was distracted by a nearby pooch that was doing a brilliant impersonation of a meerkat, balanced perfectly upright on its hind-legs and constantly scanning the horizon, while his owner looked on nonplussed and possibly somewhat embarrassed.

Down it went briefly, but the forepaws had barely touched the ground when it was back up again, bolt upright, with its tail wagging furiously. Much taken by these antics, Crazy Legs went to have a word with the dog’s owner, but I guess whatever small ransom he offered wasn’t enough and he returned empty-handed.

The Prof prevaricated about peeing before proceeding on our peregrinations and pondered whether he had time, as Official Garmin Time clicked over to 9:12. Along with Crazy Legs I urged him to get on with it, otherwise he’d be calling a stop before we’d done 5 miles.

We assured him we’d wait and we duly did … well at least until he’d disappeared around the corner to attend to his needs and then we were clipping in smartly and leading everyone off…


36 or so assorted riders then, pushed off, clipped in and rode out, and I slotted into line, riding along in my own private world, until a recognisable voice intruded on my thoughts and I looked up to see the Bearded Collie beside me. Or rather I didn’t see the Bearded Collie, because he’d subjected himself to a close shave and completed the transformation into the Naked Collie, out for the second-time this year! I think he might be developing a bit of a cycling obsession.

We had a good, long catch-up, talking about family and work, the evils of social media, boot camps, open-water swimming and the sudden appearance of sink holes wherever the landscape is riddled by old mining activities (which is almost everywhere, given that the geology of the North East must resemble Swiss cheese.)

The Naked Collie then confessed he’d been looking after a family friends guide-dog while they were overseas, but thinks he might have broken it. He had somehow managed to turn the dog from a placid, thoroughly obedient and highly-trained aid to a blind person, into a loopy, loony, canine delinquent and tearaway that now ignores direct commands and disappears for hours at a time. Oops.


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A puncture-enforced stop saw the group split and shuffle and OGL drifted back down the line to cast a critical eye over the puncture repair and vent about another verbal spat with the Red Max.  One of the Old Guard leaned philosophically across his bars and intimated that the only constant in life is change, or at least that’s what I took from his thoroughly phlegmatic, seen-it-all before attitude.

Having paused long enough to fulfil even the Prof’s prodigious micturition needs, OGL announced it wasn’t worth stopping again in order to split the group and we would once again do this on the fly.

Approaching Whittle Dene, half the group was held up by a stream of cars thundering down the Military Road at high speed. Sneakily, Sneaky Pete sneaked across directly in front of hurtling metal boxes, earning himself a series of highly predictable loud horn blasts.

Even though there was absolutely no danger and I’m pretty certain the approaching driver didn’t even momentarily ease the pressure from their right foot, they were looking for the quick dart and we had duly obliged, confirming their prejudices that all cyclists are reckless, kamikaze idiots. Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

The group had no sooner reformed again than we were splitting. With no G-Dawg to faithfully and unerringly follow, I was caught in two minds, especially as Crazy Legs went with the amblers and Taffy Steve made off with the longer, harder, faster group.

Finally, remembering the path of life is paved with indecisive roadkill, I swept left a little late, causing minor chaos as I weaved through everyone turning right. I somehow managed to plant my rear wheel in a muddy divot and had to spin the pedals twice before the tyre bit and I was catapulted out, the back-end yawing outrageously as I fought to remain upright.

Control barely retained, I tagged onto the back of the group as the pace was ramped up over the Stelling and Newton Hall Climbs. The problem was that the usual longer, harder, faster group was all mixed up with the even longer, even harder, even faster self-flagellation ride, which was being whipped to a frenzy by a bunch of young racing snakes who were having a whale of a time battering each other.

As we turned toward Matfen we started shedding riders in a long tail, like a comet skipping too close to the sun, the pace burning them away and casting them aside. Mini Miss churned past, with a claim of, “Bloody hell, this is fast!” and she was right, (I took a Strava PR over this section of the road) but I could only nod in agreement, unable to spare either the effort or the oxygen of replying to her as i dived onto her wheel.

The survivors smashed their way through Matfen, then became strung out on the climb out of the village. I finally caught Taffy Steve and pulled up alongside him where, by unspoken agreement we tried to restore a bit of order, knocking the pace down a notch as we led a small group which slowly grew as we picked up one or two stragglers that were being spat out of the self-flagellation ride ahead.

We dragged the group through to the Quarry Climb, maintaining a pace that was still too fast for me – I knew this because all the blood was draining from my face to my legs and I could feel pins and needles in my chin as it slowly turned numb. I enquired whether the strong riding Taffy Steve had managed three Shredded Wheat that morning, but that was about the limit of my conversational capacity and it was still enough to leave me breathless. On the final, steepest ramp of the climb my legs were empty and I slipped back and off the front.

We turned to the right – the faster group had gone left – and began racing them to the Snake Bends. Another pair took up the front running, but a bit of erratic riding encouraged Taffy Steve to take control of the group again and recovering slightly I pushed up alongside him once more.

As we approached the junction onto the road down from Kirkheaton we saw the long line of riders from the faster group go streaming past, and we swung onto the road behind them, but ahead of our amblers group whose route had also joined the same road higher up.

Taffy Steve burst off the front for the final sprint, but I was already well out of it at that point. There was just time for Mini Miss to glide past and then for Sneaky Pete to sneak around me, before I could sit up and roll through the Snake Bends and push onto the cafe for a much deserved recuperative coffee and cake combo.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We were joined at the table by a relative FNG, who leant across the table to pluck a tiny money-spider off my collar. I didn’t realise I’d been carrying a passenger; all that extra weight and drag – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping up with everyone else!

Crazy Legs admired the FNG’s club kit which was an ultra-fluorescent baby-blue with garish yellow and orange bands, a throwback he told us to his time living and riding in Cincinnati. Emblazoned with the club name: Gear 4 Beer, he deftly explained it as a drinking club with a cycling problem!

I could at least confirm it was better than the jersey of another ex-expat, who’d returned from the States with a jersey sporting the name of a local bike shop, the Montclair “Bikery”. This had confused me no end because I thought a bikery was where Australians bought their bread.

The FNG revealed that our American cousins had inflicted even further vulgar, depredations on the English language and his LBS in Ohio was known not as a bikery, but as a cyclery. Huh?

Sneaky Pete sneaked onto the table with a massive slab of cake smothered in sweet, sticky frosting, which he had no choice but to attack with a cake fork – an implement Taffy Steve and I derided as being far too effete for simple, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type-cyclists.

We pondered what would be a suitable, manly implement for cake shovelling and decided a miniature, but exquisitely proportioned facsimile of a stainless steel Spear & Jackson garden spade would be perfect, both aesthetically and functionally for the task.

We think there’s a massive market for this kind of expensive tat novelty tableware, so expect to see the patented “cake spade” in shops near you in time for Christmas.

I think there’s even a market for a cycling specific, foldaway and pocketable version, perhaps modelled on a U.S. Army entrenching tool. Are you listening Rapha?

Praising the melting, still warm, just-out-of-the-oven goodness of the scones, we then had a bizarre conversation when Crazy Legs suggested cake didn’t agree with him.

“Yes, I do!” squeaked the cake on Sneaky Pete’s plate.

“No. You don’t.” Crazy legs re-affirmed.

An errant single-entendre then had us wondering if Szell was likely to ride again this year, or if he’d already begun his hibernation. Perhaps he’s already started to cultivate the poor form and an extra layer of fat he needs in order to rail and bitch about climbing Middleton Bank when he finally emerges in all his glory, sometime around April next year.

We imagined him cocooned in a dark cave, surrounded by chocolate, cake, beer, and a mountainous pile of Viz back-issues, while he watches constant re-runs of the Benny Hill and Dick Emery shows and stocks up on ever more risqué bon mots.


The sky started to darken as we made our way home and the temperature seemed to dip downwards again, but luckily the rain held off until I was on the last climb for home.

Before that we’d survived an encounter with an idiotic RIM who thought it was hilarious to lean on his horn and accelerate toward us down a narrow lane.

If he felt any of our declamatory declarations or violent gesticulations about his parents, his onanistic tendencies, or exactly what he could swivel on were false or unjust, he didn’t seem at all inclined to stop to debate them with us. Arse hat.

And then, as we were climbing Berwick Hill, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the extraordinary happened all at once, as OGL attacked!

Out of the saddle, churning a big gear and honking upwards old-school-style, he launched himself off the front prompting an instantaneous reaction from Taffy Steve and ripping the group behind to shreds.

Astounded by what we were witnessing, I followed Crazy Legs and skipped quickly forward to enjoy the clash of the titans as they raced to the summit. From where I was sitting it looked like Taffy Steve just won the sprint with a last-gasp lunge, but sadly I was too far back to hear if he offered up his trademark, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

Dropping down the other side, I found a still cackling OGL declaring that, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” Remarkable. Weird, but remarkable.


YTD Totals: 5,396 km / 3,353 miles with 53,366 metres of climbing